Players set for altitude adjustment at Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank
Oakridge Country Club plays nearly 4,500 feet above see level
June 25, 2019
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Charlie Saxon's average driving distance is nearly 318 yards. (Ben Jared/Getty Images)
When Charlie Saxon was a freshman in college, he pounded a drive and was pretty proud of himself – seeing as he was 160 pounds soaking wet and was the shortest hitter on his University of Oklahoma team.
Then the guy he was playing with hit one past him. With a 2-iron.
Saxon says that moment was the one he realized he needed to change something in order to compete on not just the collegiate level, but the professional level, too. He says he added 45 pounds of muscle over the following years and increased his clubhead speed by 17 miles per hour.
Now, Saxon is one of the longest drivers on the Korn Ferry Tour, averaging nearly 318 yards per pop.
This week, however, Saxon and the rest of the field will have to get adjusted to playing nearly 4,500 feet above sea level at the Oakridge Country Club in Farmington, Utah. It’s the second of three events on the Korn Ferry Tour – the first was in Colombia, the second will be in Colorado in a few weeks – to be played at altitude, and those unique situations bring forth their own set of challenges, especially for guys as long as Saxon.
“In Utah or Colorado, I’ll hit it 10 to 15 percent further,” Saxon admits, which causes him to switch his driver head’s loft versus a usual week.
Saxon was fifth after three rounds in Colombia before trailing off in the final round – which has kind of been the tale of his season – so he says playing so high above sea level hasn’t impacted him much. But there is a learning curve.
The 26-year-old says some of the guys will stick with their club setup this week, while others might switch balls. Saxon says this is because, at altitude, the ball doesn’t spin as much, it just has the trajectory of a knuckleball.
The ball switch is a “drastic” one, however, and Saxon says he’ll just be adjusting to the course conditions using his current setup.
Oakridge Country Club, he says, plays short, with a handful of holes on which can nearly drive the green. He played it two years ago and found he was left in awkward club-choice situations and admits, almost sheepishly, that he might take more of an approach of laying back and leaving himself full wedge-shot approaches instead.
Ryan Brehm, meanwhile, knows exactly how he is going to approach this week in Utah – the same as he does every week.
“My game is sending it and finding it,” says Brehm, who sits fifth on the Korn Ferry Tour this year in Driving Distance.
“I just kind of resigned to the fact that I’m not going to separate myself from anyone playing the same game they do. I have to play my game (and) if it doesn’t work I’ll go on to next week. If it does, maybe we’ll have a great week.”
Brehm captured the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz in 2016 and finished sixth on The 25. He played the PGA TOUR in 2017 before returning to the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018.
He says a week like this is ‘quite a bit of adjustment’ and says he’ll play more on gut instinct than anything else. He’ll have a little cheat sheet on him that shows yardage increases anywhere from eight percent to 12 percent, depending on where he is on the course. He says the standard calculation is a two percent increase of yardage for every 1,000 feet above sea level.
“But that’s not direct science,” Brehm admits. “It depends on how high you hit the ball and how long it’s in the air for. It’s a good rule of thumb. I go by that and feel my way out by that.”
Whereas Saxon will be just adjusting the loft of his driver, Brehm says he’ll put a 1-iron in his bag this week. Every week on Tour, he says, he’ll either have a 3-wood or 1-iron, and this week in Utah, the 1-iron will be staying in, since he knows he’ll be able to get all the distance he needs from it.
“The course on paper doesn’t suit my game, but that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Brehm, who missed the cut in 2018, explains. “But every week is different. It can change on a dime.”
Changing so quickly is something Saxon has recently bared witness to as well, as his two-faced season turned a corner for the better last week in Wichita. He had four rounds in the 60’s and finished T-22 – his best Korn Ferry Tour result since April.
“It’s been a tale of two years honestly. I started the year playing some pretty good golf but really didn’t get a lot out of it,” he says. “I went on a slide and probably needed to take a week off but I didn’t. I just kept grinding it out and it didn’t get any better. In the last couple weeks I’ve found a little form.”
It's the form he’s hoping to continue into this week. Despite the altitude adjustments needed by everyone in the field, one thing, Saxon says, will still ring true.
“Distance,” he says, “is always an advantage.”