Hitting Pebble’s tiny targets the key to success
5 Min Read
Written by Ben Everill @BEverillPGATOUR
All-time moments from the beaches at AT&T Pebble Beach
When you boil things down ahead of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one constant over the last 11 seasons smacks you right in the face. If you want to win, you better find the greens in regulation… even if they are some of the smallest on TOUR.
At an average of just 3,500 square feet at the host course Pebble Beach, a premium on Greens In Regulation percentages and proximity to holes stats is evident. It’s one thing to hit the small targets, and another thing to be close enough to convert more chances than others on the poa putting surfaces.
Over the last 11 seasons, the winner at Pebble Beach has ranked inside the top 10 for GIR. It’s seemingly non-negotiable.
A year ago, Tom Hoge held off Jordan Spieth and others to claim his first win. He was fifth in the field in the final round in proximity of approach shots at 25 feet, 10 inches. The year prior champion Daniel Berger was also dynamite at Pebble in the final round as he led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+3.53) and proximity (20 feet, 8 inches). Berger averaged 10 feet; 7 inches-inches closer than the field in proximity on Sunday.
So, it makes sense to quickly home in on these metrics. If we look at the current season stats for players in the field this week who rank highly in GIR we see U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick (seventh on TOUR) as the high watermark. Hoge (16th) is next with Kevin Yu (24th) and Nick Hardy (25th) the only other two inside the top 25 on TOUR this season.
When it comes to proximity to the hole from the fairway, we find Hoge (second on TOUR), Russell Knox (fourth), Satoshi Kodaira (fifth), Brendon Todd (sixth), Ryan Armour (eighth), Sung Kang (eighth) and Hank Lebioda (10th) all inside the top 10 on TOUR this season.
In proximity from the rough Viktor Hovland, who won his U.S. Amateur title at Pebble Beach, is leading the TOUR. Fitzpatrick is second and Kang third while Lebioda runs fourth on TOUR, Matt Kuchar and Lucas Glover are seventh, Troy Merritt and Davis Riley ninth and Hoge is 11th.
But before you make your bets or fantasy selections, keep in mind there are some factors that could bust open even the best-researched plans when it comes to this week.
First, we have a three-course rotation using Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula with all players getting a round at each before a 54-hole cut. This brings questions like:
Will a player get the hardest course – usually Spyglass Hill – during the worst weather? Will the wind whip up for a few hours while someone plays the coastal holes at Pebble Beach? And will their mindset be open to handle these luck shifts?
Then we have the Pro-Am portion of the event with TOUR players paired with amateur partners like titans of industry, or legends of the screen, sports, comedy and music. These players bring unique crowd interactions and movements, away from the norm for most TOUR weeks.
While there is plenty of fun and frivolity, despite some questionable golf skills on display, the Pro-Am is also a serious competition. It’s a prestigious honor to win the Pro-Am portion and as such, pace of play can certainly be extended at times.
A TOUR player has to be prepared to have an irregular rhythm to their rounds and show patience as those around them wait for the green to clear 180 yards ahead, only to top a shot 15 yards... we’ve all been there!
Three players sit clearly at the top of the betting boards in major winners Spieth and Fitzpatrick at +900 and Hovland at +1000. They appear to fit the bill for what’s required.
No one smiles more than Hovland while Spieth has embraced his ambassador role with AT&T for a long time, already winning the event once prior in 2017. Fitzpatrick was sixth a year ago before winning the U.S. Open later in the season. One can certainly trust this trio and if one of them prevails it won’t be a surprise.
So far in 2023 winners Jon Rahm (+650 twice), Si Woo Kim (+3700), and Max Homa (+2800) have started their opening rounds at humble odds, but this could easily be the time a longshot emerges.
Spieth wasn’t a surprise winner in 2017, but the likes of Nick Taylor (+12500 in 2020), Ted Potter Jr. (+50000 in 2018) and Vaughn Taylor (+30000 in 2016) weren’t jumping off the pre-tournament page at the time of their triumphs at Pebble Beach.
There is a solid argument to use this week as one to lower your stake and spread out some longshot bets. With past success and our highlighted stats in mind a play of 10 $1 outlays on players at +6600 or more brings in players who could surprise and gives a low-risk, big reward entertainment value.
The likes of Hardy (+6600), Todd (+8000) and Knox (+8000) are at juicy odds with Hardy (fifth) and Knox (sixth) ranking high this season on Strokes Gained: Approach to go along with their highlighted efforts in GIR and proximity above. Todd ranks fourth on TOUR for approach shots from 100-125 yards, by far the most hit yardage in this tournament. Knox ranks 14th.
If you want to go towards lottery odds then there is Kodaira (+30000), Kang (+40000) or Lebioda (+50000)! But they are this high for a reason. Although he ranks third on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach this season Kang has yet to make a cut. Unfortunately, his wedge game proximity is the weakness, ranking a dismal 212th on TOUR from 100-125 yards. Lebioda on the other hand ranks 15th on TOUR this season from this distance.
Also, keep in mind Hoge was just the seventh player since 1980 to claim their first TOUR win in this event… Knox and Kodaira are former TOUR winners.
Whatever your strategy, be it sticking with the talent at the top, or taking a flyer in this unique week… good luck!
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