In the realm of golfing strategy, a unique trend has emerged at TPC Southwind that shouldn't be ignored. Recent champions like Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas, and Daniel Berger have all harnessed the power of the fade shot off the tee on this course. This trend has been instrumental in their victories, hinting at a pattern that could prove pivotal in predicting the winner of the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
At TPC Southwind, the average width of fairways is a mere 25 yards, ranking it among the top 10 most challenging fairways to hit on the entire TOUR. With water hazards impacting four holes and eight holes featuring fairway bunkers off the tee, success at Southwind starts with accuracy from the tee box. These demanding tee shots set the stage for hitting greens that are smaller than the norm, measuring only 4,300 square feet.
A clear pattern among recent champions stands out: a preference for managing their ball flight from left to right. Among the last seven winners, six have displayed this tendency. On average, they execute fade shots off the tee 68% of the time. But why does this specific ball flight contribute to triumph at the FedEx St. Jude Championship?
Seven of the 14 tee shots on the course demand a left-to-right trajectory. For players skilled in fading the ball, these tee shots offer a welcoming prospect. Notably, the second hole allows for an aggressive left-to-right shot with a driver. The notoriously challenging hole No. 5 also benefits from a fade shot. Additionally, the ninth hole and the dogleg left 18th hole both reward the ability to work the ball away from water hazards.
Even the big three players - Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Scottie Scheffler - seem to lean toward a fade ball flight, potentially giving them an extra edge. Among them, Rahm stands out as the one who consistently favors this shot shape. With two top-7 finishes in three starts at TPC Southwind, Rahm's game aligns well with the course's demands.
Emerging stars like Viktor Hovland and Wyndham Clark also showcase the effectiveness of the fade strategy. Hovland's strong driving ability and left-to-right shot shape make him a contender in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Clark, known for his impressive fade shot tracer image at the US Open, demonstrates the potency of favoring a fade off the tee, utilizing it over 75% of the time.
As the FedEx Cup points race narrows the field from 70 to 50 for the BMW Championship, players like Keith Mitchell and Hideki Matsuyama prove intriguing choices. Mitchell's consistent success at TPC Southwind, coupled with his adeptness at fading the ball, positions him as a contender. Matsuyama, despite a missed cut at Wyndham, has showcased strong results at TPC Southwind and relies on a fade strategy for success.
Observing the practice areas throughout the season has illuminated players' preferences for specific shot shapes. This week, paying attention to the fade shot trend could prove instrumental in predicting success at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. As the golfers navigate the challenging fairways of TPC Southwind, their ability to execute the fade shot could well be the key to securing a spot at the prestigious BMW Championship in Chicago.