A Military Tribute At The Greenbrier
After a two week break, which in all honesty seems like a life time ago, the PGA Tour is back with its all new fall schedule to start the 2019/20 season.
First up to get the season underway is a trip to White Sulphur Springs, W Virginia to The Old White TPC, for the new September slot for A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
The tournament was first held in 2010 and initially was played at the end of July. In 2012 the event then moved to an early July slot.
The 2018/19 season saw the event missed of the shortened calendar altogether before now returning in its new date for 19/20.
The original 6yr contract with the PGA Tour has been extended for another 6yrs so the tournament will be on the calendar until at least 2021.
In 2016 the tournament was cancelled as a result of severe flooding.
Last year the event was renamed ‘A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier’ in order to honour the Military.
With it being the first event of the new season one thing to note is that this will be the first time the PGA Tour’s new cut rule will be implemented. Under the new rule the top 65 and ties will make it through to the weekend and there will no longer be an MDF rule in play.
In all honesty the first field of the new season is a fairly weak one with Bryson Dechambeau the highest ranked player from last season’s Fedex Cup teeing it up.
Also in the field is defending champion Kevin Na, Sungjae Im who will be hoping to continue to catch Ernie Els’ eye in his quest for a Presidents Cup Wild Card pick and Bubba Watson who owns a second home locally and offered great support in the aftermath of the 2016 floods.
Most eyes though will probably be on the crop of rookies who will be making their debut as official full time tour members with Viktor Hovland [who almost seems like a veteran now!] and Scottie Scheffler, who won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season and topped the combined 25 points list likely to garner most attention.
At the time of writing the market is headed up by Bryson Dechambeau, the aforementioned Hovland and Jason Kokrak.
The Old White TPC is a Par 70 measuring at just under 7300 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was co designed by Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor [who also designed Waialae Country Club home of the Sony Open] and was officially opened in 1914.
Raynor then returned in the 1920s to oversee updates to the course.
Following the horrendous flooding in the area which lead to the cancellation of the 2016 event a full renovation project was undertaken under the supervision of architect Keith Foster.
This included the whole course being re-seeded with all greens being re-contoured, re-surfaced and re-seeded.
All the bunkers on the course were also rebuilt.
The course has tree lined fairways and is seen as a classical test.
Allowing for the cancelled event in 2016 we have seen seven editions of the Greenbrier since it first graced the tour in 2010.
If we look at the roll of honour over this time it must be said that at first glance there is nothing that you would say particularly links the winners together.
The players who have got there name on the trophy are as follows;
2010 S Appleby
2011 S Stallings
2012 T Potter Jnr
2013 J Blixt
2014 A Cabrera
2015 D Lee
2017 X Schauffele
2018 K Na
As I stated last year in all honesty it is tough to find a glaringly obvious link between these past winners and all of them apart from Na and Danny Lee were making their debut in the event the year that they won. Now obviously this would have been a given for Appleby in 2010 and statistically a fair bet for the next year with Stallings but since then Potter Jnr, Blixt, Cabrera and Schauffele were all seeing The Old White in tournament play for the first time.
To stretch this further Stallings, Potter Jnr and Schauffele were all rookies on tour.
Lee had finished 16th here the year before and had missed the cut on his only previous visit to that while Na had posted one top ten in four previous visits. Clearly therefore previous course form is not an issue.
Obviously with the tournament taking its new seasons curtain raiser slot current form coming in potentially becomes less of an issue however for what its worth only two of the previous eight winners, [the last two] Na and Xander Schauffele had a top 10 in any of their previous three starts with Na having arrived in great form with three top xix finishes in his past four starts and Xander having finished 5th three events prior at the US Open.
One form line though that is definitely worth exploring is the link between past performances here and at Waialae CC, home of the Sony Open, which as mentioned earlier was also designed by Seth Raynor, the designer of this venue.
Last years winner Kevin Na has a strong track record at Waialae as does Brandt Snedeker who finished third here last year. In addition two time Sony winner Jimmy Walker has two top five finishes here, while another past Sony winner Russell Henley loves it here. Finally dig a little further and you see that other names like Jamie Lovemark and Sebastian Munoz have popped up with big finishes at both venues so all in all the links look fairly compelling.
From a winning score point of view the course has been toughened up since Stuart Appleby closed with a 59 in the inaugural year on his way to shooting -22 and lifting the trophy and the winning score has tended to sit between -13 and -16 over recent years, last year however Na got the bit between his teeth and shot -19 to post a five shot victory.
Although the event has a new September slot in the schedule It looks like the players are in for a warm ‘summer like’ week with temperatures in the mid to high 80s.
The early part of the week shows the possibility of a storm or two and if these do come to fruition we will be looking at a soft course greeting the players on Thursday. The forecast then shows that further storms are then a possibility on Friday and Saturday.
Wind does not look to be an issue on Thursday, Friday or indeed Sunday with nothing more that 7 or 8mph in the forecast, at the time of writing though Saturday does show a possibility of gusts over 15mph.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
RUSSELL HENLEY – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 57th
Those with long memories or indeed who bother to look back at my previous previews for events will know that I lead with Henley in this back in 2018 and I make no excuses for kicking off our 19/20 campaign with him here once more.
Russell had a pretty grim 18/19 season and having posted nothing better than 15th all season he arrived at the John Deere Classic in mid-July outside of the top 125 and unthinkably in serious danger of losing his card.
Fortunately for the Georgia Bulldog though he sprung to life at TPC Deere Run, posting a second place finish, and a 15th place a couple of weeks later at the Barracuda followed by two more solid performances saw him finish the season comfortably back in the top 100 of the Fedex Cup standings.
With the danger of losing his card averted at the eleventh hour last season you would think Henley will have been working hard in the ‘off season’ to ensure he doesn’t get in the same pickle again and a quick start to 19/20 will definitely be in his thoughts.
On this basis Russell will should be delighted by the new fall schedule that the PGA Tour have served up as the first five weeks will see what must undoubtedly be two of his favourite stops on tour visited, TPC Houston in a few weeks time, and firstly The Old White this week.
Henley’s affinity to The Old White probably stretches back further than his debut here in 2013 as it was earlier in that year that he memorably posted a victory on his first tour start as a full tour member at Waialae Country Club , which as noted earlier is the other course on tour designed by Seth Raynor alongside this weeks stop. I therefore doubt that his liking for the Old White is a coincidence.
30th on his debut here in 2013 Russell has subsequently posted finishes of fifth, fifth and tenth in his three further visits.
We saw when Henley notched his last victory on tour at the aforementioned Houston Open [one we were onboard for] that it pays to follow him on courses he has shown a liking for in the past and I am confident he can get his [and our] 2019/20 campaign of to a flyer this week with a great performance.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 25 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st!!!
Next up for me this week is Joaquin Niemann.
The highly touted Chilean youngster had a mostly disappointing 2018/19 campaign posting only one top ten finish over the eight months from last October until June this year.
At the end of June at the Travelers Championship this all started to change though as Joaquin posted a fifth place finish and backed this up with another one the following week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
After these two consecutive top 5s the 20yr old then made five of his final six cuts of the season finishing no worse than 31st in these events, with the only blip coming at The British Open.
Like our first pick this week, Henley, this strong end to the last campaign should find Joaquin in good heart to start the new one and again like Henley he finds himself opening the new season at a venue that he has already had strong success at in his brief PGA Tour career to date, posting a fifth place finish in 2018 and indeed a 29th place finish when still an amateur in 2017.
The former world number one amateur has been somewhat overshadowed of late by the spectacular performances of Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland, however it is worth remembering that Joaquin is still only 20yrs old and therefore whilst the same age as Wolff, younger than the 22yr old Morikawa and 21yr old Hovland. His day in the sun is sure to come very soon and I am more than happy to have him on side this week.
LANTO GRIFFIN – 150-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
For my next selection this week I am going to stray away from the more obvious picks near the top of the market and take a chance on a player who returns to the tour this season for a second bite at the cherry, Lanto Griffin.
The case for Griffin is made up from a couple of threads, firstly, having been born in California the 31yr old moved with his family at a young age to Blacksburg, Virginia, less than two hours away from White Sulphur Springs and, having also attended college in Virginia this is basically as close as it gets to a home game for the 31yr old.
Griffin, who played at the Greenbrier way back in 2011 when still an amateur lost his card after one full season on the PGA Tour in 2017/18, however it is worth noting that in that year he produced his second best performance of the season when finishing 26th at The Old White.
After the disappointment of losing his card though Griffin bounced back in style to post a victory and two further top five finishes in 18/19 to regain his playing privileges at the first time of asking.
Significantly as well Lanto played really solidly last time out at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship so he arrives here in good form at what is basically his fifth major.
Griffin has talked in the past about how the members at Blacksburg GC supported him financially through the tough times when he was first trying to make his way in the game and you would have to think that plenty of these close friends will be out in force this week this week to welcome him back to the PGA Tour and I am optimistic that he can reward them with a big performance.
FABIAN GOMEZ – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up is another player who I chanced in this event last year, Fabian Gomez.
I noted last year when siding with the Argentinian that for whatever reason this appears to be an event that South American’s have performed well at in the past with Cabrera, Munoz, Romero and of course more recently one of our other picks Niemann producing the goods, and from that point of view I was keen to explore this angle.
In the end Gomez played solidly but unspectacularly here last year without really threatening to do anything significant, however my eyes are drawn back to him again this year.
There are two main reasons for this and the first and most obvious of these is the connection I have already clearly outlined between here and past winners at the Seth Raynor designed Waialae Country Club, a venue that Fabian lifted the trophy at in 2016.
Secondly and perhaps even more pertinently is the fact that having had a really poor season, which for all the world looked like resulting in Fabian returning to the Korn Ferry Tour, he found his form at the Wyndham to finish 13th and then backed that up with two great finishes of seventh and second in the Korn Ferry finals to retain his card.
The latter of these two performances which saw Gomez finish second at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship was particularly impressive as despite his recent upturn in form he had still started that week on the outside looking in, however he closed the week with back to back rounds of 66 to take second spot and with it regain his playing privileges.
We have seen from Gomez over the years that when he is on his game he is not afraid to win in big company and with three top 15 finishes in his last five starts he has clearly found some mojo of late.
Granted the 40yr old is yet to really produce anything of note at The Old White however as pointed out earlier previous course form here is not necessarily something that is a pre requisite to victory and I am optimistic that Fabian can build on his recent strong play and produce a great week.
VIKTOR HOVLAND – 16-1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 10th
Finally, whilst not exactly the most inspiring of selections I am afraid I cant but help having a ‘saver’ on Viktor Hovland.
There is not really much to say about the young Norwegian, which hasn’t already been said however to put it simply this is a guy who is going to be around for a very long time, will win Major Championships and for want of starting a debate now in my eyes will end up being the best/most successful player out of the recent stellar crop of amateurs to turn pro.
Whilst I can understand that many will be put off by odds of 16-1 on a non-winning rookie we saw when Morikawa won the Barracuda as a 14-1 favourite that the bookies more often than not get it right and to be honest to me there is a strong argument to say that Viktor should be favourite this week.
To back this up if we look at the 21yr olds form since the end of June he has not finished outside of the top 16 in the six tournaments he has played across the two tours and in his last twenty one rounds of golf he has only shot over 70 once and has nine rounds of 66 or better, all of which came while playing under the pressure of trying to secure his tour card.
Basically Hovland is a special talent who with the shackles now off will I believe win very soon and in a field, which lacks strength in depth I am more than happy to take the 16-1.
UPDATED 11th SEPTEMBER
TRADER - ZAC BLAIR - FINISHED MC
For our first trader pick of the 2019/20 PGA Tour season I have chosen to run with Utah native Zac Blair.
As one of the shorter hitters out there Zac will need to take advantage of the spots, which suit his game more if he is to make his return to the main tour this season a succesful one and The Old White you would think be one of the venues on his radar on this basis.
Blair has earnt his return to the big league by producing a really strong 2019 season on the Korn Ferry Tour, which included seven top ten finishes including five in his last seven starts, the highlight of, which was a victory at the Ellie Mae Classic.
In three previous starts at The Greenbrier Blair is yet to produce anything better than 65th place, however he does have a third place finish at the course correlating Waialae Country Club and I am convinced this is a venue he can have success on.
Ninth last time out and a winner just four starts ago Zac should arrive here in great spirits and I am confident he can have a big week.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 250