Expect anything different?! Torrey Pines is hosting the US Open for a second time, and what an act to follow, as Tiger’s hobbled theatrics and eventual 2008 Sudden Death victory over Rocco Mediate still remain the most indelible golf memory in my 28 year old lifetime.
The US Open is personally my favorite of the four Majors. Following that everlasting Tiger moment, I went to my first ever golf tournament the very next year for the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black. More recently, the 2019 US Open was the first Major I ever bet on legally in the great state of New Jersey, with pre-tournament outrights on the winner, Gary Woodland (110/1), and the Runner Up, Brooks Koepke (20/1), which made for my first and probably only sweat-free Major cash. The year after that, I was onboard with the Wolff pack (80/1) at Winged Foot, which was spoiled by Bryson, but still led to a nice week of pools and DFS. The US Open has never been short on the theatrics for me, and I’m hoping 2021 is no different!
When it comes to Torrey Pines, we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two at the Farmers Insurance Open year over year.
It’s not common to play the same track twice in the same year. The most recent instance was the back-to-back Workday & Memorial events played at Muirfield Village in 2020 due to COVID cancellation complications, and before that, the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach several months after the AT&T Pro-Am. While course history is of course important, Rees Jones and the USGA will be hard at work to make this a significantly more challenging version of Torrey Pines than what we typically see at the Farmers Insurance Open (which by the way, was already very difficult). That will manifest itself in the form of more length, thicker rough, tighter fairways, and new/rearranged hazards.
In typical Major fashion, it’s a loaded week of content ahead so in addition to this Preview, here’s what you can also look out for from me this week:
- Tuesday (AM) – Blood, Sweat, & Tiers: Breaking down the Highest Upside Bet, Best DFS Value, Dark Horse, and Fade within each pricing tier
- Tuesday (9PM) – Fairway To Heaven US Open Breakdown Livestream
- Wednesday (AM) – Prop, Lock, & Drop It: My 5 favorite Prop Bets with full insights and rationale
- Wednesday (PM) – Final Thoughts: A full recap of my approach, strategy, and final placed bets for the 2021 US Open
This is going to be a week that requires an elite, well-rounded skillset in all facets, with an added emphasis on distance, scrambling, and putting on Poa greens. Let’s jump on in for everything we’ll need to know ahead of the 2021 US Open.
Torrey Pines (South Course) Course Specs
- Yards: 7,685
- Par: 71 (4x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
- Hole By Hole Breakdown
- Greens: Poa
- Architect: William F. Bell
- Comp Courses: Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, Muirfield Village, TPC Harding Park, Quail Hollow, Erin Hills, Riviera CC
Finding Success at Torrey Pines
Unlike most Major Championships, this year’s US Open returns to the same venue for a second time in the season, on familiar grounds at Torrey Pines, host of the Farmers Insurance Open. 3 out of 4 contested rounds at the Farmers are played on the South Course, which will host all 4 rounds of the 2021 US Open, so there is plenty of baseline data we can pull from past Course History.
The last 5 winners of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines were Patrick Reed (-14), Marc Leishman (-15), Justin Rose (-21), Jason Day (-10), and Jon Rahm (-13). All 5 of these players were gaining strokes across all major categories (OTT, APP, ARG, P) over their previous 5 events coming into The Farmers, and besides Rahm who won in his Famers debut, all other winners had registered a T10 at The Farmers prior to their win. There are exactly 10 players who come into the US Open gaining strokes across each major category over their last 5 events: Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepke, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, and Si Woo Kim. Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed, and Shane Lowry are the only players from that list who have also previously recorded a T10 finish here.
Analyzing the Top 20 players SG: TOT at Torrey Pines, and which stats have correlated most to contribute to that success here, there is one overwhelmingly notable stat that pops: Driving Distance. We see our fair share of long courses throughout the season whether it’s Quail Hollow, Riviera, or Kapalua, but even in those cases, Distance still nets out to be a “nice to have” that doesn’t prevent the shorter hitters in the field from contending. Generally speaking, that’s evidenced by Driving Distance ranking 43rd out of 52 SG categories in correlation to SG: TOT on Tour Average. But, going off of stock yardage, Torrey Pines South is the longest course of them all, which has made Distance a Top 10 correlated stat for those who have had the most success here over time. Conversely, Driving Accuracy actually rates out dead last at 52nd in terms of correlation to success at Torrey Pines, meaning players have gotten by here by just bombing and gauging, rather than clubbing down to stay in the fairways. It’s also notable to see how much of a premium is put on SG: APP here, given how small these greens are, as this stat jumps from the 15th most important on average, all the way up to 6th at Torrey Pines.
Understanding the premiums on Distance and Approach, it may come as little surprise that the Top 10 players SG: TOT at Torrey Pines South are Tony Finau, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Hideki Matsuyama. Over the last 5 years, we’ve seen several repeat players at the top of the leaderboard here with Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Rory Sabbatini, Patrick Rodgers, Francesco Molinari, Charles Howell III, Ryan Palmer, Harris English, Marc Leishman, Luke List, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Lanto Griffin, Brandt Snedeker, and Tom Hoge all firing multiple T15 finishes at Torrey Pines over that 5 year stretch.
Projecting out the above Top 10 key stat categories at Torrey Pines into this week’s field, there are just 5 players who rate out in the Top 30 in each of them: Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Paul Casey, and Charley Hoffman.
Finding Success at the US Open
Now that we know what a successful profile at Torrey Pines looks like, we should next understand what it takes contend in a US Open to layer on top of that. At the PGA Championship last month, I put absolutely no stock behind Event History and instead looked at total Major performance, as the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was a stark contrast to more recent PGA Championship venues like TPC Harding Park, Bethpage Black, Bellerive, and Baltusrol. US Opens on the other hand, tend to share the same characteristics year over year, even if the venues shuffle around, so Event history should prove to be a better indicator of success this time around.
No matter what grounds we head to, we know the intent of the US Open is always to challenge the field so that the most well-rounded, skilled player prevails, and I expect that to be no different at Torrey Pines in 2021. So compared to the traditional Farmers Insurance Open set up, there will be enhancements made to the course to ensure it is stretched out as long as the square footage allows with tight fairways, thick rough, additional hazards and tucked pin locations.
The last 5 winners of the US Open were Bryson DeChambeau (-6), Gary Woodland (-13), Brooks Koepke (+1, -16), and Dustin Johnson (-4). Brooks’ 16-under win at Erin Hills with uncharacteristically calm weather is the outlier here, as we should expect a single-digit winning score at most US Opens. The common trend with each of the last 5 winners has been Driving Distance; each of the last 5 winners came into the US Open ranking Top 10 in Driving Distance. The Top 10 coming into this week L36 are Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Champ, Rory McIlroy, Wyndham Clark, Gary Woodland, Jhonattan Vegas, Joaquin Niemann, Jason Kokrak, Dustin Johnson, and Xander Schauffele. Absent from this list is Wilco Nienaber, but after averaging nearly 350 yards per drive at the Palmetto Championship, I don’t think it should surprise anyone if he comes out and leads the Field in Distance this week.
Now taking a look the Top 20 players SG: TOT at US Opens over the last 6 years, there are a couple more unusual key stats that jump out, compared to the norm: Doubles Avoided, P4: 500+, and Good Drives Gained. These never pop up as success indicators anywhere near the Top 10 on the usual Tour circuit, but for a Major in the most severely challenging conditions of the year, it makes complete sense that they would go a long way towards determining a successful week.
Bogeys-or-worse are prevalent in any US Open with the conditions being as daunting as they are, so being able to avoid huge numbers and mitigate mistakes is an important skill when chasing a single digit score to win over four days. Par 4 500+ is an N/A stat for most courses on Tour, but at the US Open, they’re much more common, often converting a usual Par 5 into a long Par 4 to create a new challenge for the course, as they’ve done again here with the 6th hole. At least two Par 4s will play over 500 yards this week, and that could end up being three depending on where they set the tees on 15, as that is currently listed on the scorecard as “480 / 513”.
In terms of Good Drives Gained, this is a Fantasy National stat I love to use on difficult courses, because it is essentially a hybrid of SG: OTT and GIRs Gained. Good Drives Gained determines how often a player’s drive puts them in position to still hit the green in regulation, so even if you drove it into the first cut, rough, or fairway hazard, you are not penalized for a poor drive as long as you were still able to reach the green in regulation from your position off the tee. That’s crucial at the US Open where danger off the tee is so prevalent. At Torrey Pines, this stat should effectively weed out the shorter hitters who miss the fairways, as many players will struggle to reach these greens in regulation from 200+ yards out of the thick stuff. Beyond the below Top 10 indicator stats, it’s also worth noting that Scrambling Gained and SG: ARG make a big jump at US Opens just outside the Top 10, while Par 3 & 5 Scoring and Eagles Gained take a sizeable dip from their usual importance on Tour.
With all that said, the 10 best US Open players in terms of SG: TOT over their Last 24 rounds have been: Brooks Koepke, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, and Brian Harman. Players with multiple T15s in US Opens over the last 5 years include: Brooks Koepke, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Brendan Steele, and Zach Johnson. That’s a hefty list, but it notably does not include Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay, or Collin Morikawa.
There is only one player who rates Top 30 in each of the above first 6US Open correlated categories (no players fell in the Top 30 of all 10 categories): Patrick Reed. If we broaden out to just show Above Average players in each of the above Top 10 Stats for US Open success, that list includes 7 players: Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama, Will Zalatoris, Daniel Berger, Abraham Ancer, and Paul Casey.
Finding Success At the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines
Now that we know what it takes to win at Torrey Pines and to win a US Open, why don’t we fuse those two together and see what we can find to narrow down the commonalities?
Taking the bones of Torrey Pines, we will see the same Poa greens we usually do, so SG: P – Poa will remain important, and relatively unique compared to most recent US Opens (aside from Shinnecock, but can we even consider that surface as grass to begin with?). The biggest change we’ll see this week from the usual important Farmers Insurance Open stats will be a higher concentration in the Par 4 450+ range, one less Par 5 to decrease the importance of Par 5 Scoring, an even greater premium on Driving Distance, and more emphasis on Short Game if more wayward approaches are coming from thicker rough. When looking at past US Open performance indicators, it does look like more of the same this year at Torrey Pines, which fits the mold perfectly for your traditional US Open set up. Since 2015, Gary Woodland is the only “Non-Elite” or “Surprise” golfer to win the US Open, and it’s not much of a coincidence that that victory came on one of the shortest ever US Open tracks in Pebble Beach at just over 7,000 yards. This behemoth in Torrey Pines will remove half the field from contention from the jump. If you can just hit it far and Scramble well, you should do just fine here. Just 5 players are in the Top 30 in Driving Distance and Scrambling: Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Paul Casey, Carlos Ortiz, and Wyndham Clark.
The most simplistic model you could run this week would weight Recent Form (SG: TOT L36), Course History, and Event History in equal parts. The Top 10 in a model that blends these 3 categories is: Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Kokrak, and Charley Hoffman. It’s going to be a long week of over-analysis, but I really do think you can zero in on a player pool with just these 3 contributing factors if you play around with the weighting a bit. In the model, Brendan Steele jumps out as an intriguing DFS values, as he ranks out 35th, above average across Recent Form, Course History, and Event History, at just $6,500 on Draft Kings.
To summarize, here are the categories I’m putting a particular emphasis on this week, as well as the categories I expect will prove to be inconsequential:
- Recent Form (SG: T2G)
- SG: APP
- SG: OTT / Good Drives Gained
- Driving Distance
- Par 4: 450+ / Par 5 600+
- Birdies or Better Gained
- Scrambling Gained
- GIRs Gained
- Bogey & Double Bogey Avoidance
- SG: Putting (Poa)
- Course History
- US Open History
Stats To Avoid
- Fairways Gained
- Par 3 Scoring
- Prox 100-175
Spotlight: Patrick Reed
There’s a lot of Spotlights flying around this week. We’ve got the Brooks vs Bryson saga which will dominate headlines. We’ve got Jon Rahm the odds-on favorite bouncing back from what appears to have been a false positive that forced him to WD from from the Memorial. We’ve got the World #1 coming off a very strong showing at the Palmetto Championship. We’ve got a San Diego homecoming for two prominent headline players; one the standing PGA Champion in Phil Mickelson, the other a growing notorious non-winner who seems poised to make a run at it here in Xander Schauffele.
That’s all well and good, but I am taking the reigns of the spotlight and pointing it square in the face of another player no stranger to headlines, Patrick Reed. Reed’s dominant victory on these grounds in January was marred in controversy after the infamous embedded ball incident. Lest we forget the root of the controversy was due to the absence of spectators/witnesses on the grounds, which we can safely say…will not be the case again for the US Open where spectators will now be in full swing. Captain America himself does not have a US Open title to his name, which doesn’t quite feel right considering all of his wins have seemed to come at long, difficult scoring, grinder events. In his 7 US Open starts, Reed has just 1 MC and finished inside T35 all 6 other times, highlighted by a T4 in 2018 and 3 other T15s. Patrick Reed has 9 victories on Tour, and they’ve always seemed to come when the conditions and fields are at their toughest, as 5 of those wins have come in either a WGC (Mexico, Cadillac), Major (The Masters), or a course that would go on to host a Major (Torrey Pines, Bethpage Black). And his wins at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Northern Trust at Liberty National are no less impressive either.
Reed has shown he is a proven winner, and while some players may find it a distraction to try and repeat a win on the same course twice in one year, I think the embedded ball controversy is enough to fuel a fire in him to shut up the critics and do it all again. Coming into this week, Reed ranks 3rd SG: TOT, 5th SG: TOT at US Opens, and 3rd SG: TOT at Torrey Pines South. Beyond that, Reed also ranks #1 SG: SG, 21st Birdies Gained, 1st Doubles Avoided, 6th Scrambling, 8th Par 4 500+, and 6th SG: P – Poa.
There is not a single player on the PGA Tour who is more disrespected week in, week out by the books than Patrick Reed. He’s won on these same grounds just months ago, is ranked Top 3 SG: TOT coming in, is a Major Champion, is coming off of a T5 in his last start at an event in the Memorial which draws many similarities to this week’s set up, and returns after an impressive 2020 U.S. Open performance at Winged Foot where he was the 36-hole leader before finishing a still respectable T13. Despite all this positive momentum, Reed is still hanging in the 30-35/1 odds range across most Sportsbooks. That’s the same odds Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, and Will Zalatoris are living in, and they’ve never won anything! It’s blasphemy!
If your book is still hanging a number in the 30s on Reed, bet it. Then after you’ve bet it, tell your friends to bet it. Hell, put in an extra ticket as a gift for your dad so you can celebrate together on Father’s Day!
Closing Thoughts ahead of the 2021 US Open
I love chasing a long shot as much as anyone, like most US Opens we’ve seen in the past, this has the makings of a very top heavy card, concentrated in the 30/1 and below range. This is the one event of the year where you can basically cross half the field off the list from contending by sheer lack of distance alone. It is a pre-requisite here, unless your rate of Fairways and/or Scrambling are at 90%+. The safe approach this week is to get exposure to players who gain across the 4 major SG categories, are long off the tee, and can achieve an especially high rate of GIRs and Scrambling. That’s been a pretty repeatable formula year over year at US Opens and it’s consistently true at Torrey Pines as well.
The one player I’m especially partial to this week who fits a similar profile despite a gaudy 100/1 number on most books, is Charley Hoffman. Hoffman is a San Diego native (we all know how I feel about a #HomeBed narrative), and I think there is something to be said about a local’s familiarity with how differently Torrey Pines, (particularly the greens), reacts in June compared to what most of the Field has only seen on these grounds in January. We saw the difference a change in seasons made at THE PLAYERS earlier this year after shifting from May to March, and there may be an angle here to say that the same could apply once again this week. Hoffman ranks 11th in the Field in Driving Distance, 2nd SG: APP, 4th Birdies Gained, 11th Good Drives Gained, and 14th in GIRs Gained, all crucial stats this week. He’s also 9th in Par 4 Scoring and 17th in Par 5 Scoring, where he excels in the longer ranges. The only area of “concern” for Hoffman is ARG, where he ranks 89th, but his strength in Scrambling (43rd) show there is upside for Hoffman to gain around the greens this week too. He’s had a mixed bag of US Open results over his career, but the trends show that the US Open is a spot where players pick up their first career Major, so why not this week for the Hoff?
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.
To wrap this up nicely, I fed the the following stats in order into my model this week (L36 rounds): SG: TOT, SG: APP, SG: OTT, US Open History, Driving Distance, Good Drives Gained, SG: P – Poa, Scrambling, Torrey Pines, History, Bogeys + Doubles Avoided, and Birdies Gained. Surprise, surprise, the odds on favorite, Jon Rahm, has emerged #1 in my model, which is actually pretty reassuring to validate those inputs. To round out the Top 10, we have Xander Schauffele, Charley Hoffman, Paul Casey, Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Jason Kokrak, and Abraham Ancer.
We’ve got a long week of content ahead, and I personally couldn’t be more excited to get to Thursday with the amount of talent in this field and narratives abound. Thank you for reading along, best of luck out there this week!