Thursday, May 23, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge

The Tour returns to Colonial Country Club for the Charles Schwab Challenge:



Colonial CC was created by Marvin Leonard in 1938.  Leonard was infatuated with bringing bentgrass greens to Fort Worth and managed to do so thru spending a ton of money with a lot of upkeep and a designing of the greens by John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell to make them very flat in order to preserve the grass.

Now with modern bermuda grass strains like Championship Bermuda and TifEagle, that's not necessary as they can withstand the heat and still roll exceptionally well.

Colonial is fairly well liked on Tour except for the bombers as the course is so tight and treelined that many bombers will have to keep the driver in the bag throughout the week and lose their advantage of distance off the tee.  That's why many bombers avoid Colonial altogether.  And the event doesn't have the purse size nor the amenities of more of the top tour events.  Combined with the re-scheduling of the PGA Championship, the event just doesn't draw as much interest these days which is a shame.

The course is mostly about quality, accurate driving but more importantly Red Zone (175-225 yards) play.

The final critical hole on the course in the 17th.

It's only 375 yards and most players will hit a tee shot that is roughly 230 yards off the tee.  Below is how to play it off the tee assuming 250 yards of carry.



However, the real key to this hole is finding the fairway more than having less club into the hole as players that miss simply do not make birdie on this hole.  And there may be a lack of confidence in hitting a 3-wood with accuracy compared to a long iron/UDI/Hybrid off the tee.  And the front left and back right pin locations are very difficult locations to putt to.

Projected Winning Score: -15

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Jon Rahm +1,100
Jordan Spieth +1,100
Justin Rose +1,100
Rickie Fowler +1,200
Paul Casey +2,000


3JACK'S DARKHORSE PICKS

Emiliano Grillo +5,000
Matthew Fitzpatrick +5,000
Abraham Ancer +7,000
Sung-Jae Im +7,000
Andrew Landry +12,500





3JACK

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 PGA Championship

After a nice vacation in Southern California, I’m back to doing my weekly picks. This week…the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.



A shout out to all of the people that made for a great time in SoCal. I got to see the awesome people at Fujikura and we got squared away on some new shafts and clubs fitted for me. I won’t give away what they are until I do my next WITB post. Hopefully, that will be in about a week or two.

Fujikura is now in a new facility in Carlsbad, coming from nearby Vista. This puts them next door to OEM’s like TaylorMade, Cobra, EVNROLL, etc. It’s really fascinating to see so many manufacturers in one small place. I got on their ENSO machine, the top of the line 3D motion capture for fitting golf equipment.

One of the gazillion things they measure with ENSO is the hand speed and the club head speed throughout the entire golf swing. We talked about some of this last year, but I had some of the numbers mixed up…

The hands for every golf reach max speed when the trail elbow connects with the body in the downswing. This can also be called P5.5


After the hands reach this point, the hands slow down into impact. On the other hand, the club head continues to accelerate into impact (once the head hits the ball, it quickly decelerates).

They compared my swing to JB Holmes’ swing into impact. The good news is that my hand speed and club speed was slightly faster than JB’s at this p5.5 location. However, Holmes decelerated the hands less and accelerated the club head much more into impact. If I recall correctly the numbers looked something like this:



I relate it to two hot rods taking off and me slightly winning the race, but at the very last second I slow down way more than JB. And that leads me to the next day and my lesson with George Gankas.


***

Kind of a big swing update here. I had an in-person lesson with GG about a year ago. After that, I struck the ball really well for a month, then struggled badly the next month. Then I hit it really well for about 6 weeks and then struggled for about 3 weeks. And so on and so forth until about November when I started to really get p1-p5 down quite well



The problem was that I still had some issues in the downswing. In mid-March I started to work on them only to find that all of the stuff I worked on from p1-p5 went to hell. The biggest issue was my hand were not getting deep enough at the top of the swing (p4). I was still shallowing out the club, but not as much as I would like to because of the left arm being jutted out too much at the top of the swing.

So for a month before my lesson with GG, I worked like a dog on my swing. I would get it the hands deeper at p4 here and there, but nothing substantial. In the meantime, I was hitting the ball pretty well and shooting good scores. But, I felt like it was hanging by a thread.

GG first saw me hit balls and while my swing was not what he typically prescribes, he said that the matchups are very good and that’s why I was hitting the ball well. In fact, he compared my swing and matchups to Brooks Koepka’s.

One of the many things I’ve learned from GG is that I do believe if your hands are not deep at P4…you’re better off playing a fade. Unfortunately, I play a draw and that’s how things go a little haywire at times. If I was younger and had GG as a coach, I would favor a fade since my tendency is to not get the hands deep enough. But at this age and with less time to work on my swing, I think it’s better to work on my backswing to get the hands deeper than trying to ingrain a fade.

GG told me that he thought that while I was hitting the ball well, I’m not quite reaching my potential. I agree with GG on that point, but knowing my swing as I do the bigger issue is that I felt that while I was hitting it well…my ballstrikign was basically hanging by a thread and it was going to get very bad, very soon unless I changed some things.

***

My issue with the golf swing is that while I’m good at spotting the major issues, figuring out the minute stuff that is causing those issues tends to elude me.

I knew from my MORAD days that if the hands are not getting deep enough at p4 that there is some type of rotational issue. Once you stop pivoting in the backswing and you have range of motion left in your arm swing…your arms will go more vertical instead of more around your body.

But the big thing GG worked on was my lack of left lateral bend/tilt in the backswing. That was causing me to not be able to turn more from p3-p4. I actually contemplated the lack of left bend/tilt in the backswing before my lesson, but only found success with it getting my hands deeper for 1 range session. What I didn’t recognize is that I had too much extension of my left hip and my left knee in the backswing, so even when I tried to get left tilt/bend I was not doing it properly.

We also worked on some downswing drills, but that will be saved for later when I get my backswing more in line with where I want it.

I knew a lot of people would ask me what a lesson with GG is like and what he does that other teachers don’t do.

Probably the biggest thing I noticed was that GG doesn’t deal with ‘feels’ in his lessons. He demonstrates the motions he wants, what it looks like, gives checkpoints so the student can make sure they are doing it right, gives them proper drills to attack the issue and how to troubleshoot the issue along with demonstrating and explaining how everything works together in the golf swing.

He doesn’t even try to get the golfer to develop their own feels. And I greatly appreciate that with his teaching because feels are so subjective and if you get into feels too much…you end up chasing them.

Other than that, he gives a metric ass-ton of lessons. He’s very self aware of his teachings and what works, doesn’t work and everything in-between. He had the knowledge of golf mechanics, but also the understanding of how to develop golfers. As I wrote about in a GolfWRX post not too long ago…while it’s great to see golf instructors get with credible scientists to research the swing, the big concern I have for the golf instruction industry is that many of these instructors are giving very few lessons and thus the application of the research in teach can fall flat.

For instance, one of the things I first found in research of statistics and the game was how strong of a correlation there was between driving distance and par-5 scoring average. Thus, my conclusions were that golfers should not only go for par-5’s in two more often, but be unafraid to hit the driver as long as they possibly can on par-5’s.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later of working with various Tour players and mini-tour players and some low handicap amateurs that while the research data had merit, the conclusions were flawed. I then started to research expected score values from the rough vs. the fairway from different distances to the hole.

The end result showed that expected scores rose dramatically when a player was in the rough vs. being in the fairway on shots from 175+ yards. I then tried to apply the difference of hitting a 3-wood off the tee on par-5’s vs. driver and found that swung the balance more towards hitting it longer instead of hitting it shorter and finding the fairway. In the end, I found the best balance on par-5’s to hit driver and be fairly ‘aggressive’ in going for par-5’s in two. But, the driver swing should be the ‘stock swing’ with a focus on making good contact and finding the fairway instead of ‘letting the shaft out.’

None of this would have been possible if I had not tested this on players and was not self aware enough to see that there was some issues with my original conclusions.

Anyway, here’s a drill GG prescribed that I worked on this weekend:


I also got to see Jake Leadbetter and Johnny Ruiz (who just made it to sectional qualifying for the US Open). Johnny hits it very long and very straight. He had a rough season on the Web.com last year, but he has the potential to be a winner on Tour.

***

Saturday thru Monday I played golf and played fairly well despite coming off a lesson. I got to play Rustic Canyon with friends Jason Pettersson and then Preston Combs (www.prestonputting.com). Rustic Canyon is in the Simi Valley and was designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford.



I’m more of a parkland design fan. Links and ‘dunes style’ golf usually has too ridiculous of green contours for me and the open air tends to lose the acoustics of a crushed driver or flushed iron shot that you get with parkland golf. But, Rustic is a solid track. And it’s also very peaceful and serene. The greens were completely different than what I’m used to coming off playing Orange Tree for the past year and you really have to play it a few times to get a feel for it.

Wood Ranch is more to my liking and the type of course that makes me such a fan of SoCal golf. Rolling hills with nice sightlines and fair, but compelling shots. Georgia is just as hilly as SoCal, but the designers there fail to use the land like the designers in SoCal (most prominently William Bell).


***

Now onto the PGA Championship.

Bethpage Black plays to 7,468 yards at a par-71. It has a slope of 155 and an index of 77.5. This would make it one of the most difficult courses in the country. From my experience, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course plays noticeably more difficult. There also used to be a course in Canton, GA called Laurel Canyon that played tougher although it’s a ridiculous design. Kiawah can be a ridiculous design as well given how hard the wind blows there frequently. That’s what makes Bethpage such a great design and I don’t think you’ll see players bitch about the course. It’s cruel, but it’s fair.

This is a driving course first and foremost. The median fairway width is only 25-1/2 yards. And with the long rough nearby, missing too many fairways is too problematic. So, that’s why I don’t think the more effective drivers on Tour that do it by hitting the ball obscenely long and don’t hit many fairways are more likely to struggle this week (i.e. Cameron Champ).

The course should be soft. On most courses this favors the long hitters. I think it will favor the long hitters here given how the course has favored long hitters in softer conditions before. The one course where soft conditions tend to help out shorter hitters in Augusta, but that’s because the greens are reachable and it’s more about the greens being soft enough to receive lower landing angle approach shots. But here at Bethpage, the length of the course and the elevated greens tend to make for a different situation.

Will that help more erratic drivers of the ball like Tiger?

I tend to not thing so. The fairways being so narrow it’s not an issue of the ball rolling out of the fairway but more of an issue of the ball starting offline. In essence, if Tiger drives it pretty well he’s got a great chance to win. But, it’s hard to rely on him driving it well. He won’t get the opportunities he had at Augusta to miss the fairway badly and still have a good look at the green on the approach.

The 16th hole, a 490 yard par-4, is the last critical hole on the course.



16 doesn’t look overly daunting other than it’s a very long par-4. However, the fairway is only 25 yards wide. The diagram above shows where a player with 280 yards of carry should have their target; roughly at the corner of those trees. Those longer than 280 yards of carry will need a target that is further left and those short of 280 yards carry will need a target further to the right.

From there, the green is only 69 feet wide. For the average Tour player that has roughly 200 yards into the hole from the fairway, they’ll hit the ball to roughly 36-feet to the hole on average and be roughly in the neighborhood of 29-feet offline (left or right of the target, so a total of 58-feet of range). Thus, it’s a hole where finding the middle of the fairway and the middle of the green is generally the best strategy regardless of pin location. Players just have very little room to use targets that are further away from the center of the green.

BTW, I like the move of the PGA Championship to May. It not only keeps a nice flow of big tournament golf from March thru August (September in Ryder Cup years), but it allows for more courses to come into the fold as they don’t have to deal with that insufferable August weather.


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +1,000
Brooks Koepka +1,100
Rory McIlroy +1,100
Justin Rose +2,000
Xander Schauffele +2,500
Patrick Cantlay +4,000


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Gary Woodland +5,000
Paul Casey +5,000
Matthew Fitzpatrick +12,500
Abraham Ancer +20,000
Corey Conners +20,000


NOTE: 11 players were picked as Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland were dead-even according to the algorithm.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 RBC Heritage Championship

The PGA Tour comes back to Harbour Town Golf Links.


Harbour Town was built in 1967 and primarily designed by Pete Dye with the help of Jack Nicklaus. IMO, it's the best course that either Nicklaus or Dye designed.

Contrary to what the above video may tell you, Harbour Town does gneerally favor the short, but accurate golfers off the tee. But to Davis Love's credit..he was one of the longest players ever in his era and has won at Harbour Town 5 times in his career.

This is a tight course where mid-length approach shots are paramount to a Tour player's success here.  Also, as shown in the video, bunker play is at a premium as well.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -11

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Xander Schauffele +1,800
Patrick Cantlay +2,000
Matt Kuchar +2,200
Ian Poulter +3,300
Jim Furyk +3,300
Matthew Fitzpatrick +3,300


3JACK'S DARK HoRSE PICKS

Byeong-Hun An +4,000
Corey Conners +8,000
Kevin Streelman +10,000
Ted Poter, Jr. +27,500




3JACK

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Valero Texas Open

The Tour comes back to the Valero Texas Open.



The Tour plays the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, designed by Pete Dye and Bruce Lietzke.  It loves to get windy at San Antonio which will only make the course more difficult.  This is primarily a driving and long iron course.  Good putters also tend to do well here, too.

Don't expect a big turnout as the field is a bit week.  Many player do not particularly care for the design and with Augusta happening next week, now they have an excuse to avoid the tournament altogether.


3JACK's FAVORITES

Rickie Fowler +1,000
Matt Kuchar +1,600
Jim Furyk +2,500
Sung-Jae Im +2,500
Lucas Glover +3,300
Abraham Ancer +3,300


3JACK's DARK HORSE PICKS

Ryan Moore +4,000
Ryan Palmer +5,000
Chesson Hadley +8,000
Corey Conners +15,000






3JACK

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Valspar Championship

The Tour comes back to Innisbrook for the Valspar Championship.



The Valspar Championship was originally called The Tampa Bay Classic and was created in 2000. Although it is referred to as being in Tampa, the course is located in Palm Harbor which is about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Tampa.

Generally, I find that this event flies under the radar as far as PGA Tour events go. This may be due to the area being, what I consider, more of a ‘tennis town’ than a ‘golf town.’ Tampa gets as much rainfall as any area in Florida, but it’s also the lightning capital of the US (hence the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team). There’s not much in the way of great golf in the Tampa/Clearwater/St. Pete area. The closest for really good golf is either in Sarasota or about an hour north in the Ocala/Brooksville area. And with the Tour shifting the schedule so it’s the week after The PLAYERS Championship and the week before the World Match Play event, that will likely mean weaker fields in the future.

It’s too bad because Tampa is one of my favorite cities in the country and Clearwater (just south of Palm Harbor) is always a fun place to be. Tampa’s infrastructure and charm of the old south, Cuban heritage, combined with it being one of the first place where northeasterners came to actually reside in Florida full-time and the modern urban touch along with it having a sleepy beach town appeal make it very unique.

And the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is well received by the fans and the players. It’s a pretty king-sized course though. And the par-5’s are critical to a player’s success there.

Unfortunately, that means the 14th hole is the last Critical Hole on the course and it can make the event rather anticlimactic.




This is one of the easier driving holes on the course. The average tee shot will go roughly 290 yards and they will find the fairway about 62% of the time. There’s no water or fairway bunkers here either.

However, what makes this a Critical Hole is that the 2nd and 3rd shots are at about the average in terms of difficulty while this is one of the most difficult putting greens on the course. So there’s a greater variance in performance on the 2nd and 3rd shots here and those that hit it well on the 2nd and/or 3rdshots have a sizeable advantage because of the difficulty of the putting green.

Projected Winning Score: -11


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +550
Jon Rahm +1,000
Sergio Garcia +1,600
Webb Simpson +2,000
Gary Woodland +2,200
Jim Furyk +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Jason Kokrak +4,000
Ryan Moore +5,000
Michael Thompson +10,000
Dylan Frittelli +17,500






3JACK

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 The PLAYERS Championship

The PLAYERS Championship actually started in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club. It then moved to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth the following year before moving to the Inverrary Club in south Florida in 1976. Then, the event found its permanent home in the Sawgrass area of Ponte Vedra Beach. It actually started at Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside course which I’ve heard great things about. Then in 1982 it moved to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Prior to the 80’s, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. was the preferred designer of the Tour, particularly on their major championship courses. Having grown up playing a lot of RTJ courses when I was a junior golfer, the words ‘big and bold’ always come to mind when I think of his courses. Of course, some of that was influenced by the Tour’s desire to make the courses bigger so they could seat more fans and have more corporate seating.

But right about the late 70’s to early 80’s, the Dye design became en vogue. Dye had the ability to create a course that could hold the fans, but did some innovative stuff like using railroad ties around greens and bunkers and of course…the island green emanating from the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.


I’m not a historian of golf architecture, but it’s my opinion that Harbour Town and the 17th at Sawgrass really made Pete Dye’s career as an architect. Initially, many of the players…including Jack Nicklaus (who helped him build Harbour Town in 1967) did not like Sawgrass. But, the 17th was so different, iconic and artistic that every golfer wanted to play it. And with Harbour Town being established as one of the very best courses in the country, I think it helped establish Pete Dye as the ‘go-to architect’ of the 1980’s.

The players started to like Sawgrass much more when they re-contoured the greens. Over the years it’s been appreciated, but conditioning has always been a concern. Mainly it’s the greens that are the issue. Whether they were super slow in the 90’s to the issues with grass dying off on holes like #4 the past few years. If you get a Tour player that doesn’t like Sawgrass, it’s usually a bomber that loses their advantage of power off the tee because of the design of the course.

That’s because the 10 par-4’s consist of 5 dogleg right designs (#1, #4, #5, #7 and #15) and 5 dogleg left designs (#6, #10, #12, #14 and #18). Contrary to popular belief, there’s not a lot of working the ball both ways off the tee on Tour. Thus, it becomes difficult for a long hitter to control the driver on the holes designed against their natural ball flight because Dye has made those holes just narrow enough to get those players into trouble off the tee.

The final Critical Hole on the course is the par-4 18th.




This is the most difficult hole to drive the ball on the entire course as the average tee shot will travel about 280-285 yards and find the fairway roughly 65% of the time with 6-8% of the tee shots finding the water. The other roughly 25-30% of the shots that miss the fairway end up having approach shots blocked off by the trees on the right side.

Moving the tournament back to March was a great idea. May can get unbearably hot in Florida. This is also not the most spectator friendly event as there is no bleacher seating by the range and the range is far away from the ropes. The parking lot is about the size the of the actual course and just walking from the parking lot to the course is a hike and the course is difficult to navigate because you can’t watch multiple holes and multiple shots from roughly the same area.

The move to March also moved the PGA Championship to May. I think this allows for a greater variety of courses for the PGA Championship to play. While May can be hot in Florida, Arizona, Texas, etc. it is do-able to have a major there in May. Not so much in August.

Having said that, all reports I’ve received from Sawgrass is that the course is pretty firm and that just favors the short, but accurate drivers of the ball more.

Projected Winning Score: -14


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Francesco Molinari +2,200
Bryson DeChambeau +2,500
Tommy Fleetwood +2,800



3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Paul Casey +4,500
Lucas Glover +6,600
Matthew Fitzpatrick +7,000
Sung-Jae Im +10,000
Byeong-Hun An +10,000
Ryan Moore +17,500
Chez Reavie +20,000
Adam Long +30,000





3JACK

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational


Y'know what's cool?

Walking back to your car at 6:10 PM with your sore feet and it getting chilly out and seeing the grounds crew working at a fever pitch on the 8th green to prepare for tomorrow's event and one of the guys on the grounds crew...who has probably been there since 6 am when it was a brisk 39-degrees...driving by you with a big wave of a hello and a smile. 

This is such a great representation of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the man himself.  Where most people would be agitated, tired and looking to finish the long day...and deservedly so....you get a big wave hello and a smile like you're the long lost friend that saved them from a house fire years ago.

And every year, like this one...I see great friends like Nick Starchuk, Jeff Haas, Charles Howell III, Denny Lucas, Nick Jones, Pat McCoy, Grant and Osten Waite...just to name a few.  And it's always a good time.  It's a relaxed atmosphere that is still the most fan friendly event I've ever been to on Tour.  It's fairly easy to walk, it's a beautiful layout, there's a grandstand right behind the players on the range and you can almost touch the players on the putting green.  I've been to quite a few Tour events and outside of The Masters (which isn't really an actual Tour event)...this is the best fan experience out there.  And with The PLAYERS Championship now scheduled the following week, this should provide a very strong field year-after-year.

Here's the deal on the tournament...the course is mostly about mid-to-long approach shots and the course goes from crusty to soft at odd times.  Generally, the course has a bias towards playing soft.  Mainly because holes 3-8 kinda sit in a bowl.  When it does...it greatly favors the bombers.  When it plays firm...it starts to favor short, but accurate hitters of the ball.

Right now the course is fairly soft due to the rain on Tuesday.  My guess is that it will favor the bombers on Thursday and Friday and then it will be up to see who can hold on during the weekend.

#18 is the final Critical Hole on the course.  However, #4 could be a big factor this week.




This hole plays uphill and is a more difficult of a drive than it looks.  However, they extended the tee 50 yards back and there will be some golfers that will have difficulty reaching the fairway off the tee.

But, back to #18:



As we can see, it's so critical to find the fairway here (red dots = birdie, blue dots = par, black dots = bogey or worse).  The field will find the fairway about 50-55% of the time.  About 3-4% of the tee shots will actually find the water. 

From there, 40% of the players that find the left rough will find the green while only about 20% of the players that find the right rough will go on to hit the GIR.  Overall, 50% of the field will find the GIR in all 4 rounds.

Projected Winning Score: -13


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +650
Brooks Koepka +1,100
Justin Rose +1,100
Rickie Fowler +1,200
Bryson DeChambeau +1,400


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Tommy Fleetwood +3,300
Daniel Berger +6,600
Cameron Champ +8,000
Sung-Jae Im +12,500
Corey Conners +30,000





3JACK