The PGA Tour is making a stop in Memphis at TPC Southwind for the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the final tune-up before the season’s second major. The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington looms large next weekend, and it will color every aspect of the action this weekend, from who is in the field, to how the players actually perform.
You don’t even have to look – you know Mickelson is in the field this weekend, if he can walk. He has made it very clear over the years that he wants this weekend to prepare for the U.S. Open, playing here every year as he works to get his game right to go after another major championship. And that is true across the board – in virtually every case (at least among the top 30 or 40 golfers or so), the decision to play or not to play this weekend has almost nothing to do with TPC Southwind. Unlike every other weekend where the course and the tournament are really the only factors to consider, now everyone is just wondering whether teeing it up this weekend will help or hurt his chances a week from now.
So before golfers even step foot on the course, the specter of the next major will have already affected the tournament, and it will keep doing it all weekend long. For example, Mickelson has played well here in the past, but he does it with a different approach every time. He is not tailoring his game to TPC Southwind, he is honing his approach for next weekend. And he is not alone.
What does that mean this year? It means that every one of these guys has an intimidating, difficult, links-style course on their mind as they prepare to play this course in Tennessee which has large, undulating greens (they average almost 5,500 sq. feet) as its most noticable characteristic. Couldn’t be further from links golf, right? Well, yes, so let’s look for where there might actually be some crossover in the way players approach both courses.
Chambers Bay, like any good links-style course, is going to neutralize the benefit of length off the tee by telling you exactly where you have to hit it. TPC Southwind might not do that, but it does offer up some of the narrowest pathways off the tee box on the entire Tour. This not only limits distance off the tee, but also leads to fewer fairways hit than on most courses. Both of these factors help place emphasis on iron play this weekend, especially out of the rough and at moderate to difficult lengths for approach shots. Next weekend, players will have no choice but to nail those approaches, and while this weekend might not be as punishing, you should still see the same approach, albeit for a different reason (TPC Southwind leaves the greens somewhat unprotected, taking away the downside of being aggressive).
If you want a couple of stats to help you analyze the players who could succeed this weekend, the obvious one is Scrambling. After a tough tee shot, and an approach that is not easy to land on the putting surface, the ability to get up and down for far is paramount here. You have to do it to be successful. It’s like a pre-requisite. If you want something a bit more obscure, you could go with long approaches from the rough – this one is maybe not as intuitive, but it works. The rough requires an iron, most of the time, and anything that forces these guys into long iron shots into the green over and over again is certainly going to suppress scores, no matter how big the greens are. And all that is reflected in the stats for the course, which rates it as one of the more difficult stops of the summer. But this skill, striking your irons clearly from a sideways or up or downhill lie or from the rough, is exactly what these guys will be working on for next weekend already. This stat could give you some insight into Southwind and a preview of the one that counts. You know Mickelson loves that.