For golf fans who opt to stay on their couch instead of test their game out on the course this holiday week, they’ll be treated to watch The Greenbrier Classic – set on one of the most likable and underrated golf course on the PGA Tour schedule.
The Greenbrier resort sits in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia and is one of the more remote stops the PGA Tour makes. But the lack of extracurricular activities for the players off the course is made up for with world-class accommodations to keep them happy in between tee times. Besides the four golf courses on site, tournament director Jim Justice will constantly remind viewers that the Greenbrier is the premier destination to perfect the ancient sport of falconry. The appeal of falconry is…well…I don’t know exactly what it is. From what I’ve gathered, falconry at the Greenbrier it’s basically like going to Sea World to watch the Killer Whale show, only with birds. But it’s a big hit for the guests who get a kick out of seeing Ranger Rick send his falcon out into a field to retrieve a dead rat or do a 360 or something.
Oh, and did I mention there’s also a casino? No wonder Phil Mickelson and John Daly are tournament regulars.
The resort has a rich history of golf and has been represented by tremendous ambassadors of the game like Sam Snead, Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson (who currently serves as the resort’s official spokesman). The Greenbrier course hosted the Ryder Cup in 1979 and the Solheim Cup in 1994. In 2010, the PGA Tour finally made the Greenbrier a normal tour stop on the resort’s Old White TPC course, a Par 70 track that stretches approximately 7,300 yards. The Old White Course is one of the more pristine conditioned golf courses on the schedule that features bent green greens, an intriguing layout and routing design (as opposed to the back and forth “army golf” tracks seen too often on the schedule) and some of the most breathtaking and scenic views that gives the tournament a sense of serenity.
Unfortunately, the Greenbrier has the same problem as other tournaments played this time of the year. The period between the U.S. Open and the Open Championship on the PGA Tour is a bit of a dead zone. It marks the time when the European Tour ramps up with more high profile events, and it begins a very hectic schedule for most of the top names in the world. The Greenbrier also experienced devastating floods in 2016 that canceled that year’s event and put the resort in significant financial hardship. The PGA Tour and the Greenbrier Resort did a tremendous job raising money to rebuild the surrounding community, but given the difficulties, the flood presented its spot on the schedule could be in jeopardy as the tour looks to slot stops in Detroit and Minneapolis next summer.
Because of the weak field is normally seen at the event, the top of the leaderboards in recent history has been a bit of a mixed bag. This event presents one of the bigger challenges for a handicapper when trying to identify the type of golfer that typically plays well at The Greenbrier. If anything, the top of the leaderboard has seen guys who are above average ball strikers, rank well in Strokes Gained-Putting (particularly on bentgrass surfaces) and are adept scramblers out of the rough.
Here’s who I like this week (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag and DraftKings values)
- Tony Finau – 11/1, $11,500
- Phil Mickelson – 16/1, $11,200
- Bubba Watson – 16/1, $11,000
- Webb Simpson – 18/1, $10,700
- Russell Henley – 20/1, $10,400
- Xander Schauffele – 22/1, $10,200
- Joaquinn Niemann – 28/1, $9,700
- Jimmy Walker – 30/1, $9,100
- Brian Harman – 30/1, $9,500
Tony Finau is the consensus favorite for the tournament, but most eyeballs will be on the event’s two biggest stars in Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. Each of them is considered ambassadors for the resort and were tremendous driving forces to help the resort and surrounding community rebuild after the floods of 2016. Of these three, I like Bubba the best if you’re looking to book a futures bet on one of the favorites or pick a side on a matchup prop. Bubba has “his” courses on the schedule that he seems to peak at annually – Riviera, Augusta, TPC New Orleans, TPC River Highlands and the Old White TPC Course. Though he’s missing a win at the Greenbrier, it’s a course and area that he clearly feels comfortable being at. With his game firing on all cylinders, I really like his chances to capture his second win in as many starts before he heads across the Atlantic for the Open Championship.
As far as the other big names at the top of the ticket, Webb Simpson and Russell Henley definitely have my attention this week. Webb’s coming off a very poor performance tee-to-green at the Travelers, but a week off from the grind should do him wonders. Webb has the all-around game both tee-to-green and with the flat stick to fare well on the leaderboard this weekend. Webb also is one of the best scramblers in the field, which should help him given some of the tricky rough that is featured around the greens at the Old White TPC course. As for Henley, he’s a bit of a horse for the course. Henley has back-to-back Top 5 finishes at the event and is coming into this event in good form with three consecutive Top 30 finishes. His recent solid play is attributed to an improvement in his ball-striking stats, and he has put much better recently than he had most of the year. I’m expecting another solid performance from him this week on a track that seems to fit his eye.
- Ryan Moore – 33/1, $8,900
- Andrew Putnam – 60/1, $7,800
- Austin Cook – 75/1, $7,600
Ryan Moore has about 75% of what I’m looking for in a contender at the Greenbrier this week – solid tee-to-green stats, an adept scrambler and a guy who’s pretty good with his mid irons (which will be needed on some longer Par 4’s this week). What’ll make or break how he fares this week is if his putter shows up or remains ice cold. He’s 164th in Strokes Gained-Putting on tour this year and he has lost strokes to the field in that department in his last four tournaments. There is a bit of hope though – he averages about half a stroke better in his career on slower greens (less than 11 on the stimpmeter), and the greens at the Greenbrier tend to run on the slower side. If he can manage an average putting week, then he should be in for a strong finish by the time Sunday evening rolls around.
Andrew Putnam has quietly played some great golf over the last four months. Since missing the cut at the Valspar in March, Putnam hasn’t missed a cut and has three Top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish to Dustin Johnson at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Putnam checks a lot of boxes for me this week in some of the stats I targeted to try and find contenders – 54th in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, 74th in Strokes Gained-Putting, 1st in Scrambling from the Rough and 46th in Greens In Regulation. Against a weak field, his solid all-around game should help deliver another made cut and possibly another top 10 performance this weekend.
Austin Cook has hit a bit of a wall in his rookie year as he’s missed the cut in three of his last four starts (though there is a Top 10 finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in between that turd sandwich). This week might be where he gets back on track. He’s put well all year and though he’s only so-so in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green in 2018, he might exploit the golf course with some of the strengths in his game. There’s several Par 4’s in excess of 440 yards on the scorecard that’ll test the golfers on their approaches between 150-200 yards. On the year, Austin Cook ranks 68th in scoring on approaches 150-175 yards and 21st in approaches 175-200 yards. Add that to his ability to avoid trouble off the tee and his strength in scrambling from the rough, Cook could be a nice surprise at the top of the leaderboard when it’s all said and done.
- Alex Cejka – 150/1, $7,100
- Zac Blair – 150/1, $7,100
- Vaughn Taylor – 200/1, $6,700
Here’s a trio of cheap longshots that fit in nicely at the back end of a DraftKings lineup or present deep sleeper appeal on a Top 10 or 20 prop. Alex Cejka finished 9th in the event last year and has made the cut in five of his last 6 starts. Zac Blair made a nice little run at the Quicken Loans National last week before a turbulent Sunday knocked him down the leaderboard, but it seems like he’s found something in his game as he’s made the weekend in his last four starts on the PGA Tour. And Vaughn Taylor is undervalued at 200/1, as he’s made the weekend in six of his last 7 starts including three Top 20 finishes. The commonality of these three in relation to others in their price range is that all of them are solid with their irons and great scramblers around the greens. I like all three to make the weekend.
The Greenbrier DraftKings Lineup #1
- Webb Simpson – $10,700
- Ryan Moore – $8,900
- Brian Gay – $8,100
- Andrew Putnam – $7,800
- Johnson Wagner – $7,300
- J.T. Poston – $7,200
The Greenbrier DraftKings Lineup #2
- Russell Henley – $10,400
- Brian Harman – $9,500
- Kevin Streelman – $8,600
- Ryan Armour – $7,700
- Zac Blair – $7,100
- Vaughn Taylor – $6,700
The Greenbrier DraftKings Lineup #3
- Bubba Watson – $11,000
- Kevin Na – $8,700
- Aaron Wise – $7,900
- Kevin Chappell – $7,700
- Austin Cook – $7,600
- Alex Cejka – $7,100