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Opinion & Analysis

2017 WGC-Mexico Championship: Odds, Picks, and Props

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The world’s top players are headed to Mexico City this week for 2017’s first World Golf Championship. The WGC–Mexico Championship, held away from Trump National Doral for the first time since 2007, is filled with storylines; Dustin Johnson’s first appearance since becoming the World No. 1, Rory’s return from a rib injury, and Henrik Stenson’s first appearance in the Americas since last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship. The first WGC of the year has a list of big-name winners including reigning champ Adam Scott, D. Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods — who holds the 72-hole tournament record with 261 (23-under) at The Grove in 2006. With a field including 49 of the world’s top 50 players, this year’s trophy is truly up for grabs.

The Course

The par-71 Club de Golf Chapultepec comes in at 7,330 yards. It is no stranger to hosting big time events as it was the original venue of the Mexican Open in 1944 and has hosted the event 18 times, as recently as 2014. With tree-lined fairways and undulating greens, accuracy off the tee and ball striking will be at premium. And with plenty of doglegs, the players who can shape the ball both ways will have a major advantage. It’s also important to note that Club de Golf Chapultepec has Poa Annua greens, so those who fair well on the Tour’s West Coast Swing will likely feel comfortable on the putting surface.

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In addition to the usual obstacles, players will face a unique challenge here as the course sits almost 8,000 feet above sea level. At that altitude, players can expect the ball to fly at least 10-15 percent longer than usual. It’ll be interesting to see how many players overshoot the green and look down to see if they caught a flyer.

Odds

Past Champs in the field:

  • Phil Mickelson (+5000)
  • Justin Rose (+2200)
  • Patrick Reed (+5000)
  • Dustin Johnson (+650)
  • Adam Scott (+2800)

Favorites:

  • Dustin Johnson (+650)
  • Jordan Spieth (+800)
  • Rory McIlroy (+1200)
  • Henrik Stenson (+1400)
  • Rickie Fowler (+1800)
  • Adam Scott (+2800)
  • Justin Rose (+2200)
  • Sergio Garcia (+2800)
  • Jon Rahm (+3000)
  • Justin Thomas (+3300)

Picks

My Pick: At a course that’s essentially an unknown to the world’s top players, it’s tough to go against the number 1 player in the world. However, I’m going to do just that. My pick this week is Henrik Stenson (+1400). With the elevation effect, the long hitters’ advantage is taken away and it’s likely they’ll have to tee off with woods and irons. Nobody hits a 3-wood with more confidence and accuracy than Stenson. Stenson ranks 7th in Driving Accuracy and 5th in GIR on the European Tour making him a scoring machine with a Stroke Average of just over 68.

Value Pick: I’m going with Jon Rahm as my value pick at +3,000. Generally, I’d go a little further down the favorites list for this pick but I think Rahm has a legitimate chance to win this week. He already has a win and five top 25s in his first full season on Tour and ranks 5th in Shots Gained Off the Tee. The only part of his game that could be considered a weakness is his putting, but, after getting his first win at Torrey Pines, he showed just how comfortable he is on Poa greens.

Long Shot: It’s hard to consider former world number 1 Lee Westwood (+10000) a long shot but, in a field with this kind of talent, that’s exactly what he is. Westwood’s distance off the tee is his biggest knock but at almost 8,000 feet above sea level, that shouldn’t cause him any issues. He’s averaging a sub-70 round on the European Tour and his experience makes him hard to pass on with these odds.

Who to stay away from: Rory McIlroy (+1,200). I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t see McIlroy being a good play this week. He can win anytime he steps out on the course but his rib injury makes me nervous. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up with a WD, especially since he’ll be particularly cautious with the Masters only five weeks away.

Props

Will there be a playoff? Yes (+300) No (-450); I’m going with “No” here. My gut tells me someone is going to pull away from the field this week and there have only been two playoffs in this event since it began in 1999. 

Winning Margin – Playoff (+300) 1 Stroke (+250) 2 Strokes (+400) 3 Strokes (+500) 4+ Strokes(+300); Like I said, I think someone runs away with this tournament. The course is unknown but it’s going to fit someone’s eye. Someone is going to love this course. That being said, 3 Strokes is my pick. With this type of field nobody is going to win by 10 shots but someone will separate himself.

Hole-in-One – Yes (+135) No (-175); I’m always rooting for an ace and I think we’ll see one this week. With an elite field comes incredible ball striking; players should be firing at the pin on the par-3 17th. Playing at only 172 yards, most players will be using a short iron here.

Henrik Stenson Top 5 Finish (+275); This should be a lock. I’m going with Stenson as the winner but I don’t see how he finishes outside the top 5. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 on the European Tour since July of 2016 and this course should suit his game.

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Twitter @NickRitaccoGolf

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Dante Demeo

    Mar 2, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Wow you couldn’t have been more wrong about Henrik Stenson. Won’t ever be listening to you again.

    • Nick Ritacco

      Mar 2, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Still the first round Dante – plenty of golf left to play. But I’m pretty sure Westwood and Rahm are T-2 and T-4 at the moment.

      • Alex

        Mar 2, 2017 at 5:03 pm

        1st and tied for second now! Westwood might take this one!

  2. Tazz2293

    Mar 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Not gonna watch this tournament

    PGA soiled themselves. This tournament should be at Doral

  3. Tazz2293

    Mar 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I am boycotting this tournament. This tournament should be played at Doral.

    PGA soiled themselves on this one.

  4. Gamble Gamble

    Feb 28, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Zach Johnson for the win!

  5. Phil

    Feb 28, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    SHANK! You were 0 for 4 on your genius prop bets from last week. You didn’t even have Rickie on your radar.

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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