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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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Podcasts

TG2: What’s this on the back of the Mizuno JPX919 Hot Metal irons?!

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Speculation about Mizuno’s new JPX 919 irons that recently popped up on the USGA Conforming Clubs list, as well as in-hand photos of new Srixon Z785 and Z585 irons. Also, Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment expert Brian Knudson talk to a special guest, Steven Bowditch’s caddie from the 2018 John Deere Classic (who he found on Twitter).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges

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It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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