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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.

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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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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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