Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Safeway Open

The 2018-2019 season starts with the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort and Spa in the Napa Valley.


The North Course at Silverado is a par-72 playing to 7,166 yards with a 74.3 index and a 135 slope. The course is at 235 feet above sea level.

The course was built in 1955 and then re-designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. in 1966. This is about the tightest you will see a RTJ type design which doesn’t mean much as RTJ preferred to open courses up off the tee.

You will also get to see these nifty lil’ tee markers:



Like most RTJ designs, it’s about the long approaches. He also designed this course with a lot of crowns and saddles (old school AimPoint terminology) in the greens which frustrates a lot of golfers that have never played there before.

With the Alfred Dunhill Cup going on over in the UK, the field isn’t particularly strong. I didn’t list Brendan Steele in my favorites to win, despite winning here the last two years as his numbers just don’t fit the course this year. But, this is the time for a Tour rookie to stake claim to their Tour card right away with the weaker field.

As far as the course goes, I’ve gotten mixed responses from Tour players on the course. Some think it’s a really solid design. Others would rather stay away from it.


Projected Winning Score: -15

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Patrick Cantlay +1,200
Phil Mickelson +2,200
Ryan Moore +2,200
Joaquin Niemann +2,500
Adam Hadwin +3,500


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Chris Kirk +5,000
Dylan Fritelli +5,500
Kevin Streelman +7,000
Cameron Champ +12,500
Sung Kang +15,000






3JACK

Monday, October 1, 2018

My Putting Lesson with David Orr

At the beginning of the year I decided to make a list of everything that I hated about my golf game. The goal was to take those things that I hated, whether it be performance related or aesthetically related, then determine if it was hurting my game. If it was hurting my game, I would then seek ways to get rid of it.

For instance, one of the things I hated was my sawed off looking finish in my golf swing.



I started to understand why I was making that sawed-off finish position. It was mainly a function of a club path going too far left with a chest that was not open enough at impact. This would hurt my game, mainly making it more difficult to control the clubface. So I have worked to fix that and over time my finish has looked more ‘pro-like.’

With my putting, I took note of the following things:

- I hated how I putted on putts from 4-10 feet. I was a poor putter, relative to the baseline avg. make % on these putts.

- I hated how I putted on slow greens. I was a poor putter, relative to the baseline avg. make % on these putts.

- I would have a putt that I despised making…this low launching pull that looked like it just got eaten up by the grass and I had no chance of making it and it would miss left and short.

- I was a good putter, relative to the avg. make % on fast greens.

- I was a good putter, relative to the avg. make % on putts from 10-20 feet.

For a long time I have wanted to see my friend, David Orr (www.flatstickacademy.com) for my putting. I first met David when I was 14 years old as we grew up not too far from each other in New York. David was an aspiring Tour professional who was a really good ballstriker, but struggled with the putter. Eventually, he became an instructor and he wanted to understand the science of putting and is, arguably, the greatest putting instructor in the world. His students have included numerous pros such as Justin Rose, Suzanne Pettersson, Hunter Mahan, Cheyenne Woods, etc.

If you ever go onto David’s Web site (FlatstickAcademy.com), it has an enormous wealth of knowledge on what seems like an infinite amount of subjects with regards to putting. The site’s membership is $6/month and you can end your subscription at any time. To me, it’s by far the best golf instruction online membership site on the internet, today.

The only issue is that it’s always difficult to diagnose your own putting issues. And for me, I became averse to working on my putting because I didn’t want to work on bad habits. Going to see David in person meant that we could properly diagnose my strengths and weaknesses and create a plan to follow to make for permanent improvement.

And I also wanted to understand those things that I hated about my putting.


***

David now bases his golf instruction out of the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf. This is located just minutes away from Pinehurst. David has excellent packages that include putting instruction, putter fitting and lodging at the resort.

Pine Needles is a fantastic resort. The lodging can hold up to 4 people in an old fashioned lodging design.



You have quality restaurants and bar/grilled just a short walk away as well as a top-notch practice facility with Pro V1 range balls where you can hit balls from various locations and a short course that is 4 holes called ‘The Loop’ which is a blast to play.

David has an outdoor, real grass putting green designed just outside his studio that is about as perfectly flat as an outdoor real grass putting green can be. And the Pine Needles and Mid Pines golf courses right there, you have the chance to play top of the line golf courses that I just a short walk to get to:



***

My lesson was the 3 hour package. The first thing we did was have me putt some on the regular practice green. David observed my putting stroke and eventually had me putt some uphill and downhill putts that left-to-right and right-to-left. He also took some videos of my putting stroke outdoors.

The main theme of our lesson?

Working on the Smash Factor of my putting stroke.

The putter has the highest smash factor of any club in the bag. Whereas a driver may get up to a max of 1.50 Smash Factor (Smash Factor = Ball Speed / Club head speed), the putter can a smash factor up to 1.90.

Obviously, a mis-hit will reduce the smash factor. But, I was hitting my putts on the sweet spot of my putter. The problem was my stroke was designed to not allow much energy transfer from the putter head to ball.

In essence, I had a long backstroke and I had to have a longer backstroke because the ball came off the face too ‘softly.’ The only way I could get the ball to the hole was to take the longer backstroke.

And this explained one of the questions I had:

Relative to the avg make % being the baseline…why am I an better than average putter on fast greens and a miserable putter on slow greens?

I think it’s because I’m a pretty good green reader that read those putts on faster greens. But, the faster greens means that I can take a shorter backstroke and there would be less for me to ‘screw up’ from a putting stroke perspective.

In my case, David saw that I had what he calls an ‘under-twist’ motion. A small clockwise motion from my right hand thru impact.

And this would explain my issues on putts from 4-10 feet.

Those putts have a little less to do with green reading (IMO). You can be a little off with the green reading on those putts and still make the putt whereas a putt from 10-20 feet if you’re a little off with the read, your chance of making the putt plummets.

The 4-10 foot putts are more about initial direction of the putt, launch, etc. A poor quality of strike will likely mean a miss than a weak read (IMO).

David actually brought his own putter to the green and started putting with me. He then went over some instruction with me on the green. We changed my grip (I had a very strong right hand grip) as well as going over different types of rotation in the putting strokes (closed to open, open to closed, square to square). And we also worked on the radius of my stroke as I had a tendency to lengthen the radius in my backswing.


***

We then headed to David’s putting studio.



The putting studio has 3D motion capture, Puttview, Sam Puttlab, a putter fitting setup, etc. First, we got in front of a mirror and altered my setup position a little. I had the ball too far forward at address. David also added a little bit of right lateral bend at address (about 3 degrees). He showed it in the mirror so I could see what I looked like with the new address change.

From there, we went onto the SAM Puttlab on the Puttview platform and measured my stroke.

A few notes from my original SAM Puttlab measurements:

- My aim was only off by about 0.4 degrees to the right at address.
- My path moved quite a bit to the left which helped cause the Smash Factor issues.
- I opened the putter face quite a bit in the backstroke.
- I had too much forward shaft lean at impact

If you haven’t seen PuttView…you’re missing out. And if you want to become an expert putting coach, PuttView will greatly help expedite that process.



First, PuttView can change the degree of the slope on a putt by 4%. So if you want to work on a 2.3% right to left putt, the platform can change to that. It takes about 15-20 seconds to change the slope.

Then there’s all of the PuttView optics, many of which are shown in the video. You can show the AimPoint, the tangent line, the line of the putt where it hits the entry point of the cup, the ‘banana view’ (3 different lines to the hole depending on the speed you want to hit it), etc.

I thought one of the coolest things PuttView offered is that it would show the line of the putt with the line going from the ball to the cup at the same speed as a putt that ends up 1 foot past the cup or a putt that dies into the hole.

For my situation, we used PuttView mostly because of how I putted Right-to-Left putts. I would aim very square to the target on straight putts and left-to-right putts. But, I would aim DEAD RIGHT on right-to-left putts. Combine that with the ‘under-twist’ movement, it was a clear fear of hitting a pull…particularly on right-to-left putts.

Some more alterations were made to the putting stroke as we adjusted my wrist position at address. And amazingly enough, just by looking at my stroke David could tell that I didn’t have enough pressure in my right middle and ring fingers! Just by looking at the stroke he could see that I would lose that pressure in my fingers during the stroke and we worked to keep that pressure constant throughout the stroke. When we started to look at my stroke on the SAM Puttlab with those changes, we started to see even better aim at address, less face change and rotation and a smaller path to the left.


***

This led to the putter fitting. I have always been confused by what putter I should use as I’ve virtually been fitted for mallet style putters by every fitter I’ve ever worked with. Yet, I have never putted well with mallets for any length of time. In fact, the best I ever putted was with a Wilson 8802 putter as a junior golfer. And I would have fitters tell me that my stroke didn’t fit that 8802!

Going into the lesson, I figured that I would probably be fitted for a Fang Style putter. David has said on his Web site that golfers that want to avoid a pull tend to go to the mallet style putter. I have never used a Fang style putter, so I figured that would probably be the best option for me to avoid the pull, but not be your typical mallet design that I suck at putting with.

Instead, David had me fitted with a blade style putter. In fact, probably the bladiest blade of all blades.

The SeeMore mFPG



While we were fitting for the putter, we made a couple more alterations. Particularly taking the forward shaft lean out at address because I had too much shaft lean at impact. The SeeMore works well in that regard because of the Red Dot they have to help align the golfer without the shaft lean.

That’s when my stroke on the SAM Puttlab became really good. The aim was off by less than 0.3 degrees at address, the face change and rotation greatly reduced and the path was only going about 0.3 degrees to the left. Originally it was going about 2 degrees left.

And this meant a much shorter backstroke with a far better smash factor. And my aim on right-to-left putts when from aiming wayyyy right to basically being spot on.

But, David also gave me some options of putters to choose from and we went on the SAM Puttlab to try them out.

The Toulon Austin putter was arguably the best fit for me with the SeeMore.



We also tried the TaylorMade Soto:



The TM Soto didn’t fit as well, although it was worlds better than my gamer, the Bettinardi Queen B #9.

In the end, David preferred the SeeMore for me. Although his intuition was that I would likely have the best possible fit with a blade/Anser style putter that either had no or ½ offset and the hosel location was somewhere between the SeeMore and the TM Soto hosel locations. I do have the Toulon Long Island at home that I haven’t used in a while:



David said he wished that I had brought it with me as that may have been a better fit. However, the Toulon Long Island is at 2/3rd offset. It’s also hard to argue how good I was stroking the SeeMore and it has the red dot to help me align my hands at address properly.

So I purchased the SeeMore with the following specs, per David:

35” long (my Bettinardi was at 34” and was way too short for me).
3* loft
70* lie angle
Midsize Pistol Grip

In all it was a fantastic time that has gotten me excited about putting again. The following day I played Pine Needles and I couldn’t get over how much better my putting from inside 10-feet was despite having to use my Bettinardi putter which doesn’t fit me at all.

And I think David has some incredible instruction/stay packages available. Between the instruction and the fitting, serious golfers like myself will save a lot of money and frustration by putting better and having to use 1 putter instead of inconsistent putting and buying a new putter every year, hoping that will finally cure your woes.

While there are some really good putting instructors out there, I don’t think any of them are the complete package as David and his understanding and data on the hands and wrist movements in the putting stroke is unparalleled. And more importantly, I think he's going to get rid of all of those things I hate about my putting.






3JACK

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Tour Championship

The Tour Championship will be played this week at East Lake.


East Lake plays to over 7,300 yards at a par-70 with an index of 76.2 and a slope of 144.

It was originally designed by Donald Ross and then re-designed by Rees Jones. The area around East Lake was one of the most dangerous areas in the country and was once given the nickname lil’ Nam (as in Little Vietnam).

When I lived in Atlanta, a neighbor of mine told the story of getting onto East Lake with his boss back in the 80’s and while they were playing a man jumped the fence…robbed them at gun point and then hopped the fence again and disappeared.

Anyway, the neighborhood has completely changed and embraced the event. However, I’m not the biggest fan of the actual course. From talking to players, they seem to like it but I tend to think that they are just happy to be there because it means they are in the Tour Championship and they are exempt from almost every event and are exempt from every major next season.

Jokingly, I wonder if part of the prize for making it to the Tour Championship was to not have to play in Pro-Ams for the next season if that would put extra pressure on players during the season.

Anyway, this is a Red Zone course and a bomber’s course. Wide open and very long. The par-3’s are brutal. They did the smart thing by changing up the nine’s so that the 18th hole is no longer a par-3 (and a worthless par-3 to boot).

But, it’s also a course that stresses short game around the green. Typical of Donald Ross designs.

Projected Winning Score: -12


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +900
Justin Rose +900
Justin Thomas +1,200


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Hideki Matsuyama +2,000
Tommy Fleetwood +2,500
Kevin Na +7,000







3JACK

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 BMW Championship

The final leg of the FedEx playoffs is at Aronomink Golf Club, just outside of Philadelphia.



Aronomink was built in 1896 and designed by Donald Ross, my personal favorite golf course architect. Ross’ designs often featured golfers using every club in their bag with crowned and elevated greens that put an emphasis on precise iron play and capable skill around the greens.

The main issue with Ross’ designs is that he had not adequately prepared for the distance gains stemming from new technology and many of his courses were severely diminished or became obsolete. In 2003, Donald Ross expert Ron Prichard headed up the renovation of Aronomink that recaptured Ross’ design concepts.

In 2017, Gil Hanse led further renovations at Aronomink. For myself, the jury is still out on Hanse as an architect. As difficult as the green surrounds that Ross would design, Hanse has carried a reputation of being ridiculous in these features. However, there are plenty of respectable golfers that give Hanse high praise.



The lengthening of Aronomink means that the key approach shots should be a little longer and that will likely mean more missed greens and thus short game performance should matter more. I have the last critical hole on the course, based on the AT&T National Championships held at Aronomink in 2010 and 2011 as the 15th hole.


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +900
Justin Rose +1,200
Brooks Koepka +1,400
Tiger Woods +2,000
Rory McIlroy +2,000
Tony Finau +2,000
Jordan Spieth +2,200
Hideki Matsuyama +2,500



3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Patrick Cantlay +3,500
Phil Mickelson +4,000






3JACK

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Dell Technologies Championship

The second stage of the FedEx playoffs at TPC Boston this week:


TPC Boston was originally designed by Arnold Palmer in 2003 and then re-designed by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon in 2007. It plays to a par-71 at 7,216 yards with a 77.6 index.

I’m not very familiar with Hanse’s designs. He designed the recently opened Streamsong Black which I have yet to play. He also re-designed The Blue Monster at Doral. I’m a big fan of Arnold Palmer’s designs and really think that Bay Hill is a vastly underappreciated design particularly as I started to study the course from an analytics standpoint. But, Mr. Palmer wasn’t a big fan of creating a torture chamber and would lean towards making the course too easy versus too difficult. Hanse and Faxon may have been brought in to toughen up the course a bit.

From what I’ve been told from people that have played Hanse designs is that the green contours are super challenging. But given the performance at TPC Boston the past few years it appears that the course isn’t overly difficult and is more Palmer biased than Hanse designed.

Most of this course will revolve around driving and mid-length approach shots. The par-5, 18th hole is the final Critical Hole on the course.

Projected Winning Score: -15


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Justin Thomas +1,000
Brooks Koepka +1,200
Jordan Spieth +2,000
Tony Finau +2,800
Patrick Cantlay +3,300
Bryson DeChambeau +3,300
Henrik Stenson +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Billy Horschel +4,500
Kyle Stanley +8,000
Byeong Hun An +12,500






3JACK

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What To Look For: 2018 Northern Trust Championship

The first leg of the FedEx playoffs takes place at Ridgewood Country Club for the Northern Trust Championship. Ridgewood CC was built in 1929 by one of the legendary designers, AW Tillinghast. It was listed in the Register of Historic Places in 2015 and re-designed by Gil Hanse in 1995.



I often go between my favorite designers being either Donald Ross or Tillinghast. Both stressed a good variety of holes and getting the golfer to use every club in the bag in a round of golf. My experience with Hanse is limited, but from what I’ve seen he stresses golfers with tricky green complexes.

In the past Ridgewood has served as a course that favors all-around play with a stress on driving, mid iron play and shots around the green. They’ve made some additional renovations, so it will be interesting on how the course turns out.

Ridgewood is also where Byron Nelson cut his teeth as a professional. PGATour.com had a nice writeup on Mr. Nelson’s time at Ridgewood that can be found here: Byron Nelson at Ridgewood

Projected Winning Score: -15


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Justin Thomas +1,200
Justin Rose +1,600
Francesco Molinari +2,200
Tommy Fleetwood +2,800
Patrick Cantlay +4,000


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Rafael Cabrera Bello +8,000
Ryan Moore +10,000
Kevin Streelman +12,500
Ryan Armour +15,000
Keegan Bradley +15,000





3JACK


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