As we turn into a quick swing season event before next week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, it becomes clear that this event got sandwiched between two much larger tournaments. Even last year’s champion, Cameron Champ, has decided to pass on defending his title. Nevertheless, the tournament will go on and will instead be headlined by Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Sergio Garcia.
It seems odd with two majors still on deck this fall, but this week’s Safeway Open will be the first event of the 2020-2021 PGA Season. As has become tradition in seven of the last eight years, the TOUR will head out West to Wine Country in Napa, Calif. to start the new season.
The North Course at Silverado Resort & Spa will host the event for the seventh consecutive year, and will play as a 7,166 yard Par 72. Putting that in perspective, each of the last two weeks have been played on Par 70 courses that were longer than we will see this week. It should be an event with plenty of scoring as past champions have been in the mid-to-upper teens under par.
The original Ben Harmon 1955 design was most recently re-designed by Johnny Miller in 2011. It will feature Bermudagrass tees and fairways, but will be back to the traditional west coast poa annua greens. Bombers have found success around this course as the bluegrass rough is not very penalizing and each of the courses four Par 5s are accessible in two.
Those four holes serve as the easiest holes on the course, each averaging scores under par with 35% or more birdies on each hole. Silverado Resort & Spa’s easiest hole is the Par 5 5th which yielded birdies more than 44% of the time and an additional 2.3% of eagles.
The place that players will find the most difficulty this weekend is around the courses long Par 3s. Three of those holes rank as three of the six most difficult holes annually, and two of them play well over 200 yards. The 240 yard second hole often plays as the most difficult hole at Silverado Resort & Spa, with players suffering bogeys more than 21% of the time.
The only Par 4 on the course longer than 450 yards is the 13th hole, which plays as the second hardest hole on the course at 458 yards. It’s both unique and difficult, offering the first of two ghost bunkers on the course. Once players reach they green, they will be challenged by a big green with tough to read, subtle sloping. Players will be happy to walk away with par on this Par 4.
Overall, players will find a much more accessible course for scoring this week in Napa, CA. Those that are willing and able to be aggressive off the tee will have an advantage, especially on the Par 5s. As you will see in the course history section, this course has been a fit for some of the longer players year after year.
Brendan Steele has found great success at the Safeway Open having won the event in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017. He has also has a 17th and 21st place finish, and is yet to miss the cut at the event. Steele comes in to Napa off of a strong 2020 season which included a 22nd place finish at the PGA Championship.
After a missed cut in the first playoff event of the 2020 season, Phil Mickelson took his maiden voyage on the Champions Tour and came away a winner. He now turns back to the PGA TOUR where he will look to avenge a missed cut from last year. Outside of that poor performance, Phil has played well at Siverado Resort & Spa where he has top-17 finishes in three of the last four years, including an 8th in 2018 and a 3rd in 2019.
Harold Varner III is another long-hitter that has found the North Course to his liking to start a new season. He has three top-17 finishes in his last four appearances, and has yet to miss the cut at the event. We last saw HVIII missing the cut at the Northern Trust, but prior to that he had a 7th place finish at another course he plays well, the Wyndham Championship.
Chez Reavie doesn’t fit the same mold as the other course history players I’ve highlighted here as he is known as a shorter, more accurate player off the tee. Despite that, he has found similar success with top-33 finishes in each of the last five years, including a 13th in 2018 and a 17th in 2016.