Event and Course Preview: AT&T Byron Nelson

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Event and Course Preview: AT&T Byron Nelson

The second major of the PGA Tour season kicks off this week, as the PGA Championship heads back to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the first time since Tiger Woods won the tournament in 2007. The course has hosted seven men’s major championships in its 86-year history. It was used for the U.S. Open in 1958, 1977, and 2001, and for the PGA Championship in 1970, 1982, 1994, 2007, and now 2022. Most recently, the club was the host of the 2021 Senior PGA Championship, when Alex Cejka won with a score of eight under par.

Course Preview

Southern Hills Golf Course was designed by Perry Maxwell in 1936, right in the middle of the Great Depression. The course was funded by Waite Phillips, who was the brother of the founder of Phillips 66. The original design was restored by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in 2018 to better replicate what Maxwell had created. The fairway bunkers were also pushed back a bit to match the length of modern players off the tee.

The course is a par 70 track that will measure 7,556 yards for the 2022 PGA Championship. Golfers will see tree-lined bermudagrass fairways off the tee. The word “hills” in the Southern Hills name is no joke, as there are elevation changes and rolling hills throughout the property. These slopes will cause many approach shots to have uneven lies. The smaller greens will make the second shot crucial on all par 4 holes. With uneven lies and windy weather conditions, even the best iron players will miss the greens, so players will need a solid short game to save par multiple times throughout each round. The bentgrass greens will play firm and fast, like most major championships, and will present golfers with false edges and undulating slopes. The bermuda rough is not very penalyzing at 2.5 inches long, but will cause inaccurate approach shots to run off the elevated greens into hazards or terrible chipping positions.

Three of the par 3s measure over 210 yards, with the eighth hole measuring a lengthy 251 yards. There are two monstrous par 5s that both measure over 630 yards. This will actually benefit the shorter hitters, as everyone will likely have to layup on their second shot, virtually eliminating eagle opportunities for longer drivers.

Quick Points
  • Course Architect: Perry Maxwell (1936), Gil Hanse (2018)

  • Par: 70 (Four Par 3s, Twelve Par 4s, Two Par 5s)

  • Distance: 7,556 Yards

  • Greens Surface: Bentgrass

  • Average Green Size: 5,047 Sq. Feet - Below Tour Average

  • Number of Holes With Water Hazards: 15

  • Sand Bunkers: 87

  • Rough Length: 2.25 Inches Bermuda

Pivotal Holes

The second hole has a creek strategically placed 225 yards off the tee that slices through the middle of the fairway and runs along the left side up until the green. The green is highly guarded, as four bunkers surround the elevated surface. A slight miss will cause the ball to run off into one of these four traps. I expect to see some high scores on this 500 yard par 4 hole due to the variety of hazards.

The par 4 12th hole also features an elevated and highly protected green. With a mix of bunkers and the creek surrounding the bentgrass surface, players will need to be precise with their approach shot. The tee shot will land on a raised fairway that is lined with trees on both sides before turning into a dogleg left. The combination of hazards and the difficult putting surface will make this 461-yard dogleg left one of the most difficult holes at Southern Hills.

The finishing 18th hole is a dogleg right that measures 491 yards. Golfers will have to use their long irons or fairway woods to get to the green on approach. The hole slopes upward and finishes with a view of the grandstand. The green slopes from the back to the front and will likely see three putts.

Other PGA Championship Facts
  • The PGA Championship used to be played under the “Match Play” format. From 1916 to 1957, golfers would play up to 200 holes in seven days. Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hoge are a few players that have multiple PGA Championship titles through this format. After the 1957 event lost money, the 1958 event was changed to the normal 72-hole stroke play format.

  • The PGA Championship has been played on several different dates in its lifespan. In the 60’s, the tournament was held the week after the British Open, making it very difficult to compete in both events. In its history, the championship has been played in February, May, June, July, and August. Prior to 2017, the PGA moved the PGA Championship back to May to accommodate for future Summer Olympics.

  • This year’s PGA Championship will be the eleventh time the event is played somewhere other than the eastern side of the United States. New York has hosted the event 13 times.

Key Stats

  • SG: OTT

  • SG: Approach

  • SG: ARG / Scrambling

  • SG: Putting on Fast Bentgrass Greens

  • Bogey Avoidance

  • SG: Windy Conditions

I will discuss the “Accuracy vs. Distance” dilemma in more detail below, however I want players who are strong in both aspects this week.

Top 5 Players in SG: OTT
Jon Rahm
Cameron Young
Cameron Champ
Max Homa
Sergio Garcia

As with most courses, SG: Approach is going to reign supreme at Southern Hills. With sloping greens and detrimental hazards that surround them, hitting greens is going to be crucial.

Top-5 players in SG: Approach
Will Zalatoris
Viktor Hovland
Jordan Spieth
Justin Thomas
Russell Henley

Even the best approach players will miss the small, elevated greens this week. Golfers will need to scramble for par multiple times in order to contend.

Top-5 players in SG: Around the Green
Matt Kuchar
Matt Jones
Joaquin Niemann
Chris Kirk
Louis Oostuizen

Southern Hills features bentgrass greens that will play firm and fast like most Major championships. Let's take a look at who are the best putters on fast bentgrass greens.

Top-5 players in SG: Putting on Fast, Bentgrass Greens
Patrick Cantlay
Abraham Ancer
Alexander Noren
Troy Merritt
Rory McIlroy

Southern Hills is likely going to be a beast of a course. In last year’s Senior PGA Championship, only seven players shot under par in the event. Limiting mistakes and saving par will be essential to contending at Southern Hills.

Top-5 players in Bogey Avoidance
Matt Fitzpatrick
Shane Lowry
Justin Thomas
Xander Schauffele
Sungjae Im

Winds are forecasted to be 10–20 mph throughout the event, with some weather stations predicting gusts over 30 mph. Here are the players who play the best in the wind.

Top 10 players in SG: Windy Conditions
Jon Rahm
Patrick Cantlay
Collin Morikawa
Webb Simpson
Louis Oostuizen
Justin Thomas
Rory McIlroy
Joaquin Niemann
Adam Scott
Will Zalatoris
Other Stat Combinations
  • Southern Hills measures over 7500 yards and features bentgrass greens. The top 5 players on these types of courses are Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, and Corey Conners.

  • As I mentioned above, winds are forecasted to push around 10-15 mph each day. The top golfers in windy conditions on courses over 7400 yards include Jon Rahm, Joaquin Niemann, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.

  • Scrambling is going to be crucial this week. These are the best golfers in the field when scrambling on bentgrass greens: Kevin Na, JJ Spaun, Patrick Cantlay, Seamus Power, and Jon Rahm.

Check out Pat James’ Stat Model article for a more in-depth breakdown of the main stats to look at this week.

Tournament History

Last year, Phil Mickelson edged out Brooks Koepka in an epic Sunday showdown. The final pairing of golfers traded blows on what was a roller coaster of a front nine. After Brooks took the lead with an opening birdie, Phil took it right back with a birdie on the second while Koepka scored a double bogey. Mickelson had three bogeys, three birdies, and three pars in the first nine holes en route to an even par front nine. Koepka had his chances, but three bogeys in the first four holes on the back nine put him out of contention to win. Louis Oosthuizen came within a couple shots of Phil on Sunday, but a double bogey on the 13th hole caused him to finish in a tie for second with Koepka. A one over par 37 on the back nine was good enough for Mickelson to clinch the PGA Championship by two strokes. This was Phil’s first major championship since 2005 and he became the oldest player to win a major.

The last five winners of this tournament include:

  • 2021 - Phil Mickelson (-6)

  • 2020 - Collin Morikawa (-13)

  • 2019 - Brooks Koepka (-8)

  • 2018 - Brooks Koepka (-16)

  • 2017 - Justin Thomas (-8)

All of these events were played on different golf courses, but it is apparent that the cream of the crop typically rises to the top of the leaderboard at the PGA Championship.

Previous winners of professional events held at Southern Hills:

  • 1958 US Open - Tommy Bolt

  • 1970 PGA Championship - Dave Stockton

  • 1977 US Open - Hubert Green

  • 1982 PGA Championship - Raymond Floyd

  • 1994 PGA Championship - Nick Price

  • 2001 US Open - Retief Goosen

  • 2007 PGA Championship - Tiger Woods

  • 2021 Senior PGA Championship - Alex Cejka

The Field

With another major championship on our plate, we are treated with another high quality field. 107 of the top 109 players in the Official Golf World Rankings are listed in the field. Jon Rahm heads the top of the odds board, just a few weeks off of his win at the Mexico Open. The hottest golfer on the planet, Scottie Scheffler, sits right behind him. Southern Hills was the site of Scheffler’s Big 12 Championship victory when he was playing in college. Rory McIlroy enters the PGA Championship playing great golf, as he is coming off of top-5 finishes at the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship. The winner of the 2017 PGA Championship, Justin Thomas, enters the field with the same odds as Scheffler and McIlroy. Dustin Johnson is looking for his first PGA Tour victory since his win at Augusta in November of 2020. Jordan Spieth enters the field looking to complete the career grand slam, with the PGA Championship being the only major he hasn’t won. As with all PGA Championships, there are 20 PGA professionals that qualified for this event. The top-20 finishers from April’s qualifier earned an invitation to the major championship. Jesse Mueller, a 39-year-old PGA professional at the Grand Canyon University Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona, was victorious at the qualifier.

The favorites to win the 2022 PGA Championship include:

  • Jon Rahm +1100

  • Scottie Scheffler +1200

  • Justin Thomas +1200

  • Rory McIlroy +1600

  • Collin Morikawa +1600

  • Patrick Cantlay +1600

  • Jordan Spieth +1800

Weather

Tulsa, Oklahoma is forecasted to have temperatures in the mid-80s each day of the PGA Championship. Winds are expected to reach 10-15 mph each day, which could add an extra line of defense to the golf course. Of course, this can always change so be sure to check the weather on Wednesday night.

DFS Ownership Early Outlook

As of Monday, the top-five projected highest owned golfers include:

  • Hideki Matsuyama - $9,200

  • Justin Thomas - $10,700

  • Patrick Cantlay - $9,100

  • Rory McIlroy - $10,000

  • Shane Lowry - $8,700

Be sure to check the FantasyPoints ownership projections for updates throughout the week.

Essential Questions

Should we put an emphasis on driving distance or accuracy this week?

We have seen the importance of these two driving stats flip-flop in the last few events. Vidanta Villarta (Mexico Open) and TPC Craig Ranch (AT&T Byron Nelson) gave the bombers a slight advantage, whereas TPC Potomac (Wells Fargo) and Harbour Town (RBC Heritage) gave fairway hitters a leg up on the field. Which of the two stats will take command this week? It is always tough to tell when we see courses that are rarely played on the PGA Tour due to not having much historical data to go off of. Distance almost always provides an advantage, and it will certainly help on a course that plays over 7500 yards. However, the two par 5’s are too long to be reachable in two, negating the advantage that long hitters typically have. With the large amount of hazards found throughout the course, players will likely keep the driver in the bag on a few of the holes. The trees that align the dogleg-fairways and the creek that runs throughout many of the holes will set players back who are shaky off the tee. I am slightly leaning towards accuracy over distance this week, however we obviously want to target players who have a solid balance between the two stats and are strong off the tee overall.

Will golfers’ fitness have an impact at Southern Hills?

I am no fitness expert by any means, but I do know high temperatures and elevation changes are never a great combination. As mentioned earlier, temperatures are forecasted to reach mid 80s all four days and Southern Hills will have players moving up and down the terrain each hole. The heat at Southern Hills has had an impact on major championships in the past. In 2007, temperatures hit 100 degrees in each round. The rolling hills will require players to climb up and down slopes to get to their next shot. While these guys are all professionals and in much better shape than I am, they also don’t have the comfort of a golf cart and an ice cold beer in between shots to cool them down. I will be interested to see if fitness plays any impact throughout the four days.

Early Betting Targets

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth has found something once again. After missing the cut at the Masters, Spieth has a victory at the RBC Heritage and a runner-up at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Spieth’s magic around the greens and great ball striking as of late should be a great fit at Southern Hills, and his experience of playing on a lot of Texas/Oklahoma courses will only benefit him. I think of Spieth’s performance at the British Open last year, which was also played on a course with lots of slopes and windy conditions. Spieth has his eyes set on completing the career grand slam this week, as the PGA Championship is the last segment missing for the three time major winner. Spieth is probably the most volatile out of the golfers at the top of the field, but he provides the some of the highest upside as well.

Hideki Matsuyama

After battling a neck injury in March, Hideki has strung together a couple of great results in recent weeks. He finished 14th at Augusta, ranking 5th in SG: ARG and 8th in SG: T2G. The 11th ranked golfer in the OWGR also finished T3 last week at the Byron Nelson, gaining over 9 strokes on Approach and shooting a ten under par 62 in the final round. Since winning the Masters last year, Hideki hasn’t had a weak spot in his game. Besides being slightly negative in SG: Putting, Hideki ranks in the top 50 in every major stat category within this field. He plays his best golf on difficult golf courses, which is exactly how Southern Hills will play. I could see Hideki adding to his Major championship wins at Southern Hills.

Cameron Young

This may be the most popular bet of the week, so get your bets in early. Cameron Young is a rookie on the PGA Tour, but he is no stranger to DFS players and bettors. Young has been in contention multiple times this year, including runner-up finishes at the Wells Fargo

Championship and the Genesis Open. In the last 24 rounds, Young ranks 8th in the field in overall strokes gained, 3rd in SG: T2G, and 8th in SG: ball-striking. Can he actually compete in a major championship though? Young is 0/3 on made cuts so far in majors, however he is clearly a much different player now. He has performed well on both easy and difficult courses, as well as ones that emphasize one of distance or accuracy off the tee. I am focusing most of my card on the top of the field, however I can’t get away from a FOMO bet on Cameron Young.

Early Tee Time Livestream - Monday @ 6 ET

Well, that does it for the PGA Championship Event and Course Preview. For a more in-depth breakdown of the course, the field, DFS strategy, and my favorite picks this week be sure to check out the Early Tee Time livestream this Monday at 5 PM Eastern. Good luck everyone!

*All stats used are from FantasyNational and DataGolf

Hunter Vanness started his golf content by posting a player pool each week on Twitter, which eventually turned into a DFS cheatsheet, in addition to a weekly event preview. He is fascinated by the game theory part of PGA DFS and is continuing to dive into the data side of the game.