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2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Preview and Betting Strategies

2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Preview and Betting Strategies

We’re only 11 days away from (finally!) the first golf major of the season. But before that a star studded field heads to Memphis for a little tune up at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind.

Here’s everything to know about the tournament before placing a single wager on it.

The Field

There was a little concern about just who would show up for this event. Considering the brutal temperatures the golfers would endure for four days before taking a cross country trip to San Francisco for the PGA Championship, there was speculation that many top players would opt to skip the event in favor of one extra week of rest before the first major of the season.

Those fears proved unfounded, as 17 of the world’s Top 20 players will tee it up for a final tune up before the PGA Championship. Headlining the field is newly crowned World #1 Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay.

There are a few big name players who are opting to skip this event, chiefly Tiger Woods. This week he declared he would not play the tournament in favor of continued preparation for the PGA Championship next week. While the news surely will disappoint his fans, this is probably a smart move for him. Tiger is at the stage of his career where he needs to manage his reps. The idea of playing four grueling rounds in excessive heat before making a cross country trip to San Francisco doesn’t seem like a great idea for him. Besides, there’s very little he could have gained by playing TPC Southwind, which offers very little comparison to TPC Harding Park.

Others who are skipping the event include Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.

For the full field, click here.

The Golf Course

For 20 years, this tournament was known as either the WGC – NEC Invitational or the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational and held at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Firestone Country Club was a regular stop on the PGA Tour since 1962 when it hosted the World Series of Golf, and was host to the 1975 PGA Championship won by Jack Nicklaus. In 1999, the World Golf Championship series of tournaments were born to create a “World Golf Tour”, and the World Series of Golf was rebranded into a WGC event at Firestone.

Meanwhile, the city of Memphis first hosted a PGA Tour stop in 1958, then known as the Memphis Open and played at Colonial Country Club. In 1969, legendary entertainer Danny Thomas struck a deal with the city to attach his St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital as the charitable beneficiary of the tournament, and the hospital has been attached to the event ever since. The tournament also found a permanent home at TPC Southwind in 1988, the site of this week’s event.

FedEx first came on as title sponsor in 1986, and after a brief hiatus in the 2000’s it returned as the flagship sponsor in 2009. FedEx, obviously, has a very significant presence on the PGA Tour overall. It is the title sponsor of its playoffs and offers up millions and millions of dollars in prize money to the participants. Outside the players, FedEx probably has the most influence over the PGA Tour of anyone or any organization.

With the reconfiguration of the PGA Tour schedule in 2019, FedEx took over the sponsorship rights of the WGC-Invitational and moved the tournament from Firestone to TPC Southwind. The tournament was moved to the week after the Open Championship so it could properly shine in the spotlight. Due to the COVID pandemic, this tournament was rescheduled to one week before the PGA Championship.

This move was a huge benefit for the City of Memphis, the St. Jude Children’s Hospital and FedEx overall. While a few big names who had associations with the children’s hospital always showed up, the event was one of the weaker tournaments on the schedule. Now with its affiliation to the WGC’s, the biggest names would certainly show up for the lucrative prize money, which would greatly benefit the hospital, the city and FedEx economically.

Before I continue, I want to get a couple points out of the way:

1. There are a lot of tremendous charities in the United States that are assisted with their association to a PGA Tour event, but St. Jude Children’s Hospital is probably the most important one. We all have watched someone in our lives struggle to fight cancer and see firsthand the emotional and physical toll it has on both them and their loved ones. It is unimaginable to watch an innocent child suffer that same cruel fight. Danny Thomas built the hospital with the idea that “no child should die in the dawn of life”, and the hospital continues with that mission today by refusing to deny any child of treatment on the basis of race or financial status. If you have a moment, please click here and donate to the hospital. This year has been terrible for so many reasons, but a donation to the hospital could make some kid’s year a whole lot better.

2. I have absolutely no beef with the City of Memphis. I’ve taken business trips there, enjoyed Beale Street, eaten authentic Memphis BBQ and had a wonderful time downtown in my visits. It’s a passionate sports town that will defend the greatness of their teams to the death between their love of the Grizzlies and the Memphis Tigers. As someone who lives sandwiched between a small market professional sports town and another where the university sports team is life and death, I know the constant chip that is on their shoulders whenever other larger markets try and talk down to them.

I say both these things because “Memphis Twitter” did not enjoy getting picked on last year by the so-called elitist of golf media. Notably, CBS Golf Analyst Kyle Porter was taken to the woodshed after his slight against Memphis was not taken too kindly from the good folks of the 901. 

This was the culmination of almost 10 months of the city being ragged on for being awarded this tournament. Golf media scoffed at the idea because of the negative perception of TPC Southwind and how it wasn’t worthy of hosting a WGC. They made jokes about how the golf course plays its way past the Initech and Inotrode Office Complex (which, by the way, a joke I’ve made hundreds of times too) and how the golf tournament should be renamed to the “Swampass Open” because (shocker) early August in Memphis is really, really hot.

My overall problem with this golf tournament is, surprisingly, not specifically with the golf course. Is TPC Southwind an interesting golf course – definitely not. It is as vanilla as one can expect from a typical TPC layout. These are the products of the golf boom of the 1980’s when building a subdivision around a golf course was all the rage. These golf courses typically have a flat and unimaginative tee-to-green design, with the only “creativity” to be had is an overabundance of water hazards, a fairway bunker guarding the tee-shot landing zone, the occasional dogleg to truly spice things up, and similar looking and sloped greens guarded by greenside bunkers hole after hole after hole.

But is it visually and architecturally offensive like some members of golf media make it out to be – of course not! While TPC Southwind may be boring, there are certainly worse golf courses on the PGA Tour that I have reviewed on this website. Those abominations had features that made absolutely no architectural sense, or had features where it looked like the designer simply was showing off. TPC Southwind is what it is – a no nonsense golf course with the length to handle the best players in the world. There isn’t really another golf course in the area that’s able to accommodate a professional golf tournament with how long the players are today, so whether the snooty golf media likes it or not they’re stuck with TPC Southwind for as long as an event is hosted in Memphis.

Rather, my problem with the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational stems more from the fraudulent pretenses that this tournament was moved to Memphis.

With all due respect to the fine people of Memphis, but any of you who are propping up the St. Jude Children’s Hospital as a shield to justify why your city is lucky enough to host a WGC event this week is either completely naive, hopelessly in denial or willfully lying. We all know why the WGC was moved to Memphis, and it was certainly not for charitable reasons nor as some celebration of the city itself. FedEx was forking over millions to the PGA Tour prize pool for their playoffs, yet year after year their own golf tournament hosted in the city of their headquarters was constantly bypassed by the biggest names in the game. For every Dustin Johnson or Phil Mickelson that showed up, there were ten times as many John Merrick’s, Jonathan Byrd’s and Ben Crane’s.

Let’s call it like it is – FedEx bribed the PGA Tour with a bigger purse for its playoffs in exchange for the WGC designation so the best players would roll into town and ensure its tournament didn’t have the some low-rent field like it was the Mayakoba Classic. While I’m happy the hospital will be put in a brighter spotlight, we all know deep down who the real winners this weekend are.

Betting Strategies

TPC Southwind is a Par 70 golf course and the typical winning scores have been in the low teens over the last 10 years. Proponents of TPC Southwind will claim that the golf course is challenging as evidence by having the most water balls in tournament play since 2003.  But just because a golf course has a lot of water doesn’t mean it’s difficult, particularly when the FedEx St. Jude Classic has seen as weak of fields as it has over the last 10 years. We saw this last week at the 3M Open where that golf course had numerous water hazards as well, yet the winning score was still near -20.

When the best players in the world take on a point and shoot golf course with very little tricks, they’re going to eat it up. And that’s exactly what happened last year. Brooks Koepka played near flawless golf on the way to a winning score of -16 and only 15 players finished with scores over par. This was also a year after Dustin Johnson showed that the golf course could be bomb and gouged quite easily on his way to a winning score of -19 in 2018.

As far as what’s important to score well at TPC Southwind, here’s the relative importance skill sets chart of the golf course:

(Per DataGolf)

This skill set chart is a lot like the ones seen at several stops since the return of the PGA Tour. There’s been an emphasis on iron play, accuracy and scrambling with a de-emphasis on driving distance.

But what’s important to note is that much of this data was collected with much weaker fields than what we’ll have this week. And last year we saw a little bit of a shift in how a much stronger field separated themselves at TPC Southwind:

(Per DataGolf)

Last year, players separated themselves on the leaderboard through a greater than average emphasis on performance off the tee and putting.

Looking at the leaderboard that shook out last year, there was a little bit of everything. You had bombers in Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson make appearances in the Top 20. You had shorter, more precise tacticians like Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith make appearances in the Top 20. And then you had guys with good all around games like Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay appear near the top of the leaderboard.

Bottom line – there isn’t really a particular skill set that dominates over the rest at TPC Southwind, primarily because it’s a vanilla, benign golf course in itself. In that event, bettors should look at the entire field and determine what each one does best and what their current form with their best skill sets are at the moment. It’s a little more strenuous a task than just loading up on, say, long hitters or good ball strikers for your betting tickets, but with such a deep and talented field it’ll help one weed out the contenders and the pretenders at the event.

Golf and NASCAR analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com. Co-Host of the Golf Gambling Podcast on the Sports Gambling Podcast Network. Hit him up on the SGP Slack Channel at SportsGamblingPodcast.Slack.com.

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