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Opinion & Analysis

2018 U.S. Open: Breaking down how the favorites should fare at Shinnecock

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This week, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will host the best golfers in the world as they attempt to conquer Golf’s Toughest Test, the U.S. Open. Whether they’re a hardcore or casual golf fan, almost everyone viewing the Fox broadcast will be familiar with the 10-or-so “fan favorites” this week. Will Tiger make the cut? Will Rickie finally win his first major? Does the course set up well for Rory? Questions like these monopolize golf conversations during the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open. This article seeks to give clarity to such questions, but first, we must examine the course.

Shinnecock has hosted four U.S. Opens, the most recent being in 2004. The landscape is now wide open due to recent tree removals, leaving it very exposed to wind. The fairways will be significantly wider than they were in 2004 even after being tightened by the USGA in preparation, however; they are lined with thick and penal fescue and rough.

Shinnecock is expected to play firm and fast, and the USGA will likely welcome carnage after a 16-under par winning score last year at Erin Hills. The course played brutally tough in 2004 with only two players finishing below par (Retief Goosen finished 4-under, two shots clear of Phil Mickelson). The USGA infamously lost the seventh green, adding to the controversy about the setup on Sunday that many deemed unfair. In that final round in 2004, no one broke par and only Robert Allenby managed an even-par round.

The course this year will come in at 7,440 yards and a par-70. It will favor players who can avoid trouble off the tee, hit greens and withstand bad breaks and mental hurdles that will inevitably come with a U.S. Open. The winner must also make some putts along the way.

In 2004, a plethora of elite ballstrikers dominating the leaderboard. Winner Retief Goosen ranked 21st in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 17th in Greens in Regulation. Mickelson, the runner-up, ranked 22nd in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, fifth Tee to Green, and 10th in Greens in Regulation for the season. Other high finishers such as Fred Funk, Chris DiMarco, and Ernie Els had similar statistical years.

The consensus once again is that Shinnecock sets up great for players that can hit greens and gain strokes on their opponents with their approach shots, while putting the ball in play, making some putts and avoiding big mistakes during the week. Now, we can assess the fan favorites of 2018.

Tiger Woods 

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: DNP, 2015: MC

Previous Shinnecock Appearance: T-17

Evidence for Success: Tiger has won three U.S. Opens, all at tough classic courses (Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, and Torrey Pines). He has hit his irons beautifully this year, ranking fourth in Strokes Gained Approach-the Green and fifth in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. He is coming off a strong week at the Memorial, where he also hit 71 percent of his fairways.

Evidence for Failure: Tiger ranks 120th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and a horrible 184th in Driving Accuracy. He is 102nd in Greens in Regulation. He also putted terribly at the Memorial, losing 1.924 strokes to the field.

Consensus: This isn’t a great setup for Tiger with his driving and recent putting woes. If he can get the ball in play and putt well, however, he can certainly make some noise.

Justin Thomas

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-9, 2016: T-32, 2015: DNP

Evidence for Success: Despite losing the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings this week to Dustin Johnson, Thomas is still arguably playing better than anyone else on the PGA Tour right now. He ranks 15th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, sixth in Approach the Green, second in Tee to Green and third in Total Strokes Gained. These stats aren’t good… they’re great. Thomas is coming off a T-8 at the Memorial, and he has played well on courses with firm greens. TPC Boston, Quail Hollow, and PGA National are just a few in the past year.

Evidence for Failure: Thomas is not an accurate driver of the ball, ranking 148th in Driving Accuracy. Other than that, there is little evidence against him.

Consensus: The stats indicate the Thomas should be a favorite without question.

Rory McIlroy

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-9

Evidence for Success: Rory ranks 21st in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 15th in Total Strokes Gained. He has a win under his belt this year, and he played great at the Masters.

Evidence for Failure: Rory’s weak spots in his stats are Driving Accuracy (154th) and GIR (169th), not good for a place like Shinnecock. Additionally, firm and fast courses are usually not his friends, with all his major wins coming at rain-softened golf courses. His performances in the last two U.S. Opens have also been poor.

Consensus: While Rory is a great pick most weeks of the year, it’s not likely that he will play particularly well at Shinnecock.

Dustin Johnson

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: 1, 2015: T-2

Evidence for Success: Coming off a sensational win at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and an emphatic reclaiming of the No. 1 ranking in the world, Johnson’s game is in top form. He ranks first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and first Off-the-Tee. He is 17th in GIR, and he has contended on firm courses (Chambers Bay) and won on tough, classic courses (Oakmont, Pebble, Riviera). He has a superb ability to deal with poor breaks on the course.

Evidence for Failure: DJ can be wild off the tee, hitting only 58 percent of fairways on the year.

Consensus: DJ’s stats and recent form show that he should be contending come Sunday at Shinnecock.

Phil Mickelson

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: MC, 2015: T-64

Previous Shinnecock Appearance: 2

Evidence for Success: With his first win since July 2013 coming this year, Phil has been playing great. A second-place finish in 2004 and his rank of 12th this year in Strokes Gained Approach the Green suggest good things. He has also been putting superbly this year, ranking second in Strokes Gained Putting.

Evidence for Failure: Phil is 202nd in driving accuracy. That will not lead to success at a place like Shinnecock. He also ranks 139th in GIR, another poor sign. Finally, the immense amount of extra pressure of trying to win the Career Grand Slam will most likely affect him in some capacity.

Consensus: Phil’s driving accuracy issues, coupled with the fact that he is trying to accomplish the Slam, point to a poor week. Shinnecock is almost certainly not the place for him to complete the Slam.

Jordan Spieth

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-35, 2016: T-37, 2015: 1

Evidence for Success: Spieth is the usually the best iron player on the PGA Tour, and his No. 1 ranking in Strokes Gained Approach the Green last year back that up. This year, he ranks 17th in Approach the Green, second in GIR and fourth in Tee-to-Green. His U.S. Open victory came at Chambers Bay, a firm and fast setup.

Evidence for Failure: Spieth has putted terribly this year, standing 186th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is also 203rd from three feet. Since the Masters, Spieth has no top-20 finishes. He also missed the cut at the Memorial, his last tournament before the U.S. Open, and he only has four top 10-finishes this calendar year.

Consensus: Spieth should not be expected to play well at Shinnecock. His poor putting and recent form are bad signs heading into this week.

Rickie Fowler

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-5, 2016: MC, 2015: MC

Evidence for Success: Rickie ranks 18th this year in GIR and 54th in driving accuracy. He is 10th in Proximity from 125-150 yards, and he finished runner-up at the last major, the Masters. Additionally, a T-8 at the Memorial shows that he is in good form. Finally, Rickie is widely regarded as an excellent wind player, and his win at the 2015 Scottish Open provides evidence for that claim.

Evidence for Failure: None of Rickie’s stats this year standout, although none are particularly poor, either. The pressure of winning his first major will make things more difficult for Fowler.

Consensus: Rickie is a very solid pick this week. Statistically, he doesn’t jump out as an overwhelming favorite, but little seems to be working against him. He’s also recently engaged to long-time girlfriend Allison Stokke, which may alleviate some pressure on the course.

Jon Rahm

Previous 3 U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-23, 2015: DNP

Evidence for Success: Rahm is 20th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and second in Strokes Gained off the Tee. He is 13th in GIR. His peers speak very highly of his talent, and it would appear that a major championship win is coming soon given his two career wins, a fourth-place finish at the Masters and his peak position of No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings — all by the age of 23.

Evidence for Failure: Rahm ranks 119th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. More importantly, he has a temper on the golf course. While it’s something he says he actively works on — and there is no doubt his fiery emotion can be helpful to his game — it may not be helpful for a very difficult U.S. Open setup.

Consensus: Jon Rahm could be a good pick, but his emotions could hurt his chances to win at a tough U.S. Open course. With this being said, if he can manage his temper, he could be contending come Sunday.

Jason Day

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-8, 2015: T-9

Evidence for Success: After a winless 2017, Day has won twice on the PGA this year at difficult golf courses (Torrey Pines and Quail Hollow). He ranks first in Strokes Gained Putting, fourth in Strokes Gained Overall and 14th Off the Tee.

Evidence for Failure: Day ranks 175th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. For an elite player, that’s bad. He is 113th in GIR and 94th in Driving Accuracy. Contrary to what many might believe, his ballstriking has been very shaky this year. He won at Quail Hollow hitting just eight greens on Sunday, and that will not fly at a U.S. Open.

Consensus: Day’s ball-striking issues of late show that he is not a good pick to play well at Shinnecock.

Justin Rose

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-27

Evidence for Success: Rose is second in Strokes Gained (Total), 11th in Strokes Gained Putting, seventh in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 57th in Driving Accuracy. He has claimed two Tour wins this year and is coming off a top-10 finish at the Memorial. He has also won a U.S. Open on a tough golf course (Merion, 2013).

Evidence for Failure: Surprisingly, nothing jumps out statistically that will hold back Rose. He seems to have fewer drawbacks than any other player.

Consensus: Justin Rose is be a fantastic pick; it would be surprising if he is not in the mix on Sunday.

To Recap

Players Projected to Play Well: Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler

Players That Will Likely Not Play Well: Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day

Players in the Middle: Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods.

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Malcolm is an incoming freshman at Tufts University, and he recently graduated from Boston College High School in Massachusetts. He plans on playing on the golf team at Tufts and has a 2.5 index. He plays out of The Country Club in Brookline.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Josh

    Jun 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    “Rose is be” is be a typo 🙂

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Opinion & Analysis

Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing

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In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?

If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:

Be Prepared

Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.

It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.

Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:

  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What is your favourite part of coaching?
  • What type of student best fits in at your university?
  • What type of athlete best fits in?
  • What are the goals for the golf program?
  • How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
  • Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
  • What access does the team have to golf courses?
  • Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
  • Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
  • What is your greatest strength as a coach?
  • Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
  • What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
  • How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
  • Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting into grad schools?

Know the Numbers

With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.

Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.

For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!

Do your research

Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).

Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.

First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.

Have a Plan

Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!

For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.

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TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions

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Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Wyndham Championship

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After one of the most exciting Sunday’s of the golfing year, attention now turns towards the race for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and the quest to attain a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. For the former, this week’s Wyndham Championship is the final opportunity for players to work their way into the top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings and earn a spot in the opening event of the playoffs. Despite many of the world’s elite understandably taking this week off, there are some big names in action here in Greensboro, with Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson all setting their sights on winning at Sedgefield Country Club this week.

Sedgefield CC is a relatively short par-70 golf course. It measures just over 7,100 yards, and it’s a golf course that doesn’t particularly favour the longer hitters. The rough is playable in Greensboro this week, and like most years at the Wyndham Championship, expect players who have their wedge game dialled in to thrive here at this event.

Last year, Henrik Stenson put on a ball striking clinic, posting 22-under par to win the title by one stroke over Ollie Schniederjans.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Webb Simpson 12/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 16/1
  • Henrik Stenson 18/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello 22/1
  • Brandt Snedeker 22/1
  • Shane Lowry 25/1
  • Billy Horschel 28/1

It’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Daniel Berger (35/1, DK Price $9,300), but the Floridian showed some very promising signs at last week’s PGA Championship. After opening his PGA Championship with a very poor round of 73, Berger then shined over the next three days. The American posted three consecutive rounds under par, two of which were 66 or better. It was enough to give Berger a T12 finish and plenty of momentum heading to Greensboro this week.

In St. Louis last week, Berger lead the field for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, gaining an impressive 8.5 strokes over the field. It was the second best performance with his irons in his career, and at Sedgefield, Berger is going to have hole after hole where he can attack pins with his precise iron game. The two-time winner on the PGA Tour has had a quiet year, but in a weakened field, with plenty of question marks surrounding those at the top of the market, he has a superb opportunity for win number three here in Greensboro.

A T31 finish at the PGA Championship last week means that Chris Kirk (80/1, DK Price $7,500) has now made the cut in his last ten events. From these ten events, four have resulted in top-25 finishes, and Kirk has been hitting the ball particularly well as of late. Over his previous 12 rounds, Kirk ranks fifth in the field this week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 10th in ball striking and eight in Strokes Gained-Total.

Kirk will cost you just $7,500 on DraftKings, and looking at some of the players that are more expensive this week, he appears to be a bargain. Kirk is three for three in cuts made at the Wyndham Championship in his last three visits, and the four-time PGA Tour champion looks in excellent shape to mount his best challenge yet in Greensboro. Over his last 12 rounds, Kirk leads this week’s field for proximity to the hole, and on a golf course where flushing short irons to close range is going to be key, the American looks to offer some of the best value around this week.

With 17 out of 19 made cuts this year, and arriving off the back of a T12 finish in his last outing, Rory Sabbatini (75/1, DK Price $7,100) looks undervalued once again on DraftKings this week. Over his previous 12 rounds, Sabbatini ranks 24th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. What’s more, is that Sabbatini is coming to a golf course that he has played very well in the past. In his last two visits to Sedgefield CC, the American has finished in the top-10 twice, with his best result coming last year when he finished T4. Coming off a strong showing in Canada, and with his proficiency in making cuts and excellent course history, Sabbatini looks a great DraftKings option here this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Daniel Berger 35/1, DK Price $9,300
  • Chris Kirk 80/1, DK Price $7,500
  • Rory Sabbatini 75/1, DK Price $7,100
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