Event and Course Preview: Charles Schwab Challenge

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Event and Course Preview: Charles Schwab Challenge

What a final day golf fans were given on Sunday, as Justin Thomas pulled off the incredible comeback to win the PGA Championship. Although we all feel for Mito Pereira, it is tough to imagine him not contending in future majors over the next decade. It was cool to see other recent Korn Ferry TOur grads also perform well, as Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young, and Davis Riley all finished inside the top-15.

The Charles Schwab Challenge, also known as the Colonial National Invitational, has been held since 1946 at the Colonial Country Club, located in Fort Worth Texas. The event has been played at Colonial every year since its inauguration, making it the longest non-major event to be held at the same golf course. Charles Schwab picked up the sponsorship in 2019, with Dean & Deluca, Crowne Plaza, Bank of America, and MasterCard being a few of the previous sponsors. In addition to the large prize pool, the winner of the Charles Schwab Challenge wins their own restored sports car. Last year, Jason Kokrak took home a 1946 Schwab Power Wagon. This year’s champion will drive away with a 1973 Pontiac Firebird.

Course Preview

Colonial Country Club was designed by John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell in 1936. One of those names likely sounds familiar to you, as Perry Maxwell was the architect of Southern Hills Golf Course, home of last week’s PGA Championship. Like Southern Hills, Colonial is set to go through a restoration of the Maxwell-designed course in 2023.

The course is a par 70 track that measures just over 7200 yards. One of the main defenses of Colonial is the subtle-but-tricky doglegs. Ben Hogan once said “a straight ball at Colonial will get you into more trouble than any course I know.” Precision and accuracy should be emphasized over distance this week, as Fairway Accuracy and Greens-in-Regulation Percentage at Colonial is lower than the Tour average.

The rough is a lengthy 3 inches long, so keeping your ball in the short grass will be advantageous all week long. The average green size is 5000 feet, which is small compared to Tour Average. Other courses with small greens include Pebble Beach and Harbour Town, however the rough at Colonial is much more penalyzing if players don’t keep the ball in the fairway. It reminds me of TPC Potomac, which we saw just a few weeks ago. The average green size was 4,265 yards and the rough measured 3.5 inches long. Missing the fairway virtually eliminated birdie opportunities, which will be common at Colonial as well.

Quick Points
  • Course Architect: John Bredemus & Perry Maxwell (1936)

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

  • Distance: 7,209 Yards

  • Greens Surface: Bentgrass

  • Average Green Size: 5000 Sq. Feet - Below Tour Average

  • Number of Holes With Water Hazards: 6

  • Sand Bunkers: 84

  • Rough Length: 3 in. Bermudagrass

  • Historic Cutline: Between -1 and +5 over the last 20 years

Pivotal Holes

Holes 3-5 are known as the “Horrible Horseshoe” and play as the toughest stretch of holes on the course. The third hole is a 483-yard long par 4 that turns into a dogleg left after a strategically placed tee shot. The long approach shot to the green surrounded by three bunkers limits birdie opportunities, as golfer’s see birdies only 11% of the time.

The fourth hole is a par 3 that measures a monstrous 247 yards, making it the longest par 3 on the course. It is the only par 3 hole at Colonial to not see a hole-in-one in the 76 years that the event has been played on the course. At only 8.4%, the fourth hole is the most difficult hole to birdie at Colonial.

The fifth holes is a 481-yard par 4. Players must be precise off the tee, as there is a ditch to the left of the fairway and a river to the right. The tree-lined fairway makes the narrow approach shot difficult to hit the green. The hole sees the most bogeys per round at Colonial at over 23%.

The ninth hole measures 407 yards and is a par 4. The pond in front of the green makes short approach shots risky and will cause a few double bogeys throughout the weekend if players get careless. While rather short compared to the other par 4s, the holes sees the most double bogeys on the course at a 5.3% rate.

Key Stats

  • SG: OTT / Fairways Gained

  • SG: Approach

  • Scrambling

  • SG: Par 4s

  • SG: Putting on Bentgrass

  • SG: Total at Colonial

11 of last year’s top 20 finishers at Colonial hit at least 70% of fairways. Driving accuracy needs to be prioritized over distance this week, as the fairways and long rough make birdie opportunities difficult if you’re not playing from the short grass. Here are the top 5 players in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee with an emphasis on Fairways Gained.

Top 5 Players in SG: OTT w/ Fairways Gained
Jason Kokrak
Chez Reavie
Lucas Glover
Billy Horschel
Justin Rose

Although driving accuracy is important, Colonial is still a second shot golf course. All but two of last year’s Top 20 finishers gained strokes on Approach. Five of last year’s Top 10 finishers ranked inside the top 10 of SG: Approach.

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

Players such as Adam Hadwin, Brian Harman, and Troy Merritt all earned a top-10 finish due to their incredible ability to save par last year. All three players ranked inside the top-10 in Scrambling Percentage.

Top-5 players in Scrambling %
Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Daniel Berger
Justin Thomas
Denny McCarthy
J.T. Poston

Twelve of the 18 holes are par 4s, with nine of them measuring 445 yards or less. Here are the best scorers in the field on Par 4 holes.

Top-5 players in SG: Par 4s
Justin Thomas
Scottie Scheffler
Brian Harman
Viktor Hovland
Jordan Spieth

Kokrak was the best putter on Tour when he won last year. Former winners Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Daniel Berger, and Jordan Spieth are all examples of great putters that excelled on the greens when they won at Colonial.

Top-5 players in SG: Putting on Bentgrass
Beau Hossler
Troy Merritt
Zach Johnson
Brandt Snedeker
Ian Poulter

I will highlight it more below, but Colonial is a golf course where we must factor in Course History. Knowing where to place your tee shot to set up the optimal approach shot into the small greens will be beneficial to golfers who have played the course multiple times.

Top 10 players in SG: Total at Colonial
Jordan Spieth
Kevin Na
Justin Rose
Kevin Kisner
Tony Finau
Charley Hoffman
Brian Harman
Webb Simpson
Collin Morikawa
Danny Lee

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, Jason Kokrak won his second event of the season at the Charles Schwab Challenge, as he surpassed Jordan Spieth in the final round duel. Neither golfer played their best golf in Sunday’s round, however Kokrak overcame a few bogies on the back nine to clinch the victory by two strokes. He ranked 1st in SG: OTT, 8th in SG:Approach, and 7th in SG: Putting. He also hit 78% of fairways, placing him 4th in driving accuracy.

The last five winners of this tournament include:

  • 2021 - Jason Kokrak (-14)

  • 2020 - Daniel Berger (-15)

  • 2019 - Kevin Na (-13)

  • 2018 - Justin Rose (-20)

  • 2017 - Kevin Kisner (-10)

Each of these golfers are either supreme ball-strikers or have a tremendous short game. Jason Kokrak, Daniel Berger, and Justin Rose have consistently been great ball-strikers in their career, while Kevin Na and Kevin Kisner have made their money on and around the greens. Each of these five winners are pretty solid putters, as Jason Korkak was the best putter on Tour when he won last year.

Course history has also played an important factor at Colonial. Jason Kokrak recorded a T3 in 2020 before winning last year, Kevin Na came in 4th in 2018 before winning in 2019, and Kevin Kisner had a T5 and a T10 in the two years prior to his 2017 win. The winning score of this event has varied throughout the decade, as the wind and firmness of the greens have impacted how low players shoot each round. All five of these former winners will tee it up again at Colonial this week.

Ben Hogan was dominant on this course when the event first began. After winning the first two years of the tournament, Hogan went on to win an additional three more times. The five victories for the Fort Worth native were enough to call the course “Hogan’s Alley.”

The Field

The Charles Schwab Challenge is one of five non-major PGA Tour events that is known as an “invitational” tournament, where golfers must receive an invite to play in the event. This slims down the field to just 120 players instead of the typical 144 or 156. This year’s field is headlined by Scottie Scheffler, who is fresh off of a missed cut at the PGA Championship and is likely motivated to contend at Colonial. Justin Thomas enters the field after winning the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. Thomas has a T10 and a T40 is his two starts here. Collin Morikawa will make his third start at Colonial this week. He lost to Daniel Berger in a playoff in the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge and finished T14 last year. Dallas native and PGA Championship runner-up Will Zalatoris will tee it up at Colonial for the second time. He’ll try to improve upon his T59 finish last year. Jason Kokrak is also in the field looking to defend his victory.

The favorites to win the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge include:

  • Justin Thomas +800

  • Scottie Scheffler +1000

  • Jordan Spieth +1200

  • Collin Morikawa +1200

  • Will Zalatoris +2000

  • Viktor Hovland +2000

Course History

For the first time in over a month, golfers head to a course that has been played on Tour consistently for over a decade. DataGolf has Colonial Country Club ranked 11th when looking at courses where course history has been the most relevant and predictive. Here is a look at who has played the best at Colonial over the past few years.

Jordan Spieth

The Dallas, Texas native kicks off the Course History section with incredible results at Colonial. In his nine starts here, Spieth has seven top-10s, a 14th, and a 32nd. Of those seven top-10 finishes, two of them are runner-ups and a victory in 2016. He leads the field in Overall Strokes Gained at Colonial (minimum 10 rounds). In his runner-up finish last year, Spieth ranked 4th in putting and 13th in SG: OTT. Spieth has been nearly a lock to perform well here since his first start in 2013.

Kevin Na

Kevin Na is 4th in total rounds played at Colonial out of players in the field this week. Na has only missed the cut twice here and has gained strokes Tee-to-Green each time in his 14 events on the course. His course history is highlighted by his 2019 win, where he dominated the field in SG: Approach. He has three additional top-10s here and has been one of the most consistent golfers at Colonial.

Brian Harman

After missing the cut in his first start at Colonial, Harman has made the weekend eight times in a row, including three top-10s. In his eighth place finish last year, he was positive in every major stat category and ranked inside the top-20 in SG: Approach and SG: T2G. After a solid outing at the PGA Championship last week, Harman looks like a pretty safe play at a course he is very familiar with.

Other Course History Options to Consider
  • Colin Morikawa — 2nd and T14 in two starts.

  • Tony Finau — Runner-up in 2019. 6/6 made cuts. T34 is his worst finish.

  • Chris Kirk — 11/11 Made Cuts. Won in 2015 and has 3 other top-15s.

  • Justin Rose — 7/7 made cuts. Winner in 2018 and T3 in 2020.

  • Charlie Hoffman - 12/13 made cuts. T3 last year. Multiple top-15s

  • Ian Poulter - 7/8 made cuts. T3 last year and two other top-10s

Weather

The Tour heads back to the Dallas, Texas area for the second time in three weeks. As far as weather goes, the first two rounds look pretty calm to me. Both days have temperatures in the 80s with winds forecasted around 5-15 mph. The weekend looks a bit scary as of now however, as winds are projected to hit 15-20+ mph with wind gusts up to 35+ mph. This can always change of course, but it looks like we may see some carnage on Saturday and Sunday. Since this won’t happen until after the cut is made, I don’t see much of a weather stacking advantage this week.

DFS Ownership Early Outlook

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

  • Daniel Berger

  • Collin Morikawa

  • Jordan Spieth

  • Kevin Na

  • Brian Harman

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

Last year’s highest-owned golfer at the Charles Schwab Challenge was Brian Harman at almost 22%. Harman finished T8 and easily paid off the chalk. The top 5 highest owned golfers from last year include:

  1. Brain Harman 22% - T8
  2. Abe Ancer 21% - T14
  3. Corey Conners 20% - T20
  4. Collin Morikawa 19% - T14
  5. Will Zalatoris 18% - T59

Outside of Zalatoris, pretty reasonable results for the chalk of the 2021 Charles Schwab.

Essential Questions

Do we need to worry about a post-major hangover?

If you watched the PGA Championship last week, it was easy to tell how taxing Southern Hills was on golfers' stamina, both physically and mentally. The slopes of the golf course and the heat of Oklahoma in the first two rounds only added to the difficulties of playing in a major championship. Do we need to factor this in when creating a player pool? After missing the cut at Augusta, Jordan Spieth went on to win the RBC Heritage the very next week. Was this because he was well-rested heading into the event? There are always many factors that impact the outcome of each event, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some big names that contended at Southern Hills fail to make the weekend at Colonial.

Are there any similarities between Southern Hills and Colonial?

I think there are a lot of similarities between Colonial and what we saw last week at Southern Hills. First, they are both par 70 courses that were designed by Perry Maxwell in the mid-1930s. Both courses test players shotmaking abilities and emphasize the importance of strategically placing your ball off the tee to set up the right angle for approach shots. Both courses have bentgrass greens with many undulations and slopes. Both courses also feature two longer par 5’s that are difficult to reach in two shots, specifically the 11th hole at Colonial. Before the PGA Championship last week, Jordan Spieth said Southern Hills was like “Colonial on steroids.” However, one of the main differences between the two courses is how narrow and tight the fairways are at Colonial, whereas the landing spots at Southern Hills were relatively wide. This will force many players to leave the driver in the bag on many holes and will put driving distance in the backseat. We have seen many short, but accurate golfers perform well at Colonial over the years due to these narrow fairways.

Early Betting Targets

Sungjae Im

I hope the betting world hasn’t forgotten about Sungjae Im, as it has been over a month since we have seen the South Korean tee it up, which is pretty rare since he normally plays just about every event. After testing positive for COVID last week, Sungjae was forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship. We now get betting odds on Sungjae in the 35-40/1 range, which is very tempting for a golfer with his upside. He has been positive in every major stat category over the last 24 rounds and has a 10th place finish here in 2020. He also has more top-10s this season than missed cuts and will look to win his second event of the season, with his first coming at the Shriners Open.

Abraham Ancer

After a solid outing last week at Southern Hills, the Mexico native “Ancered” any questions about his current form heading into this week’s event. Finishing T9 at the PGA Championship, Ancer ranked 12th in SG: Approach, 13th in SG: T2G, and 15th in SG: Putting at Southern Hills. Ancer has never missed a cut at Colonial in four attempts, with back-to-back T14s in the last two starts. Colonial is a good fit for Ancer, as his accuracy off the tee is one of his biggest strengths and we don’t have to worry about his lack of distance. He has been a great putter all season long and will look to improve on his strong approach play last week. Plus, he will likely have fan support all week long, as he usually does in Texas events. 40/1 isn’t bad value for the 19th ranked player in the world.

Tom Hoge

There are a few reasons I like Tom Hoge this week. Most importantly, he is coming off of two straight top-20s and is in good form. He ranked 3rd in SG: Approach and 11th in SG: Putting last week at Southern Hills. I also like that he played collegiate golf at TCU, which is located just a mile away from Colonial. Hoge doesn’t have eye-popping results here, as he has missed his last two cuts. However he made three cuts in a row before that and is playing the best golf of his career. In addition to his strong approach play this season, Hoge is gaining strokes OTT and ARG, something he has never done before. He won his first PGA Tour event earlier this season at Pebble Beach, which features smaller greens just like what we’ll see this week.

Davis Riley

Although Cameron Young has been stellar so far this year, Davis Riley is starting to give him a run for Rookie of the Year. After a solid performance at the Zurich classic with his former roommate Will Zalatoris as his partner, Riley has rattled off back-to-back top 10s at the Mexico Open and Byron Nelson birdie-fests, in addition to an impressive T13 on a difficult golf course last week at the PGA Championship. Riley has been a great putter all season long, and has now gained strokes on approach in two straight events. He ranked 5th in SG: Approach and 11th GIR % last week at the PGA Championship. Although I talked about the importance of course history at Colonial, Davis Riley is hard to pass on here even as a debutant at Colonial.

Early Tee Time Livestream - Monday @ 6 ET

Well, that does it for the Charles Schwab Challenge 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 6 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.