The new season gets underway this week in Napa, California.
The wine will be flowing all week, but so will the birdies. The course is being used for the fourth time on TOUR, the field has averaged 0.79 strokes under-par (per round) in the previous three editions. That includes a rain-soaked edition last year which helped the course play easier than ever.
That course is Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course. A shorter, par-72 layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. It has since been reworked by Johnny Miller. Yes, that Johnny Miller. Like we see so often in California, the greens are poa annua.
What will it take to succeed off the tee this week? Andres Gonzales explained it well a few years ago, “You have to shape shots around trees. You can hit driver, you can hit 3-wood, you can hit whatever you want, but I don’t know if anybody is going to be overpowering the course except for on some par 5s.” There are nine driving holes where the field averages over 280 yards but also four holes where the field generally clubs down and averages less than 270 yards.
Like Gonzales mentioned, the par 5s are all reachable in two. The par 5s aren’t the only greens that are easy to reach. There are 11 holes where the field averages over 67% Greens in Reg (EASY to HIT). If you aren’t hitting greens this week, you are going to have a bad time.
Comfort in California (or the West Coast in general) is a nice thing to have in your corner this week, but it’s not the end all, be all. Looking for overlap in success, I found the following courses to be most correlated: Firestone CC, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Kuala Lumpur, Riviera CC, and TPC Scottdale. Close behind were a couple of Cali events (Farmers + Pebble) but the length of Torrey and the course rotation at the Pebble Pro-Am lowered those down the totem pole.
Check out the Fantasy Golfanac for more information on the event…
Players to Watch
Kevin Na… The Las Vegas resident will be playing with a heavy heart this week. He will also be playing with course experience on his side. After a pair of top 15s at this event when CordeValle was the host, Na was unphased after Silverado took over hosting duties. Since then he has finished runner-up and solo 7th. Had a mediocre 2017, by his standards but a pair of late-season top 10s proves that he’s rounded back into form.
Phil Mickelson… Loves playing in Cali, and his stellar week at the Presidents Cup probably has him feeling like a kid again. Posted a T8 in his Silverado debut last year. Should be good to go again.
Jamie Lovemark… At this event last year the USC product posted positive numbers in all four sub-categories of strokes gained. That bodes well for his chances this week, as it clearly fits his eye. The Cali native should enjoy the poa greens on tap this week. One of the few chances all year he gets to play in his home state.
J.J. Spaun … Sticking with the Cali-native theme, Spaun gained 4.5 strokes over the field with his long game at last year’s Safeway Open. His rookie season was slowed down due to a rib injury last year, but he rattled off a couple top 30s near the end of the season, suggesting his health is back at 100%.
Peter Uihlein… Remarkably he qualifies as a PGA TOUR rookie this year, despite having 30 PGA TOUR starts under his belt. It’s not that crazy by itself, but it’s just silly that he qualifies as a rookie while Jon Rahm didn’t qualify last year and someone like Beau Hossler won’t qualify this year. A simple rule change to Rookie Qualifications I’d make: A rookie is anyone who is playing their first season as a PGA TOUR member or reaches the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time. The latter caveat would have helped Rahm remain rookie eligible. Anyway, Uihlein is the real deal, and definitely the leading contender for Rookie of the Year this season.
Keith Mitchell… Sometimes a hot streak at the end of the Web.com Tour can bleed over into the wraparound season on the PGA TOUR. We saw Grillo win here immediately after a strong finish in the Web.com Tour Finals. Mitchell didn’t grab a win in the Finals but he did end his Web.com Tour season five finishes of T11 or better in his last seven starts. He is definitely someone I’m going to target early in the swing season. Other Web grads arriving in great form: Ben Silverman, Tyler Duncan, Andrew Landry, Chesson Hadley, Rob Oppenheim, Bronson Burgoon, Sam Saunders, Ryan Armour, Brice Garnett, Taylor Gooch, and Lanto Griffin.
Aaron Wise… Speaking of Web grads, Wise is one I really want to target. However, his stats just don’t stack up quite yet. The eye tests suggest that playing him now (on the West Coast) would be a good idea, but his PGA TOUR results have been mediocre. Perhaps, now that he’s locked up some status he’ll play a little more care-free. My gut is saying to plug and play him all fall, but my spreadsheet is telling me to take the wait-and-see approach.
Bill Haas… Billy has six career wins on the PGA TOUR. Three of those have come in the Golden State. If you want to lock in a top 30 with winning upside, Haas is probably the man for the job.
Keegan Bradley… I told myself I’m not going to play narratives this year, but Keegan had to be gutted to watch the Presidents Cup action at home instead of being a part of the team. Sometimes big events like that can spark some form out of golfers that used to be regulars in them. Bradley certainly fits the bill. Narrative aside, I like the fact that he gained 5.9 strokes approaching-the-green at this course last year.
My Top 25 for the 2017-18 Safeway Open
1. Kevin Na
2. Keegan Bradley
3. Phil Mickelson
4. Brendan Steele
5. Bill Haas
6. Tony Finau
7. Zach Johnson
8. Emiliano Grillo
9. Ryan Moore
10. Webb Simpson
11. Martin Laird
12. Sung Kang
13. Harris English
14. Jamie Lovemark
15. J.J. Spaun
16. Peter Uihlein
17. Luke List
18. Lucas Glover
19. Mackenzie Hughes
20. Ollie Schniederjans
21. Graham DeLaet
22. Jason Kokrak
23. Bud Cauley
24. Keith Mitchell
25. Chez Reavie