After a week off, the PGA Tour rolls back to the Western Hemisphere for the 2019 Mayakoba Golf Classic on the El Camaleon Golf Course in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Gamblers have had to handicap tournaments of late a little blind, as the last four PGA Tour events had either no course history or strokes gained data to look upon for clues of who to back. They’ll have to do that again this week, as the PGA Tour does not track ShotLink data for this event either. That will once again mean that bettors will have to rely on a firm understanding of the golf course and the types of players that should theoretically play well there, regardless of form.
Here’s everything there is to know about the 2019 Mayakoba Golf Classic before placing a single wager on it.
With a smaller purse than those offered on the recent Asian Swing, bettors and fans once again are stuck with a fairly pedestrian and mediocre field at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Highlighting the field is defending Mayakoba Golf Classic champion Matt Kuchar, who generated far more headlines last year when he reportedly only tipped a local caddie he used for the weekend $5,000 instead of the customary 10% of the total winning purse. Since then, Kuchar has become somewhat of a punching bag in the media, with fans and even from fellow golfers, such as Phil’s epic takedown on him before the 3rd round of the Masters:
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) April 13, 2019
Other notables that are joining Kuchar in the field are Jason Day, Tony Finau, Joaquin Niemann, Viktor Hovland and Kevin Kisner. Day, Niemann and Finau were named as Captains Picks for the Presidents Cup team this week, and Viktor Hovland is right on the cusp of a breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour. But I’m most interested in watching how Kevin Kisner plays from this group this weekend. With both Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson banged up at the moment, it’s very likely that another Captains Pick slot is going to open up for the Presidents Cup. While most think Rickie Fowler will be the pick, the right call should be Kisner if he plays well over the next two weeks, and that Rickie hasn’t played a competitive round of golf since August.
Lastly, this tournament once again serves as a chance for the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Graduates to get much needed experience and FedEx Cup Points to climb their way up the priority rankings. Graduates who have gotten off to hot starts this year include Lanto Griffin, Scottie Scheffler, Mark Hubbard, Xinjun Zhang and Harry Higgs.
The Golf Course
The El Camaleon Golf Course resides at the all-inclusive Mayakoba Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which is about a half hour south of Cancun. The golf course was designed by Greg Norman and opened for play in 2006. The following year, the golf course played host to a PGA Tour stop for the first time as an opposite field event to the WGC Match Play in February. In 2013, the tournament was moved to mid-November and had it’s own date on the schedule without any competing PGA Tour events.
Greg Norman has helped design over 100 golf courses on every continent but Antarctica, but only two of his designs are stops on the PGA Tour. The most notable of the two is TPC San Antonio, and is much maligned by both players and the media. TPC San Antonio is often rated as the worst golf course on the schedule because of it’s overbunkering and how unplayable it can be when the winds are up.
At least aesthetically, El Camaleon does a nice job fitting a golf course into the natural landscape instead of changing the landscape to fit a golf course. The golf course carves its way between thick mangrove forests, alongside limestone walled canals and opens up with a pair of Par 3’s that play into the beach and the ocean (as well as into the prevailing wind off the Gulf of Mexico). There’s even a cavernous sink hole in the middle of the 7th hole fairway that acts as a centerline hazard (and is depicted in this article’s cover photo). Because of the devotion to the natural landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula, the golf course even was certified by the Audobon International Society. Unfortunately for spectators, however, it means that they are confined to areas closer to the club house to watch the action as the rest of the golf course is technically protected.
At the end of the day, however, this golf course is still designed as one that is playable for guests of the resort. While any errant shots that doesn’t hit the fairway or just onto the rough is most certainly a lost ball, as long as the professionals can keep the ball on the map it’s a very easy one for them to navigate. The green complexes aren’t all that difficult or tricky, which means a lot of relatively straight putts to give the professionals lots of good looks for birdie. The winning score of the tournament typically is at or exceeds 20 under par, and the cut line is traditionally under par heading into the final 36 holes.
As mentioned previously, there is no strokes gained data to rely on. Therefore, the name of the game this week is to match player attributes to El Camaleon. In addition, there’s been no strokes gained data over the last four tournaments, so for the most part bettors don’t truly know the health of a players game other than misleading leaderboard finishes or rudimentary data that might not tell the whole story.
When I look at this golf course, the first thing I immediately fixate on is how vital it is to keep the ball in play off the tee. While the open areas of the hole are fairly generous, anyone who pumps a drive into the mangrove forests or into the canal is going to have to re-tee for their third shot right out of the gate. Driving accuracy is going to be paramount this weekend, and players who typically fair well on less-than-driver golf courses should have a bit of an advantage this weekend. The golf course is just over 7,000 yards, meaning longer hitters can get away with hitting a fairway metal off the tee to ensure they put themselves in Position A in the fairway.
The greens at El Camaleon, while largely flat and accessible for most pin locations, aren’t all that big. Many greens at El Camaleon aren’t much wider than 20 yards, so proper ball striking with a players mid-irons and wedges are a must to ensure a hit green in regulation. There are years of data to consult based on performance on approach shots between 125-175 yards on the PGA Tour, and those should be consulted to identify players in the field whose strengths reside in that part of their game.
Scoring is traditionally very low in the tournament, so players will have to have their A game on the greens this week if they want a good finish. Unfortunately for gamblers, a lack of strokes gained data over the last few weeks means we don’t truly know who’s in form on the greens, and putting is already a volatile statistic. In general, however, we all know who the good putters are and those who aren’t. Don’t over think it and break ties between players based on overall reputation with the flatstick.
Lastly, while there isn’t any strokes gained data, the layout of the golf course does remind me of another regular stop on the PGA Tour – Harbour Town. That’s another short, tree-lined golf course where accuracy off the tee, a hot putter and precise iron play is a must. That’s why when you look at the leaderboards at Mayakoba you see a lot of the same players who annually play well at Harbour Town. That includes the likes of Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Russell Knox, Scott Piercy, Pat Perez, and Kevin Streelman. All these players have multiple good performances on each of these golf courses. Taking the same approach to handicapping golfers in this tournament as you would for the RBC Heritage is a recommended strategy this week.