Golf fans are in for a treat with the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, as it will play unlike most PGAs that we have seen. Players will face wide fairways, firm sloping greens, shaved runoffs, uneven lies and the potential for heavy winds. This won’t be the average bomb-and-gouge type golf that we are so accustomed to on the PGA Tour. Players will have to really think on every shot in order to maximize their chance for the best score at each hole. That’s the beauty of Southern Hills.
UPDATE: Paulie’s Picks for the 2023 PGA at Oak Hill
So what type of skills are needed to succeed? Let’s take a look:
If you want any chance at succeeding at Southern Hills, you better be striking your irons well. A well struck shot can yield a makeable birdie attempt, whereas a mishit can land you in some very difficult spots on or around these Perry Maxwell greens.
Around the green
With so much short grass and bunkers around the greens, players who have top notch short games will be able to distinguish themselves from the pack much more than a normal week on the PGA Tour, where there is typically heavy rough around every green.
Lag putting (three-putt avoidance)
One of the great aspects of Southern Hills is how players are forced into confronting very difficult putts. If you hit an iron shot to the “safe” side of the hole, you will often be faced with a downhill putt or a putt with a large amount of break. Players who can leave themselves tap-ins or maybe even make a few of those longer putts will have a great chance to succeed.
This event has the potential to play more like a U.S. Open than a PGA Championship. The difficulty around the greens combined with the expected heavy winds will wreak havoc on players. They must develop a specific strategy on how to play each and every hole, every day. Every pro at some point this week is going to catch a bad bounce, catch a gust of wind, or hit a bad shot leaving them in a tough spot. A player who is able to react calmly and stay patient will have the best chance to be in contention come Sunday.
Now that we have addressed some of the required skills, let’s take a look at a few of the top players who can win this week:
Justin Thomas $10,700
JT has seemingly gone under the radar since his last victory (2021 Players). Since that win, he has finished 42nd or better in all but one event!!! Thomas’s iron game and mindset yield that consistent play. He is one of the best iron players on Tour, as he has gained strokes on approach in 47 of his last 51 events! He is also a wizard around the greens with his wedges, specifically off tight fairway lies. When confronted with heavy winds, we have seen Thomas excel, as he feels comfortable moving the ball and playing creative shots in those conditions, like this year’s Players. He is one of only five players in the field to rank top 20 in bogey avoidance and three-putt avoidance. Look for JT and his caddie Bones to work together to create a strategy that has him in contention come Sunday.
Cameron Smith $9,700
This may be the week that Cam Smith breaks through for his first major. He will be faced with firm and fast conditions, with high winds and plenty of short grass and bunkers around the greens. Sounds pretty similar to the courses that Smith grew up on in Australia, right? Smith’s game is built upon top-notch iron play and the ability to make putts by the bunches. He ranks eighth in this field in approach and first in putting. He is also one of only two players to rank in the top 10 in bogey avoidance and three-putt avoidance. Smith’s main weakness is his driver but that can be covered up a bit this week due to the wider fairways and the winds, which will require more feel shots off the tee. Smith is one of the best scramblers in the game and I look for him to build upon the confidence of that 2022 Players Championship victory.
More: An Analytical Look at the Evolution of Cam Smith
Patrick Cantlay $9,100
When we start talking about patience and strategy around a course, Cantlay is one of the first players that comes to mind. He masterfully combines his intellect and the strengths of his game to get himself in contention on tough Tour courses. He plods along and makes minimal mistakes while other players are tossing away shots left and right. Southern Hills is the perfect test of golf for him. He ranks 10th off the tee, ninth around the green, and fifth in putting. His approach play has dipped a little bit in 2022, going from elite to above-average. His approach game of late, however, has seemed to flourish, as he gained 8.7 strokes at the RBC Heritage and was knocking down flagsticks at the Zurich with Xander Schauffele. Let’s see if “Patty Ice” can capture his first major this week.
There’s nothing in pro golf like the excitement of a major week. In the coming days, I will also have a Longshots article and a Best Bets article. Stay tuned!
MORE PGA COVERAGE FROM THE FRIED EGG
- A video with Gil Hanse on what the pros will confront at Southern Hills
- The Restoration: Southern Hills and the future of championship golf
- A PGA Primer on the traits and challenges of Southern Hills
- What to Know About Perry Maxwell: The life, work, and philosophy of the architect behind Southern Hills
- Oklahoma and Maxwell-themed T-shirts for the 2022 PGA