Travelin’ light, we can catch the wind.
When the Tulsa, Okla., native J.J. Cale penned those words 46 years ago, he probably didn’t have nearby Southern Hills Country Club in mind. But catching the right side of the wind may be a clear path to victory this week for the competitors at the PGA Championship.
Wind will be a factor, predicted to blow 15-25 mph each of the first three days and possibly from different directions. The 7,556-yard, par-70 Perry Maxwell design, restored by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in 2019, could be a vicious examination if the forecast holds.
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I caddied in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, which also featured strong winds. It was a short trip. We missed the cut and left with the knowledge that a right-to-left ball flight off the tee is favorable. Bogeys come easily. The course demands one good shot after another and a wagonload of patience.
Even with a blistering 63 in the second round, his career low in a major, Tiger Woods reached only 8-under 272 en route to the 2007 PGA title at Southern Hills. The cut fell at 5-over par that week.
Southern Hills presents all we expect from a major championship test. Before we get to the fantasy golf picks, here are a few keys to success and course notes:
- Strategic options abound from the tees, including the short par-4 17th.
- The par-3s are brutal with three of the four in the 220-yard range and each one facing a different direction.
- Elevation changes and uneven lies dot the property and Maxwell’s demanding green complexes require thought, poise and touch.
- Precise iron play, sharp wedge skills and classy action from the greenside sand are imperative to success.
- Players must aim above the lower hole locations to avoid the steep runoffs around the greens and deal with slippery breaking downhill putts.
- With no rain in the forecast, conditions will be firm and fast by the weekend if not before.
- The restoration created more room in the fairways but can the pros overpower Southern Hills, with its array of dogleg par-4s and overhanging tree limbs?
The field likely will miss the greens in regulation around 45 percent of the time. To contend, the pros better be comfortable hitting pitch shots off tight Bermuda lies and understand the safe place to miss an approach shot. A greenside bunker is often the better alternative to a 20-yard pitch.
“The course just gives you options,” Rory McIlroy said. “You can play it quite a few different ways. The big keys here are approaches into the green and chipping. You’re not going to hit 18 greens around here.”
Fantasy Golf Picks: Longer Shots
26. Brian Harman. A late withdrawal from the Byron Nelson last week due to an undisclosed injury but I’m hearing he’s ready to fire in Tulsa. Tough as they come, has landed in the top-20 in his last three major starts.
25. Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Possesses the all-around skill set that should serve him well at Southern Hills and arrives in good form, gaining 1.9 shots on approach last week in a tie for 12th.
24. Tom Hoge. Advanced to the weekend in his last six major championship starts and gained 5.3 shots Tee-to-Green last week in Dallas. Nobody is better from 100-125 yards.
23. Tiger Woods. The leg is stronger. The temperatures are warmer. The swing looks great and he knows his way around here. Believe.
22. Jason Kokrak. Won on another Perry Maxwell design at Colonial. Putts well on fast bentgrass. Game is trending upward, having gained at least three shots Tee-to-Green in his last three starts.
21. Billy Horschel. With 14 consecutive cuts made and a top-25 bunker game, he’s one of the safer plays in his fantasy price range. Also top-25 in SG:Off-the-Tee and Greens in Regulation Gained over the last 24 rounds on difficult courses.
20. Adam Scott. Tuned up nicely last week although his irons were subpar. Still, his experience and ability on classic designs will be an asset this week. Elite bunker player who has putted well inside 10 feet on bentgrass.
19. Louis Oosthuizen. It’s been a quiet year for Louis, however, this is a major championship and he’s sixth in the field in avoiding bogeys over the last 24 rounds on difficult courses. Top-30 in Good Drives Gained and SG: Approach.
18. Will Zalatoris. He’s finished top 10 in four of the last six majors, recording a 71.67 career average in the game’s biggest events in his career. Would be higher if not for concerns about his short putting and wedge play. Won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur at Southern Hills.
17. Matt Fitzpatrick. Made a swing change in the offseason and it’s working. Ranks 13th in SG: Off-the-Tee on difficult courses and 21st in Greens in Regulation. Elite bunker player has five top-10s in the U.S. this season.
16. Joaquin Niemann. Struggled on Sunday in Dallas but if the wind blows, love his penetrating ball flight. His victory earlier this year at dogleg heavy Riviera is also promising. Ranks 10th in SG: Off-the-Tee and 24th in SG: Approach.
15. Cameron Young. Not the best fit according to the model but the results speak for themselves: a trio of runner-ups in his rookie season. Gained at least 2.6 shots Around-the-Green in each of his last four tournaments.
14. Rory McIlroy. The two-time PGA champion ranks top-25 in SG: Off-the-Tee and Good Drives Gained over the last 24 rounds on difficult courses. We know he can finish. Can he get off to a decent start in a major?
13. Daniel Berger. Is he healthy? Who is his caddie? The questions surrounding Berger could suppress his ownership but his excellent iron game and short game skills make him an attractive option in your fantasy golf picks. Also third in bogey avoidance on difficult courses.
12. Corey Conners. Excellent history at Colonial and Augusta National should translate to a solid week at Southern Hills. On a short list of players who rank top 10 in SG: Off-the-Tee, Greens in Regulation and Sand Saves.
11. Cameron Smith – Aussies fared well here in the past and not many possess his combination of deadly irons and deft short game touch. Best in the field from 75-150 yards and short putting which should enable Smith to score on the short holes at Southern Hills.
Fantasy Golf Picks: Best Bets
10. Xander Schauffele. Sure he did it on a pushover at TPC Craig Ranch but his torrid play over the final three rounds—26 under over his last 52 holes—was ridiculous. Gained 4.6 shots on approach in a tie for fifth and has a 70.7 stroke average in his 19 major championship appearances with eight top-10s.
9. Max Homa. Confidence is the most important tool in any golfer’s bag and Homa has never had more. His fairway and greens mentality should allow him to dissect Southern Hills and secure his best major finish. Top 30 in SG: Off-the-Tee, Good Drives Gained and Greens In Regulation.
8. Collin Morikawa. We’re not overlooking Morikawa again, are we? The two-time major champion is fifth in the field in Good Drives Gained and first in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds. Solid enough around the greens and out of the sand.
7. Scottie Scheffler. World’s best player loves the golf course. Has gained shots around the green in his last eight tournaments and hit gorgeous pitch shots at Augusta National. Gained 5.6 shots on approach at the Byron Nelson and finished T-15 despite putting worse than the field average.
6. Jon Rahm. Picked up a victory in Mexico but his wedge play has been mediocre this season. Snapped a streak of five consecutive top-10s in the majors with a T-27 at the Masters although he said playing with Tiger Woods in the final round buoyed his confidence.
5. Justin Thomas. Switched to a new putter last week and gained 3.3 shots on the green for his seventh top-10 of the season. Driver is the key club. The rest of his game is equal to anyone in the field. Disappointing major record by his standards includes three top-10s in the last 10 attempts.
4. Jordan Spieth. Can make a strong case for Spieth, arguably the hottest player in the field, enjoying unprecedented driving acumen combined with phenomenal iron play (at least 4.8 shots gained on approach in three of last four starts). Must withstand the pressure of pursuing the career Grand Slam.
3. Hideki Matsuyama. The best fairway metal striker in the game gained 9.4 shots on approach in a T-3 at the Byron Nelson. Can hit all the shots around the greens and ranks fourth in SG: Approach and 19th in Good Drives Gained on difficult courses.
2. Shane Lowry. Driving the ball better than ever and seems to summon his best in the majors, making 11 consecutive cuts and finishing top 5 in two of the last four. Fearlessness around the greens enables Lowry to avoid bogeys.
1. Patrick Cantlay. Had my eye on Cantlay for this week since his FedEx Cup run last summer. Only two top-10s in 17 major championships but his game continues to improve and his temperament is ideal for the game’s biggest stages. Top 20 in SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach and SG: Around-the-Green. The creativity required will help him become the 16th first-time winner in the last 24 major championships.
Fantasy Golf Picks: Bargain Bin
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