The distance debates waged on after a dominating performance from Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot Golf Club.
Traditionalists felt like the course didn't play how it was designed while others felt it was a perfectly fair test and the best man came out on top. Whether you liked the course setup or not, one thing is for sure: you will see the exact opposite this week at Corales Golf Club. More about that in the course section.
First, let's talk about the basics.
A field of 144 golfers will peg it this week in the Dominican Republic. That's an increase of 12 golfers, year-over-year. Previously played as an alternate-field event, it got scratched last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, this event will now be played twice during the 2021 campaign and this first edition has received a bump in status. The winner will get a full allotment of 500 FedExCup Points instead of just 300 like previous years.
The boost in status means that the top 10 from the Korn Ferry Tour won't get easy access to play this week. Those starts for them are reserved for alternate-field events only which are few and far between this season. On the bright side, the tournament did a standout job to extend events to some rising stars like Joohyung Kim, Justin Suh, Kurt Kitayama, Matthias Schwab, Thomas Detry, and others. They even had a spot for Will Zalatoris before his top 10 last week got him in on merit.
Corales Golf Club is a young course that was designed by Tom Fazio in 2010.
It's an exclusive club whose founding members include President Bill Clinton.
This coastal layout features extremely wide landing areas off the tee. Golfers have averaged more than 70 percent fairways hit in the two TOUR events played here. That's almost double the amount of expected fairways hit compared to last week at Winged Foot where the field hit fewer than 40% as a group.
Even if you miss the fairways then you aren't going to find too much trouble. The GIR penalty for missing a fairway is just 16 percent which is about as low as you'll find all year.
That means that skill of driving the ball is kind of removed from the equation this week. It becomes a second-shot layout and then a short-game competition for times when you are missing the greens. The field has averaged six missed greens per round here, despite the easy fairways so elite iron players can separate from the field if they hit 14 or more greens.
There are six oceanside holes on the course and wind can become a factor when you play right by the sea this like.
Looking at the scorecard, it's a par 72 that stretches out to 7,666 yards! A big chunk of that comes on the homeward nine (4,049 yards) where there are a pair of par 5s over 620 yards. Neither of those are true eagle holes so distance is not really that big of an advantage, despite all the length. That shows up on the trophy wall, as well, with plodders Graeme McDowell and Brice Garnett winning the last two editions.
For grass, golfers will see paspalum turf which is common in these tropical environments. The greens usually run on the slow side compared to most TOUR events, around 10.5 feet on the stimp.
Circling back to Winged Foot versus Corales. Last week we saw tight fairways with nasty rough and fast greens. This week we have wide fairways with generous rough and slow greens. It might be an advantage to have not been in the field last week. Of course, the golfers that played last week are going to be of a high caliber based on the fact they played their way into a major. So avoiding them would be a foolish move. Just something to consider if you have a couple of golfers grading out very similarly. Consider playing the one that wasn't emotionally bruised by Winged Foot last week.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Jhonattan Vegas: "When you go to grasses like this, like Paspalum that it’s slower and you have the wind, it’s hard to commit mentally to make sure that you hit it hard enough to get it to the hole. So it takes some adjustment. That’s kind of why you tend to see a lot of guys this week on the putting greens kind of getting adjusted to that speed"
Matt Jones: "The fairways are pretty wide here so you should have a lot of iron shots out of fairways, and if you can control your irons"
Paul Dunne: "It’s one of the widest courses I think we’ll ever play, so a couple loose drives that would normally cost me I can get away with here. And it’s tricky around the greens, which plays into my strengths."
Dominic Bozzelli: "On this type of grass, the ball kind of sticks where it lands. I found it a little easier to dial-in your irons when it does that."
Justin Hueber: "Honestly, you can hit it wherever you want off the tee. I’m swinging hard, trying to hit it as far down there as I can. Try to get as many shorter irons."
Overview: Golfers talk about wide fairways and slow greens.
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)
Coco Beach (Puerto Rico)
Sea Island (RSM Classic)
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
CC of Jackson (Sanderson Farms)
The main theme this week is coastal courses with an emphasis on approach play or short game.
Thursday: Partly Sunny with a high of 87 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH. A steady chance of light rain.
Friday: Light rain showers with a high of 87 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
A move from March to September historically brings warmer temps and more rain but less wind in this area. That is going off historical averages only but it's also playing out in the early-week forecast.
As of now, it looks like the pre-cut rain is light and should be played through but there is some lightning in the weekend forecast so keep an eye on that.
Golfers to Watch
What a summer for the Canadian. He tossed together five top-15 finishes after the restart but missed the cut last week at Winged Foot. Now he's back on a course where he posted a runner-up finish in 2019.
He couldn't finish the job at Silverado Resort and Spa but he'll get another resort course to take aim at this week. He's become one of the more steady options with top 35s in six of his last seven starts. The LSU product finished T12 at Corales in 2019, his lone appearance at the event.
The youngster played his way in with a top 10 at the Safeway Open. Many were questioning his decision to skip college when he opened with seven straights missed cuts on the PGA TOUR. He proved the haters wrong with a top 10 in Napa and gained strokes in all four sub-categories of strokes gained that week. You have to think his results will be volatile in the short-term but we saw his upside is a top 10 not just a cut made.
Looking for course narratives, Power loves it here. Including the Korn Ferry events played here, Power has posted finishes of 7th, 5th, and 44th at Corales. "For some reason I like this grass. This is at least the second time we’ve played it this year and I seem to make some putts on it."
He lived up to his Korn Ferry hype last week at the U.S. Open. I graded him as 14th in the rankings last week which has to be considered a win. The problem, he was one spot ahead of Bryson in my rankings. Oops. Back to Zalatoris, he's gone from being an elite value play in weekly formats to the tournament favorite just one week later. He's starting the week as a 12-to-1 favorite at the PointsBet Sportsbook. We saw last week that his game can hold up with the best in the world but can he keep his foot on the gas for 72 more holes when he's starting the week with higher expectations?
I talked about Seamus loving the turf here at Corales but he has a long way to go before dethroning the "Prince of Paspalum." Perez has three career wins and two of them have come on paspalum (2017 Mayakoba, 2018 CIMB Classic). What did he say after winning that event? "It’s actually not even the course that suits my eye, it’s the greens. Mayakoba, where I won, has the same greens and I putted better than anybody there, too. So I don’t know what it is. It’s the grass."
Ranking the Field
1. Will Zalatoris
2. Mackenzie Hughes
3. Sam Burns
4. Corey Conners
5. Kristoffer Ventura
6. Adam Long
7. Pat Perez
8. Denny McCarthy
9. Brian Stuard
10. Thomas Detry
11. Emiliano Grillo
12. Charles Howell III
13. Sepp Straka
14. Ben Martin
15. Charley Hoffman
16. Chris Baker
17. Xinjun Zhang
18. Adam Schenk
19. Will Gordon
20. Jhonattan Vegas