The American Express Preview

Josh Culp

The winds of Hawaii are a thing of the past as the TOUR heads to Palm Springs for The American Express.

Weather conditions look benign this week so a full three-course meal of birdies and eagles should be on the table. 

This week also kicks off the run of multi-course events. It's that time of year where daylight is not kind to us, so this week they will use three courses in the area to split the golfers (and their pro-am partners) before making a cut of top 65 and ties before the final round.

Golfers will be paired up with one amateur for the pro-am portion of the event and then they will go off in foursomes (two pros and two ams). Unlike the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in a few weeks, the amateur partners are generally not of the celebrity nature. With American Express taking the reigns as title sponsor they will dish out a lot of those amateur spots to their top clients. 


The Courses

There are three courses being used this week. It's the same rotation of courses that we've seen for the last four years at this event. The host course is the Stadium Course at PGA WEST which means each golfer will play two rounds at the Stadium Course, if they make it through the cut line. 

Stadium Course at PGA WEST (Host Course): 

Pete Dye established himself as one of the world's most famous course designers but sadly passed away last week. One of his tracks will be on display this week as the host venue. 

This course is known as a sequel or continuation of TPC Sawgrass. It shares a lot of the same characteristics including railroad ties to shape holes and lots of water hazards. 

The Stadium Course is the hardest of the bunch this week but still on the easy side of the spectrum when it comes to all PGA TOUR venues. That would definitely change if they weren't setting this up for a pro-am format. Easier pin placements and generous rough this week lets this course play a bit easier. 

During tournament week, this course is a par 72 that plays just over 7,100 yards. Pretty short but there is water in play on nearly half the holes (7). You can still play aggressively at this course but you need to go it in a way that takes water out of play as much as possible. 

The turf is listed as bermudagrass here but it's that time of year where the bermuda is dormant so it's overseeded with ryegrass and poa trivialis. The greens are just 5,000 square feet on average (small) and will have a target stimp rating of 11 feet. 


Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA WEST: 

The Nicklaus Tournament Course was introduced to the AmEx rotation in 2016 and is not to be confused with the Nicklaus Private Course which was used before that. 

Nicklaus Tournament is a par 72 that plays to 7,159 yards during The American Express. Three of the four par 5s play under 550 yards which is going to generate a lot of scoring chances. 

The course record of 62 is shared by Kevin Na and David Lingmerth which goes to show that you don't need to overpower this layout because both are some of the shortest hitters on TOUR. 

The field scoring average is just 69.46 over the last four years (-2.54 RTP). One of the easiest course setups these pros will see all year. 


La Quinta Country Club: 

It's funny to think that La Quinta used to be the hardest course in the rotation but it's now arguably the easiest. It's really neck and neck for that honor but La Quinta has averaged -2.58 RTP over the last four years which is slightly easier than the Nicklaus Tournament Course over the same time frame. 

It's another par 72 and it plays to 7,060 yards on the scorecard. Very short. All four of the par 5s are under 550 yards. It also has six par 4s under 415 yards. 

Adam Hadwin holds the course record here (59) and had this so say about it, "La Quinta is one of those courses where obviously if you’re hitting the ball well off the tee — it’s much more narrow than the other two golf courses — but if you’re hitting it well on the tee you got a lot of wedges in, you can be aggressive and the greens here are always so pure."

Just like the other two courses, we have dormant bermuda turf with ryegrass overseed. The pin placements and green speeds will be kept on the easy side to help amateurs reduce their pace of play. 



Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Adam Hadwin: "Living in Phoenix for the last seven years or so now it’s kind of all the golf that I’ve seen, mostly. So the way it sets up, the way the grass is, the way the greens are, this is what I grew up putting on as well, so I love putting on the West Coast. I feel like chipping from around the greens seems a lot easier, just the way the grass is. I struggle with Bermuda still and so I kind of like to make hay on the West Coast when I can." 

Phil Mickelson: "my goal or game plan of playing the Stadium Course is to actually hit drivers and to try to bomb it down there as close to the greens as you can. Even though the — because the fairways are tight in a lot of areas and if I miss fairways, try to have wedges or short irons in — and it seemed to play out okay today and I gave myself a lot of good chances."

Beau Hossler: "[On La Quinta] You get a lot of wedges in your hand and I think if you get the ball in the fairway you can get relatively aggressive into the greens. So certainly I would say the first 13 holes are really gettable and then from there it’s trying to hold on the last few holes can get tricky. "

Hudson Swafford"I think you need to hit your irons well here. I think you need to give yourself as many birdie opportunities as possible. Putting is a big part of this event, but the greens are a little tricky to read with the overseed."

Martin Piller: "I’ve played the Stadium Course a bunch throughout the years. I played Q-Schools here, I’ve always felt like I’ve always played pretty well on the Stadium Course. It’s a tough course, but I always play it really well. So I kind of rely on past Q-Schools and playing here a few years ago as well, I kind of relied on those good memories, good shots that I hit to kind of give me a lot of confidence for that."

Overview: Mickelson proves that it's possible to be aggressive at the Stadium Course. Others talk about the overseeded grass. Some really like it while others would prefer bermudagrass. As Piller mentioned, some of the golfers will have seen the Stadium Course during Q-School or college events. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

El Camaleon (Mayakoba)
TPC Scottsdale (Phoenix)
Torrey Pines (Farmers)
TPC Summerlin (Shriners)
Kapalua (Tourney of Champs)
Pebble Beach Rota (Pebble Beach Pro-Am)

The name of the game is short and easy courses when looking for correlated events. West Coast performance really pops as well. 


The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Calm winds at 5 to 8 MPH. 

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees. Calm winds at 5 to 8 MPH. 

Talk about a maybe change in Mother Nature when comparing this week's forecast to the last two weeks in Hawaii. 

Will it have been a positive or negative to have played those events in windy conditions? 

Golfers to Watch

Rickie Fowler
He'll be making his third career appearance at this event and first since 2014. He missed the cut in 2010 and finished T33 in 2014. Not the strongest of track records but not a big enough sample size to really dock him either. He's feast at TPC Scottsdale in the desert so this should be a natural fit for him to cruise into contention. 

Paul Casey
As an Arizona State alum and Arizona resident, this style of golf is right up his alley, as well. That being said, he's gone MC-MC-T58 in three tries at the event. Is there something about the slow, pro-am format that he doesn't like? Perhaps, but we should also remember that he finishes runner-up at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year so that doesn't seem to be the problem. 

Sungjae Im
The young Korean continues to perform for gamers so he'll continue to be extremely popular. Im finished T12 here last year in his debut. Combine that with his consistent play over the last few years and he should certainly be one of the top 3 options to consider this week. 

Tony Finau
Flying in straight from a top-5 finish in Hong Kong. Will jet lag be an issue? He's finished T59 and MC in two tries at this event but hasn't made an appearance since 2016. 

Charles Howell III
Some call him Mr. West Coast Swing. He was a course horse last week at Waialae and he's also 12-for-14 at this event. He hasn't missed at cut at the AmEx since 2004 but also hasn't posted a top 10 since 2013 (a T11 in 2016 and T12 in 2017). 

Jhonattan Vegas
He won this event back in 2011 but it's a new set of courses now. The setups remain easy and the par 5s are particularly easy which has historically been very good for him. Just think about Glen Abbey which was an eagle-fest. He ended the fall with missed cuts in three of his last four starts so there is certainly nothing safe about picking him in weekly formats but he does possess some scoring upside in the bargain tier. 

Scottie Scheffler
No action since a T5 at the RSM to close out the Fall. Will he be the forgotten man this week or will gamers trust that he's kept his game sharp in the lead-up to this event? It's one of those age-old fantasy golf problems but one that could really pay off if you guess correctly. 


Ranking the Field 

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Paul Casey
3. Sungjae Im
4. Charles Howell III
5. Scottie Scheffler
6. Tony Finau
7. Rory Sabbatini
8. Byeong Hun An
9. Billy Horschel
10. Jason Kokrak
11. Vaughn Taylor
12. Russell Knox
13. Andrew Putnam
14. Matthew Wolff
15. J.T. Poston
16. Kevin Kisner
17. Lucas Glover
18. Abraham Ancer
19. Francesco Molinari
20. Chez Reavie

Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.

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