Sobel: Don’t Pick Players You’d Like to Party With in Sin City
Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Kevin Na
- You should consider how a player will handle playing in Las Vegas before making your picks for the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.
- Jason Sobel sizes up the field and makes a few picks from favorites to mid-tier to longshots, including a few Vegas locals.
I love Vegas. You love Vegas. Everyone loves Vegas.
Professional golfers are only human, so it’s safe to assume that they, too, love Vegas.
Knowing that, I’ve always wondered why the Vegas-based PGA Tour event doesn’t attract a better field. Played in the first month of the new season, this tourney provides a low-pressure, low-stress playing opportunity with plenty of extracurricular activities to keep ‘em busy off the golf course.
It might be the one city where players on the cut line would rather have the weekend off, if only for the chance at greater financial success.
Not to belittle how much these pros work on their games — hint: it’s a lot — but all work and no play makes you a dull boy. Things are rarely dull in Vegas, and well, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is one of the few tourneys I’ve never covered, but I can’t imagine there are too many late-afternoon grind sessions on the range this week.
Sounds like the kind of tourney we’d all like to play if we were professional golfers, which doesn’t explain why the field is usually the opposite of the Sin City glamour.
Until this week.
Check the entry list and you’ll find some bona fide big-name players in this field. Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau headline a list that, at least on the surface, is weightier than those for recent editions of this event.
It makes perfect sense. These players can give themselves a chance for an early season win — and if their game isn’t quite up to it, they can just enjoy the sights and scenes of Vegas.
All of which leads to my strategy for this tourney: Try to avoid the players who will enjoy Vegas too much.
Look, I’m a huge proponent of relaxing and unwinding after a long day on the golf course, but dinner and a show on the Strip is one thing, while crushing the blackjack tables until 4 a.m. is something much different.
What I’m saying is, don’t bet on the guys you’d most like to have at your bachelor party.
That recalls my favorite piece that I’ve ever written. It was about Eddie Pearce, who’d been deemed “The Next Nicklaus,” but famously partied his way around the PGA Tour. And one of my favorite stories from that piece is this one, via GolfChannel.com:
In his rookie season, Eddie played the PGA Tour event in Las Vegas — his first journey to the City of Sin. As was usually the case with him, evening turned into night and night turned into dawn. This time, dawn turned into daytime and Eddie was still partying.
“I was at the casino all night, just drinking and having a great time,” he remembers. “I started gambling, playing the dice, playing blackjack. Before you know it, it didn’t make any sense to me, but I see [PGA Tour official] Jack Tuthill. At that point, I’d had the dice in my hands for 18-20 minutes, so I was up big time. He said, ‘What are you doing? Do you know what time it is? It’s 11:00.’ Well, I was supposed to tee off at 8:30. I said, ‘You see these chips? This is a lot more than the prize money in the tournament.’ I gave him a $500 chip and said, ‘This should cover my fine.’
“I didn’t know what else to do. He just shook his head. Nobody could do anything with me. People tried, but I was just impossible.”
Here’s my list of players with plenty of game – and those who (I hope) will be safely tucked into bed by 10 p.m. each evening.
Tony Finau (+1100)
When I worked on my series of pro golfers’ favorite bets a few months ago, Finau’s story might’ve been my favorite. He spoke about being a penniless teen and driving to Vegas for big-money matches, including a time when a late-round ace flipped an entire bet.
On the heels of yet another opportunity to win that eluded him, this feels like a great place for him to deal with some unfinished business.
Webb Simpson (+1400)
He’s one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour, but I can’t imagine Simpson will be carousing through any casinos a few hours before his tee time. With top-six finishes in three of his last five starts and no competitive appearances since the Ryder Cup, I like a refreshed Webb to pick up right where he left off.
Aaron Wise (+2500)
I’m passing over defending champ Patrick Cantlay, which might not be a wise move, for a literal Wise move instead. The Byron Nelson winner was gaining some momentum late last season, but what I like most is that, just like Simpson, he’s coming off a full month of downtime and should be hungrier to get into contention than many of his peers who have been traveling the world.
Kevin Na (+4500)
Maybe it exists somewhere, but I’ve never seen analytics on player results when sleeping in their own beds for a home game. Over the years, I’ve soured on the idea that this is an advantage — after all, locals have to deal with more ticket requests and more media interviews and greater pressure than they do during a usual week. But I think Vegas is different. Na is a resident, so the glitz and glam of the city won’t be a distraction this week.
Ryan Moore (+5000)
Sticking with another player who owns Vegas ties in Moore, who set all sorts of amateur records at UNLV. I think a little home cooking will serve him well. He lost in a playoff at the Safeway Open before traveling to Asia and finishing outside of the top 60 twice. Expect him to find some form this week.
Scott Piercy (+5500)
Let’s make it three in a row. Just as putting on poa annua versus Bermuda can impact a player’s performance, competing on a desert track similarly has an effect.
Piercy is a Vegas guy who’s played some of his best golf in these environments. He’s also coming off a T-5 in his last start.
Lucas Glover (+6500)
There are some tasty options at this price, including young guns Sam Burns and Sungjae Im, but I’m going with the former U.S. Open champion, who’s shown some form in recent starts.
I won’t pretend to know anything about his highly publicized personal situation from nearly six months ago, but I’ll say this much in general: It’s amazing how finding closure with a private issue can open up a player’s game for success.
J.J. Spaun (+11000)
I have a feeling you’ll be seeing this name on more pre-tournament lists this season than ever before.
How’s this for a little symmetry: Spaun finished T-10 in Vegas last year and T-10 in his last start. That’s a nice intersection of course history and current form.
Shintaro Ban (+90000)
OK, consider this one a super longshot. Ban was literally the last name listed on the board sportsbook.ag, but he might be misplaced amongst the underdogs.
A former All-American at UNLV, he’s playing on a sponsor’s exemption and making his first professional start on the PGA Tour. While we can dream about a 900-to-1 payout for the win, he might be a nice DFS flyer at only $7,200 on FanDuel and $6,300 on DraftKings.