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FedEx St. Jude Championship Preview

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The FedExCup Playoffs begin this week right in the backyard of the shipping giant’s headquarters, Memphis.

There are big changes coming next year with only the top 70 cracking the field for leg one of the Playoffs. That is next year, though, with the top 125, as usual, earning their spot this week. As of Monday morning, there are three golfers sitting this week out for one reason or another, Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood, and Lanto Griffin.

The Course

TPC Southwind is a longtime host on the PGA TOUR but which event they’ve hosted has floated around. They started out hosting the FedEx St. Jude Classic in the late ‘80s then shifted to a WGC event in 2019. They shifted this year to host event one of the FedExCup Playoffs, instead of a WGC event.

Regardless of the event name, we know a lot about the course, and it’s a tough test.

The challenge begins on the tee box with an elevated importance of finding the fairways at TPC Southwind. The field averages around a 73 percent GIR rate when attacking from the fairway but that dips massively to just 41 percent GIR when missing the fairways.

That doesn’t mean the rough is necessarily that brutal. It is tricky bermuda rough, but more importantly, there is water on approach for more than a third of the holes. So, golfers often have the decision of attacking from an unpredictable lie, or they can play a conservative shot that takes the big number out of play.

Golfers that are feeling good with their irons can take on that risk and get rewarded with good shots but bad iron play will bring in lots of big numbers. The field averages 1.88 doubles or worse per 72 holes here which ranks right up there just below the top tier of notable water-heavy courses like TPC Sawgrass, PGA National, and Muirfield Village.

Iron play is a vital ingredient to success at TPC Southwind but even the best ball-strikers will miss their fair share of greens. Looking at last year’s leaderboard at TPC Southwind, the best in the field hit 75 percent of greens for the week which gave them 18 up-and-down chances. Those were the best in the field so as you can imagine, most golfers will be faced with a scrambling opportunity on about a third of their holes played if not more.

For grasses this week, they’ll see zoysia fairways with bermudagrass rough and bermuda greens. The greens are small at just 5,400 square feet and they typically run around 12 feet on the stimp.

The overall scoring environment is a change of pace from the last few weeks as the birdie and eagle rates are below TOUR average at TPC Southwind and there are also lots of big numbers.

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Quotes on the Course

Brooks Koepka: “It’s a ball striker’s golf course. I’m lucky enough I can hit 3-wood and 3-iron on holes where guys are hitting driver and 3-wood to the same spot. If you’re hitting 3-iron and 3-wood, you should be able to hit the fairway just about every time.”

Phil Mickelson: “Risk-reward is a critical part of this golf course, but sometimes you have to just man up and hit shots and you pull them off and make birdies, and if you don’t, you end up hitting the water. There’s water in play and strategically placed or well placed water right up on the edge of the green on a number of holes that kind of sneak up on you. That’s where I talk about how precision is important here. It doesn’t beat you up with length, but you’ve got to have total control of your ball flight or else water will be in play.”

Michael Kim: “This course isn’t too long, so even if you have to hit 3-wood or hybrid, it’s not going to leave you too long of an iron shot in, so just anything in the fairway.”

Brandt Snedeker: “You’re going to miss the greens here, the greens are very small, greens are tough to hit. So you have to understand you’re going for miss four, five greens a day here, that’s just the way it is. Got to be able to get it up and down.”

Golfers talk about the importance of finding the fairways, even if it means clubbing down on the tee box.

Correlated Courses

Let’s look at the leaderboards over the last three years and see where the most crossover success can be found, when it comes to other courses played on the PGA TOUR or DP World Tour:

Harbour Town GL
PGA National
TPC Sawgrass
TPC River Highlands
East Lake

The main theme is a big penalty for missing the fairways. An added bonus for similar bermudagrass conditions.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 90 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

Friday: Sunny with a high of 91 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

We’re in Memphis so heat and humidity will be present. Pre-tournament storms should lay the ground for soft conditions out of the gate with the chances for rain rather low during the actual event.