Course Spotlight: Why wedges, long-range approach are keys to success on both courses at The RSM Classic
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Written by Keith Stewart @KJStewartpga
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia – What if wedge play wasn’t the most important approach skill at Sea Island?
Throughout my PGA Professional career, I have been fortunate to play most of the PGA TOUR venues. Of all the great courses, my experience walking Sea Island Golf Club trumps them all. I have competed on the Seaside and Plantation over a dozen times. Throughout all of those rounds, I know what it takes to separate yourself from the field, and it is not what you think.
The RSM Classic takes place on two golf courses inside Sea Island Golf Club. The Plantation Course runs through the trees and plays to a par 72. The scorecard says 7,060 yards, but it plays even shorter. Four par 5s start the scoring along with seven par 4s (out of 10) under 440 yards in length. The scoring average is lower on Plantation than the second course for the week; Seaside.
The Seaside Course is the primary venue for the tournament. As the name evokes, the field of 156 players will walk through waterways and sand dunes bordering St. Simons Island. A par-70 layout, the field faces two fewer par 5s. The average winning score of the last 10 RSM Classics is 19-under par. The top 65 and ties who play the weekend for $8.4 million dollars need to play aggressively from the very first hole on Thursday.
Many of the scoring statistics favor approach play from 100-150 yards and Bermudagrass putting. I believe the putting is essential as those same 10 winners have gained over five strokes (average) against the field on the path to victory. You can’t make 22+ birdie or better scores without a fantastic flatstick. The best putters in the field over the last 36 rounds are represented by Brian Harman, Denny McCarthy and J.T. Poston. Harman has not played since the Ryder Cup, and the break has been even longer for McCarthy.
Poston (+2800) finished third at the Shriners Children’s Open last month. A resident of Sea Island, he should be on your radar. That putter could lead the field in Birdies or Better Percentage. Bermuda’s runner-up Alex Noren (+3300) is another guy on the greens to watch. Noren is gaining an average of four strokes on the field total over his last five events. With two top-20 results at Sea Island, he’s proven he can putt these surfaces.
Capitalizing on these two courses isn’t just limited to the putter. Wedge play will be reiterated by all the betting columns. Take that 100–150-yard range and model out the proximity to the hole. Playing the course, you do get a bunch of short-scoring shots. As a PGA Coach, I believe those shots are more of a requirement this week than a differentiator. Checking the recent wedge statistics is just going to give you a list of players who all do the same thing well. How will you separate the winner?
You can use the Bermudagrass putting, but these are two very common skills on TOUR. Those names on your list need to be secured. Eight of the last 10 winners' largest approach gain came from 200+ yards and not 100-150 yards. Why? The two courses have six par 5s that are reachable. They also have five long par 3s and five par 4s over 440 yards. The contenders at the top of the leaderboard score on these holes AND with their wedges.
Adam Svensson (2022 RSM Winner) is an excellent long-range approach player. You will also find Alex Smalley, Luke List and Matthias Schmid (+6000) on that list. Schmid just finished third in Bermuda and is a top-five tee-to-green player in the field over his last 36 rounds. He can putt Bermudagrass; “Matti” made 22 birdies a week ago at the Butterfield Bermuda. One more 200+ player to consider is Taylor Pendrith (+4500). Pendrith has three straight top-15 finishes in the FedExCup Fall. Take Taylor’s ball speed on those longer approaches and you now have a way to distinguish your score from the wedge-fest.
Matti Schmid sends in birdie putt at Butterfield Bermuda
Learning small opportunities to differentiate yourself from the field can be hard to see at times. Through playing Seaside and Plantation, I realized my best rounds came when my long-range shots were accurate. Watching the players practice on Tuesday and Wednesday on the property, you can see it.
As you read weekly betting content, always ask yourself if this is a requirement or will it help you win? The RSM Classic has witnessed six playoffs in 13 years. Par 70 scoring over three rounds will keep it close. To pick the winner you really need an edge, and this week you now have it.
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.