When a new course hits the PGA TOUR schedule, it is always fun to breakdown the new venue and guess how it will play.
This week, we have the chance to look at The Club at Nine Bridges as the TOUR readies for their first-ever tournament played in South Korea.
The visionary behind this week’s course is Jay Lee, the grandson of the Samsung founder. Apparently, he’s also being sentenced to five years in jail right now, unless that’s another Jay Lee from South Korea. Anyway, Lee is/was a member at Riviera Country Club so he knows good course architecture. His net worth also exceeds $7 Billion, so he also knows how to spend (and make) money. Remember those two go hand-in-hand, right?
When building The Club at Nine Bridges, he didn’t hold back. He found some property on Jeju Island (Honeymoon Island) and brought in bentgrass greens, which is very rare for this part of the world, given the climate. However, they call it “The Finest Western Turf” so he couldn’t build the course without bentgrass surfaces, even if it does mean throwing dollars down the drain each year trying to keep it playable in all weather conditions.
In July, particularly, the average rainfall is more than double a city like Seattle’s highest rainfall month, a city known for its rain. Luckily, October is not one of the rainier months for Jeju Island, so we should get clear conditions, although temps are not forecasted above 70 degrees all week, so it will be a stark contrast from last week’s hot and humid conditions. Pretty similar to some of the events in January and February on TOUR, though.
From there, the course is inspired by Scottish golf (bunker styling), played at 3,500 feet above sea level, and is very well manicured. It receives a yearly accolade of Top 100 Courses Outside the United States.
As a par 72 playing to just 7,198 yards it is on the shorter side of the length spectrum but nothing extreme. There is water on at least four holes, with the closing, par-5 18th being the most notable. Golfers in this no-cut field will take on an island green at the closing par 5, likely requiring an above-average tee shot to have a go at the green in two.
At 3,500 feet above sea level, that is nothing like Crans Montana but it is just enough to make you second guess on club selection. Some PGA TOUR courses played above 1,500 feet include TPC Scottdale, TPC Summerlin, and The Old White TPC. Those COULD prove as relevant pointers, but that’s pure speculation as we haven’t seen how this course will play.
Other than elevation, we can look at course length, grass types, time of the season played, etc. to find some correlated events. The search is going to be a bit more guesswork than most weeks since we have ZERO course history to test on. Still, I’ve picked out five events that could play similarly: CIMB Classic, WGC-HSBC (Sheshan), Waste Management Phoenix Open, Farmers Insurance Open, and the Genesis Open.
Players to Watch
Justin Thomas… Couldn’t pull off the three-peat last week but that doesn’t make him any less appealing this week. Another no-cut event where Thomas can let his fantasy-friendly game go to town. Should be better acclimated to the time zone than some of the Americans who just flew in over the weekend.
Daniel Berger… Another star in no-cut events, Berger should be aggressive all week. He has winning upside but we really want to target him on FanDuel or DraftKings because he is the type of golfer that can can rack up birdies and eagles in bunches and easily outperform golfers (from a fantasy perspective) that finish ahead of him in the standings.
Ian Poulter… He has loads of success in Asia, and is trying to play his way back into the Ryder Cup conversation this year. Not the flashiest star in the sky, but he should bring his best stuff week in and week out for the next 10 months.
Marc Leishman … Finished the Playoffs with a third-place finish and a win before settling for T24 at East Lake. The Presidents Cup didn’t go as he’d hoped but the good form is not far removed. On paper, he looks like a top-5 type of play this week. With the new baby at home, I would be a little worried about fatigue. We don’t need to pile jetlag onto the plate of a dad who is probably already lacking in the sleep department. Of course, if mother and kids stay back in the States this week, he could be setup for the best sleep he’s had in weeks. This puzzle is not easily solved, best to lean on the Nappy Factor experts on this one.
Patrick Cantlay… Last year I would have made up a narrative to avoid PC in this spot. A guy with a history of back troubles making a long journey across the world. Spending all that time in a plane can really stiffen a back. Add in the relatively cool temperatures this week, and we have a recipe for back troubles for guys like Cantlay, J. Day, DeLaet, Si Woo, Danny Lee, etc. That was the old me, though. This year, I’m trying not to get caught up in the web of narrative-based plays. Instead, I think Cantlay could come firing out of the gates to open the season. Making the long journey to Asia for two events says that he’s ready to expand his schedule this season so let’s stay on the train until he gives us a reason to jump. UPDATE: Cantlay is a pre-tourney WD, so scratch all of that. Hopefully he can still tee it up in Shanghai next week.
Rafa Cabrera Bello… Very odd to skip some key events on the Euro Tour, given he was 4th in the Race to Dubai entering last week. At the same time, it’s hard to pass up free FedExCup Points that will help him retain his PGA TOUR card for next season. He doesn’t have the course history like he did last week at TPC Kuala Lumpur, but he’s nice and warmed up now after returning from a short break at season’s end. Should be in the mix again this week.
Xander Schauffele… When asked about the course fit at TPC KL last week he responded with, “You know, I thought it didn’t [fit me], but I guess I’m hitting it in most of the fairways and I figure the greens would be kind of tough for me since they’re a little slow.” That is how locked in the SDSU product is right now. Was in contention all week on a course that didn’t fit his eye.
Keegan Bradley… People love to hate on Keegan but his finishing positions are not as extreme as his round-to-round scoring. Sure, he hasn’t hit the winner’s circle in a while and he’ll often back up a round of 65 with a round of 75 but he has also averaged more birdies per round than the field’s he faced in 10 of his last 11 events played. He’s a birdie maker which is exactly what we need on DraftKings and FanDuel. After a runner-up last week, I see him parlaying that into another good week at Nine Bridges. Another slate of four par 5s which is where Keegan can really feast.
Tony Finau… Speaking of par 5s, the big Samoan should enjoy some island golf this week in Korea. Kicking off with his top 5 at the Valspar last year, he’s beat the field average by 4 or more strokes (for the week) in 13 of his last 19 starts. Hard to argue with those kind of results.
Sung Kang… Plenty of Koreans in the field this week, but Kang would be my favorite this week. He’s coming off a T3 last week in Malaysia. He has some success with winning in Korea. Back in 2013 he actually finished 1st on the KPGA Korean Tour money list despite pegging it in just four events. That is because he came in like a wrecking ball and won the CJ Invitational and Korean Open in back-to-back weeks. He beat out notables like Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Rory McIlroy in those events. Could this finally be the week that Kang reaches the winner’s circle? The odds are not great, but certainly higher than most weeks.
My Top 25 for the 2017-18 CJ Cup
1. Justin Thomas
2. Xander Schauffele
3. Paul Casey
4. Daniel Berger
5. Keegan Bradley
6. Tony Finau
Patrick Cantlay Cantlay a Monday WD; Add Thomas Pieters at #25
8. Marc Leishman
9. Sung Kang
10. Ian Poulter
11. Rafa Cabrera Bello
12. Luke List
13. Emiliano Grillo
14. Kevin Na
15. Graeme McDowell
16. Russell Henley
17. Branden Grace
18. Charl Schwartzel
19. Patrick Reed
20. Anirban Lahiri
21. Jason Day
22. Gary Woodland
23. James Hahn
24. Adam Scott
25. Pat Perez