The final stop of the West Coast Swing takes us to the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, a historic and challenging golf course that measures more than 7,300 yards with thick rough. It should come as no surprise that long hitters such as Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson have excelled here recently; Riviera is a ball strikers paradise that demands length off the tee and excellent long iron play for success.
Seven of the 11 Par 4’s measure more than 450 yards, while the two Par 5’s on the back 9 can only be reached by the longer hitters. The driveable Par-4 10th hole should offer up lots of entertainment, with both eagles and double bogeys (or worse) very much in play. Last year, Dustin Johnson finally broke his duck at Riviera, running away with victory. He posted 17-under par to win by 5 strokes over Scott Brown and Thomas Pieters.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Dustin Johnson 5/1
- Rory Mcilroy 12/1
- Jordan Spieth 12/1
- Justin Thomas 18/1
- Phil Mickelson 22/1
- Paul Casey 25/1
- Tommy Fleetwood 28/1
Boasting an impressive field, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see Dustin Johnson (5/1, DK Price $11,900) this much shorter in price than the likes of Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas this week. Ordinarily I would agree, but this week has a different feel to it. As far as courses go, Riviera is tailor made for Dustin. The only surprise when it comes to the World No. 1 is that he has only managed to claim victory here once so far in his career. In the last four editions of this event, he has finished 2nd, T2, 4th and 1st.
“It’s such a good golf course and there’s really not much trouble,” Johnson said. “It’s just a golf course where you have to hit good shots. You’ve got to control your golf ball, you’ve got to hit it in the right spots. The first time I ever came here as a rookie on tour, I just loved this and I felt like it was a place that really suited my game.”
While the other big names have struggled in recent weeks, particularly on the greens, Johnson’s only issue is that he’ll feel he should have won all three of his official PGA Tour events so far this season instead of only one. Johnson leads the field in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and Ball Striking over his past 12 rounds, and he also leads the field in proximity to the hole from the important 175-200 yard range over his past 24 rounds. He’s 2nd in this field for Strokes Gained on Par 5’s over his last 24 rounds, and he has the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour this season (68.716).
Simply put, the best player in the world is going to a course that suits his game better than any other. Over the last five editions of this event, Johnson has a positive Strokes Gained Total of over 52 strokes. That’s 17 strokes more than K.J. Choi, who is in second place on the list. The potential is there for Dustin to dominate this event for the foreseeable future.
Last week’s missed opportunity at Pebble Beach may only serve as more motivation for Johnson, too. He bounced back after throwing away the WGC-HSBC Championship at the back end of last year by lapping the field at his opening event of 2018, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That could be a good omen for the South Carolina native. Having now established himself as the best player in the world, the defending champion deserves to be the prohibitive favorite this week.
Should you be brave enough to oppose Dustin and the other market leaders, you’ll be rewarded with bigger prices than usual for players down the board. Charley Hoffman (100/1, DK Price $ 7,400) stands out at a three-figure price, although after withdrawing last week with a back injury he comes with a buyer-beware warning. But we’ve already seen the unpredictability of back injuries this year — Jason Day pulled out of the Wednesday Pro-Am at Torrey Pines before going on to win the event in Monday playoff. You should take the risk this week with the value in Hoffman’s price.
Hoffman is 28th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 24th in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over his past 12 rounds. While these aren’t spectacular statistics, they are solid numbers considering that good execution in both areas will be much needed in order to achieve this week. Charley is also 6th in Proximity to the hole over his last 12 rounds and 17th in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s over the same period. All parts of his game are seemingly very solid before an event that demands consistency.
The Californian didn’t have a great record at Riviera before last year, with only one previous Top-20 finish. But last year he finished T4, and he did so despite being the only player in the Top-20 to lose strokes on the tricky poa annua greens. With the confidence of returning to a place where he exhibited excellent ball striking last year, the quotes of 100/1 look a little too big for Hoffman — should you be willing to take the risk on his back holding up.
And speaking of bad backs, Tiger Woods (45/1) is in the field this week. It’s just his second official start on the PGA Tour in 2018. In his first start, Tiger carded rounds of 72-71-70-72 to finish T23 at The Farmers Insurance Open. Woods, a 79-time PGA Tour winner, has never won at Riviera.
- Dustin Johnson 5/1, DK Price $11,900
- Charley Hoffman 100/1 DK Price $7,400
Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020
As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.
Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.
Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.
Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.
Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.
PXG leaned in
Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.
The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.
Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.
In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.
Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.
The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.
Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled
Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.
There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.
Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.
Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.
Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”
Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.
It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.
What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.
Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.
It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.
The Titleist train chugged on
I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.
So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.
It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.
Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to
Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.
The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.
As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.
Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball
Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.
However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.
On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions
In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.
After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.
Is 2020 golf’s big chance?
At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.
Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.
It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).
If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.
The news sports landscape
Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.
People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.
The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry
- Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
- As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.
When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.
Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.
As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.
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