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Opinion & Analysis

Presidents Cup: What Couples can learn from DL3



By Jim Johnson

GolfWRX Contributor

It was an event filled with missed putts, near shanks and questionable captains picks. All of which left a bitter taste in the mouth of the defeated.

I’m talking about the U.S. Ryder Cup team, right? No, I’m talking about the 2011 Presidents Cup, where Robert Allenby was the questionable captain’s pick who couldn’t make a putt and Aaron Baddeley hit one of the worst shots in international team match history (until Webb Simpson’s hosel rocket at Medinah, that is).

U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Fred Couples seemed to ooze Seve Ballesteros charisma in 2011 at Royal Melbourne. Greg Norman, on the other hand, played the awkward Hal Sutton role to the hilt, cowboy hat, bad pairings and all.

Now that Medinah is a memory, albeit a bad one, at least American golf fans still have the Presidents Cup on U.S. Soil. But, if recent Ryder Cup history is any indication, American fans shouldn’t get too comfortable with being on top. Although the U.S. still leads the overall Ryder Cup by a margin of 25-12-2, they are 2-7 since 1995 and 7-9-1 since Europe joined Great Britain/Ireland in the biannual matches. With all the great players coming out of Asia, Australia and South Africa, it might be only a matter of time before American domination in the Presidents Cup comes to an end. In fact, the Presidents Cup could easily do a 180-degree turn in 2013 under Nick Price’s leadership. There has been much speculation that Couples will get the Ryder Cup job in 2014. But, if Couples isn’t careful, he just may be part of losing effort in 2013.

Here are four things Couples should have learned from 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III at Medinah — things he should do to prevent a defeat at Muirfield Village by the International Team in 2013.

No. 1: Don’t back yourself into a corner before the start of Presidents Cup

As much as possible, Couples should keep an open mind going into the matches. He has to be open regarding how many matches each player will play and with whom. Love backed himself into a corner at Medinah, saying that no one on his team was going to play five matches. Doing this, he hamstrung himself on Saturday with the U.S. poised to deliver a knock out blow to the European team.

By resting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Love took the crowd out of the matches and helped allow Europe to regain some momentum. If anything, Love was a bit too open about his approach prior to last Friday’s first matches. Couples would do well to keep things a bit closer to the vest. Some things belong in the team room, regardless how much those of us in the media would like otherwise.

No. 2: Stay with the hot hand

Couples needs to go with who is playing well. Of course, this includes his captain’s picks. But just as important, perhaps more so are those playing well during the event. It’s hard to fault American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III for picking Brandt Snedeker, the FedExCup champ, and Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk. But, one hopes that Couples will consider factors beyond simply experience and who Tiger wants to partner with (more on that later).

As Keegan Bradley proved, youthful energy can carry a team through a tough match and excite the crowd at the same time. Bradley, Johnson, Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan and Simpson are all likely to make the team on points. But Couples better have young guns like Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley on speed dial as well. As hard as it is, it may be time to turn the page on guys like Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.

No. 3: Make sure your assistant captains are there to assist

It was pretty obvious on Sunday that No. 18 was playing shorter than the yardage. Yet, several American players in key matches hit shots that ended up long. Where were the assistant captains to give them that information?

Too often, assistants are viewed as potential Ryder Cup captains giving an audition. Couples needs to make sure that his assistants are engaged and giving needed information to the players, not positioning themselves for Seoul in 2015. Finally, enough with having celebrities like Michael Jordan lying on the tee box smoking cigars and wearing apparel promoting his brand. Sorry Bill Murray, this means you too.

No. 4: Tame Tiger

What should Couples do with Tiger? Davis tried sitting Tiger for the first time in history and it seemed to have zero impact on his play. He didn’t look any fresher Saturday afternoon than he did Friday afternoon. But, it did do two things. On the positive side, it removed a player from a format that didn’t mesh with his game. On the negative side, it absolutely forced him to sit Phil and Keegan.

There was no possibility that Tiger would sit and Phil would play all five matches. Another aspect of Tiger is figuring out who will be his partner. Like other captains, Love apparently allowed Tiger to pick his partner. On paper, Stricker was and has been a nice partner for Tiger, but they were no match for their opponents at Medinah, going 0-3. Couples had the right idea in 2011 when he paired Tiger with Dustin Johnson. He needs to use all of his considerable charisma to get Tiger to take players like Johnson under his wing in team play, on the golf course. Not only will that be good for American golf going forward, it may just allow Mr. Woods to have successful partnerships for future President Cup and Ryder Cup matches. This will take Tiger out of his comfort zone. But, maybe Tiger needs to be a bit uncomfortable out there, not Hal Sutton 2004 uncomfortable, but just enough to get him edgy and intense.

Perhaps, Couples will do some of these things or none of these things. What we do know is that Couples will be Couples… loose as a goose and having fun. It’s worked the last two Presidents Cup events. If it works again, maybe we’ll see him playing bagpipes and wearing a kilt in 2014. Are you listening PGA of America?

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure



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 too 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



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



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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19th Hole