Well, a million different things have transpired since the last preview article. I checked TPC Sawgrass off my bucket list last Monday. If I could have my choice of any public golf course to play in the US, TPC Sawgrass would have to be at the top of that list. Besides The Masters, there is no yearly event with better coverage than THE PLAYERS, and I’ve been abusing that app coverage of every shot on every hole for years, so it really felt like I knew the course before stepping foot on it. But even with that being the case, nothing compares to the real thing, and it did not disappoint. I could go on about the details of Sawgrass, but I’ll save that for THE PLAYERS preview in March.
While the tee shot on 17 was the most nerve-wracking tee shot of my life, it was only the second most nerve-wracking moment of the week. I also got engaged. It is an absolute relief to be past that now, because I almost lost this ring on three separate occasions. I had too much time on my hands as it was between my HBO day to day duties and writing these articles, so I’m glad I can add wedding planning to the list now too.
Between Sawgrass and the engagement, my heart could not possibly survive a Sunday sweat too at the Houston Open, so I intentionally picked a very hopeless card that never had any chance of cashing. With that all behind me now, we can shift gears to the RSM Classic with full clarity as we prepare for the last real event of the 2021 calendar year.
To condense this week’s approach after that longwinded preamble, it’s a very repeatable formula for yearly contenders at the RSM Classic: Hit fairways, hit greens, make putts. That’s the standard formula for most Fall Swing birdie fests, but if Sea Island has a unique identity, it’s its exposure to the wind and removal of any real distance advantage. This week, I’m looking most closely at players who excel in GIRs Gained, Fairways Gained, SG: TOT on Short, Comp Courses, and SG: P (Fast Bermuda). Here’s a look at everything to expect at the 2022 RSM Classic!
Sea Island Resort Course Specs
- Yards (SS): 7,005
- Yards (P): 7,060
- Par (SS): 70 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 2x 5’s)
- Par (P): 72 (4x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
- Greens (Both): Bermuda
- Architect (SS): Tom Fazio
- Architect (P): Davis Love III (2019 redesign)
- Historical Cut Line: -5
- Median Score 4-round Score: -9 (21), E (20), -9 (19), -7 (18), -8 (17)
- Comp Courses: Sedgefield CC, Waialae CC, Pebble Beach, El Camaleon, Port Royal, Harbour Town, Congaree
- Recent Winners: Robert Streb (21, 15), Tyler Duncan (20), Charles Howell III (19), Austin Cook (18), Mackenzie Hughes (17)
- Other Past Winners in the Field: Kevin Kisner (16), Chris Kirk (14)
Similar to other rotating events like the Farmers, the AT&T Pro-Am, and The AmEx, we will see the field play two sets of courses on Thursday and Friday, then all play the same course over the weekend after the cut. At Sea Island, it’s the Seaside course, the
more difficult less easy of the two, which is played exclusively over the weekend, so we’ll see 3 rounds on the Seaside course and 1 round on the Plantation course. The Plantation course also happens to not be equipped with ShotLink, so given the lack of historical SG data from this course and the fact it’s only going to be played 1 out of 4 rounds, I’m going to focus the course research solely on what we’re able to glean from historical performance on the Seaside course. If there’s one thing you need to know about the Plantation course though, it’s that it plays significantly easier than Seaside as a very short Par 72 with two extra Par 5s. From a betting standpoint, that creates potential live value post-R1 for slow starters on the Seaside course. From a DFS standpoint, it’s always an easy opportunity to gain an edge by exclusively stacking golfers who are playing the Plantation course in Showdown formats.
So, talking about the Seaside course, it’s an exposed golf course susceptible to high winds, located on St. Simons Island in southeastern Georgia, just north of Jacksonville (maybe I need to extend my Florida swing one week longer). Sea Island is a popular stop for many Tour players who grew up in the Georgia/South Carolina/Northern Florida region, and many locals will be in the field this week, including Kevin Kisner, JT Poston, Chris Kirk, Charles Howell III, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Harris English, Patton Kizzire, and Lucas Glover. For the most part, players who have familiarity with this resort course have found repeated success year over year, so it will be a popular week to reference course history.
Speaking of Course History, the Top 10 SG: TOT at the RSM Classic are Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk, Charles Howell III, Robert Streb, Austin Cook, Brian Gay, Matthew NeSmith, John Huh, and Henrik Norlander. Over the last 5 years, 8 players have multiple T10 finishes here: Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Henrik Norlander, Andrew Landry, Vaughn Taylor, Camilo Villegas, and Patrick Rodgers.
At Sea Island, you want players here who can consistently drive the ball straight to play from the fairway, hit greens in regulation, and have the ability to get hot with the putter and make a string of birdie putts. Interestingly enough, Opportunities Gained has had roughly no correlation with success at this course over the years, instead favoring 3 Putt Avoidance and SG: P 15+ ft. Given the high winds and difficulty to control the ball from the rough on fast greens, it makes sense that players will look to aim for general greens in regulation and take their chances on 20-footer birdie opportunities. There are just 7 players who rate out above average in 3 Putt Avoidance and putting from 15+ ft: Andrew Landry, Hank Lebioda, Richy Werenski, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Cameron Young, and Sahith Theegala.
- Fairways Gained
- SG: BS
- GIRS Gained
- Birdies or Better Gained
- Par 4 Scoring / P4: 400-450
- SG: P (Fast Bermuda)
- SG: TOT (Short Courses)
- Course & Comp Course History
I’m choosing not to over-analyze the Proximity stats and specific distance ranges on funneled holes this week. You certainly can go that route and zero in on players who excel from 400-450 or approaches from 125-175, but looking at historical trends since 2010, the broad strokes stats tell the same story. Fairway finders who can hit a high percentage of greens in regulation and make a ton of putts do well here. That is who Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, and Zach Johnson are, and it’s no coincidence they have 8 Top 10s between them over the last 4 years here. So if it’s as simple as checking those 3 boxes to find success at Sea Island, then we can refine the player pool down to a list of just 8 players who rate out above average in each entering this week: Webb Simpson, Adam Hadwin, Kevin Streelman, Taylor Pendrith, Adam Long, Denny McCarthy, Brian Stuard, and Brendon Todd.
This course is not going to eliminate inaccurate drivers of the golf ball in the way a Mayakoba or difficult scoring track might, and that’s mainly because players can easily club down here to less than driver to ensure they stick in the fairway. The Top 10 players in Fairways Gained on short courses are: Chez Reavie, Brendon Todd, Corey Conners, Brian Stuard, Michael Thompson, Emiliano Grillo, Kramer Hickok, Kyle Stanley, Adam Hadwin, and Doug Ghim.
Looking more broadly at the course at hand, there is a different breed of player who can find consistent success at courses under 7,200 yards. These players typically lack distance and understand there are few chances on the Tour schedule to not be disadvantaged by that lack of distance. Either that, or they have a game plan to club down on these courses and not stubbornly bomb & gouge regardless of the course layout (like I would do). Those top 10 players SG: TOT <7,200 Yards are: Webb Simpson, Cam Davis, Kevin Kisner, Corey Conners, Jason Day, John Huh, Harris English, Russell Henley, Adam Scott, and Joaquin Niemann.
In terms of Comp Courses, I like the idea of going back to a number of short, windy coastal tracks, and using this as a barometer over pure SG: TOT in high winds, given the volatility. Sedgefield CC and Waialae CC are likely the two best comp course to this week as short Bermuda courses with overlapping historical leaderboards, but I also like Pebble Beach, El Camaleon, Port Royal, and Harbour Town for similar reasons. Congaree is the opposite of Sea Island in terms of its length and forgiveness off the tee, but I like that it’s another Tom Fazio plantation style Bermuda course in the same region. The Top 10 players in Comp Course history entering this week are: Webb Simpson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Corey Conners, Scottie Scheffler, Harris English, Kevin Kisner, Denny McCarthy, Joaquin Niemann, and Brendon Todd.
Interestingly enough, there was no stat any less correlated with success at the RSM Classic than Driving Distance. In most cases, like the Bermuda Championship for example, we would say distance never hurts even if past winners have all been accurate fairway finders. That principle is still true at Sea Island, where fairways are wider than usual and hit in regulation higher than Tour average, but a majority of the field will be clubbing down to ensure they are in the fairway. Given the fast greens, potential for high winds, and gnarly Bermuda rough, it makes sense that on a track that yields a ton of birdies, you just want to be in control of the spin of your ball on the second shot and safely play from the fairway.
Taking each of the above key categories into account, there are just 4 players who rate out above average in all 10 top categories: Adam Scott, Cam Smith, Seamus Power, and Alex Noren. If we look at just the Top 7 correlated stats from past performance at the RSM Classic, that list also includes Charles Howell III, Patrick Rodgers, Tyler Duncan, Nick Watney, Luke Donald, and Jhonattan Vegas.
Spotlight: Seamus Power
It’s very easy to lean on Course History this week as there are a myriad of options at the top and bottom of the board who have consistently brought their steady, accurate ball striking talents to the RSM Classic year over year and found repeated success. Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Zach Johnson – they’re all solid plays with high floors and probably won’t hurt you. Seamus Power on the other hand, has absolutely no positive course history to speak of and is coming off of a disappointing MC at the Houston Open last week, so in a week where ownership and betting popularity can easily zig towards the proven course history options, I like the prospects of zagging to a wild card like Seamus Power.
Power has made four career trips to the RSM Classic, with finishes of MC, MC, MC, and 74. The first thing I always do when evaluating a player’s course history is assess his recent form L5 and L10 events entering that tournament versus the same lookback entering the upcoming week. If the current form is significantly better than it ever has been entering this event, then I can overlook past shortcomings. That’s exactly the case with Seamus Power this week, as he enters averaging 4.4 SG: TOT over his last 5 events, which is 4.5 strokes better than it had been for any of his 3 latest MCs here. In terms of his recent form, his promising streak of T21 at the Shriners, T12 at Bermuda, and T11 at Mayakoba came to a screeching halt at the Houston Open last week where he shot +5 to miss the cut. There are a number of reasons why that should not matter going into this week. For starters, the Houston Open is an anomaly in the Fall Swing as the only non-birdie fest putting contest we really get to see. It’s clear after seeing Power’s win at the Barbasol and 5 other T15s over the last several months at the Byron Nelson, Rocket Mortgage, John Deere, Bermuda, and Mayaboka, that the man loves a birdie fest. Power’s performance at the Houston Open may hurt his ranks in your model considering he lost 1 stroke on approach and over 3 strokes putting, but those strokes were all lost on a forgettable opening Thursday round. He actually rebounded very nicely on Friday, gaining 2 strokes on approach and putting about level to the field, which is an encouraging sign that he is not completely lost after one MC.
Looking at the stat profiles entering this week, Power is an impressive 5th SG: TOT, 10th GIRs Gained, and 1st Par 4 Scoring. Over the last 24 rounds, Power has been a better player than Adam Scott, Harris English, Louis Oosthuizen, and Corey Conners, but course history and pedigree will likely still place those players along with Cam Smith, Webb Simpson, Talor Gooch, and Kevin Kisner ahead of him when odds open on Monday. Assuming he opens in the 35-40/1 range, I’ll be ready to jump on him in a potentially great buy low spot.
What To Look Out For at the 2022 RSM Classic
The most important storyline going into the RSM Classic is whether or not I’ll be doubling down on a Kevin Kisner win guarantee. The short answer is no, because unlike the Wyndham Championship where he was overdue for a win but never quite able to seal the deal and thus came in undervalued compared to what the course history was really telling us, here there are no surprises. This is Kevin Kisner’s best course fit. He’s from the surrounding area, he has a win here back in 2016, and he has 5 total Top 10s. That Wyndham victory is also still fresh in our minds, just 5 starts ago on arguably the best comp course to Sea Island, so he won’t catch anyone by surprise this week. The decision of whether or not to play an out of form Kevin Kisner is the overall theme of this week however, as it’s one of the more extreme examples of course history prevailing over recent form. This is a short course that essentially removes distance from your game entirely, and that’s a lot different from what we see week to week, so players that do not typically gain by way of their distance have a good opportunity to pop here year over year.
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 – Short Courses, SG: P – Fast Bermuda, Birdies or Better Gained, Fairways gained, GIRs Gained, SG: BS, and Comp Course History. #1, with a little validation for the model is presumptive favorite and hopeful to make it 3 wins for my fantasy team to kick off the 2022 season, Webb Simpson. Webb is Top 5 in Short Course History, SG: TOT L24, Comp Course History, and BoB Gained, and has the best history at the RSM Classic of anyone in the field, despite having not won here yet. After Webb, my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Corey Conners, Cam Smith, Russell Henley, Louis Oosthuizen, Harris English, Alex Smalley, Denny McCarthy, Seamus Power, and Adam Scott.