Daily Fantasy Golf Deep Dive: Breaking Down Course Fit on the PGA Tour
With the PGA Tour on hiatus until at least May as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down sports leagues around the world, we can still take this time to focus our attention on how we can be smarter consumers of the sports we love. One of the great debates in the golf betting and fantasy markets is Course History vs. Recent Form.
True believers would point to golfers who repeatedly outperform their baseline at specific courses -- think Jordan Spieth at Augusta National, Matt Kuchar at Harbour Town Golf Links, Webb Simpson at Sedgefield Country Club, Paul Casey at Innisbrook Golf Resort, and Daniel Berger at TPC Southwind.
Doubters would say that Course History is a myth, that laser-focusing on performance at just one course creates sample size issues, and that so many other factors -- such as, ahem, recent form -- play a bigger role than walking onto a course and thinking "Hmm, I like this one." Of course, they'd point out that the best golfers in the world have the best chance on any given week anyway.
But the idea that a golfer might fit a certain style, of course, is undeniable. Accurate drivers will do better on narrow fairways? Duh. Bombers have an advantage on longer courses. Of course. But what about long courses with wide fairways but doglegs on more than half the holes? Could go either way, right?
We'll use this space to translate some of the great info over at datagolf.org into actionable information. Specifically, their course fit tool gives Similarity Scores for every course on the Tour rotation. Try not to well up as we dive into some of our favorite venues that we might not get to see this year.
We'll focus on courses that have been on the schedule for at least five years of primary fields and is still on the schedule going forward, and then we'll see which golfers fit the courses with high Similarity Scores.
|Course (Event)||Top Three Comparable Courses|
|Torrey Pines GC (North) (90.9)
Torrey Pines GC (South) (90.2)
Harding Park GC (87.8)
|Bay Hill Club & Lodge
(Arnold Palmer Invitational)
|TPC Scottsdale (93.5)
Silverado Resort & Spa (North) (93.1)
Keene Trace Golf Club (92)
|Colonial Country Club
|TPC Sugarloaf (89.7)
Harbour Town Golf Links (88.3)
Waialae Country Club (86.4)
|East Lake Golf Club
|TPC River Highlands (89.6)
Sedgefield Country Club (88.7)
Sea Island GC (Seaside) (87.4)
|El Camaleon Golf Club
(Mayakoba Golf Classic)
|Sedgefield Country Club (71.9)
TPC Sawgrass (69)
Muirfield Village Golf Club (61.3)
|Harbour Town Golf Links
|Colonial Country Club (88.3)
Waialae Country Club (84.5)
TPC Sugarloaf (82.3)
|Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)
|Muirfield Village Golf Club (92.4)
Sea Island GC (Plantation) (92)
Detroit Golf Club (90.5)
|Muirfield Village Golf Club
(The Memorial Tournament)
|Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) (92.4)
Sea Island GC (Plantation) (87.2)
TPC River Highlands (86.2)
|PGA National (Champion)
|CordeValle GC (92.6)
Winged Foot GC (91.1)
Medinah Country Club (No. 3) (89.8)
|Pebble Beach Golf Links
(AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am)
|La Quinta Country Club (97.9)
Medinah Country Club (No. 3) (97.7)
Winged Foot GC (95.5)
|Plantation Course at Kapalua
(Tournament of Champions)
|Riviera Country Club (88.6)
Augusta National GC (83.2)
Monterey Peninsula CC (81)
|Quail Hollow Club
(Wells Fargo Championship)
|Club de Golf Chapultepec (92.9)
Nicklaus Tournament Course (91)
Stadium Course (90.7)
|Riviera Country Club
|Plantation Course at Kapalua (88.6)
Monterey Peninsula CC (86.3)
Nine Bridges (86.1)
|Sedgefield Country Club
|East Lake Golf Club (88.7)
TPC Sawgrass (87.6)
TPC River Highlands (82.7)
|Sheshan International GC
|Golf Club of Houston (98.5)
Bay Hill Club & Lodge (89.8)
Annandale GC (87.3)
|Silverado Resort & Spa (North)
|TPC Scottsdale (94.1)
Annandale GC (93.7)
Bay Hill Club & Lodge (93.1)
|TPC Deere Run
(John Deere Classic)
|TPC Twin Cities (90)
Silverado Resort & Spa (North) (87.8)
Sea Island GC (Seaside) (86.9)
|TPC River Highlands
|East Lake Golf Club (89.6)
Muirfield Village Golf Club (86.2)
TPC Twin Cities (85.6)
|TPC San Antonion (Oaks Course)
(Valero Texas Open)
|TPC Summerlin (93.7)
Monterey Peninsula CC (92.0)
Nine Bridges (90.8)
(THE PLAYERS Championship)
|Sedgefield Country Club (87.6)
Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) (83.5)
East Lake Golf Club (83.5)
(Waste Management Phoenix Open)
|Silverado Resort & Spa (North) (94.1)
Bay Hill Club & Lodge (93.5)
Annandale GC (91.1)
(WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational)
|TPC Four Seasons Resort (90.5)
Warwick Hills GC (90.4)
Sea Island GC (Plantation) (89.7)
(Shriners Hosptials for Children Open)
|Nine Bridges (95.4)
Monterey Peninsula CC (95.3)
TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course) (93.7)
|The Old White TPC
(A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier)
|Trinity Forest Golf Club (96.2)
Trump National Doral (91.9)
Keene Trace Golf Club (91.3)
|Torrey Pines GC (South)
(Farmers Insurance Open)
|Atunyote GC (91.6)
Augusta National GC (90.2)
Quail Hollow Club (89.9)
|Waialae Country Club
(Sony Open in Hawaii)
|Colonial Country Club (86.4)
TPC Sugarloaf (84.6)
Harbour Town Golf Links (84.5)
Let's dive into a few of the courses we see every year on Tour and where we can look for correlations and similarities among the golfers who project to do well at comparable courses. Stat rankings are from Fantasy National Golf Club and include data from the past five years.
Augusta National and Torrey Pines
We'll have to start here and excuse ourselves from mentioning Tiger Woods, who has won just about everywhere including both of these courses. The North and South Courses each match up with Augusta, and the big number here is Driving Distance, especially at the South course. Fast bent greens and par 5 scoring further correlate Augusta and the North course, and when it comes to winners both tracks feature absolute class.
Woods has three green jackets and has won at Torrey Pines eight times between the different sponsors (Farmers/Buick) and of course the iconic 2008 U.S. Open. Fellow Masters champions Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have won at Torrey, while two time Farmers champion Jason Day has never finished worse than T28 in nine trips to Augusta aside from one withdrawal.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Silverado Resort & Spa (North), and TPC Scottdale
We are spanning the map here for unlikely compatriots, featuring Florida, California, and Arizona as overlapping venues. Herein lies the great secret of datagolf's tool, finding correlation where human eyes would not look.
So often when we focus on grass types we consider only the greens, but the rough makeup gets overlooked when those lies are also important and can have just as much an impact as the putting surfaces. While Bay Hill, Silverado, and Scottsdale differ on the greens -- pure bermuda, poa annua, and bermuda overseeded with poa trivialis, respectively -- each of these three courses has bermudagrass fairways and rough, with Bay Hill and Scottsdale featuring ryegrass overseeding.
All three are prone to fast and firm conditions, as we saw with Bay Hill specifically a few weeks ago. The wind can blow at all three tracks, and dry seasons in California and Arizona can keep both those courses firm.
Over the past five years, some similar names pop up in total strokes gained at both courses. Among Tour pros, the following names rank inside the top 55 in total strokes gained at each of these three courses: Adam Hadwin, Brandt Snedeker, Brendan Steele. Bryson DeChambeau, Chris Kirk, Kevin Na, Luke List, Marc Leishman, Ryan Moore, Sungjae Im, and Zach Johnson.
Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) and Muirfield Village GC
Two challenging tracks that require precise iron play and scrambling ability, Innisbrook and Muirfield are not natural comps when it comes to geography and grass types. But both force golfers to club down off the tee due to winding layouts, penal rough, or both. Each measure between 7,300 and 7,400 yards, and unsurprisingly Innisbrook gets the nod in difficulty at just a par 71 (there are the full allotment of par 5s, but an extra par 3 in the Copperhead's unique layout).
We see studs like Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Patrick Cantlay, and Patrick Reed in the top 40 in total strokes gained at both courses over the last five years, which shouldn't be surprising given that group has performed well at just about every course over that span. A tier down, we see names like Kuchar, Henrik Stenson, and Spieth show well at both courses. The off the wall names that have top 40 marks at both tracks are Moore, Jason Dufner, Graham DeLaet, Jamie Lovemark, and Steve Stricker.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Colonial Country Club, and Waialae Country Club
We are once again spanning the map to find unique correlations, stretching from South Carolina to Texas to Hawaii. The common themes here are short courses and windy conditions. In one of the few events we got to see this year, Waialae wreaked havoc once the wind got blowing. All three courses have bermudagrass in the fairways and rough, and Harbour Town and Waialae feature that strain on the greens as well.
The big names here are Kuchar, Simpson, Russell Knox, and Kevin Kisner. All three rank inside the top 25 in total strokes gained at each of these three courses over the past five years. If we expand that to golfers in the top 50 at all three, we can add Spieth, Snedeker, Emiliano Grillo, Rory Sabbatini, and Scott Piercy.
East Lake Golf Club, Sedgefield Country Club, and TPC Sawgrass
We see some common themes across each of these courses, with the key being accuracy off the tee. All but River Highlands are situated in the southeast and feature bermuda greens. All four courses have the fingerprints of legendary course designers. Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass and collaborated with Donald Ross on Sedgefield. None other than Ross himself designed East Lake.
McIlroy is the reigning champion at both East Lake and Sawgrass, and Simpson nearly pulled off the double at Sedgefield and Sawgrass in 2018. He won THE PLAYERS in a walk that season, and as runner up, he'd have stood a great chance at the Wyndham were it not for Snedeker's blistering 59 on Thursday. Sneds also earned the FedEx Cup in 2012 with his win at East Lake. He and Simpson are cut from the same cloth -- accuracy and a lights out short game -- and McIlroy may well go down as one of the best players of all time.
Rory has never played Sedgefield but is second in total strokes gained the last five years at Sawgrass and third at East Lake. Other golfers with good marks at those courses but no sample at Sedgefield include Xander Schauffele and Rose (the latter was actually T5 at Sedgefield way back in 2009). The small field for the TOUR Championship means not very many golfers even get there, but Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, Si Woo Kim, Sabbatini, and Chris Kirk rank in the top 40 in total strokes gained at both Sedgefield and Sawgrass.
We wish it was as easy as copying the names above into our daily fantasy lineups or betting cards when the correlated events come along. That approach won't always work, but identifying golfers with comparable skill sets to those who have succeeded at a specific course or courses like it makes for a good start.
At Augusta and Torrey, we will give distance and overall long term performance additional weight. Golfers like DeChambeau and Cameron Champ are doing big things off the tee and have shown an ability to close out tournaments.
When we get to Silverado in the fall, or if we see Scottdale and Bay Hill on the early schedule next season, we can hone in on grinders who can weather the elements and scramble when need be. Look for Denny McCarthy and Wyndham Clark to pop up on these tracks in the future.
Ballstriking and specifically iron play are key at Innisbrook and Muirfield -- the name to watch here is a popular one of late: Collin Morikawa.
All around play and an ability to be aggressive and streaky are key to success at East Lake, Sedgefield, and TPC Sawgrass. If we ever get golf back in our lives and Viktor Hovland or Joaquin Niemann learn to putt on bermuda, they should be high upside plays.