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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Sony Open

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The short, Aloha swing continues this week with the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. The first full event of 2018 is another tournament where you can expect very low scoring as players enjoy a generous beginning to the new year. Last year, Justin Thomas dominated the event. He opened the tournament with an 11-under 59, finishing 27-under to win by an impressive seven-shot margin.

Waialae offers up some of the most challenging fairways to hit on Tour, but with short rough it shouldn’t pose too many problems. Exceptional ball striking and low scores on par 4’s will prove very important this week. Five par 4’s fall in the range of 400-450 yards, while another five fall between 450-500 yards. Excellent iron play will be vital.

Selected Tournament Odds (vis Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 5/1
  • Justin Thomas 8/1
  • Mark Leishman 16/1
  • Brian Harman 16/1
  • Kevin Kisner 20/1
  • Russell Henley 30/1
  • Tony Finau 33/1

The favorite this week is once again Jordan Spieth. The Texan’s fine ball striking and accurate iron play continued last week as he finished solo ninth. It was only an uncharacteristically poor four days on the greens that stopped him from getting into the thick of things. Spieth tied for his second-worst putting performance of his entire career, dropping 3.8 strokes on the greens to the field. His tee-to-green he remained impressive, however, finishing only behind Dustin Johnson in Strokes Gained.

A return to his usual putting may well prove to be the deciding factor in whether or not Spieth can triumph this week, as his iron play is currently sharper than anyone else in the field. It’s understandable that the 5/1 quotes will interest many people, as it’s logical to assume Spieth won’t putt anywhere near as poorly as he did last week. I certainly won’t be making an argument against that, but I’m prepared to look deeper into the field for greater value.

My opening pick for the week is a man who failed to deliver a victory in 2017, but I would be shocked should he not pick up a W this year. Tony Finau (33/1) has begun his 2017/18 season in promising fashion. He was runner up at the Safeway Open before finishing 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. In his last event, he managed a 16th-place finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open despite the worst putting display of his career (he dropped almost seven strokes to the field on the greens). The fact that he was able to finish T16 that week highlights how well Finau has been hitting it.

In his last 12 rounds, Finau is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Tee To Green and sixth in Ball Striking. Those are the statistics of a guy who is very close to putting it all together. The only thing holding him back at the moment is his putting. Yet despite his atrocious performance on the greens at the Shriners, he still has a marginally positive Strokes Gained Putting statistic combined over his last five tournaments. He recorded his best finish here last year out of three attempts with a T20. His trends suggest he has every chance to mightily improve on that once again this year.

My second pick is a man who oozes confidence on certain courses. Zach Johnson (35/1) has been very quiet since his last win almost three years ago, but recently his game has slowly been coming back. He had been suffering with his usually reliable iron play, but lately that has been improving. Johnson sits 15th in Strokes Gained Approaching The Green in this field over his last 12 rounds. He also sits fourth in the field over his last 24 rounds from the crucial 400-450 yard range for this week.

Not only does it look as if Johnson’s wedge game is strong at the moment, but his putting is deadly. He sits first in the field over his last 24 rounds for Strokes Gained Putting. Johnson is a man who seems to always play well on courses he loves. He has multiple wins at La Cantera Golf Club, multiple wins at Colonial Country Club, and he’s a serial contender at TPC Deere Run. It certainly seems that Waialae is another course that really suits his game. He won the event back in 2009 and he has finished in the top-10 in three of his last four outings.

Si-Woo Kim (60-1) is often a feast or famine type of player, but after last week’s performance the quotes of 60/1 seem quite high to me. The South Korean hit it beautifully last week. He was fourth in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching The Green, and only a poor performance on the greens prevented him from a likely top-5 finish. His below-average putting is not unusual, but when he has a half decent week on the greens he has the capability to dominate a field — just like we saw at The Players Championship last year. He has only ever played Waialae once before; he finished solo fourth in 2016. There is no doubt Si-Woo is a much more polished player now than he was then, and if he can strike the ball as he did last week then he should be able to get himself into the mix on Sunday.

The final pick I like this week is a consistent performer who often flies under the radar. Over his last 12 rounds, William McGirt (60/1) has been producing some fine golf. He is second only to Jordan Spieth in this field in Total Strokes Gained. He is 10th in ball striking, seventh off the tee and third in putting. He has only cracked the top-20 in four previous visits to Waialae, but he is 4/4 in cuts made, a statistic that may bode well for anyone thinking of adding him to their DraftKings lineup. His form was very solid in the fall with finishes of T25-T10-T8, and his stock may be a little undervalued currently.

Recommended Bets

  • Tony Finau 33/1
  • Zach Johnson 35/1
  • Si-Woo Kim 60/1
  • William McGirt 60-1
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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

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Martin

    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:53 am

    None of the golfers mentioned will win the tournament. It will be somebody nobody expects to win. Golf is a chaotic activity and selecting specific winners is like playing your ‘lucky’ numbers in the lotteries.

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WATCH: How to 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), John Handrigan (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.

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 North 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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