The 2023 RSM Classic Preview

The 2023 RSM Classic Preview
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The inaugural FedExCup Fall will come to an end this week at The RSM Classic. This seven-event series has allowed golfers to fight for their 2024 playing status while also getting a few pop-in appearances from bigger names who have already secured their status.

The key marker week will be the top-125 bubble, golfers who land inside this number on the FedExCup standings will secure a PGA Tour card for 2024 and be given a spot in all full-field events. The secondary line to watch is The Next 10 which is spots 51 through 60 in the FedExCup standings. These golfers will receive invites to the 2024 Genesis Invitational and 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the first two Signature Events on the 2024 calendar. Other motivations could include contract/sponsor incentives, personal goals, or OWGR targets. There is a lot to play for this week, the final event of the 2022-23 PGA Tour campaign.

The Courses

This week’s event is played across two courses, both at the Sea Island Golf Club. Pulling host duties is the Seaside Course which is played in three rounds for the week if you make it through the 36-hole cutline. Golfers will also play one round at the Plantation Course.

Starting with the Seaside, we see a par 70 that plays to just 7,005 yards. That sounds kind of beefy compared to last week in Bermuda, but it’s still one of the shorter courses on the PGA Tour.

There are nine par 4s that play under 430 yards, which means a lot of wedges and short-iron approach shots. It also means you can opt for less than driver on some of these par 4s without losing much, if any, ground to the field. Water comes into play on up to 13 holes.

If you came to the course six weeks ago you’d have seen wall-to-wall bermudagrass but early-October overseed will have some ryegrass taking hold on parts of the course. The TifEagle Bermuda greens are larger than Tour average (7,200 average square feet) and get speedy at times.

While the Seaside is listed as a par 70, the PGA Tour par is roughly 69 with the field-average median being -1.1 relative to par, over the last five editions.

The Seaside Course yields just 0.26 eagles per 72 holes played which puts it near the bottom 10 in eagle rate among regular, non-major venues. If you come seeking big birds then you’ll want to watch action at the Plantation Course as it yields 0.48 eagles per 72 holes which puts it around 10th easiest in eagle rate across regular PGA Tour venues. Let’s talk more about that course.

The Plantation Course has a similar yardage to the Seaside (7,060 yards) but the Plantation is a par-72 layout, making it that much shorter on a par-adjusted basis. While the Seaside had nine par 4s that play under 430 yards, the Plantation Course has five par 4s that play under 385 yards. Big hitters can try to attack some of these with the driver but even the shortest of hitters will still have a short iron or wedge on approach for these holes.

When you look at the list of past champions at this event, you’ll notice an emphasis on precision over power with no true “mashers” holding the trophy here in the past. The list of winners includes names like Tyler Duncan, Austin Cook, Ben Crane, and Heath Slocum who all have skill profiles that shift extremely to the side of accuracy over power. That’s not to say a power hitter can’t win here, but there are on more of an even playing field off-the-tee which brings them back to the field and makes them elevate other parts of the game in order to contend.

When looking for crossover success (and failures) we see potential comp courses of Sedgefield CC, Pebble Beach Pro-Am rota, PGA West rota, TPC River Highlands, and Quail Hollow. Key themes include location, course length, scoring environment, and the ability to deal with windy course conditions.

Golfers to Watch

Ludvig Åberg

The Swede has basically been as consistently stellar as possible since jumping from the college ranks earlier this summer. He arrives with top-15 finishes in seven straight worldwide starts including a win at the Omega European Masters. That event is played at altitude on one of the shortest courses you’ll see on the schedule, proving that his game is not all power-dependent. At 53rd in the OWGR, he would certainly love a big finish this week to help him secure a top-50 OWGR spot in the end-of-year rankings which would earn him a ticket to Augusta National.

Luke List

He’s leading the Birdies Fore Love standings with 108 birdies or better this fall. The only other golfer in triple digits is Akshay Bhatia (105) so it could be a two-man race to win that contest if both golfers make the cut this week. The big-hitting List does not fit the accuracy profile of what you’d ideally look for at Sea Island but he has popped with three top-15 finishes in seven tries here in the past with three other trips ending in a missed cut.

Webb Simpson

Shifting more attention toward his family and healing his body, Simpson has played just five events since the start of June. You would expect more action from a golfer who is 149th in the FedExCup race, attempting to play his way out of a prolonged slump. On the bright side, his lone big finish over the last seven months was a T-5 finish at Sedgefield Country Club. That’s a correlated course here and Simpson checks the course history box at both venues. Simpson has six top-15 finishes at Sea Island, with three of those doubling as top-3 finishes, in 11 visits. His recent form and light lead-in schedule makes him a tough name to trust in fantasy leagues but his course history makes him a name you don’t want to completely ignore, either.

Keith Mitchell

He’s on the outside looking in when it comes to landing a spot in The Next 10 which would secure a spot in the first two signature events of the 2024 schedule. Mitchell finished T4 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this season and 5th at the Genesis Invitational so those are certainly events he’d love to play in next year, even without the huge Signature Event prize pools attached to them. The local resident is one of many Sea Island Mafia members teeing it up this week, and he’ll need to improve at least nine spots as he currently sits at 69th in the FedExCup race.

Ben Kohles

He looked like a “can’t miss” prospect back in 2012 when he won the first two events of his Korn Ferry Tour career, shortly after making the jump from the University of Virginia where he won seven times. He failed to turn that early success into a lengthy PGA Tour career but he’ll get another chance in 2024 after leading the KFT Points list in 2023, winning two times along the way. His game is definitely tilted more in the direction of accuracy not distance so Sea Island could be a nice spot for him this week, despite a missed cut in his only previous appearance (2021-22).

Ranking the Field

1. Russell Henley
2. Brian Harman
3. Ludvig Aberg
4. Corey Conners
5. J.T. Poston
6. Eric Cole
7. Cameron Young
8. Si Woo Kim
9. Denny Mccarthy
10. Alex Noren
11. Stephan Jaeger
12. Brendon Todd
13. Chris Kirk
14. Justin Suh
15. J.J. Spaun
16. Harris English
17. Adam Svensson
18. Keith Mitchell
19. Matt Kuchar
20. Ben Griffin

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