Course Spotlight: Seek the ultimate driving machine at the BMW Championship
3 Min Read
Written by Keith Stewart @KJStewartpga
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Jon Rahm joined the media on Tuesday afternoon and shared the secret to his 2020 BMW Championshipsuccess.
“The one thing I can tell you, which is funny, I don't think I attempted to hit one draw on the weekend whatsoever,” said Rahm. “It was just not happening that week, and I was like, well, we're going to be hitting fades.”
This week, the FedExCup leader is back at the site of his only Playoffs victory. He ultimately has great memories of his win, but that week didn’t start out smoothly. Rahm started out 6 over after 36 holes and suddenly decided to change his strategy.
I walked the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Studying the landscape, I imagined what it would take to win. Each walk started on the first hole and immediately my PGA eyes were drawn to the movement of the fairways. Thinking back, it is tough to draw comparisons to 2020 because the course conditions are radically different. Three years ago, the turf was extremely firm and fast allowing just five players to finish under par.
The course mostly moves from left to right. Players face 30 fairway bunkers and four holes where water comes into play off the tee. Rahm’s insights validated my vision and so did the results from 2020. Rahm is a fade-biased player off the tee. Powerful, he succeeded because he could find more of the fairway with his ball flight. Hideki Matsuyama and Tony Finau also finished under par that week, two more left-to-right guys off the tee.
To win the BMW, you must hit the fairway. The rough is real this year, unlike 2020 when the course was baked out. The field leaders in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee are also your betting favorites: Rory McIlroy (+700 BetMGM), Scottie Scheffler (+700) and Patrick Cantlay (+1000).
“I think it's a really good golf course,” said two-time defending BMW winner Cantlay on Tuesday “You have to basically be on top of every part of your game and drive the ball in the fairway.”
If Cantlay is your pick, I can’t blame you. He’s been one of (if not the best) driver of the ball in 2023. Comparing those three, he’s my frontrunner because Cantlay is also ranked in the top 10 for Scrambling. His well-rounded skill set is the main reason why he is the fourth-ranked player in the world.
In speaking with players and looking at practice habits on the range, I received more confirmation on the importance of the tee ball. TPC Southwind, site of the last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, favored a similar trajectory off the tee. Max Homa (+2200) fared well in Memphis, Tennessee, and should be on your radar again in Chicago. His ball striking at Torrey Pines proves he can handle a U.S. Open test like Olympia Fields. Homa’s approach game and putting suit the North Course’s par 3s as well. Can Homa “max” out his season with a third win?
One value player further down the betting board who catches my attention is Byeong Hun “Ben” An (+5500). In his last four starts, An has two top-three finishes. A great fairway finder, he also can complement his driver with great short game skills. Like Cantlay, An’s combination of player characteristics is one of the reasons he finished 12th here in 2020.
It’s impossible to say one skill will lead to winning at a major championship venue. Your game needs to be firing on all cylinders, but winning is different than contending. On property there’s no doubt in my mind the players feel the driver can give them an edge. If the 50 best players of this FedExCup season believe it, then you should, too.
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.