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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valspar Championship

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After a thrilling four days in Mexico, it’s back to the United States this week for the Valspar Championship. This year’s edition will play host to its strongest field yet, with Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcilroy, Tiger Woods, and Sergio Garcia just some of the big names who are ready to tackle the tricky test that Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) always provides.

Copperhead is a Par 71 that plays over 7,300 yards, with tight tree lined fairways and greens that are difficult to hit. Despite its length, it’s a second shot golf course, so strong iron play is imperative this week. Short game skills are always important around here too, as is par 3 and par-5 performance. There are five long par 3s on this course which always play extremely difficult, and four par 5s which should offer players some respite. Last year, Adam Hadwin claimed his maiden win on the PGA Tour here, posting 14-under par to defeat Patrick Cantlay by one stroke.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 17/2
  • Rory Mcilroy 14/1
  • Sergio Garcia 16/1
  • Justin Rose 18/1
  • Henrik Stenson 18/1
  • Paul Casey 25/1
  • Tony Finau 28/1

To qualify my statement that this is a second shot golf course, Frank Nobilo of Golf Channel has stated that he would be shocked if Tiger Woods hit driver more than twice each day this week. At Copperhead, getting the ball in play in the correct part of the fairway in order to attack the pins will be the strategy players have in mind. This will encourage any Tiger backers too, as the driver has been the one club stifling him this year. But with Bay Hill and Augusta to come next for Woods, I’m going to sit tight this week and see if he can build on what was a very encouraging display at the Honda Classic.

Instead, I’m happy to take a piece of Henrik Stenson (18/1, DK Price $10,200) who is making his first start of 2018 on the PGA Tour. But rust shouldn’t be a problem for the Swede, who has played three events so far on the European Tour, where he recorded two Top-10 finishes. With solid showings there, he now arrives at a course that he loves. In his last three visits to Copperhead, his worst finish is 11th. In these three visits he has a Strokes Gained Total of plus 28.67, and the only real surprise is that he hasn’t won here yet.

Stenson matches up well to all the necessary categories this week. In this field over his last 24 rounds he sits fifth in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, fourth in Strokes Gained Putting, 13th in Strokes Gained Short Game and third in Strokes Gained Total.  Henrik’s Par-3 performance is also very impressive. Over his last 24 rounds, the Swede ranks eighth in Strokes Gained Total on Par 3s, and 13th in Strokes Gained on Par 3s in the 200-225 yard range.  As well as this, he is also number one for Strokes Gained on Par 5s at Copperhead.

Stenson has four Top 10 finishes in his last seven starts worldwide, including a win at the Wyndham Championship. With his game in good form, and coming to a track that he has played so well in the past it’s certainly a surprise to me that he is a top price of 22/1 here this week and one that I’m more than happy to take.

Looking a little down the board, it’s difficult to ignore the course form of both Ryan Moore and Kevin Na (45/1, DK Price $8,000). With both players around the same price it’s surprising that their DraftKings number is so different, and I feel the latter offers better value. Prior to last years missed cut here, Kevin had finishes of 22-10-2 at Copperhead. Last years missed cut doesn’t overly concern me either, as 2017 was a poor year by his standards and his second-place finish at the Genesis Open on his last start shows he’s back to playing some of his best golf again.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Na has enjoyed success at Copperhead. His lack of length off the tee isn’t a major issue here, and his accurate iron play combined with his world class short game have made it a happy hunting ground for the Las Vegas resident. The short game skills of Na seem to be in top form currently too. Over his past 12 rounds, Na sits 3rd in Strokes Gained Around the Green, 2nd in Strokes Gained Short Game and 10th in Strokes Gained Putting. Along with his brilliant touch around the greens, Na’s iron play is often overlooked. In this field he ranks 10th for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over his last 24 rounds. At 45/1 and a DraftKings salary of $8,000 in particular, I feel he is being undervalued this week.

Where I feel Na is being undervalued in terms of his DraftKings price, Matt Kuchar (60/1, DK Price $8,200) is being overpriced in his betting odds. This maybe down to his performance last week in Mexico, where he performed poorly. But taking a closer look at his performance his demise last week can be put down to a shocking four days on the inconsistent Poa greens where Kuchar lost a whopping 7.4 strokes to the field. Coming back to a track he enjoys I certainly don’t expect to see a repeat of that this week.

Kuchar will be glad to be returning to Copperhead, where he has had four Top 15 finishes in his last seven starts. Over the past three years, Kuchar has lead the field in Strokes Gained Short Game and sits fifth for Strokes Gained Total. For his high standards he’ll be a little disappointed with his recent form, but he does have a top-five finish to his name this year at Phoenix and he has not missed a cut in almost 12 months. Returning to a course where he regularly plays well at, I feel his number this week is a little too high.

Finally, I couldn’t resist taking a punt on Si-Woo Kim (200/1, DK Price $7,200). The Korean is one of the most unpredictable players on Tour. But with two wins and one playoff loss on the PGA Tour over the last two years, he’s one that I am never afraid to back at a massive price. He has no form to speak of at Copperhead, with one missed cut from one start. But just like at TPC Sawgrass, the tight, tactical test could be one that suits the Korean’s game.

Kim has a Top 10 finish to his name this season that came at the Tournament of Champions, and for his last five events he has a positive strokes gained statistic in every main category except putting. He’s dropped over 12.5 strokes on the greens over his last six rounds, which is about as bad as it gets. But he’s the type of player who can pop at anytime, and at 200/1 it’s no harm in hoping it’s this week.If he does find his way into contention, at least we know that he’s not afraid to win.

Recommended Plays:

  • Henrik Stenson 18/1, DK Price $10,200
  • Kevin Na 45/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Matt Kuchar 60/1, DK Price $8,200
  • Si-Woo Kim 200/1, DK Price $7,200
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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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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

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

featured image c/o Golf Channel

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member lawsonman, who takes us to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois. The course sits west of Chicago, and in lawsonman’s description of the course, he cites the immaculate condition of the track as one of the reasons he feels it’s a hidden gem.

“Always in pristine condition. 36 hole layout that is as hard as you want to make it. Trees (big) and water are everywhere. Pace of play is usually very good. Located about 90 minutes west of Chicago’s western suburbs.”

According to Park Hills Golf Course’s website, 18 holes around the course costs just $23, no matter what day you wish to play. There is a $16 charge should you want to use a cart for 18 holes.

@rooftopweather

@thetruarchitect

@thetrueachitect

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

Louisville Golf: Post time for persimmon

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“I knew I had to give it a shot. If I had tried and it didn’t work out, I would’ve been okay with that. But I had to go after my passion and see where it went.”

Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:

“You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”

Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.

Master models for Louisville Golf persimmon club heads

Some of Louisville Golf’s more well-known woods that won on the PGA Tour were the Wilson Whale that Payne Stewart used to win the 1989 PGA Championship and the Hogan Apex that Tom Kite used to win the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Then metal woods came into the picture and sales dwindled. When Callaway launched the Big Bertha, sales basically dried up overnight.

Though metal woods took off like a rocket in the 1990’s, there were some holdouts. Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Mark Calcavecchia held onto their persimmon woods into the late 90s. The last man standing was widely considered to be Bob Estes, who used his Louisville Golf Smart ProBE (a club Just developed specifically for Estes) in the Accenture Match Play in 2001.

When Elmore Just passed away in April of 2001, his brother Mike assumed control of the company. Elmore is actually buried at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club in Louisville, an Arthur Hills course he developed in the 1980’s. When Mike took the reins, though the company had successfully limped along through the metal wood revolution, the hard reality was that they needed to reinvent themselves if they were going to remain profitable. Mike left his mark on the company in 2004 by deciding to leverage Louisville Golf’s unique expertise into crafting period-correct hickory shafted golf clubs and restoring vintage specimens. That decision marked a resurgence of sorts, as the niche has served Louisville Golf well. Today, Louisville Golf and St. Andrews Golf Co. are the only large scale manufacturers of such equipment.

Louisville Golf club heads ready for final assembly

It’s a peculiar set of circumstances to be sure, but oddly enough, many golfers in the 21st century have found Louisville Golf through 100-year-old golf clubs. This is exactly how Jeremy Wright came into the picture. Jeremy was a medical sales representative in Houston, TX with a wife, three kids, and a serious golfing hobby. He had recently gone on a search for an exotic shaft upgrade for his Scotty Cameron putter. On a whim, he googled wooden shafts, stumbled across hickory golf clubs, and the rest was history.

“One of the things I learned in that search was that, when the golf industry transitioned from hickory shafts to steel, a lot of players either kept their old hickory putters or would fit their new putters with hickory shafts for decades after that transition because the feel was so much better.

“So I kept digging into hickory golf and tried to learn what it was all about. I discovered there were hickory tournaments and the winners shot like 75-78 and I thought, ‘I can do that. I’m going to get a hickory set together and figure this out.’ From that point on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

So hooked, in fact, that when Jeremy heard the Just family was fielding offers for the company as a result of Mike’s passing in October of 2016, he put his name in the hat. It just so happened that Jeremy and his wife were both at a point in their careers where they were looking for more. Burned out and tired of the cyclical corporate rat race, they decided to go all-in on Jeremy’s passion, submitted an offer to the Just family, and ultimately were selected from multiple potential suitors to carry on the legacy of the company.

Sole plates for Louisville Golf persimmon fairway woods

As for where Louisville Golf goes from here, you can probably expect a lot more of what got them here in the first place. After all, one of the biggest reasons Jeremy was selected to take the reins at Louisville Golf was his commitment to preserving its heritage.  Louisville Golf may not be rubbing elbows with the major OEM’s anymore, but these days, they’re not trying to either. Just like the rest of us golfers, they’re getting by with grit, optimism, and respect for the game. They’ve also seen the fortunate bounces and bad lies that come with a life dedicated to golf, but as the old adage says, the most important shot is always the next one. Time marches on. And so does Louisville Golf. They remain committed to what has brought them this far and see that as a springboard into the future.

“We’ve got some products in the works that I think are really innovative and will show what persimmon is really capable of. I think if you’re a better player who can find the sweet spot on a consistent basis, you really should think seriously about persimmon. Especially if you’re looking to get a specific yardage out of your clubs like with a fairway wood or hybrid. There was a video circulating a few years ago with Rickie Fowler using a steel shafted persimmon fairway wood and he was getting a 1.49 smash factor. You can’t get much better than that. The way the bulge and roll is shaped on a persimmon wood and also the location of the CG allows for a bigger gear effect than modern titanium woods. Persimmons do impart more spin on the ball (especially on a mishit), so we acknowledge the ball may not go as far, but that spin also brings the ball back to the target, too. That’s one of the biggest advantages of persimmon. You’ll be shorter but in the fairway as opposed to long and in the trees.

“The people that find us are looking for a deeper connection to the tradition and the spirit of the game. They’re tired of paying for marketing fluff and silly catch phrases. We make viable alternatives for the modern golfer, we make classic reproductions of the steel shaft/persimmon head era of golf, and we make spot-on hickory shafted clubs as well, so we think we have a place in just about everyone’s bag depending on how you prefer to experience the game. Nothing compares to the joy of a purely struck golf shot with a wooden golf club. You just feel like you’re playing golf the way it was meant to be played.”

A visit to Louisville Golf reveals a group of people who have dedicated their lives to exactly that: playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Hard work, attention to detail, a commitment to quality, and having a lot of fun along the way are the hallmarks of their operation. One strike directly on that persimmon sweet spot will send all of those vibes straight into your bones. Playing golf with persimmon woods in the 21st century may be taking the road less traveled, but it could make all the difference.

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