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How Spieth gave away The Masters, and how Willet won

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Let’s start with what happened at Augusta’s famed par-three 12th, Golden Bell. Jordan Spieth stepped onto the tee on the heels of two consecutive bogeys. And to hear him tell it, he was already in the midst of a lapse in concentration over the ball.

“And I knew par was good enough [on the back nine] and maybe that was what hurt me,” Spieth said after the round. “Just wasn’t quite aggressive at the ball with my 3 wood, 6 iron on 10. And then the drive on 11. Just a lapse of concentration on 12 and it cost me.

“I knew the lead was five with nine holes to play. And I knew that those two bogeys weren’t going to hurt me. But I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12. Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.”

Jordan-Spieth-12th-Augusta-

What was he trying to do with his tee shot to pin, which was tucked just four paces from the right edge of the shallow green? What would he liked to have done differently? Same club, similar line, different shot shape, more relaxation, conviction, it seems.

“No. 12 is a 150-yard shot and I feel I can bleed it next to the hole, and it’s a stock 9 iron for me,” Spieth said. “But that hole, for whatever reason, just has people’s number. Stay committed behind the bunker … It was really one swing. Nos. 10 and 11, you can take bogeys there. I was still 2-under for the tournament with a couple of par-5s left. My goal for the day was 4-under. So we were still right on pace. It just didn’t take that extra deep breath. And Michael said, hit it right here, hit it right here. And I remember getting over the ball thinking, ‘I’m going to go ahead and hit a little cut to the hole and that’s what I did in 2014 and it cost me the tournament then, too.’

“That was the right club, just the wrong shot. I was more comfortable hitting a draw with my iron. I knew every time I played a fade this week, that shot kind of came out. And I just… At the time, you’re going to throw all bad swings away and you’re just going to focus on how confident you can step into that shot and that’s what I did. But the swing just wasn’t quite there to produce the right ball flight. So ultimately, I should have just played a draw on that hole. At the same time, there’s so much adrenaline and it’s enough club that if it’s downwind a draw can fly over the bunkers. It was a tough number for me to commit to, but I had the right club.”

As Spieth indicates, the blunder is staggering, considering it’s a mirror image of what happened in 2014, when he found the water at No. 12, stymieing his pursuit of Bubba Watson. And regarding the fatted drop with 68 yards to the pin, Spieth offered this explanation.

“It went in so far to the right that if I could go behind the drop zone, I could have gotten to a number that I liked, similar to 2014, where I ended up saving bogey,” Spieth said. “Instead, I didn’t want to drop it at 65 yards off the downslope into that green. That’s just a number where you can’t get the full spin. I wanted to get it to a number where I could have it end up where it landed. It would take a skip and come back. So I wanted 80 yards. So I tried to get 80 yards. I’m not really sure what happened on the next shot. I just hit it fat.”

It’s worth noting that, as you can see from the flag in the video (see the full horror here on Masters.com), the wind was down and Spieth, with his customary pace of play, was likely looking to hurry along, given that his group was out of position. And of course, a 9-iron approach shot is usually a routine affair, with a slim margin of error. Instead, Spieth, as he indicated, didn’t strike the ball with conviction, quitting on it, producing a lame duck that sailed short and right.

Another point, the area where Spieth dropped from has to be among the soggiest on the course. The shaded, low-lying area used to flood and has been filled (if I’m correctly remembering my Augusta National history). Good luck nipping a half-to-three-quarter wedge from there after the emotional and sensory affront of rinsing your tee shot. Moving beyond the 12th hole: Nowhere was the mantra of making hay on Augusta National’s par-5s and hanging around on at the rest of the holes more than with Spieth’s performance. For the week, Spieth was 11-under on the five-shotters. It was the three double bogeys and the quad at the 12th that cost him.

For his part, winner Danny Willett made eight bogeys (two fewer than Spieth), but more notably: No doubles or worse. Interestingly, Willett was even par on the par-5s for the week: a rare feat for a Masters champion.

Starting his final round three shots behind Jordan Spieth, and with the assumption that he would at least have to get to 4- or 5-under, Willett’s ability to tally five birdies, including three in his final six holes, was impressive to say the least.

And of course, there are endless instances where you could do tournament counterfactuals — heck, Dustin Johnson would have won handily if he’d putted at an average level — but it’s worth noting this in light of Willett’s semi-serious “fate” comment. His approach at the 18th, which kicked left off the slope fronting the front-right bunker to settle 14 feet from the hole, could easy have taken a different kick, perhaps even into the bunker. Instead, Willett’s ball rested in a position where he could cozy a little right-to-lefter up short of the hole and make par. Regarding the closing stretch, 2-under in five holes with the lead, Willett offered this perspective.

“This golf course can jump up and bite you whenever,” Willett said. “Even today, it was relatively flat calm compared to the last few days, but there was just enough there to flicker around to cause a few problems.

“You never feel comfortable on this golf course until you finish and sign the card and post a number. So yeah, we knew we still had a job to do. At the time we were still only 4-under par and he had only dropped back to [1-under], so there’s still plenty of holes for him to catch up and keep chasing.

“So it was really timely birdie on 16, and then again to make contact up 17 and 18 with what goes on and to hit such a nice chip that I did on 17. Yeah, it’s just them things. You practice, that’s what you do, endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain golf courses at certain times. And fortunately enough today, I’ve been able to relive some of them dreams and some of them practice sessions.”

Dreams, indeed.

While there is surely a bevy of data from the laser-driven Track feature, Augusta National doesn’t make any advanced statistics available derived from that data.

However, a look at Willett’s basic numbers reveals he hit 48 of 72 greens in regulation: 67 percent, against the field average of 59 percent. In his final round, Willett hit 13 of 18 (72 percent). His driving accuracy was on par with the field average of 67 percent at 68 percent for the four rounds: He hit nine of 14 for Round 4. Driving distance data was only collected on two holes, Nos. 5 and 15, and Willett averaged 305 yards. And in Round 4, Willett’s efforts on those two holes were 14 yards longer than the field average.

Willett didn’t take many trips to the beach, finding the sand only twice in four rounds. Although he didn’t save par either time he was bunkered, his lack of having to try to salvage sandy pars is notable. Looking at other top finishers, Spieth found seven bunkers, as did Westwood. Dustin Johnson found the sand nine times (saving par only three).

Willett putted beautifully, with just one three-putt for the week. He averaged 1.58 strokes per hole. Anirban Lahiri led the field at 1.53 strokes, but he also had four three-putts, as did Jordan Spieth.

As mentioned, Willett didn’t play the par-5s with any particular brilliance. As you would expect, then, he was second in par-3 birdies (5) and fourth in par-4 birdies (6). Spieth led the field in par-5 birdies (11) and was second in par-4 birdies (8).

The 12th hole, listed at 156 yards, played as the seventh most difficult hole at Augusta National this year, surrendering just 28 birdies with a field scoring average of 3.22. More notably, however, the 12th saw the second-most “double bogeys or worse” of any hole at ANGC this year, at 20, just four behind the course’s most difficult hole, the 505-yard par-four 11th.

So, you know, tough sledding through Amen Corner (the 10th averaged 4.28), with best possibility for big numbers anywhere on the course, as Jordan Spieth painfully illustrated.

Which brings us back to the 12th… 

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44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. James G

    Apr 13, 2016 at 8:57 am

    To the Spieth detractors, you make exactly how much playing golf?

  2. Michael Grilledcheese

    Apr 13, 2016 at 1:05 am

    The amount of times Spieth backs off and the running commentary he has after every swing is hard to watch.

    I miss Tiger

  3. Gautama

    Apr 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    The truth is Spieth went wire to wire with some exceptional play, particularly scrambling, while everyone else was blowing up here and there. The result was that robust lead coming down the ninth. But then the course caught up to him as it had everyone else. If he’d had dunked those balls on Friday the result might well still have been the exact same outcome, but we’d be applauding him for grinding to a 2nd place finish.

    No one ever wants to consider everything that happens leading up to the final score in sports. It’s like baseball – someone has to have the last at bat with a chance to tie the game, but if they strike out they didn’t “lose the game” or choke any more than than the guy who struck out in the bottom of the first.

    • Sad Smizzle

      Apr 12, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      Yeah, without giving any credit to the pitcher. Yeah that makes sense. Not!
      Golf is nothing like baseball. Terrible comparison

      • Gautama

        Apr 12, 2016 at 5:03 pm

        Lol, either stupid and completely missed the point, or a lonely troll. Sad critter aren’t ya.

        • Sad Smizzle

          Apr 12, 2016 at 7:55 pm

          Not as sad as you who doesn’t understand the difference when somebody throws a fast ball past you to BEAT you with a pitch and losing the entire match for the team, instead of making errors by one’s self in golf to lose all by one’s lonesome and not being beating by somebody or some team

          • Eric

            Apr 13, 2016 at 12:32 pm

            “Baseball match?” lol, where are you from? Anyway, I know your just a kid trolling, but you’re bordering on funny so I’ll bite.

            You just made my point for me, which has nothing to do with team vs individual sports, but the totality of the game room start to finish. The last out most certainly does not “lose the game for the team.” There were 27 other outs and at least 9 innings of action that led up to that point.

            In golf, there are 72 holes and 280 odd shots that get tallied Sunday afternoon. On the way everyone has ups, downs, bad decisions, and lucky breaks. The fact that Spieth’s luck with some shaky ball stroking finally caught up to him on the 12th doesn’t mean he choked any more than if it had happened on Thursday. In the end, Willett got through 72 hokes in fewer shots and won.

            Norman choked. Spieth just payed his inevitable dues for some shaky ball striking late Sunday.

  4. cmyktaylor

    Apr 12, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Context: While Jack won 6 times at the Masters, he came in second 4 times. Yet Jack didn’t start that record until the sixth time he entered the Masters. Jordan began his string of 1sts and 2nds on his very first tournament. This should be fun to watch over the years.

    Also, although it does seem tragic to me that Jordan has chosen an unseasoned caddie, I respect his choice of picking a man and sticking with him. I’m having a hard time with Adam Scott dropping his regular caddie for the majors. How is the guy ever going to become seasoned if he doesn’t put him on the bag in the hardest tournaments? A bit shortsighted if you ask me.

  5. Steffen Mysager

    Apr 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Spieth should have been warned for his unbelievable slow play. Coming close to disrespect for the game. SMys.

  6. Kna

    Apr 12, 2016 at 3:33 am

    You’re just a silly punk, aintcha, Smizzle? You really know nothing, huh? I feel sorry for you

  7. Chunt

    Apr 11, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    He already won 2 different Majors, and the FedEx Cup.
    So this one stung a little but he’ll get over it quickly. Really not a big deal.
    We’ve all already moved on. Back to the hunt

  8. Tom Duckworth

    Apr 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    He had to put that jacket on him in the cabin, outside on the practice greens and then more for a number of photo shoots, that had to be unbearable. He showed a lot of class. I hope he doesn’t get too beat up about this from the golfing community. He is a great golfer and it will be great fun to watch the big 3 or 4 or whatever for the next ten years or more.

  9. Bert

    Apr 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Jordan is awesome. Yes he stumbled but shake it off and get back into the hunt. We know it hurts, we just haven’t ever been there to feel the pain. The guy is amazing! My mind would have been shot after number 12, but he regrouped and tried to finish under par for the remaining holes and perhaps tie. For a moment I thought he would pull it off.

  10. Jim Losito

    Apr 11, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    I agree with Richard, Jordan’s speed of play has really slowed down compared to when he first started winnig.He repositions way to much. Just hit the ball already.

    • Scott

      Apr 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      I agree 100%. His pace of play is not good for the game.

      • Kna

        Apr 12, 2016 at 3:31 am

        Jack was even slower throughout his entire career. But nobody ever mentions that now. Oh how many waggles he used to take! And how long he would stand over the putts! It’s all edited in highlight videos, but watching it live was quite excruciating.

  11. Troy

    Apr 11, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    It didn’t surprise me what happened to Jordan. I watched him a number of times during the coverage and he dodged several bullets with a great short game after pushing a drive or iron.

    I said to my wife on the Saturday, if he continues to do that come Sunday afternoon it could well catch up with him and he’ll find himself in trouble. Jordan almost went out of the bounds on the long par-3 fourth hole and got out of jail.

    Eventually, unfortunately for him it caught up with him. He put up a great defense but full credit to Willett who played amazing golf on the final day.

    A Masters to remember!

  12. Matty

    Apr 11, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    This is somewhat unrelated, but is it just me, or is it that the broadcasting (featured groups and full coverage) at the Masters on TV was kinda bad this year compared to other years (things like wrong facts, wrong score, etc)?

    • Bert

      Apr 11, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      The coverage stunk it up! I wanted to yell, Yes Sir, Shut Up! I muted the coverage many times and am thankful for the fast forward feature. Too much embedded small talk and other distractions.

    • jeff monik

      Apr 11, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Dottie Pepper uuuugghhhh Vern was good and Kostis good Jim Nance hasnt improved in all these years Nick Faldo avg. I was done after 14 with Spaeth the coverage sucked and was nothing to hang out for just agitation to come from today’s highlight golf coverage.
      It is amazing how playing partners disappear when they fade on leaderboard this isnt golf its reality t.v.

  13. Chris

    Apr 11, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Where was the drop zone on 12?

  14. Perry

    Apr 11, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Just before he hit the first one, he asked if the chosen club/shot would go over the green. Caddy said no. My guess is he took a little off the shot, maybe even subconsciously. In the first drop zone shot he was obviously out of control, swinging over and over again at a super fast pace. Almost scary to watch. Trouble is the caddy wasn’t even looking at Spieth when he pulled the trigger. An experienced caddy would have said, “Stop! Step back and take some deep breaths.”

    • Kna

      Apr 12, 2016 at 3:28 am

      Hindsight analysis from not standing next to the caddie makes you a guessing idiot

  15. Hartley Burt

    Apr 11, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Probably a stupid question, but why couldn’t he drop on the other side of the hazard. His ball landed above the hazard line and came back in the water. Normally he would be able to drop on the other side no closer to the hole.

    • Gerorge

      Apr 11, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      No, if it’s not a lateral hazard, you cannot drop greenside. Rae’s creek is a frontal hazard, you have to drop behind the hazard.

    • Mark Walgren

      Apr 11, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      He could have. He opt’d to take it back 80 yards to where he can get some spin on it. He said he regretted that decision now and should have went to the dropzone instead.

      • larrybud

        Apr 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

        No he couldn’t Mark. It’s a water hazard, yellow line, not a lateral hazard, which is red line. When it’s a yellow line, you have to keep that point where it crossed the line between you and the hole, which means when you go into a hazard with a yellow line, your drop will ALWAYS have the same hazard between you and the hole on your next shot.

        Consider this: If Spieth had hit his bunker shot into the water, his drop would HAVE to be back on the other side of the water even though the shot originated from behind the green! (or the other option would be to rehit from the bunker).

  16. cmyktaylor

    Apr 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I keep thinking: What if (or rather, If only) he had a seasoned caddie on his bag(?).

    • td

      Apr 11, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Same goes for DJ…DJ would be a major winner if he had a better caddie.

      • Scott

        Apr 11, 2016 at 5:36 pm

        DJ needs a lot more than a better caddie. He can’t putt and that is mental.

    • Al Czervik

      Apr 11, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      This is exactly what I was thinking. There’s a world of difference between a seasoned caddie and someone carrying your clubs. Look at Tiger’s caddie selections… Fluff and Steve Williams- both arguably the best out there at the time.

      • Steve

        Apr 11, 2016 at 10:29 pm

        “Both arguably the best out there at the time.”

        I think it can EASILY be argued that they didn’t make much of a difference (if any) for Tiger. They were the “best” because Tiger was the one hitting the golf shots… Bottom line – Spieth choked. The blame falls 100% on him, like it should. We don’t need to look for somebody else to blame.

    • alexdub

      Apr 11, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Couldn’t have said it better. First thought I had when Jordan was on 12. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that Jordan would have won if his caddie had done better at re-centering him and keeping him in the moment. As a caddie, you can’t just let things happen—you gotta keep you player in the moment. As a side, the exchange between Jordan and his caddie on Friday (where Jordan snapped at him) is telling. I wonder if there is a crack that will turn into a cleavage.

  17. Richard

    Apr 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Seems to me Speith’s pace of play is a problem for those that have to play with him.
    Watching him on TV drives me crazy and I am only seeing samples not truly in real time.
    Would love to see him paired with Sabatini 🙂
    Greg Norman should no longer be the poster boy for Sunday meltdowns at Augusta.

    • Scott

      Apr 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      He should have been penalized for his slow play.

  18. alexdub

    Apr 11, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Did everyone see Jordan during the jacket presentation in Butler Cabin? He looked like he was going to cry. Felt bad for him. Tough to see such a train wreck.

    • Ben Alberstadt

      Apr 11, 2016 at 11:26 am

      Indeed. And he almost fell over when standing up to put the green jacket on Willett. Would have been an awful figurative version of what happened literally at the 12th. Tough, tough stuff.

    • Imanoff

      Apr 11, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      He is Jordan and he has some sort of mental ability and resilience above average. I am sure he will recover and learn from his mistakes. Nevertheless, within his 3 times participation in the Masters, 2 runner ups and 1 champion, that is impressive!

      • MarkB A

        Apr 11, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        Yes. My only criticism is speed of play. I love the bashers. Jordan by age 21 did more in his life than all of us will ever achieve. Yeah it is just a game and fortunately, he seems like a very well grounded young man.

    • steve

      Apr 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      Yeah atleast it wasn’t like Rickie crying like a school because he lost the WM in front of grandpa,

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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