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Opinion & Analysis

5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the U.S. Open

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History was made on Day 3 at the 2017 U.S. Open.

Golfers made birdies by the bushel, and with nary a major champion within seven strokes of the lead, unless Louis Oosthuizen shoots 59 on Sunday (and that might not be enough), we will have a first-time winner.

1. Today’s JT and his Sixty-Three

My love, what goes around, comes around. I mean, Can’t stop this feeling that Justin Thomas did something special today. He wasn’t wearing a Suit & Tie, and he didn’t make everything, but he won’t Cry Me A River. You see, JT (aka Justin Thomas) had nine birdies and one eagle to go with two bogeys and six pars, for 63. He tied the low single-round number for an Open, but he actually went 9-under par, and no one had ever gone deeper than 8-under (cough, Johnny Miller, cough.)

Truth be told, JT might be bringing SexyBack to golf. Senorita, it’s like he was LoveStoned or something. His playing partner, Jonathan Randolph, had to be thinking, Dude, What U working with? All right, we’re done with the Justin Timberlake (also named “JT”) references! All joking aside, what Justin Thomas did was historic. And we know what happens with historic in Round 3: it usually disappears for Round 4. Can this JT break with tradition and follow greatness with more greatness? We’ll see.

2. Go Low or Go Home

It’s a cliche, but it’s normally reserved for non-major championships. Probably not wanting the bemoaning that befell Chambers Bay two years back, the USGA was cautious with its set up of Erin Hills. Rains came a few times this week, softening things up just enough to keep balls in fairways and allow competitors to target hole locations. Add in absolutely perfect putting surfaces and all the ingredients for low numbers were on the counter.

Patrick Reed, sporting his lucky Ryder Cup red pants, went seven deep for 65 and moved into the top-10, four behind the leaders. Russell Henley had 67 and another bunch signed for 68 (Brooks Koepka, Si Woo Kim, Charley Hoffman and Tommy Fleetwood.) With rain drizzling at round’s end, expect more darts on Sunday and perhaps, a 62.

3. Our Guys, Brian Harman and Tommy Fleetwood

Why is Harman our guy? He tops out at 67 inches tall and he’s a lefty. He’s also at the top of the leaderboard. Harman has missed but five fairways all week, showing that driving accuracy is valuable. Harman also carried himself with an eerie calm, and he had his distance control on point. Sound like sage advice? Follow it the next time you play!

As for Fleetwood, he came to No. 18 tied for the lead at 12-under. Faced with a difficult third shot, Fleetwood chunked it into a swale, then putted his fourth past the hole and off the back of the putting surface, into another swale. He pitched his fifth within 5 feet, then fortunately drained the bogey putt for 68 and 11-under. We’ve all laid sod before, and we empathized with one of England’s best.

4. What We Didn’t Expect: Casey and Matsuyama Flops

If there were two guys you might have expected to take advantage of a windless, moist Saturday, they were named Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama. How do you define their days? Not one highlight from either on the USGA Twitter Feed.

Even if Casey had made zero bogeys or worse, his two birdies on the day would have left him three back of the leader. As it was, he got in trouble in the fescue on three, whiffed on his third shot and made his second triple bogey in two days. He bogeyed No. 4 and became an also-ran, ending the day with 75 for 4-under and a tie for 17th spot.

Matsuyama set the course ablaze on Friday with 65, but Saturday was a different story. After a successful outward nine of 34, Matsuyama bogeyed three of his first five holes on the inward side. He did well to add two more birdies to stay within the same zip code of the leaders. Super low might get it done for Matsuyama, but a lot will have to go his way.

5. Prediction for Sunday

Gone from the game of golf is fear. Not since Tiger has anyone struck fear in the hearts of other professional golfers. All of the competitors are in the same age bracket, between 21 and 30. They all (except for Harman) bomb the ball illegal distances. Each seems to be a nice, respectful guy, although inside all beats the heart of an assassin.

Let’s run the top-9 down, then settle on a winner:

  • Harman — Pro: plays within himself; Con: never been there.
  • Thomas — Pro: goes for everything; Con: when he gets wild…
  • Koepka — Pro: long and strong with great touch; Con: never been there
  • Fleetwood — Pro: our under the radar guy; Con: nerves have shown all week at crunch time
  • Fowler — Pro: has been there more than others in majors; Con: has yet to close out a major with a win
  • Kim — Pro: young and twice a winner on tour; Con: young and untested in the majors
  • Reed — Pro: the guttiest player out there come Ryder Cup time; Con: this is not Ryder Cup time
  • Henley — Pro: the best putter in the top nine; Con: zippo in the major championship experience column
  • Hoffman — Pro: wily veteran with major experience; Con: we miss his Samson-length hair

My pick for Sunday is a tie between Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler. When that happens, U.S. teammates will battle on Monday for the trophy.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Auggie

    Jun 18, 2017 at 10:29 am

    The USGA with a little help from Mother Nature is putting on a proper tournament for once. The course is actually playing like it was designed to be played and the majority of the contending golfers are the ones who have been trending and in contention in other recent tournaments during the past month or so.

    It would have been nice to have seen the players face more of the windy conditions that the course was designed to accommodate, but overall I am convinced that at the end of the day the winning golfer will be the one who is golfing their ball the very best and not the one who got the most freakishly lucky bounces around a bunch of dried-up, burnt-out greens.

  2. M

    Jun 18, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Who the heck is Justin Timberlake

    • Golfandpuff

      Jun 18, 2017 at 10:53 am

      gimme’ a break…loved all the references! Watch his concert on Netflix…wipes his rear with Beiber with one eye closed.

  3. Ronald Montesano

    Jun 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

    The grind will be in their faces, as it was today, when they realize that they need to keep up, not simply survive. One score is no different from another. Disaster is always one missed-swing away, thanks to the bunkers, the fescue, the hole locations.

  4. Duk Koo Kim

    Jun 18, 2017 at 5:31 am

    I second the poor broadcasting……and the camera operators are all over the map trying to spot the ball. Why does Buck have to loudly announce EVERYTHING?!! RICKIE FOWLER SAVES PAR!!! Sheesh already, I got it Joe, I got it, relax. Go watch some Pat Summerall and Ken Venturi broadcasts and take some notes on “conversational tones.” You’re driving me freakin’ nuts with the
    carnival barker announcements.

  5. Lawrence

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Day 3, just another day of the worst broadcast team any golf tournament ever had…shame on FOX..

    • Golfandpuff

      Jun 18, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Don’t know how she plays golf built like that…and noticed first day no ring on finger.

  6. carl

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    Looks like the emergency fescue trim was not needed

  7. Shi Suk Dik

    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    This boring US Open.
    I no like it, it’s a PGA stop not US Open.
    But. No wind, some rain, soft course, very easy.
    Next year more hard

  8. Old Putter

    Jun 17, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    We need a love button for Ron’s articles

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

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Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1
  • Jon Rahm 14/1
  • Justin Rose 18/1
  • Webb Simpson 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 20/1
  • Jimmy Walker 28/1
  • Adam Scott 28/1

Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.

Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.

Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.

Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.

As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.

Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.

Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.

Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
  • Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price  $7,100
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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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