The Sanderson Farms Championship
It was a low key start to the 2022/23 PGA Tour campaign for us as none of our picks at the Fortinet Championship were able to get seriously in the hunt.
The tournament itself was won my Max Homa who defended the title he won last year. This simple sentence though doesn’t do the story of the outcome justice as those who watched the last hole witnessed one of the most incredible final two minutes or so we have seen at a PGA Tour event over recent years.
To sum up for those who missed Danny Willett, who had played superbly all day in difficult wet conditions, to all intensive purposes looked like he would have two putts to win from three feet. Moments later though after Homa chipped in from off the green and the Englishman charged the three footer through the break and four foot by Willet pulled the return putt and the trophy was Homa’s. Incredible stuff!
So onwards we go to the second event of the 22/23 season, the Sanderson Farms Championship.
The event has been a part of the tours schedule since 1968 and during this time it has had many different title sponsors including the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, The Viking Classic and the True South Classic, before Sanderson Farms took over duties in 2013.
The tournament has always been played in Mississippi.
From inception up to 1994 it was played in Hattiesburg before then moving to Annandale Golf Club, which hosted the event up to 2013, before the Country Club of Jackson took over from the 14/15 season.
Up until 2019 the event had been an opposite field event running alongside the WGC HSBC Champions in China, however 2019 saw the tournament move forward to September as the second event of the new PGA Tour season in its own right with full Fedex Cup points being allocated.
With the event following straight on from the Presidents Cup only a couple of the 24 players who were in action at Quail Hollow tee it up with the notable one being Sam Burns who will look to defend the trophy he won last year.
Burns not surprisingly is a warm order at the top of the market and he is then followed by Sahith Theegala.
The Country Club of Jackson Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7400yds.
The greens are Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, comparable to that which are found at TPC Southwind, Sedgefield CC, Quail Hollow since 2017 and the Robert Trent Jones Trail host of the Barbasol from 2015-17.
The course was originally opened in 1962 before undergoing a redesign in 2008 under the guidance of John Fought.
With reasonably wide fairways The Country Club of Jackson can’t be seen as a tough test however the main problems can be found on and around the greens with raised surfaces and run of areas proving to be challenging over the years.
As well as strong putting GIR can therefore be seen as significant as it is important to try and find the right spots on greens.
So lets take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to its current home in 2014, The Country Club of Jackson.
2021 - S Burns
2020 – S Garcia
2019 – S Munoz
2018 – C Champ
2017 – R Armour
2016 – C Gribble
2015 – P Malnati
2014 – N Taylor
Until Garcia’s triumph in 2020 the most striking thing about the previous six winners is that their win here was the maiden tour win for each of them.
Looking at the overall profile of the eight champions here and six of them can be seen as neat and tidy, ‘all rounders’, rather than aggressive bombers, however 2018 winner Cameron Champ literally bombed that theory out of the water as he made mincemeat of the par fives on his way to victory.
Of the six maiden winners Champ, Taylor & Gribble were rookies in their 20s, while Malnati, also in his 20s at the time of winning, was returning to the tour for a second stint after a disappointing first go in 2014. 2019 winner Munoz, who was also in his twenties, meanwhile was in his third full season on tour.
Armour however was [and still arguably is] a journeyman of the tour in the truest sense of the word when clinching his maiden tour win here at the age of 41, after years of bouncing back and forth between the big league and the lower levels.
If we then look at the form coming in to the event of these winners Armour, Gribble and Munoz, had been in good form coming in to the event.
Armour had posted three solid finishes in the Web.com finals events including a top 5 in the first one, The Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. In addition he had finished 4th in his final start of the previous season on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham.
Gribble had finished 5th in his final start of the year on the Korn Ferry again at the Nationwide event, before finishing 8th in his first start on the PGA Tour at the Safeway while Munoz had finished seventh at the Greenbrier the week before triumphing here.
On the flip side to this though the previous two winners Malnati and Taylor had been struggling for form coming in with nothing better than a 56th place between them in their previous three starts.
Cameron Champ had warmed up nicely with a 25th place at the Safeway the week before however his form prior to that on the Korn Ferry Tour had been fairly uninspiring as he had managed nothing better than 16th in his last six starts of the 2018 season.
2020 champion Garcia had missed his two previous cuts to start the new PGA Tour season including shooting 81 in his previous round at the US Open. Obviously though he is a class act and in this level of event he showed that cream often rises to the top. Finally last years champion Burns was making his first start of the new campaign however he had finished off 20/21 really strongly posting nothing worse than 21st in his final four starts, a run, which included four top tens.
If we then look at previous course form this does not give us too much to go on either I’m afraid. Taylor naturally was making his course debut here when winning the first outing at Jackson CC and this was also the case for the 2015, 16 & 18 winners Malnati, Gribble & Champ and 2020 winner Garcia.
2017 victor Ryan Armour meanwhile had played here on two previous occasions and had missed the cut on both while Munoz had played here twice before finishing 50th and 30th.
Burns though was playing at The CC of Jackson for the fifth time last year when winning here and having finished third here in 2018 he had clearly shown he was comfortable on the course.
From a correlating course point of view the last two champions here Burns and Garcia are both winners at Colonial over the years while another former champ here Munoz has finished third at Colonial as well so this is certainly worth noting, however in addition for whatever reason there is a link, between some of the past winners/strong performers who have also played well in the United Leasing event on the Korn Ferry Tour [now the Korn Ferry Tour Championship], which is held at Victoria National in Indiana. Armour, Gribble, Power and Randolph have all performed well in both events while last year we latched on to Hayden Buckley here partly due to his strong performance in that event and he duly rewarded us with a full place at big odds.
in search of further clues I then took a look at where the recent winners hail from.
As the event has been held in Mississippi for many years prior to moving to its current home I stretched this back a bit further going back to 2010.
This showed that in that time we have had three winners who either hail from or are now based in Tennessee, Malnati, Stallings and Kirk, one Texan winner, Gribble and a Texas based Spaniard in Garcia, a Louisiana native in Burns, a Floridian, Woody Austin, A Canadian, Nick Taylor and a North Carolinian, Bill Haas.
Basically until Champ’s victory in 2018 who comes originally comes from Sacramento, no winner of this event had hailed from West Coast areas such as California, Nevada or Arizona. It should be noted though Champ did attend college in Texas so this connection to Southern states was not completely lost.
In addition 2019 winner Munoz, while hailing from Colombia, also attended college in Texas so this again gives us that link. In fact the 2019 final leaderboard saw four players with Texas connections, Munoz, Ortiz, Burgoon & Frittelli finish in the top six and ties. Furthermore that gives us four winners out of the last six with clear Texas connections.
This is not hugely surprising bearing in mind the event is held on Bermuda greens and this is certainly an important factor to consider.
So there we have it then. In all likelihood we are looking for a maiden winner, quite possibly in their 20s, who hails from or has a connection to southern/eastern states!
We look set for a warm dry week with temperatures in the high 80s throughout. Wind does look like it could be an issue for the first two days though with 20mph+ gusts forecast. Come the weekend though things look set to be a lot calmer wind wise so scoring should be low for the final 36 holes at least
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
WILL GORDON – 100/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 30th
First up this week in what is an admittedly fairly speculative team I will give a chance to Will Gordon.
Gordon played his way on to the PGA Tour through 2019/20 courtesy of some superb performances on limited starts with the highlight coming at TPC River Highlands in the Travelers where he finished third. Roll on to the 20/21 season though and Will was unable to live up to expectations and he found himself heading back to the Korn Ferry Tour after a hugely disappointing campaign.
2022 saw Will produce some strong efforts on the Korn Ferry Tour including five top tens in the regular season however this wasn’t quite enough to secure him a return to the big league. In the first play off event though everything clicked for Gordon as he posted a superb victory at the Albertsons Boise event to regain his full PGA Tour card.
Bag in the big time then and over on the West Coast where you wouldn’t expect Gordon to be at his most comfortable he produced a solid season opening performance to finish 36th.
Looking more closely at that performance and what really impressed me was that Will ranked fifth in Driving Accuracy for the week, not normally his strong point bearing in mind his length, while he also ranked eighth off the tee.
On to this week then and while the 26yr old he hasn’t set the world alight on his two previous visits here, missing the cut and finishing 53rd, there are several reasons why I believe this track should suit him.
Firstly we have seen with Cameron Young, Trey Mullinax, Kris Ventura, Seth Reeves and of course Cameron Champ that a simple ‘grip it and rip it’ approach can reap dividends here and if Gordon can harness his undoubted length advantage off the tee to the accuracy he produced at Silverado the course could really play in to his hands.
Secondly if we look at Will’s efforts on the PGA Tour to date it is noticeable that his best performance of a disappointing 2021 came at Congaree, where you will find the specific correlating UltraDwarf Championship Bermuda greens to that, which we have this week, greens, which are also found at Sedgefield CC, another venue Will has performed strongly on.
Furthermore as I mentioned earlier there have been three winners over the last ten years or so of this event in Mississippi who hail from/have strong ties with neighbouring Tennessee and with Gordon having spent his college days at Vanderbilt we have a nice connection there.
Gordon clearly has the game to make a splash second time around on the PGA Tour and with confidence surely still high from his recent win and on the back of a solid start at the Fortinet I am happy to start things off with him this week.
HAYDEN BUCKLEY – 125/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 19th
Next cab off the rank this week is a player who did us proud in this event last year Hayden Buckley.
Buckley who hails from Tennessee thus giving us that Tennessee link showed last season on his debut PGA campaign that he is a player who can perform well when solid ball striking is required and this was never more on show than when he posted a seasons best effort here of fourth place to reward us with a full place return at juicy odds.
Roll on twelve months and while Hayden didn’t quite reach those heights again from June onwards Buckley made every cut for the remainder of the season catching the eye at the US Open and finishing 10th in the Fedex standings. A look at his season ending rankings then showed us that he was 13th off the tee, 15th in Driving Accuracy and 15th in good old fashioned GIP with the putter being the club to let him down.
Buckley got his PGA Tour campaign underway by teeing it up at the Fortinet Championship and the end result was a missed cut following rounds of 70 and 75, not too dissimilar to last years MC with rounds of 71 and 73. Looking at his stats for the two days in California though and just as was the case at Silverado last year it was his putter that really let him down as he ranked 117th on the greens over the first two days. Off the tee though his performance was eye catching as he ranked sixth in this department.
I noted last year how Buckley had finished his Korn Ferry campaign with a flourish with a fourth place at the United Leasing Championship, which we know ties in really well here and with his odds holding up nicely at three figures there is a lot to like about his chances of going well here again this year.
SEONG-HYEON KIM – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
Next up this week I am going to side with the latest in the line of ‘Korean Kim’s’ that could potentially take the PGA Tour by storm, Seong-Hyeon Kim or S.H Kim as he is more often known.
Last week we were treated to a sensational performance from Tom Kim at Quail Hollow and with the 20yr old already having posted a win on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship it is clear the sky is the limit for him. While S.H Kim might not have quite as high a ceiling as his fellow countryman long term though it is clear he has the game to make some serious noise on the PGA Tour.
Aged 24 S.H arrived in the USA to try his luck on the Korn Ferry Tour with three international wins to his name already including the 2021 Japanese PGA and nine months later, and despite a month off in June to head home, he had earned himself a PGA Tour card at the first time of asking.
Looking at Kim’s performance through the 2022 Korn Ferry campaign and although he did not post a win he had a really consistent season notching five top six finishes missing only four cuts along the way.
S.H’s closest brush with victory came in the Lake Charles Championship in neighbouring Louisiana to Mississippi, this weeks host state, where he lost out in a play off, while his other runner up finish also came on Bermuda greens in Florida at the Lecom Classic. It would seem then that the 24yr old is most at home in the Southern/Eastern states and on the type of putting surfaces we will encounter this week. Furthermore like many of the Korean contingent S.H bases himself in Dallas, Texas in the US thus giving us the Texas connection that many past winners have had here.
Looking at Kim’s stats on the Korn Ferry Tour last season and while he was not the strongest from tee to green where he does excel is on and around the greens, something shown by his season end ranking of first in scrambling, 18th in putting average and fourth in putts per round. Clearly then the short game is his strength and this sits nicely with the likes of Gribble and Malnati who have triumphed here in years gone by.
Further encouragement can then be found by the fact that before he withdrew prior to the final round S.H was sat in sixth place at the season ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship at the correlating Victoria National.
Kim started his life on the PGA Tour over on the West Coast at the Fortinet Championship and while he didn’t pull up any trees a 36th place on debut was more than acceptable. It was also nice to see that although he struggled with his irons he was solid off the tee ranking 15th for the week, while his trademark putter performed really well as he ranked third on the dance floor. Back in more comfortable surroundings in the South this week I expect him to push on.
Finally of course S.H cannot fail to have been inspired by the antics of his fellow countrymen at the Presidents Cup last weekend and I am happy to risk him here to pick up the baton from them and produce a great week here.
VINCENT NORRMAN – 175/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up it is another Korn Ferry graduate for me Vincent Norrman.
As noted earlier two types of player appear to excel at the Country Club of Jackson, the short game specialist like past winners Malnati and Gribble or players who thrive from tee to green like Burns, Garcia or even Ryan Armour and while our previous pick S.H Kim falls in to the first category there is no doubt the Swede Norrman falls in to the latter.
Norrman played his college golf at Georgia and Florida so it was clear that the Swede who now resides in Florida would be looking to make his way on to the PGA Tour at the earliest possible opportunity.
After a strong summer in 2021 on the DP World Tour, which included a couple of top ten finishes Vincent started life slowly on the Korn Ferry Tour however he sprung to life with a third place finish at the Simmons bank Open in May in Tennessee posting a third place finish and after adding a runner up spot at the Rex Hospital Open a few weeks later in North Carolina he was able to produce enough solid stuff for the rest of the season to finish 23rd on the regular season rankings to earn his card at the first time of asking.
On to this season then and Vincent started life solidly in the big league with a 36th place finish in the Fortinet, however what really caught my eye was that although, not unsurprisingly for a Florida based player, his putting stats were poor for the week ranking 58th, his long game, clearly his strength was solid as he ranked fourth off the tee for the week and 15th from tee to green. Similarly to S.H Kim then I expect the 24yr old to push on in more comfortable Southern surroundings on Bermuda greens.
Expanding further on Norrman’s strengths and a look at his stats on the Korn Ferry Tour last season tells us all we need to know, second in GIR, second in Total Driving and fourth in ball striking, meanwhile he ranked 130th in the putting averages.
In addition to wins for Burns and Garcia we have seen over the recent years unheralded strong tee to green proponents like Hayden Buckley, Dominik Bozzelli and Anders Albertson pinch a place at big odds while another strong ball striker, Norrman’s fellow Swede, Henrik Norlander has a great record here over the past couple of years posting back to back top five finishes and I am happy to chance the talented Norrman to follow in their footsteps.
AUSTIN ECKROAT – 150/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 54th
Next up I am going to side with another talented rookie Austin Eckroat.
Eckroat attended Oklahoma state excelling in a team which included Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff so his pedigree as an amateur certainly was of the highest level.
Moving on to this year Austin started 2022 with conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour however some solid performances so him gain status in the reshuffle and then a season ending flurry saw him do enough to make his way on to the Korn Ferry finals. The rest as they say is then history as a superb runner up finish at the correlating Korn Ferry Tour Championship saw him gain his PGA Tour card. From conditional status then to a full PGA Tour card on his debut full season on the Korn Ferry, a superb effort and it should be said a very similar journey to that of last years surprise package here Sahith Theegala.
We’ve established that that Eckroat has the pedigree, surely the incoming confidence and the correlating form at the United Leasing event but what of his strengths and how they should fit here?
Well a look at his season long stats for the Korn Ferry campaign show us that he was sixth in ball striking and seventh in GIR. Furthermore while he finished down the pack at the Fortinet after a disappointing closing 77 his numbers were eye catching off the tee, ranking 12th for the week while he was 21st in accuracy.
Hailing from Oklahoma and playing his college golf there I would expect Eckroat to be comfortable in the wind, which could be a factor over the opening two days, another plus then and he looks the kind of improving player worth risking at big odds.
MAX McGREEVEY – 500/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I am going to make a speculative play at huge odds on a player who’s name kept cropping up at the different links I was looking at when researching the event. The man in question is Max McGreevey.
Let’s have a brief run through the various threads then that caught my eye. Firstly then a look at Max’s debut PGA campaign shows a best effort of a runner up finish in Puerto Rico and then significantly his next two strongest weeks came when fifth on the comparable UltraDwarf Bermuda surfaces at the Wyndham, an effort which it should be noted secured his card for this season, and then perhaps even more significantly a 13th place at the Barbasol.
The reason I see this result as even more significant is that not only does the host course for this event feature the same UltraDwarf Bermuda greens but a look at recent leaderboards there shows a lot of the same names popping up as have done here. Notably Mullinax who triumphed at the Barbasol was top five here last year while Armour another former winner here, Norlander and Bozzelli have featured at both venues.
Moving on and a look at Max’s 2021 Korn Ferry season, where it should be noted he showed he knows how to win, saw him post an eighth place at the correlating season closing Tour Championship.
A native of Oklahoma we know Max will be comfortable in the wind, something he showed at Puerto Rico while the fact that he now bases himself in the Dallas area gives us that nice Texas link.
While there is nothing hugely in Max’s stats last season or indeed his performance here where he missed the cut with two top five finishes to his name we know he can pop up in the places at big odds and with a lot of strands pointing me in his direction I am happy to round off our week with a roll of the dice on him at huge odds.