Searching for a Specialist: Charles Schwab Challenge
This week’s course is one we’ve seen plenty over the years. Colonial Country Club.
Known as a classical course, this venue puts an emphasis on precision over power. Despite the golfers clubbing down frequently off the tee, it still features some of the hardest fairways to hit. From there, golfers will try to land their approach shots onto small, bentgrass greens. A tough task when the wind is up, which it will be this week.
If you are new to the specialist search, here is a quick primer. The goal of this article is to look at a few key angles for the upcoming event and compare each golfer’s performance in those angles against their long-term baseline. For a golfer to get bucketed as a specialist, they must improve over their baseline in all five angles. At the bottom, I also include a table with the full-field rankings in each angle.
Reviewing last week, our specialist was Xander Schauffele. He flirted with a podium finish until a poor closing stretch had him settling for a top 20. Other second specialists were Bubba Watson (get a putting lesson, please), Tony Finau, and Dustin Johnson (runner-up finish). A middle-of-the road week that could have been a lot better if Bubba would have just made one more putt fall. It was a pretty good week for the Simple Rating which had DJ, Brooks, and Rory as the top 3 and they went on to finish 1-2-8.
This week we look at Performance on Bentgrass Greens, Less-than-Driver Courses, Hard-to-Hit Fairways, Windy Rounds, and Performance in the Spring.
Here we go…
Colonial is unique from a turf point-of-view.
It features bermuda from tee-to-green but bentgrass on the putting surfaces.
We will focus on performance on other bentgrass greens.
The 10 Bentgrass Specialists:
Peter Uihlein (1.804 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.03 sg:total)
Joaquin Niemann (1.902 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.305 sg:total)
Tim Herron (0.077 sg:bentgrass vs. -0.411 sg:total)
Whee Kim (0.779 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.341 sg:total)
Andrew Putnam (1.471 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.04 sg:total)
Anirban Lahiri (1.278 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.874 sg:total)
Martin Kaymer (1.523 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.129 sg:total)
Rickie Fowler (2.947 sg:bentgrass vs. 2.553 sg:total)
Mackenzie Hughes (1.212 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.839 sg:total)
Ted Potter, Jr. (0.789 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.417 sg:total)
Quantity: The golfers that have the most strokes gained on Bentgrass Greens since 2014 are Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Justin Rose, and Paul Casey.
Over the last two years we’ve seen Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler gain strokes over the field in more than 80% of their rounds played on bentgrass greens. There are only six golfers in the entire field that gain strokes in more than 70% of their bentgrass rounds in that time span. That’s pretty elite for Rosey and Rickie. Surprisingly, one of those 70%+ names is Peter Uihlein.
Colonial Country Club is a par 70 that plays around 7,200 yards.
Nearly every par 4 features a dogleg. Most are not easy to cut off the dogleg with distance. That frequently puts irons and 3-woods into golfers hands.
The Top 10 Less-than-Driver Specialists:
Joaquin Niemann (1.974 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.305 sg:total)
Ted Potter, Jr. (0.817 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.417 sg:total)
Sam Burns (1.272 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.92 sg:total)
Emiliano Grillo (1.964 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.62 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.572 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.251 sg:total)
Kevin Na (1.95 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.642 sg:total)
Whee Kim (0.644 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.341 sg:total)
Jason Dufner (1.504 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.21 sg:total)
Bronson Burgoon (1.073 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.785 sg:total)
Ryan Armour (1.232 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.956 sg:total)
Quantity: Golfers with the most weighted strokes gained on Less-than-Driver courses since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson, Kevin Na, and Rickie Fowler.
The percentage of steady rounds for the studs drops just a bit in this department. That tells us that less-than-driver courses give more golfers a chance to contend and soften some of the advantages that the worlds best usually hold.
Names like Niemann and Burns show up highly on the top-10 list, but it’s still early in their career. I would let the sample size grow just a bit before you cement them into a true course-fit box.
You would expect high fairway-hit numbers on a course that lets you club down off the tee.
That’s not the case at Colonial since the fairways typically run out and they are tight to begin with.
The field averages just 56% of fairways and we should expect slightly lower numbers this week with heavy winds in the forecast.
The Top 10 Hard Fairway Specialists:
Max Homa (0.789 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.02 sg:total)
Carlos Ortiz (1.218 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.602 sg:total)
Corey Conners (1.36 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.86 sg:total)
Ollie Schniederjans (1.385 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.898 sg:total)
Chesson Hadley (1.374 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.9 sg:total)
Tim Herron (0.01 sg:hard fairways vs. -0.411 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.645 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.251 sg:total)
Talor Gooch (1.397 sg:hard fairways vs. 1.023 sg:total)
Patton Kizzire (1.199 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.832 sg:total)
Adam Schenk (1.26 sg:hard fairways vs. 0.892 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on Hard-to-Hit Fairways since 2014 are Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Charley Hoffman, and Paul Casey.
When fairways get tough to hit, it puts a premium on course management, unless you have the ability to bomb and gouge the course. That’s not the case this week at Colonial CC.
There are just 30 golfers that improve over their baseline on hard-to-hit fairways AND less-than-driver courses.
Four of those 30 are past champs at Colonial (Herron, Sabbatini, Z Johnson, and Kisner).
It’s a unique course-fit combination that shouldn’t be ignored. Looking at baseline performance over the last year, these are the top 10 golfers that qualify for that angle combination currently: Horschel, Z Johnson, Byeong Hun An, Dahmen, Sneds, Na, Kisner, Charley Hoff, Peter Malnati, and Rory Sabbs.
Performance in the Wind
Forecasted winds sit around the 15 MPH range all week and gusts will be much higher.
We are in for a true Texas event.
The Top 10 Wind Specialists:
Max Homa (0.718 sg:wind vs. 0.02 sg:total)
J.T. Poston (1.643 sg:wind vs. 1.059 sg:total)
Joel Dahmen (1.683 sg:wind vs. 1.156 sg:total)
Nick Taylor (1.296 sg:wind vs. 0.856 sg:total)
Seamus Power (1.091 sg:wind vs. 0.664 sg:total)
Jimmy Walker (1.69 sg:wind vs. 1.284 sg:total)
Abraham Ancer (1.454 sg:wind vs. 1.059 sg:total)
Scott Piercy (1.663 sg:wind vs. 1.268 sg:total)
Brandt Snedeker (2.036 sg:wind vs. 1.651 sg:total)
Si Woo Kim (1.446 sg:wind vs. 1.062 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained in windy conditions since 2014 are Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Brandt Snedeker.
We see at least three Texas residents on the list (Walker, Ancer, Si Woo). Performing in the wind is often about comfort and repetition. If you practice in similar, gusty conditions, then it’ll be that much easier come tourney time.
Speaking of wind at Colonial, Rahm said this last year when it was rather calm, “To be honest, I think it will be better for me if it’s windy, because that way everybody will be missing fairways and score will be a lot lower.” He will get his wish this year.
Performance in the Spring
Rainy and windy weather.
Courses where the grasses are still in their growing stages.
Major Championship tuneups.
These are common factors we see during the Spring. Some golfers perform better in them.
The Top 10 Spring Season Specialists:
Si Woo Kim (1.702 sg:spring vs. 1.062 sg:total)
Jimmy Walker (1.887 sg:spring vs. 1.284 sg:total)
Denny McCarthy (1.691 sg:spring vs. 1.112 sg:total)
Peter Uihlein (1.582 sg:spring vs. 1.03 sg:total)
Seamus Power (1.189 sg:spring vs. 0.664 sg:total)
Charley Hoffman (2.044 sg:spring vs. 1.553 sg:total)
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (1.698 sg:spring vs. 1.236 sg:total)
Matt Every (0.28 sg:spring vs. -0.173 sg:total)
Ian Poulter (2.095 sg:spring vs. 1.694 sg:total)
Joel Dahmen (1.555 sg:spring vs. 1.156 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained in the Spring since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Charley Hoffman, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, and Tony Finau.
I wanted to use performance in Texas as a key angle but the sample size is just too small still. However, the Spring Season angle actually covers those Texas events and also pulls in performance in similar weather and agronomic conditions.
We now have 5 golfers that are positive in all five angles. Now we can get picky and cut out the fat if a golfer doesn’t grade out properly in long-term baseline or current form.
Tim Herron: 115th in FORM
Seamus Power: 103rd in 52-Week Baseline
Whee Kim: 118th in FORM
Power was a steady cut maker when he first reached the PGA TOUR but saw a big drop off last year. With a few good recent finishes, he does provide some appeal but I just can’t get to Herron or Whee.
We’ve seen Dahmen knocking on the door lately with a trio of first-round leads but it might be time for him to kick the door down.
He ranks 23rd in this field in performance over the last year. He ranks 5th in current form, over the last 12 weeks. Combine that with this course fit and he becomes a lock-and-load for me. Even with lofty expected ownership across the industry, I will still take an overweight stance on the Washington product and reap the rewards or go down swinging.
Dahmen made his course debut last year with four sub-70 rounds to finish T20 at week’s end.
Secondly, we have Charley Hoffman. The King of Texas. He does his best work on tight, tree-lined courses that demand your full attention. He is 10-for-10 at Colonial with a trio of top 20s. We saw a big dip in his performance in 2018 but he’s starting to flash a bit more form lately. I will be glad to jump on board this week.
No interest in either of these to begin with so that definitely won’t change now that we see they have a poor course fit.
Super Simple Specialist Ratings
The goal of this article is to isolate course fit, to see who should outperform their baseline.
However, anyone with common sense knows that baseline talent (and current form) can’t be ignored when handicapping golf.
Combining Long-Term Skill (L52) with Current Form and Specialist Rating, we get a Top 20 ranking that looks like this:
Byeong Hun An
Last week it was Brooks and DJ at the top of this list. At Colonial it’s Fowler and… Dahmen. Yes, the specialist it really popping this week.
Best of luck everyone!
Below is a table with the full specialist data. Any fields with a 0 in them mean the sample size is not large enough. There is a minimum of 30 rounds to qualify for each angle.
The SG:TOTAL column is a baseline performance measure (since 2014). It is time-weighted so more recent results count for more than finishes from years ago.
HISTORY column is a weighted performance metric based on course history. I’ve made tiny adjustments for sample sizes, but be sure to check on number of course rounds before blindly following this number.
FORM looks at the total strokes gained, adjusted to field strength, over the last 12 weeks (PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour, and European Tour).
SIMPLE RATING looks at Long-Term Skill (L52), FORM, and SPECIALIST RATING to create a simple rating that includes course fit but doesn’t overweight it.
L52 FORM looks at performance over the last 52 weeks across the PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour, and European Tour.
|Golfer||DK||FD||FDRFT||SG: Total||History||Form||Bentgrass||LT Driver||Spring||Hard FW||Windy||Specialist Rating||Simple Rating||L52 Form|
|Si Woo Kim||$7,700||$9,400||$13,900||1.062||0.315||24.546||-0.052||-0.426||0.641||0.153||0.384||0.14||225||1.425|
|Byeong Hun An||$7,500||$9,100||$13,400||1.595||-0.287||39.542||0.007||0.182||0.134||0.057||-0.016||0.073||126||1.61|
|Ted Potter, Jr.||NA||NA||$10,900||0.417||1.214||-15.827||0.372||0.399||0.16||-0.284||-0.322||0.065||578||0.348|
|Tyrone Van Aswegen||$6,000||$7,000||$10,300||0.4||0.704||1.25||0.072||0.064||-0.19||0.103||-0.004||0.009||585||0.089|