The Fall Series churns on as the PGA Tour heads out west for the Safeway Open on the North Course at the Silverado Resort in Napa, California.
This event is probably the strongest of all the Fall Series tournaments held in the United States. Safeway Supermarkets has pumped a lot of sponsorship dollars into the event, and it’s not hard for a bigger named pro to convince their significant other to spend a week in wine country. That’s enough to give this event a little bump in star power and should catch a few more eyeballs from casual fans this weekend.
Here’s everything there is to know about the tournament before you place a single wager on it.
While the European Tour plays its annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship that boasts a strong field that takes away from its PGA Tour counterpart, the field this week is pretty good for a silly season event. Highlighting the field is Justin Thomas, who comes into the tournament on the heels of a tremendous FedEx Cup Playoff performance and hopes to continue to build upon his success there.
Other notables in the field include Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay and Francesco Molinari. These players pose a formidable challenge to the recent Korn Ferry Tour graduates who have enjoyed pillow soft fields over their first two events. Any one of them playing this week will definitely be put to the test.
The field also utilized its sponsorship exemptions on a few names that have almost no shot at making the cut, but surely will generate on and off the course buzz in Napa. They are Tony Romo (who’ll likely fly out on Friday to go back and call Bills/Pats), Fred Couples (who is a wine connoisseur and formerly co-produced his own label) and John Daly (who will never pass up an event in the proximity of satisfying his alcohol and gambling vice).
Though football always dominates the attention of sports fans this time of year, this weekend might be the strongest one for golf fans looking to watch coverage in the Fall. Fans will wake up and see a star studded field take on St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns over on the European Tour, followed by a fairly strong field in Napa Valley in the afternoon. If you’re a golf fan and suffering a bit of football fatigue, you’ll have sweet relief on Golf Channel this weekend.
The Golf Course
The golf course at the Silverado Resort was built in 1955, and later redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jr in 1966. The North Course on the property hosted several PGA Tour events, including the Kaiser Open and the Anheuser Busch Classic.
In 2010, Johnny Miller spearheaded the purchase of the Silverado Resort with the aid of several local businessmen and resigned the North Course. Miller had fond memories of the property as he won two tournaments there in 1974 and 1975. While self admitting he’s not the best golf architect on the block, Miller felt confident that he could make significant improvements to the golf course because he “knew (he) could do a better job than anybody because (he) knew every square inch of (the property)”. So humble Johnny. That sounds like a quote that would be produced if we tasked a bot to watch all his broadcasts and spew out a list of Johnny Miller-isms.
Among the renovations Johnny made to the golf course was lengthening it to just over 7,200 yards and widening the narrow corridors of the golf course. Johnny Miller loved being aggressive off the tee, and he wanted to build a golf course where the players could hit driver as much as possible. While the fairways aren’t as wide as some other places on the PGA Tour, almost all the holes feature long, straight away tee-to-green layouts where golfers can pick a line off the tee and bomb away. Miller also did significant work re-configuring both fairway and greenside bunkers.
While the fairways aren’t all that wide and there are swaths of threes just off the fairways, most of the trouble can be carried in the air by the professional. Additionally, the design of the doglegs on the golf course are a little outdated, as modern technology now allows players to take aggressive lines off the tee for shorter approach shots that simply were impossible 20 years ago.
The most notable example of how outdated the golf course has become is the Par 5 5th hole.
To the amateur golfer or the professional of yesteryear, this is a three shot hole. From the back tees, it’s about 250 yards to the middle of the first dog leg. After a successful tee shot, they’d try and hit it in the middle of the second dog leg and avoid the trio of fairway bunkers before lining up a wedge into the green for their third. To the 2019 PGA Tour pro, however, this hole is easily reachable in 2. It’s only about 260 yards to carry the top of the trees on the right side of the fairway, leaving a completely unobstructed shot into the green that requires just an iron.
At the ground level, there’s not a lot to the golf course that makes you feel like you’re in Napa Valley. The tree lined narrow fairways with little elevation change definitely gives the vibe of a parklands golf course up in the Northeast. But the vibe off the course, however, is very Napa and offers one of the best fan experiences on the PGA Tour. Obviously the fans can enjoy hitting up some of the finest wineries in the world before and after the round, but as for the tournament itself there are plenty of attractions and entertainment to keep them happy. Celebrity chefs Thomas Keller, Morimoto and Charlie Palmer will offer cooking demonstrations on site, as well as wine pairings for all their culinary creations. And after the tournament there are concerts on site, with this year’s performers being Jake Owen, Bad Company and Rob Thomas.
Plus, autumn is one of the best times to ever be in Napa Valley. It’s on my bucket list to go someday, and I’m sure it won’t take my foodie and wine loving wife much convincing to come along for the ride.
One would think that the best drivers in the field have a significant advantage at the golf course, but the North Course at Silverado is actually a fairly easy driving golf course for most pros. Additionally, the golf course should play firm and fast, meaning that balls that land in the fairway should roll out significantly. Even balls landing in the rough will get the benefit of roll. That should help level the playing field between the long and shorter hitters because almost everyone will be able to get the ball out there 300+ yards.
At that point, it becomes a contest of the iron game, especially from within 150 yards. The golf course is only set up to just under 7,200 yards, and with players likely taking aggressive lines off the tees they should have plenty of short approach shots into the greens. Additionally, the greens at Silverado aren’t very big, meaning that the players with the best control of their wedges and higher lofted irons should have a big edge over those who are sloppy.
The winning score for this event is around -15 annually, and the cut line is generally a stroke or two under par. At these types of tournaments, guys who are struggling with their putting might fall behind if their ball striking isn’t crisp. Birdies are the name of the game, and consistent strings of pars just won’t get it done here. Recent bad performances on the greens is a definite red flag, even if they’re a premier ball striker. It’s also important to keep in mind that the greens at Silverado are Poa Annua, so that might give a struggling putter who excels on poa a bit of a boost (see: Adam Scott).
Overall, lean heavily on approach game statistics (Strokes Gained, proximity, etc), as well as target players who at least have treaded water on the greens heading into the event. That’ll help bettors break ties for DFS and matchup props this week.