U.S. Open Course Preview and Picks

Well well well… it’s U.S. Open week and they return to the historic venue we know as Pebble Beach in California. As some people may know, they play the “AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am” here every year in February. The winning score usually ranges between -17 and -20. In other words, the course is usually very easy. It’s a par 72 course with four par 5s, and the rough is not very difficult.

The course layout will be completely different this week for the U.S. Open. Driving the ball in the fairway will be essential. The fairways will be much narrower than we usually see at the Pro-Am. As is the case with most U.S. Opens, if you drive the ball in the rough, it’s going to be long, thick, and nasty. Although Pebble Beach is much shorter than a normal U.S. Open track, the rough can still be very penal.  Many times players will have to lay up to a number they like for their 3rd shot, to try and get up and down on the longer par 4’s and par 5’s.

Short-game is also going to play a crucial role this week. The last time a U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach, the winning score was won with an even par score by Graeme McDowell. The average percentage of greens hit in regulation by the field was 51%. To give you some perspective on just how low this number is, the worst player on the tour ranked 209 out of 209 players for greens in hit regulation, is Seamus Power who hits 59.47% of GIR. The 100th ranked player in the statistic is at 66%. In other words, people are going to miss greens this week as Pebble has some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. This course will really test your short game and this tournament will be won by someone who has a great short game and can grind out pars vs. the birdie fest we usually see at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The most important statistic/trait a golfer needs this week is a sharp iron/approach game. This is the case at many tournaments on the tour, but it’s much more pivotal this week. As I mentioned earlier, it’s tough to hit these greens in regulation. If you’re hitting good approach shots, you’re going to relieve a lot of stress from your short game and won’t have to grind as much to save pars. On top of that, Pebble is not like a normal U.S. Open, where you really need to hit the ball far and straight. A lot of players will be clubbing down off the tee and it’s much more of a second shot course compared to places like Shinnecock Hills and Erin Hills (which put a premium on length off the tee).

One last thing I want to mention before I get into my power rankings is that wind has the potential to be a big factor this week. The course is played right along the ocean. If the winds really pick-up, it’ll make the course much more difficult and favor the guys with lower ball flight.  So, if you’re into that sort of narrative, it might be worthwhile to pick some guys who play well in the wind, in your office pools, DraftKings teams, and bets (you can reach out to me for advice on what players I like in that category).

Alright let’s get into my Top 5 Power Rankings…

5. Jason Day – Day has a lot going for him going into the U.S. Open, yet is under the radar. He has good history at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am including a T4 back in February. Although the course is going to be much different, I think playing here previously with strong course history, has the chance to lead to success this year. More importantly Day is one of the best wind players on tour with his low ball flight. We know he’s one of the best short-game players and putters in the world as well. If this turns into an absolute grind fest, like it was in 2010, it would be a great benefit to Day. The concern that gives me a little pause with Day, is that he’s not the strongest iron player. I’ll choose to bet on his short game prowess and grinder mentality this week and overlook his spotty iron stats.

4. Tiger Woods – People who know me well, know that yes I like Tiger Woods, but I’m not your ultimate Tiger Woods fan who can’t look at him with an unbiased point of view. I truly think this is a great chance for him to win another major. We know Woods can win here (or anywhere) as he dominated here in the 2000 U.S. Open. Looking at the bigger picture though, out of all 156 players in the field, over the last 50 rounds, Woods ranks 4th in SG Approach, 5th in Greens in Regulation Gained, 19th in SG Around the Green, and 9th in SG on Par 4’s between 400-450 yards. He actually ranks as the number 1 overall player in my statistical model over the last 50 rounds. I see no reason why we shouldn’t see him in his Sunday red, in contention on Sunday night.

3. Jordan Spieth – It took me about 4 months but I’m finally back on the Spieth train. If you read my Masters blog back in April then you know that my number one story-line was how bad Spieth was playing and whether or not he could put it together for the Masters. He ended up finishing 21st that week and is now coming into the U.S. Open with 3 straight top 10’s. If you’ve been paying close attention the last few tournaments, Spieth has been otherworldly with his putter and short game. He’s also gained strokes off the tee in 3 consecutive tournaments. As I mentioned before, distance is not a key factor this week and Spieth will be able to club down off the tee and focus on hitting fairways. Although his iron game has still been a little off the last few months, it appears his improvement off the tee has given him utmost confidence in the 2 traits that we’ve always known him for… the putter and short game. Should that continue this week, Spieth could be in store for a great finish at Pebble. Spieth is one of the best grinders on Tour as we saw with his U.S. Open win back in 2016 at Chambers Bay and his 2017 win at The Open. I should also mention that Spieth won the Pro-Am back in 2017. Watch out folks Jordyyyy is back!

2. Hideki Matsuyama – Sick of me writing about this guy yet who has never won a major and hasn’t won a PGA event since 2017…well too bad because I’m still riding on this train. Deki’ rates out in the top 5 in pretty much any timeframe you run my statistic model, from the last 12 rounds to the last 100 rounds. Other than the PGA Championship, in which he lost 0.8 Strokes off the tee (yet still finished 16th), he has gained strokes Off The Tee, Approach, and Around the Green in every…single…tournament… he’s played in going back to January. The guy has been on absolute fire with his irons all year. His short game which had abandoned him a little back at the end of last season has been spot on all year as well. He is DUE for a major win here sooner rather than later. He’s also coming off a 6th place finish at The Memorial 2 weekends ago, his 4th top 10 of the year and second best finish of the season. He’s peaking at the right time and you know that I already hit his 38-1 odds to win the tournament pretty hard.

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Photo credit: Golf.com

1. Patrick Cantlay – People who know me well will tell you this is another guy I bet almost every week (except 2 weeks ago when his odds were as low as I’ve ever seen and of course he goes on to win). If you still haven’t heard of Patrick Cantlay, then he’s probably the best golfer on the tour you’ve never heard of. I’ve been talking him up for over 2 years now. He’s been arguably the most consistent golfer on tour this year. Take a look at his last 12 starts on tour…

Cantlay

Photo credit: Fantasy National

9 top 10’s in his last 12 starts… not too shabby. So we know he’s coming in with good form. Another guy who’s grading out in the top 10 of my overall statistical model, whether I sort it by the last 12 rounds or last 100. If you could build an ideal golfer, Cantlay might be your guy. He really doesn’t have any weaknesses in his game. He hits the ball straight and long, is strong around the greens and one of the best iron players in the world. Pebble is set-up perfectly for Cantlay due to his strong all-around game. If the winning score is around -10 he’ll have no issue getting there and being in contention. If it’s an absolute grind-fest with the winning score around par, that can suit Cantlay as well considering we just saw him at the PGA Championship grind to a 3rd place finish with a final score of -2. I expect him to breakthrough and win his first major.

There’s nothing like a west coast U.S. Open! You get home from work around 6 o’clock and are able to watch golf until 9 p.m. As always feel free to reach out to me for advice or if you just want to talk about the tournament in general. Good luck in your pools, DraftKings teams, and bets!

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