The golf world is celebrating Brooks Koepka’s fourth major in his last eight starts and all the talk is about how high his ceiling can be. But the drama does not let up as the upcoming schedule features three very strong tournaments before the next major is played at Pebble Beach in four short weeks.
To begin this stretch, the tour heads back down south for the final stop of the Texas swing for the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, TX.
Here’s everything to know about the tournament before placing any wagers.
Colonial has historically been a popular spot for several big names on the PGA Tour due to the tournament’s rich history and it’s proximity to their major sponsors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The concern for this year’s tournament, however, was because it was sandwiched between the PGA Championship and the Memorial that the overall field strength would suffer.
Those fears did not come to fruition, as the field for this year’s event is very solid. Headlining the tournament is Texas’s favorite son Jordan Spieth, who is coming off a 3rd place finish at Bethpage Black and is a former winner of the event. He’s looking to continue to gain positive momentum as he moves closer towards the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a golf course that perfectly suits his game when he’s firing on all cylinders.
Other notables joining him in the field is last year’s winner Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari. All in all, not a bad haul of star power given a hectic three week stretch of a major in New York, a tournament in Texas and one of the biggest non-majors on the PGA Tour in Ohio.
The Golf Course
The Colonial Country Club was built in 1936 on what was essentially an effort to prove naysayers wrong. It was speculated that bentgrass (grass utilized at places like Augusta National) was too fragile to withstand the hot Texas heat, and most golf courses in the area strictly utilized the native bermudagrass (a heartier, bumpier grass). Taking up the challenge, club founder and golf nut Marvin Leonard constructed the grounds entirely of bentgrass and with that, the golf course was born.
Unfortunately, the first incarnation to create a sustainable bentgrass golf course in Texas failed and the fairways and rough were converted back to Bermuda. However, the greens remain comprised with bentgrass and are some of the best maintained greens offered on the PGA Tour. Unlike other Texas golf courses, Colonial also features sloping fairways and some elevation changes, which will force the golfers to accommodate for uneven lies several times a round. The routing of the golf course is also very creative, as hole to hole there isn’t a huge sense that a player is just going back and forth over and over and over.
One of the things that makes Colonial Country Club a great golf course is, unlike some other stops on the tour, the golf course is right in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, and there is a tremendous bond between the community and the private country club. The tournament is also rich in tradition as one of the oldest on the PGA Tour and has a murderers row of former winners – Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Travino, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, and the aforementioned Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
Here’s a video of the boys of No Laying Up talking to members of the club and what both the tournament and the country club means to Fort Worth:
While only about 7,200 yards on the scorecard, strategically placed bunkers, tree lined fairways and dog legs slightly lengthen the golf course overall because it takes driver out of the players hands more often than other places. As a result, typically shorter and more accurate hitters off the tee who show great control on their irons and putt well on the perfectly manicured bentgrass greens stand a great chance at a good finish (a welcome relief as these players stood almost no chance at Bethpage Black last week).
That’s largely born out when looking at how the leaderboard is driven at Colonial since 2010, as a bigger weight is placed on scoring with the approach shots and putting than the PGA Tour average. That’s why when you take a look at the last few tournaments, several names that appear near the top of the leaderboard over and over are shorter, more precise golfers who historically are considered good putters – Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Brian Harman, just to name a few.
Last year, however, the top of the leaderboard was definitely out of the norm from recent trends. Justin Rose won the event, which isn’t a huge shock considering he’s widely considered one of the best iron players in the game and he putted well during 2018. However he was hotly contested by traditional bomb and gouge specialists like Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and Kevin Tway, who are some of the longest and least accurate hitters on the PGA Tour. Scoring was also much heavier influenced by short game specialists around the green, an area that previously saw little emphasis in scoring over the years:
2018 Strokes Gained Data @ Colonial – Courtesy of Datagolf.ca
Despite a golf course set up to discourages being aggressive off the tee, these players challenged the dog legs and took tee shots well over the trees. As long as they avoided the bunkers and had a clear shot into the green they didn’t care if their approach was out of the rough. All they cared about was that it was short one so they could dig a wedge underneath it and onto the green.
Why was there seemingly a shift in the profile of a golfer that Colonial favored last year? It’s hard to say. It could just be a one year fluke based on the overall randomness that is golf. If anything, the temperatures were ungodly hot and humid on the weekend with highs at 100 degrees both Saturday and Sunday, which allowed the ball to fly farther and gave long hitters like Koepka and Rahm a better chance to cut corners on certain holes. But hot and muggy weather in May is the norm in Fort Worth, so chances are there shouldn’t be much weight put into this anomaly.
With a few exceptions (namely Jon Rahm, who I will discuss in tomorrow’s columns), most of my picks this week will focus primarily on the prototypical player who performs well at Colonial – precise ball strikers who have the ability to accurately find the correct side of the fairway off the tee, hit lots of greens and can get hot with the flat stick.