DEAN & DELUCA Invitational: Course Insight
The PGA Tour makes its fifth and final stop in Texas this week for the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational. Colonial Country Club hosts the event for the 72nd time and is one of two courses on Tour nicknamed Hogan’s Alley (the other being Riviera Country Club). Eight of the top 30 players in the world are in the field, including defending champion Jordan Spieth, 1996 champion Phil Mickelson, and reigning Masters Champion Sergio Garcia.
Colonial has been the site for a U.S. Open, The PLAYERS Championship, and is the longest running host course of a non-major event in Tour history (only Augusta National has hosted for a longer duration). This 7,209 yard, par-70 track features numerous doglegs, winding fairways, some of the smallest greens on Tour, and only two par-5 holes, putting an emphasis squarely on precision, maneuverability, and course management over raw power.
Ben Hogan won five times at Colonial and once said of the track, “A straight ball will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know.” Plotting your way around the course has always been and will always be the modus operandi for success here. Players who can position shots off the tee, keep the ball in the fairway, and hit clean and smart iron shots will find Colonial a comfortable fit.
Side view on No.13 at Colonial Country Club
Colonial isn’t a bomber’s course and the terrain is relatively flat, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy course. When the notorious Lone Star winds kick up, players will have to keep trajectories low, cut irons into pin positions as approachable as a rattlesnake, and spin balls to a dead stop from any number of the 82 bunkers. The story goes that when Hogan won here in 1959, none of his iron shots ever went higher than the locker room ceiling.
A formidable three-hole stretch on Nos. 3, 4, and 5 is nicknamed the “Horrible Horseshoe” and can unsettle players right from the start. It’s arguably the toughest three-hole stretch on Tour. No. 3 is a daunting 483-yard, par-4 that demands players land in the fairway off the tee for any realistic chance of hitting the green on approach. No. 4 is a 247-yard, par-3 to a slightly elevated green. As previous champion Adam Scott once said, “You don’t have to do anything to make that hole hard.”
GPS view of No.13 from the 18Birdies App
The par-4, 481-yard signature No. 5 historically has been the toughest hole at Colonial, and last year it dished out more than three times as many bogeys or worse (122) as birdies (40). The tee shot requires a slight left-to-right ball flight, but leak it too far right and the Trinity River is out of bounds. It’s not a very good spot on the left side either, with trees and fescue rough that lead to disaster. It’s probably the most brutal tee shot on the course.
The 13th hole is a short but dangerous 190-yard, par-3 with a forced carry over a lake protecting the front of the green. Players often find themselves above the hole or in the left or back bunkers to avoid getting wet. There are no easy up-and-downs here. Last year No. 13 played as the seventh toughest hole on the course, surrendering 49 birdies while dishing out 59 bogeys or worse.
Some holes at Colonial will require players to just hang on and play smart but other holes they’re certainly want to go after, and No. 17 should be a birdie hole for most. The par-4, 387-yard hole can present problems however if players miss the progressively narrowing fairway left or right off the tee. Huge trees on both sides can block approaches to the elevated green, and the nasty rough presents the real possibility of catching fliers and overshooting the green. Last year this hole surrendered 72 birdies while dishing out 66 bogeys or worse.
Players to Watch
As you might have guessed by now, par-4 scoring and solid iron play will be crucial to success at Colonial, and that seems to bode well for Jon Rahm. Rahm is second on Tour this year in Par-4 Scoring and fifth in Birdie Average. He’s a favorite to win this week. Rahm’s struggled enormously however on approaches from 50 to 125 yards, and that’s where at least half of the approach shots will come from on the 12 par-4 holes. Rahm’s also been mediocre in Par-3 Scoring, and with four par-3s on the course it’s hard to pick Rahm to contend. Expect him to finish outside the top-20.
Last week I told you to pass on Jordan Spieth and sure enough, he missed the cut. Spieth is struggling right now with those five-and-one-half inches between his ears, but Colonial is an ideal course for him to right the ship and regain his form. I still don’t expect Spieth to contend, but he won’t have to worry about driver accuracy issues here, as he’ll likely leave it in the bag on many holes. Spieth is third on Tour in Greens-In-Regulation (72.55%), and second in Birdie Average. His stumbles on approach shots from 75 to 125 yards have primarily been because he’s been hitting from the rough, and I don’t see that as an issue this week. Look for Spieth to finish 15 to 20.
Zach Johnson is a dinosaur, or at least an endangered species in a world where touring pros regularly bomb the ball more than 300 yards with the big stick. Fortunately for Johnson, his comparative disadvantage off the tee doesn’t matter this week. Johnson can compete with anyone on a classic track like Colonial by maneuvering the ball, managing his game, and making crucial putts when needed, and his track record here checks all the boxes. Johnson won this event in 2010 and 2012, and has also picked up a pair of top-5 finishes. As strange as it might sound, Johnson isn’t merely a threat to contend, he can make his ball do just about anything at Colonial. Expect Zach to pick up his first win of the season.