This week, golf will become the first major U.S. sport to return since leagues went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Charles Schwab Challenge is the event. Colonial Country Club — the longest standing non-major course on the PGA Tour (it’s been hosting events regularly since 1946) — is the venue.
Colonial in Forth Worth, Texas is a par-70 course that plays around 7,200 yards. It’s not a bomber’s course, but it is very score-able: Only once since 2000 has the winning score been in the single digits (Adam Scott in 2014 at -9).
Handicapping this event will be the toughest in maybe golf’s entire history: Yes, we know a ton about Colonial given nearly 80 years of data, but the long layoff due to COVID-19 makes things incredibly challenging. Course fit and history could be more important than ever this week.
On that note, let’s dive into the stats that have been the most predictive at Colonial and what that means for this week’s field.
The Most Predictive Stats at Colonial
Using FantasyLabs data, we can look at how golfers in the 90th-plus percentile for each stat entering Colonial have historically performed. It measures their performance against a salary-based expectation. And while that might seem like a weird way to go about it, note that DFS salaries in golf are highly correlated with odds to win.
That means we can lean on DFS data and the baseline it provides to measure stats.
Before we jump into the stats listed above, note that there are no recent metrics listed above … for pretty obvious reasons. The Tour hasn’t had an event in months, so: 1) there’s no recent data as a result and 2) even “recent” data — say the last five weeks before the shutdown — I don’t think would be predictive or relevant at all for this week.
In terms of data, look to long-term, stable metrics, along with course history and fit. Consider this week a data reset; you can largely ignore 2020 marks outside of its inclusion into long-term data.
As expected, golfers in the 90th-plus percentile in driving distance — both long-term and specifically at Colonial — have performed worse than expected. Interestingly, however, that doesn’t mean this is the opposite venue: A ball-striker’s haven. In fact, golfers in the 90th-plus percentile in long-term Greens in Regulation have been below expectations as well.
Consistency — measured as the percentage of rounds in which a golfer has been within a standard deviation of scoring expectations — was the most important factor. Sure, those golfers are more often ball-strikers, but it’s not a perfect fit.
Alas, we see a variety of golfers who have played well here in the past. Kevin Na, a short ball-striker, won last year with Tony Finau — definitely a bomber, although definitely improving all-around — in second. Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka took the top-two spots in 2018. Kevin Kisner and Jon Rahm did the same thing in 2017.
It’s a weird course: Ball-striking seems to be the thing to focus on, but even Fantasy National agrees the fit isn’t perfect:
Golfers have been less accurate off the tee and hitting greens at Colonial than the average tour event. That could mean that it’s even more important — those who can do it have a huge leg up — but the chart I posted above, which shows data from the last five years — doesn’t solidify that theory.
It seems, in fact, that something I usually discount because I think it’s very luck-riddled — putting — is quite important this week. Or maybe put better: The golfers with the best short games have typically done well here.
Those golfers also tend to be ball-strikers — hello, Webb Simpson — but that’s not always the case. Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods (unfortunately not in the field), Jason Day and Bryson DeChambeau are examples of a couple long golfers who are excellent on and around the greens.
All said, I’m going to completely ignore recent data this week. I’m going to definitely weight course history more, along with golfers who excel with the short game, particularly putting and scrambling.