Searching for a Specialist: RBC Heritage
It’s a hangover week for the PGA TOUR. An after party. A vacation. Spring Break.
No matter how you look at it, there will be a big letdown week-over-week from the Masters. The event embraces that role and doesn’t try to overdo things. It’s a very laidback atmosphere on Hilton Head Island.
The course is Harbour Town Golf Links which has been hosting for 50 years now. It’s a short and tricky, coastal course, with bermudagrass turf.
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, Tony Finau was the lone specialist and he nearly pulled off the big win. He played his way into the final group. He was slow out of the gate on Sunday and then stumbled on the par-3 12th but overall still racked up a T5 finish.
This week we look at Performance on Bermuda Greens, Coastal Courses, Less-than-Driver Courses, Short Courses, and Performance in the Wind.
Here we go…
After a quick bentgrass stop at Augusta National, we are back to bermuda this week at the RBC Heritage.
I think it’s worth noting that the course fact sheet lists some overseed this year (which they don’t usually list) but the overall base here is still bermuda and this is the time of year when the bermuda comes out of dormancy. It might be a year where it’s stuck in between the overseed and bermuda phase but overall, we want golfers that like bermuda turf.
The 10 Bermuda Specialists:
Sam Burns (1.605 sg:bermuda vs. 0.894 sg:total)
Keith Mitchell (1.862 sg:bermuda vs. 1.217 sg:total)
Rory Sabbatini (1.401 sg:bermuda vs. 0.873 sg:total)
Luke List (2.022 sg:bermuda vs. 1.551 sg:total)
Chesson Hadley (1.39 sg:bermuda vs. 0.923 sg:total)
Bryson DeChambeau (2.322 sg:bermuda vs. 1.854 sg:total)
Austin Cook (1.797 sg:bermuda vs. 1.335 sg:total)
Nick Watney (1.576 sg:bermuda vs. 1.12 sg:total)
Webb Simpson (2.467 sg:bermuda vs. 2.024 sg:total)
Lucas Glover (1.976 sg:bermuda vs. 1.536 sg:total)
Quantity: The golfers that have the most strokes gained on Bermuda Greens since 2014 are Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Marc Leishman, and Charles Howell III.
On the flip side, golfers like Chris Stroud, Anirban Lahiri, and Michael Kim decline by more than half a shot per round versus their baseline when playing on bermuda. Lahiri has been living in Florida for a few years now so I’d expect him to correct that eventually but it’s not something I will try to be early on.
Harbour Town Golf Links is located on Hilton Head Island.
It’s very exposed to the coastal elements.
The Top 10 Coastal Course Specialists:
Patton Kizzire (1.815 sg:coastal vs. 0.791 sg:total)
Danny Willett (1.31 sg:coastal vs. 0.612 sg:total)
Ted Potter, Jr. (1.152 sg:coastal vs. 0.458 sg:total)
J.J. Spaun (1.658 sg:coastal vs. 0.973 sg:total)
D.J. Trahan (0.941 sg:coastal vs. 0.302 sg:total)
Brian Gay (1.632 sg:coastal vs. 1.029 sg:total)
Kelly Kraft (1.09 sg:coastal vs. 0.496 sg:total)
Scott Stallings (1.454 sg:coastal vs. 0.864 sg:total)
Jonathan Byrd (1.264 sg:coastal vs. 0.697 sg:total)
Brice Garnett (1.15 sg:coastal vs. 0.598 sg:total)
Quantity: Golfers with the most weighted strokes gained on coastal courses since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charles Howell III, and Russell Knox.
Kizzire shows up on top here. Makes sense when you consider his two wins came at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and Sony Open (both coastal tracks).
Harbour Town Golf Links has earned the reputation for being one of the courses that restrics driver usage.
There will be holes where the big hitters can still mash it but overall a good majority of the holes force them to hit into the same landing areas. That often means clubbing down off the tee.
The Top 10 Less-than-Driver Specialists:
Roger Sloan (0.766 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.302 sg:total)
Ted Potter, Jr. (0.921 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.458 sg:total)
D.A. Points (0.222 sg:less-than-driver vs. -0.226 sg:total)
Jason Dufner (1.569 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.189 sg:total)
Alex Noren (1.823 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.48 sg:total)
Tyler Duncan (0.671 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.351 sg:total)
Emiliano Grillo (1.959 sg:less-than-driver vs. 1.661 sg:total)
Ryan Armour (1.284 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.99 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.619 sg:less-than-driver vs. 0.339 sg:total)
Tommy Fleetwood (2.815 sg:less-than-driver vs. 2.54 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on LT Driver Courses since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Charles Howell III, Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson, and Dustin Johnson.
A sneaky edge for some confident golfers on these type of courses is to hit more drivers than the field. There will be situations where a big hitter will need to lay back with an iron but a shorter hitter can actually poke away with their driver and try to use their driving confidence as an advantage to actually gain strokes off-the-tee over the bigger hitter. It also helps to be a lights-out iron or wedge player on these type of tracks.
The course this week sits right at 7,100 yards and plays as a par 71.
That sounds about mid-range in terms of distance but it becomes much shorter when you look at a hole-by-hole view.
There are three par 4s that play under 410 yards while just three of them play longer than 451 yards. Two of the three par 5s play under 550 yards. The par 3s are difficult but don’t require the longest of irons. They all play in the 170-to-200 yard range.
Overall, we have a short course on our hands.
The Top 10 Short Course Specialists:
Anirban Lahiri (1.708 sg:short vs. 0.954 sg:total)
Cameron Smith (2.002 sg:short vs. 1.326 sg:total)
Patton Kizzire (1.444 sg:short vs. 0.791 sg:total)
Tyler Duncan (0.995 sg:short vs. 0.351 sg:total)
Andrew Landry (1.286 sg:short vs. 0.678 sg:total)
Richy Werenski (1.287 sg:short vs. 0.689 sg:total)
Lucas Glover (2.103 sg:short vs. 1.536 sg:total)
Brice Garnett (1.135 sg:short vs. 0.598 sg:total)
Si Woo Kim (1.574 sg:short vs. 1.065 sg:total)
Brian Harman (1.681 sg:short vs. 1.196 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on Short Courses since 2014 are Dustin Johnson, Adam Hadwin, Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, and Lucas Glover.
Someone like DJ can still dismantle a short course, as we notice by his appearance in the quantity list, despite playing a lot fewer events on these type of courses.
However, the majority of names that pop here are the shorter hitters than have elite short games.
Performance in the Wind
The early forecast looks like we are in for a wild ride this week. Just head over to Kevin Roth’s forecast to see the heavy winds expected to roar through Hilton Head Island.
The Top 10 Wind Specialists:
Joel Dahmen (1.746 sg:wind vs. 1.03 sg:total)
Danny Willett (1.303 sg:wind vs. 0.612 sg:total)
Kelly Kraft (1.157 sg:wind vs. 0.496 sg:total)
Si Woo Kim (1.594 sg:wind vs. 1.065 sg:total)
Nick Taylor (1.4 sg:wind vs. 0.884 sg:total)
Adam Schenk (1.375 sg:wind vs. 0.872 sg:total)
Harris English (1.468 sg:wind vs. 0.991 sg:total)
Alex Cejka (1.168 sg:wind vs. 0.731 sg:total)
Seamus Power (0.973 sg:wind vs. 0.549 sg:total)
Ernie Els (0.855 sg:wind vs. 0.444 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained in Windy Conditions since 2014 are Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker, and Charles Howell III.
The thing about wind performance is that it comes down to confidence. Just look at Jordan Spieth as a prime example. When he’s in form he is one of the best golfers in the world and he thrives in windy conditions. He’s on the record for “hating driving range conditions.” He likes to avoid events that are typically played in calm conditions. That being said, his Wind splits have taken a huge dive over the last year as he continues to search for his lost form.
You can also try to look at golfer quotes to see who enjoys playing in the wind. That’s not always a direct link but over the longterm, those golfers tend to have more than their fair share of good wind rounds.
We now have six golfers that are positive in all five angles. Now we get to cut the fat for anyone that doesn’t fall inside the top 70 in form or baseline performance over the last year.
Brian Harman: 116th in One-Year Baseline
D.A. Points: 123rd in One-Year Baseline
Jonas Blixt: 108th in One-Year Baseline
Rod Pampling: 132nd in One-Year Baseline
These four all fit the course but they all sit outside the top 100 in performance over the last 52 weeks. We don’t need to take the unnecessary risk here.
The main man this week is Russell Knox.
He sees a monster boost of nearly half a stroke per round when playing coastal tracks. That amounts to a full two strokes over the course of a four-day event.
The Scot has a couple close calls at Mayakoba and also has four finishes of T18 or better here at Harbour Town.
Think he’ll mind the wind? Nope. He had this to see when contending at the 2016 Heritage, “I love playing in the wind. The conditions this week were extremely difficult. This course is tough. But it’s perfect for me. It’s one of my favorite courses. I expected to play well.”
The secondary specialist is Brandt Snedeker who will be making his 14th appearance at this event. He’s a past champ (2011) and has three other finishes of T17 or better.
Snedeker’s ball-striking has been suspect lately but he’s still gaining strokes in the short-game department in 75 percent of his measured rounds over the last three months. That ranks top 10 in this field so I would expect he leans heavily on his short-game skills en route to a top 30 this week.
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:
Charles Howell III
Si Woo Kim
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Byeong Hun An
Tommy Lad hasn’t played this event before but the numbers suggest he lines up great for the tight, tree-lined design.
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 6 weeks (PGA 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||Bermuda||Coastal||LT Driver||Short||Windy||Specialist Rating||Simple Rating||L52 Form|
|Si Woo Kim||$9,000||$10,100||$15,200||1.065||2.607||31.455||0.226||0.446||-0.379||0.509||0.53||0.266||140||1.497|
|Ted Potter, Jr.||$6,400||$7,300||$10,900||0.458||1.709||-16.262||0.107||0.694||0.463||0.37||-0.323||0.262||599||0.568|
|Charles Howell III||$8,700||$10,100||$14,800||1.71||0.742||31.337||0.119||0.334||-0.05||0.031||0.207||0.128||96||2.053|
|Rafa Cabrera Bello||$7,600||$9,800||$13,700||1.938||-0.278||24.675||0.052||-0.286||0.22||0.48||-0.238||0.045||153||1.935|
|Davis Love III||$6,100||$8,000||$10,500||0.017||-0.211||-7.618||0.402||-0.023||-0.082||0.252||-0.473||0.015||675||0.038|
|Ray Franz, Jr.||$6,300||$7,000||$10,200||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||645||0|
|Byeong Hun An||$8,200||$9,800||$14,900||1.645||1.79||47.28||0.336||-0.72||0.264||-0.44||0.075||-0.097||166||1.77|
|Harold Varner III||$6,300||$7,900||$12,000||1.028||0.093||1.382||-0.306||-0.094||0.041||0.226||-0.858||-0.198||449||1.436|