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5 Things We Learned at the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions

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Hello again! Happy New Year and best wishes on all your resolutions. Thirty-four touring pros resolved to win again in 2018, but only one of them was able to check that box this week at Kapalua. A strong field assembled on Maui for the first event of the new year, but there was a clause: you had to win in the calendar year 2017. For all the Tiger Woods talk, he didn’t attend. Same for guys such as Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau. What was there were the five things we typically learn at major championships. Since none of the other major women’s or men’s tours were in action this week, the TOC was pretty major. Welcome home, televised golf. Sit back and enjoy the first 5 Things We Learned of 2018.

5) The ground game is alive and well

We learned that the way to play the wind and firm turf hasn’t changed since the days of Allan Robertson, Joyce Wethered and Old Tom Morris. Thanks to the sometimes-cooperative trade winds of the Hawaiian islands, fellows were shaping shots under and into the wind, and landing them 30 or 40 yards short of the green, using slopes as their assistance. Dustin Johnson holed one of these for eagle on Saturday, and nearly holed a drive on Sunday for a par-four ace! The next time (hopefully, all the time) things aren’t so soft around your home course, practice what you saw at Kapalua.

Related: Dustin Johnson’s Winning WITB

4) Jon Rahm might catch Dustin Johnson one day

Rahm alluded to how much he likes to measure himself against the world’s top-ranked male professional golfer. He took DJ to the final hole in the championship match of the 2017 WGC Match Play event, but hasn’t cracked the dense veneer of the 6-foot 4-inch, 190-pound titan. Will it happen in 2018? Judging by Rahm’s play at Kapalua, I’m saying he has a chance. Rahm and the other 32 were chasing the second spot after DJ said, “here comes a Sunday 65,” and the Basque bomber was able to edge Brian Harman out by one shot, finishing at 16-under par, and 8 shots behind the conqueror.

Not much happens in Rahm’s swing, so not much can go wrong. That’s a nice recipe for success.

3) A man of our stature

Well, mine, anyway. I top out at 5-feet 9-inches, so Brian Harman is kinda my hero. He also won the Porter Cup (just north of Casa Montesano) in 2007 with an all-time low score, so he’s also an adopted hometown hero. Harman gave Brooks Koepka more than a run at Erin Hills (a long-hitter’s dream course) at the 2017 U.S. Open, and there he was, chasing DJ all week at another bomber’s delight, Kapalua. Harman’s action is so imitable for the under-six feet set; I just have to watch it in a mirror. Here’s to a great 2018 for the man of average height, Brian Harman. His final-round 72 was his only score above 69 all week, and his 15-under total earned him solo third place.

2) Horses for courses

We should all have Dustin Johnson’s penchant for forgetting. When asked about the impact of his final-round falter at the HSBC-Champions in China in late October, Johnson acted as if it took place years ago. That’s awesome. He also factored in his familiarity with (and ability to score on) the Plantation course at Kapalaua against everyone’s relative-vagueness with the other place in two words: different courses. Johnson’s game is a thing of beauty. His deftness with the wedges is unparalleled on tour, and we’re not talking about someone bereft of strength or height. Is he imitable? No. Is he invincible? Perhaps.

1) Sergio can thank those unlucky socks

Sergio Garcia’s 2017 Masters triumph was brilliant work. If not for the slip-and-tumble that Dustin Johnson took early in the week that forced him to withdraw from the tournament, who knows? If DJ likes Augusta National half as much as he likes Kapalua, he might gather in a second major title quite early in 2018.

Seriously, who else on earth can do things such as this…

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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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. allan

    Jan 8, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    …. apology accepted …. on behalf of clan …. 🙂

  2. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 8, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Currently working to change “Alan” to “Allan” with apologies to the Robertson clan.

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Ping Engineer Paul Wood explains how the G400 Max driver is so forgiving

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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.

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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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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