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Opinion & Analysis

5 reasons why The Masters is the most difficult tournament to win

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Everyone’s favorite time of year is here: The Masters! Truth be told, it’s the only tournament I watch every single shot possible. It’s such great theater and it’s the mecca for golfers all over the world. Having been there and played the course, I can tell you it’s a different set of conditions than most have ever seen. Therefore, I would like to give you my five reasons why Augusta is the most difficult tournament to win in the world… and putting is not one of them!

1) History

The Masters is the one tournament where everyone knows the history and the course. Even casual sports fans who have never touched a club know what Amen Corner is, and what the Green jacket means.

It’s also the tournament you grow up pretending to win. “Ok, this one is for The Masters,” you’ll say to yourself while night putting as a junior. The Masters just means a little something more to the fans and participants because of it’s history.

Playing Amen Corner on Thursday is one thing, but playing Amen Corner on Sunday with the Green Jacket hanging in the balance is quite another. And it takes a special golfer to get the job done on Sunday with a place in that history on the line.

2) The Pressure of Forever

The Masters invite is highly coveted, even among players who have already played in the event. You see the guys on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram showing off their Masters invite like it’s a trophy.

As we all know, winning the tournament gives you the Masters invite for life. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this special even for perpetuity? You can’t tell me that having that special perk on your resume wouldn’t make your entire career, not to mention being the highlight of your year, every year until even after your career is over. If you don’t think I’m right, look at how many of the old timers come back just for the Par-3 Contest and/or just to enjoy the week as Augusta’s special guests?

This too may weigh heavily on the minds of the leaders the night before Masters Sunday.

3) Shot Shaping

Everyone knows Augusta is a right-to-left biased course off the tee, and all the players know that this is a requirement. So everyone works on their right-to-left game with their driver; I don’t think many players hit a soft fade off the tee on 13 towards the trees on the right… they try and hammer it around the corner to give them a shorter shot into the green.

Additionally, you will find that the different pin placements and green slopes will also force you to move the ball both directions with your irons if you truly want to have an easier shot at birdies. I don’t know about you, but if I had to go at that Sunday pin on hole No. 12, a soft fade off the center of the green would be a much easier shot to hit than starting it over the water with a draw if I had to go at that pin… it gives you a bit of leeway if you get a touch froggy.

Anyone can move it both directions on Tour, but can you rely on your non-typical shot shape with the tile on the line if the shot calls for it?

4) Trajectory Control combined with Distance Control

The biggest issue for players at Augusta is that you cannot hit the ball into the greens with your normal trajectory for 72 holes… you must alter your trajectory to control your landing angles so the ball stops quicker, or you can get the ball on the proper shelf. Think hole No. 15; you simply cannot hit a low draw into that green with a long iron, or you will quickly cascade over the back of the green leaving yourself with an impossible pitch to an elevated green running downhill toward the water. No thanks.

But here is the issue… do you know your distances when hitting the ball with different trajectories? And can you trust those numbers down the stretch, or when the adrenaline gets pumping on the back nine on Sunday?

Getting to know the shots you need to hit into the different pins at Augusta National takes time to learn, and is possibly a more complicated process than at any other golf course in the world. My advice for new Masters participants would be to work on TrackMan to understand how your different swing feels effect launch angle, and then figure out exactly how far those different feels hit the golf ball. Sometimes, you’ll need to hit a flighted draw into a certain pin location, and a yard-or-two off your distance could lead to a double bogey and cost you a made cut or a Green Jacket. Dial in those distances on shots with different trajectories!

 

5) Pitching Control

First timers who have never played on the perfectly-manicured, yet extremely firm conditions at Augusta National are at a distinct disadvantage compared to the veterans. There’s simply no course in the world that can perfectly mimic the conditions around the green.

I know the Houston event tries to accommodate some of these Augusta-like conditions, but it’s not really the same because you are hitting off of Bermuda grass. And players know the golf ball won’t react like it does off Rye. So you come into Augusta on Monday-Wednesday trying to practice as much as you can to get used to the different grass and different ball reactions. For some, this will mean changing lofts and grinds of their wedges. For others, a shift in technique or mindset may be necessary.

Your short game must be a strength at Augusta, but have you really simulated it enough for it to work when you get there?

By now, you should have a better understand of what players face when trying to win The Masters. And, in my opinion, it’s the most difficult tournament to win in golf. Who do you think will jump the 5 hurdles above and win come Sunday?

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Steve Wozeniak

    Apr 4, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Typical for this site……it’s actually the exact opposite of what the “pro” thinks……

    Steve Wozeniak PGA

  2. Tom54

    Apr 4, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I agree the field is smaller but I would hardly call it weaker. I think the history and how it has remained true to its origins is why it is so special. Multiple winners I believe is because of course familiarity. More you play more you become comfortable with it. That’s why very few first time winners. I believe it’s the most prestigious of the majors because of all the attention given to past champions. Other majors are important and hard to win too. There is something a little different about being a Masters Champion

  3. Tony Lee

    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Putting?

  4. Markallister

    Apr 4, 2018 at 1:55 am

    it is the easiest major, because the field is weakest. everybody knows that. in fact, it should not be a major, but rather a silly-season invitational which would better fit with the strength of the field.

    • ND Hickman

      Apr 4, 2018 at 5:09 am

      Won many green jackets then, have you?

    • Zach Bartness

      Apr 4, 2018 at 7:23 am

      On flip side, hardest to win because the field is so limited. If you aren’t in you can’t win it. Goes both ways….

  5. Man

    Apr 3, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    It’s the easiest to win. That’s why so many Spaniards win it, and why there are so many multiple winners

    • aman

      Apr 3, 2018 at 10:45 pm

      Tiger is a mix of African and European on his father’s side and Thai, Chinese and Dutch on his mother’s side. He was raised as a Buddhist. He has no Spanish ancestry.

    • Javier

      Apr 4, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Quite the contrary.
      Multiple winners: Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods…
      Spaniards: (i) Seve, one of the best players of the golf History, (ii) Ollie, included in the golf Hall of Fame, and (iii) Sergio, one of the best players of the last 20 years.
      Therefore, just the best ones (some exceptions as in the other majors) are able to win the Masters.
      Man, just think a little before say/write anything.

  6. fuzz

    Apr 3, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    How about the bikini-waxed greens… 😮

  7. juststeve

    Apr 3, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    On the other hand it has the weakest field of any major, weaker than most regular tournaments.

    • Sean Foster-Nolan

      Apr 3, 2018 at 6:12 pm

      I agree with this. While the field is strong, it is limited. I would think of all the majors it would be the “easiest” to win.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: The 2018 Open Championship

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The 147th Open Championship gets underway this week as 156 players launch their quest to capture the Claret Jug. The oldest and for many, most prestigious event returns to Scotland, where Carnoustie will host the tournament for the eighth time in its history.

The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open was 10 years ago when Padraig Harrington finished tied with Sergio Garcia at 7-under par after 72 holes. Harrington went on to outlast Garcia in a dramatic playoff to capture his first of two-straight Open Championships.

The weather is expected to be kind this year and the rough will less penal than it was in 2007, which should offer more birdies than it did in 2007. Carnoustie will measure just over 7,400 yards. With the course playing fast and firm, however, distance is not going to be an issue.

Strategy will be vitally important, and we’ve heard that players will be able to lay up on some of the holes by taking short irons off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy have all stated that they will be taking driver off the tee to eliminate many of the pot bunkers on the course. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the rough is playable this year, which allows for attacking golf. As with any Open Championship, players will need to have every single part of their game in shape for the difficult challenge that links golf always provides.

Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Claret Jug by playing his final five holes in 5-under to post 12-under and beat runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 12/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1
  • Rory McIlroy 18/1
  • Jon Rahm 20/1
  • Jordan Spieth 20/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 22/1

Considerably cheaper in salary than both Spieth and Mcilroy, and only marginally more expensive than Fowler, Jon Rahm (20/1, DK Price $9,800) looks to offer excellent value this week at the top of the board. The Spaniard has shown he can play links golf very well, as he once again performed excellently in Ireland, posting a top-5 finish two weeks ago. Rahm now turns his attention to Carnoustie where he’ll be gunning for his first major championship victory.

Rahm comes into this event with a clear strategy. He’s going to play as aggressive as always and hit driver off the tee at every opportunity. Rahm believes the course layout and conditions will suit his explosive game. When you listen to his assessment of Carnoustie this year, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Speaking to the media this week, Rahm said:

“If you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green. If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”

With playable rough, Rahm should feel every bit as confident as he sounds about his chances this week, as the only thing that prevented him from winning in Ireland was the odd blow-up hole. But with his power allowing him to take the pot bunkers almost entirely out of play, combined with light rough, Carnoustie should be an excellent fit for him. Rahm’s experience in contention at Augusta earlier in the year should put him in good shape mentally as he attempts to win his first major championship, and if he can keep his volatile temperament in check, then Rahm has every chance of claiming the Claret Jug.

From the middle of the range prices this week, Francesco Molinari (33/1, DK Price $8,600) may be the safest man to add to your lineups. The Italian has been in imperious form lately, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice in his last five events. Molinari leads the field in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds and sits third in ball striking over the same period.

Molinari’s Open Championship record has been solid, making the cut in five of his last six appearances at this event. His best finish at this event is a T9 back in 2013 at Muirfield, where the conditions were also dry. Molinari enters this event in the form of his life, and the way he is hitting the ball right now, he looks primed for his best Open Championship performance yet.

A links specialist, Marc Leishman (50/1, DK Price $8,000) has performed excellently at this event in recent years. Leishman has recorded three top-10 finishes at the Open Championship in his last four appearances, and he looks reasonably priced to go well once again this week. An excellent wind player, Leishman will relish any wind that may descend on Carnoustie. With him being so adept at playing links golf, taking an expert at $8,000 seems a prudent play.

Leishman’s immediate form hasn’t been spectacular, but he has made five cuts from his last six events, including a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson where he shot a brilliant 61 in the opening round. The Australian finished T13 at his previous outing at the Quicken Loans National, which shows his game is in solid shape. With his expertise on links courses, Leishman may well be able to conquer Carnoustie and finally get his hands on the Claret Jug.

Emiliano Grillo (200/1, DK Price $6,800) is undervalued this week. On DraftKings, with the books, everywhere. Grillo has been playing terrific golf lately, and Carnoustie should suit the Argentine’s clinical ball striking. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits 15th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Strokes Gained-Putting, 17th in ball striking and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. Grillo has three top-25 finishes in his last four events, and he has shown he can produce his best golf at this event in the past, finishing T12 at Royal Troon back in 2016. At 200/1 and $6,800 on DraftKings, Emiliano Grillo looks the value play of the week.

Recommended Plays

  • Jon Rahm 20/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Francesco Molinari 33/1, DK Price $8,600
  • Marc Leishman 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Emiliano Grillo 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

The Golf Engine predicts the top 25 finishers at The Open Championship

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The field for the 147th British Open is set at the historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The Golf Engine modeled over 1,500 statistics tracked by the PGA Tour for every tournament dating back to 2004. We looked at how each stat contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a machine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.

This year’s British Open is no exception as the model is calling for Webb Simpson (125/1 odds) to make a run into the top 10 at least.

Some surprises:

Back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (22/1) inside the top 5.

Webb Simpson (125/1) and Phil Mickelson (66/1) inside the top 10.

Emiliano Grillo (100/1) inside the top 15.

Kevin Na (175/1), Luke List (125/1), and Ryan Moore (150/1) inside top the 25.

Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may under-perform this week. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood don’t make the top 10 cutoff. Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari who finished T2 at TPC Deere Run last week, and Sergio Garcia are all projected outside of our top 25.

Notable left-outs:

Rory McIlroy (16/1) and Tommy Fleetwood (20/1) finishing outside the top 10.

Alex Noren (30/1), Francesco Molinari (33//1), and Sergio Garcia (28/1) all finishing outside the top 25.

A few more points of note:

Top 5

It’s fascinating that Dustin Johnson gets the call for top dawg from both the oddsmakers and the model. No question he is the best player in the world right now, but it’s been a few years since DJ really contended (2011) in this tournament — and at a different course — Royal St George’s. He does have a pair of Top 10’s in 2012 and 2016 and has made the cut every year since 2009 (his first Open).

Justin Rose, not that his name doesn’t come up every year for this tournament, just that his style of play is generally considered to be different than the players on either side of him (Johnson and Koepka).

Speaking of Koepka, few are calling for him to win at Carnoustie though he does shows up inside the top 5 here…

Jordan Spieth, although winning this tournament last year – has not put up the best numbers of his already memorable career the past few months. Frankly I’m a little surprised the numbers bear this out…

Perhaps the third least surprising name to see on this list (aside from Johnson and Rose) is Rickie Fowler, aka: Mr. Consistency, aka: the Perennial Contender, aka: always the Bridesmaid. Rickie almost always brings his A-game, and the data suggests it suits this course well. Curious to see if this is the year his major championship drought comes to an end.

Top 10

Webb Simpson might be the most surprising pick on this list. Clearly the model likes something about his game this year and the way he is set up for this tournament. A career-low 61 to open at The Greenbrier (his last start), T10 at the U.S. Open a month ago and earning his 5th career victory at The PLAYERS were each separated by missed cuts.

Top 25

For a guy with short odds, Rory McIlroy to be projected outside of the top 10, which really speaks to the consistency (or lack thereof) of his game this season.

Other notables:

No love from the model for Matt Kuchar, Scotsman Russel Knox, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter, or Louis Oosthuizen.

Projected Rank Player Odds
1 Dustin Johnson 12/1
2 Justin Rose 16/1
3 Brooks Koepka 22/1
4 Jordan Spieth 20/1
5 Rickie Fowler 16/1
6 Webb Simpson 125/1
7 Justin Thomas 22/1
8 Jason Day 33/1
9 Phil Mickelson 66/1
10 Jon Rahm 20/1
11 Henrik Stenson 28/1
12 Emiliano Grillo 100/1
13 Paul Casey 40/1
14 Patrick Reed 35/1
15 Rory McIlroy 16/1
16 Tommy Fleetwood 20/1
17 Bubba Watson 80/1
18 Tiger Woods 22/1
19 Kevin Na 175/1
20 Hideki Matsuyama 50/1
21 Bryson DeChambeau 125/1
22 Luke List 125/1
23 Ryan Moore 150/1
24 Tony Finau 100/1
25 Charles Howell III 500/1
Odds Courtesy of Bovada

View the projected finish of the entire 2018 British Open Field.

How the Golf Engine makes its picks

In golf, a pro matches up as much with the golf-course as another competitor. Which is why any attempt to predict the outcome of a golf tournament, must take into account the nuances of the course. Beyond conjecture made by the golf pundits, analyzing past and present data through the use of math can more accurately project future performance.

In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are sitting on low round scores.

The machine learns how these statistics can become a unique strength or glaring weakness for each golfer by comparing tens of thousands of different combinations and separating the patterns from the noise. The resulting ‘model’ is able to ‘deep dive’ and determine when to expect low rounds from a pro, given their unique style of play. These calculations are next to impossible to do quickly and certainly without personal and subjective biases, until now.

Learn more about the author, Pat Ross.

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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