Following a brief stint in China, the PGA Tour will make its only stop in Mexico this week for the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Playa Del Carmen. The event, though part of golf’s still somewhat forgotten Fall Series, will test the focus of a field dominated by young players, some of whom may have a hard time dealing with the distracting views all around El Camaleon. Take young Patrick Rodgers, for example.
Part of Rodgers' captain reads, "Always special to play holes on the water. Tempting to quit and hit the beach!"
But on to what’s important: some predictions. Mayakoba has a history of producing young winners who have excelled in ball-striking statistics on the way to victory. Last year, Harris English finished T10 in GIR percentage on the way to a four-shot win over Brian Stuard and hit at least 13 greens each of the four rounds. In 2012 (the event was not held in 2013), John Huh led the field in GIR percentage and beat Robert Allenby in a playoff. Huh hit 16 greens during the second and fourth rounds.
With ball-striking as our main benchmark this week, here’s a look at a few players who are particularly good on approach shots, and thus are among our picks at El Camaleon. Also included is a look inside their bags.
In four events so far this season, Jason Bohn has two top-20 finishes including a T2 behind Nick Taylor at the Sanderson Farms Championship last week. He’s hitting greens at a 78% clip, better than all but six guys in 2014-15.
While Bohn’s big-picture ball-striking stats in 2013-14 were somewhat mediocre, he finished the season 10th in approach shot proximity from 125-150 yards (20’4”), 6th in approach shot proximity from 200-225 yards (36’3”) and T7 in approach shot proximity from outside 200 yards (45’6”).
This week, Bohn will have a split set of Titleist irons with 714 AP1s in the 4- and 5-iron and 714 AP2s in his 6-9 irons.
Those six guys who have hit greens at a better percentage than Bohn in 2014-15? Justin Hicks is one of them. He’s 6th in GIR percentage and T14th in driving accuracy, often a lucrative combination. Unfortunately for Hicks, lucrative is not a word that could be accurately used to describe his season thus far (three missed cuts in four starts), due mainly to his 191st ranking in strokes gained/putting, one of the PGA Tour’s most telling statistics. But he finished T6 at Mayakoba last year in a performance that included seven birdies in his first 11 holes of the final round. He also led the field in GIR percentage (89%).
If Hicks can make a few putts this week, while continuing to hit greens at his usual clip, he could be looking at his first PGA Tour win come Sunday. He’ll rely on a Titleist 712U 4 iron and Titleist 714 CBs in his 5 iron-PW.
Other than a missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship last week, Hudson Swafford has three top-20s in three starts in 2014-15, including a T8 at the Frys.com Open. But the real reason we like Swafford is he bears a striking resemblance to English. The two Southern gentlemen have been friends since junior golf and are both former Georgia Bulldogs. We think that’s enough to predict a Swafford victory this week. Who says no?
In Swafford’s bag will be the original TaylorMade MB irons, which launched in 2011.
A relative unknown to most golf fans, Tony Finau has quickly made a name for himself with three top-15s in a row to start the season, not to mention his staggering length off the tee. Ranked T6 in driving distance so far this season, Finau is averaging almost 316 yards with his driver. He’s an ordinary T45 in GIR percentage, but is seventh in birdie average (4.93) and 11th in scoring average (69.66). There’s no doubt Finau is a bomber (his average clubhead speed with the driver is 123.85 mph and he owns the second longest drive of the season — a 374-yard blast), but based on his string of consistent finishes, the youngster knows when to scale it back. Also, Finau turns 25 on Friday.
In his bag will be a last year’s Callaway Big Bertha Alpha, Callaway Apex Utilities in the 2 and 3 iron, and Apex MBs in 5-PW.