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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What To Look For: The Greenbrier Classic

The Tour comes back to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia after playing the Quicken Loans at TPC Potomac.



I didn't do a What To Look For last week due to the Tour having not played TPC Potomac in a while and the course went thru renovations and re-design in the process.  What's interesting is that the course, back when it was known as TPC Avenel, was once won by one of the premier ballstrikers at the time in Grant Waite.

Kyle Stanley is now one of the best ballstrikers on Tour and the course was very much about driving off the tee with a bias towards hitting fairways rather than distance.  Stanley is one of the best drivers on Tour (currently 5th in Driving Effectiveness) and favors more accuracy (currently 7th in Adjusted Hit Fairway Percentage) than distance off the tee.


***

The Greenbrier Classic will be played at The Old White TPC.  The Greenbrier Classic replaced the old Buick Open which was being held in Michigan and had the second most raucous crowds next to TPC Scottsdale.

The Old White TPC was built in 1914 by Charles Blair MacDonald.  It went thru some re-designs and then had some slight re-designs last year after the flood which destroyed the course and killed 20 people.


The course has been well received by Tour players since the Tour started coming here.  In fact, Bubba Watson took up a summer residence here and it is frequently visited by Lee Trevino.  The renovations have kept much of the course the same except they had to re-do each of the 18 greens and supposedly they move the greenside bunkers a little closer to the greens.

I know in the south Bermuda greens are supposedly good for roughly 14 years.  When they get renovated with new bermuda grass, I find it usually takes about 1 year for the greens to settle in.  So with the bunkers being a little closer to the greens and the greens possibly being firmer (although they have bent grass greens), greenside bunker player could play a factor.

In the past, long approach shots and 3-wood play was quite important here.

Projected Winning Score: - 15


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Kevin Kisner +1,400
David Lingmerth +2,500
Webb Simpson +2,800
Graham DeLaet +5,500


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Nick Watney +6,600
Ollie Schniederjans +6,600
Luke List +9,000
Scott Stallings +12,500
Hudson Swafford +12,500
Harold Varner III +12,500

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What To Look For: The Travelers Championship

The Tour comes off the US Open to play the 65th Travelers Championship.


First, some thoughts on the US Open.

I felt that Brandel Chamblee made some great insight into what the US Open should be. It should be an intimidating golf course and unfortunately while Erin Hills was a great layout it failed to intimidate players. However, at the other end of the spectrum Chambers Bay and often times Pebble Beach which are great layout in their own right (yes, Chambers Bay is a great layout) where so tricked up that they look visually unappealing and do not represent the best of what US golf has to offer.

I feel the USGA needs to forget so much about even par being the winning score and instead create an intimidating course. If you hit a good shot, you’re rewarded. If you hit a bad shot you are severely punished. And if you hit an average shot you’re at least risking a severe penalty, but not guaranteeing a severe penalty.

I grew up a fan of baseball before I got into golf. And in the 90’s when baseball badly needed a surge in popularity, they allowed an era of steroids, juiced baseballs, shorter fences, stadiums designed where the airflow would help propel the ball further and smaller strike zones to allow more home runs and offense…using the old adage ‘offense sells tickets.’

This led to Sammy Sosa bettering Roger Maris’ home run record in a season and Mark McGwire destroying Maris’ home run record by 15%. And over the course of the next 3 seasons, McGwire, Sosa and then Barry Bonds made Maris’ home run record look like a mere pittance. Maris also set the record at the age of 26 years old compared to McGwire and Bonds setting their records at 34 and 36 years old respectively. Furthermore, prior to the ‘steroid era’, the closest anybody ever came to Maris’ record since the year he established it (1961) was 52 home runs by Willie Mays and George Foster.

The steroid era created a jump in the popularity of baseball, but that was short lived and not only was Maris’ record deemed meaningless…but the records set by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were cheapened by the fact that Major League Baseball essentially found ways to lower the bar enough to make it possible to break Maris’ record. For roughly 35 years, nobody could sniff Maris’ record and in roughly a 3 year span there were players easily beating the record.

Don’t get me wrong, records are meant to be broken. But, they are also meant to be cherished. Protect the integrity of your records and that record will protect you. Had any player in baseball broken Maris’ record ‘legitimately’ the game would have gotten a lot more mileage from it.

And that’s the problem with making a low scoring US Open where records are almost easily destroyed. It cheapens the legacy of the tournament and it doesn’t do the participants any justice.

For instance, Justin Thomas did shoot a brilliant 63. But the below chart shows that when you base in on relation to the average score that day, Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont was indeed better.

(Click to Enlarge)

(credit: https://twitter.com/Robopz)


Statistics are not always convenient.  However, it's okay to compare and contrast performances in different situations.  Statistics can provide a much clearer picture to accurately depict the situational and to help better formulate your thoughts.

While Thomas’ round wasn’t as impressive as Miller’s play at Oakmont, it was still an incredible round. However, that was tarnished by the fact that anybody could see the 60 yard wide fairways on display and start to see that the course was made far easier than just about any US Open venue in history. But again, Thomas still played an INCREDIBLE round of golf.

IMO, the problem lies with the USGA’s inability to understand what makes golf holes difficult and easy. How to make particularly holes more difficult than normal or easier than normal. If they do have knowledge, it’s essentially a guessing game based on old golf adages instead of using hard, detailed data.

This isn’t exactly rocket science. All it takes is good ole fashioned research, data collection and testing. Trying to determine with greater accuracy to project how difficult each hole will play and if a hole projects to play easy, how to reasonable create factors to counter the ease of the hole and vice versa. Instead of guessing, it’s a strive for excellence in both difficulty and visual appeal.

That striving for excellence is something that would be the very best possible representation of the US Open.


*** 

The Travelers Championship was originally the Insurance City Open as the state of Connecticut has more insurance companies headquartered in Connecticut than any state in the US. Manhattan is the banking and financial headquarters of the US and insurance companies wanted to be near Manhattan, so they chose Connecticut.

Eventually it was changed to the Greater Hartford Open. TPC River Highlands was originally known as Middletown Golf Club and then Edgewood Country Club. The PGA Tour bought out Edgewood Country Club and had Pete Dye re-design the course and name it TPC Connecticut. In 1989 the course went further re-design under architect Bobby Weed (excellent designer) with the help of pros Roger Maltbie and Howard Twitty.

Last year, Jim Furyk shot the course and PGA Tour record of a 58 at TPC River Highlands:


Generally, TPC River Highlands is a well liked course by Tour players. It’s private and has bentgrass greens, so they can usually keep it in excellent shape. It’s not too taxing mentally and it provides some advantages to the long hitters, but also allows shorter hitters to compete. The reason for it not being played by more players on Tour is due to it usually coming the week after the US Open and the purse size ($6,800,000) is on the lower end.

The long hitters have an advantage because the course allows them to hit a lot of drivers. The shorter hitters can compete because iron play is quite critical here and one cannot recklessly bomb it off the tee and be rewarded if they are hitting inaccurate tee shots.

So, I would be on the lookout for either superior iron players or long hitters having a good week driving the ball and leaving themselves with shorter and easier approach shots into the green. Also the final critical hole on the course will be the par-4 17th hole.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -15

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Jordan Spieth +1,000
Justin Thomas +1,200
Paul Casey +2,000
Bubba Watson +3,000
Brendan Steele +3,300
Charley Hoffman +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Kyle Stanley +4,000
Ryan Palmer +10,000
Lucas Glover +10,000
Boo Weekley +40,000







3JACK