Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What To Look For: 2017 Tour Championship

The final event of the 2016-2017 season occurs with the 30th Tour Championship and the 11th for the FedEx Cup at East Lake Golf Club in downtown Atlanta.


East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1904 and it is primarily known for being Bobby Jones’ home course. Currently, it is the home of primarily corporate memberships. It was originally designed by Donald Ross and then some re-designs and renovations were headed up by Rees Jones.

East Lake had become somewhat of a forgotten course in the 70’s and 80’s as the surrounding area, once referred to as ‘Lil Nam’ (as in Little Vietnam) was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. When I lived in Atlanta, one of my neighbors recounted the time that he and his boss played East Lake during that era and were robbed at gunpoint while playing.

Eventually, the East Lake Foundation was started and it not only revitalized the golf course, but the surrounding area. Now the East Lake area is most gentrified and has been one of neighborhoods in Atlanta that has been on the rise in the past 15 years.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the course. It’s very long at 7,385 yards and only being a par-70. It’s wide open with shorter than average rough so one can win there with a lack of driving skill. It features a lot of very difficult, if not ridiculous Red Zone (175-225 yards) shots. Thankfully, they switched around the nine’s and the 18th hole is no longer a par-3. And the old 18th hole used to be a 235 yard par-3 uphill. Overall, it’s not a bad course, but I could never figure out why it was ranked a top-100 course in the world other than the history it has with Bobby Jones.

This is a course that stresses a lot of Red Zone shots and Short Game shots which play off the difficult of the Red Zone shots.

Projected Winning Score: -11


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Jordan Spieth +500
Rickie Fowler +1,000
Jon Rahm +1,200
Jason Day +1,200



3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Marc Leishman +1,800
Paul Casey +2,000




3JACK

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What To Look For: Dell Technologies Championship

The Tour hits the second leg of the FedEx playoffs as it heads to Boston for the Dell Technologies Championship.

But to digress for a second,  I was asked about Dustin Johnson’s strategy in the playoff last week.


Obviously, the strategy paid off. But that does not always mean that it was a good strategy. If the odds of executing the shot are low and you happen to get away with it, that strategy will eventually come back to haunt you if you continue to use the same approach. But, as I’ve mentioned in previous editions of Pro Golf Synopsis, longer hitters can afford to be more aggressive with their lines off the tee and they should often seek out to be more aggressive so they can take advantage of their length off the tee. This is what DJ did. It was also a high likelihood of that he was able to carry the water from that line.

The only possible issue with taking that approach is that it can be difficult to pick the proper line to aim at. However, DJ usually hits a fade the only way he doesn’t carry the water if he takes an average swing at the ball is if he hooks it. So being able to hit his fade leans more towards being safe and in the end, it was a text book strategy for a player of his length off the tee.


***

TPC Boston started hosting Tour events back in 2003 with the Deutsche Bank Championship. TPC Boston was originally designed by Arnold Palmer who is, to me, perhaps the most underrated architect of golf courses. It’s a weird thing where as much as Mr. Palmer was respected, he had such mass popularity and tremendous playing credentials that most serious golfers that analyze designs tend to not take him very seriously.

They seem to take Nicklaus’ designs more seriously, but often pan Mr. Nicklaus’ designs because of their difficulty. Ben Crenshaw generally receives great praise for his designs and he is probably the most acclaimed former player turned designer in today’s game. But you almost never hear Mr. Palmer’s name in the conversation of top quality golf course designs.

Palmer’s designs usually stray from tricked up holes and prefer low laying greens to provide a more picturesque view on approach shots. He’s especially keen on creating some holes where too many players lay up off the tee when they should hit driver and usually a hole or two where virtually everybody should lay up off the tee, but it tricks too many players into thinking they can hit driver. He’s also very adept at using ‘form follows function.’ For instance, the 17th hole at Bay Hill is a great example as it’s a very difficult tee shot on the par-3, but the green is very flat and has a very high make percentage. Thus, it’s not impossible and gives in a little to the tee shot being so difficult.

Lastly, Palmer designs usually stress keeping your ball below the hole.

Of course, TPC Boston was re-designed by Gil Hanse. But, the course is still well respected. And the 18th hole is the final critical hole on the course, so it can lead to an exciting finish:

Projected Winning Score: -15

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +700
Jordan Spieth +800
Rickie Fowler +1,400
Jon Rahm +1,800
Justin Thomas +2,000


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Paul Casey +2,200
Kevin Chappell +3,500
Charley Hoffman +4,000
Kyle Stanley +12,500
Emiliano Grillo +15,000




3JACK

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What To Look For: 2017 PGA Championship

The 100th PGA Championship will take place at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. Quail Hollow is a routine Tour stop for the Wells Fargo Championship, but has made some alterations to suit the PGA Championship.


The course was originally designed by George Cobb in 1961. Cobb has a lengthy list of courses he designed, but almost all of them were relegated to the Mid-Atlantic states of Virginia, North and South Carolina. His most prominent design is actually the par-3 course at Augusta National.

Arnold Palmer made modifications to Quail Hollow in 1986 and then Tom Fazio made alterations in the course in 1997 and 2003. The main changes for the PGA Championship is that Quail Hollow is going from rye grass to Bermuda which they feel will likely make the course play firmer. They also altered the 1st hole, turning it from a 418 yard par-4 into a 508 yard par-4. They also changed the par-5 5th hole into a par-4.

Over the years most players I’ve talked to like the layout of Quail Hollow, but aren’t always nutty about the conditions and generally dislike the green contours. While I think Arnold Palmer may be the most underrated golf course designer of my generation, if there’s one attribute to his designs it’s that he was very insistent on keeping the ball below the cup and often times used some extreme contours on the greens to get that point across. But, this is still a George Cobb design and given it was built in 1961, that’s an era when green contours were much more severe so I don’t think Mr. Palmer wanted to change that too much.

Despite the recent renovations, I do not expect the course to change that much. It will still be a ballstriker’s course and the 3-wood will be more important here than it is on most other Tour courses. It still favors the longer hitter, but if the course plays firmer with the Bermuda grass, it will allow for more shorter hitters to have a chance.

While I’m not overly nutty about the course itself, I think we could have the makings for a fantastic tournament with all of the top-10 players in the world starting to play fairly well, Spieth chasing for the career Grand Slam, the possible rise of Matsuyama in making claim to the #1 player in the world and Rory starting to heat up again. And I still project that the final critical hole on the course will be the par-4 18th hole.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -11


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +700
Jordan Spieth +850
Dustin Johnson +1,100
Hideki Matsuyama +1,200
Rickie Fowler +1,600
Jon Rahm +2,200


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Paul Casey +4,500
Daniel Berger +5,500
Zach Johnson +6,600
Brendan Steele +20,000


EXTREME DARK HORSE PICK

Luke List +35,000






3JACK

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What To Look For: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational



The last leg of the World Golf Championships takes place at Firestone Country Club. The WCG-Bridgestone Invitational is considered to be founded in 1999, but the Tour has actually been playing at Firestone since 1954 at the Rubber City Invitational.

Firestone CC consists of three different courses, the North, South and the West. The PGA Tour events have almost exclusively been played at the South Course. They did play the North course in 1976 and 1994, but it was generally disliked compared to the South course.

The South Course plays to 7,400 yards flat and a 75.1 handicap index. However, it is only a par-70. The general consensus from Tour players on Firestone is very positive. It’s not impossible, but it’s still a very strong ballstrikers course that is in superb condition, isn’t tricked up and usually has fantastic crowds. It also helps that it has one of the biggest purses on Tour and there is no cut line.

In order to qualify for the event, a player must meet one of the following criteria:

• Playing members of the last named Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams (whichever was played last).

• Players ranked among the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking (one week and two weeks prior to event).

• Tournament winners of worldwide events since the prior year's tournament with an Official World Golf Ranking Strength of Field Rating of 115 points or more.

• The winner of one selected tournament from each of the PGA Tour of Australasia, Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour and two selected tournaments from the Japan Golf Tour.

Most of the strokes lost/gained here will come off the tee and approach shots from mid-to-long range. What I like about Firestone is that while it’s a ballstriker’s course, it’s not necessarily a long ball hitter course as Craig Parry and Hunter Mahan have won here.

What I don’t like about the course is the Critical Holes are all on the front nine and the last critical hole is on the 494 yard par-4 9th hole.

Projected Winning Score: -13


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Jordan Spieth +800
Rickie Fowler +1,600
Hideki Matsuyama +1,800
Jon Rahm +2,200
Paul Casey +3,300
Matt Kuchar +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Gary Woodland +5,500
Charley Hoffman +5,500
Russell Henley +8,000
Bryson DeChambeau +12,500





3JACK

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What To Look For: RBC Canadian Open

Big congratulations goes to Jordan Spieth on winning The Open Championship in dramatic fashion:



The past data for Birkdale proved to ring true as it was a Red Zone/Short Game/Putting course. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick either Spieth or Kuchar due to their performance in all three categories being a little off this season. However, they have traditionally performed well in those areas and sometimes it just takes a while for a top player to return to their old form.


***

Glen Abbey will be hosting the 114th Canadian Open. The Canadian Open is hosted at a numerous different locations, but Glen Abbey has hosted the most Canadian Opens (27). This is likely due to the popularity of golf in the Ontario region, the size of the city of Toronto and more predictable weather. If you can get a passport, this could be a fun tournament to go to with a trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto is one of the nicest cities you’ll ever visit.

Glen Abbey was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus’ prime architectural mentor was Pete Dye. However, Glen Abbey was one of Nicklaus’ earlier designs so there is not so much of a Pete Dye influence as you tend to see in Nicklaus’ later designs.

Typically from Nicklaus designs you see a course that features false fronts and a lot of nuances that make the course made for TV. It also tends to come with some disputed opinion on the course itself as I’ve heard varying opinions from Tour players. Some really enjoy Glen Abbey and others strongly dislike it. It’s probably one of the courses with the largest discrepancy in reviews I’ve come across on Tour. It does typically play fast and firm, but that region has received a lot of rain which could make the course softer and thus favor longer hitters.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -17


3JACK FAVORITES 

Dustin Johnson +600
Matt Kuchar +1,100
Tony Finau +2,200
Bubba Watson +2,800
Gary Woodland +4,500
Keegan Bradley +4,500


3JACK DARK HORSE PICKS

Adam Hadwin +6,000
Kevin Tway +6,600
Jason Kokrak +10,000
Harold Varner III +12,500





3JACK

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What to Look For: The Open 2017

Before I go on to The Open, I wanted to discuss Bryson DeChambeau's victory at the John Deere Classic.

DeChambeau came in to the Tour with some controversy with his swing philosophies and the Single Length irons concept.  There has been a lot of attacking the Single Length iron concept, but here's Bryson's current rankings of key performance metrics:

(out of 202 golfers)

Driving Effectiveness: 21st

Green Zone (75-125 yds): 200th
Yellow Zone (125-175 yds): 61st
Red Zone (175-225 yds): 31st

Short Game (<30 b="" yards="">82nd

Putts Gained: 173rd

As we can see, ballstriking has not been the major issue for Bryson.  He has struggled from the Green Zone (75-125 yds), but that is a fairly volatile metric where players often perform well there one season and struggle from there the next season.  In fact, Bryson ranked 44th from the Green Zone in 2016.

Having hit the Sterling Single Length irons and Cobra One Length irons I have been amazed how easy it is to hit the long irons straight.  I generally don't have an issue hitting long irons given how much of my practice is focused on the long irons, but the ability to hit them straight has been impressive.

In the end, when it comes to distance with irons it's about proper gapping, the landing angle of the ball and the spin rate.  The claim 'they've tried this before and it didn't work' neglects the changes in technology and the more advanced engineering concepts that exist today.  Engineers like Tom Wishon, David Edel and the people from Cobra have been able find ways to allow their irons to properly yardage gap, get the proper amount of spin and compatible landing angles.

Single length irons won't be for everybody but neither will variable length irons.  It's just something to keep an open mind about when looking for a set of irons.




***

Royal Birkdale was built in 1889 and received 'Royal' status in 1951.  The Clubhouse to Birkdale is unusual in the sense it looks like it was from 1970's architectures with it's clean lines and boxy design, but it was actually built in 1935 which makes me think they were 35 years ahead of time on a very fad-ish design concept.

The course is more appealing for TV than your typical Open course although you probably won't see the great views like you will see at Royal St. George or Royal Liverpool.  But the course is well received because the tee shots are more 'fair' and it is supposed to be in great condition.

Looking at the past two championships at Birkdale the common theme of the top finishers tends to be Red Zone (175-225 yds) play, short game performance and putting.  Typically, I don't focus on good putters when making picks for an event because usually putting is too unpredictable on almost all of the courses on Tour.

Years ago, I asked Aimpoint creater (www.aimpointgolf.com), Mark Sweeney, about what the most difficult courses where to read the greens.  I thought he would reply with Augusta National, but instead he said that Augusta's greens are not all that difficult to read.  Instead, he mentioned the various courses in the Open cycle because they often feature odd locations for anchor points (lowest point of the green) and that makes the reads very difficult to accurately see.

Therefore, given this information and Royal Birkdale's past history of favoring good putters, I will consider putting more here in these picks:

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Rickie Fowler +1,600
Jon Rahm +1,600
Louis Oosthuizen +4,500
Thomas Pieters +5,000
Marc Leishman +5,000
Justin Thomas +5,000


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Ian Poulter +6,600
Daniel Berger +8,000
Matthew Fitzpatrick +8,000
Bernd Wiesberger +10,000
Kevin Na +25,000



3JACK

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What To Look For: The John Deere Classic

The Tour comes to Illinois for the 46th John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run. Ed McMahon served as the original host of the event from 1975 to 1979.

 

TPC Deere Run was designed by former Tour player, DA Weibring. It was built in 2000 and plays to 7,258 yards long with a 144 slope and a 75.8 rating. However, the course does not play anywhere close to that difficult for the John Deere Classic. The ball tends to roll out pretty good making the course play shorter and it has very receptive greens and flat putting surfaces which mean a lot of approach shots are struck close and a higher percentage of putts are being made.

Generally the course is liked by the Tour players because it’s not a completely grueling dogfight and it’s rather fun to play. It plays fairly tough off the tee because some of the landing areas are pretty small. This places an emphasis on driving the ball, but once you get out to the approach, most shots are gained/lost from 135-170 yards.

The field here is unpredictable from year-to-year because the British Open is the following week and many of the Canadian players want to prepare for the Canadian Open which is the following week after the British Open. It often depends on how the top stars feel about playing the British Open and if they are lukewarm on the Open, they may be more willing to play the John Deere.

Anyway, expect low scores and lots of birdies. Generally favors mid-length drivers of the ball and makes life difficult on the longer hitters.

The final official critical hole is the par-5, 17th hole. But the 18th almost made the list of critical holes. That means the final 2 holes can provide for some real excitement even if it is a low scoring event.


PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -21


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Brian Harman +1,600
Charley Hoffman +1,800
Kyle Stanley +2,200
Steve Stricker +2,200
 Ben Martin +4,000
Bryson DeChambeau +4,000


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Chez Reavie +4,500
Ryan Palmer +6,600
Rory Sabbatini +17,500
Rick Lamb +30,000







 3JACK