Congratulations to the many Shane Lowry backers who cashed winning tickets of anything up to the 70/1 he was quoted early last week. It was a sublime performance from the Irishman who ticked many boxes despite finishing a lowly 51st at Portrush in 2012 and having missed his previous 4 Open Championship cuts. None of that mattered though as the 33 year-old stormed clear on Saturday and held his nerve in tough conditions on Sunday to impressively – and deservedly – take his first Major title. With celebrations running through the night, it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he arrives here in Memphis in – if he arrives at all that is!
On to this week then and despite the Major season having finished and The Masters some 260-odd days away, we still have a lot of top-class golf to enjoy before the year’s through. This week’s event is effectively the promotion of the FedEx St Jude Classic to WGC Invitational status with the Bridgestone Invitational held at Firestone making way. A limited field of 78 players and no halfway cut will see the bulk of the world’s top 50, plus qualifiers, battle it out for the title. Notables not taking part this week include Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari, however a few names aside he have an excellent field to try to decipher here.
With a wealth of data from the FedEx St Jude Classic which has been hosted here at TPC Southwind since 1989, we have a starting point at least this week. The Classic was traditionally the warm-up event for the US Open so attendance from this week’s field wasn’t universal by any stretch of the imagination, however many have played here before and in Dustin Johnson we have a 2-time course winner. Whilst the course has been a constant through the event’s transition to WGC status, its scheduling immediately after The Open does create another dynamic with a large proportion of this week’s field flying straight over from Northern Ireland, either following an early exit on Friday or a gruelling Sunday in the wind and rain.
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TPC Southwind, Germantown, Memphis, Tennessee: Designer Ron Pritchard 1987 with PGA Tour re-design 2004; Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,244 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Zoysiagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2.5″; Greens: 5,420 sq.ft average featuring Champion Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11ft.
TPC Southwind is a tough, technical track, but it’s not only the course that’s difficult as sweltering temperatures in Memphis traditionally turned this tournament in its pre-WGC guise into a real grind. Bermuda rough at 2.5″ doesn’t help the scoring and Southwind also features 8 par-4s of over 450 yards and only 2 par-5s to take advantage of. Green complexes aren’t huge and feature Champion Bermudagrass which isn’t to every player’s taste. You can also say the same about the Zoysiagrass fairways which many say promote flyers.
Hitting the tight, Zoysia (a grass shared only with East Lake, Trinity Forest and last year’s US PGA venue Bellerive) fairways is a huge challenge, but in essence a lack of driving accuracy isn’t a huge penalty here as the average winner’s rank for accuracy across the past 9 years is 33rd. Instead the key to unlocking Southwind is a mixture of patience, aggression on the right holes and mastering of the Champion Bermuda putting surfaces which aren’t for the faint hearted. Birdies come at a real premium; on the flip side both of the par-5s, namely the 3rd and the 16th, are eagle opportunities. It’s all about being aggressive at the right times as purely grinding pars is not enough.
Greens feature Champion Bermudagrass. These greens can be found across PGA Tour events at Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship), Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), Trinity Forest (Byron Nelson Championship), the Country Club of Jackson (Sandersons Farms Championship) and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Barbasol Championship). The 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Cub and won by Keegan Bradley also featured Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
Let’s take a view from players as to how TPC Southwind has set up in the past and what skill-sets the course favours:
Daniel Berger: “This golf course is playing tougher than last year. You just have to hit it in the fairway, otherwise it’s difficult to get it close and as the week goes on, its going to get firmer and faster so it will be even tougher. As a group we made some birdies early, but the momentum fizzled out. That was mainly because we didn’t hit enough fairways on the back-9.” Daniel Berger (2016): “My speed control has been great. The greens feel like I’m just at home and, you know, I love the Bermuda and I don’t even read grain here. I just look at it and see it and it’s just from years and years of putting on it. It’s nice to kind of get two grind-out pars on last two holes. It’s the hardest course I’ve ever played in my life. It’s just extremely long and extremely penalizing. The greens are very slopey. You have 10-footers that break four, five feet. Speed control is going to be huge, and fairways.”
Fabian Gomez: “I’m the kind of guy that usually, you know, my driver is straight. And in this course, you know, many, many holes you have to be really, you know, competitive with your driver. And also so many holes you need to play like a fade, you know, and I cannot play that for me, really tough to hit a fade and that’s the situation. Also, it’s a course that usually you have to play with the wind. And I’m the kind of player that I feel comfortable playing with the wind, you know.”
Greg Owen: “Yeah, the fairways aren’t as firm as they normally are. They firmed up since the practice days because of the rain, but they’re not bouncing like they can do in previous years. The greens are perfect. I mean, they really are good. They’re rolling properly. They’re accepting good shots. It’s all about hitting fairways and greens. I hit most of them today, so it’s always well for a good score. It suits my eye pretty good.”
Ben Crane: “I got in the rough a number of times. I’ll tell you what, this is no golf course to play from the rough. It makes it so difficult. You get a lot of fliers, hard to control the ball. Scrambling around these greens is just incredibly difficult with the rough around the greens. Grainy lies. It makes some of the guys look silly. I’m telling you, this is a tough golf course right now. It’s drying out and, you know, I mean, I think single digits might even win this tournament. Kind of depends what a few guys do. It is a very tough test of golf right now.”
Lee Westwood: “It’s quite tight. You need to drive the ball straight although, you know, it does give you opportunities, you know, where it’s not driver on every hole as well. But there is a massive premium on hitting the fairways here. You know, holes like 18, 12, you know, if you’re not in the fairway there and 15, you can make par difficult. So, you know, the fact I think it tests up every aspect of your game. You got to drive the ball well and hit the fairway. Lots of greens sort of run across you so not only got to hit the right distance and the right line and right distance as well. The greens are immaculate, really. There’s no excuses for not making putts.”
Retief Goosen: “I like this golf course. It’s a golf course you need to hit a lot of different kind of shots off the tee. It’s not a golf course that you can just blast away at it, not that I can anymore anyway. So actually a lot of holes now doglegs I don’t have to worry about running out so that’s good. The course is in really good shape. A little bit more rough throughout than there has been in the past. You pretty much have no chance of stopping it on these greens with the rough. Today, I kept it fairly good on the fairway and the back-9 was a couple of bad drives but depends what happens now, the weather this afternoon. If it rains the greens will get softer and make the course play quite a bit different than it did this morning. This course played tough this morning. The fairways running out pretty good and, like I say, some of the greens are really tough to get close. Yeah, it could rain, could have a delay and come back tomorrow morning, no wind and the guys shoot 7, 8-under. Who knows? As it’s playing now, it’s tough out there. Hopefully we won’t get too much rain. I prefer the course to play hard and fast.”
Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s WGC that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well on this track: Form/Course Combined Stats | Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices (FedEx St Jude Classic). 2018: Dustin Johnson, 7/1; 2017: Daniel Berger 28/1; 2016: Daniel Berger 33/1; 2015: Fabian Gomez 400/1; 2014: Ben Crane 175/1; 2013: Harris English 66/1; 2012: Dustin Johnson 20/1; 2011: Harrison Frazar 275/1; 2010: Lee Westwood 12/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Hot and sticky conditions are expected throughout with temperatures approaching 90 Fahrenheit in the afternoons with negligible wind speeds.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners of the FedEx St Jude Classic played here before the event gained WGC status gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018, Dustin Johnson (-10). 320 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (36th), 68.1% greens in regulation (10th), 78.3% scrambling (4th), 1.59 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2017, Daniel Berger (-10). 305 yards (14th), 55.4% fairways (36th), 68.1% greens in regulation (10th), 65.2% scrambling (38th), 1.69 putts per GIR (21st).
- 2016, Daniel Berger (-13). 310 yards (6th), 60.7% fairways (11th), 75.0% greens in regulation (1st), 66.7% scrambling (24th), 1.69 putts per GIR (15th).
- 2015, Fabian Gomez (-15). 293 yards (39th), 53.6% fairways (43rd), 68.1% greens in regulation (8th), 73.9% scrambling (8th), 1.61 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2014, Ben Crane (-10). 271 yards (62nd), 58.9% fairways (30th), 58.3% greens in regulation (47th), 83.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th).
- 2013, Harris English (-12). 290 yards (69th), 53.6% fairways (40th), 66.7% greens in regulation (9th), 70.8% scrambling (17th), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th).
- 2012, Dustin Johnson (-9). 301 yards (21st), 57.1% fairways (18th), 69.4% greens in regulation (4th), 68.2% scrambling (7th), 1.74 putts per GIR (28th).
- 2011, Harrison Frazar (-13). 317 yards (1st), 57.1% fairways (46th), 69.4% greens in regulation (8th), 77.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2010, Lee Westwood (-11). 302 yards (15th), 60.7% fairways (42nd), 65.3% greens in regulation (9th), 72.0% scrambling (12th), 1.70 putts per GIR (16th).
A razor-sharp short game looks to be the prerequisite at TPC Southwind where simply hitting fairways and greens won’t get the job done. Mastering the gnarly putting surfaces really is the key here, as is top-class scrambling. Only 30 players across 2012-2018 have broken 70% Greens in Regulation at Southwind, so it’s clear that making par from off the green is as critical as maximising the number of greens hit in the first instance.
Current Form: last 10 event form of FedEx St. Jude Classic winners since 2010 reads as follows:
- 2018: Dustin Johnson: 1/9/2/16/7/59/10/16/17/8
- 2017: Daniel Berger: MC/7/MC/16/MC/39/5/27/36/65
- 2016: Daniel Berger: MC/28/11/61/5/10/20/17/9/67
- 2015: Fabian Gomez: 57/MC/70/47/44/MC/59/MC/27/MC
- 2014: Ben Crane: 69/69/32/MC/43/MC/MC/MC/MC/37
- 2013: Harris English; MC/7/57/50/61/MC/6/33/17/MC
- 2012: Dustin Johnson: MC/38/WD/43/61/5/4/9/35/19
- 2011: Harrison Frazar: MC/54/51/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/14
- 2010: Lee Westwood: 3/2/17/9/30/8/2/38/4/10
Course Form: previous form here at TPC Southwind of those same winners reads as follows:
- 2018: Dustin Johnson: 1/10/24/5
- 2017: Daniel Berger: 1
- 2016: Daniel Berger: Debut
- 2015: Fabian Gomez: 15/MC
- 2014: Ben Crane: MC/6/33/39/14/12/MC/18
- 2013: Harris English: Debut
- 2012: Dustin Johnson: Debut
- 2011: Harrison Frazar: MC/MC/WD/MC/69/14/MC
- 2010: Lee Westwood: Debut
Previous form and course form pertaining to the winners of the FedEx St Jude Classic in the past may prove to be little more than background information given the event’s new status and position on the schedule. With elite players using TPC Southwind in the past to get their games ready for the US Open, the eventual winner – Dustin Johnson aside – may have had very different motivations than those here this week. That said, 6 of the 9 winners since 2010 had recorded a top-10 finish in one of their previous 4 starts so some indication of form wouldn’t go amiss.
For me, the key to success this week will be from the second shot and in where players who can maximise GIR, and scrambling when inevitably missing greens, will prevail. Par 4 performance is key, however chances must be taken wherever possible and those most comfortable on the Champion Bermuda putting surfaces should hold an advantage. A smattering of recent form is also good, however with this week’s event being so different to a cold, wet and breezy Northern Irish links, I’m not getting too hung up on last week’s result.
My selections are as follows: