HPE Houston Open Tournament Preview

2022 HPE Houston Open Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Memorial Park Golf Course Before Tee Off

Greetings friends, I am writing this preview from Ponte Vedra, Florida, vacationing on the grounds of TPC Sawgrass. I got a nice tune up round in at the Dye’s Valley course on property Saturday morning (albeit in the midst of a tropical storm), saw a historic Jaguars home victory on Sunday, and am getting ready for the grand finale at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course on Monday. That has nothing to do with this Houston Open preview, but I’m excited about it. The 2022 PLAYERS Tournament Preview will feature the same detailed recap and analysis of my experiences on the grounds as the Mayakoba preview last week, so I’m hoping to report back with a better scorecard and maybe even some more nature facts. I am the opposite of a Pete Dye specialist however if Saturday’s round was any indication, so my expectations are grounded.

Lil Wayne once said “I got so much chips I swear they call me Hewlett Packard”. That’s the only thing that comes to mind when I see HP fully spelled out, but it is the new title sponsor of the Houston Open this year. Last year, this was the Vivint Houston Open, in 2019 & 2018, it was just the Houston Open with no title sponsor, operated by the Houston Astros Foundation, and before that from 1992-2017 it was sponsored by Shell. This will mark the second year that Memorial Park plays host to the Houston Open, as we return after the second greatest UNT Mean Green golfer of all time, Carlos Ortiz prevailed over a stacked leaderboard which included Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Hideki Matsuyama amongst others up top.

The Houston Open has been fixated on the Tour schedule the week prior to The Masters as the final opportunity for players to qualify. As such, they have made a concerted effort to have its new location, Memorial Park, present an imposing test to attract the game’s best to come to Houston, if only for a Major championship tune up. Due to some residual COVID rescheduling complications, the Houston Open will not precede The Masters this time around, however it will continue to be played in difficult scoring conditions that reward the players with the best all around game coming in. This week, I’m looking closely at SG: TOT – Difficult Scoring Conditions, SG: OTT, SG: APP, SG: SG, and SG: P (Fast Bermuda) to narrow in on a player pool with well-rounded skill sets. Here’s a look at everything you can expect at Memorial Park Golf Course ahead of the 2022 HPE Houston Open.

Memorial Park Golf Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,432
  • Par: 70 (5x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Architect: Tom Doak, with input from Brooks Koepka
  • Historical Cut Line: -1
  • Median Score 4-round Score: -1 (21)
  • Comp Courses: Detroit GC, TPC Scottsdale, PGA National, GC of Houston, Renaissance Club
  • Recent Houston Open Winners (At Memorial Park): Carlos Ortiz (21)
  • Recent Houston Open Winners (At GC of Houston): Lanto Griffin (20), Ian Poulter (19), Russell Henley (18), Jim Herman (17), JB Holmes (16)

I absolutely love tournaments on difficult courses and Memorial Park has been redesigned to be everything you would want a difficult course to be. For starters, it’s a Par 70, which inherently limits the number of birdie opportunities. There are five Par 3s, with three of them over 200 yards, and the Par 4s are also long and difficult, with 8 Par 4s playing over 440 yards. The Top 10 players P4: 450-500 are Jimmy Walker, Dylan Frittelli, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Harry Higgs, Jason Dufner, Lanto Griffin, Robert Streb, Cam Smith, and Anirban Lahiri. The Top 10 players in P3: 200+ are Jason Kokrak, Sahith Theegala, Scottie Scheffler, Andrew Landry, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok, Davis Riley, Harold Varner III, JT Poston, and Mito Pereira. Only three players are Top 20 in both scoring ranges: Sahith Theegala, Sebastian Munoz, and Sungjae Im.

Memorial Park is a public, municipal course in Houston, which is always awesome to see on Tour, and was tasked to Tom Doak in 2019 to redesign into a formidable test for PGA Tour players alike. Doak brought Brooks Koepka onboard to advise on the course design, and the results manifested into a Major-like test in the inaugural year hosting in 2021, with a median score of -1, winning score of -13, and a star-studded top of the leaderboard after Carlos Ortiz, which included Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Brooks Koepka within the Top 5. Memorial Park is not Augusta National for a multitude of reasons, but it is long with firm fast greens and intricate undulations & false fronts around the greens, so it should be little surprise that the last two Masters champions fared well here last year. Tom Doak is most known for his design of the Renaissance Club, which has hosted the Scottish Open the last 3 years. Aaron Rai won the 2020 Scottish Open and is in the field once again to forge his claim as a Tom Doak specialist. Ian Poulter and Ryan Palmer also finished inside the Top 10 at this year’s Scottish Open and will be in the field this week.

In terms of course history, we really only have one year to go off of, as the Golf Club of Houston which hosted the Houston Open prior to the shift to Memorial Park offers few similarities outside of their geographic location. For what it’s worth, Carlos Ortiz, Talor Gooch, and Sepp Straka each followed up their Top 5 finishes in 2019 at the Golf Club of Houston with another Top 5 the following year at Memorial Park, however I think that’s more coincidence than a trend. Instead, I like PGA National as a comp which simulates difficult scoring conditions, has fast Bermuda greens, and emphasizes a strong OTT game. TPC Scottsdale and Detroit GC also emphasize a similar all-around profile with a slight premium on Driving Accuracy according to Data Golf. With this all boiling down to who can contend in difficult scoring conditions, the Top 10 SG: TOT in those conditions are Maverick McNealy, Seamus Power, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Cam Smith, Russell Henley, Tyrrell Hatton, Branden Grace, Mackenzie Hughes, and Brice Garnett.

Key Stats

  • SG: OTT / Driving Distance
  • SG: APP
  • Birdies or Better Gained / Eagles Gained
  • P3: 200+ / P4: 450-500 / Par 5 Scoring
  • SG: P (Fast Bermuda) / SG: SG
  • SG: TOT (Difficult Scoring)
  • Course & Comp Course History

Finally, after 3 straight weeks at Mayakoba, ZOZO, and the CJ Cup at the Summit Club, we have some (albeit only 4 rounds) historical Strokes Gained data to reference at this golf course. It’s always going to be shaky to draw conclusions from 4 rounds of data, but the formula for success in 2021 seems to have been making Birdies or Better, and scoring on the long Par 3s, 4s, and 5s. There was also an emphasis on SG: SG, as expected on any difficult scoring course.

Top Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlation Stats with SG: TOT at Memorial Park

The length of this course and the hole layouts make Memorial Park a difficult test, but it’s the fast Bermuda greens that could give players the most trouble, especially if conditions remain dry or if any wind begins to pick up. The Top 10 fast Bermuda putters in this field are Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Chesson Hadley, Cam Smith, Denny McCarthy, Zach Johnson, Branden Grace, Ian Poulter, Brian Harman, Patrick Reed, and Jimmy Walker.

Bogey Avoidance is a stat we have not needed to look out for for months, but should be especially relevant this week. At the same time, with so few opportunities to score, the ability to create Eagle opportunities will help players climb up the leaderboard this week. There are just 7 players who rate out Top 30 in both Bogey Avoidance and Eagles Gained: Sungjae Im, Tyrrell Hatton, Talor Gooch, Aaron Wise, Matthew Wolff, Taylor Pendrith, and Cameron Tringale.

Taking each of the above key categories into account, there are just 5 players who rate out above average in all 10 top categories from 2021: Sungjae Im, Tyrrell Hatton, Aaron Wise, Trey Mullinax, and Taylor Pendrith. Understanding the importance of a well-rounded game, there are only 2 players who rate out above average T2G, BS, OTT, APP, SG, and Putting on Fast Bermuda: Sam Burns and Aaron Wise.

Spotlight: Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka explains his 'regret' from controversial PGA comments

The formula for a Spotlight player typically includes a mix of perceived value expected before odds open (by way of poor, yet excusable recent play), great course fit, and some kind of unquantifiable narrative. Those elements all create the perfect formula to make the Houston Open a rare Brooks week in a non-Major event.

Brooks has been bad in the Fall Swing, with a 67th at The Shriners, 38th at the CJ Cup, and a MC at Mayakoba. Three lackluster results from Brooks in negligible-stake events in Las Vegas and a resort just outside of Cancun are to be expected as far as I’m concerned with Brooks. But now we have a brief Birdie Fest respite and enter a course with difficult scoring conditions for the first time on US soil since the Tour Championship. Difficult conditions means an emphasis on skilled all-around game, as opposed to the recent birdie fests we’ve seen which are usually reduced to putting contests. Difficult conditions are also usually heightened in Majors, which is where we’re familiar seeing Brooks contend, and it’s no coincidence that a course in Memorial Park which he helped advise on the design of, for an event historically positioned the week before The Masters, should suit a player who performs well in Majors.

As far as unquantifiable narratives go, there is no shortage for Brooks this week. We’ve hit a tipping point where Brooks has been so careless in Fall Swing events, that he’s actually looked embarrassingly bad versus weaker opponents. Brooks and his reputation can’t stand for that. With just a couple weeks removed from The Match with Bryson DeChambeau, he needs to build some momentum to help with the shit talk, and I think that’s enough motivation for Brooks to care about the Houston Open. There’s also the fact that his brother Chase is in the field this week. He’s not just going to mail it in in a tournament against his brother, that’s what sibling rivalries are for. And of course we’re playing on a course that he designed, with fast Bermuda greens and difficult scoring conditions. He wouldn’t play an event back to back years on a course he helped design unless he thought the layout of the course would best suit him. I’m not going to dive into any recent form stats with Brooks this week. I just think he’s a supremely talented golfer who continues to get healthier by the day as he recovers from last year’s knee surgery, and can turn on his A game whenever he feels like it. This feels like a week Brooks will care about winning, so I’m ready to back him.

What To Look Out For at the 2022 HPE Houston Open

Carlos Ortiz up to the challenge at Vivint Houston Open

I am going to be in the state of Florida this entire week, which means I’m removed from the reliable legal New Jersey sportsbooks I’m accustomed to, and will instead have to beg friends and family to place some bets for me before Thursday. I’m not looking forward to that, and it means I’ll probably structure my card to be very tight and top heavy. If I had to guess, it’ll probably look something like Sam Burns at 16/1 and Brooks Koepka at 30/1. Would I have approached this week the same if I were not transplanted outside of legal betting lines? Maybe! It’s usually a good idea to go top heavy in difficult conditions, and if you remove Carlos Ortiz from the mix last year, you really couldn’t have gone wrong with anyone at the top of the board. I would predict that Ortiz is more the exception than the rule, and we should expect a player sub-35/1 to win 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.

For my model this week, I’m using a balanced mix of SG: TOT – Difficult Scoring, SG: OTT, SG: APP, SG: SG, SG: P – Fast Bermuda, Bogey Avoidance, and Birdies or Better Gained. Disaster has unfortunately struck, and Aaron Wise is #1 in this model. I wanted to re-run it to show me anyone else, but I understand it. The putter is steadily improving after the broomstick change and Wise has always been a consistent T2G player in any conditions, even before this stretch of 3 straight T15s. After Wise, my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Cam Smith, Luke List, Sam Burns, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, and Tyrrell Hatton.