Although there’s been a ton of debate about whether or not golf should be an Olympic sport, I think it’s awesome that we get to write about it, watch history, and be involved in a small way. I grew up a huge sports fan, and loved watching the Olympic Games, so to see some guys I’ve researched, followed, and met is pretty cool.

Golf isn’t a huge sport in Brazil, so it seemed like an odd time to bring golf back into the Olympic fold, but here we are. Rio’s Olympic Golf Club was designed by Gil Hanse, one of the world’s top architects. We don’t know much about the course, other than it plays “similar” to links golf, with dry fairways, windy conditions, and a lot of sand / native areas that players will have to navigate. It was actually built on an old sand quarry, so we should see sandy dunes and funky lies if players get too far off the fairways. The course is a par-71 playing about 7,128 yards, and features five par-3s and four par-5s. Scoring on those holes will be huge throughout the week, as I think we are going to see an absolute birdie fest. We will see a small 60-player field with no cut…think WGC without most of the world’s best players.

One thing I always like to look at is the greens, and here we have seashore paspalum grass. They play similar to Bentgrass greens, but are normally found in warm and tropical climates, as we have here in Rio. Two interesting trends popped up when I looked at this type of grass:

1) Both French players in this field (Gregory Bourdy and Julien Quesne) have a massive spike in strokes gained on seashore paspalum greens.

2) This grass is commonly found in courses in Southeast Asia, i.e. Thailand, (Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat both have strong records on these types of greens).

Although we don’t have any course history to go on, anecdotes and quotes from the architect Gil Hanse give us an idea of what types of players and stats to focus on heading into Rio:

 

Key Stats:

  • Driving Accuracy
  • Ball Striking
  • SG: Tee-to-Green
  • Birdie or Better % (weighed more for par-3s and par-5s)
  • Pedigree

 

Comparison Courses:

  • Castle Stuart Golf Links – Scotland

Notable Olympian finishes in 2016 Scottish Open held at Castle Stuart:

Nicolas Colsaerts (3rd), Danny Lee (3rd), Matteo Manassero (3rd), Patrick Reed (10th), Mikko Ilonen (13th), Martin Kaymer (13th), Henrik Stenson (13th), Felipe Aguilar (21st), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (21st), Padraig Harrington (21st), Soren Kjeldsen (21st).

  • Pinehurst #2 – North Carolina

Notable Olympian finishes in 2014 U.S. Open held at Pinehurst #2:

Martin Kaymer (win), Rickie Fowler (2nd), Henrik Stenson (4th), Matt Kuchar (12th), Justin Rose (12th), Sergio Garcia (35th), Patrick Reed (35th), Danny Willett (45th).

  • Australian Sandbelt Courses

The only representatives from Australia, and New Zealand, are Scott Hend, Marcus Fraser, Danny Lee, and Ryan Fox.

Notable Olympian finishes at the 2006 Australian Masters:

Justin Rose (win), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (25th), Marcus Fraser (32nd)

Notable Olympian finishes at the 2014 Australian Masters:

Marcus Fraser (35th)

Notable Olympians at the 2011 Presidents Cup:

Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson represented Team USA.

 

The Favourites:

Henrik Stenson ($12,400) – He’s clearly the best player in the field, is in great form, and easily could win the gold medal. He’s played very well at Castle Stuart as well, which seems to be a comparable course to the Rio Olympic Club. My concerns with Stenson are his price, his ownership, and his putting. He has very little experience on these types of greens, and we all know his putting can be shaky (at best) at times.

Justin Rose ($11,500) – Rose is also a tremendous links player who is rounding back into form after a back injury that kept him out for several weeks. He is coming off back-to-back top-22 finishes in the majors, and seems to fit the course very well. He keeps it in play, scrambles well, and has experience in the wind. Also, the course has elements similar to Australian Sandbelt courses, where Rose won the Aussie Open in 2006. Rose is my under-the-radar pick to win the gold medal.

Patrick Reed ($10,700) – Reed is one of America’s best links-style players, and he comes in with great form (10th – 12th – 13th at the Scottish Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship).  I not only love his game, but I love Reed’s passion for wearing the stars and stripes, which he hasn’t been shy about here or at the Ryder Cup. I’ll lock Reed in for a place on the podium and as low American this week in Rio.

Martin Kaymer ($10,300) – Kaymer’s always a sneaky play, as nobody is happy about rostering him in a given week. But look at his current form: he’s finished in the top-7 five times in his last ten events, including at the PGA Championship. This venue has some similarities to Pinehurst, where Kaymer dominated the field to win the 2014 U.S. Open, and plays like a links course (Kaymer has gained over 42 strokes on the field on links-style golf courses since 2014). Kaymer is my pick for the silver medal.

 

The Value Mid-Tier:

Emiliano Grillo ($9,600) – If anyone will challenge the top-tier players for medal honors this week, it could be Grillo…if his clubs ever arrive. He’s had travel issues and is still without his golf clubs in Rio. But assuming everything works out, you’re looking at a player who has made his last eight cuts, with five top-15 finishes along the way. He’s amazing off-the-tee and putts great on these types of grasses. He’s shown the ability to win on both Tours, and his experience playing golf in South America should make this event feel very familiar to Grillo.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello ($9,200) – RCB will be plenty popular this week, so I won’t be too invested. However, this price is very fair for a player of his caliber, especially because he’s a DraftKings scoring beast. He’s averaging 71.6 points per week, and has shown himself to be an above average links player. He’s one of the few players to make the cut in all four majors this season…the only thing missing is a win.

Soren Kjeldsen ($8,500) – Kjeldsen is a slightly younger, slightly more polished version of the next guy on this list. He’s an excellent scrambler who keeps the ball in play, and is just the type of consistent veteran I’m targeting this week. He’s a strong links player, has a great history at Castle Stuart, and has two top-10’s in major championships this season.

Padraig Harrington ($7,700) – Harrington seems to be the type of savvy veteran who wants to win a gold medal, and his recent form is strong. He’s made his past six cuts on Tour, including a 9th and a 13th at the PGA Championship. We all know how great he plays in the wind and on links-style courses, so everything seems to line up for Harrington. Paddy is a dark horse for medal honors this week.

 

Low-End Plays:

Gregory Bourdy ($7,000) – The only knock against Bourdy this week is his weaker performances on links-style courses. But he’s shown his game can transfer globally, with great showings at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. He ranks 2nd in strokes gained on seashore paspalum greens and is the 4th or 5th best player in Europe for total strokes gained. Frankly, this price is just too cheap for a class player like Bourdy.

Nicolas Colsaerts ($6,900) – Bomber who can light up a scoreboard. Colsaerts finished 3rd at Castle Stuart earlier this summer. Although he’s a bomber who can be erratic, his GIR% is very high, which mitigates his low accuracy numbers.

Fabrizio Zanotti ($6,800) – Paraguay is a neighbor of Brazil, so it’s kind of a home game for Zanotti. He’s been very strong on links courses in his career, and has made seven of his past eight cuts on the European Tour. He’s viable in cash games and some GPPs.

Marcus Fraser ($6,700) – My pick for low Aussie this week – well, there’s only two to choose from. Fraser should love the layout here, and has plenty of experience / success at Australian Sandbelt courses (he’s from Melbourne).

Alex Cejka ($6,600) – He should be popular after another stellar finish at the Travelers. But Cejka is super-consistent but offers the upside of five top-10s this season. Strong par-3 scorer, and has had great success on seashore paspalum greens.

Julien Quesne ($6,500) – Made four of his last five cuts on the European Tour, all in the top-35. He putts lights out on seashore paspalum greens. The main concern is Quesne’s upside.

Ryan Fox ($6,400) – Young New Zealander whose last five starts on the Challenge Tour have been 7th, 2nd, 4th, 18th, 1st. He ranks 2nd in the Road to Oman (similar to the Race to Dubai, FedEx Cup, etc). Fox should feel very comfortable with the course style.

 

Good luck this week!

 

Ryan

 

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