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Previewing Muirfield Village Golf Club for the Workday Charity Open

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On Thursday, the PGA tour moves to a familiar setting: the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio.  The one-off, Workday Charity Open, will be the first of back-to-back tournaments played at Muirfield Village Golf Club, but it may look slightly different than a typical Memorial event.

According to GOLF.com’s Sean Zak, the PGA tour informed players that the course will have slower greens and a shorter rough than they’re used to. I will be breaking down the course with data from previous tournaments, but be aware of these changes. I’m not sure exactly how they will affect the field’s play. The slower greens will allow the tour to mix up pin placements, and the shorter rough will be a relief at a course where the rough is normally quite penal compared to an average course. I’ve also seen it mentioned that some tee boxes will be utilized differently than normal, but the overall distance of the course won’t be dramatically shortened.

With that said, I have to approach this week with the data we have. Afterwards, we can make our educated guesses on what we need to tweak.

Muirfield Village Golf Club is a 72 that typically plays close to 7,400 yards. Relative to par, it played as the 13th-most difficult course last year, and holes 16-18 can create chaos coming home. Last year, the 18th hole played the hardest on the course, causing 27 double bogeys, the most on the course by 15. 

Driving distance is tour average at 285 yards, and the fairways are easy to find, with a three-year average of 68%. Golfers will need to take advantage of the large landing spaces because, if they miss the fairway, they will find some of the more penal rough on tour. Now, this is something we could see a slight difference in at the Workday event, due to keeping the rough a half inch shorter than usual. But it will still be thick. Previous Memorials have shown a difference of about 30% in Greens in Regulation (GIR) when comparing approaches from the rough to fairway; this is tied for the fourth-highest difference on tour. Muirfield has also ranked fourth highest in relative-to-par scoring when comparing tee shots landing in the rough compared to the fairway. 

Hitting greens is always important, and Muirfield also puts a premium on this. These greens are harder to hit than tour average, and the scoring penalty is third-highest on tour. This coincides with the premium of hitting 30% more GIR from the fairway. And, as usual, ball striking will be front and center. Big penalties for missing greens can lead to a small advantage being gained by superb around-the-green (ARG) play. It may be advantageous for those most skilled around the green, but the advantage will still be small when compared to ball-striking stats (Off-the-Tee/Approach).

Distance is always at the forefront of discussion, especially with what Bryson DeChambeau has been doing. However, distance may not be a big divider at Muirfield. When looking at drives that went at least 20 yards further than the average drive, Muirfield ranked as the fourth least in terms of strokes gained OTT from those drives (Harbour Town, Sea Island and Pebble being the least favorable). So, although distance is always a weapon, there is less to be gained by it this week. 

Although I don’t find it very important—and my research has shown that good putters are good putters, regardless of surface—the greens at Muirfield are bentgrass. There are few golfers that show a statistically significant increase in putting when playing on the green type. Golfers do speak about how they prefer certain surfaces to others, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to better putting on those surfaces.

Overall, at Muirfield Village Golf Club, distance is negated, with a premium on hitting the greens. I do not think it’s a coincidence that golfers like Patrick Cantlay, Justin Rose and Adam Scott have played extremely well here over the years. They are fairly accurate, with a mixture of length, and all have strong irons, especially from distance. The course should also set up very well for the likes of Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. The question mark for Hovland will be, has his short game improved enough to not cripple him when missing greens at Muirfield?

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