It's perfectly fitting in a binge-mode era that just three days after the conclusion of one season, the next one starts right back up.
The 2020-21 season will get underway this week at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California, with a full field of 156 golfers.
This is usually the time of year to meet a new crop of Korn Ferry Tour graduates but plans have changed in 2020 due to all of the events postponed this year due to COVID-19. As a result, only 10 KFT golfers will get a bump in status and even then they will only be granted access to play in the alternate-field events.
That means plenty of familiar faces will line up this week to ring in the new season. Most of the big names, however, will be staying on the East Coast to make travel easier ahead of next week's U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Back to the Safeway Open, it will be the top 65 and ties that make it to the weekend. Important to remember after a few weeks of no-cut events in the playoffs.
The North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa will play host for the seventh straight year. It's a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design with Johnny Miller coming in to renovate back in 2011.
Off the tee it's a course that is tight and tree-lined. There are a handful of holes where golfers may keep the driver in bag but overall, you can let it rip here because the rough is not very penal.
Looking at the scorecard, it's a par 72 that plays up to 7,166 yards. Pretty short, especially when you consider the longest par 4 is just 456 yards. That means plenty of wedge opportunities as long as you are driving it half-way decent.
Despite the firm, fast, and narrow fairways leading to low driving accuracy numbers, golfers are still able to pelt around 12 greens in regulation, on average.
For turf, the goflers see bermuda/poa annua/ryegrass on the fairways, bluegrass/ryegrass if they find the rough, and then poa annua once they reach the putting surfaces. The speeds are typically set in the mid-11s on the stimpmeter. Not too speedy overall. As we often see with poa annua greens, they can get bumpy in the afternoon.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Cameron Champ: "I mean, out here it just depends on the pins. Sometimes I don’t even care if I’m in the rough, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just try to position it off the tee. If the pin’s far left, I’ll play the right side. And like I said, I’ll take it in the rough being up there hitting driver. So that’s kind of how I look at it this week. "
Justin Thomas: "Poa annua’s not very good in the afternoon and it was very, very bumpy. I felt I had a lot of putts that would have gone in on good greens that just kind of bounced out. I just kept reminding myself of that because I was hitting good putts, they were rolling nicely, just wasn’t going in."
Phil Mickelson: "I think a lot of guys struggle with the poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on."
Kevin Streelman: "It was just really cold. The ball was not traveling this morning really until we made the turn did I feel like I hit my wedge over 125 yards. Same thing the guys had the day before, so there’s really big extremes on cold to hot. It’s supposed to be 90 this afternoon and it was sweater weather when we woke up. So just got to add a few clubs during the morning"
Martin Laird: "with the course not being the longest golf course to play, there’s some tight pins on the front of the greens that some guys just can’t get to if you don’t hit it high. And you know, I hit it high. So coming in with mid irons, coming in landing soft is definitely a big advantage as opposed to maybe hitting a slightly longer club and coming in a little flatter."
Overview: Golfers talk about the poa annua greens, attacking with wedges, and dealing with large weather changes from AM to PM.
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:
The theme that pops this week is West Coast comfort or courses that aren't too punishing if you are missing fairways.
Thursday: Sunny. Low 60s to start the day with a mid-day high of 81 degrees. Winds at 5 to 14 MPH.
Friday: Sunny. Low 60s to start the day with a mid-day high of 84 degrees. Winds at 5 to 15 MPH.
It looks like some beautiful fall weather even though we are a few weeks away from the official flip to autumn. No threat of rain all week.
Golfers to Watch
Imploded here in 2015 but got revenge by winning the next two editions at Silverado. He's settled for T53 and T60 in his last two tries but playing good golf again since the restart.
Si Woo Kim
Talk about recency bias. Kim is listed as a 20/1 co-favorite in the early betting markters alongside Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson. Kim ended his season with two top 15s in his last three starts but he missed the cut here in his debut and settled for T49 last year. This seems like an overreaction to current form or a flatout mispricing. Ironically, his market price will likely drive up his ownership in weekly formats.
This is the time of year when Garcia is typically making his charge for the Race to Dubai but his plans have obviously changed this year with major-championship season just around the corner. That means we get a course and tournament debut from the Spaniard this week. He's played seven events since the restart and lost strokes putting in all of them (-20.8 SGP in total). He missed out on the Playoffs so perhaps he's dialed in the putter over the last month?
It shouldn't be a surprise at this point but he's not even getting love in the betting markets. Spieth checks in at 33/1 this week which is behind eight other golfers. If you are looking at how the course will fit his game, it's a short course that doesn't punish you too bad for missed fairways. That sounds like it would fit the current version of Spieth pretty well.
Want to ride the hot hand but don't want to pay up for Si Woo? Davis enters with four straight finishes of T32 or better including a pair of top 15s. Unlike Kim, Davis does have a closer call on his resume at Silverado. He finished T17 here two years ago but missed the cut last year.
If we're looking for courses that fit the state of his game right now, Silverado Resort and Spa's North Course has to be right up there as one of the best. It short so that is going to allow him to go flag-hunting with short irons and wedges. It has poa annua greens which is always sometthing that appeals to him. "The color looks different, it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here." Lefty has finished T*, T3, and T17 here before last year's missed cut. Arrives with a fresh tank of confidence this year after his record-setting performance in his Champions Tour debut.
Ranking the Field
2. Sergio Garcia
3. Brendan Steele
4. Harold Varner III
5. Bud Cauley
6. Shane Lowry
7. Erik van Rooyen
8. Joel Dahmen
9. Phil Mickelson
10. Cameron Tringale
11. Cameron Davis
12. Talor Gooch
13. Jordan Spieth
14. Denny McCarthy
15. Carlos Ortiz
16. Doc Redman
17. Mark Hubbard
18. Kevin Streelman
19. Sam Burns
20. Charl Schwartzel