The PGA Tour winds down its West Coast Swing this weekend. Another star-studded field heads to Riviera Country Club for the 2023 Genesis Invitational. As always, here is your early deep-dive of the 2023 Genesis Invitational and a preview of how to bet.
2023 Genesis Invitational Preview – The Field
This is yet another elevated event on the PGA Tour. As such, only two players currently inside the Top 25 won’t make an appearance at Riviera Country Club. And those two players, Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, are no longer PGA Tour members. Every other star in the world of golf will be here. From Rory, to Rahm, to Scottie and JT. The best of the best will play the 2023 Genesis Invitational.
And that even includes the biggest name in all of golf, even if he isn’t inside the Top 25 in the world. Tiger Woods makes his return to his first event on the PGA Tour since his car accident two years ago. While placing lofty expectations on him to win or even contend would be unfair (especially considering his overall lack of success at Riviera), simply making the weekend would be a huge accomplishment for him.
For the full field, click here.
2023 Genesis Invitational Preview – The Golf Course
Construction on Riviera Country Club began in 1926 by George C. Thomas in a barren canyon in Santa Monica. After consulting with the great Alister McKenzie, Thomas finalized his architecture plans and the golf course was completed the following year. It was the site of the first Los Angeles Open in 1929 and was the primary home of the tournament for the better part of seven decades.
The golf course itself has been relatively unaltered since its opening. Other than bunker renovations by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and restoration of the 7th and 8th holes by Tom Fazio, Riviera is an old soul that still packs a punch. It tests the best in the world despite decades of technological advancement in equipment:
Besides the creative and unique layout, Riviera features a type of grass that the PGA Tour doesn’t see very often. In 1934, Riviera was re-sodded with kikuyu grass after a New Year’s Eve storm damaged the golf course. Kikuyu is a sticky, spongy turf native to Africa. Kikuyu is also featured summer grass at Torrey Pines, which these players see at the Farmers Insurance Open and any U.S. Open at the golf course.
Unlike bermudagrass, kikuyu does not go dormant during colder months. It also shows best in climates with constant sunshine like Los Angeles enjoys throughout the year. The combination of the hard, moisture-deprived soil that lays the foundation of the golf course to the grabby nature of the Kikuyu plays in perfect harmony with each other. It creates a track of lush fairways and tricky rough that can pose problems for anyone not used to hitting off of it.
Here’s an article from Dan Rapaport with more information about the unique nature of kikuyu grass.
Also like Torrey Pines, the greens are made with poa annua grass. This grass is essentially a weed that grows throughout the day. Poa annua surfaces are quite bumpy and not easy to putt on. Confident strokes are needed to putt well on these surfaces.
The design of almost every hole at Riviera is a favorite to the golf architecture community, and Andy Johnson (a.k.a. the Fried Egg) wrote a hole-by-hole breakdown covering just that subject. That is definitely a recommended read for a more detailed analysis of every hole at Riviera Country Club.
2023 Genesis Invitational Preview – Betting Strategies
To start the preview of betting strategies at the 2023 Genesis Invitational, here are relevant statistics and facts about Riviera Country Club.
1. Riviera Country Club is a Par 71 and plays a little over 7,300 yards long. The greens average 7,500 sq. feet in area, fairly large for PGA Tour standards. However, they’re almost always firm and hitting the green in regulation is no easy feat.
The fairways and rough are kikuyu grass, while the greens are poa annua. The greens are usually pretty quick, especially in windy conditions. The combination of slick greens and the poa annua makes putting on them very, very difficult.
The golf course only has three Par 5’s, each presenting its own unique challenge. While the 1st is one of the easiest Par 5’s on the PGA Tour, birdieing it is an absolute must. The 11th is almost dead straight, but very narrow and tree lined. And the 17th plays uphill and requires a tee shot down the left for the best view of the green. Otherwise, the approach shot is partially blind. The green is also very challenging.
2. For normal PGA Tour stops, Riviera is one of the harder golf courses on the schedule. Since 2015, the field average score is +0.68. That’s the 8th toughest venue of all courses who have hosted at least five PGA Tour events since 2015. While its Par 5’s are some of the easiest on the PGA Tour, its Par 4’s are very difficult. Only Torrey Pines and Bay Hill feature tougher Par 4’s of all golf courses with at least five tournaments played since 2015.
3. There are two areas that makes Riviera very tough to play. The first is off-the-tee. Of all golf courses with at least five tournaments since 2015, Riviera ranks as the 6th toughest off-the-tee. While the fairways aren’t all that narrow, they’re like concrete and very difficult to hold. In fact, the average driving accuracy rate at Riviera since 2015 is only about 52%. That’s the lowest clip of all golf courses with at least five tournaments since 2015.
It’s also not visually appealing off the tee either. Players face a lot of uncomfortable tee shots with trouble looming in the landing zones. It demands players to shape their drives both ways in the air. And because the golf course is so firm and fast, players don’t have much control where it winds up once it hits the ground. A player might hit it exactly where he wants to, but it might run out into an area he certainly didn’t want to wind up in.
4. Despite the tough driving conditions, there is little penalty between hitting an approach shot from the rough or from the fairway. In fact, it’s the least penalizing golf course on the PGA Tour out of the rough.
This probably has more to do with the design of each hole and the pin placement than the grass itself. At Riviera, depending on where the pin is commands a player to play from the correct side of the hole. If a player finds themselves out of position off the tee, it’s very difficult to get close to the pin from either the rough or fairway. Balls will likely end up in about the same spot as they would from both areas. As such, that eliminates most of the “penalty” of hitting from the rough.
In addition, the green in regulation rate at Riviera since 2015 is only about 56%. That’s the lowest clip of all tournaments with at least five events since 2015. Because the field driving accuracy rates are so low and the greens are so firm, players are unable to generate enough spin on their approach shots to hold greens at a high clip.
5. The bunkers at Riviera are incredibly tough to play out of as well. Only the Stadium Course at PGA West features tougher bunkers to try and get up and down from. Many of them sit well below the putting surface and require precision spin to keep the ball close to the pin. And because the greens are undulated and quick, the inability to control or generate enough spin means long comebackers for par.
6. Like its West Coast counterparts, the greens at Riviera are incredibly difficult to putt on. Not only are they typically very quick, the poa annua makes it quite difficult to read putts. Only Torrey Pines is tougher to putt on from under five feet of all PGA Tour golf courses. And only Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Augusta National are tougher to putt on between 5 and 15 feet of all annual tournaments.
Next, here’s the skillset chart from DataGolf for Riviera Country Club:
A few things stand out here. In terms of off-the-tee, there’s very little correlation of those who have success based on their driving accuracy rates. That’s because the field driving accuracy rates are so low. Even if you’re one of the leaders in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour, holding fairways are tough for everyone. With most of the field playing from the rough more often than they’re used to, it levels the playing field.
However, recent tournaments have seen the winners be excellent drivers. From Bubba Watson, to Adam Scott, to Dustin Johnson, to Max Homa, to even Joaquin Niemann and J.B. Holmes, all of them drive the ball very well. The “lack of correlation” here probably has more to do with the winners at Riviera pre-2015. They include the likes of John Merrick, Bill Haas, and Steve Stricker. None of whom anyone would call elite drivers.
It’s possible that more modern players who find success at Riviera are those who are very efficient off-the-tee, and primarily through their length. As such, shading towards more elite drivers off the tee is advisable. However, it’s not a pre-requisite for a good finish like some other golf courses can be.
Second, there’s a lower correlation of those who have success based on their putting. That’s probably because of how difficult it is to putt on for most of the field. The combination of fast surfaces and the poa annua makes it tough for even the best putters. However, targeting players who have found success on West Coast poa annua greens is advisable.
Lastly, the only statistical category with any semblance of a correlation in performance is around the green. Typically, one has to have the profile of a really strong player around the green to do well at Riviera. Because the green in regulation rates are so low and the greens are so quick, the ability to show both creativity and control around the green is a must. The best way to save strokes at Riviera is through a great short game.
Finally, here’s the approach shot distribution at Riviera Country Club, from DataGolf and compiled from the 2022 Genesis Invitational:
There’s a much higher amount of shots between 150-200 yards at Riviera Country Club than there is on the average PGA Tour venue. As such, gamblers should place more emphasis on proximity and scoring from these areas. However, be advised that most proximity stats are from the fairway. Because the driving accuracy rates at Riviera are about 50/50 at best, these statistics could be a little misleading on its face.
To summarize everything in the 2023 Genesis Invitational preview, what should golf gamblers look at this week?
1. Past success at both Riviera Country Club and/or putting on poa annua surfaces is a big plus.
2. Good drivers off-the-tee based on recent trends, with more favor going towards longer hitters.
3. Players who excel on approach shots between 150-200 yards
4. Excellent scramblers. This is by far the most correlated trait of those who have had the most success at Riviera Country Club.
Follow the tips in this preview, and you should be able to put together a solid betting card and DFS lineup for the 2023 Genesis Invitational.