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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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It’s back out to California this week as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am gets underway. As always at this event, three courses will be used over the opening three days — Monterey, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach — before the latter is played once more on Sunday.

With the alternating courses, Shotlink is only available for Pebble Beach, which provides difficulty in assessing course statistics and frustration following your picks for the week. As the event is a pro-am, you can also expect to see as many shots from the likes of Bill Murray, Ray Romano and Andy Garcia on television coverage over the opening few days as you will of the pros.

All three courses are short; none measure over 7,000 yards. That makes form with the short irons imperative. Some of the smallest greens on Tour are also on display this week, which means any mistakes with irons will provide players with a lot more work to do than usual around the greens. Last year, Jordan Spieth claimed the title, posting 19-under par, four shots clear of Kelly Kraft.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 11/2
  • Jason Day 10/1
  • Rory Mcilroy 10/1
  • Jon Rahm 10/1
  • Jordan Spieth 12/1
  • Gary Woodland 25/1
  • Phil Mickelson 28/1

Headlining my picks for this week is four-time champion Phil Mickelson (28/1, DK Price $9,600). The California native produced his best display of his year so far last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, finishing T5. After his final round, he sounded very positive telling the media: “I think that my game’s gotten better each week, my focus is getting better each week. So I’m hoping that I continue to build on this. This shouldn’t just be a one-week deal. I should be getting better and better as the weeks go on.”

With his confidence clearly high at the moment, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am may have arrived at the perfect time for Lefty. Last week, Mickelson was T6 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and third in Strokes Gained Putting.

Each course this week provides four Par 5’s, which players will need to take care of should they have hopes of claiming this championship. Mickelson will be very confident in doing so, as he comes into this event second in this field for Strokes Gained on Par 5’s over his last 24 rounds. Mickelson is also a fabulous putter on poa annua greens. Over his last 50 rounds on poa annua greens, he sits third in Strokes Gained Putting.

Despite beginning his year with a missed cut at the CareerBuilder and a T45 at The Farmers, Mickelson ranks second in this field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over his last 12 rounds and second in Strokes Gained Putting over the same period. At a course which Mickelson thrives on, there’s a sense that his game is rounding into shape to give him a great opportunity to win for the first time since 2013.

Another Pebble Beach specialist who I like this week is Brandt Snedeker (35/1, DK Price $8,100). The two-time champion has been slow to get back in the groove after his injury last year, but last week he recorded his best finish since his layoff. That should have him feeling good on his return to a place he loves.

Possessing one of the best short games in golf, it should be no surprise that Snedeker has excelled here. He’s second in this field for Strokes Gained Around the Green for his last 24 rounds and first for Strokes Gained: Short Game. His scrambling ability is something that makes him a specialist at this event, where getting the ball up and down around these small greens is vital.

His ability to score on short Par 4’s is another asset that he possesses. Over his past 24 rounds, Snedeker is No. 1 in this field for Efficiency on Par 4’s measuring between 350-400 yards and third in Proximity to the Hole for approaches between 125-150 yards — a yardage he will see plenty of this week. He finished fourth at this event last year, and barring an off week with his reliable wedge game and superb short game you can expect to see Snedeker in the hunt for title No. 3 here.

While Mickelson and Snedeker both have terrific records at Pebble Beach, my No. 3 pick is making his debut this week — and the fact that this is the first visit for Branden Grace (40/1, DK Price $9,100) is my only concern about him. It’s a surprise that this is his first trip to Pebble Beach, as it’s an event that should suit his game.

Grace possesses a very tidy short game — he sits 5th in this field for Strokes Gained Around the Green for his last 24 rounds — but it’s his performance on short-to-medium Par 4’s that grabbed my attention. His last 12 rounds on the PGA Tour at the end of last year see him ranked fourth in the field for Efficiency on Par 4’s between 350-400 yards and seventh on Par 4’s between 400-450 yards.

Grace is making his first start of the year on the PGA Tour, but he isn’t coming in cold. He has performed well to start his season on the European Tour, winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November and beginning 2018 with a solo second at his home event, the BMW SA Open.

Grace’s form at the RBC Heritage makes me believe that this event should match up very well for his type of game. Just like this week’s venue, Harbour Town Golf Links is a short links course that possesses some of the smallest greens on tour. It is also an event that can get windy like Pebble Beach can. Grace has a very impressive record at the RBC Heritage, with results of seventh, first, and 11th, and I believe his game should prove just as good a fit at Pebble Beach.

Recommended Plays

  • Phil Mickelson 28/1, DK Price $9,600
  • Brandt Snedeker 35/1, DK Price $8,100
  • Branden Grace 40/1, DK Price $9,100
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Gianni 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. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Are golf fans and the media right to judge Brooks Koepka?

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Brooks Koepka’s relationship with observers of the game has been uncomfortable of late. You only have to go back to August of this year, when at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods poured his heart and soul into his final round at the year’s last major with the spectators of St. Louis delivering in kind to create one of the best atmospheres at a golf event in recent years. Koepka that day, received polite applause from the crowd that Sunday evening as he tapped in nonchalantly on the 18th green to win his second major championship title of the year. After the climate that Woods had created, that final scene, it is fair to say, was a little anti-climactic.

Koepka, who ascended to the summit of the game after victory at the CJ Cup on Sunday has come under fire for being an aloof golfer who lacks personality and passion on the golf course. His lack of emotion while competing rubs many people the wrong way, especially ever since he described golf as “kind of boring” in a 2015 interview with Golf Digest.

Koepka’s blasé appearance on the golf course has led to a distant relationship between himself and both golf spectators and the media. The media’s perceived lack of appreciation for Koepka is fueled by his robotic style on the golf course. Unlike, Woods, McIlroy, or Spieth, who express themselves on the course and offer marketable narratives at all times, Koepka is considered dull and lacking a personality.

This lack of appreciation from golf’s media lights a fire under the American. Earlier this year, Koepka displayed the type of emotion that golf fans would love to see on the course when he railed against the media for the lack of attention they give him.

“You’ve got guys who will kiss up, and I’m not gonna kiss up. I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt. I’m here to play golf. I’m not here to do anything else. I don’t need to bend over backwards to be friends with anyone [in the media], but certain guys do that because they want their names written. I’d rather be written about because of my play. Sometimes it does suck, but I’ve started to care less. Come Sunday, I won’t forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don’t forget things.”

It is clear what now motivates Koepka (at least in part): His indignation at the lack of respect he feels he receives from the media has given him the impetus to work even harder, resulting in a career-defining year which saw him bag two majors, the PGA Player of the Year award and the world number one ranking.

Are golf fans unfair to judge Koepka on his emotionally void performances? I don’t think they are. While it’s only right to appreciate the level of dedication, skill, and nerve that Koepka has displayed on his way to the top of the sport, fans of any sport want to root for a player who showcases their thirst for victory as imperative to their being. Think Rafael Nadal, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo etc. Athletes are admired as much for their skill as they are their desire to win that they express outwardly, energizing fans of their sport. Nowadays, sports are as much a competitive activity as they are entertainment. As long as Koepka fails to show how much he wants to win to the public, fans of the sport and the media are not going to show him the adoration and attention that he deserves.

How will Koepka’s personality affect his status in the game of golf?

Should the American continue to claim major titles and hold onto the world number one ranking, will appreciation rise? Probably not. His situation is reminiscent of tennis legends Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. Both world class champions throughout their illustrious careers, yet both failed to capture the imagination of fans due to their stoic and emotionally lacking approach on the court.

While the attention and love Koepka receives currently is limited for someone who is world number one, his unresponsive, passive demeanor doesn’t afford him the luxury of having a dip in form and still staying relative. Woods barely played from 2014-17, yet any news from the 14-time major winner in this period was still box office, while the likes of McIlroy and Spieth who have both suffered substantial dips in form over the past couple of years have received bundles of attention both from the media and from spectators during this period. Koepka does not have the same comfort, and he will need to stay at the top of the game or his limited attention from the golfing world will diminish.

However, it’s difficult to imagine the 28-year-old going anywhere anytime soon though. The three-time major winner has a game designed to dismantle even the most challenging of golf courses. While viewers may be unenthused by BK’s robotic nature, it’s something they may have to accept. Koepka’s feeling of being slighted by the golfing world may have had one of the most positive effects on his career, and as long as he feels unappreciated, he can allow his talent to hit back at his critics.

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 55): How to cure the chipping yips, from Master Instructor Jim Waldron

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The yips can be career-ending. Master Instructor and GolfWRX contributor Jim Waldron talks with host Michael Williams on what causes the yips and how to get rid of them. Also appearing in this episode is Dean Knuth of Heat Golf, and Bodo Siebert of Tagmarshal.

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

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The Gear Dive: Golf prodigy Cole Hammer talks equipment, not turning pro, committing to Texas

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Cole Hammer, who once qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at 15 years old, joins The Gear Dive Podcast with Johnny Wunder to discuss equipment, being a Freshman at the University of Texas, committing for 4 years, not turning pro and his crazy big summer including a win at the 2018 Western Amateur.

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

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