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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 U.S. Open Championship

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The year’s second major is upon us as we head to New York for the 118th U.S. Open Championship. New look Shinnecock Hills will play host to what is often the toughest test of the year. What will greet the 156 players in the field this week will be a firm and fast golf course that will play very long. At over 7,400 yards, Shinnecock Hills will prove a daunting prospect to the players, and the fact that it’s a par-70 will make things even tougher for the elite field.

An exposed golf course, wind could play a significant factor this week (although the forecast suggests it shouldn’t do so). Shinnecock Hills last hosted the U.S. Open back in 2004, where Retief Goosen triumphed and only two players finished under par for the week. Length, ball striking, approach play and greens in regulation will all be vitally important this week, and as always at this championship, the ability to hole clutch par putts will be significant. Last year, Brooks Koepka won his first major at Erin Hills, posting 17-under par for the week to win by four strokes. Don’t expect any numbers like that this week.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 14/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Justin Thomas 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 16/1
  • Jason Day 18/1
  • Jordan Spieth 18/1

Ten years on from one of Tiger’s most incredible achievements, which saw him triumph against all the odds on one leg, Woods returns to this year’s U.S. Open still in search of his elusive 15th major. Do I think Woods can win at Shinnecock Hills? Absolutely. His iron play currently is electric. Over the past 12 rounds, Woods ranks first for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Ball Striking and fourth in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green.

Many detractors will point to his putting woes of late, but that is the one part of a player’s game that is most liable to change in a short space of time. Proof of this was at The Players Championship in between Woods’ two poor putting weeks, an event where Woods finished in the top-20 for Strokes Gained-Putting. He led the field at the Memorial tee to green, and with slightly wider fairways than usual at a U.S. Open, there is no doubt that Woods is a contender this week. As is usually the case with Woods, however, not much value is offered at his price.

Still, let’s enjoy the moment of where we find Woods and his game compared to the last few U.S. Opens.

With a 156-man field and only the top-60 and ties making it through to the weekend, there is an even greater demand and reward on building a lineup capable of making it through all four days. It’s safe to say that if you can get all your players through to the weekend, then you’re looking at a very successful week. For that reason, Dustin Johnson (9/1, DK Price $11,700) is the man to lean on with your DraftKings lineup despite his skinny betting odds. Form-wise, what is there to say? He just lapped the field at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis with consummate ease to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and the big man hasn’t finished outside the top-20 in an event all year.

Over his previous 12 rounds, Johnson ranks first in Ball Striking and Strokes Gained-Total and second in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. He hasn’t missed a cut in 12 months, and Shinnecock Hills should be a golf course that suits his game. For his last 36 rounds on courses measuring greater than 7,400 yards, Johnson ranks second for Strokes Gained-Total, and there was a sense with his victory last week that there is still more to come. Despite U.S. Opens often exposing even the best players in the world, Johnson is the only man in the field that I would genuinely be shocked to see not make the cut. Many see him as a virtual lock to be in contention come Sunday, and I agree. Bite the bullet with his salary.

With a win and four other top-20 finishes in 2018, Paul Casey’s (50/1, DK Price $8,000) level of play has been consistently good all year. The Englishman has the game capable of competing at Shinnecock Hills with his excellent ball striking as his primary asset. Over his last 12 rounds, Casey sits 10th in Ball Striking, 15th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 14th for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green. Even his putting, which has often been his nemesis, has looked good recently. He ranks a solid 14th in Strokes Gained-Putting over the same period.

Casey has made the cut in four of his last five U.S. Opens, and he will be aiming for more than just making the weekend as he enters this event playing some of the best golf of his career. In his last outing on the PGA Tour, he recorded a top-5 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship and backed that up with a top-20 finish at the BMW PGA Championship. In an event where steady and consistent ball striking is vitally important, Casey looks a safe bet to add to your lineups.

Speaking of consistency, Matt Kuchar (80/1, DK Price $7,600) has now made 30 of his last 31 cuts on Tour. It’s a remarkable statistic and one that I expect to improve to 31/32 after this week. Despite this, Kuchar has had a quiet year by his standards, but he appears to be trending upward right now. Over his previous eight rounds, Kuchar ranks 15th for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green and for the season is T-19 for Par 4 Scoring Average, an encouraging sign for tackling a course with as many as 12 par 4s.

The main reason I think Kuchar is such a good play for DraftKings lineups this week, along with his regularity at making cuts, is his price. At $7,600, Kuchar is the same price as Keegan Bradley (who incidentally I feel could also play well this week), yet the disparity in their betting odds is vast with Kuchar priced at 80/1 compared to Bradley’s 150/1. Kuchar is undoubtedly undervalued in the DraftKings market and looks a great play this week as he comes to Shinnecock Hills having made his last eight U.S. Open cuts.

Finally, deviating away from consistency and looking for cheap boom-or-bust potential, the enigmatic Si-Woo Kim (150/1, DK Price $7,000) seems an exciting prospect at his second U.S Open. Kim has made his last six cuts on Tour. Among these events was a runner-up finish at The Heritage, which he really should have won, and a top-25 at the Masters.

Statistically, Kim doesn’t show anything truly spectacular, although the Korean ranks a steady 22nd for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee, which should bode well on such a long golf course. Kim also plays tough golf courses well. Along with his runner-up at The Heritage, he has won The Players Championship, and at last year’s U.S. Open he entered the final round in sixth place before a poor Sunday dropped him back to T-13. At a very cheap price and the mercurial potential to find form in big events, Si-Woo Kim makes for an attractive play this week.

Recommended Bets

  • Dustin Johnson 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Paul Casey 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Matt Kuchar 80/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Si-Woo Kim 150/1, DK Price $7,000
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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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Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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Opinion & Analysis

5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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