Previewing the AT&T Byron Nelson
For the third time this spring, the PGA Tour returns to Texas for this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson. The tournament namesake holds some of the most untouchable records in sports history: his eleven consecutive wins in 1945 will likely never be eclipsed as long as the Tour is in existence.
In 2018, this event moved to Trinity Forest Golf Club, a par 71 layout that the field eviscerated. Trinity yielded a scoring average of 69.4, placing it among the ten easiest courses all season in relation to par. The course had the easiest fairways to hit all season on Tour (79.5%) and second-easiest greens to hit in regulation (76.8%). Compare that to what the players can expect at Bethpage Black: at the 2009 U.S. Open, the field hit less than 59 percent of the greens in regulation for the week.
There will be a total of five PGA Tour events held in Texas in 2019, with the Houston Open returning to the schedule this fall. So who in recent years has had the most success in the Lone Star State?
There are 286 players with at least 20 PGA Tour rounds played in the state of Texas over the last ten seasons. Of that group, Dustin Johnson (68.9), Jason Day (69.1) and Brooks Koepka (69.2) have the three best scoring averages. Three players are 100 or more shots under par in Texas events during that span: Matt Kuchar (-140), Charley Hoffman (-137) and Jordan Spieth (-128). Spieth is in the field this week, at the event he finished tied for 16th in when he was still in high school.
Wise seeking a piece of history
Last year, Aaron Wise lit up Trinity Forest to the tune of 25 birdies and an eagle, earning his first PGA Tour victory at age 21. Now, Wise could do something no player has in the Tour’s modern era.
With a win this week, Aaron Wise would become the youngest player to successfully defend a PGA Tour title since World War II. Tiger Woods’ first successful title defense on the PGA Tour came at the 2000 Memorial, when Tiger was 24. Jack Nicklaus’ first was at the 1964 Tournament of Champions, when he, too was 24.
Wise hit a ridiculous 91.7 percent of his greens in regulation in last year’s victory, the most by any PGA Tour winner over the last twenty seasons. He enters the week off a pair of top-20 finishes: 17th at The Masters and a tie for 18th at the Wells Fargo Championship. Wise is currently 34th in 15th Club’s Performance Index.
Notes on players headlining the field
– Brooks Koepka is in the field this week, teeing it up in Texas the week before his PGA Championship defense begins in New York. Koepka played the week before each of his three major championship victories, including a solo fifth at the WGC-Bridgestone last year the week before winning at Bellerive.
– Koepka is a combined 55-under in major championships since the 2016 PGA at Baltusrol. That is 15 shots better in relation to par than anyone else in that span at the majors (Rickie Fowler is second at 40-under).
– Koepka is currently ranked 150th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting, a drop of nearly 100 spots from last season (tied for 68th). One can only imagine what Koepka’s score would have been at Augusta National with merely an average week on the greens: he was 52nd among players to make the cut at The Masters in strokes gained putting. Approach putt performance is a PGA Tour statistic that measures a player’s proximity when lag putting. Koepka is tied for last among all qualified players in that metric this season.
– Keith Mitchell finished tied for third at Trinity Forest last year, a harbinger of what was to come for him on the PGA Tour. Mitchell finished tied for eighth last week at Quail Hollow and is currently ranked 73rd in 15th Club’s Performance Index. Mitchell has seen his strokes gained approach numbers skyrocket in ’18-19, going from 140th on Tour last season up to 38th.
– Texas native Ryan Palmer is in the field, making his first start since teaming up with Jon Rahm to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. For Palmer, it was his first PGA Tour win since the 2010 Sony Open. Palmer had 40 top-ten finishes between victories, most of any player without a win on the PGA Tour during that span.
– Another Texas on familiar soil this week is former U.S. Junior Amateur champion Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler, who helped lead the University of Texas to three Big 12 conference championships, lost a playoff last week at the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open. That runner-up finish was his fourth consecutive top-ten finish on that circuit. Throw in a tie for 20th at the Valero Texas Open, and Scheffler has a scoring average of 68.7 in his last 20 competitive rounds.