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Opinion & Analysis

The 3 best fantasy picks for the 2018 Houston Open

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The calm before the storm. The Golf Club of Houston Tournament Course hosts the Houston Open this week, the final event before the year’s first major. For the 19 players already in the field at Augusta, this will be their final tune up. The task for the rest of the field is simple; if they want to play in the Masters, they must win here.

The Houston Open has an underwhelming slot on the schedule, yet it’s an event that has made the most of that. The course is set up in some ways to replicate the challenge that next week will provide with short rough off the fairway and Bentgrass greens. Last year, Russell Henley stormed home with a final-round 65 to post 20-under par and defeat Sung Kang by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose 10/1
  • Rickie Fowler 10/1
  • Jordan Spieth 11/1
  • Phil Mickelson 11/1
  • Henrik Stenson 12/1
  • Daniel Berger 28/1
  • Luke List 28/1

With Augusta on the minds of many of the top players in the field this week, my strategy here is to look for sleepers. That’s not to say that one of the players from the top of the board isn’t worth backing, but with their high prices I’d be wary of them having one eye on next week. For example, Phil Mickelson who won here in 2011, but he has consistently played this event throughout his career as his final preparation for Augusta. Mickelson has stated that he uses this tournament as a competitive warm-up for Augusta National, taking driver on holes that he wouldn’t usually if he only had designs on winning the Houston Open.

Brandt Snedeker (80/1, DK Price $8,000) is one of those players in danger of missing the year’s first major. An injury riddled 2017 has seen him slide down the rankings, and he’s now in a position where he must win here to play in the Masters. Snedeker hasn’t played the Houston Open since 2013, and seeing him in the field this year proves just how desperate he is to drive down Magnolia Lane next week.

This year has been a mixed bag for Snedeker so far. Back-to-back top-25 finishes at Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am looked to set him up nicely for the year, and he was right in the thick of it on Sunday afternoon at Valspar before a dismal final round sent him tumbling down the leaderboard. Despite that, there is enough to suggest that Snedeker can play well this week.

The Houston Open is an event that you can always count on getting quite a bit of wind, and in those conditions there aren’t many better than Snedeker, who shot a final-round 69 at Torrey Pines two years ago in conditions akin to a hurricane. If this course is to be used as a corollary to Augusta National, then that’s also a positive. Snedeker has a fine record at Augusta, where he has recorded five top-20 finishes in his 10 visits.

Despite missing two of his last three cuts, Snedeker is in the top third of the field for every major Strokes Gained category over his last 12 rounds, and he continues to putt as reliably as ever. He’s shown recently that his game is good enough to get into contention, and Bentgrass greens may play a huge factor this week. It’s the first time this year on Tour that players will putt on Bentgrass, and Snedeker over his last 50 rounds is ranked third for Strokes Gained Putting on them. The narrative sets up nicely for the Nashville native, and his price of 80/1 is more than acceptable.

Despite a little drop in form over the past couple of weeks, Scott Piercy (90/1, DK Price $7,500) has made an impressive start to 2018. With four top-25 finishes from his seven events played, it’s a little surprising that his price isn’t shorter this week. The reason I believe it should be lies directly in his form on the course. Scott has two top-25 finishes and one top-10 here in his last three visits. Whatever it is about this course, it fits his eye and he’ll be looking to add another impressive finish here this week.

Piercy’s 2018 has seen him produce sublime play from tee to green. In his last 24 rounds, the man from Las Vegas is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, sixth for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, and fourth for Ball Striking. The bad news is that the putter has been cold. On the greens, Piercy has lost strokes to the field in all but one of his events in 2018. It’s the only thing preventing him from getting into contention more often. Over his last 24 rounds, Piercy is 88th in Strokes Gained Putting in the field. But a return to Bentgrass greens could be just what gets him going. In his last 12 rounds on Bentgrass, he sits in the top third in the field for Strokes Gained Putting. Look for Scott to putt better this week, and if he does so then he should go well here in Houston.

Another player in sneaky good form is Sean O’Hair (100/1, DK Price $7,200). The likeable Texan backed up a T12 at Valspar with a T7 at Bay Hill. He now comes to his home state full of confidence and a course that he has played well in the past. Two years ago he posted a top-10 finish, and this year he’s coming in with his game seemingly in better shape.

Before the odds were revealed I was hoping to see his latest form go a little unnoticed, and the three-figure price available this week suggests that it has. Over his last eight rounds, O’Hair is sharp in all departments of his game. He ranks fifth in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, third in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 12th in Ball Striking and 20th for his Short Game. All of this means that he is fourth in Strokes Gained Total and has been a huge success for DraftKings players, where he has gained the second most points in the field for his last two events.

O’Hair is another man that should be excited to get back onto Bentgrass greens. In his last 50 rounds on all surfaces, he ranks an average 78th in the field for Strokes Gained Putting. Yet, when you narrow this down to his performance solely on Bentgrass, he ranks 11th over the same period. He’s another I expect to see putt well this week, and I feel he offers the best value of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Brandt Snedeker 80/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Scott Piercy 90/1, DK Price $7,500
  • Sean O’Hair 100/1, 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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Opinion & Analysis

What makes Bryson DeChambeau so good? A deep dive into the numbers

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I can relate, in a way, to this mad scientist of golf. When I had the idea to create a better method of analyzing golf by comparing each shot to a computer model of “scratch” performance 29 years ago, I was considered quite strange. My idea is now what is known as strokes gained analysis and has become the accepted standard for golf analysis. If you are interested in my journey, read The History of Strokes Gained on my website, ShotByShot.com.

Given Bryson’s recent success, will we all soon be switching to 7-iron length irons and practicing Bryson’s one-plane swing? I doubt it, but it is clear that Bryson is here to stay, so I decided to see exactly how his recent winning performance compares to that of other winners on the PGA Tour. Accordingly, I ran my analysis of Bryson’s ShotLink data for his three wins (The Memorial, The Northern Trust and the most recent Dell Technologies Championship). I compared this analysis to a similar analysis of all of the PGA Tour winners in 2017. For added perspective, I ran the same analysis for the entire 2017 Tour and for all the players that missed cuts in 2017.

As Bryson’s data sample is only 12 rounds on three courses, one might question how the numbers might be skewed by the differences in relative course difficulty as well as the relative strength of the fields. I believe we can agree that Bryson has won on relatively difficult courses and against very strong fields. Accordingly, I will overlook these factors.

Tee Game: Driving

Bryson’s driver is normal length. It is his irons that are all 37.5 inches long, or about the length of a standard 7 iron – why do the TV commentators always say “6 iron”? Anyway, Bryson’s unique one-plane swing produces long, straight drives. He averaged over 300 yards, 15 yards longer than the field, and hit more fairways than the 2017 winners.  Further, Bryson (Blue arrows below) had 35% fewer driving errors than those made by the 2017 winners. So LONG and STRAIGHT! Perhaps we all should be working on our 1-plane swings?


Approach shots 

I put Bryson’s approach game as not quite as good as the 2017 winners. His strokes gained relative to the field’s is not as strong (perhaps this can be attributed to stronger fields?). Bryson did hit more greens-in-regulation (blue arrows below). BUT remember he hit more fairways and made fewer errors. Finally, Bryson’s proximity when he hits the greens* is closer to the 2017 Tour average than it is to the 2017 winners.


*I look at “Proximity” much differently than the PGA Tour. The Tour’s proximity to hole includes approach shots that miss the green within 30 yards of the green’s edge.  I believe a miss is a miss and should not be counted at all.  For more on why, read my 2/26/18 GolfWRX article:Is Tiger’s “No.1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Again, Bryson’s wedges are 7-iron length, about two to three inches longer than a standard sand wedge. His short game data would indicate that the extra length does not present an issue from the sand. I chalk this up to the fact that for the most part greenside sand shots tend to be full swings. It is the shape of the swing that controls distance not the length.

Chipping and pitching, on the other hand, require a myriad of different swings and touch shots. The longer shafts seem to have a negative impact here which has been mentioned many times in the TV coverage. Below (Blue arrows) show that Bryson’s strokes gained around-the-green are about half the margin from the field’s as the 2017 winners. His chipping and pitching results are nowhere near the 2017 Winners. Perhaps Bryson should consider at least one normal length wedge for use around the greens? To support this, Bryson was ranked No. 118 in strokes gained around the green, with a negative .034 strokes gained thru the Well Fargo Championship (more than half way thru the season). He has improved since to No. 63 and a +.15 strokes gained in this category.


Putting

Bryson’s putter is 39 inches long, about three inches longer than standard, and he rests the grip against his left forearm. Personally, I believe his stance and stroke look very stiff and mechanical, which may account for what I discovered in his putting stats. Bottom line, he is outstanding from fairly close range (inside 20 feet), but very average from 30-plus feet. Bryson has almost TWICE as many three-putts as the 2017 winners from 30-plus feet (.5/round vs. .29/round for the 2017 winners). This makes sense to me as stiff and mechanical do not seem compatible with “feel” and optimal distance control.

That said, his success from close range might more than offset his apparent long-range weakness. Note below that Bryson’s one-putt success is noticeably better than the 2017 winners from every distance up to 20 feet. Incidentally, these ranges represent 68 percent of Bryson’s first putt opportunities. Very impressive! I may look more closely into Bryson’s short putting technique.


In conclusion, while Bryson DeChambeau is a maverick, he has found a unique method that works for him and has now made the entire golf world take notice. Will he change golf? Possibly. If he continues to have success, and I believe he will, I can see the aspiring, young players trying to adopt his methods just as many started to learn to putt while anchoring. As an aside, I firmly believe that the ultimate ban on anchoring had little to do with those of us that were struggling with the skill but everything to do with the fast-growing number of juniors that were having success using OUR crutch.

That is not to say that anything that Bryson is currently doing could be construed to be illegal. But he is clearly being watched. His side-saddle putting was thwarted by the USGA, and more recently, his use of a compass to help read his putts. Who knows what he will come up with next? I will be watching too!

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Accra Shafts — Finau’s proto, “What is the function of the shaft in a club head?”

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Accra Shafts’ Ken Thompson and Gawain Robertson chat with Johnny Wunder on the challenges of the shaft industry, what makes their shafts the best in the business, and Tony Finau’s custom set up.

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

3:45 — What makes Accra so special
5:30 — The origin of Accra
8:45 — The importance of TOUR Validation
15:10 — What is the function of the shaft in a club
17:30 — The TOUR ZRPG
23:40 — Mock Fitting for a specific player profile
31:00 — Accra Iron shafts
36:55 — Ryan Palmer
39:45 — Tony Finau
43:10 — Matt Kuchar
53:20 — S3 BluePrint Technology

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Opinion & Analysis

7 tips for senior golfers to play better and enjoy the game longer

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Have you ever played a golf course and remembered where you used to hit the ball on certain holes? Have you ever gotten to a 360-yard par-4 and recalled when you used to lick your chops because you knew a little flip wedge for your second was ahead? Ever made shooting your age your next big goal? If you have, welcome to golf’s back nine, the time when you keep seeking improvement knowing full well it will never be what it once was.

Aging is another vivid example of the paradoxical beast that lies at the heart of our game. If we’re totally honest, we admit we can’t do anything as well as we did 25-30 years ago. Yet a little voice never far from our golf ears keeps whispering, “If you just move the ball in your stance and adjust your grip, you will hit it solid again.” That’s when we need to be honest and ask, “What does solid mean at 65-70-75 years old?” It certainly isn’t solid like it was at 35 years old, but it may be more solid than the last shot, or yesterday. And as we’ll see, it just might be solid enough for the home stretch. So we keep playing and practicing in a search for golf’s version of a fountain of youth.

If you are, like this author, closer to the 18th green than the first tee, here are 7 golden nuggets for the golden years:

1. Forget how you used to play

Stay present and take what the game gives you now, here, today. If that’s 210 off the tee, get your fairway woods and hybrids out and do the best you can with your inevitably longer approach.

2. Work on your scoring game

If aging has robbed you of flexibility and strength, it does not have to affect your game from 100 yards in. Seniors need to chip and putt more than any other age group.

3. Yoga and Pilates

If you think we’re old, we are a babe in the woods compared to these ancient disciplines. The mind/body connection is vital for seniors. And… the results speak for themselves! Staying as flexible and as strong as you can for as long as you can is vital for senior golf. Oh, and walk and carry whenever possible!

4. Get properly fitted

Not only do we play senior golf dreaming of yesteryear, male seniors often let testosterone affect their game. I get sooo many seniors coming to see me who are ill-fitted for their equipment, or more accurately, using equipment that once fit their game85-90 mph clubhead speed does not likely require a stiff shaft, 9 degrees of loft or 75 grams of weight to achieve proper launch and landing conditions. Good senior golf demands brutal honesty with yourself.

5. Consider swing “adjustments,” not “new swings”

I don’t want to be a bearer of bad tidings here, but as a teacher of many years, I know this much: The swing you’ve had for oh so many years is not going to change. At least not very much. The does not mean it can’t be made more effective. I “tweak” seniors, not break them down.

6. Play forward tees

I’m a club professional, and I was a fairly decent player once. At 70 years young, I am proud to say that I play white tees measuring no more than 6300 yards. And in a few years, I’ll likely move up again. It’s just a fact of life and denying it is futile.

7. Check your fundamentals

Just because a certain grip, posture or ball position was effective once, as we age, all these may need adjustments from time to time. Swings get shorter, slower, narrow, etc. And as they do, we have to allow for these things and find new ways to complement the “senior swing.”

The alternative to all of the above is a garage sale. And as long I can swing a golf club, I will be doing so. If I want to enjoy the game, I’ll do so with lighter clubs, from shorter tees, chipping and putting my way into the hole. We’d all like to turn back the clock, but the last time that happened was, uh, never.

Enjoy the back nine. I know I am.

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