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.


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


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.

No comments: