First Tee to Last Call: Arizona Dreaming
Oh, Patrick Reed… just kidding. I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Reed makes some questionable decisions from time to time. He would have still won the Farmer’s Insurance Open if he didn’t pick up a possibly-embedded ball before PGA officials could determine it embedded. I wish he would have at least acknowledged the controversy, but every sport needs a villain. Enough said.
This week, I want to discuss winter golf in the upper Midwest. As I write this column I’m sitting in my home bar with a glass of scotch and the fireplace running, looking out on the snow-covered ground. The trees are being pummeled by wind and the temperature is about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it might as well be −20 because I can’t imagine it feeling much different.
Needless to say, the weather is less than optimal for golf.
I’m a die-hard golfer. I’ve been playing ever since my Dad gave me a plastic club and let me chase rabbits around our home course in Texas when I was 3-years-old. That doesn’t make me good at it, but I still play as much as I can.
Over the last few years living in the arctic tundra that is South Dakota, I have found ways to scratch the itch when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
You may find it hard to believe, but prior to living here, I had never stepped foot into a golf simulator. I’m aging myself here, but they weren’t as abundant when I was growing up. When you went to a golf equipment store you were hitting into a net, not a computer screen.
For the record, I loathe simulators. They are inaccurate and honestly, quite cheesy. I recently shot 4 over par from the pro tees at Pebble Beach in a simulator. So, yeah, that’s our benchmark for simulator accuracy or lack thereof. I don’t shoot 4 over on our municipal courses during the summer. Not consistently, at least. It is an option to knock the rust off my swing so I do it often enough. We are fortunate to have a golf simulator bar here. I love bars almost as much as I love golf, so it’s a win-win.
Many people are familiar with Topgolf. If you aren’t, it’s an outdoor driving range with heated bays and giant “scoring pods” at various distances. I liken it to bowling as far as “sports” you can do while overindulging in distilled spirits go. Somehow Sioux Falls, South Dakota has one. It’s a knock-off of Topgolf but the facility is very similar. If you like golf and enjoy partying with friends I’d fully recommend checking out one of these places if you’re near one.
We spend a lot of time there. They have the largest TV screen in the city. It’s about 30 feet tall by 30 feet wide and the bar has two levels for viewing. The amount of space has made it a great place to have fun while maintaining social distancing.
It’s where we host our fantasy football draft and oftentimes where my friends and I build our DraftKings lineups together, week after week while watching golf and football. It’s kind of our hub for fantasy sports. It’s also a pretty good spot for a solid cocktail or a nice pour of bourbon.
The point of my story is to not let things prevent you from doing what you love. Instead, find something you love to do that brings your friends together. I know it’s hard in this day and age but be safe and don’t lose the human interaction. You can still find ways to do the things that enrich your life with the people you love. Even if it feels like it’s 20 degrees below zero.
Now, let’s talk about somewhere that isn’t 20 below – Scottsdale, Arizona, and the Waste Management Open. Known as “The Greatest Show on Turf,” “The Peoples’ Open” or the “Biggest Party on the PGA Tour,” it’s one of the tournaments firmly on my bucket list to attend once fans are allowed again.
This tournament is hands down one of my favorite tournaments to watch. The 16th hole is unlike any experience in golf. 20,000 screaming fans in giant grandstands surrounding a truly holeable par 3. The energy, even on TV, is insane.
Last year saw the players wearing various Kobe Bryant jerseys as they tee’d off on this hole honoring one of the most talented athletes to have ever lived who has passed away one day before the tournament last year. It was moving to see.
This year will be interesting because only a fraction of the typical 200,000 total spectators will be allowed on the property. I’m curious to see how the lack of crowd energy affects the players.
TPC Scottsdale is the home to this tournament. It will be playing at 7,200 yards and par is 71. It sets up to favor longer hitters. The weather looks to be perfect all four days. The course should play firm and fast. Scoring is at a premium here with several eagle opportunities and tons of birdies to be had.
Webb Simpson is the defending champion winning a playoff against Tony Finau at 17 under par. Last year’s cut line was 1 under par. With a much stronger field than prior years, I expect the scores to be even better. I would guess low-to-mid 20’s under par to be the winning score.
I used a mixture of total shots gained, shots gained on par 5’s, birdie-or-better percentage and ball-striking in this week’s model. Ball striking combines a player’s total driving (driving distance and accuracy) with greens in regulation. Ball-striking was weighed heavier than the other categories this week.
Waste Management Open Picks
Justin Thomas ($10,800)
What can I say about Justin Thomas? He is No. 1 in birdie percentage, No. 1 in DraftKings (DK) points scored, No. 2 in ball-striking and No. 4 in the field for shots gained total. He is possibly the best ball-striker on the planet and one of the most consistent players on tour. He has finished third the last two years at this tournament. He is going to be a popular play this week looking to be about 21 percent owned. I’ll eat the chalk on this one and take the salary savings paying down from Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele who have equally-high ownership percentages.
Russell Henley ($8,200)
Over the last 50 rounds, Rusell Henley rates out No. 1 in ball striking, No. 1 in shots gained approach and No. 6 in shots gained total. He is in the top half of the field for birdie percentage. He is in the bottom half of the field in strokes gained putting, which gives me hope that if he can just be average at putting this week and still compete. I don’t think he will win, but I don’t see him ruining lineups this week either.
Davis Riley ($6,100)
Each week, I always have to throw a dart, Davis Riley is said dart this week. Riley has been a solid player on the Korn Ferry Tour. In 2020, he started 19 events and made 13 cuts. He also had nine top 25’s, five of those were top 10’s, and two of those were wins. He finished third in the Korn Ferry points race overall. He is very accurate and long off the tee and held a 72 percent green in regulation rate last season. His PGA results aren’t wonderful but at $6,100 and sub 2 percent ownership, I’m rolling the dice. He’s going to be a sound player, and this might just be the week to break out.
Other Golfers I Like this Week
Rory McIlroy ($10,600)
Will Zalatoris ($9,000) *I will play him every week, he’s going to win eventually.
Bubba Watson ($8,500)
Corey Conners ($7,900)
Doc Redman ($6,600)
Thanks for reading, and good luck this week!
Conor Coughlin @aRandomGr3nade