The American Express Golf 2024 Tips: Im taking Sungjae at La Quinta

 | January 15 | 

17 mins read

jamie worsley pga tour

The PGA Tour returns to mainland USA for the American Express and, as always, Jamie Worsley has given us one of his long-read previews, as well as five more each-way selections for the week. 

The American Express Betting Tips

  • 2.5 pts Sungjae Im each way (1/5 - 8 Places) - 18/1 
  • 2 pts Tom Kim each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 25/1 
  • 1 pt Akshay Bhatia each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 55/1 
  • 1 pt Justin Suh each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 90/1
  • 1 pt S.H. Kim each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 125/1

Following Chris Kirk’s surprise victory in the season-opener at The Sentry two weeks ago, the PGA Tour had its second straight surprise winner of the year as Grayson Murray picked up his first PGA Tour victory in over six years, in a dramatic finish to the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club.

Murray entered Sunday’s final round in a share of the lead with Keegan Bradley and after much chopping and changing near the top of the leaderboard, the two finished tied atop again on -17 at the end of round four; joined by Korea’s Byeong Hun An, who shot an excellent closing 64 to force a three-way playoff.

A dramatic playoff at the par 5 18th hole ensued, as Murray hooked his drive left into the trees and was forced to punch out, then hitting his third shot to 38ft for birdie; Keegan Bradley found the grandstand and was forced to take a drop and pitched to around 20ft; with An looking by far the most likely winner, finding the greenside rough in two and chipping to 4ft for the birdie.

Murray had other ideas, as he proceeded to hole his near 40-footer; with Bradley missing his chance and An letting his golden opportunity slide by, the North Carolinian claimed the trophy.

The action moves on to mainland USA this week, as the tour begins its five-week West-Coast Swing with The American Express in La Quinta, California.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The American Express is the latest iteration of the Desert Classic, which was first staged in 1960 - an event won by the legendary Arnold Palmer -  and for much of its history was hosted by Bob Hope.

This pro-am event was initially played over five rounds, but switched to a more traditional 72-hole format in 2012.

It takes place over three courses: PGA West – Dye Stadium Course, PGA West – Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club. All players and their amateur partners will rotate across those three courses for the first three days, before a 54-hole cut takes place and the remaining players return to the Dye Stadium Course for the final round.

As well as winning that inaugural edition in 1960, Arnold Palmer returned to win a further four times (1962, 1968, 1971, 1973), making him the most successful player in the event’s history with five victories in total.

There is then a group of nine players who have won this event on two occasions, including Phil Mickelson (2002, 2004), Jon Rahm (2018, 2023) and Johnny Miller (1975,1976). Miller becoming the first and as yet only player to successfully defend the trophy.

Last five winners:

  • 2023 – Winner: Jon Rahm (-27); runner-up: Davis Thompson (-26)
  • 2022 – Winner: Hudson Swafford (-23); runner-up: Tom Hoge (-21)
  • 2021 – Winner: Si Woo Kim (-23); runner-up: Patrick Cantlay (-22)
  • 2020 – Winner: Andrew Landry (-26); runner-up: Abraham Ancer (-24)
  • 2019 – Winner: Adam Long (-26); runners-up: Phil Mickelson, Adam Hadwin (-25)

Jon Rahm sat no worse than 2nd at the completion of any round in last year’s event before running out a narrow winner over then PGA Tour rookie and former #1 amateur, Davis Thompson.

Unfortunately, the Spaniard isn’t back to defend but that absence is offset slightly, as the event welcomes a one of its best ever fields to La Quinta.

THE COURSES

This week’s courses:

PGA West (Dye Stadium Course): 7187-yard par 72; 10x par 4s (346-471 yards), 4x par 5s (535-600 yards), 4x par 3s (165-223 yards)

PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course): 7147-yard par 72; 10 par 4s (364-462 yards), 4x par 5s (527-572 yards), 4x par 3s (165-209 yards)

La Quinta Country Club: 7060-yard par 72; 10x par 4s (382-469 yards), 4x par 5s (516-547 yards), 4x par 3s (168-206 yards)

With the exception of 2021, which took place at the two PGA West courses alone, this current three-course rotation has been used for the AmEx since 2016. Barring one previous appearance for the Stadium Course in 1987, the PGA West courses were new to the event, joining the regularly-used La Quinta Country Club, which has been a co-host in forty-plus renewals.

As with most pro-am events, course conditions aren’t usually tricked up, with rough down and green speeds slower than you’d expect. This means the pros generally eat these courses up and in the seven renewals in which all three of these courses have been used since 2016, it has averaged a winning score of 24-under-par.

All three courses use bermudagrass at the base, though at this time of year a poa trivialis overseed will be the dominant grass on the greens. They are each heavily bunkered and feature water in-play on five-or-more holes, but the difficulties really end there.

The two desert-style venues at the PGA West resort are tree-lined but generally pretty open and feature generous fairways; small greens at the Stadium Course are countered by much larger putting surfaces at the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

La Quinta CC is a traditional and greener parkland, with the holes more densely tree-lined; featuring tighter driving lines and small greens. However, fairways are easy enough to find and the length of the course, combined with the lack of punishment for errant ball-striking, makes it vulnerable to very low scores; Adam Hadwin firing one of only eleven 59s on the PGA Tour there in 2017.

The Stadium Course has traditionally been the more challenging but not enough to keep the scores down and providing conditions don’t have an impact we should expect another birdie-fest this week.

THE STATS

Key Stats:

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • SG: Putting (poa trivialis)
  • Birdie or Better %
  • Par 5 Scoring

Strokes-gained stats are incomplete for this event with the data solely collated from just the two rounds at the Stadium Course. Whilst this can still give us some idea of what is needed this week it is not 100% reliable as a guide.

Having said that, iron play and putting stand out among those stats, which is in-line with what I expect to be of most importance in an event where birdies flow more-freely than most, and on courses where fairways and greens are easy to find.

I do feel these events lend themselves to delving into the simpler scoring stats and aside from the most prolific birdie makers, I’d be wanting to side with the players who tend to make the most of the par 5s. There are twelve across the three courses and the majority of them are very gettable. If you’re leaving too many shots out there on these holes it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the birdies/eagles required to contend.

CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)

Texas Open (TPC San Antonio)

Whilst the difficulty of the two events differs greatly, the Texas Open at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course had many strong form-ties with this week’s event. The desert setting no doubt contributes to that, as does the bermudagrass base/poa trivialis overseeded greens; whilst as another course in the TPC portfolio it has similarities in the course layout, with risk/reward holes a feature.

Notable Correlating Form:

Andrew Landry:

AmEx (1st) / Texas (1st)

Si Woo Kim:

AmEx (1st) / Texas (4th)

Adam Hadwin:

AmEx (2nd, 2nd, 3rd) / Texas (4th)

John Huh:

AmEx (3rd) / Texas (2nd)

Martin Piller:

AmEx (3rd) / Texas (4th)

Andrew Loupe:

AmEx (3rd) / Texas (4th)

Lee Hodges:

AmEx (3rd) / Texas (6th)

Sean O’Hair:

AmEx (9th, 9th) / Texas (2nd)

 

Shriners Open (TPC Summerlin)

Another desert tournament takes us to Vegas and the Shriners Open at TPC Summerlin. This strongly-bunkered course provides us with one of the lowest scoring events on tour and compares closely to The AmEx in ball-striking difficulty.

Notable Correlating Form:

Si Woo Kim:

AmEx (1st) / Shriners (8th, 8th)

Patrick Cantlay:

AmEx (2nd) / Shriners (1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd)

Adam Hadwin:

AmEx (2nd, 2nd, 3rd) / Shriners (2nd, 4th, 6th)

Abraham Ancer:

AmEx (2nd, 5th) / Shriners (4th, 4th)

Tom Hoge:

AmEx (2nd, 6th) / Shriners (4th, 7th)

JT Poston:

AmEx (6th, 7th) / Shriners (3rd, 4th)

Lanto Griffin:

AmEx (3rd) / Shriners (6th)

 

THE PLAYERS Championship (TPC Sawgrass)

Pete Dye is the designer of the main course this week and it could pay to look at two more of his commonly-used PGA Tour courses for clues.

TPC Sawgrass hosts the tour’s flagship PLAYERS Championship event and possesses many of the same features as the Stadium Course here; including small, well-contoured greens (also poa trivialis overseed on bermudagrass base), strong bunkering and a watery risk/reward finish.

Notable Correlating Form:

Si Woo Kim:

AmEx (1st) / PLAYERS (1st)

Jason Dufner:

AmEx (1st) / PLAYERS (5th, 6th)

David Lingmerth:

AmEx (2nd) / PLAYERS (2nd, 6th)

Tom Hoge:

AmEx (2nd, 6th) / PLAYERS (3rd)

Adam Hadwin:

AmEx (2nd, 2nd, 3rd) / PLAYERS (9th, 13th)

Brian Harman:

AmEx (3rd, 3rd) / PLAYERS (3rd, 8th, 8th)

Cam Davis:

AmEx (3rd) / PLAYERS (6th)

Doug Ghim:

AmEx (5th) / PLAYERS (6th)

 

RBC Heritage (Harbour Town Golf Links)

There’s a couple of other Dye designs that could be of some use but Harbour Town is the other one I’ve decided to lean on. Whilst driving accuracy percentages are closely matched, it’s the small poa trivialis/bermudagrass greens that appeals most, which rank of a similar level of difficulty to putt on.

Notable Correlating Form:

Si Woo Kim:

AmEx (1st) / Heritage (2nd)

Patrick Cantlay:

AmEx (2nd) / Heritage (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd)

Abraham Ancer:

AmEx (2nd, 5th) / Heritage (2nd)

JT Poston:

AmEx (6th, 7th) / Heritage (3rd, 6th, 8th)

Cam Davis:

AmEx (3rd) / Heritage (3rd, 7th)

John Huh:

AmEx (3rd) / Heritage (3rd)

Brian Harman:

AmEx (3rd, 3rd) / Heritage (7th, 7th, 9th)

Sean O’Hair:

AmEx (9th, 9th) / Heritage (6th, 7th)

3M Open (TPC Twin Cities)

The 3M Open only began in 2019 but in the short time these two events have been played at these courses they have developed many form-ties, whilst they also rank closely to each other in ball-striking difficulty.

Notable Correlating Form:

Adam Long:

AmEx (1st) / 3M Open (2nd)

Lee Hodges:

AmEx (3rd) / 3M Open (1st)

Tony Finau:

AmEx (4th) / 3M Open (1st, 3rd)

Michael Thompson:

AmEx (5th, 9th) / 3M Open (1st)

Adam Hadwin:

AmEx (2nd, 2nd, 3rd) / 3M Open (4th, 6th)

Tom Hoge:

AmEx (2nd, 6th) / 3M Open (4th)

JT Poston:

AmEx (6th, 7th) / 3M Open (2nd)

 

THE WEATHER

Conditions are forecast to be dry and warm throughout the week and with little more than a gentle breeze there should be nothing to stop the usual low scoring at the event.

THE FIELD

PGA West and La Quinta CC welcomes one of the best fields in the event’s history for this week’s AmEx. World #1, Scottie Scheffler will be making his fifth appearances in the event and is joined by three more of the world’s top 10: #5 Xander Schauffele, #6 Patrick Cantlay and #10 Wyndham Clark.

There are a further seventeen from inside the top 50, including first starts of 2024 for Justin Thomas, Min Woo Lee and Shane Lowry.

There’s no Jon Rahm, or 2022 champion, Hudson Swafford, though we do have seven former winners in attendance: Si Woo Kim (2021), Andrew Landry (2020), Adam Long (2019), Jason Dufner (2016), Bill Haas (2015, 2010), Jhonattan Vegas (2011) and Charley Hoffman (2007).

Harrison Endycott makes his 2024 debut after coming out on top of Q-School in December; the third-best amateur in the world, Nick Dunlap gets another chance to test himself against some of the PGA Tour’s best and with several big names returning to action in recent events it’s also good to welcome back four-time PGA Tour winner, Daniel Berger, who hasn’t been seen since the 2022 US Open; an ongoing lower back injury keeping him out for almost eighteen months.

SELECTIONS

Market Leaders: Scottie Scheffler 6/1, Patrick Cantlay 10/1, Xander Schauffele 10/1

The format of this event lends itself to a more open contest, which has been the case with several big-priced winners over the years. Although, an uncommonly strong field means it may just take a little more winning than usual and I’m keen to get a couple on side from nearer the top of the betting.

That leading trio at the very top of the betting is full of class but I was impressed with the quality of Sungjae Im’s start to the year and with a superb record in this event, I’m taking him to re-enter the PGA Tour winners circle.

2.5 pts Sungjae Im each way (1/5 - 8 Places) - 18/1 

Sungjae began his year with a record-breaking 5th-place finish at Kapalua in The Sentry two weeks ago, where he sat 2nd at the halfway point but lost any real chance of a win with a 73 in round three.

However, he rallied for an excellent closing 63 to take him back into the top 5 and made his 34th birdie of the week on the closing par 5; a new PGA Tour record for a 72-hole event, surpassing the previous best of 32 birdies.

That type of birdie-making form should make him a threat here, as should the quality of his approach play and putting that week, ranking 12th in both areas. These two skills make up part of one of the most complete all-round games on the PGA Tour and enable him to be one of the best scorers around, ranking 5th in par 5 scoring and 24th in birdie or better % last year.

The Korean has put this skillset to good use in The AmEx, recording finishes of 12th, 10th, 12th, 11th and 18th in his five visits to this trio of venues. Gaining more strokes at the event than all but two of this week’s field.

Im also has some excellent correlating form, as a past winner of the Shriners Open; a runner-up in the 3M Open and possessing top 7s across the Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town. He ticks most boxes and if in a similar mood to two weeks ago I can’t see anything but a contending performance in La Quinta.

Sungjae im 18:1

2 pts Tom Kim each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 25/1 

Tom Kim was among my selections for The Sentry and though eventually finishing 45th, there were enough positive signs on show that tempted me in to give him another shot here; an event at which he finished 6th on his second visit last year.

Kim looked in very good shape at the end of 2023, finishing no worse than 24th in his final nine starts of the year, including a successful defence of his Shriners Open title in October.

He started the week solidly enough at Kapalua, opening with a round of 68 to sit 19th after the first round but rounds of 70 and 74 in the middle rounds dropped him down the leaderboard; before signing off with a strong closing 66 in round four, which included two eagles.

There was little wrong with the tee-to-green game there, he just struggled to get anything going on the greens. I’m willing to forgive this and put it down to an off week, as he was among the top 10 putters around at the end of 2023. This putting ability, combined with his top 10 approach performances and a quality of scoring that sees him rank top 16 for birdie or better % and par 5 scoring, should make him a good fit for this challenge.

Kim certainly showed this with a 6th-place finish in last year’s AmEx and with two wins at the Shriners adding extra encouragement, I expect him to put up a much-improved performance from his effort in Hawaii.

Tom kim 25-1

1 pt Akshay Bhatia each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 55/1 

California-born Akshay Bhatia has started the new season well, continuing the consistent form he was showing at the end of 2023 and as a typically heavy scorer, can keep that going in The AmEx.

Bhatia finished 2023 by making nine of his last eleven cuts, recording five top 25s and earning a first PGA Tour victory in the Barracuda Championship.

That win earned him a first start at Kapalua at the start of this year, where he finished 14th in The Sentry and followed that up with a 13th-place finish in the Sony Open last week.

He has shown quality in every area across those two starts, driving the ball well in each, putting strongly in The Sentry and he ranked 7th in approach in the Sony. This was especially pleasing for a player who largely looked strong with his irons last year, ranking 11th in GIR and 33rd in approach, but had lost his way a little towards the end of the year. Two positive strokes-gained putting performances in a row is another plus as it is a club he often struggles with.

Bhatia missed the cut in each of his two previous starts here but the latest of them was in 2021. He’s come on significantly from that and with rankings of 13th in birdie or better % and 23rd in par 5 scoring last year, he has the scoring prowess to be a feature near the top of the leaderboard.

Akshay Bhatia 55-1

1 pt Justin Suh each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 90/1

There was a lot to like about Justin Suh’s first full season on the PGA Tour in 2022/23 and I’m taking him to bounce back from a missed cut on his seasonal debut last week here in his home state.

The former top-ranked amateur missed just two cuts in twenty-seven starts last year; recording eight top 25s and four top 10s. His standout effort came with an excellent 6th on debut in THE PLAYERS and he also finished 5th in the Honda in the earlier part of the year. His two other top 10s came over his final three starts, finishing 10th in the ZOZO Championship and then recording his highest finish of 2023 when 4th in the World Wide Technology Championship.

He didn’t quite carry this form over into his first start of the year at Waialae, though he did respond to a 3-over 73 in round one with a 3-under 67 in round two. Hopefully a case of just lacking a little sharpness in that opening round.

Suh’s biggest strength was the putter last year, ranking 10th and helped him on his way to being a top-30 birdie maker.

His 54th-place finish here on debut last year offered promise, with rounds of 65 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course and 66 at the Stadium Course, and as someone who has finished 6th at TPC Sawgrass and 8th at the Shriners, I’m sure he’s capable of going better.

Suh 90-1

1 pt S.H. Kim each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 125/1

S.H. Kim impressed several times in his rookie season and after a positive season-opener in Hawaii last week he looks a lively outsider here.

Kim hit the top 25 on nine occasions in the 2022/23 season and got off to an excellent start with a 4th-place finish in the Shriners Open on just his third start. Though he went even closer at the end of last year, running Sahith Theegala close in this state when 2nd in the Fortinet Championship.

He started slowly last week, shooting 1-over to sit 92nd after round one but fired rounds of 64 and 66 in rounds two and three to shoot up the leaderboard to 13th entering yesterday’s final round.

A final-round 70 saw him drop down the leaderboard to 30th but he showed quality across the board, producing one of the best approach rounds of the week when gaining 3.12 strokes in round two and one of the better putting rounds, gaining 3.68 strokes in round three. Something I’m hoping he can put together this week.

Kim missed the cut here last year but we can take confidence from that 4th at the Shriners. His promise in the desert was also displayed by a 15th on debut in the Texas Open and I am expecting a better display in The AmEx on his second visit.

SH KIM 125-1

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips on our dedicated Betfred Insights golf hub.

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