While the first PGA Tour event I attended was the old Hall of Fame Classic at Pinehurst No. 2, the GGO, as it was known for decades, was the home tournament in North Carolina throughout my childhood.
Dad and I would make the three-hour drive to the Triad each spring and spend the day at Forest Oaks, watching the game’s greats tune up for the Masters. I’d usually hear a story or two about Sam Snead, who won the tournament eight times.
On those rolling fairways, I felt Seve’s swagger and Lanny’s bravado, watched as Davis Love III outdrove T.C. Chen by 80 yards and lost the hole by four shots (Chen holed out for eagle; DL III airmailed the green with a sand wedge, flubbed a chip and made double bogey).
I stood behind my childhood hero Tom Watson in the practice area as he blasted one perfect bunker shot after another, trying to memorize every movement so I could steal his technique and touch, take it home and add it to my game.
In my early 20s I caddied in the tournament five or six times for four different pros. Working for Clarence Rose there in 1996 (my second PGA Tour start as a caddie), we were paired with John Huston in the third round.
Walking to the first tee, Rose gave his neophyte looper wise advice: “Listen, he’s going to outdrive me on every hole, so we’re going to be playing first from the fairway. After I hit my shot, wait before you put the club back in the bag. He plays fast and his ball will be in the air about the time mine stops moving.”
Clarence was right. Never saw a pro play faster – or much better – than Huston did that day. He horseshoed a short par putt early in the round and still shot 63.
So, that’s how Moving Day works.
The tournament was on the verge of fading away not too long ago, but local businessman Bobby Long pumped life into one of the Tour’s longest running events. They moved it back to its former home at Sedgefield, secured a new date in 2003 and four years later gave it a new name (the Wyndham Championship).
The course is a par 70, measuring 7,127 yards and yields loads of birdies. Donald Ross designed the layout, which winds through a neighborhood, in 1926 and Kris Spence’s renovation presents a fun, fair test with thick Bermuda rough and some of the best greens (Champion Bermuda) on the PGA Tour each year.
The purse is $1.152 million and J.T. Poston played 72 bogey-free holes en route to the title last year, matching the tournament record of 22 under set by Henrik Stenson in 2017. The greens and fairways are easier to hit than the average Tour event and the proximity to the hole is 26’4” vs. the Tour average of 28’7”. The majority of approach shots are in the 150-175 yard range and the two par 5s must be birdied or eagled to keep pace on the leaderboard.
This is also the last week of the regular season. There are a number of high-profile players aiming to secure their position in the top 125 and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin next week.
Golfer power rankings
25. Mackenzie Hughes - One of the Tour’s purest putting strokes will love the sight of these surfaces. Has made the last six cuts, including a T-58 at the PGA Championship and the friendlier targets should enable him to mask his ballstriking deficiencies. Finished T-22 at Wyndham last year.
24. Sungjae Im – Since a top 10 at Colonial, it’s been a frustrating restart for the 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. He’s missed three of seven cuts with a best finish of T-35. The calm air and smooth greens at Sedgefield might be the elixir he needs to revitalize his confidence entering the playoffs. Im finished T-6 here a year ago.
23. Charl Schwartzel – Sitting atop the bubble – 125th in the FedEx Cup standings – entering the week but has good memories, albeit distant ones, in Greensboro, finishing T-3 here in 2015 and T-14 in 2012 in his only two recent Wyndham starts.
22. Sepp Straka – Has made five consecutive cuts, sprinkling a trio of top 20s into the run. Shot 10 under at Sedgefield last year to finish T-39. Has the sufficient combination of outstanding iron play and putting, which should create a successful week in the N.C. Piedmont region.
21. Shane Lowry – The 2019 Open Champion needs a good week to extend his 2019-20 season; he ranks 131st in the FedEx Cup standings. Tied for sixth in the heat on Bermuda greens at WGC-FedEx St. Jude two weeks ago. Take your chances with a hungry, talented golfer this week.
20. Patrick Reed – The metrics aren’t in his favor but the combination of recent performance (T-10 Memorial, T-13 PGA) and past results at Sedgefield (win in 2013, three top-25s in as many starts since) can’t be discounted.
19. Charles Howell III – Has gained strokes on the greens in his last three starts, including a T-3 at the 3M Open three weeks ago, his last time out. Normally reliable approach game has let him down in 2020, but by making the cut this week eclipses the $40 million mark in PGA Tour career earnings.
18. Bud Cauley – Making his eighth Wyndham start, seeking his fourth top 25 in the tournament. Gained 4.9 strokes tee-to-green last week at the PGA (T-37) and we’re betting his ballstriking traveled from coast-to-coast.
17. Si Woo Kim – Climbed to 121st in the FedEx Cup standings with a T-13 at the PGA Championship and should feel optimistic about his chances to solidify his position at Sedgefield, where he finished fifth last year. Has made six consecutive cuts on the strength of improving iron play.
16. Doc Redman – Grew up just down I-40 in Raleigh and comes back home feeling good on the greens. Ballstriking is always reliable – he’s gained strokes tee-to-green in seven of the last eight tournaments. Missed the cut in both previous Wyndham appearances.
15. Russell Henley – The disparity between his ballstriking and putting is startling. Henley finished T-37 at the PGA despite losing 4.3 strokes on the greens. He was fifth for the week in SG: approach. Still, Bermuda is his favorite surface and he’s bound to heat up at some point in pursuit of his third top 10 this season.
14. Brooks Koepka – Blew up on Sunday at Harding Park (74) when all the other leaders were going low. Arrives in Greensboro with his playoff spot secure (92nd) but a good week would help his chances to play beyond the first week. He’s fifth on the PGA Tour in proximity from 150-175 yards.
13. Ryan Moore – He won here in 2009 and has two other top 10s in the last four years. He excels on approach shots from 150-175 yards. In an otherwise dismal season, he finished T-12 in his last start at the 3M open. Curious late withdrawal from the PGA but a big week would serve him well (91st in FedEx Cup).
12. Alex Noren – Has found form over the last two starts with a T-3 at the 3M Open and capitalizing on late entry as an alternate, a top 20 at the PGA. T-60 at Wyndham last year in his only start. Key to recent success has been stellar driving, which is important this week.
11. Paul Casey – Splendid performance last week at Harding Park, tying for second, and should remain hot at Sedgefield, where he’s 40 under in his last three starts, producing a trio of top-20 results. Over the last 24 rounds, he’s third in the field in SG: Off-the-Tee and second in SG: Approach.
10. Henrik Norlander – Should be fresh after two weeks at home and ready to put a tidy cap on his best professional season. Finished T-16 in the 2013 Wyndham and missed the cut in his only other start in 2016 but Bermuda is his best putting surface and his laser iron shots should create ample opportunities. Seeking his fourth top 25 in the last five tournaments.
9. Tommy Fleetwood - Putting four good rounds together is something he’s yet to accomplish in three starts since the pro golf world resumed. Struggled off the tee in Memphis and with his irons last week but gained strokes putting in each event. He’ll put it together at Sedgefield.
8. Denny McCarthy - Has a T-22 and T-36 in his first two appearances at Sedgefield and I have a hunch a hot putter will be enough to keep him flirting with the first page all week as he builds upon confidence gained from a solid performance at Harding Park. Leads the field in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds.
7. Kevin Kisner – Has played his best golf of the season over the last month and the Aiken, S.C. resident loves competing in the Carolinas. He finished top 10 at the Wyndham in 2014 and 2016 and ranks seventh in the field on the greens over the last 24 rounds.
6. Harris English – He’s been the most consistent player on the PGA Tour in recent weeks with four consecutive top-20 finishes and is second in the field in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds. Has made the cut in Greensboro in all six starts with one top-10 finish.
5. Abraham Ancer – Has a T-24 sandwiched between two missed cuts at the Wyndham but we think he’ll find the conditions similar to Harbour Town, where he put on a ballstriking exhibition in May and finished second. The putting has been solid of late as well, gaining at least one stroke on the field in the last four tournaments.
4. Brendon Todd – About midway through the second round last week, I was kicking myself for omitting Todd from the PGA picks. He’s just been so steady this season and even though he’s had trouble closing on Sunday, he’s a couple of poor rounds from having a legitimate case for Player of the Year. It’s a good time to return home to the Tar Heel state.
3. Billy Horschel – The former Florida Gator is 49 under the last four years at Sedgefield with three finishes in the top 11. He’s on a solid run this season with three top 25s in his last four starts. In his last five tournaments, he’s averaged gaining shots in every significant category.
2. Webb Simpson – What’s not to love about Webb at Sedgefield? His Carolina roots run deep. He’s from Raleigh and lives in Charlotte, won here in 2011 and has finished in the top 3 the last three years.
1. Justin Rose - Not declaring the former World No. 1 to be all the way back. Last week’s T-9 didn’t erase the sting of three consecutive missed cuts. Gaining 7.1 strokes on the green as he did at Harding Park can mask ailments in other areas of the game. The approach game is improving and he hasn’t forgotten how to close on Sunday. He’s never a longshot but a win would be a mild surprise.