BlogTaylorMade Driving Relief Preview and Picks

TaylorMade Drive Relief

May 17, 2020

Seminole Golf Club

Juno Beach, Fl.

Par: 72 / Yardage:7,266

Purse: $3 million

 All money going to charity

Defending Champion: First year event

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:

We finally are getting some golf:

Hard to believe it was just about two months ago when we had our last preview at the Players Championship.  When I wrote that preview, little did I realize what was about to happen, that all of our worlds were going to be completely turn off and we would spend the next two months in self-isolation.  For those players on the PGA Tour and all of the professional golf the same with them, all of a sudden on March 12th when the PGA Tour put a stop to the Players Championship, I don’t think that anyone figured things would get this bad.

Well, it looks like we have hopefully reached the plateau and we can start normalizing all of our lives.  For many of us, that means that professional golf will gear up again and we are going to see that happen this Sunday.  Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will play Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a two-man team skins competition called the TaylorMade Driving Relief.  It will be the first live golf on TV since the first round of the canceled Players Championship way back on March 12th.

The event will be played at Seminole Golf Club, in Juno Beach, Florida.  The course is one of the most storied and exclusive golf venues in the world which has never had a televised event on it.  It will be a bit strange to watch, as in these days of “social distancing” there won’t be any gallery to watch the match, there won’t be any media or even Seminole members.  The Tour and the event organizers said strict safety measures will be taken.  It’s become so restrictive that there won’t even be any caddies, each player will be given their own carts and probably use range finders to determine distance.  Other than the 4 players, officials, and those working on TV the course will be wide open.

All four golfers will donate their time for the two-man team skins competition, with a purse of $3 million. The money will be donated as the McIlroy/Johnson team will be playing for the American Nurses Foundation and team Fowler/Wolff playing for the CDC Foundation.  Farmers Insurance also has pledged a $1 million “birdies-and-eagles pool.

All four players make their respective homes close to Seminole, with Fowler and Johnson playing out of nearby Medalist and McIlroy at Jack Nicklaus’ Bears Club.


Note:  With the PGA Tour coming back on June 11th  at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Ft. Worth, we are going to run player profiles to help you get ready for the resumption of the PGA Tour.

Time to look at our who’s hot and who isn’t:

Who’s Hot in the field for the TaylorMade Driving Relief

Player Arnold Palmer Invitational The Honda Classic WGC-Mexico Championship Genesis Open AT&T Pebble Beach Waste Management Phoenix Open Saudi International Farmers Insurance Open The American Express Sony Open in Hawaii Sentry Tournament of Champions
Rory McIlroy
(111.67 pts)
Dustin Johnson
(72 pts)
Rickie Fowler
(45 pts)
Matthew Wolff
(16 pts)

How Player Rankings are Computed

So what is a “Skins Game”

A game in which all holes have a monetary value on it.  Traditionally the value goes up every six holes and in some games, the 18th hole has a bonus figure on it.  In this competition the team with the lowest score wins the “Skin,” but if the hole is tied the value of the skin gets added to the next hole.  The ultimate scenario is for the first 17 holes resulting in a tie and the last hole played for the full amount.

Here are the amounts for each of the holes in this Skins game.  Each team will start out with $500,000 in their account:

  • Holes 1-6 will each be worth $50,000.
  • Holes 7-15 will each be worth $100,000
  • Hole 17 will be worth $200,000
  • Hole 18 will be worth $500,000

So yes if the first six holes are tied, the 7th hole will be worth $400,000.

Even better, if the first 17 holes are tied, the 18th hole will be worth $2 million.

If the 18th hole ends in a tie, they will have a tiebreaker hole which will be determined by the time of day.  If it’s before 5:45 players will play the 17th hole from 125 yards.   If the hole is tied they will play the 17th hole again and the skin decided by the closest to the hole competition.

Now if the match ends after 5:45 to will just have a closest to the hole on the 17th hole.

The Skins Game became a Thanksgiving tradition when 1983 Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Arnold Palmer got together for the first one at Desert Highlands, in Scottsdale, Arizona.  On the 17th hole, Player made a 5-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to win $150,000 and a total of $170,000 to become the first Skins Game champion.  The once a year matches went on until the last was played in 2008.

The item that made Skins so popular was that a player could play terrible for several holes, but then get hot on one hole and make a birdie to win all the Skins.  Vice verse, Skins have been halved with eagles, it’s the ultimate game of peaks and valleys and in team Skins Game, you always have a partner that could win you the money, bail the team out or screw up and cause the team to lose Skins.

About Seminole

The Skins Game will be played at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. which is north of West Palm Beach.  The course is very special, it’s one of the best golf courses in America and one that is very elusive for the average golf fan.  The course was built in 1930 when E.F. Hutton (who founded EF Hutton, the second-largest brokerage firm in the country) and his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post (the General Foods heiress) decided to build a championship course just up the road from their house Mar-a-Largo (yes the part-time home of our president).  The course was built to be the best, they got Donald Ross to design it and to put the finishing touche on things by hiring the same architect who built Mar-a-Largo, Marion Sims Wyeth, to build the clubhouse at Seminole.

Located up against the Atlantic, Golf Digest Ron Whitten calls Seminole the finest layout legendary architect Donald Ross ever conceived.  The course is on a 140-acre plot that is basically a square, it’s got ocean to the east of it, homes to the north and south and Ocean Dr. to the west with the ever-busy highway 1 just 200 feet away from the six green.  Nine of the holes play in two separate sand dunes, while the other nine holes play on former swampland that Ross had drain 90 years ago.  Those holes play in between bunkers, palm trees, and lakes.  The course will play to a par of 72 and at 7,266 yards, which is low with today’s players but will be very competitive.  The club has kept the course up to modern-day standards, first by having architect Dick Wilson restore the course after World War II.  Then in 2016, the club brought in architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw for a three-year renovation to rebuild all 160 bunkers and bring the course up to modern standards so that the bunkers in the fairway do come in play for long hitters.  The changes also made the course ready for the 2021 Walker Cup.

The course has long been admired by competitive players, in the 50s Ben Hogan spent the whole month of March at Seminole in getting ready for the Masters and his competitive year of golf.  The membership role of Seminole has a lot of low handicap players and since 1937 has held the Seminole Pro-member which it’s members would invite top professionals to team up together. The event is played the Monday after the Honda Classic and one of the players that show up is Rory McIlroy.  That is because he is asked to play in the event with his father Gerry, who has been a member of the club for years now.  The club also has the Coleman Invitational, played in April that hosts to the top-level amateurs in the country.  Last year it was won by 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey who was 1 under for 54 holes.

The greens are average length in size and do have slope, with most of the greens sloping towards bunkers.  Many say the greens are hard to read, probably due to the location close to the ocean.  They are also very fast running as high as 12 on a stimpmeter.  Now the real test is the 160 bunkers on the course, with 70 of them in the fairway.  Most of them are deep and when sand is hit off the tee, sometimes it may not be worth the risk to go for the greens.

Now on paper, the 7,266 yardage and the fact that the course has pretty wide fairways with little trees will be a bombers delight.  But that won’t be the case, Seminole does have a big secret in keeping down scores.  Being on the Atlantic Ocean, not an afternoon goes by with some kind of wind, on some days it’s an easy breeze to cool things down but when the breeze turns more into a blow it’s hard to play.  Any kind of wind over 10 mph will make the course tough.  Talking about the wind, Ross laid out a course in which most of the holes change direction with the exception of the 1st & 2nd, 5th & 6th, 10th & 11th, 12th & 13th, and the 17th & 18th and in the case of three of those holes, the 5th, 13th holes, and 17th are par 3s.  So there is no real advantage to anyone golfer, even the long hitters like McIlroy, Johnson or Wolff (who rank in the top-14 in driving distance on Tour, Fowler is 98th in 2020).

The weather for the Skins game is looking great, partly cloudy with a high of 85 degrees when north by northeast wins of 10mph.


Gambling aspect of Skins game

Lot’s of different ways of betting, if you have an app that allows you to gamble.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the low number of states allowing sports betting over the internet.  Right now only seven states allow this kind of betting in New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado.  In looking at Drafkings site they only have one form of betting for the TaylorMade Driving Relief and that is the straight-up total and they have McIlroy/Johnson favors at -225 to Fowler/Wolff +163.  Now there is one app that is taking bets on the match and that is Betonline.AG.  They are taking bets on the proposition bets like who will hit it nearest to the pin on the par 3s, who will win the most skins after nine holes, on holes 1 through 6, on winning skins on holes 17 and 18, most skins won on holes 7-16 and many others as you can find with this link.

To be frank, this is the fun of a Skins Game, these kinds of proposition bets and the sky is the limit.  Right now it’s not in place, but I can see this being the norm in two years, gosh I can see you able to bet off your TV screen as it will be an option in watching the show.


So who is going to win?

Not hard to see, off the bat it’s McIlroy/Johnson.  Between the two they have won 5 majors and 38 PGA Tour wins.  Fowler/Wolff has never won a major and between the two has six PGA Tour wins.  One big key in winning Skins is making a lot of birdies.  In 2020 McIlroy/Johnson has made 159 between the two of them in 40 rounds for a 3.975 average. Fowler/Wolff has made 79 in 20, 126 in 36  205 total birdies in 56 rounds for a 3.661 average so we can see that Rory and Dustin have the advantage.  Another advantage that Rory and Dustin have is in total driving distance as Rory ranks 2nd in this stat at 320.2 yards.  Wolff can hit it out there with the best, he is 21st on tour with a 310.0 yard average.  Dustin is 28th on tour at 308.3 yards but Fowler is 150th at 293.3 yards.  So Rory has a 27-yard advantage over Fowler while Dustin has a 15-yard advantage. Now Fowler could turn the tables in the fact that he will be hitting first, if he can cozy an iron up close it will put more pressure on Rory and Dustin.  But in looking at stats from 2020, on shots from the fairway, Fowler gets his shot to the green and average of 40.1 feet from the hole, which ranks 199th.  Dustin is the best of the four, getting into to 37.7 feet which ranks 127th whole Wolf franks 95th at 39.11 feet while Rory is the worst-ranked at 209 at 41.2 feet from the hole.

Now in putting, looking at Strokes Gained putting for 2020, Fowler is the best this year ranked 49th.  He is followed by Rory at 92nd, Dustin at 106th, and Wolff at 113th.  So Fowler has the advantage with Rory, Dustin, and Wolff really close.

But all of these really mean nothing when you take into account that none of these four have played competitively in over 2 months.  If you look at the records of all four, Rory was the only one playing well before the break.  In his last seven starts going back to the Zozo Championship in October, Rory was no higher than 5th in any of those seven events with a win at the WGC-HSBC Championship in November.  Fowler had mixed results, after starting the calendar year with a T-5th at the Sentry T of C, he was T-10th at the American Express and then struggled after that in his last four starts.  Wolf also has struggled, after winning the 3M Open in early July he hasn’t been in the top-ten with his best finish coming in the winners-only Sentry T of C a T-11th.  He struggled big time in his last four starts, missing the cut twice and finishing higher than 50 in the other two.  Dustin Johnson also struggled but had an excuse.  He had arthroscopic knee surgery the first week of September and didn’t play for four months returning at the Sentry T of C finishing T-7th.  In his next start in Saudi Arabia, he was 2nd but played indifferently for him in his last three starts before the break.

Now in the two-month break, all the players admitted to not touching the clubs that much.  As McIlroy said in an interview with NBC’s Mike Tirico, he hadn’t played golf until the first of May on the weekend before the match was announced on May 4th, played 36 holes.  McIlroy expressed a desire to give people the escapism since he feels the golfing world is starving for sports again.  Rory wasn’t worried about taking the six weeks off and feels that it’s going to take just a couple of days to get back into form.  In the call, he told Tirico on how he and Johnson got together.  “It was funny, DJ rang me up the week after The Players Championship when he was out on his boat and he said, ‘Hey, if the New Orleans tournament happens, would you want to be partners?” McIlroy said.  “And I was like, ‘Yeah sure. I’m not sure if it is going to happen but if it does, yeah, that would be fun.’ We didn’t get a chance to do it there, but we’re getting the chance to do it at Seminole in a couple weeks’ time and that’s going to be fun.”

As for Johnson, he had only hit balls twice since the Players.  So he has been pretty dormant and was planning on starting to play golf again after the announcement.  Johnson was happy at the times he hit balls and feels that he isn’t worried about his long game but does need help on the greens and chipping.  Getting his touchback is what he is working on now and says that in the past the time off has helped him in forgetting all the bad thoughts he had while playing.

As for Fowler, has been home in Jupiter since the Players, and for the first month stayed at home, cook and went to the store once a week with his wife.  Says that he loved the routine of being at home, in the 11 years he has lived in Florida, this is the first time he has spent more than three weeks in a row at home.  In mid-April started to get back to golf and playing at Medalist along with hitting balls at the Grove, another course in the area.  Fowler said that he has exercised ever since the break and his body is in great shape and refreshed.  Feels the match will be great to get the competitive juices flowing again, giving himself a taste on what needs to be worked on and getting ready for when tour golf starts up again in June.

As for Wolff, he says he has played a little since the break but mostly has taken time off.  He has started to get back into the grove of golf and get the rust off his game.  He mentally has felt handcuff the last couple of weeks with course closings in Southern Florida and the fact that he had nothing to look forward to and work for.  Now with the Skins game and the PGA Tour playing in mid-June, he can formulate a plan of getting back into the grove.

The most important thing that was said was that both Fowler and Wolff understand they are underdogs, but they are both inspired by being the underdog.


So what does this all mean?

One thing that people don’t realize is how close the games of players are that lead the PGA Tour money list.  Right now Rory McIlroy is 3rd with $3.8 million while Matthew Wolff is 97th with $558,302.  Now for the year, McIlroy’s scoring average is 68.58 while his partner Dustin Johnson has a 70.50 average so combine they have a 69.35 average.  Richie Fowler’s average is 70.45, while Wolff’s is 71.31 so there combine average is 71.00.  So that means Fowler and Wolff are a bit over a shot and a half worst than McIlroy and Johnson but have to say that Fowler and Wolff have played 16 more rounds.  But look at that shot and a half strokes, over the course of 18 holes that could be made up very easily.  On top of that, you never know from day to day when someone could wake up in better sprints or if one team will ham or egg it to death.  So, in reality, both of these teams are really close and could beat each other on any given day.

The memories of my Washington Nationals run in the playoffs and the World Series is still fresh in my mind.  They were underdogs in every series and according to books in Vegas, big underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Astros and look at what happened, they won.  I can seriously see the same happening here.  Fowler hasn’t had the stellar career that many thought he would have when he turned pro in 2009, but he always seems to come through when he is least expected like at the 2015 Players Championship.  Wolff is young and cocky enough to not really know how tough things really are, while Rory and Dustin are the two best players in the world and sometimes enjoy that distinction and have moments in which both lapse.  All four have played at Seminole but McIlroy has played the most.  His father Gerry is a member at Seminole and they play a lot together so Rory will know the course the best.

Still in the back of my mind, I rehash the seventh game of the World Series when the Nats came from behind to win the game and the series and can see Fowler and Wolff doing the same.

No matter what it should be a great day of golf and something that golf fans need.

Next week will be the Capital One The Match: Champions for Charity with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Payton Manning, and Tom Brady.  That will be played just up the road at another great golf course, the prestigious Medalist Golf Club.  That too will be great theater.

Be sure to join us during the week with player profiles as we get ready for the restart of golf at Colonial.

Also join us next week as we preview the Capital One’s The Match with Tiger and Phil.

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