With the scent of spring still in the air, the second major championship of the year is upon us, and brings us something uniquely new to the PGA Tour schedule this year. Always the last of the major championships traditionally, the PGA Championship has been moved to May, in a move by the PGA Tour to give this major some new life as it has often been relegated a bit by its proximity in late August to the FedEx Cup Playoffs and Tour Championship.
And thus, the eyes of the golf world turn to this 101st version of this grand event, to a little town on Long Island, NY called Farmington, where awaits a challenge for any player of any skill- the daunting Bethpage State Park Black Course, designed by the reknowned A. W. Tillinghast (he of Winged Foot and Baltusrol fame) in 1936. One of the pioneers of East Coast course building, is known to have taken great pride in designing stern tests to rattle the cages of all who tee it up.
Anyone who has been to, or heard of Bethpage Black before knows just that, and they are certainly not shy to inform those who enter it’s gates of the challenges that await. “WARNING- The Black Course is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers” is what awaits those who are eager to play. It is also a municipal course, and people camp out in tents or cars each night outside the gates to hopefully snag a first-come first-serve tee time the next morning.
What awaits the 156 golfers who are in the field this week is a Par 70, 7,459- yard behemoth. It has hosted four PGA Tour tournaments in the past- the 2002 U.S. Open, the 2009 U.S. Open, the 2012 Barclays, and the 2016 Barclays. It has been ranked as the sixth hardest course in America by Golf Digest.
Tillinghast’s design features the unique feature of having at least two bunkers per hole – many more in some cases – and with dense tree lines there really is no escape for the players. The fairways are small and narrow, so Driving Accuracy will be a key metric to keep an eye on this week. The Poa Annua greens typically play fast too, although some rain that has been in the area may just slow them down below the normal 12 on the stimpmeter. Each green is elevated and it some cases severely guarded by tricky bunkers, so Approach from distance with long irons will be a great skill to have in the bag this week.
All in all it should be a stern four-day test that is sure to give even the best of golfers fits, and those with an even temperament, who can avoid the big hole blowups, and be accurate off the tee and with long irons should be acquitting themselves well come Sunday.
Must-Have #1: Rickie Fowler
Our first Must-Have of this major week is the ever popular Rickie Fowler, who comes into this second major riding a prototypical wave of “Rickie” form. Since the Waste Management Open, where he took home the trophy his form line has read: 4-9-17-47-40-2-36-1.
So as you can see, over the last few weeks with consecutive Top 10s (including a T9 at the Masters) he seems primed for another big week. And although the PGA Championship tournament is played at different courses every year- this former Oklahoma State Cowboy has been successful with this set up, finishing 5th in 2017 and 12th in 2018.
The last time the came to Bethpage in 2016 for the Northern Trust Open, Rickie played well- finishing in 7th place while picking up 8.8 strokes on the field. With all golfers who have at least 8 rounds at Bethpage, Rickie ranks 9th averaging a score of 70.7 in his 10 rounds here which is pretty impressive.
The other big part to this week is the key stats. Over the last 12 rounds Rickie has been solid all around. These stats below do not include the Masters since they do not provide shot link.
Fairways Gained- 23rd
Bogey Avoidance- 17th
Driving Distance- 59th
SG Approach- 35th
SG BS- 23rd
Good Drives- 31st
In addition, Rickie comes in a little discounted in price compared to guys with his ability and provides an excellent starting point for your lineups this week. We expect to see a lot of orange on the course this weekend with Rickie in contention for his first major!
Must-Have #2: Sergio Garcia
Our second Must-Have for the week is this former Masters Champion from Spain. Sergio is one of the few golfers who’s been on Tour long enough to have played this course competitively multiple times, and although there are some slight variations in the way Bethpage Black was set up for the Barclays of 2012 and the U.S Open of 2009 didn’t seem to faze Sergio, who delivered top-10s in both of those tournaments. He finished T3 at the Barclays in 2012, and perhaps should have won, although a final round 74 derailed his chances that day. At the U.S. Open his finished in a tie for 10th place.
The strength behind Sergio’s success at this particular course can most likely be found in his strength with his Approach game, as he ranks #3 on the entire Tour this year in Strokes Gained: Approach. He also ranks 15th in SG: Tee To Green which is another key metric this week, as well as 43rd in SG: Off The Tee, and 10th in SG: Total. More specifically, he ranks 11th on Tour in Approaches from 200-225 yards this season, which is most likely what many of this players will see for their second shot this week.
His eleven starts in 2019 have yielded seven top-10 finishes, with the most recent of those came in his last start at Quail Hollow for the Wells Fargo Championship, where he finished T4. That’s a good indication that Seth’s game is in great shape heading into this week, and is very underpriced on both sites so he allows great construction flexibility.
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