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Flag Hunting: PGA Betting Picks - 2023 RSM Classic

Eric Cole - PGA DFS lineup picks daily fantasy golf

Although Alex Noren couldn't quite get our 25-1 ticket over the line in Bermuda last week, it's still been a wildly successful Fall Swing here at Flag Hunting. Between our four to six outright selections a week, we've accumulated a recent form sheet that includes three wins, a second, and a fourth in just six events.

The final full-field event of the Swing Season brings even more opportunity, as we were able to cash our biggest single ticket in the history of the program here on St. Simons Island just last year. Adam Svensson's 145-1 win at the 2022 RSM Classic was one of the best days I've had in my time as a golf bettor, and with the way we're seeing the board in 2023, I feel very good about our chances to finish out this PGA season with another win.

Without further ado, let's break down the course, the field, and give you my favorite outright selections from across the betting landscape. Here's everything you need to know about Sea Island Golf Club and the 2023 RSM Classic!

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The Golf Course

Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside Course) - Par 70; 7,005 yards

Past Champions

  • 2022: Adam Svensson (-19)
  • 2021: Talor Gooch (-22)
  • 2020: Robert Sreb (-19)
  • 2019: Tyler Duncan (-19)
  • 2018: Charles Howell III (-19)

Scroll through past RSM leaderboards for any amount of time and you're sure to notice a ton of recurring names popping up on the first page. From Robert Streb, to Kevin Kisner, Mackenzie Hughes, and Chris Kirk, Sea Island has been very kind to those who have previously tasted success on St. Simons - with each of those four champions recording another finish inside the top five here within a few years of lifting the trophy.

Not only has there been a pronounced crossover on recent leaderboards in Sea Island, but the profiles of these repeat offenders carry many throughlines in their own right. Thinking about players like Streb, Kisner, Webb, Hughes, and Harman; although they’re far from the same player in terms of the pinnacles they’ve managed to reach in the game of golf, the methods with which they’ve attained these successes share a lot of common threads. Generally reliable (if unremarkable), drivers of the golf ball, who rely heavily on their approach play and/or short games to contend at the top level.

We’ve also seen plenty of crossover between RSM leaderboards and other short, positional, Bermuda grass courses through the years (Harbour Town, Wai’alae, Mayakoba, Sawgrass, etc), and with the general “short-course, iron and putter-heavy” profile proving very effective historically here on Saint Simons, the handicap isn’t really all that nuanced for me this week in comparison to what I’d be talking about at any of those aforementioned events.

One thing that does make Sea Island distinct from its TOUR relatives is the generosity afforded to players off the tee. On average, the fairways here measure 42.5 yards wide - the fourth widest on the 2024 Tour schedule (just behind El Cardonal, Augusta National, and Kapalua). These forgiving landing areas might explain some of the reason as to why Sea Island has been much friendlier to inaccurate drivers of the ball when compared to the other more positionally-intensive venues it shares characteristics with.

Although the fairways here are more forgiving than most TOUR stops, Sea Island Golf Club does present its fair share of trouble for players who get especially loose off the tee. Since 2015, players have received an average penalty of 0.4 shots for every missed fairway around these links (8th highest on Tour), and its eye-popping 10.4% penalty fraction (the percentage of missed fairways that result in a penalty stroke), is higher than even some of the most water-logged venues on the schedule:

  • TPC Sawgrass: 5.8%
  • TPC Twin Cities: 7.6%
  • PGA National: 4.5%
  • Bay Hill Club & Lodge: 5.7%

In summation, I’d characterize Sea Island as one of the more forgiving overall driving tests we see all year. I don’t believe you need to be a particularly prolific driver of the ball to find success here, however, players who have proven to be exceedingly inaccurate off the tee on a consistent basis should be flagged as possible stay-aways. Looking back through past leaderboards, driving distance has proven to be as much of a non-factor as you’ll ever see on Tour. I’ll be leaning moderately on stats like Fairway %, Good Drive %, and SG: OTT, but I don’t believe elite driving will provide nearly the same sort of separator we’ll be seeing at some of the venues coming up to start the 2024 campaign.

In addition to its wide fairways, Sea Island has also boasted some of the highest green in regulation rates on the PGA Tour through the years. Players have hit nearly 75% of their GIRs here since 2015, and unless coastal winds kick up to 20-25+ mph, I wouldn't anticipate these players having much trouble finding the mark on 7,200 sq. feet greens with wedges and short irons in their hands. For this reason, short-game stats will be greatly emphasized, and much more emphasis will be placed on approach play and putting.

Iron play here at Sea Island has accounted for over 33% of strokes gained by Top 10 finishers, and one of the many common threads you'll find between past champions is extreme acumen with a wedge in their hand. On the Seaside course, nine of the 12 par fours measure under 430 yards. Meaning even if players do decide to lay back for position off the tee, it's unlikely they'll have more than an 8 or 9-iron into these greens.

As such, I'll be placing a particularly heavy emphasis on Proximity stats from 125-175 yards (from which 44% of historical approaches have come), in addition to my general iron stats like SG: APP and Birdie Chances Created.

And finally, like most Swing Season birdie parties, Putting is the only other metric that has surpassed iron play when it comes to projecting Top 5/10/20 finishers. Historically, Putting has accounted for ~39% of a Top 10 golfer's strokes gained for the week, and given the lack of true impediments in play for these players from tee to green, Sea Island certainly fits the bill as a putting contest. I’ll be weighing both a player’s long-term history on Bermuda surfaces, as well as the recent momentum they come in with on the greens (specifically, SG: Putting over your last 36 rounds).

 

Key Stats Roundup: 

  • SG: APP
  • Birdie Chances Created
  • Proximity 125-175
  • Long-term Bermuda grass putting splits
  • Recent putting momentum (SG: Putting L36 rounds)
  • Fairway/Good Drive %
  • Comp. course history (Harbour Town, Wai'alae, El Cameleon, TPC Sawgrass, TPC River Highlands, etc.)

 

Scouting the Routing

For those looking to dabble in the live market, it will be imperative to contextualize a player's position on the leaderboard alongside where he is on the golf course and which holes he still has left to play. The final unique property of this event is the fact that two courses will be in play this week. Over the first two rounds, players will be split onto Sea Island's Seaside and Plantation courses, and those lucky enough to make the weekend will play the Seaside on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Seaside course is the only one of the two with shot link compatibility (and thus the only one with up-to-date Strokes Gained data), so any and all Strokes Gained stats I mentioned in the course breakdown was in reference to that course. Additionally, the Seaside course is much more susceptible to inclement weather and wind, so if you do see a front pop up over the course of the week, players on the inland Plantation course stand a much better chance of dodging the brunt of the forecast.

Playing as a Par 72 (and just 50 yards longer on the scorecard), the Plantation course has played as the easier of the two venues in five of the last six RSM iterations. Each of the four Par 5's on the Plantation carry birdie or better rates over 30%, with the easiest of the lot coming at the 529-yard 8th and the 560-yard 18th (playing to a 4.58 and 4.6 stroke average respectively). Outside of the par fives, Sea Island's Plantation course also features three Par 4's that carry birdie rates >30% (10th, 15th, and the 17th), and only four holes on property have historically played over 1/10th of a shot over par (3, 5, 6, 11).

I believe there is a potential buying opportunity available to those tracking live scores on the Plantation (despite the lack of live strokes gained data), as four of the six easiest holes on the golf course come in a five-hole stretch to end the back-nine. As a group, holes 14-18 play to a cumulative scoring average of -1.08, so any player with that stretch left to play has a very good chance of picking up a few positions on the leaderboard before his day is done.

In terms of fulfilling outright win equity, however, players will have to make most of their hay over their three days on the Seaside course. This Par 70 features just two Par 5's, meaning players will have to rely much more on their acumen from <150 yards to find consistent success. The 3:1 ratio of rounds played at the Seaside course compared to the Plantation is a lot of the reason why we've consistently seen the types of players we have on the past champions list at Sea Island. Par 4 scoring becomes much more paramount with 12 such holes on the routing.

In terms of specific holes or stretches to be weary of, the Seaside course has a similarly easy stretch from its 5th to 8th holes. This four-hole range has played to a historic scoring average of -0.59 and features four of the five easiest holes on the property. The easiest hole on the Seaside course lies at the 15th, a 565-yard Par 5 that plays to a 4.42 scoring average and concedes a score of four or better at a 56% clip.

I'd say the clearest buy window on the Seaside course comes after a player finishes the fourth hole (whether he started on the front or backside). Holes 1-4 all rank inside the top eight in terms of difficulty, and the third and fourth rank as the 3rd and 2nd most difficult respectively. For players starting on the front-nine, getting through this stretch at even par will gain you nearly a quarter-stroke on the field with the easiest stretch on the course directly ahead, and for players starting on the inward half, the 4th hole on the Seaside course will mark the last true bogey proposition of your day.

Considering the likelihood that someone on the Plantation course flies out of the starting blocks (20 rounds of 64 or better since 2018), the best course of action Thursday morning could be to monitor slow starters on the more difficult of the two routings. If you can catch value on a brand-name player slogging his way through some of the Seaside's more difficult stretches, his number will quickly normalize once books adjust his projections playing at Plantation on Friday.

 

 

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RSM Classic Betting Card

Brian Harman (22-1)

After opening as the second favorite pretty unanimously on Monday morning, it’s been quite a shock to see the reigning Open Champion and No. 9 player on the planet drift all the way back into the second tier on the odds board. I’m more than happy to take the drift as Harman returns to his home state and one of his happiest historic hunting grounds. He’s recorded finishes of 2nd and 4th over his last six appearances at Sea Island and has gained strokes putting and driving in all but one of those six starts.

Harman’s precision off the tee and incredible track record on Bermuda grass has led him to be one of the preeminent course horses around Sea Island and its aforementioned corollary tracks. Since he came on Tour in 2012, the UGA alum has registered an eye-popping 18 Top 10 finishes at Sea Island, Harbour Town, TPC River Highlands, TPC Sawgrass, Sedgefield, and Wai’alae. That kind of track record is nearly impossible to find at the top of this odds board, particularly out of a player riding some of the best form he’s ever had in his professional career. It’s been nearly five months since Brian Harman finished outside of the top 31 on the PGA Tour; I don’t expect that streak to end in his backyard this week.

 

Corey Conners (28-1)

We haven’t seen him since the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but if we zoom out to encompass the 2023 campaign as a whole, nobody in this field is in the same league as Corey Conners from a ball-striking perspective. Over a 72-round sample since the start of January, Conners has gained a total of 70.8 shots between his driving and iron play - this mark leads the second-best player in the field Stephan Jaeger by 4.5 shots. A pretty insignificant difference on the surface until you realize that Jaeger played TWENTY more rounds than Conners did in that time frame.

His precision-based approach off the tee lends itself perfectly to a course like Sea Island, where avoiding peril is the one and only goal, and since 2017, no golfer in this field has gained more strokes with their second shot around Sea Island (+15.0 SG: APP in 12 recorded rounds).

Obviously, the pitfall of backing Corey Conners is the deficiencies he carries on the greens, but notably, Conners has been a field-average putter at this tournament over his last three starts at the RSM. For a player who was able to win in San Antonio earlier this year whilst gaining just 0.4 strokes with the putter for the week, any sort of established baseline makes him a dangerous proposition around a golf course he should have no trouble dissecting from tee to green.

 

J.T. Poston (33-1)

With 45-yard wide fairways and a past Champions list that isn’t exactly littered with the most prodigious drivers the PGA Tour has ever seen, Sea Island seems to be the perfect fit for J.T. Poston’s inevitable breakthrough. When isolating purely for iron play and putting, the Hickory, NC native has been in a class of his own in this field over the last few months: ranking 1st in Birdie Chances Created, 1st in SG: Putting, 2nd in Birdie or Better %, 5th in SG: Approach, and 4th in my weighted proximity model.

J.T. has also recorded some of the best results of his career around shorter, positional tracks like he’ll face this week, including wins at both Sedgefield and TPC Deer Run, as well as nine cumulative Top 10’s around Harbour Town, PGA West, TPC Summerlin, and TPC River Highlands.

The main thing keeping Poston out of the winner’s circle during this recent hot stretch has been the driver, as he’s lost a stroke and a half on average to the field over his last five starts. The good news is, that not only has the RSM propped up some sub-standard drivers in its history (Streb, Gooch, Hughes, etc.), but J.T. has proven he can consistently raise his baseline in more positional driving tests. He’s never lost strokes off the tee in five starts at Harbour Town, he’s been a well above-average driver of the ball at venues like PGA National, Sedgefield, and Wai’alae, and over his last four starts here in Sea Island, Poston has gained a cumulative total of 3.2 shots off the tee.

Time will tell if J.T. can continue to put up iron splits that rival some of the best ball-strikers in the game, but it’s been a long time since we’ve arrived at a venue that did as good a job of mitigating his main deficiency. 33-1 is an extremely compelling price to ride the wave of a guy with five top-seven finishes in his last eight starts.

 

Eric Cole (33-1)

In a very similar vein as Poston, Eric Cole arrives at Sea Island this week as one of the premier breakthrough candidates on the PGA Tour. The 2023 Rookie of the Year frontrunner has recorded six finishes of sixth or better in his debut season - including a runner-up finish in his last start at the ZOZO, a playoff loss last Spring at the Honda Classic, and two additional finishes of 3rd and 4th in the last two months alone.

Cole has accrued these results and a top 50 spot in the FedEx Cup standings despite finishing the year in the bottom 10 on the PGA Tour in Total Driving. I’m not here to say the stats are lying, but Cole has notably found most of his troubles on courses that feature narrow fairways and/or a heavy penalty for playing out of the rough (LACC, Sedgefield, Bay Hill, etc). The links at Sea Island this week should be among the most forgiving he’ll have seen all season in terms of fairway width and rough penalty. If Cole can find his bearings off the tee, I have no doubt the rest of his game is good enough to contend at a venue like this.

The Delray Beach native has made a living in 2023 on the back of his iron play and putter. In fact, over the course of the entire 2023 season, Cole leads this field in SG: APP, he ranks 7th in SG: Putting, 3rd in Weighed Proximity, 2nd in Birdie Chances Created, and 1st in Birdie or Better Percentage. His game should be tailor-made for a test like Sea Island, and a win here would make a fitting end to what has already been a stellar 2023 campaign.

Ben Griffin (80-1)

Although golf bettors will not hold the highest opinion on Griffin's aptitude in crunch time on Sunday afternoon, it is important to put into context why Griffin has repeatedly failed to seal the deal from winning positions. Earlier this fall at the Sanderson Farms, Griffin carried a three-shot lead into the final round (four up on eventual champion Luke List), before a Sunday 74 pushed him back into a six-man playoff and a runner-up finish.

Dig deeper into the stats from that horrid round, however, and you'll see that he actually played quite well in a couple of key areas. Despite shooting a score over 3.5 shots above field average, Griffin gained over 1.5 shots for the day on approach and 0.6 shots on the greens. How did he manage to turn a positive day like this into a 74 you may ask? Well, Ben somehow also managed to lose a whopping 3.1 shots to the field off the tee - hitting just 3/14 fairways on the day.

Obviously, he'll have to sort out his driving issues if he wants to elevate his status on Tour over the long term, but here at Sea Island, Ben Griffin will be afforded every opportunity to play around his biggest deficiency. Sea Island's fairways measure over 50% wider on average when compared to the Country Club of Jackson, and the paltry rough penalty of just 0.14 strokes seen here last year further emphasizes the forgiveness he'll be afforded off the tee.

If Griffin can utilize these wide confines to make himself a field-average driver of the ball, the rest of his game is well suited for a venue like Sea Island. Over his last 36 rounds, Griffin is a top 30 iron player in this field, he's been a Top 10 Bermuda grass putter since he's come on Tour, and his short game is more than good enough to guide him through a tough stretch of weather (1.1 SG/Tournament over his last 20 events).

I understand the "choker" narratives will be there until Griffin finally closes the deal on the PGA Tour, but at 80-1, he's shown me far too much upside on these sorts of courses to pass on.

 

Chesson Hadley (90-1)

We round the betting card off with our third North Carolina native (honest mistake I promise), and a player that was slated to be amongst the more popular picks in the industry before we withdrew from the Bermuda Championship early last week.

Chesson Hadley has been on quite the ball-striking run over the last few months, and in his last two starts, the rest of his game has finally come together enough to deliver results worthy of the recent form. Hadley comes into this week off of back-to-back 7th-place finishes in Vegas and Cabos, and ranks 2nd in this field in SG: APP over the last three months. I think a return to a similarly wedge-intensive course like Sea Island will make it easy for him to carry on his momentum, and Hadley has long been considered one of the premier putters on the PGA Tour (specifically on this grass type): 3rd in SG: Putting since 2021 on Bermuda; 7th on Tour over his last 36 rounds.

Similarly to the previous four names I've brought up on the betting card, Hadley should benefit immensely from the room afforded to you off the tee at Sea Island. He's recorded previous top 10s at many of my aforementioned corollary courses (Harbour Town, Sedgefield, TPC River Highlands, TPC Summerlin, Pebble Beach), plus an 11th-place finish at TPC Sawgrass. If the recent ball-striking form can follow him to St. Simons, I don't see any reason why he can't threaten another leaderboard in short order.

 

Best of luck guys, and Happy Hunting!

 

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