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

Monday, June 12, 2017

What To Look For: The US Open

The 117th US Open will take place at Erin Hills this week:



The construction of Erin Hills began in 2004 and it officially opened in 2006.  Courses like Erin Hills  developed the latest trend in US golf course instruction...find unused land out of the middle of nowhere and develop that land into an upscale golf retreat.  Much like Bandon Dunes out in Oregon or Streamsong Resort in Florida.

The course was designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan.  I have played a couple of Hurdzan's designs and his early designs I really didn't care for.  However, you could see tremendous progress he has made in his design concepts as his more recent designs are quite excellent.  The general reviews for the design of Erin Hills are very positive.  It's just a case of how much the USGA wants to mess it up.

One of the issues at hand is the tall fescue that apparently is on every hole.  Kevin Na recently discussed this in an Instragram video he made:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVNSL7OBWMu/?taken-by=kevinna915&hl=en

I'm a huge fan of the US Open and all things being equal, it's my favorite golf tournament.  But my worries are that the USGA will, once again, make the course visually and physically unappealing to watch.  I've heard nothing but good reviews about Chambers Bay by golfers that have played there, but the 2015 US Open made the course look like a goat track and play like a pinball machine.  Sure, everybody is playing the same course, but turning a good course into a disaster just lacks common sense.

In essence, the USGA needs to do away with the 'we want the winning score to be even par' mantra and just break it down into:

1.  If you hit a below average shot you will likely be penalized

2.  If you hit a better than average shot you will not be penalized for it.

It's not rocket science.


***

I actually like that the US Open is now being played at more modern courses.  Traditional courses like Baltusrol, Medinah and The Country Club are fairly boring to me.  And honestly, I find Oakmont to be boring outside of the incredible speed of the greens and the church pews.  I still think Pebble Beach is a fine course, but the conditions during the US Open are almost always dreadful.

What we know about Erin Hills is that it may play to over 7,800 yards and has an index rating of 77.9 with a slope of 145.  The greens are bentgrass and should be fairly slick.  However, I doubt they'll get them above 13 on the stimp (let's keep our fingers crossed with the USGA) due to the undulations and possible winds which would make it difficult to keep the ball from rolling on the greens if they are too fast.

What's also nice is that they haven't created any super ridiculous par-3's and have reserved more of the length of the course for the Par-5's which are 608, 607, 613 and 663 yards a piece.

It's always difficult to project a course that the Tour hasn't played, but Kelly Kraft won the US Amateur at Erin Hills in 2011.  Here's a look at Kraft's key performance metrics this season:


It's a stretch to accurately judge the winner by looking at Kraft's metrics six years after he won a US Amateur there.  But, my educated guess is that iron play will be a larger deciding factor and because it'st he US Open, I would look at performance from 175-250 yards (yes, extend out to 225-250 yards).  It's interesting that he is a poor Driver and Short Game performer.  However, Payne Stewart wasn't the greatest driver of the ball when he won his US Opens and Graeme McDowell was a notoriously poor around the greens when he won the US Open at Pebble Beach.

With that being said, the safe bets are still to look at:

- Performance from 175-250 yards
- Performance off the tee
- Short Game play from 10-20 yards
- Avoid players that missed the cut at Memphis
- Avoid players that have never won a PGA or European PGA Tour event

Since the field is so much larger at the US Open, I will give 20 picks (10 favorites, 10 dark horse picks):


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +750
Jordan Spieth +1,200
Rory McIlroy +1,200
Jason Day +1,400
Jon Rahm +2,000
Justin Rose +2,200
Sergio Garcia +2,200
Adam Scott +3,000
Justin Thomas +3,300
Branden Grace +4,000



3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Louis Oosthuizen +5,000
Kevin Kisner +6,600
Shane Lowry +6,600
Daniel Berger +6,600
Jason Dufner +6,600
Marc Leishman +8,000
Byeong-Hun An +10,000
Brendan Steele +12,500
J.B. Holmes +12,500
Martin Laird +20,000









3JACK






Sunday, June 11, 2017

Swing Journal 6.11.17

I decided to take another lesson from Denny Lucas & Jeff Haas (www.kelvinmiyahiragolf.com) on Saturday, June 10th.  Unfortunately, I could not get a video of my swing prior to the lesson.  Those who live in Florida know that this past week we were bombarded with rain almost every day.  Here's video of my swing that I took over 3 weeks ago.





What I want to go into in this particular post is the question of 'When should I get another lesson?'

Based on my experience of taking lessons, I find it best to give your latest lesson an honest try, first.  That's why I think it's a bad idea to get a lesson once a week.  You have to fight thru the difficulties and also allow the teacher to better determine why you are unable to execute the motion that you are trying to make.

From there, the big question is 'Are you progressing?'

Now, I would advise that if you're playing well...keep on playing.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor.  But once you start plateauing in your scores AND your technique, then it's time to get a new lesson.  But again, it's important to reward yourself if you are playing better by not taking a new lesson.

For me, I figured it would take me roughly six weeks for a new lesson.  I thought it would take me about 2-3 weeks to get the backswing pieces down pat and then 3-4 weeks to make some progress with the downswing pieces.

I did shoot 68 (-4) the last time I played, but I could see the scores plateauing and I was executing the downswing pieces less often.



***

Prior to my lesson I got on Trackman and only had time to hit 6-irons because the shop was going to close down for the night.  Here's some key numbers I was getting with the 6-iron.

92-96 mph club speed
126-132 ball speed
18-20 degrees launch angle
~ 6,000 rpm spin rate
-1.8 to -2.7 degrees attack angle

Here is a view of the PGA Tour averages on Trackman:

(Click to Enlarge)



So while the club speed and ball speed numbers are good, the launch angle indicates the bigger issue of my swing.  Furthermore, the spin rate is slightly lower than the PGA Tour average (6,000 rpm vs. 6,200 rpm), but that is still too much spin for that type of high launch angle.

This would also explain one of my issues with mid to short irons...distance control.  The launch angle is too high and when the spin rate gets close to 6,000 rpm that cause more of a ballooning, soft ball flight.  And when I get the spin rate closer to 5,000 rpm, then I may miss long due to creating a high launch, low spin rate conditions with the ball flight.


***

With that, Denny, Jeff and myself worked on the following parts:

BACKSWING

-  Standing Taller at address
-  Not going 'up' so much
-  Getting more left lateral bend at the top of the swing.

In the last swing journal post I had discussed how by 'going up' in the backswing it allowed me to get more leverage and keep the swing shorter.  The issue was that I over-did it a bit and that would make it difficult to get the left hip into flexion in the downswing which will help in rotating the pelvis and getting the torso more tilted towards the target instead of the torso tilting back and away from the target.  That will create more forward shaft lean at impact and lower the launch conditions.

Below is a diagram showing more of what we are trying to achieve thru impact.  The yellow line represents the middle of the torso to where the head should be.

The red line represents the left arm and shaft in a 'drive-hold release.'


By being more crouched over at address and having to go upward so much it makes it difficult to get the left hip into flexion and instead the pelvis slides instead of rotates and we get that excessive torso tilt.

Like I always say We only make a change if it is for a good and detailed reason.

Standing taller at address also helps give some 'leverage' so I don't over-swing the arms in the backswing.


DOWNSWING

- Continue to work on the left hip flexion, creating the 'K' look on the downswing
- Create the left hip flexion by flexion and lowering the left hip instead of raising right hip
- We want the left hip and leg to flex independent of right leg movement.
-  Proper left hip flexion will cause the lower spine to tilt towards the target.
-  Scapula 'lift' to help shallow out the shaft plane

The first 4 bullet points are basically the same motion, it's just more detail in hopes to better understand the motion.  But, the 'K' look is an important concept.


When we have the left hip flexion and the pelvis is rotating, we see a semblance to a 'K' from the left side of Sadlowski's torso down his left leg.  This is common with drive-hold release swings because the golfer is getting the necessary left hip flexion in order to rotate the pelvis and make for it easier to execute the drive-hold release.

In my swing, I didn't get enough left hip flexion and didn't get the lower spine tilted towards the ball and the target and I could not create that 'K' look:


We discussed some things further about this and we worked on what we call the 'scapula lift' where the left scapula lifts upward in the downswing in order to help flatten the shaft plane.  As I've discussed many times on this blog, if you struggle with rotating the pelvis often times the shaft plane being too steep is the cause.  However, I will get into the scapula lift in later swing journal entries.

For now, I plan on working on the following at once:

- Standing taller at address
- Left lateral bend at the top of the swing
- Left hip flexion in downswing to create the 'K' Look
- Scapula Lift

So far, the one that is difficult to implement is the left hip flexion.  The other three pieces I caught on to quickly and do not seem difficult for me to learn.  However, since the left lateral bend and scapula lift go hand-in-hand, I will work on them at the same time.




3JACK

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What To Look For: FedEx St. Jude Classic

The Tour takes a trip to Memphis for the 59th St. Jude Classic:


The St. Jude Classic was originally set at the famous Colonial Country Club in Memphis which is now the site of many big Tennessee events and US Open qualifiers. Colonial CC was also where Al Geiberger shot the first 59 on Tour.


It’s a bit interesting that when I grew up in the game Geiberger was usually considered to have one of the greatest golf swings of all time. But as we reached the internet age that seemingly has been replaced by Hogan, Snead and Mac O’Grady while Geiberger’s swing is mostly forgotten.

Anyway, the Tour moved the St. Jude Classic to Cordova and then moved the event to TPC Southwind in 1989 which was designed by Ron Prichard with Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller consulting on the project.

I generally don’t know a lot about TPC Southwind because most of the Tour players I’ve dealt with do not consistently play here due to the US Open being the following week. And with The Memorial the week before being such a huge purse a lot of players don’t want to go to Memorial, then put up with a week of sectional qualifying for the US Open, playing Southwind and then traveling to the US Open. However, now is a good time for many Tour players because between Memphis and Hartford (the week after the US Open), they can take advantage of weaker fields.

In general, the tournament and course appear to be well received. The course is usually in great condition, the layout isn’t too funky and doesn’t have too much of a bias towards one particular style of player. And it helps contribute to the great cause of the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital:


From a statistical standpoint, TPC Southwind is akin to Muirfield Village in the sense it’s very much an approach shot and short game around the green course. Unlike Muirfield Village, TPC Southwind has a low hit fairway percentage, but the ability for a long/inaccurate driver or a short/accurate driver to gain strokes off the tee is limited compared to superior approach shot play and the ability to clean up any mistakes.

The cool part of TPC Southwind is that the 17th and 18th holes are the last 2 ‘critical holes’ on the course.

Here’s a nice Google Earth overview of the layout of the course:

https://nebraskapga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/nebraskapga11/course/tpcsouthwind/aerial.htm#


PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -13


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Rickie Fowler +750
Adam Scott +1,200
Phil Mickelson +1,600
Francesco Molinari +1,800
Kyle Stanley +2,500
Daniel Berger +2,500


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Chad Campbell +10,000
J.P. Poston +10,000
D.A. Points +17,500
Tim Wilkinson +25,000






3JACK