Legendary golf course designer Pete Dye passed away last week but his legacy will live on as generations of golfers and PGA Tour players will compete on his courses. Indeed, the newly titled American Express visits a Dye design this week. The Stadium Course at PGA West is just one of three courses used for this pro-am along with the Tournament Course (also at PGA West) and La Quinta Country Club.
All three courses ranked inside the 10 easiest used on the PGA Tour last season. With calm, pleasant conditions forecasted for the Coachella Valley we should see plenty of birdies this week. Few players in the field are as good at fashioning birdies as Sung-jae Im who could be set for his maiden PGA Tour win at odds of 18/1 with Ladbrokes.
Each of the three courses used by the American Express plays to a par of 72. Just don’t expect too many players to shoot around that number this week. It took a score of -9 just to make the 54 hole cut last year and scoring is expected to be just as strong on these relatively short courses.
The 156 golfers competing this week will play a round each at the Stadium Course (7,113 yards), the Tournament Course (7,159 yards) and La Quinta (7,060 yards) before those who make the cut face off one more time at the Stadium Course.
Each course has provides its own challenges and demands a slightly different style of golf but there are parallels across the trio. Players who don’t hit a high proportion of greens in regulation will really struggle to hack the required scoring pace. It’s once players are safely aboard the greens that things really become important though. Only those who have their best stuff with the putter will be able to navigate their way towards the top of the leaderboard,
|Stadium Course at PGA West||Coachella Valley,
|Tournament Course at PGA West||7,159 Yards|
|La Quinta Country Club||7,060 Yards|
The large number of scoring opportunities presented by the host courses for this tournament have resulted in plenty of close finishes over the years. Indeed, none of the last five winners managed a winning margin greater than one shot. In the case of the three most recent winners, the closeness of the tournament makes their victories all the more impressive. Adam Long and Hudson Swafford were winning their maiden PGA Tour titles whilst Jon Rahm had just one win in America under his belt when he came through a playoff 12 months ago.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Adam Long||-26||1 Stroke|
|2017||Hudson Swafford||-20||1 Stroke|
|2015||Bill Haas||-22||1 Stroke|
Analysis: Another First Time Winner?
Phil Mickelson is hosting The American Express for the first time this week. The two-time tournament winner was already an ambassador for the event so his step up to host feels natural. Mickelson has bags of experience which he will hope to fully utilise this week. However, recent renewals have shown that this is a tournament at which younger, much less heralded golfers can thrive.
There is something about the aggression required to maintain the pace at the three easy host venues that seems to lends itself to younger golfers. Clearly there are several veterans in the field who have the required qualities to get the job done but it would be no surprise to see a couple of the younger, hungry golfers put on a stripe show and make a real push for the title.
Is This Sung-jae’s Time?
Sung-jae Im could well be the latest player to break their duck on the PGA Tour at The American Express. The 21-year-old Korean has already made a major impact in America having been named the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year last season and he was the only of the 23 rookies to make it to the Tour Championship. Im’s incredible year continued when he competed in the Presidents Cup, something only three players younger than 22 had done before.
The one thing missing from Im’s 2019 was a PGA Tour win. He isn’t shy of winning though as he proved when getting over the line twice during his short spell on the Web.com Tour. Perhaps the one thing that has let Im down at the top level is his tendency to be overly aggressive. He did lead the way on the PGA Tour last season for total birdies and eagles but was unable to turn that power scoring into wins due to the odd mistake here and there.
Im is still a very young, relatively inexperienced golfer. His qualities are incredibly impressive for a player still learning the ropes in the big leagues and that first PGA Tour win cannot be too far away. In fact, he has every chance of getting the job done this week at three golf courses which reward aggression and where birdies and eagles must be found regularly.
An Also Worth Backing to Contend
The history of The American Express dates back to 1960 when it was known as the Palm Springs Golf Classic. Since then, only five non-American players have won the title. That is a trend that should change in the coming years. The number of high class international players on the PGA Tour is only increasing. Jon Rahm and Jhonattan Vegas have both won this event in the last 10 years with many more international players missing out only narrowly.
There is a particularly strong South Korean contingent on the PGA Tour which includes Byeong-Hun An. The 28-year-old is still better known by European golf fans than those in America but he moved to the USA when he was a teenager and became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2009.
An won one of the biggest tournaments on the European Tour at the BMW PGA Championship so clearly has the nerve to win at the top level. He is also a top class ball striker who should set up plenty of birdie chances. Take enough of them and he can claim his first PGA Tour win at 28/1 with Coral.
Final Verdict: Sung-jae Im to Win
Sung-jae Im and Byeong-Hun An are two of a number of top class Korean golfers looking to make a real name for themselves on the PGA Tour. They’ve each shown the class required to win a tournament of this size but it’s Im’s ability to rack up the birdies and eagles which sets him apart at odds of 18/1 with Ladbrokes.
About the American Express
The PGA Tour was inaugurated way back in 1929. That is a long time for things to change considerably with both the tour and golf itself. There are a number of ways to chart the changes of the PGA Tour over time. One of them is with the sponsors who have got involved over the years.
The naming rights for a PGA Tour event are expensive and sponsors change regularly, in some cases each year. Therefore, so do the names of the tournaments. The American Express is just the latest name for a tournament that has, in recent years gone by the Desert Classic presented by Workday, the CareerBuilder Challenge and the Humana Challenge.
It’s rare to have a tournament with a name that doesn’t have any nod to it actually being a golf tournament. There’s no championship, open or even pro-am at the end of the name of this one, it’s simply called The American Express. Strange as that may be, the new nomenclature reflects a tournament that is shedding some of its past image and trying to establish itself as a serious event that attracts the biggest names in golf rather than the biggest names in show business.
No More Glitz or Glamour
Golf has always had well-worn links with the worlds of business, entertainment and politics. A number of professional tournaments have made the most of those links by bringing in famous faces to promote and, in the case of the American Express, participate in their tournaments.
For 20 years, the event was known as the Bob Hope Classic. Hope was the most successful and most famous comedian in the world for a large part of his career and he delighted in utilising his fame and pulling power to attract the likes of Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood and Bing Crosby. Then there were the politicians with some of the most recognisable faces in Washington taking part including former presidents.
Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to compete in the first day of the 1995 tournament. His association with the event continued in 2012 when the Bob Hope Classic became the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton regularly attended to boost the charitable donations to their foundation.
At that stage, the tournament shifted from being a five day event into a four day event, held over three courses. Whilst it remains a pro-am, the American Express no longer has the same star quality as celebrities have gradually been phased out from competing.
A Tournament for Long Shots
Despite the Bob Hope Classic being one of the most popular tournaments in golf, Tiger Woods routinely gave it a swerve. He wasn’t golf’s only star who felt that five days of painfully slow pro-am golf was not worth the hassle. That has changed a little with the reversion to a four day tournament in 2012 but pro-ams take significantly longer than your run of the mill event and leave the professionals with responsibilities that they usually only have to deal with in the Wednesday warm up.
Add three host courses into the mix and it is little surprise that more recent editions of the American Express have seen so many long shots win the title. 2020 winner, Andrew Landry, may have fit the bill nicely in terms of the style of golf needed to win around La Quinta Country Club and the Stadium and Tournament Courses at PGA West but he was available at a general price of 200/1 before his win.
One year before Landry’s win and Adam Long won at a monster price of 600/1. Jon Rahm was a much more predictable winner in 2018 when he won at 10/1 but he was the only winner priced under 30/1 between 2010 and 2020, as you can see in the below list of winners.
Winners and Their Odds: 2011 to 2020