2020 American Express Picks, Predictions, Preview

Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2020 American Express Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from PGA West.

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2020 American Express Picks: Show Index

0:22 Giveaways/Winners
8:11 Sony Recap
16:30 Course/Stats
22:58 Favorites
32:23 Second Tier
40:11 Mid Tier
49:20 Longshots
1:01:48 Abu Dhabi
1:08:06 Quick Picks
1:09:35 One and Done


2020 American Express Field

Field: 156 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 54 Holes
Lineup Lock: 11:30am ET; Thursday January 16
Defending Champ: Adam Long

With all players guaranteed three rounds in Palm Springs, the once Desert Classic, now renamed The American Express features Tony Finau, Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari, Kevin Kisner, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na, Sungjae Im, Billy Horschel, Abraham Ancer, Byeong Hun An, Matthew Wolff, new tournament host Phil Mickelson as the headliners in the field.

Along with Kisner, JT Poston, Chez Reavie, Nate Lashley, Tyler Duncan, Martin Trainer, Sebastian Munoz, Adam Long, and 2011 winner Brendon Todd are all teeing off for the third time in three tournaments in 2020.

Charles Howell, Alex Noren, Andrew Putnam, Scott Piercy, Joel Dahmen, Kyle Stanley, Aaron Wise, Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Luke List, Carlos Ortiz, Xinjun Zhang, Brian Stuard, Daniel Berger, Talor Gooch, and Ryan Armour are back on links after starting their season a week ago at the Sony Open. While Scottie Scheffler, Kevin Streelman, Jason Kokrak, Lucas Bjerregaard, Lucas Glover, Danny Lee, Ryan Moore, Harold Varner, Bronson Burgoon, Beau Hossler, Harris English, Jhonny Vegas, Nick Watney, and Si WOOOOOO Kim are all making their 2020 debuts, adding a tremendous amount of depth to the field.

17-year-old Akshay Bhatia is making his American Express debut; as is Stanford golfer Isaiah Salinda. And, recent University of San Diego transfer (from USC) Charlie Reiter, who set a scoring record at the Stadium Course at PGA West in last year’s tournament with a 63, will tee off for the third consecutive year.

If you’re wondering where the world’s elite are golfing this week; they’re in Abu Dhabi. Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, and more are all playing the Middle East swing over the next few weeks.


2020 American Express: Key Stats

Strokes Gained: Approach
Par 4s Gained
Birdies or Better Gained
Strokes Gained: Off The Tee
Par 5s Gained

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 9.41.19 AM

Mayo’s Custom Stat POWER RANKINGS from FantasyNational.com


2020 American Express: Courses

Course: Stadium Course at PGA West (SC)
Par: 72
Yardage: 7,113
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: Yes
2019 Ranking: 40/49 in Difficulty
2019 Par 5 Eagles: 18

Course: Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West (TC)
Par: 72
Yardage: 7,159
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: No
2019 Ranking: 48/49 in Difficulty
2019 Par 5 Eagles: 15

Course: La Quinta CC (LQ)
Par: 72
Yardage: 7,060
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: No
2019 Ranking: 49/49 in Difficulty
2019 Par 5 Eagles: 18


2020 American Express: Past Winners

2019: Adam Long -26
2018: Jon Rahm -22
2017: Hudson Swafford -20
2016: Jason Dufner -25
2015: Bill Haas -22
2014: Patrick Reed -28


2020 American Express: Notes

Since this is a three-course rotation event between the Stadium Course (Pete Dye design), Nicklaus Tournament Course (Jack Nicklaus design, obv), and La Quinta CC (Lawrence Hughes & Clive Clark design), all golfers will get a minimum 54 holes.

Oh, this is a Pro-Am too. Pro-Am slows down the pace of play for each round, and unlike the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, almost every amateur is someone you couldn’t pick out of a lineup of one. It’s basically all the executives who can’t afford a spot in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in a month. You’re not getting Bill Murray, or even Alfonso Ribeiro (well, you might get Alfonso Ribeiro) this week, you’re far more  likely to see the assistant to the treasurer of the Palm Springs Film Festival.

La Quinta’s two easiest holes, No. 5 and No. 6, both Par 5s, are surrounded by the 6th and 9th easiest holes one the course. This stretch is the high probability for a birdie streak between the three courses. For DraftKings Showdown contests, loading up on La Quinta players that day should be a focal point.

La Quinta and the Nicklaus Tournament Course have been the two easiest courses on the PGA TOUR the past two years relative to par.

The 2011 and 2012 Q-School was held at the Stadium Course.

Shotlink data (and Shot Tracker) is only available on the Stadium Course (two fo the four rounds), so all Strokes Gained data you encounter in your research only comes from the SC, not TC or LQ. If someone references the amount of strokes a player has gained on the greens during this event, just know they’re only talking about half the rounds. You can glean a lot of information from the other two rounds based on results, however, those numbers won’t be precise. Oh, there are also limited cameras away from the Stadium Course, so good luck trying to follow your golfers whatsoever. When Adam Hadwin was on 59 watch in 2017, there were no cameras at La Quinta to actually cover it until he was on hole 17.

Last year’s winner, Adam Long, became the first player to win in his sixth start for earlier since, get this, Smylie Kaufman won the Shiners in 2015.

The average drive on the Stadium Course is more than seven yards shorter than TOUR average. Stadium Course was second to Pebble Beach last season as the course with shortest average driving distance (273 yards) and fewest drives over 300 yards (just 10%).

Bombers have had plenty success at this event in the last decade (Rahm, Vegas and Swafford), but, the shorter hitters have their share of victories as well: Dufner, Reed, Gay and Wilson. There’s no one definitive prototypical skill set to target. That said, with prevalent water and sand at the Stadium Course, the shorter hitters must be accurate off the tee to avoid the hazards. Bombers will inherently see their driving accuracy increase since they won’t be hitting as many drivers off the tee, and if they are wayward with the big stick, at least they’ll be closer to the hole for an easier recovery.

Of players in the field in 2020, Brendan Steele, Phil Mickelson, Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, and Bud Cauley have gained the most total strokes over the past five years. David Hearn and Cameron Percy have lost the most over that span.

In the past decade, Charles Howell has played this event every year and made the cut every time. Harris English is seven-for-seven since 2011.

Of the past 11 winners, 10 played at least one of the two Hawaii events to open the year. Additionally, four of the last six winners had a Top 20 finish in one of those Hawaii starts. 

They’re officially listed as Bermuda putting surfaces,  but the greens are also overseeded with Ryegrass and Poa Trivialis. Historically, they run on the slower side of average; TC and LQ both ranked inside the Top 5 of courses with the fewest 3-putts in 2019.


2020 American Express Picks — Targets From Each Range

Sungjae Im

Over the past 24 rounds, Sungjae rates out among the best in the field in a number of key categories. The South Korean is top 10 in this field in Birdies or Better Gained (2nd), Putting (3rd), and Par 4s gained (3rd). A victory is coming for the 21-year-old, now up to 35th in the world rankings, and this is the type of event that can get him over the hump. While is game is well suited for many different lay out, distance won’t be an issue in Palm Springs, and the birdiefest environment plays exactly to his former Korn Ferry Tour experience.



Kevin Kisner

Who led the field Tee-To-Green at the Sony Open? It wasn’t the guys in the playoff, or even bronze medalist Webb Simpson. It was Kevin Kisner. The man with erratic round-by-round putting strokes. In rounds one and three, Kisner gained over two strokes each day with the flat stick; rounds two and four, lost a combined 5.3 strokes on the greens. And he still came fourth. Smooth out the valleys with the putter, and Kisner can win, because he’ll definitely generate enough birdie looks.



Russell Knox

The irons are working per usual (very good), but over the last six months the Scot has started to develop a shocking lack of consistency off the tee. He was never going to lap the field in distance, but he always gained strokes with his driver with accuracy. But that just hasn’t been the case lately. Over his past 10 events, he’s losing almost a stroke off the tee per event; way behind his three year average of +0.5. As mentioned, the irons are sharp, the chipping is the same, and he’s actually putting better recently than at most times in his career. If he can find a way to smooth out the accuracy for a week, he’ll contend. He’s also one of the tops in the field from 100 yards and in as well.



Sam Ryder

From way down the list, it was encoring to see Ryder open his year without a waiting period on his ball striking. Gaining over four strokes Tee-to-Green at the Sony, Ryder’s strengths should emerge again at the American Express. The top player in the field from 75-100 yards over the past 24 rounds (per fantasynational.com), a stat he’s gained versus the field in 12 of his past 14 rounds, he should create plenty of easy birdie looks. That seems like an odd proximity range to exploit, but looking back at the Stadium course over the past few years, a passel of players who finish inside the Top 10, finishing amongst the best in the field from this range. Likely due to the overwhelming amount of short Par 4s, and a slew of Par 5s, which are easy, yet aren’t especially gettable in two shots. As always, Ryder’s issue is going to be consistency, but the irons looked crisp last week, and he’s gained strokes on the greens in six of his last seven measured rounds. He just needs everything to click together for once. 

Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.comPaul Casey, Kevin Streelman, Brian Harman, Henrik Norlander, Harris English, Lucas Glover, Jason Kokrak


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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award, and is a finalist for three FSWA Awards in 2019 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year). His 17 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.


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