Charles Schwab Challenge Tournament Preview

2021 Charles Schwab Challenge Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Colonial CC Before Tee Off

Back to where it all started…sorta. Many casual sports fans became golf fans when the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge kicked off the restart of live sports in the midst of this pandemic. More than anything, it was a spectacle to see how the world’s best would respond to a 3 month layoff, and how a professional golf tournament would feel with the absence of crowds. My criteria for player selection last year was about as quick and bare bones as it gets. I simply targeted players who fit one of the following:

  1. Lives in the immediate, surrounding Dallas Fort Worth area (assuming these players would be used to the terrain and not experience travel complications after quarantining at home for 3 months)
  2. New on Tour (used to playing no-fan events in either college or Korn Ferry)
  3. Coming off of a disappointing pre-COVID slump (assuming buy-low value on players with 3 months to reset and fix their swing issues from the beginning of the season)

Those three criteria landed me on (1) Jordan Spieth, (2) Collin Morikawa, and (3) Justin Rose, who went on to finish 10, 2, 3 respectively. Not enough to get me onto the winner, Daniel Berger, but enough of a tease to make me really believe I knew what I was doing and launch the PGA Tout account the next week. It’s crazy how much has changed since golf’s return at the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge, but suffice to say, my approach this year will be far more analytical.

Though this event has only gone by the “Charles Schwab” for the last two years, it is actually the longest standing PGA Tour event to be held at the same course year over year, and celebrates its 75 year anniversary this week. This event went by the “Dean & Deluca Fort Worth Invitational” for one year in 2018 and was known as the “Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial” before that from 2005 through 2017. For the Fantasy National crowd, you’ll need to search for “Charles Schwab” for events played 2018-2020, and “Ft Worth Inv” for all prior events to see total Event history.

In short, Colonial County Club levels the field’s Driving Distance due to the heavy tree lines and contoured angles, so Driving Accuracy will be on a premium. There’s also an emphasis on Approach, Around The Green, and Bent Grass putting, but we can dive further into all those details below.

Colonial CC Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,209
  • Par: 70 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 2x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bent
  • Architect: John Bredemus & Perry Maxwell
  • Historic Cut Line: +2
  • Comp Courses: TPC Four Seasons, Sea Island GC (Plantation), Olympia Fields, TPC Harding Park, Harbour Town
  • Recent Past Winners: Daniel Berger (20), Kevin Na (19), Justin Rose (18), Kevin Kisner (17), Jordan Spieth (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Chris Kirk (15), Zach Jonson (12, 10), Phil Mickelson (08, 00), (Rory Sabbatini (07), Sergio Garcia (01)

From a Course History standpoint, Jordan Spieth is your clear cut leader. He’s played this event 8 times, has never missed the cut, and has one win to go along with 7 T15 or better finishes. Over the last 5 years, Jordan Spieth has gained 50.8 Total Strokes at this event, which is over 20 (!!!) Strokes more than the player with the second best history at Colonial CC, Kevin Na. Even in what projects to be a pretty loaded field, I expect Spieth to be the prohibitive favorite this week. In addition to Spieth and Na, Justin Rose, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Danny Lee, Matt Kuchar, Rory Sabbatini, Patrick Reed, and Peter Uihlein have each recorded multiple T15 finishes here over the last 5 years. I’m willing to overlook if a given player had a down year at the Charles Schwab in 2020, given all the extenuating circumstances, but the fact remains that shorter, positional players off the tee with solid short games have seemed to fare best here over the years.

Par 5 Scoring means nothing this week. Absolutely nothing. Looking at the top 20 players at this event over the last 10 years, none of them have had any success on Par 5s, and it has not mattered one bit. Why? There are only two; one is the easiest hole on the course (the 1st hole), which everyone seems to Birdie, and the other is 600+ yards and nearly impossible to reach in two. Par 3 Scoring has also been relatively inconsequential for the top players here, which funnels the importance this week into Par 4 Scoring. A few value players worth a look this week who typically gain strokes on Par 4s but lose strokes on Par 3s and 5s include Lucas Glover, CT Pan, Ian Poulter, Joel Dahmen, and Doc Redman.

I’m firmly between a rock and hard place trying to decide whether to lean Recent Form or Course History for this week’s event, and that’s because two of my favorite initial leans fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. In Recent Form’s corner we have Si Woo Kim. He’s Top 25 in SG: TOT, T2G, BS, & APP and his strengths lie in his Par 4 Scoring, particularly where the hole distances funnel to at Colonial. If we’re willing to bucket this 7,209 yard course into the <7,200 yard category, Si Woo absolutely crushes those types of courses, ranking #1 SG: BS and T2G on them and firing finishes of T33 (RBC Heritage), T9 (THE PLAYERS), and 1st (The AmEx) on the last three short courses he’s played. He’s Above Average in every key category I’m looking at this week, and YET, despite all of the perfect profiling for Colonial CC, his Course History for the Dallas, Texas resident is absolutely awful in this tournament with a T66 and 4 MCs in 5 career trips. In the Course History corner, we have Justin Rose. Rose ranks Top 10 in essentially every SG category (TOT, T2G, BS, SG, OTT, APP, P) at Colonial CC. He won this event in his first ever appearance in 2018, and after a T58 finish in 2019, he followed that up last year with another solid T3 performance. Rose looked excellent on Bent grass at The Masters (T7) last month and the API before a “Back injury” forced him to WD on Saturday while in contention. Neither of those strong performances factor into his SG stats unfortunately, so he’s below average in effectively every SG category besides APP in 2021, but he seems to be turning a corner with a T10 finish at the PGA Championship last week. In any case, there’s a strong chance I hedge exposure onto both the Course History and Recent Form sides of the coin this week.

Key Stats

  • Par 4 400-450 / Par 4 350-400
  • SG: APP / SG: BS
  • SG: ARG
  • Driving Accuracy
  • SG: Putting (Bent)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Driving Distance
  • Prox 200+
  • Par 5 Scoring

These are the weeks I tend to have the most success. After three consecutive weeks on courses that reward Distance, we come to Colonial, where Distance matters less than practically any other course on Tour. That means it’s a great opportunity to buy low on players who may have looked disappointing over the last few weeks strictly due to their distance disadvantage. Players like Brian Harman, Ian Poulter, Andrew Putnam, Peter Malnati, and Brendon Todd would strike me as solid potential buy low rebound candidates this week.

Beyond the removal of Distance emphasis, we also have a return to Bent grass greens, which is not too common on Tour. We did see Bent greens two weeks ago at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but TPC Craig Ranch and Augusta National are the only courses that have been played on Tour on Bent greens within the last 6 months. The top 5 putters L36 rounds on Bent greens are Denny McCarthy, Andrew Landry, Brendon Todd, Brandt Snedeker, and Patrick Reed. If we want to focus in on Bent Grass Specialists, Richy Werenski, Kevin Na, Doug Ghim, Justin Rose, Joel Dahmen, and Wyndham Clark each putt significantly above their baselines on Bent greens. On the other hand, Sungjae Im, Carlos Ortiz, Emiliano Grillo, and Charley Hoffman have had significantly worse splits putting on Bent compared to their baselines.

Taking a look at the top correlated stats with success at Colonial CC compared to Tour average, there are some pretty significant differences. For starters, P4 450-500, SG: Par 5, and SG: Par 3 dip significantly from the usual Top 10 ranks of importance to outside the Top 20 at Colonial. That is a credit to a majority of the holes funneling into the P4 350-400 and P4 400-450 range, which jump to the #3 and #9 ranks in scoring importance respectively at Colonial. In total, 9 holes fall within the P4 350-450 range, and scoring on these holes has proven to be crucial for players to have success here. In a weighted mix of Scoring P4 350-450, the Top 10 over L36 are Jordan Spieth, Corey Conners, Chase Seiffert, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed, Collin Morikawa, KH Lee, Charley Hoffman, Si Woo Kim, and Scottie Scheffler.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at Colonial CC

A stat I’ve never put any stock behind in the past but pops up here is Drive Left Avoidance, which jumps to the 32nd most important stat here, versus the usual insignificant 53rd rank on average. I definitely won’t be putting that in my model, but it’s enough for me to remove players who rank bottom 25% in Drive Left Avoidance from my player pool this week.

There are just 6 players in the field this week who rank Above Average in all of the above Top 10 correlated stats at Colonial and have Above Average Course History: Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger, Corey Conners, Charley Hoffman, Collin Morikawa, and Branden Grace.

Spotlight: Michael Visacki

Michael Visacki qualifies for PGA Tour, makes emotional call to dad -  Sports Illustrated

Nah, I’m just fucking with you guys.

Spotlight: Jordan Spieth

Okay this time I’m for real. I hardly ever bet anyone sub-20/1, but if Spieth gets to around 12-14/1 in a top heavy field that includes the likes of Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, and Daniel Berger, I’m likely to jump all over it. Although he’s won at Colonial just once, Spieth has lapped the field on this course time and time again, ranking #1 in SG: TOT, T2G, and SG at Colonial over the last 10 years. He’s never missed a cut in his 8 career trips here and has 4 T10s over the last 5 years.

Bent is the preferred putting surface for the Texas native, so he should feel right at home in the greater Dallas Fort Worth area. Spieth has been spectacular in every trip back to Texas recently, with finishes of 9th at the Byron Nelson and 1st at Valero over the last 2 months. He even advanced to the Round of 16 at the WGC Match Play in Austin.

I would typically second guess backing Spieth on a track that favors driving accuracy, but Spieth has risen up to 30th in Good Drives Gained thanks in part to him gaining strokes OTT in 6 of his last 7 events. Trending driving aside, Spieth ranks Top 15 in all major SG categories (T2G, BS, SG, APP, ARG, P) which unsurprisingly is good enough for #1 SG: TOT over the last 36 rounds.

It remains to be seen where Spieth’s price opens up, but he hits the trifecta of Course History, Course Fit, and Recent Form, so I’ll be looking to get plenty of exposure to him this week.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Charles Schwab Challenge

WATCH: Morikawa loses Charles Schwab Challenge after brutal lip out

Daniel Berger is your defending champion, fending off Collin Morikawa in what proved to be a bit of an anticlimactic playoff, as Morikawa lipped out a 4 foot tap in Par to seal his fate.

How soon is too soon to declare an Abraham Ancer chalk week? The San Antonio resident returns to Texas on the heels of 3 consecutive T10s. He’s also gained strokes Ball Striking in each of his last 11 events dating back to the Sentry TOC in January. Removing distance from the equation, Ancer is second to only Si Woo Kim in SG: BS on courses 7,200 yards or less, which should continue to suit him well this week. Over the last 36 rounds, Ancer is Top 12 in SG TOT, T2G, BS, OTT, and APP. His short game has really been the only thing preventing him from winning in recent weeks, but a return to Bent grass, popular in this area for the Local Texan, should be the boost he needs. Ancer ranks 25th in the Field SG: P on Bent grass and will look to build on last year’s T14 finish this week.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

I’ve put a premium on Recent Form, Ball Striking, Approach, and Par 4 350-450 Scoring in model this week and rounded that out with balanced emphasis on ARG, Bent Putting, Course History, Birdies & Opportunities Gained, and Driving Accuracy. A bit surprisingly, I’m seeing a lot of overlap from the Valero Texas Open Model, and this week is once again highlighted by none other than…Jordan Spieth. Rounding out the rest of my Model’s Top 10 are Corey Conners, Collin Morikawa, Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman, Abraham Ancer, Cameron Tringale, Matt Wallace, Chris Kirk, and Justin Thomas.