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Fantasy Golf Preview: 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions

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This week, the Sentry Tournament of Champions will kick off the new golf year once again. A small field and relaxed atmosphere at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course in Maui offers the 34 entrants a great opportunity to begin their year in positive fashion. Last year, Justin Thomas did just that, blitzing the course and picking up the trophy after posting a score of 22-under par for the event. Golf fans need no reminder as to how the 24-year-old fared from then on. His sublime 2017 culminated with him receiving the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

The Plantation Course has played as the easiest on the PGA Tour for the last three years, and with warm conditions in the forecast, another low-scoring event can be expected. The par-73 course measures more than 7,400 yards and provides very generous fairways and vast elevation changes. Despite its length, Kapalua does not offer a distinct advantage for the longer hitters as one might expect. The key statistics for previous winners and top performers in the past have been Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and Strokes Gained Putting.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 11/2
  • Justin Thomas 13/2
  • Dustin Johnson 7/1
  • Rickie Fowler 7/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 10/1
  • Jon Rahm 12/1
  • Brooks Koepka 12/1

The opening events of the year are often always the most difficult to predict because there is very little form to guide us after the break. Despite this, I feel that Jordan Spieth (11/2) is a valid choice as the primary pick for this week. The Texan has enjoyed great success at Kapalua in the past. In his three appearances, his worst finish was a T3 on his debut. He followed that with a win in 2016 and a second-place finish last year. When it comes to Spieth, particular courses seem to suit his game perfectly. He has enjoyed great success at TPC Deere Run in the past where he has multiple wins, and his form at Augusta National is spectacular. He boasts an impressive scoring average of 67.67 at the Plantation Course, a sign that this is yet another course that fits his eye.

Spieth certainly possesses the attributes needed to light up Kapalua. With good iron play absolutely vital this week, there is no better man. He was No. 1 in 2017 when it came to Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, while his putting — which is very rarely off — remains arguably the best in the game. He was also No. 2 in 2017 when it came to birdies or better on par 4s. His ability to knock it close from the fairway and convert the putt is an asset that should provide him with the opportunity to get another win this week.

With recent form always difficult to analyze at the beginning of the year, there are some signs that Spieth’s “A game” may not be that far away. He followed a respectable eighth-place finish at the Australian Open in November with a solid showing at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished T3. While the big names of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler all have wonderful resumes, there is a sense that Spieth may have slightly more going for him this week at a similar price. At 11/2, I feel it’s worth backing Jordan to start his year with a bang and claim his second title here.

Further down the betting odds, there are a few more names that get my attention. Marc Leishman (20/1) and Kevin Kisner (25/1) are both appealing, but Daniel Berger (33/1) offers a better value. He made his debut at this event last year, where he posted a modest T14 finish. His form trailed off at the back end of last year, but despite this I believe the Plantation Course is one where Berger could see success.

Berger was 12th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green in 2017. He can give himself a bundle of chances for birdie this week, provided he can replicate his form with the irons from last year. It led him to finishing T30 in birdies or better on par 4s. The Florida native is also a very competent putter on Bermuda greens. Over his past 24 rounds on Bermuda greens, he ranks No. 6 in Strokes Gained Putting. If he wants to compete this week, he will need to keep up that pace. At 33/1 (several sites have him as high as 40/1), there is enough value in taking the chance that he can do just that.

Finally, looking way down the board at 66/1, there is little harm in throwing some loose change at Bryson DeChambeau. He is one of the few players in the field that have been fully active in the 2017/18 wraparound season on the PGA Tour. He has played three events and the results have been positive with finishes of T17, T7 and T14. His approach play has been on song in all three events. DeChambeau is currently 10th for this season when it comes to the crucial statistic for this week of Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, up from 105th in the same category last year. With such a small sample size, it’s difficult to measure just how much improvement this shows, but his activeness in the fall could give him an advantage.

DeChambeau’s results in the fall show his best form since July of last year, when he posted three-consecutive T30 finishes before claiming his maiden PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic. While I’m certainly not expecting him to win this week, at 66/1 there could be some value in the golfing scientist performing well enough to perhaps sneak a place.

Recommended Bets

  • Jordan Spieth 6/1
  • Daniel Berger 33/1
  • Bryson DeChambeau 66/1
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Giancarlo is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com

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Paul Wood, VP of Engineering at Ping, joins our 19th Hole to discuss the new G400 Max driver, which the company calls the “straightest driver ever.” Also, listen for a special discount code on a new laser rangefinder.

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WATCH: How to Pull a Shaft from a Composite Club Head

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Composite club heads are increasing in popularity with golfers thanks to their technological and material advantages. For that reason, it’s important to know how to pull shafts from composite club heads without damaging them. This video is a quick step-by-step guide that explains how to safely pull a shaft from a composite club head.

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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Another great example is Sooner coach Ryan Hybl, who in 2017 lead his team to the NCAA National Championship. Hybl, an outstanding player at Georgia, then was an assistant with the program from 2005-2009. The system continues to work as three notable assistants made moves this summer; Jim Garden from OU to Coastal Carolina, John Handrigan from UF to Notre Dame and Dusty Smith from Vanderbilt to Mississippi State.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed South Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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