Course Spotlight: ‘Good Drives’ crucial for success at Harbour Town

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Course Spotlight: ‘Good Drives’ crucial for success at Harbour Town

    Written by Keith Stewart @KJStewartpga

    HILTON HEAD, S.C. – Every golf course has an identity. For some layouts figuring out the formula for success can be quite complicated, and others simple. Take Augusta National last week at the Masters. Players are consistently challenged on approach. A true second-shot golf course, the world’s best was separated by their iron play. As 46 of the 88 players from Augusta prepare for the PGA TOUR’s next designated event, a new contending characteristic takes center stage.

    Walking the first 15 holes at Harbour Town Golf Links, you can get claustrophobic. The tree-lined fairways not only shape your play off the tee, but on approach as well. The par-71 scorecard measures a little over 7,100 yards. Designed in 1969, Pete Dye looked at the low country landscape and created a course that has continued to challenge the world’s best. As a PGA Professional, I observe each venue from a professional player’s and coach’s perspective. That careful balance helps me handicap the contenders.

    Watching 38 of the top 50 in the OWGR build a blueprint for the RBC Heritage tells a unique story, particularly on a course that I like many others have played personally. Scanning the range, I see players focused on off-the-tee success. This practice certainly is not limited to the driver, but rather their formula is to open the yardage book and make a hole-by-hole list of how to hit the fairway.

    We can see this strategy is successful when you realize the average driving distance at Harbour Town is 16 yards less than the TOUR average (268 vs. 284). It’s not often these guys pay that much attention to the tee ball. Dye’s design is defined by a simple two-step strategy.

    1. Position yourself off the tee in an area where you can attack the green.

    2. Hit the green in close proximity to the hole.

    Unlike last week, there’s very little room for error with Step 1. Our leaders on Sunday at Harbour Town will consistently be in position to play into the green. Notice, I did not say hit the fairway. There’s a trackable statistic called “Good Drives Gained.” It is a measure of a player’s ability to hit a green in regulation whether they were in the fairway or not. That’s the killer characteristic on my outright card for this event. It comes as no surprise that Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay are three of the top four GIR% guys on TOUR.

    What’s most interesting is when I researched the Good Drives Gained leaders, the top five were Tyler Duncan, Collin Morikawa, Russell Henley, Tyrell Hatton and Ben Martin. Scheffler does not show up until sixth, and Rahm and Cantlay are both outside the top 10. Possessing a knack for having more birdie chances, even when you’re off the fairway, will give you a distinct advantage at this event. Compare our good drives list with the best proximity players and Morikawa and Henley appear again.

    There’s a course narrative surrounding every winner on the PGA TOUR. The reason why the No. 1-ranked player doesn’t always win has a great deal to do with course fit/experience. Look at the players who, when they miss the fairway, don’t miss by much. For when they do, they still create scoring opportunities.

    Glancing at the BetMGM odds board, I have three players who perfectly possess this simple synergy between fairway success and GIR accuracy:

    • Collin Morikawa (+1800) exemplifies the combination of these two characteristics. Morikawa’s mid-iron play is world class (GIR 70.5%, ranked eighth). He is also second on Tour for fairway accuracy (71%). Take Collin to win and place within the top 10 (+175) on Sunday.

    • The PGA TOUR’s fairway accuracy leader is Russell Henley (74%). A great mid-tier opportunity at +4500 to win, Henley’s radar-like iron ability has him ranked 11th in the field for proximity to the hole. He’s also coming off a fine finish at Augusta (T4), Henley is a great top-20 play (+188) as well.

    • Ben Martin can contend with his fairway accuracy (69.3% ranked 20th) and iron game. He has three top 10 finishes in his last five starts. I’d argue his game is most well suited for this week. At +15000 he’s a longshot to win, so consider taking him to secure a spot in the top 40 (+138).

    Martin may be a longshot, but keep in mind three of the last five RBC Heritage winners have started the week with outright odds over +15000! Predicting an outright on the PGA TOUR is sometimes like splitting hairs. Analyzing and differentiating the very best is difficult without an edge. Martin’s ability to set up birdie putts (from the fairway and off) is a vital skill and one I expect this week will create some tangible results.

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    Keith Stewart is a five-time award winning PGA Professional who covers the PGA TOUR and LPGA from a betting perspective. Founder of Read The Line, he is also published by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. Follow Keith Stewart on Twitter.