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US PGA Championship Tips 2020

The anticipation for the 2020 PGA Championship in these Covid-19 times is like no other. With 2020 Majors in April, May, June and July either re-scheduled or cancelled totally in the case of the Open Championship, August sees the 2020 PGA Championship being the first Major Championship to be played for 13 long months. To be hosted at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California if circumstances allow, Brooks Koepka goes for a historic 3-peat of PGA Championship titles – a feat that hasn’t been achieved for more than sixty years.

The 102nd edition of The PGA Championship takes place from Thursday 6th August until Sunday 9th August 2020. Now into our 11th season, Golf Betting System will as ever be hunting for profit with our US PGA Championship tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2020 coverage with PGA Championship tips, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics, plus of course our famous free statistical Predictor Model. You can also listen to our weekly Golf Betting System podcast which is also available on iTunes and on our YouTube channel.

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You can check the latest odds for the US PGA Championship with bet365 here.

So 2020 sees the PGA Championship return to its original August month in the schedule. Where it was traditionally the final Major of any golfing season, 2019 saw the PGA of America move their Major to an earlier May spot in the golfing calendar, with Brooks Koepka triumphing at Bethpage Black, and that was the way it was going to be in 2020 until the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world. But as things stand, the PGA Championship will take place the week after the WGC- FedEx St Jude Invitational, bringing back the WGC lead-in tournament we got so used to in the past.

TPC Harding Park in California, is not, on paper, a typically huge parkland track that the PGA Championship is famous for visiting though and this is the first time the PGA has been played in California since 1995.

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US PGA Championship Insight And Tips Research

Golf betting at the Major Championships is a complex subject. Mistakes can be costly; however select the right player or player portfolio and the rewards can be excellent. Golf Betting System’s goal is to provide you with informed PGA Championship tips, free tournament research guides and insight and information that will help you make educated decisions about what players to back at the 2020 US PGA Championship.

The PGA Championship in recent history has seen a plethora of long-hitters getting the job done, with many capturing their first Major titles into the bargain. The PGA of America’s choice of Oak Hill in 2013 raised eyebrows as the classical, claustrophobic nature of the course was totally alien to its mantra of testing through course length. As it transpired the neat and tidy Jason Dufner won his first Major.

Either side of Oak Hill, Y.E. Yang (2009), Martin Kaymer (2010), Keegan Bradley (2012), Jason Day (2015), Jimmy Walker (2016) and Justin Thomas (2017) have, like Dufner, all captured first-time Majors. All can hit the ball a long way, as can Rory McIlroy (winner at both Kiawah Island in 2012 and Valhalla in 2014) and defending champion Brooks Koepka who drove the field into submission at both Bellerive and Bethpage Black. Whether that changes in 2020 is open for discussion at a 7,200 yard, Par 70 that screams controlled power off the tee from the rooftops. What’s for sure is that the TPC Harding Park course proved to be a stern test 5 years ago at the WGC Cadillac Match Play, when we last saw it used for an elite event.

Course Information

TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California: Designer: Willie Watson & Sam Whiting, 1925, with 2014 renovation; Course Type: Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,234 yards; Water Hazards: 7; Fairways: Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass; Rough Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass; Greens: Tyee Bentgrass with Poa Annua.

TPC Harding Park is located on the west side of San Francisco. Set in Lakeshore, the course is only separated from 2012 U.S. Open venue the Olympic Club by Lake Merced. A public golf course, Harding Park is a mid-length parkland golf course which has hosted a number of top-level tournaments over the years. The 2005 WGC-American Express Championship (won by Tiger Woods), 2009 Presidents Cup (won by the USA with Tiger Woods scoring 5 full points) and multiple PGA Tour Champions Charles Schwab Cup Championships across 2010, 2011 and 2013 have all been hosted here.

The course itself is a strange venue choice for a Major Championship. Not especially long and not especially tricky. But Kerry Haigh, Chief Championships Officer of the PGA of America, has already promised that the course “is going to be quite a bit more difficult than it has been.

So what should we expect for the 2020 PGA Championship? TPC Harding Park, for the 2015 WGC Cadillac Match Play won by Rory McIlroy, played as a 7,127 yard, Par 71. But with 5 tees pushed back and the 9th and 12th holes converted from par-5s to par-4s, the 2020 USPGA will play to a 7,234 yard, Par 70 scorecard – it plays as a standard Par 72 for amateurs.

That makes it comparable with say the classical Colonial Country Club layout in Texas, but some way shorter than the Bethpage Black host course of the 2019 PGA Championship which played as a 7,459 yard Par 70. But as we saw at the neighbouring Olympic Club in 2011 when Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open with a +1/281, course length doesn’t necessarily equate to difficulty. Now don’t expect an old-style U.S. Open type set-up, but Kerry Haigh will ensure that the course will be at its very best and a true test of golf.

So Harding Park will play approximately 100 yards longer than it did in 2015 and the course serves up a mix of hole length tests. 2 par-5s measuring 607 yards (4th Hole) and 562 yards (10th Hole) are stretching to most of the field and the course also features 6 par-4s that measure over 450 yards in length. Similarly 185 yard (3rd Hole), 251 yard (8th Hole) and 200 yard (11th Hole) par-3s will test the longer approaches of the world’s best players. But what really catches the eye is the fact that this course features 2 risk and reward par-4s. The 7th measures in at 340 yards and the 16th is similar at 336 yards. Controlled power off the tee can unlock these scoring opportunities.

TPC Harding Park is a parkland course with holes outlined by cypress trees that are more picturesque than hazardous. Fairway widths are tight at 22-30 yards and many a player at the 2015 WGC Match Play commented how the course really benefitted the better drivers in the field. Long and straight works here, especially as the vast majority of holes are straight in front of players. With Major-style Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass rough up to 4 inches in length also likely to be in-play, the benefit of long, straight driving should again prove to be pivotal.

Greens were re-laid as part of the 2014 renovation and the last time we saw them, they were pure Tyee Bentgrass. Described as extremely grainy by WGC Match Play competitors back in 2015, green complexes are also pretty flat, with little undulation or severely breaking putts. For WGC week they were also very firm, but extremely slow at the same time. Over 5 years on, the greens will be well established and local sources also point to the fact that green complexes have evolved now to include Poa Annua. That is yet to be confirmed, but well worth keeping an eye on as we know many players struggle with the latter.

Total drivers (Strokes Gained Off the Tee) and high quality ball strikers undoubtedly dominated proceedings here in 2015. Those players with consistent medium-to-long approach play also dominated. A PGA Championship set-up isn’t likely to change things too much.

Below are some revealing comments from the 2015 WGC Cadillac Match Play Championship held here in 2015:

Jim Furyk: “Here it’s kind of more right in front of you, old traditional style golf course. There’s not a lot going on in the greens. Actually, I’ve found them very difficult to read the last few days, just because there’s so many subtle little breaks, where I can’t decide if it’s breaking left or breaking right or straight from 20 feet. So there really hasn’t been‑ it’s just a different style. But I’m definitely more comfortable on a golf course like this where it’s kind of right straight in front of you.

There is not a lot of break in the greens. There’s a lot of grain in them, which is very rare for bentgrass. But you can see how the grass is laying down they’re quite a bit slower than we’re used to playing. So I think that in itself is causing some problems with the players. Nothing is definitive left‑to‑right, there’s a lot of very straight putts or inside left, inside right. There’s a lot of times guys are struggling to figure out which way it goes. Guys are one way, the caddie is saying the other, and I think it’s hard to get set over some putts.

Rory McIlroy: “Yeah, as a match play venue, it’s very fair. You get rewarded for good shots and you get punished for bad ones. The greens are getting very firm. That will separate the longer guys and guys that can hit it quite high, which isn’t a bad thing for me. But the course played well. I think these greens are relatively new, so a few of the green speeds were a little inconsistent. And I struggled a little bit with that early on. I felt like I got them‑ you have to be really aggressive with them and I started to get that a little bit towards the end.

Every green is pretty slow out there. And I think the guys are all slowly getting adjusted to it. It’s tough when you play on fast greens the last few weeks, and you come here, it is a bit of an adjustment. We’re getting more accustomed to it as the days go by.

Bubba Watson: “The golf course is so long that some of the greens are really bouncing right now. It’s only the first day, and you’re getting some big bounces, even with sand wedges. And the golf course sets up good off the tee for me, as long as I hit my driver well. There’s a lot of cut shots off the tee, so it sets up good for me. Keegan (Bradley) is a long hitter, likes to draw the ball, so I think this golf course is going to suit him, as well.”

Brooks Koepka: “It’s a tough golf course. It favors ball striking, so kind of, it favours me a little bit, obviously being a long hitter, too. Such long par‑4s and things like that. I think it’s actually plays into my hands a little bit.

Gary Woodland: “The golf course suits me really well. It allows me to hit driver, which is good. And it just sets up well for my eye. For me to hit driver, if I drive it in the fairway I’m turning a lot of holes into birdie holes. So that’s the key for me tomorrow. If I drive it pretty well I should have a pretty good chance for the weekend. The tree line, just sets up well to my eye. That’s the key. It’s long, too. The fairways are pretty receptive as well. It widens the fairways for me. If I get driver down there far enough, I can get wedge on the green from about anywhere. I like the setup. The format allows me to play aggressive, which for me is key.

The first hole sets up really well for me. I’m hitting middle iron where a lot of guys are hitting hybrids and long irons. I’ve had some success there. You come to 5 and it’s a long hole where I can get home, where a lot of guys can’t. Had the tee up today which allowed some guys to get up a little closer. But that’s two holes where I feel like I have a huge advantage early in the round and get up early and put pressure on guys, and I’ve done that so far this week.

us pga championship tips

TPC Harding Park: a tree-lined, Par 70 which is a ball-strikers paradise.

Key Skill Sets for TPC Harding Park

As far as the 2020 PGA Championship we are at a disadvantage compared to the 2019 renewal held at Bethpage Black. That had hosted the 2009 U.S. Open, 2012 Barclays and the 2016 Barclays tournaments, so we had the opportunity to look at both the traditional skill sets plus Strokes Gained skill sets of previous winners there.

It’s a different case for 2020 where TPC Harding Park in its current guise has only hosted the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play where statistics were not collected. So let’s take a statistical look at 2015 victor here Rory McIlroy and the player who he defeated 4&2 in the Final, Gary Woodland, in a bid to see what key player skills ultimately unlock TPC Harding Park. To compare their respective games we’ve taken last season (2018-2019) PGA Tour statistics – a season where Gary captured the 2019 U.S. Open and where Rory won the FedEx Cup:

Rory McIlroy vs Gary Woodland 2018/19 Season

Skill Set StatisticRory McIlroy Gary Woodland
Driving Distance2nd 13th
DD All Drives1st17th
Total Driving8th2nd
Greens in Regulation39th28th
Going for the Green2nd13th
Ball Striking15th7th
Fairway Proximity7th12th
Proximity 150-175 yds6th32nd
Proximity 175-200 yds4th20th
Proximity from +200 yds18th1st
SG Off the Tee1st19th
SG on Approach12th20th

 

Undeniably Rory and Gary are cut from the same cloth, both from off the tee and when it comes to approach play. Both ranked in the top 10 for Total Driving, top 15 for Driving Distance and top 20 for Strokes Gained Off the Tee last season. So high class driving around TPC Harding would seem to be a key attribute and this links nicely with player comments as detailed above on this page.

But both 2015 WGC Match Play finalists are also top-grade when it comes to approach play. Both within the PGA Tour’s top 12 for Fairway Proximity (to hole), McIlroy and Woodland also rank in the top 20 for Proximity from 175 – 200 yards and for Proximity from above 200 yards. Throw in the fact that both ranked in the top 10 for Ball Striking, top 15 for Going for the Green and top 15 for Strokes Gained on Approach and it’s more than valid to suggest that TPC Harding Park 5 years ago was unlocked by the combination of world class-level driving and medium to long-range approach play.

U.S. PGA Championship Tips - Key Points

Correlating Course Form

Yes the most recent event to be held at TPC Harding Park was the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play and you could argue about the validity of the results given its head-to-head match structure. But if you take the top 3 from 2015, namely Rory McIlroy, Gary Woodland and Jim Furyk, here are their correlating results across PGA Tour stop-offs:

  • Kapalua (Plantation Course) – McIlroy 4th; Woodland 2nd, 7th; Furyk 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th.
  • Waialae – Woodland 3rd, 6th, 7th; Furyk 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th x2.
  • Pebble Beach – McIlroy 9th (2019 USO); Woodland 1st (2019 USO), 5th; Furyk 3rd, 4th, 5th.
  • PGA National – McIlroy 1st, 2nd; Woodland 2nd, 6th, 8th; Furyk 9th.
  • TPC Sawgrass – McIlroy 1st, 6th, 8th x2; Furyk 2nd x2, 3rd, 4th, 5th.
  • Copperhead – Innisbrook – Woodland 1st, 8th; Furyk 1st, 2nd, 7th x2.
  • TPC San Antonio – McIlroy 2nd; Furyk 3rd, 6th.
  • Quail Hollow – McIlroy 1st x2, 2nd, 8th x2; Woodland 4th; Furyk 1st, 2nd x2, 7th x2.
  • Hamilton G&CC – McIlroy 1st, Furyk 1st.
  • Glen Abbey – Woodland 4th, Furyk 4th.
  • Congressional – McIlroy 1st (2011 USO); Furyk 3rd, 3rd, 5th (1997 USO), 7th.
  • Muirfield Village – McIlroy 4th, 5th, 8th; Woodland 4th, 6th; Furyk 1st, 2nd (x2), 4th, 5th, 8th.
  • Royal Birkdale – McIlroy 4th; Furyk 4th, 5th.
  • Hoylake – McIlroy, 1st; Furyk 4th (x2).
  • Royal Troon – McIlroy 5th, Furyk 4th.
  • Bethpage Black – McIlroy 8th (2019 PGA); Woodland 4th, 8th (2019 PGA).
  • Bellerive – Woodland 6th (2018 PGA); Furyk 3rd.
  • Oak Hill – McIlroy 8th (2013); Furyk 2nd (2013 PGA).
  • Liberty National – McIlroy 6th; Woodland 2nd; Furyk 6th.
  • East Lake – McIlroy 1st (x2), 2nd, 7th; Furyk 1st, 2nd (x2), 3rd, 7th (x2).

Intriguingly, as you would expect, there’s a lot of overlap across the results of these 3 players. Strong results across some of the United States toughest courses are shared: take Muirfield Village, Pebble Beach, PGA National and Quail Hollow as prime examples. Nothing too shocking in that, as in general these courses favour ball-strikers. Links with Copperhead (wins for both Furyk and Woodland), Hamilton G&CC (wins for both Furyk and McIlroy) and East Lake (wins for both Furyk and McIlroy) are also easy to spot. All 3 of these courses are old-style, tree-lined, classical golf courses.

Week Before Finish

This trend was established back in 2006 when the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was added to the schedule a week before the PGA Championship. Naturally the annual visit to Firestone South in Akron is no more, but the idea that a player will need to be playing well in their immediate start should be one to consider. 2019 saw the PGA Championship take place in May, and in these Covid-19 turbulent times the USPGA makes an unscheduled return to an August date, the week after the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational played at TPC Southwind.

There’s no doubt though that form players win the PGA Championship. 2019 saw Brooks Koepka finish 4th at Trinity Forest GC in Texas the week before lifting the Wannamaker Trophy, and the World Golf Championship status Bridgestone Invitational the week before at Firestone South was always a real indicator of who went on to win the PGA Championship.

The Firestone-based tournament became the PGA ‘warm up’ in 2006 and, from that point onwards, the winner of the PGA Championship was firstly always in the Bridgestone field and secondly was always in the top 28 of the tournament – food for thought in 2020:

Previous Week Performance

YearUS PGA ChampionWeek Before Finish
2019Brooks Koepka4th
2018Brooks Koepka5th
2017Justin Thomas28th
2016Jimmy Walker11th
2015Jason Day12th
2014Rory McIlroy1st
2013Jason Dufner4th
2012Rory McIlroy5th
2011Keegan Bradley15th
2010Martin Kaymer22nd
2009Y.E. Yang18th
2008Padraig Harrington20th
2007Tiger Woods1st
2006Tiger Woods1st

 

We also have other precedents here. 2016 saw the Olympic Golf Competition creating massive changes with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational moving to July. Instead the RBC Canadian Open directly preceded the PGA Championship, where Jimmy Walker finished fast on Sunday to grab 11th spot at Glen Abbey.

Excellent immediate tournament form was also key to both Mickelson and Singh’s triumphs in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Mickelson finished 10th in Colorado before jumping on his private jet to New Jersey and winning the following weekend at Baltusrol. Singh won his prior tournament 2 weeks before the PGA at Warwick Hills, before travelling across to neighbouring Wisconsin to capture his 3rd Major at Whistling Straits. Even Rich Beem in 2002 won at Castle Pines (The International) and then won a fortnight later at Hazeltine.

For me, I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational tournament leaderboard, to ascertain who’s playing great golf prior to arriving in California.

Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green

We all love a statistic and in the era of the PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained analysis we have plenty to wade through. Looking at PGA champions last tournament performance since 2010, it’s fascinating to see that there are real similarities across the Strokes Gained Tee to Green numbers. Koepka, Thomas, McIlroy (x2), Dufner and Kaymer all-ranked within the top 10 of that category at Firestone the week before.

2019 saw Brooks Koepka rank 6th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 8th for Greens in Regulation at the Byron Nelson played at Trinity Forest the week before triumphing at Bethpage Black. And in outliers Jimmy Walker – who played the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey – and Jason Day (at Firestone), they still ranked in the top 27 for the category and finished 14th and 12th respectively in their warm-up event, with Jason Day ranking in the top 10 for Greens in Regulation. All-in-all, it’s clear to deduce that those struggling to keep the ball in front of them immediately prior to playing the PGA Championship ultimately don’t win it.

Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green

YearPGA WinnerPrevious EventGIRSG Tee-To-Green
2019Brooks Koepka4th8th6th
2018Brooks Koepka5th1st1st
2017Justin Thomas28th6th3rd
2016Jimmy Walker14th30th25th
2015Jason Day12th9th27th
2014Rory McIlroy1st25th1st
2013Jason Dufner4th18th2nd
2012Rory McIlroy5th2nd2nd
2011Keegan Bradley15th14th12th
2010Martin Kaymer22nd15th8th

 

Driving Distance is the Key

So what’s the key player attribute that a PGA Championship winner needs in his arsenal to get the job done? Well with the PGA Championship being played on a stretching +7,230 yard, Par 70, a premium advantage will inevitably return to longer drivers of the golf ball. In recent times that’s always been the case. Taking 2013’s exceptionally tight Oak Hill set-up out of the overall picture, every winner of the PGA Championship since 2004 has been a 290+ yard hitter from the tee:

Driving Distance Analysis

YearPGA WinnerSeason Driving Distance (Yards)
2019Brooks Koepka309
2018Brooks Koepka313
2017Justin Thomas310
2016Jimmy Walker301
2015Jason Day314
2014Rory McIlroy306
2012Rory McIlroy312
2011Keegan Bradley301
2010Martin Kaymer294
2009Y.E. Yang291
2008Padraig Harrington296
2007Tiger Woods302
2006Tiger Woods306
2005Phil Mickelson301
2004Vijay Singh301

 

So where does this all take us then in terms of forming a shortlist? We discussed on our US PGA Championship podcast how using this information might help us to whittle down the field and here’s the result.

By removing all players with a 2020 Driving Distance of less than 290 yards and Strokes Gained Off The Tee & Strokes Gained Tee To Green ranks of outside the top 100, we’re able to instantly remove a third of the field. We also discussed on the podcast that the lowest OWGR ranking to win this title since 2004 was Keegan Bradley at 108th, so removing those outside the top-150 leaves us with around 70 players.

Players with a positive record on both classical tracks and Bent/Poa greens makes sense given this week’s task, so removing players who don’t have a positive performance on either in the past 5 years (based on the stats that will form our US PGA Championship predictor model) allows us to further refine the field.

Going for the Green could be important given the reliance on scoring well on the two par-5s and the two driveable par-4s, so again removing those outside the top 100 on that count makes sense – all of which leaves us with a shortlist of 16. The final cut is based again on OWGR as 8 of the past 10 winners have ranked inside the top-21 in the world when winning.

Our final shortlist from a purely mechanical, stats-based analysis then reads: Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau. Is the winner in this list….we shall see!

This is Steve Bamford’s pre-event preview. Steve will be back with his final US PGA Championship tips for 2020 on the Monday before the event.