With one week before perhaps the most anticipated Masters ever, the PGA Tour gathers in San Antonio, Texas for the 101st edition of the Valero Texas Open. After a week off for the match-play event, golfers return to the stroke-play format at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. This tournament was founded in 1922 and is the third longest-running event on the PGA Tour. It has been held in the San Antonio area since its origins and has moved to many different courses before finding its current home at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio in 2010 when Adam Scott raised the trophy.
TPC San Antonio winds through the narrow corridors of the Cibolo Canyons, just north of the second most populous city in Texas. With fairways lined by brush and mature oak trees, tricky pin positions on elevated greens, one of the toughest sets of par 5s on Tour, and typical gusty “Texas” winds, it plays as the 14th toughest annual PGA course with golfers averaging 0.14 strokes over par per round. It is a unique layout in that it balances these narrow tree-lined alleys with wider fairways which provide strategic angles for approach shots.
There have been some shocking winners in the event in recent years. From Corey Conners winning as a qualifier in 2019 to Steven Bowditch triumphing in 2014 with odds of 350-1, anything is possible on the leaderboard come Sunday. Ultimately, it’s a complete challenge from tee to green that doesn’t favor any specific type of player. Keeping the ball in play off the tee, hitting accurate approaches to the proper quadrant on the greens, and gaining shots on the field on the par 5s are among the ingredients needed for success.
The Valero Texas Open Field
Though lacking in star power there is actually quite a bit of depth in this year’s field. There are 20 players slated to tee off who rank between 32nd and 84th in the Official World Golf Rankings. After a positive showing at the Dell Match Play, J.J. Spaun returns to defend his title after picking up his first career win here last year.
While most Masters participants chose to return home to work on their game, there are a few players choosing this event as their warm-up for Augusta. It’s a smaller list this year, but it includes Tyrrell Hatton, Hideki Matsuyama, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Alex Noren, Sepp Straka, Cameron Champ, Francesco Molinari, and Ryan Fox. Two of those favorites, Hatton and Matsuyama both enter with question marks surrounding their health and are candidates to withdraw before Thursday. Hatton suffered a hand injury that affected his performance last week in Austin while Matsuyama continues to be hampered by a lingering neck injury.
Similar to Spaun last year, it is the last chance golfers in the field will have to make it into Augusta. Motivation will be high for all involved. If the winner of the Valero Texas Open is not yet qualified for the Masters, that player will earn a spot in the field. All eyes will be on Rickie Fowler as he has shown great recent form yet still sits outside of the requirements needed. Taylor Montgomery is another talented favorite who could punch his ticket with a victory this week. Overall, it’s a great week to chase unqualified golfers as eight of the past ten winners here were not originally in the Masters field.
This week only, in honor of Rickie trying to backdoor his way in, we’ll be offering full refunds on new monthly subscriptions this week if he wins the Valero Texas Open. Come check out Betsperts Golf for all our premium tools, articles and members-only Discord.
Finish Position and Strokes Gained Course History (2015-2022)
According to DataGolf, course history at Innisbrook is the 19th most predictive on Tour.
TPC San Antonio Course Features
The Valero Texas Open is the oldest professional golf tournament to be held in the same city its entire existence. Located north of the downtown area in the Texas Hill Country, the par-72 course stretches out to 7,438 yards. It is slightly longer than average and ranks as the 20th-longest course in the annual Tour rotation. Ironically, the course was designed by LIV golf tour’s CEO Greg Norman, and he was consulted on the build by current LIV player Sergio Garcia.
As opposed to many of the bland TPC courses, one of Norman’s goals was to bring out the rugged natural landscape of the property. Situated at 1,100 feet above sea level, overall, the course is relatively flat with only around 100 feet of elevation change between the highest and lowest points. The course itself winds through oak trees and is filled with rocky areas and native grasses and plants.
The agronomy team at TPC San Antonio overseeds both the fairways and rough with a mix of 80% Perennial Ryegrass and 20% Chewing Fescue. The rough is short at only 2.25”. Similar to other courses we have seen in the past couple of months, the greens are overseeded with Poa trivialis. But with the unseasonally warmer February and March temperatures, the Bermudagrass has begun to come alive from its dormancy. Expect the turf to be a healthy mix of Bermuda along with the other overseeded surfaces. The greens are typically on the slower side compared to average and run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.
With only three water hazards and non-penal rough, it doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult track, but TPC San Antonio can be a stern challenge as it typically plays firm with windy conditions. There are only two non-par 5 holes that average under par. Historically, the course has averaged more double bogeys or worse than all courses except for PGA National and TPC Sawgrass. It definitely requires some level of accuracy off the tee along with stellar iron play on approaches.
The main variable in terms of how tough it really plays will be the aforementioned wind strength. As is the case with all Texas courses, gusty conditions can be a constant factor. The course can be extremely difficult if it comes from a northerly direction, which is the prevailing San Antonio wind during the spring. In 2016 and 2017, with high winds affecting play, the winning score dipped down to 12-under for both years. Even with the course playing easier over the past four years (17-under), scoring overall has still averaged around even par, which illustrates the fact that bogeys are out there for those not sharp with their game. Said 2016 winner, Charley Hoffman related to the wind, “If the wind doesn’t blow, guys can shoot 5, 6, 7 under on this golf course. If the wind blows, it’s a totally different story.”
Along with the wind and the difficult par-5s, players will come across strategically-placed cavernous bunkers, all manner of off-fairway hazards (see Kevin Na video below), and undulating green complexes. While the number of bunkers is not large (only 64), they are very deep and surround the greens where errant approach shots are most likely to occur. The winds also have the biggest effect on approaches into the numerous elevated greens where there are also runoff areas to collect stray shots.
TPC San Antonio features the standard par-72 assortment of ten par-4s, four par-5s, and four par-3s. Even though it lies in rugged terrain amidst the Texas Hill Country, there are seemingly no holes that stand out with their own unique identity. Including the 602-yard second hole, the first four holes add up to 1,708 yards and 0.36 shots over par making it vital that players are focused and striking the ball well from the start.
Most of the front-nine holes are quite similar with slight dog legs and bunkers guarding both sides of the green. There are five par-4s under 410 yards and the four par-5s are among the longest on Tour, averaging 588 yards. Three of the four par-5s are difficult to reach in two shots and, overall, they rank as the third-toughest for scoring on Tour. Competent wedge play is vital in setting up birdie chances on the par-5s as past winners have taken advantage of them in the past.
One unique characteristic of TPC San Antonio is that the holes were designed to play downhill if players are hitting into the prevailing wind and uphill with the wind at their back. This is another feature that prevents bombers off the tee from gaining a significant advantage.
The 347-yard 17th hole might be the most interesting hole on the course. It can stretch out to 366 yards and is potentially a driveable hole when not hitting into a southerly wind. The front of the hole is guarded by greenside bunkers on both sides, but it presents a risk-reward opportunity for some excitement down the stretch.
The par-5 591-yard 18th hole is one of the more underrated closing holes on Tour. Not only does it play uphill, but the creek that traverses the fairway can cause issues on erratic drives. While it has a Birdie or Better rate of 25%, it also has a bogey or worse rate of 16%.
Valero Texas Open Strokes Gained Analysis
Off the Tee
TPC San Antonio is a very unique course off the tee. While many of the driveable holes have narrow tree-lined fairways others are much wider. The average Driving Accuracy here is only 56% compared with the Tour average of 61%. The data shows that general accuracy off the tee does not matter as much because the rough is among the least penal on the entire Tour. In fact, the average margin between hitting a green-in-regulation from the rough compared to the fairway is 9% easier than the Tour average. Even more amazing is that the Birdie or Better percentage over the last five years when hitting the second shot from the rough is higher than from the fairway! Related to the ease of scoring from the rough, past champion Jimmy Walker noted, “Driving the ball in the rough isn’t going to be a big deal this week, just because it’s not very long. You can get some pretty nice lies in the rough. So that’s just a South Texas thing right now this time of year.”
While almost every driving hole is flanked by either rocky terrain or native Texas brush, it will only impact those who are wildly spraying their ball off the tee. As Jordan Spieth commented, “You can’t make many mistakes off the tee, you’ve got to be hitting fairways because it’s not just like bunkers on one side. A lot of holes you have rocks and brush off both sides of the fairway.” Distance From the Edge of the Fairway is a key stat this week that measures which players are the most inaccurate with their errant drives. You can find this metric in searchable form only on our new custom stat database here https://www.betspertsgolf.com/customizable-golf-stat-database.
Fairway bunkers are deeper and more troublesome than usual but they are scattered throughout the track and don’t figure prominently on that many drives. While shorter more accurate types do have a better chance of keeping the ball out of trouble, longer hitters do have an advantage on holes that play into the wind along with the opportunity to take more lofted clubs into firm “bouncy” greens on approach. Yet Driving Distance has proven to be almost as inconsequential as accuracy off the tee. So many shorter hitters have had bundles of success on past leaderboards including the likes of Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Kevin Streelman, Andrew Landry, Matt Kuchar, and Lucas Glover.
In summary, neither distance nor complete accuracy are vital off the tee at TPC San Antonio. The fact that you do not need to be long here is evidenced by the fact that the last six winners have averaged 38th for Driving Distance. Last year’s winner J.J. Spaun ranked 95th. As for Driving Accuracy, back in 2019, the top five finishers averaged ninth. This was followed by 2021’s winner, Jordan Spieth, ranking 109th in fairways gained. Then last year, J.J. Spaun was 7th best.
All the seeming variety and randomness off the tee is a definite reason TPC San Antonio is one of the top “second-shot” courses as it is the eighth toughest layout to gain strokes on approach. Not only are the greens heavily guarded by difficult and deep bunkers, but many are also elevated above the fairway and do not provide bailout areas for errant shots. Players will also need to loft approach shots onto the proper quadrants of the greens due to the many undulations in order to get the ball to funnel as close to the pin as possible.
With the average approach distance at 181 yards, players will be taking mid-to-long irons into the par-3s and par-4s 39% of the time. With so many long par-5s, “Going for the Green” data shows these holes are so difficult to score on because only 11% of second shots into the par-5s actually hold the green. We also see double the number of approach shots compared to average coming from over 250 yards. Throw in some windy conditions and you can see very quickly why approach shots can be so challenging here.
Around the Greens and Putting
With so many greens in regulation missed, players that are proficient at scrambling and chipping into elevated pin positions from off the green will have an advantage. While scrambling is slightly easier overall than average, sand saves from the bunkers are over 4% more difficult. In fact, the bunkers at TPC San Antonio are the eighth toughest on Tour in which to gain strokes.
As can be deduced, when scoring is easier thanks to calmer winds, the importance of around-the-green play is decreased. So the amount this area should be weighted will be heavily dependent on the weather forecast. It is interesting to note that five of the last seven winners have ranked outside the top-30 in this area. And of the last nine winners, only Spieth in 2021 was gaining strokes with their short game in the six months leading up to their Valero win.
While the overseeded Poa trivialis greens are contoured and sloping to various degrees, this affects players more on approach than with putting. TPC San Antonio ranks in the middle of the pack related to putting difficulty and is one of the slower surfaces on Tour with a stimpmeter reading of 10. The data shows putting to be more difficult than average from 20+ feet outside the hole. But once players get inside that number, putting is much easier, including one of the highest one-putt percentages on Tour at 43%. Only six of the last 12 winners of this event have finished inside the top 10 in SG: Putting the year they won.
Most Important Stats For Success at the Valero Texas Open
*In order of importance
- SG: APP
- Bogey Avoidance
- Par 5 Scoring
- Good Drive %
- Birdie or Better %
- SG: Putting (Poa Trivialis courses)
- SG: Wind
- Sand Save %
- Proximity 50-125 yds