PGA DFS Primer Series: Quail Hollow or Dragon’s Lair – The 2017 PGA Championship

Course Metamorphoses and Nimble DFS Strategy

DFS golf analytics originate from the interplay between the people playing the game and the terra firma of the course.  If the course changes in a fundamental way then we are forced to re-examine our data, and the utility of previous assumptions about “course-fit” and the “ideal players” that we use to build our DFS rosters can dramatically change in ways the less dilligent gamer may realize.

“Course History,” “Recent Form,” and “Course Fit.” comprise the three fundamental variables used to evaluate golfers in DFS.  The 2016-2017 reconfiguration of The Quail Hollow Golf Club provides a great case study to demonstrate how to assess”Course Fit,” why it changes, and how you can establish a baseline that you can use to determine if a golfer fits the course for any particular week.

Since 2003 Quail Hollow has been the home of the Wells Fargo Championship,  In 2016 it skipped its normal hosting duties to prepare for the 2017 PGA Championship. This wasn’t a superficial or micro-level alteration.

After analyzing the impact of these changes, on golfers given potential to succeed here I determined that I would need to change my hypothetical Quail Hollow archetypal golfer.  In other words, I needed to change the core statistics, or perhaps just change the weight/importance that I place on the different statistics that make up my model.

What’s Changed?

  1. The course was lengthened by 200-250 yards, depending on which tee-box is used, and where the pin is placed.
    • Possible implication for “Course Fit” (CF): More emphasis on Driving Distance (DD)
  2. The fifth hole is was changed from a 575 yard par 5 to a 449 PAR 4
    • CF implications: One less scoring opportunity, PAR 4 SCORING becomes more important; while Par 5 scoring becomes less important.
  3. The first 5 holes have been completely remodeled. The most significant change is Hole 1, which is now a 525 yard PAR 4.
    • CF implications: Another super long par 4.  Also not scoreable which means the second shot is extremely important.  Tee-shots must get past the elbow of dog-leg left requiring a well place 280 yard (tour average tee shot) which set up 250 yard long iron shot.  Despite its length accurate long iron play is the most important skill set need on this hole.  Here’s a “flyover”of the first hole:  click here for video
  4. The greens and fairways were reseeded with UltraDwarf Champion Bermuda grass. And because it’s a major, they didn’t overseed the rough, which allows the ball to fall the way to the dirt.  You really can’t overstate the impact of penal rough; especially Bermuda.  Also, Champion Bermuda greens do not “hold” causing the ball to fly right through the green complex unless struck perfectly.  This Bermuda Rough/Green double wammy.  Oh ya, both of these issues are compounded ten-fold if the grass is wet.
    • Implications for Course fit are profound. Quail Hollow was the quintessential Bombers course.  DD is the highest rated stat to DK scoring at the “former” Quail Hollow.  The absence of a penal rough system allowed golfers to swing away without fear of reprisal.  A  mind-boggling  55% of balls landed safely in the fairways.  That type of decadence wil be brutally punished this weekend.  Check out this vide of Butch Harman (Fowler, Jimmy Walker’s coach) walking with his fellas during practice at Quail Hollow 8/8/2017: click here for video

Ok, it is pretty obvious that things are substantially different over at Quail Hollow.  It’s longer, has four new holes and they have introduced penal rough, which is a different kind of grass.  Come on…different course, different course fit.

Each week FanVice will be publishing a new section of my DFS Golf Primer; just so happens that this week I’m discussing player evaluation/course fit.  I’ll include a couple key points and if you want to dig in some more go check out the primer.

As we noted, Quail Hollow reduced the number of strokes to par which is important:

The strokes to reach par correlates to the length of the course.  Typically, PGA courses range from Par 70-72.  Each track favors different kinds of ball strikers depending the distance of the shot to reach the Green in Regulation (two strokes before par). 

For instance, a long course with few Par 5s would tend to favor “ball strikers,” or golfers that excel Strokes Gained Approach.  Why? With a majority of Par 4s on a long course, most of the shots that would reach the GIR would be long iron second shots.

Quail Hollow got rid of one of its Par 5s.  Simultaneously increasing the Par 4s.  Second-shot analysis isn’t the only method you should use to establish course fit; but it’s the most important:

Only the most exceptional golf touts stress these as “second shot courses” because they favor length and accuracy from long iron players.  The second shot analysis is definitely not sexy, and you will not hear it discussed as part of course fit.  In the Twitter/podosphere of DFS golf courses are usually described as articles as “Bomber” or “Accuracy” courses.  Do not settle from these simpleton ideas about Course Fit.  Spend some time to find out the average distance of the stroke necessary to reach the green in regulation.  Each week find golfers that gain strokes from that distance. 

And one last summation before we get a bit more familiar with Quail Hollow:

“Course fit” is discovered by matching a golfer’s strengths to the statistics of previously successful golfers at that tournament. When assessing a course, obtain as much background information as possible and develop your approximation. It is also important to remember statistical models are just an “estimate” course fit.

A quick and dirty way to establish a second shot baseline is to look at each hole subtract the tours average driving distance from each hole and divide that by 18.  Here is the “Hole Summary” data from 2015 when Rory laid waste to this tournament carding a 21 under PAR.

Quail Hollow has been transformed into a 7,400 yard Par 71 (which is about 200 yards longer than the last time they held the PGA Championship) monster. Like the course itself, the changes are deceptive and challenging.  Already a long narrow track with extremely tight driving zones, Quail Hollow was a fair and balanced test, that rewarded excellent golf and punished suckers that tried to shine without the requisite skill-set.  Experienced golfers have always faired better than greenhorns, however, everytype of player has found success here.  From a cursory examination of statistics,  it seems that DD (driving distance) is the category with the highest correlation to DraftKings points.

Now golfers face a longer, more penal track.  In a move that automatically makes it one of the toughest tests on tour; the Par 5 Fifth hole, which was the easiest hole, is now a 450 yard, dogleg right-par 4.  I’ve heard previous descriptions of Quail Hollow as “tricky/tough but fair.”  Now the course punches you in the mouth, right after they announce your name on the 1st Tee.

The first hole used to be a welcoming “handshake” birdy; not anymore.  This behemoth is now a 524 yard, 90-degree dogleg right par four  Ya, that’s right:  Par 4. The tee-shot must be well placed and land around 280 yards on the far side of the elbow to have any real chance of making par, much less birdie.

The starting five holes were the primary focus of the redesign. Some are already comparing it to the famous gauntlet on the back nine: The Green Mile.  A golfer who was on his game before the renovation could expect to be two under through the fifth hole.  The new complex of holes will have most golfers happy to come out one over par.  The winner of the tournament will most likely average par through the first five holes.

I have heard three different tour pros publicly lamenting how unnecessarily hard the first hole plays.  A cursory glance at the yardage, optimal placement for the second shot and the shape of the green suggest that this hole will average a full stroke over par. Therefore, we can safely assume six, and more likely eight, additional strokes relative to par throughout the tournament just from the restructuring of the first five holes.

The addition of rough and the reseeded greens are going to make this one of the hardest courses on tour.  Remember, it was already the ninth hardest last year. All of these changes will successfully lower scoring and  and what use to undervalued, shall be at a premium at Quail Hollow:  Accuracy.

It was already more important than people put on, we will look at the case of Rory here in just a bit.  However, because of the doglegs and the water, there are very specific distances and spots that will allow you a clear shot at the greens. For most golfers, hitting it in the rough will be a self-imposed one stroke penalty.

The course will be wet and soft all weekend.   Driving distance (DD) will be at a premium.  But DD will not make up for inaccurate tees-shots this example illustrates.  We all know that Rory McIlroy crushes the ball.  He also crushes this course.  His course history is beyond elite.  He has two wins and numerous T12’s or better.

On years that Rory has got past the ninth hole without missing the fairway, he’s averaging just shade over par, and  he’s carried that momentum onto win  the championship He’s also gone on to win the tournament.  But when he’s spraying,  he has either been cut or T10ish.  (BTW, it was very hard to find a four round example of Rory playing poorly here, he either gets cut, wins, or “top tens.” Rory the unstoppable force: (click photo to enlarge)

Now we’ll take a look at “better than you, but not my best” Rory:

Here we’ve overlayed his 2010, -15 championships run with a completely pedestrian and unacceptable T4,  These errant tee shots added two strokes to his total, and that was enough to keep him from winning.

The superintendent of the course states, “There will be no offense from the rough, I’m quite sure of that.”

Courses that require both length and accuracy cause confusion in the DFS community as they struggle with “course fit.” It’s not a problem; we need both.  I probably won’t roster anyone whose DD is less than the tour average of 285 yards or mediocre SG: OTT stats.  Also, I won’t roster ANYONE with poor second shot stats, especially at the key distance of 200+ yards.

One stat that popped right away is  GIR from Other than the Fairway.  If only 55% of fairways are being hit the, I’m playing guys that have proven they can still hit the green with a chance to birdie.  Let’s face it, given how narrow these fairways are; you will end up in the rough or worse, but how you handle it could determine your entire tournament.

You see golfers all the time compounding missed fairways with errant approach shots into bunkers, trees, and water.   I view (GIR: OTF)  as kind of “Fairway Scrambling.” stat.  Here’s a list of the top 50 golfers in GIR OTHER THAN FAIRWAY:

See you in the Slack Chat! ~ CarlMarks

Next week we’ll pick up the conversation with a discussion about “Ownership Assessment” and lay out the how to prioritize the characteristics you’re looking for in golfers each week.