It’s time for this season’s toughest test for the PGA’s best. The field of the Top 50 is set, and will be fighting for the final 30 spots in the coveted Tour Championship. The only thing that stands between them and a chance at the $18 Million grand prize is the challenging North Course of Olympia Fields CC.
If you love watching professional golfers look like us lowly amateurs, Olympia Fields CC will give you exactly what you’re looking for. This will undoubtedly be the most challenging course these golfers will face this season, and potentially since the last time it hosted the BMW Championship in 2020. In 2020, only 3 players were under par following Thursday’s round, and only 5 finished the event under par. That tournament saw arguably the greatest walk-off putt ever from Jon Rahm, draining a 66 footer in a playoff win over Dustin Johnson. Let’s take a closer look as to why this course will be so challenging, and a few golfers I think have a chance to move up the FedEx leaderboard.
The BMW Championship Picks and Best Bets
The Course: Olympia Fields CC North Course
For a par 70 course, 7,350+ yards is a significant length. Not only will each hole demand length off the tee, accuracy will once again be of the utmost importance. Olympia Fields CC has some of the most penal and lengthy rough the PGA Tour sees. Any golfer that misses the fairway will immediately be scrambling for par. The course is also littered with bunkers, although most of the field will probably prefer that over the rough. Water will come into play for 8 of the holes.
When it comes to important statistics for the course, most are fairly obvious. Ball-striking is always important, and The North Course will quickly show you who’s on and who’s off. Marc Leishman finished at +30 while being a Top 20 player in the world. Scrambling and Bogey Avoidance are also clearly important. There will be very few opportunities for birdies, so I expect most to put a lot of emphasis on playing for pars. I anticipate a winning score to be around that of Rahm’s -4, as The BMW Championship will not make any changes to the playing of the course.
Russell Henley (+3500)
Who would be better to pick than the most accurate driver on Tour? Russell Henley is typically known for his elite approach game, but that accuracy also translates to his driver. While he lacks slightly in distance, it’s not enough to ignore his otherwise world-class ball-striking. He also ranks 14th in the field in scrambling. His 7th rank in Bogey Avoidance is impressive as well, but that takes into account his elite Tee-to-Green play. It’s nice to know that if he does miss the green, he’s still very good at scrambling for pars.
One major factor for the scrambling success is his recent putting performance. Historically, Henley has been looked at as a guy that could never win, because his putter can never finish the job. I’m excited to share Henley has finally found something with the putter.
To contend this week, players are going to have to find success in the mid-length putts, draining more 10-footers than not. Russell Henley is 2nd in this field in putting from 10-15 feet this season. This, along with his already elite Tee-to-Green play, is exactly why Olympia Fields CC sets up perfectly for Henley’s game. Expect to see him in contention come Sunday.
Emiliano Grillo (+6500)
Emiliano Grillo has been playing some of the best golf of his career. His OWGR ranking of 35th is the highest it has been since 2017. He has always been a solid ball-striker, but similar to Russell Henley, he’s figured out the flat stick as well. After losing strokes on the green for 8 consecutive events in early 2023, he has gained strokes putting in 12 of the last 14 tournaments. I’d say that’s an incredible improvement and the main reason he’s gone from fighting to make cuts, to contending, to winning tournaments.
When it comes to his approach play, his ranking of 48th on Tour is very misleading. The thing about Grillo is that when he’s off, he’s really off. Although it doesn’t happen often, his bad events bring his stats way down. If you look at his median rather than his average, he’s one of the best in the world. He’s gained over 4 strokes approaching the green in 7 of his last 12 events. In 4 of those events, he gained over 6 strokes. His iron play pairs really well with his recent putting success.
Grillo will not exactly “wow” you off the tee. Gaining strokes off the tee in 6 of his last 7 events is nothing to disregard, I’m just saying it’s not his biggest asset. He’s above average in both distance and accuracy, with most of his success coming from the accuracy portion. He does a great job of limiting mistakes with the driver, as his game truly relies on his second shots and making the putts. Grillo’s lone victory this season came at the Charles Schwab Challenge, finishing with a score of -8. With that winning score being the second lowest of the season, it’s not unreasonable to think Emiliano Grillo can grind out another low scoring win.
Adam Schenk (+10000) (+600 Top 10)
For whatever reason, Adam Schenk plays his best golf in the toughest conditions. He lost in a playoff to Grillo for the Charles Schwab Challenge. His other runner-up finish was at the Valspar Championship, losing by one stroke to Taylor Moore’s -10. Schenk also finished T7 at The Memorial, the toughest tournament of the season thus far.
Not only does Adam Schenk play well on the toughest courses, he also comes into Chicago in fantastic form. He’s finished T7 or better in 5 of his last 9 events. Only 5 golfers in this field can claim that. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Lucas Glover, Tommy Fleetwood, and… Adam Schenk. He may not look like he belongs in that group, as his astronomic odds in comparison would suggest, but I have a few reasons to believe that he does indeed belong.
His approach play is currently at a career-best. He’s gained strokes approaching the green in 9 of his last 11 events, gaining over 4 strokes in 6 of those 11. The strongest part of his game is on the green, however. He’s well above the Tour average, as he’s gained strokes in 7 of his last 9 events. Like Grillo, Schenk will not win this tournament off the tee. He’s above average on distance, and his accuracy is right at the Tour average. The good thing for Adam, and his backers, is that he doesn’t need to win this tournament with the driver. His crazy hot approach play and consistent putter are what will win him this tournament.
At 100/1, Schenk is certainly worth consideration for a long-shot play. I really like the value of +600 to finish in the Top 10. In a field of only 50 golfers, that is definitely feasible. He’s done it in 5 of his last 9 tournaments, including last week in Memphis against the same field. Look for a similar result at The BMW Championship.