Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 PGA Championship

The 100th PGA Championship occurs tomorrow at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.


What many people do not realize is that the PGA Championship was originally a match play format before moving to stroke play in 1958. 

There's always the contention that the PGA Championship isn't really a 'major' from small factions of people.  I get the idea as it lacks some identity.  With the Masters you have the 1 course played each year and you have those Augusta greens.  The US Open was about the brutal rough and the British Open is about the links design and in particular, the wind.  But with the PGA you really lack that identifiable trait.  That's why I propose that they make this a global event with the tournament being held at a different course in the world each year.

This year the venue is Bellerive Country Club.  It plays to 7,547 yards at a par-71 that is 530 feet above sea level.  It's a Robert Trent Jones design.  I grew up playing a lot of RT Jones designs as he graduated from Cornell University and got his start in the Central New York area.

Jones' calling card is somewhat wide fairways and very long holes.  You can gain some strokes off the tee, particularly if you're long and somewhat straight off the tee.  But most of the strokes will be lost/gained from the Red Zone in Jones' designs.

Here were the '94 top finishers:

1st - Nick Price
t-2nd - John Cook, Nick Faldo, Jim Gallagher, Jr. and Gene Sauers
6th - Jeff Maggert

Peter Jacobsen, a very underrated ballstriker, won the 2004 US Senior Open there as well.

Nick Price was one of the best drivers of the ball on Tour since 1980.  In fact, when I wrote about the players that accomplished the feat of being 1 standard deviation above the mean in both driving distance and driving accuracy in the same year since 1980 (2011 Pro Golf Synopsis) Price was one of the few players to have done it in two different seasons (so did Nicklaus, Lietzke and Duval).

But, Price was also a superb Red Zone player.  John Cook's data follows the same suit, but Faldo and Maggert were more excellent Red Zone players than great drivers of the ball.  Combine that with Jacobsen's victory, I would look out for quality drivers and Red Zone players of the ball. 

The players are believing that this is a low scoring course, but you never know when the tournament flags go up.  What would concern me is that the top finishers in '94 were mostly very accurate off the tee.  That likely means firm and fast fairways.  However, St. Louis has had a lot of rain recently.

3JACK'S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +800
Rory McIlroy + 1,200
Justin Thomas +1,400
Brooks Koepka + 1,800
Justin Rose +2,000
Jon Rahm +2,500
Tommy Fleetwood +2,500



3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Francesco Molinari +3,000
Gary Woodland +10,000
Kiradech Aphibarnrat +20,000






3JACK

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 WGC - Bridgestone

The Tour comes to Firestone Country Club for the last time for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.



The original tournament at Firestone was the NEC World Series of Golf which was originally a 4-man event, taking each of the 4 major championship winners to play in the event. Eventually in 1999 it turned into a WGC event.

The south course was originally designed by Bert Way in 1929 and then re-designed in 1960 by Robert Trent Jones. Jones was once the premier designer, particularly for major championship courses, on Tour. Having grown up playing numerous RT Jones designs (he was a graduate of nearby Cornell University) his courses are very long and fairly wide open. But, he does stress quality driving…it just tends to be more distance biased than accuracy biased.

To my knowledge, Firestone – South is the only RT Jones design left on Tour. Most of the current Tour courses have more dogleg that have sharper bends to them. If the rough is short and the conditions are soft, it generally gives an enormous advantage to the long hitters. If the rough is long and the course is firm, it favors short, but accurate hitters off the tee. With RT Jones designs, it should favor longer hitters, year after year.

Watch out for some big drives here as last year Rory McIlroy was hitting speed rams and routinely pumping 370+ yard drives. But, this should mostly come down to longer approach shot plays and who can make some mid-length putts.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -13

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +700
Rory McIlroy +1,000
Justin Rose +1,200
Jordan Spieth +2,000
Jon Rahm +2,000


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Henrik Stenson +4,000
Patrick Cantlay +6,600
Bryson DeChambeau +6,600
Kyle Stanley +12,500
Gary Woodland +20,000





Rich

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What To Look For: RBC Canadian Open

The third oldest tournament on the PGA Tour, The Canadian Open, comes this week from Glen Abbey Golf Club just outside of Toronto:


Glen Abbey is the most common course played for the Canadian Open. It was designed in 1976 by Jack Nicklaus. Ironically, this is one of the few pro events that Nicklaus never won.

This is a critical event on Tour for many players because the field is somewhat weak since the British Open was the week before. This will allow for some players with less FedEx points to possibly make a large leap in the FedEx standings before the playoffs.

Overall, the course is not that well liked by the players. Most of the strokes will be gained/lost off the tee and on mid-iron approach shots. The par-5’s are critical as well, but they are more about the drive than the 2nd shot.

The par-5 18th is the final critical hole on the course.

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +650
Brooks Koepka +1,100
Tony Finau +1,600
Tommy Fleetwood +1,600
Charley Hoffman +2,500


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Gary Woodland +4,000
Byeong Hun An +5,000
Sam Ryder +8,000
Hunter Mahan +12,500
Conrad Shindler +15,000




3JACK

Friday, July 13, 2018

Making Par vs. Saving Par and Pre-Shot Routine with George Gankas

Here's a video that I really liked from George Gankas on his new YouTube channel.  You can find his new YouTube channel at this link:

George Gankas YouTube Channel



In my lesson with GG back in April we discussed some statistical analytics in golf and a little bit of strategy. But, he didn't need much help as most of the stuff I have seen him discuss is on the same wavelength with what the data tends to show.

What I like about this video is the pre-shot routine analysis. Recently the European Tour did some analysis on pre-shot routines and the consistency and time it takes and its impact on performance.



My only issue with the RSM study is that the sample size (20 players over 8 rounds) is questionable at best. But, I do believe that with a more sufficient sample size the main conclusion would be the same.

I also like GG's solution for separating swing thoughts from your round of golf in order to get the golfer to 'play golf instead of playing golf swing.' 

I'm a firm believer in utilizing slow motion practice. Not only because it works well at ingraining mechanical movements in your swing. But, I have found that when I'm really in tune with slow motion practice I can get out on the course and play without using swing thoughts. In fact, it's almost like a weird out-of-body experience where I can stand behind the ball, visualize the shot and visualize myself hitting the shot before I actually hit the shot. Golf becomes automatic from there.

The issue is that if you're working on new mechanics and want to play it will take time to get to that level with slow motion practice. So, I really like GG's instruction of making the first practice swing with your swing thought and then 'turn that thought into a feel' on your 2nd practice swing.

***

Having said that, to me it's not really a 'feel' as much as my braining SENSING how my body needs to move to hit the shot I want to hit.

I remember years ago reading an article and they asked Fred Couples on how he hits a draw on purpose (at that time he played a fade). Couples' response was that he simply visualized the ball drawing in his pre-shot routine and then he simply got up there and hit the ball and it would draw. I used to think that Fred was full of shit and that there had to be some type of actual swing thoughts and step-by-step instruction to do so. But about 20 years later I started to realize that Couples was telling the truth and he was simply sensing what his body had to do in order to produce a draw.

I relate this sensing to watching musicians play a song that they are not quite familiar with.  My sister was an accomplished violinist and occasionally would hear a popular song on the radio and play it with her violin.  She didn't need sheet music or think about what actual notes to play or how he was holding the violin, etc.  Instead, she could hear the music and her brain could sense that if she made a certain movement it would produce the sound she wanted.

***

The concept of making par vs. saving par also reminds me a lot of what Jim Furyk once said in a Golf Channel Playing Lesson.  Furyk hit a poor drive on a hole and the host asked him what was going thru his mind.  Furyk's reply was there was no reason to get upset and instead he imagined that he was playing from the tee box from that location and it was a par-4 from there.  His goal was to hopefully make a faux 'birdie' (actually a par), but he didn't want to make anything more than a faux par (actual bogey).

In GG's case, saving the actual par was not overly difficult because he did have some semblance of a shot at the green and he didn't have a long ways to go.  But, the concept should stay the same.  Losing your cool on the golf course is understandable and even to a degree, acceptable.  But if it works against you being able to properly focus then it will be a detriment to your score.

One of the main concepts to come away from all of this is that data analytics and psychology in golf are often intertwined.  They operate in a vacuum in golf far less often than people think.  Things like confidence, etc. often produce 'good numbers' for golfers, but playing the odds correctly can often produce a healthy golfer from a psychological standpoint.  And we can use data analytics to measure how things like pre-shot routines can impact performance and then use neurological and psychological experts to give detail as to what occurred to produce those observed results.





3JACK

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Do Slower Greens Favor Better Putting?

I received this question from a Twitter follower:



It's a bit difficult to decipher Fowler's point as the phrase 'good putting' is not defined by him. My guess is that he believes that the more skilled putters (we'll say that 'more skilled' are the players that finish near the top in Strokes Gained - Putting) tend to out-putt the rest of the field on slower greens.

In that case, it depends on a few factors.

If you were to take the same course and change the stimps, typically the faster stimps favor better putting. The better putters on Tour tend to gain more of an advantage on putts that break more and going from a 9 stimp to a 13 stimp on the same course will mean the putts will have more break.

But, there are a lot of other factors to be considered.



Faster greens, be it for Tour pros or amateurs, tend to have a higher make % from inside 20-feet. Faster greens tend to be smoother and thus the make % increases. There’s probably something to be said for having to hit a putt softer and taking a shorter stroke as well. But faster greens also tend to have a higher 3-putt percentage. It’s close to being all or nothing, either make the putt or end up with a longer following putt and increasing your probability of 3-putting.

Having said that, the slower greens, particularly on Tour, tend to be on courses designed prior to 1980 with little or no renovations to the greens. Architects from that era makes greens nearly half the size of modern design greens. Thus, 3-putt probabilities are more likely to be lower due to the likelihood of having a much shorter first putt on average. These architects also favored more undulated green contours and thus the greens could not sustain fast stimps.



In a case like Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, both courses with very low make percentages that the best putters tend to gain the biggest advantage on the greens…they have slow greens, but with some of the most undulated green contours on Tour.

But, if those greens were to play at a faster stimp they would inevitably give good putters a stronger advantage. Thus, it’s really about the size of the break which is a combination of stimp and % of slope. Slow flat greens will not favor good putters more than fast flat greens much less fast, undulated greens.

From my examination of Tour players and their performance on types of breaking putts, almost everybody on Tour can putt well on straight putts or near straight, but uphill putts. What separates the best putters on Tour from the rest is that they can make a higher and near equal percentage of left-to-right versus left-to-right breaking putts. The rest of the Tour is filled with putters that do not putt nearly as well at both types of breaking putts.

Noticing that the best putters on Tour tend to putt both types of breaking putts better and don’t have a bias between the two is like noticing that NBA players tend to be tall.




3JACK

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Greenbrier Classic

The Tour returns to the Alleghany mountains for 8th annual Greenbrier Classic at The Old White TPC course:


The Old White TPC course was built in 1910 by Charles B. Macdonald.  It currently plays to nearly 7,300 yards as a par-70.  It's also still one of the most respected courses on Tour.  It features a lot of square and rectangular shaped greens and the finishing hole is a 177 yard par-3.

The last critical hole on the course is the 616 yard par-5 17th hole.  Despite it being 616 yards, it's quite reachable in two shots.  Here's a look at the cumulative 2nd shots tht either found the green or close to it last year:


It just requires 2 quality strikes and the big thing is finding the fairway off the tee. 

Other than that, The Old White TPC is a long iron and wedge course and often times the winner here is a surprising player that has been striking the irons well all year long, but has failed to get the payoff:

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -15


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Brian Harman +2,500
Charles Howell III +2,800
Jimmy Walker +3,300
Bill Haas +5,000


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Keegan Bradley +5,500
Kevin Chappell +6,600
Nick Watney +8,000
JJ Spaun +10,000
Alex Cejka +15,000
Tom Hoge +20,000





3JACK

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Quicken Loans National

The Quicken Loans National was established in 2007 as the AT&T National, known as ‘Tiger’s Event.’ It has been held in the DC to Philadelphia area with Congressional being the main course it has been held at. While the range from DC to Philadelphia may seem like an expansive area to cover, it’s only about a 2.5 hour drive from the two cities.

Congressional has soured on the event in recent years as it takes time for the course to recover from the event and there’s limited time each year to play at Congressional. That leads the Tour coming back to TPC Avenal…now TPC at Avenal Farm in Bethesda, Maryland:


I don’t know a lot about TPC at Avenal Farm other than it was one of the courses they used to have on the early versions of PGA Tour golf video games. But, I’ll let Wikipedia give the background on the course:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TPC_Potomac_at_Avenel_Farm

Originally opened thirty-two years ago in 1986, the course was roundly criticized for poor design in its early years. It was also plagued by years of flooding and drainage problems and by various turfgrass issues which affected the greens and often produced less than satisfactory tournament conditions. As a result, many top professionals stayed away, and the Kemper/Booz Allen tournament became unofficially relegated to "B" event status. 

In the summer of 2005, Dewberry and Davis land surveying crews were regularly seen taking measurements across the facility, sparking rumors that the long criticized course would finally be reconfigured. Confirmation came in 2007, when a $32 million golf course and clubhouse renovation commenced in an effort to bring back a tournament to the Washington D.C. area. The renovation covered the entire course, which has been reshaped into a new 7,139-yard (6,528 m) course at par 70 with Rock Run Creek being expanded and cleaned up. 

The controversial sixth hole (conceived as a weak copy of the 13th at Augusta National) was changed to a straightaway long par-four with the green now short and left of the creek. The par-3 ninth (famously maligned by Greg Norman, who suggested the original be "blown up with dynamite") was rebuilt with a new green up on a hill near the old practice green. The old 10th and 11th holes have been combined into the new tenth, a long par-five playing around the restored creek feature. The old 12th is now the 11th, with the old par-five 13th (another popular target of player angst) eliminated and replaced by a new, uphill par-three 12th and a short, par-four 13th. 

In addition to the golf course, the project also included a new practice facility and short game area, and clubhouse renovations. In November 2015, the 7th and 16th greens were renovated to flatten contours and provide additional hole locations in anticipation of hosting the Quicken Loans National in 2017. Additionally, small improvements were made to a number of holes, including creating bent grass chipping and collection areas around the 3rd, 4th, and 18th greens, widening the 5th and 6th fairways, and flattening the front portion of the 13th green to create additional hole locations. Finally, the on-deck putting green was quadrupled in size from 1,500 square feet (140 m2) to over 6,000 sq ft (560 m2).

Last year TPC at Avenal Farm greatly favored players that were good at avoiding bogeys. Usually avoiding bogeys on Tour requires quality driving, long approach play, short game around the green and putting from 3-6 feet. The last critical hole on the course is the Par-4 16th hole which plays to 415 yards.

What I saw out of the 16th last year is that it was very difficult getting up-and-down when a player missed the green in regulation:


Players that missed short of the green or in the short right bunker only got up-and-down about 30% of the time. It sort of fits the characteristic of a ‘Critical Hole’ as the green is fairly shallow, but it’s not a super long hole and the up-and-down percentages are low. Since it’s not a long hole, plenty of players can find the GIR. But given that it’s a shallow green with low scramble conversion %, lots of players can easily make a bogey.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -7


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Tiger Woods +1,200
Kyle Stanley +2,000
Charles Howell III +2,500
JB Holmes +2,500
Byeong Hun An +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Kevin Streelman +5,000
Si Woo Kim +5,000
Adam Hadwin +6,600
Martin Laird +7,500
Alex Cejka +15,000




3JACK