Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

Michael Thompson won the 3M Open at 125/1 odds last week:

This week the Tour returns to Memphis to play the most underrated course on Tour (according to Billy Horschel).

TPC Southwind is well respected by the players.  It's a course that stresses versatility in the iron play and the ability to get up-and-down when greens are missed.  The field usually averages around 60% of fairways hit and about 62% of greens in regulation hit.

The 18th hole is the final 'critical' hole of the course.

18 is an interesting hole because those that can hit a driver that finds the fairway will find the green about 80% of the time.  But if you miss this fairway the GIR% drops to ~35%.  And there's also water on the left that comes into play on both the tee shot and approach.

The data shows that the average player in the field should utilize a target that is about 2-3 yards left of the last fairway bunker.

Projected Winning Score: -14


Rory McIlroy +1,100
Byrson DeChambeau +1,200
Patrick Cantlay +1,600
Webb Simpson +2,000
Tyrrell Hatton +2,800
Hideki Matsuyama +2,800


Tony Finau +3,300
Joaquin Niemann +8,000
Shane Lowry +15,000
Tom Lewis +20,000


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 3M Open

Jon Rahm wins The Memorial:

What was interesting about The Memorial was that normally firm courses favor the shorter, but more accurate golfers.  In this case, the longer hitters prevailed.  Here's a look at the top-10 finishers and their ranking in Driving Distance with the Driver (adjusted for schedule - out of 227 golfers).

Jon Rahm (21st)
Ryan Palmer (71st)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (144th)
Matt Wallace (38th)
Jason Day (74th)
Mackenzie Hughes (86th)
Henrik Norlander (143rd)
Tony Finau (6th)
Kevin Na (174th)
Luke List (17th)
Patrick Reed (81st)
Xinjun Zhang (111th)

Typically the firmer courses favor the shorter, but more accurate golfers because they can find the fairways and reduce the variance in approach shot yards to the hole because the bombers now have to lay-up off the tee more often.  And because the shorter, but more accurate golfer is now in the fairway they can use that to their advantage and generate more spin on their approach shots and get the ball to hold the green in regulation.

But at Memorial it was a different story due to the more generous landing areas off the tee at Muirfield Village.  When the greens are firmer, it actually favors the longer hitter because they are likely generating far more spin than the shorter golfer.  But that is *if* all things else being equal.  Meaning, their lie and yardage being the same or closer to the same.  If they are both hitting from the rough, firm greens favor the longer hitter.  The same goes if they are both hitting from the fairway or tee box.  It's just that when the greens are firm, typically so are the fairways.  And the average Tour fairway is about 28 yards wide and thus the shorter, but more accurate golfer can create an advantage on firm courses because they have an advantageous lie compared to the longer, but less accurate golfer.

This past week at Muirfield Village, the tee shots either ended up being 1 of 2 types:

1.  Generous landing areas that made the fairways very easy to find.


2.  Nearly impossible fairways to find and finding the fairway was more about luck than skill.

Much like the 18th hole which only saw 27% of the field find the fairway on Sunday and 34% of the field found the fairway on all 4 rounds.

Thus the approach shots were 'more equal' and the firm greens started to favor the bombers.  Even a player like Matthew Fitzpatrick who does not hit the driver very long, still generates 115 mph club speed.  His lack of distance with the driver is more due to his steep attack angle, but he generates good ball speed and spin rates with his irons.


The Tour comes to Eden Prairie, MN at TPC Twin Cities for the 3M Championship.   Last year Matthew Wolff won.

Unfortunately, there's only 1 tournament of data to use for TPC Twin Cities, but it appears that the course is about versatile ballstrikers.  Many strokes are gained/lost off the tee and with long approach shots and short approach shots.

Since they only played TPC Twin Cities last year, I have not heard opinions from pros on the course.  It's an Arnold Palmer design with help from Tom Lehman.  I always found that Mr. Palmer was probably the most underrated designer in golf which is sort of an oxymoron given his worldwide popularity.  The big thing that Palmer's designs usually feature is keeping the ball below the pin on approach shots.

This leads us to the last critical hole being the 596-yard, par-4 18th hole.

The fairway is about 80 yards wide, but it's still important to not hit the tee shot too far left because the player will have too long of a distance to reach the green in two shots.

Projected Winning Score: -22


Dustin Johnson +1,100
Brooks Koepka +1,400
Paul Casey +2,000
Matthew Wolff +2,200
Harris English +2,800


Bubba Watson +3,300
Will Gordon +6,600
Scott Stallings +8,000
Scott Piercy +12,500
Joseph Bramlett +15,000


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 The Memorial

Collin Morikawa wins the inaugural Workday Charity Open Championship.

Last week's What To Look For went over Muirfield Village and pondered how shortening the course and making the greens slower would impact the course. The course played pretty much the same as it always does in terms of it being an approach shot centric course. But more players were able to hit greens and thus short game around the green did not play much of a factor.

With the tees moved back the course should feature more long approach shots and that will translate to more missed greens and short game around the green playing a slightly larger factor.

The 18th hole should still be the most critical hole on the course as it was at the Workday Charity Open where Justin Thomas bogeyed the 72nd hole to drop into a playoff with Morikawa.



Bryson DeChambeau +1,000
Justin Thomas +1,000
Collin Morikawa +2,000
Webb Simpson +2,200
Hideki Matsuyama +2,500


Joaquin Niemann +5,000
Tony Finau +6,600
Jason Day +6,600
Adam Hadwin +8,000
Shane Lowry +12,500


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

What To Look For: Workday Charity Open

The PGA Tour will return to Muirfield Village for 2 weeks in a row, one week for the Workday Charity Open and the following week for The Memorial.

The Workday Charity Open will feature a Muirfield Village that is shorter in length with slower greens.  I think this will bring shorter distance golfers that are good putters into the fold more because they can't get hurt by so much length and slower greens typically mean lower make percentages which means there's more room to gain more strokes on the green if a player putts well.

The big question in all of this is if the firmness of the greens get softer as the greens get slower.  If they do, then that helps the shorter hitters even more since they usually hit the ball lower into greens.  However, it will also make things easier for shots around the green which is where Muirfield Village terrorizes Tour players.

Muirfield Village is a Jack Nicklaus design and a very typical Nicklaus design feature is that it's about the approach shots.  Particularly if you miss the approach then the player is often in jail and only the extremely talented short game around the green players can save par.  It's wide open off the tee and the field average of hit fairway percentage is usually 70%+.

The 18th hole is typically the final Critical Hole on the golf course.

The hole actually plays from an elevated tee and then an elevated green. With the shallow, slightly angled green it makes for a high deviation in scores.

On average the drive on this hole will travel 300+ yards, but it is the most difficult fairway to find on the course (~53%). And about 4-5% of tee shots will find the water on the left.

The approach shot is about average in terms of difficulty for the given yardage. But since the average approach shot is about 190 yards, the average proximity to the hole is roughly 40-feet.

The hole is one of the most difficult short game shots around the green holes on the course due to the green being on a hill and it's an average hole in terms of putting difficulty. Thus, it's usually a par vs. bogey-double scenario type of hole.

If the hole plays shorter I would imagine that it's still a Critical Hole due to the difficulty of the drive and the elevation of the green.

Projected Winning Score: -22


Justin Thomas +1,000
Patrick Cantlay +1,200
Hideki Matsuyama +1,600
Justin Rose +2,000


Jordan Spieth +4,000
Joaquin Niemann +4,000
Adam Hadwin +5,000
Byeong-Hun An +6,600
Shane Lowry +10,000
Branden Grace +12,500
Richy Werenski +20,000


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Bryson DeChambeau Transformation - By the Numbers

Bryson DeChambeau wins at Detroit Golf Club last week:

A few years ago, I postulated on the GolfWRX forums that there would be a player on Tour that would reach around 195 mph ball speeds very soon that would dominate the Tour off the tee, but possibly dominate the PGA Tour altogether. This was ridiculed as golf has a weird hangup over distances versus accuracy and precision. But my beliefs were based on the data available and the hope that a player and his team of coaches could see the benefit of what I've called in previous versions of Pro Golf Synopsis as 'The Power-to-Putting Principle.'

The Power-to-Putting Factor was actually discovered by my friend, AimPoint Golf Founder (www.aimpointgolf.com) Mark Sweeney. Mark found there was a strong correlation on the PGA Tour between distance off the tee and the length of the player's average birdie putt. Essentially, the longer a player hits the ball the more likely they will have a shorter length average birdie putt.

This explained why poor putters on Tour like Bubba Watson can have so much success on Tour. Watson is one of the longest drivers of the ball on Tour. He also rarely lays up off the tee. With that, he's more likely to give himself shorter length birdie putts on average. Since shorter putts almost always have a higher make percentage than longer putts, Watson can be an inferior skilled putter than say a shorter hitting, but superior skilled putter in Zach Johnson...but Watson can still *sink* more birdie putts than Johnson. Again, all in spite of being an inferior skilled putter.

The key advantages with long distance to get those shorter length birdie putts is not only on par-5's, but also on dogleg par-4's where the bomber can take it over the corner while the shorter hitter has to play more towards the middle of the fairway and losing even more distance to the bomber.

What I've found though is that the bomber's disadvantage tends to come when they miss the green in regulation. Whether it's a poor approach shot or a poor tee shot that flies well offline and requires a punchout, the bomber is more likely to have a longer and more difficult scrambling opportunity when they miss the green compared to the shorter, but more accurate golfer off the tee.

This also led to what I've dubbed the Power-to-Putting Factor

If a player like Bubba Watson can hit it long and have inferior skills with the putt and sink more birdie putts than a shorter hitter who is superior with the putter, then the 'honey pot' would be a player that can hit it long and is a superior putter. That's a player, almost regardless of iron play, can sink a ton of birdie putts because they are getting more makeable putts and have the skill to sink those putts at a higher rate than the average player.

I always look at John Daly's 1991 PGA Championship victory as the example of when you put a long hitter (nobody was coming close to hitting it as far as Daly at that time) who is putting great.

I mean, y'know somebody is on fire when they are walking to the hole like they made it when the ball is still 4 feet from the cup.


But what about the long drive competitors? There's a great myth that long drive competitors are just a bunch of meatheads that can't play worth a lick and just hit it long. However, that's vastly untrue. Most of the long drive competitors I've known are +3 or better handicaps and on more open courses can go really low

Watching Kyle Berkshire's YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE3jCX0g7xq4zRE5MS5c_mw) has allowed me to notice some more potential pitfalls that the long drivers can have on a Tour quality course.  What's interesting is that Berkshire brings his Trackman with him and utilizes on almost every swing, whether it's with a driver or with the irons.

The other interesting facet is unlike other long drive competitors that I've worked with, Berkshire gets about the same spin rate with his individual irons that the average Tour player gets.  Here's the Tour averages for spin rates according to Trackman.

In working with other long drive competitors, it's not unusual to see super high spin rates with their irons. But with Berkshire he typically keeps the spin rate, for example an 8-iron, within the 8,000-9,000 rpm spin range.

But the difference is that Berkshire is hitting his 8-iron with 155 mph ball speeds (115 Tour average) and about 215-220 yards (Tour average is 160 yards). 

And we start to see the issue...Berkshire isn't exactly spinning the ball more with his individual irons compared to the Tour average, but he's getting far more spin for the same length shot than the Tour average.

For instance, on a 215-yard shot a Tour player is spinning the ball about 4,600 rpm's because they are using a longer and more low-lofted club.  Compare that to Berkshire who is using an 8-iron and getting roughly 8,000 rpm of spin for a 215 yard shot.

Using FlightScope's Trajectory Optimizer, it shows the main issue with being able to hit an 8-iron 215 yards...slightly variations in spin and/or launch conditions have a larger impact on distance control.

For instance, using Berkshire's data, if he were to hit an 8-iron with 8,000 rpm of spin it would carry 212 yards.  But if he hit the same conditions and the spin lowered to 7,000 rpm (it's easy to lose or gain 1,000 rpm of spin) it would carry 219 yards.  And if he increases his spin rate to 9,000 rpm his carry goes to 205 yards...a total variance of 14 yards.

Compare that to the average Tour player hitting that shot with 4,600 rpm of spin which they will carry 214 yards.  If they drop to 3,600 rpm it carries 218 yards and at 5,600 rpm it carries 210 yards.  Thus a total variance of 8 yards.  And in approach shot play, distance control is a huge variable with regards to performance.


We've gone into the more accurate benefits of distance with The Power-to-Putting Principle and shown one of the key weaknesses of generating super-duper ball speeds, but we should address some other key roadblocks that come with super-duper ball speeds.

Strategy tends to be a problem as well.  Long hitters can lay-up too often off the tee and thus take away that advantage they have with power.  The other weakness is that they often struggle with hitting quality lay-up shots.  The 3-wood off the tee can present problems mainly because most Tour players find that to be the toughest club for them to hit.  But the other issue is finding that lay-up club that they can hit 285-315 yards comfortably in the fairway and not give up too much distance.  A former client of mine, Matt Dobyns, who generates 180 mph ball speeds found my suggestion of The Gonzo Driver (a 460cc driver head at 12-13* loft and a short shaft) to be an adequate answer to that issue.

So how has Bryson fared?

As far as the strategy goes, he only layed-up on 10 out of 56 tee shots and ended up ranking #1 in Driving Effectiveness at Detroit.  He did manage to hit 58.9% of his fairways despite hitting his average missed fairway tee shot 39 feet wide.  His misses would normally be a bit worrisome, but he made those big misses on holes and in spots where he could afford to miss big and found the fairway other times and it left him with a ton of advantageous positions off the tee.

As far as his lay-up shots at Detroit he was hitting his fairway wood roughly 292 yards on average and was able to gain an advantage off the tee versus the field despite hitting his fairway wood off the tee.

Then we get to his approach shot play.  He struggled here, particularly from the Green Zone (75-125 yards) and the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards), but he was hitting Green Zone shots when the rest of the field was hitting Yellow Zone shots and hitting Yellow Zone approach shots when the rest of the field was hitting Red Zone (175-225 yards) shots.  So even with the struggles, he was still managing to hit those approach shots closer because he had much shorter approach shots.

And on the par-3's, where Berkshire tends to struggle given the spin rate issues noted, DeChambeau played the par-3's at Detroit at +1 over par for the event. He only loss -0.432 strokes for the entire event to the field on the par-3's.  For the season, DeChambeau is ranked 4th in Adjusted Par-3 Scoring Average.

As far as his approach shots on the par-3's, he hit them to an average Fractional Remaining Length of 5.9%.  FRL = distance to the hole / length of original shot.

The Tour average on par-3's is 6%.

Meanwhile DeChambeau played the par-5's at -10 under and played the par-4's at -14 under par.

In summation, DeChambeau and his team have identified the opportunity of gaining distance and the pitfalls of what can come along with it and have accentuated those strengths and worked to modify those weaknesses.  And combined with really good putting (DeChambeau was 2nd in Putts Gained/Round last week) we may be seeing the next great top-10 player of all time.

On a side note, I do believe from watching Kyle Berkshire's data that there is room for a Tour player to probably max out at 205-210 mph ball speed and dominate the Tour off the tee,  Particularly if they can figure out the lay-up shot situation.