TOUR Insider: Better to compete or practice before a major tournament?

June 05, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

To play or not to play,
That is the question:
Whether ‘tis Nobler in the mind
To suffer the bogeys and heat
Of TPC Southwind
Or to rest and prepare for Merion.

I’m told Hamlet was a pretty good stick. Played scratch at the Old Course. I imagine he would be asking questions this week.

The FedEx St. Jude Classic poses an interesting debate every season. Is it best to play your way into championship form by competing the week before a major, or is it best to rest and practice?

Those are two distinctly different schools of thought.

Tiger Woods rarely plays before a major. I know, the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational before the PGA Championship is always on his schedule, but that is the exception to the rule. You’ll find Woods at home this week, pounding balls, chipping and putting, practicing specific shots for next week’s U.S. Open.

You’ll find Phil Mickelson at TPC Southwind.

Mickelson wants to play the week before a major. In fact, Mickelson says one reason he had a disappointing Masters this year was because he did not play the week before Augusta, due to a scheduling change.

Mickelson is not alone in that philosophy.

Tom Kite said the best way to prepare for a major was to win the previous week’s tournament. He did not worry about peaking too soon.

Padraig Harrington says statistics show his best play comes when he competes in three straight tournaments.

Redstone Golf Club and the Shell Houston Open have built a reputation among PGA TOUR players as a great preview of the Masters. The course is groomed to simulate Augusta National with chipping areas and fast greens. They even mow from green to tee to simulate the grain of the fairways.

It would be difficult for TPC Southwind to simulate Merion. The grass is different, the rough is different and the size of the greens is dramatically different.

The weather might be the same, but even that detours some players from competing.

Both Memphis and Philadelphia can be hot and sticky in June, but players can get beat up by the humidity at TPC Southwind. You don’t want to arrive at the national championship exhausted and needing a saline transfusion because of dehydration.

Some shy away from TPC Southwind because it’s too hot and too hard.

The course plays almost 300 yards longer than Merion and was the hardest par 70 on the PGA TOUR last year, not counting majors.

A player can arrive in Memphis happy with his game and leave depressed, due to the degree of difficulty.

In fact, depending on weather, I think there’s a chance the winning score this week will be higher than the winning score at next week’s U.S. Open.

You have one group this week that is competing as part of preparation for the U.S. Open.  There is a strong contingent of foreign players that use this week to get acclimatized to the heat. Yes, there is also a group that is in Memphis because they did not qualify for Merion or because they are not fully exempt on TOUR.

What’s the best reason to be at TPC Southwind? Why come to Memphis?

Because, it’s a great tournament on a tough golf course for a great charity.

Don’t underestimate a player's awareness of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Make just one trip to the facility and Memphis becomes more than just another week on TOUR.

You can play this tournament in preparation for the U.S. Open, you can collect a $1 million paycheck, 500 FedExCup Points and you can help children in the process.

I think Hamlet can stop asking questions.


Big hitters: TPC Southwind gives up birdies begrudgingly with one exception: the par 5s are scoreable. Last year, players averaged almost a half stroke under par on the two par 5s, and it’s not a coincidence big hitters seem to play well here. Dustin Johnson won last year, and players like Robert Garrigus seem to thrive in Memphis. At 554 and 530 yards, the third and 16th holes are reachable for almost everyone in the field. Hit it long and birdie the par 5s. That’s usually a winning formula this week.

Nasty: There are a handful of holes on the PGA TOUR that get a player's attention, holes that golfers have in the back of their minds as they arrive on the range. The 14th hole at TPC Southwind is in that grouping. It’s a 239-yard par 3 with water on the right. It ranked as the fifth-hardest par 3 on TOUR last season. Take 12 strokes here for the week, and you are gaining more than a shot on the field.

Diminishing returns: I have officially reached the point of supersaturation. It was wonderful that Guan Tianlang, 14, qualified for the Masters and made the cut. His playing the weekend in New Orleans was quite an achievement, but he struggled in the HP Byron Nelson Championship and at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. It might be time for him to return to amateur tournaments. You would hate to see someone so talented lose confidence because he’s playing against the best players in the world on the PGA TOUR. Success breeds success, and Guan might be better served developing his game against more age appropriate competition for the remainder of the summer.

Winner, winner: Scott Stallings likes riding a hot streak. We saw him catch fire early in the year, posting a T13 and a T4 in two of the first three weeks. He’s hot again. Stallings has posted back-to-back T4 finishes, and if it wasn’t for a bad lie on No. 15 on Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Scott might have already won this year. I say the hot streak gets hotter and Stallings wins the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.