Course Insight: St. Jude Classic

The PGA Tour heads to Memphis, Tennessee this week for the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the final stop before next week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Six of the top-25 Players in the World are in the field at TPC Southwind, including No. 9 Rickie Fowler, No. 12 Adam Scott, No. 22 Brooks Koepka, and defending champion Daniel Berger. TPC Southwind is a par-70, 7,244 yard track that won’t serve as an appetizer for the U.S. Open the same way the Golf Club of Houston does for Augusta National, but Southwind is still a great test of golf from tee to green.

Hitting fairways and par-4 scoring will be instrumental in determining a winner. Distance off the tee will help some, but there are only two par-5s on the course and both are reachable by almost every player in the field. Gnarly Bermuda rough, narrow fairways, more than 90 bunkers, and 10 water hazards are the main protections on Southwind. Greens are fast and firm, running about 12 on the Stimpmeter, and can be tough to hold on longer approach shots. Historically Southwind ranks inside the 15 most difficult courses the players see every year.

There’s a definite reward to accuracy off the tee at Southwind. Fairways are seeded with Zoysia grass, which is velvety, mat-like grass that almost replicates hitting off a tee. Driver off the deck would be effortless here if it was needed, as the ball will sit up perfectly. There are plenty of bail out spots on the course, but players who opt for these areas will be punished with significantly more problematic next shots.

Southwind’s feature holes include the ticklish, par-4, 457 yard 9th, the signature par-3, 157 yard 11th, the heavy-hitting, par-3, 239 yard 14th, and the demanding par-4, 453 yard 18th. No. 9 plays slightly downhill into a large green protected by water in the front, and two bunkers in the back. The hole doglegs right, making a tee shot on the right side of the fairway preferable for best angles on approach. A large tree on the right could potentially block shots into the green. Hole No. 9 ranked in the middle of Southwind’s toughest holes last year, giving up 77 birdies while dishing out 93 bogeys or worse.

No. 11 draws inspiration from Pete Dye’s iconic island green at TPC Sawgrass. Like the 17th at Sawgrass, No. 11 requires a short iron over water to an island green with a small pot bunker that guards the front. The 11th isn’t as dramatic as its sibling hole at Sawgrass, but it can be just as wicked, especially if players misjudge the wind. Last year it surrendered 67 birdies and handed out 70 bogies or worse. The 14th was the most difficult par-3 on the course last year giving up only 54 birdies but handing out 96 bogeys or worse. It requires a full carry over water to a severely undulating green. Hitting the green will be a challenge, and the intimidating visual can play tricks on even the strongest minds.


GPS View of Hole No. 18 from the 18Birdies App
No. 18 is a demanding and difficult dogleg-left finishing hole with water down entire left side. Because the fairway narrows and is pinched by water on the left and two bunkers on the right, some players will likely use hybrid or wood off the tee to fit in the fairway. Spectator mounds surround a medium-sized green, making it hard to get up and down, and even harder to make birdie. Last year the 18th was Southwind’s fourth most difficult hole, surrendering 62 birdies while handing out 106 bogies or worse.

Players To Watch
Watch for Rickie Fowler to come out and play some extremely aggressive golf this week. Fowler’s the highest-ranked player in the field which should give him an extra bit of confidence, and he’s ranked 14th in driving accuracy on Tour this season, which is a huge advantage at Southwind. Fowler already has five top-10 finishes this year, including a victory, solo 2nd, and solo 3rd and if he puts together another solid performance this week, he’ll be one of my favorites next week at Erin Hills. Expect another top-10 finish for Rickie.

Brooks Koepka hasn’t won on Tour in more than two years, but he’s piled up a bunch of runner-up finishes, including a T-2 here last year with Phil Mickelson. Koepka, however, hasn’t been as sharp with his iron play this season compared to last season. He’s ranked 143rd on Tour in Greens-In-Regulation, and he’s even worse in Par-4 Scoring, ranked 171st this year. Koepka’s length off the tee will always make him dangerous, but if he’s not hitting fairways that won’t translate to scoring. Even in this arguably watered-down field, look for Koepka to finish outside the top-20.

Winner Prediction
Many players this week will be looking to fine-tune their game for the U.S. Open and Graeme McDowell is certainly one of them. But G-Mac’s also completely focused on winning St. Jude. McDowell’s hasn’t picked up a single top-10 finish in 12 starts this season, and the 2010 U.S. Open champion’s overall performance has been spotty at best. However, Southwind is a perfect course for him to flourish. McDowell’s ranked 7th on Tour in Driving Accuracy, 4th on Tour in Putts Per Round, and 14th on Tour on Approach from 150 to 175 yards out, which most of his approach shots will come from this week. McDowell won’t be a popular pick to win, but he should be.

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