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Opinion & Analysis

Post Mortem: Fixing the U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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By Seth Kerr

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Every golfer, writer, and Monday morning quarterback has given his or her opinions on what went wrong with the 2012 Unitied States Team. Many believe the U.S. Team didn’t want to win as bad as the Europeans, pointing to Bubba Watson’s congratulatory tweets and Phil Mickelson’s thumbs-up while losing to Justin Rose as two examples.

The problem is, no one has said how to fix it. The U.S. has only won once this century and a meager one time on foreign soil since 1993.  For a majority of those years, Tiger and Phil were playing and still couldn’t win on European soil.

But instead of crying about the past, its time to provide the PGA of America with a plan to win moving forward.

Paul Azinger

In 2005, USA Basketball hired Jerry Colangelo to take responsibility for picking the team after disappointing finishes in 2002 and 2004. His teams went on to win the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 with a little help from Mike Krzyzewski.

Well the PGA of America needs their Jerry Colangelo.

I don’t know who is in charge of picking the captain, other than it’s the PGA of America, but shouldn’t I? I watch much more golf than basketball and have no idea who runs the show. Wouldn’t the Ryder Cup benefit from having a well-known player in charge of the team?

It’s an easy choice really: Paul Azinger

He is the last captain to win, one of the most intense players in U.S. Ryder Cup history and shows more passion announcing the Ryder Cup than most of the players playing. He put together a system that worked when nothing before it, or since it, has. The team needs the fire and intensity he shows, and he would put everything into the job.

The job is too difficult for a once every two year (more on this later) captain who is normally still trying to play on Tour. The captain needs to be Coach K. Don’t worry about all the administerial tasks leading up to the Cup. Come in and lead the team to victory when the Cup starts.

Azinger is the perfect person to have in charge of the U.S. Team. He can work to implement and assist the captain in formulating a plan and picking a team for victory. In the two years between Ryder Cups, he can scout players on a weekly basis, since he rarely plays and is normally announcing each week. He can arrange team outfits, dinners, practice schedules and everything leading up to the Ryder Cup that is a drain on the captain. Then during the week of the Cup he can be there to assist the captain and provide another pair of eyes on the course. 

Choosing a Captain and Assistant Captains

Azinger’s most important job will be to pick a captain. And to pick a captain who plans to captain for four years. Yes, four years. No more two-year captains. There are not enough decent players to have a new captain every two years.

Look at the names the U.S. Team has to pick from moving ahead. There aren’t many players. The early name being banded about for 2014 is David Toms. No disrespect to Mr. Toms but he is still actively playing, and playing worse than all 12 members of the team.

The Captain should be someone who has done something special in golf, not just the next American in line. Staying for four years will give the team consistency and make sure the field of potential captains to choose from isn’t too thin.

The same is true of Assistant Captains. Assistant Captains only qualification should not be being friends with the Captain. Fred Couples and now Davis Love III took flak for having Michael Jordan as an assistant. You tell me who is likely to bring more awe and inspiration to the team, Mike Hulbert and Scott Verplank or Michael Jordan?

Picking a Team

The U.S. players seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to the “team” aspect of the competition. Maybe its because they gravitate toward each other on the PGA Tour, but for whatever reason the Europeans seem closer.  he U.S. Team has to do something to close the gap.

Getting the players together more often is the way to do it. Every two years the Cup is played somewhere in Europe. What is stopping the captain from getting a group of players together for a couple days each year before or after the British Open to get together, play the course, have dinner together, and hang out to get to know each other. The majority of top Americans are in Europe anyway so it should be pretty simple to schedule.

The years the Cup is in the U.S. it would be even easier to get a group of guys together.

Invite the top 25 Americans in the world and see how they bond and like the course. See who likes to play together, and who is a fit on the course or which young guys hold up to the pressure of playing with the veterans.

Your telling me the players not guaranteed a spot wouldn’t show up to make sure the Captain knows they want to make the team?

Plan for the future

This one should seem pretty obvious. The team should always be planning for the future, but do they?

Looking at the 2012 Team, how many players would you guarantee will be on the 2014 team or 2016 team?

Probably Tiger, but are we sure he can get his game back to the top and play under pressure? He hasn’t shown the ability to perform under real pressure with his new swing. Plus he has an old body with a number of ailments. It is a fair question if his body will hold up two or four more years.

Phil? It’s conceivable Phil won’t be in the top eight of the point standings in two years. He already plays a limited schedule and will continue to do so as he ages and his family time becomes more and more valuable. Not to mention, he didn’t exactly set the Tour on fire this year anyway.

You can assume Bubba, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson have a chance to play in many more Ryder Cups. All five played reasonably well this year and Dufner and Johnson even won their Sunday matches.

The rest? We have probably seen the last of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar could make the team again, but their spots are hardly guaranteed.

It’s time to build a farm system for the U.S. Team.

This year’s team should have brought a number of younger players to Medinah to soak in the experience and see what they could expect from playing in the Ryder Cup. Having Nick Watney, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas and other guys come to Medinah and learn from the experience would have been invaluable, so if they make the team someday they would know what to expect.

In 2014, a group of young guns should make the trip to Gleneagles. Call them team interns if you want.

Doing the same thing the last 20 years and expecting to stem the European tide has done nothing to help the PGA of America. Chalking up 2012 to a herculean comeback would be a foolish mistake. The question is whether anybody is going to do something about it.

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

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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Opinion & Analysis

Pick three golfers to build the ultimate scramble team. Who you got?

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It’s officially scramble season. Whether it’s a corporate outing or charity event, surely you’ve either been invited to play in or have already played in a scramble this year.

If you don’t know the rules of the scramble format, here’s how it works: All four golfers hit their drives, then the group elects the best shot. From there, all four golfers hit the shot, and the best of the bunch is chosen once again. The hole continues in this fashion until the golf ball is holed.

The best scramble players are those who hit the ball really far and/or stick it close with the irons and/or hole a lot of putts. The point is to make as many birdies and eagles as possible.

With this in mind, inside GolfWRX Headquarters, we got to discussing who would be on the ultimate scramble team. Obviously, Tiger-Jack-Daly was brought up immediately, so there needed to be a caveat to make it more challenging.

Thus, the following hypothetical was born. We assigned each golfer below a dollar value, and said that we had to build a three player scramble team (plus yourself) for $8 or less.

Here are the answers from the content team here at GolfWRX:

Ben Alberstadt

Tiger Woods ($5): This is obvious. From a scramble standpoint, Tiger gives you everything you want: Long, accurate, and strategic off the tee (in his prime). Woods, sets the team up for optimal approach shots (he was pretty good at those too)…and of course, arguably the greatest pressure putter of all time.

David Duval ($2): I’m thinking of Double D’s machine-like approach play in his prime. Tour-leader in GIR in 1999, and 26th in driving accuracy that year, Duval ought to stick second shots when TW doesn’t and is an asset off the tee.

Corey Pavin ($1): A superb putter and dogged competitor, Pavin’s a great value at $1. Ryder Cup moxy. Plus, he’ll always give you a ball in the fairway off the tee (albeit a short one), much needed in scramble play.

Brian Knudson

Rory McIlroy ($4): I am willing to bet their are only a handful of par 5’s in the world that he can’t hit in in two shots. You need a guy who can flat out overpower a course and put you in short iron situations on every hole. His iron play is a thing of beauty, with a high trajectory that makes going after any sucker pin a possibility.

Jordan Spieth ($3): Was there a guy who putted from mid-range better than him just a couple years ago? If there was, he isn’t on this list. Scrambles need a guy who can drain everything on the green and after watching 3 putts to get the read, he won’t miss. His solid wedge game will also help us get up and down from those short yardages on the Par 4’s.

Corey Pavin ($1): Fear the STACHE!! The former Ryder Cup captain will keep the whole team playing their best and motivated to make birdies and eagles. If we have 228 yards to the flag we know he is pulling that 4 wood out and giving us a short putt for birdie. He will of course be our safety net, hitting the “safe shot,” allowing the rest of us to get aggressive!

Ronald Montesano

Dustin Johnson ($4) – Bombmeister!!!

Lee Trevino ($2) — Funny as hell (and I speak Mexican).

Sergio Garcia ($1) – The greatest iron player (I speak Spanish, too).

Tom Stickney

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Lee Trevino ($2)

DJ is longer than I-10, Seve can dig it out of the woods, and Trevino can shape it into any pin.

Andrew Tursky

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Jordan Spieth ($2)
Anthony Kim ($1)

Are all the old timers gonna be mad at me for taking young guys? Doesn’t matter. DJ has to be the best driver ever, as long as he’s hitting that butter cut. With Jordan, it’s hard to tell whether he’s better with his irons or with his putter — remember, we’re talking Jordan in his prime, not the guy who misses putts from 8 inches. Then, Anthony Kim has to be on the team in case the alcohol gets going since, you know, it’s a scramble; remember when he was out all night (allegedly) before the Presidents Cup and still won his match? I need that kind of ability on my squad. Plus AK will get us in the fairway when me, DJ and Spieth each inevitably hit it sideways.

Michael Williams

Tiger Woods ($5)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Corey Pavin ($1)

Tiger is a no-brainer. Seve is maybe the most creative player ever and would enjoy playing HORSE with Tiger. Pavin is the only $1 player who wouldn’t be scared stiff to be paired with the first two.

Johnny Wunder

Tiger Woods ($5): His Mind/Overall Game

Seve Ballesteros ($2): His creativity/fire in a team format/inside 100

Anthony Kim ($1): Team swagger/he’s streaky/will hit fairways under the gun.

A scramble requires 3 things: Power, Putting and Momentum. These 3 guys as a team complete the whole package. Tiger is a one man scramble team but will get himself in trouble, which is where Seve comes in. In the case where the momentum is going forward like a freight train, nobody rattles a cage into the zone better than AK. It’s the perfect team and the team I’d want out there if my life was on the line. I’d trust my kids with this team.

Who would you pick on your team, and why? See what GolfWRX Members are saying in the forums.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is equipment really to blame for the distance problem in golf?

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It’s 2018, we’re more than a quarter of the way through Major Season, and there are 58 players on the PGA Tour averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Trey Mullinax is leading the PGA Tour through the Wells Fargo Championship with an average driving distance of 320 yards. Much discussion has been had about the difficulty such averages are placing on the golf courses across the country. Sewn into the fabric of the distance discussion are suggestions by current and past giants of the game to roll back the golf ball.

In a single segment on an episode of Live From The Masters, Brandel Chamblee said, “There’s a correlation from when the ProV1 was introduced and driving distance spiked,” followed a few minutes later by this: “The equipment isn’t the source of the distance, it’s the athletes.”

So which is it? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a problem at all?

Several things of interest happened on the PGA Tour in the early 2000s, most of which were entirely driven by the single most dominant athlete of the last 30. First, we saw Tiger Woods win four consecutive majors, the first and only person to do that in the modern era of what are now considered the majors. Second, that same athlete drew enough eyeballs so that Tim Finchem could exponentially increase the prize money golfers were playing for each week. Third, but often the most overlooked, Tiger Woods ushered in fitness to the mainstream of golf. Tiger took what Gary Player and Greg Norman had preached their whole careers and amped it up like he did everything else.

In 1980, Dan Pohl was the longest player on the PGA Tour. He averaged 274 yards off the tee with a 5-foot, 11-inch and 175-pound frame. By 2000, the average distance for all players on the PGA Tour was 274 yards. The leader of the pack that year was John Daly, who was the only man to average over 300 yards. Tiger Woods came in right behind him at 298 yards.

Analysis of the driving distance stats on the PGA Tour since 1980 show a few important statistics: Over the last 38 seasons, the average driving distance for all players on the PGA Tour has increased an average of 1.1 yards per year. When depicted on a graph, it looks like this:

The disparity between the shortest and the longest hitter on the PGA Tour has increased 0.53 yards per year, which means the longest hitters are increasing the gap between themselves and the shortest hitters. The disparity chart fluctuates considerably more than the average distance chart, but the increase from 1980 to 2018 is staggering.

In 1980, there was 35.6 yards between Dan Pohl (longest) and Michael Brannan (shortest – driving distance 238.7 yards). In 2018, the difference between Trey Mullinax and Ken Duke is 55.9 yards. Another point to consider is that in 1980, Michael Brannan was 25. Ken Duke is currently 49 years of age.

The question has not been, “Is there a distance problem?” It’s been, “How do we solve the distance problem?” The data is clear that distance has increased — not so much at an exponential rate, but at a consistent clip over the last four decades — and also that equipment is only a fraction of the equation.

Jack Nicklaus was over-the-hill in 1986 when he won the Masters. It came completely out of nowhere. Players in past decades didn’t hit their prime until they were in their early thirties, and then it was gone by their early forties. Today, it’s routine for players to continue playing until they are over 50 on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Steve Stricker joined the PGA Tour Champions. In 2016, he averaged 278 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour. With that number, he’d have topped the charts in 1980 by nearly four yards.

If equipment was the only reason distance had increased, then the disparity between the longest and shortest hitters would have decreased. If it was all equipment, then Ken Duke should be averaging something more like 280 yards instead of 266.

There are several things at play. First and foremost, golfers are simply better athletes these days. That’s not to say that the players of yesteryear weren’t good athletes, but the best athletes on the planet forty years ago didn’t play golf; they played football and basketball and baseball. Equipment definitely helped those super athletes hit the ball straighter, but the power is organic.

The other thing to consider is that the total tournament purse for the 1980 Tour Championship was $440,000 ($1,370,833 in today’s dollars). The winner’s share for an opposite-field event, such as the one played in Puerto Rico this year, is over $1 million. Along with the fitness era, Tiger Woods ushered in the era of huge paydays for golfers. This year, the U.S. Open prize purse will be $12 milion with $2.1 million of that going to the winner. If you’re a super athlete with the skills to be a golfer, it makes good business sense to go into golf these days. That wasn’t the case four decades ago.

Sure, equipment has something to do with the distance boom, but the core of the increase is about the athletes themselves. Let’s start giving credit where credit is due.

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Opinion & Analysis

Golf swing videos: What you absolutely need to know

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Let’s start with a game. Below are 5 different swing videos. I want you to study them and decide which of them is the best swing. Take your time, this is important…

Please, write your answer down. Which one was it?

Now, I am going to tell you a little secret; they are all the exact same swing filmed simultaneously from 5 various positions. JM1 is on the hand line but higher, JM2 is on the hand line but lower, JM3 is on the foot line, JM4 is on the hand line and JM5 is on the target line. Same swing, very different results!

So, what did we learn? Camera angle has an enormous impact on the way the swing looks.

“If you really want to see what is going on with video, it is crucial to have the camera in the right position,” said Bishops Gate Director of Instruction and Top 100 teacher Kevin Smeltz. “As you can see, if it is off just a little it makes a significant difference.”

According to PGA Tour Coach Dan Carraher: “Proper camera angles are extremely important, but almost more important is consistent camera angles. If you’re going to compare swings they need to be shot from the same camera angles to make sure you’re not trying to fix something that isn’t really a problem. Set the camera up at the same height and distance from the target line and player every time. The more exact the better.”

For high school players who are sending golf swing videos to college coaches, the content of the swing video is also very important. You have 5-15 seconds to impress the coach, so make sure you showcase the most impressive part of your game. For example, if you bomb it, show some drivers and make sure the frame is tight to demonstrate your speed/athleticism. Likewise, if you have a great swing but not a whole lot of power, start the video with a 5 or 6 iron swing to showcase your move. Either way, show coaches your strengths, and make sure to intrigue them!

Now that you have something that represents your skills, you need to consider how to format it so coaches are most likely to open it. I would recommend uploading the swings to YouTube and including a link in the email; a link allows the coach to simply click to see the video, rather than having to mess with opening any specific program or unknown file.

When formatting the email, always lead with your best information. For example, if you want a high-end academic school and have 1550 on the SAT lead with that. Likewise, if you have a powerful swing, lead with the YouTube link.

Although these tips do not guarantee responses, they will increase your odds!

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