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Opinion & Analysis

Ryder Cup predictions: What team will win and why

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By Joe Romaine

GolfWRX Contributor

Twenty four hours after Ben Crenshaw famously proclaimed “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this”, he seemed like a golf prophet. It appeared as if Crenshaw knew something the rest of the golfing world didn’t. What had he witnessed in the previous two days that every other spectator and television viewer missed? What had he seen in his American squad – down 10 to 6 at the time – that filled him with so much promise? Maybe a better question to ask is if he really believed his own words. Did Crenshaw really have a good feeling about the outcome of the Sunday singles matches or was the comment simply a motivational ploy to rally his American team that had been outplayed for more than a decade of Ryder Cup competitions.

Since 1985, American Ryder Cup squads have struggled to keep pace with the “little brother” European teams that had all-of-a-sudden grown up and grown dominant. It had taken a severely partisan crowd at Kiawah in 1991, Crenshaw’s motivational comments in 1999, and Paul Azinger’s captaincy of the ages in 2008 to bring the cup to the states laely. On the eve of the 39th matches for the right to claim Samuel Ryder’s prize, the crowd, the course, and a new American attitude will play great roles in who’s popping the bubbly come Sunday afternoon.

Seve Ballesteros in 1991 called the American team a group comprised of “eleven nice guys and Paul Azinger.” This declaration was maybe an insult to Azinger, maybe an example of Seve’s gamesmanship, and maybe a wee bit of reluctant respect. There is no question that Azinger was and is a fiery competitor with great pride. Azinger also knew how to channel his competitive spirit and put it to good use.  His emotional leadership at Valhalla stirred the crowd into a raucous frenzy. He successfully used his local heroes (Kenny Parry and J.B. Holmes) as part of his strategy. After the ’91 and ’99 Cup matches, the European team caught on to the fact that winning the crowd at a Ryder Cup is nearly as important as winning matches.  In 2004 at Oakland Hills, while the Americans were very business-like prior to the event, the Euros went out of their way to sign autographs and pose for pictures during practice rounds and effectively took a would-be boisterous blue-collar crowd out of the equation long before the disastrous pairing of Phil and Tiger famously crumbled.

This week’s American representatives understand the importance of the home crowd. Personalities such as those displayed by Bubba, Keegan, Snedeker, and Dustin Johnson will no doubt give the Chicagoland fans plenty to cheer for. The maturity of the veterans will help keep the young guns in check while still keeping the crowd engaged. This competition has evolved to a point where the crowds and the players are aware of the difference a supportive fan base can be. If the home team strikes early, look for the roars to echo through Medinah all weekend long.

Advantage – USA

The evolution of the European game not only applies to their dismantling of American Ryder Cup teams, but to the dominance on classic American layouts. After many years of European futility in the U.S. Open (one European winner since 1925), Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy displayed the new-found euro swagger by winning back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011 – Rory’s in a dominant fashion not seen since Tiger’s 2000 win at Pebble Beach. Rory even raised bushy European eyebrows by commenting that his game is better suited to the high-flying, drop-and-stop style required more in the states than the low, bump-and-run style required by links courses across the pond.

This comfort level with American courses has made the captain’s set-up of each hole crucial. Hall Sutton kept the Oakland Hills rough lower than normal and Valhalla was a bombers paradise. Luke Donald tweeted a few weeks back that there was very little rough at Medinah and putting would be the deciding factor. If so, Europe holds a decided advantage here as their putting and birdie-percentage stats outpace those of the Americans.

Tee to green, though, there are very few holes that stand out as offering a distinct advantage to either side. Even the drivable 15th hole provides trouble with water lurking right of the hole. Reportedly almost a third of the American team found the drink on that hole in their practice round Wednesday. Most of the holes alternate between benefiting the American side and European side as the holes alternate between requiring length and accurate shot-shaping. If the Americans are able to extend the matches to later holes, they seem to have an edge on the long par 4 16th, the lengthy par 3 17th with a flatter putting surface, and par 4 18th– obviously a crucial three-hole stretch in match play. Although the stars and stripes squad should keep some matches very interesting with dramatic, late-match wins and halves, this course is feeling more and more like a Brookline or Oakland Hills, and not as much like a Valhalla.

Advantage – Europe

After decades of United States dominance and the addition of the rest of Europe to the GB&I pool of players, the Ryder Cup witnessed a transformation. The European side turned inward and took on an “us against the world” attitude. They thrived on playing the underdog role no matter how talented their squads were. The “little brother” was becoming bigger, stronger, and faster.  This European team is comprised of four of the top five players in the world golf rankings. The same old U.S. Ryder Cup routine is no longer sufficient.  The awkwardness between Tiger and Phil in their power grouping at Oakland Hills was palpable.  However, in recent years the team chemistry for the United States has unquestionably improved. The U.S. side modified their points system. They added two captains’ picks.  But something was still amiss. Paul Azinger’s “pod” system in 2008 proved very successful. Certain U.S. team members have adjusted to and accepted the “team” concept of the Ryder Cup. Hunter Mahan’s heartbreaking press conference in 2010 further galvanized many of these same team members. Even the rookies for this U.S. team come to Chicago with a different aura. While Jeff Overton and Rickie Fowler provided plenty of pep in 2010, this year’s rookies come with two majors, a FedEx Cup, and more than a handful of wins in the last two years. These are players that have been through the ringer and have come out successful.  Undoubtedly, the European players are aware of this shift in U.S. team personality.  After all, most of these Euros tee it up with these same U.S. players week in and week out on the PGA tour and have seen first-hand their unflappable abilities.  This new found chemistry and confidence by the Americans should prove to be very beneficial come Sunday when the pressure is at its greatest.

Advantage – USA

There have been very few Ryder Cups in which the European teams have been better on paper than the United States. This discrepancy in perceived talent, however, has not translated into recent victories for the Americans. The European contingents have had that little something extra — the “it” factor. They knew their putts would fall. They knew that no matter what happened to them in their match, they had a teammate ready and willing to pick them up and carry them across the finish line. The United States team members have seen this routine enough to understand its benefits to a team competition. It would seem that this year’s team has adopted that philosophy and is ready to bring the Ryder Cup back to American soil and build a foundation for future U.S. team successes. While the teams appear to be very similar, the European team holds the on-course edge. But a one-sided, Midwestern crowd eager for American success and a new attitude American team should push the red, white, and blue to victory. Whether fate plays a role this year or not, I have a good feeling about this.

US – 15.5, EU – 12.5

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Joe Romaine is a high school math teacher and golf coach in sunny Arizona. His days are spent thinking about golf, watching golf, and relating golf to his students' math curriculum.

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Opinion & Analysis

A Letter from the Editor: Big changes are happening at GolfWRX

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For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Andrew Tursky. I recently went from the right-hand-man of former GolfWRX Editor-in-Chief Zak Kozuchowski, to running the show here at GolfWRX as the Editor-in-Chief myself. In my new role, I’m going to help GolfWRX fulfill its fullest potential as the best golf website in existence, and that means making a number of immediate changes, all of which I’ll highlight below.

First, a look back. Over a decade ago, GolfWRX started as a small community golf forum for golfers to discuss golf equipment, courses, instruction, rules, bargains, and everything else golf related. The forums continue to grow everyday, and they’re stronger than ever with over 250,000 members who are the most knowledgable and passionate golfers on the planet. They also helped us determine the Best Driver of 2018. Additionally, sometime around 2011, Kozuchowski took GolfWRX.com from simply a community golf forum to a golf media powerhouse by adding a front page section of the website, equipped with ultra-professional editorial. He built a team of Featured Writers — consisting of some of the biggest names in the golf industry — to help produce content that readers love and need. Since 2013, I’ve been helping Zak run the site by writing/producing original content myself, and working with the Featured Writer team. Currently averaging over 1.8 million unique readers per month, GolfWRX has been doing just fine. But I believe so strongly in the GolfWRX brand that I don’t want to settle for “just fine.” I believe we have more to offer, and I want every golfer in the world to garner entertainment or knowledge from our website.

As such, and building upon the foundation that is GolfWRX.com and the forums, I’ve been empowered by the “powers that be” at GolfWRX — you know, the guys who cut paychecks — to grow and shape the best golf website on the Internet.

So what does that mean going forward? Well, that’s what I wanted to discuss.

Here at GolfWRX, we’ve always been great at telling stories through the written word and images, and we will continue to do so with our Featured Writers team and legion of golf writers who love and know the game of golf. But after taking over the editorial direction of the website, I also wanted to help give GolfWRX a voice and a face. There are so many amazing people in the world of golf, and I wanted to provide platforms for us to help them tell their stories… to provide our readers the chance to see how golf clubs are made, how courses are designed, why professionals play certain equipment, and so much more. I wanted to bring readers where they’ve never been and hear from the people they’ve never heard from. Here at GolfWRX, we have the opportunity to speak with amazing people and play golf at amazing courses, and it’s about time the GolfWRX readers got to enjoy those experiences with us.

Therefore, we’re implementing our own original video and radio initiatives.

On the video-end of the spectrum, GolfWRX has recently hired Johnny Wunder full-time to the GolfWRX Staff. He’s a Hollywood producer (check out his new film Josie, starring Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones, that was recently in select theaters across the country!) and is also the new Director of Original Content at GolfWRX. If you’ve enjoyed the Bob Parsons interview, Paige interview, PXG Gen2 Editor’s Journal, or how PXG irons get built, you have Mr. Wunder to thank. Also coming soon are experiences with Mike Taylor at Artisan Golf, David Edel, Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, the Criquet Golf team in Austin, a short game series with Gabe Hjertstedt, a new fashion series and much more. We’re extremely excited to bring our own original content to the world, and help highlight the people in golf who we think deserve a platform. See the things you’ve never seen, go places you’ve never gone, and meet people you’ve never met; that’s what we want to do with our new GolfWRX original video content. We truly hope you enjoy it, and learn a lot from the content we produce.

We’ve also started three great podcasts — the “19th Hole with host Michael Williams,” “Two Guys Talkin’ Golf,” and “Gear Dive” — with plans to expand in the very near future. Check all of them out here on SoundCloud, or here on iTunes.

The 19th Hole is hosted by Michael Williams, who was the PGA Mediaperson of the Year in 2014 and is a longtime titan in both golf media and radio in general; he has produced and hosted shows on CBS Radio, Fox Sports Radio and Voice of America. Michael is a true professional, knowledgeable golfer, and knows how to conduct one heck of an interview. So far on the show, his guests have included Greg Norman, Bob Vokey, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Scott Van Pelt, Byron Scott, Michael Breed, Louis Oosthuizen, Jim Nantz, Roger Cleveland, Mike Taylor, and many more.

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf (TG2), is hosted by equipment expert Brian Knudson and myself, a former Division I golfer and GolfWRX Editor. Together, we discuss all things golf, but mostly focus on golf equipment… and the occasional hot take. TG2 welcomes guests on the show as well, ranging from GolfWRX forum members to club builders to Tour professionals to caddies. If you’re hungry for more equipment knowledge and high-level golf conversation, TG2 is your type of podcast.

The third, and all-new podcast, is called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder. What you can expect is a weekly podcast where Wunder interviews anyone who’s anyone “in the know” of golf equipment… and he’s going deep. To give you an idea, his first guest was legendary clubmaker Larry Bobka who made Tiger Woods’ old Titleist irons.

Also, as I discussed before, GolfWRX is great with telling stories via the written word. To make sure we continue to do so, we’ve hired Ben Alberstadt who’s been writing for GolfWRX for over 5 years now. He was previously a freelance journalist who worked with a variety of media and news outlets, and he now wears the GolfWRX hat full time. I cannot be more excited to have him aboard the ship because he’s a true, hard-working journalist and he’s great at telling a story in his own unique style. If you’ve read any of his stuff, you know what I mean.

And as for me, I promise to continue providing GolfWRX readers with the content they want and need to read/hear/see on a daily basis. It’s my duty to help our readers be the most knowledgable golfers and golf buyers, and be entertained while learning more about the sport we all love. I simply love GolfWRX and our readers/listeners/viewers, and I want you to have the best website of all time to visit every day… a website to be part of and proud of.

What do I ask from you GolfWRX readers? Your feedback! If we write a bad story, tell us why you think it’s bad. If we publish a video you like, tell us why in the comments or on social media. If you love the new podcast, tell us that you loved it and support by subscribing. (If you want all of our podcasts transcribed, we’re working on it!) We want to have the best website in the world, and we want to provide information to golfers in the way they want to consume it. We care deeply about your opinion. GolfWRX began as a forum community, and we will always be a community. Personally, I was a GolfWRX reader myself before ever writing for the site. So was Alberstadt and Williams and Knudson and Wunder. We love golf and we love GolfWRX. We want to see it thrive, and you, the readers, are a huge part of that success.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope you continue to be a GolfWRX reader and participant. And if you do, make sure to tell your golfing buddies how much you love the site… in real life or on social media. The more we grow, the better stories and podcasts and videos we can create. I love and appreciate the opportunity to be your GolfWRX Editor, and I won’t let you down!

 

Hit em between the tree line,

Andrew Tursky

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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