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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 John Deere Classic

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The final stop before the third major of the year takes us to Silvis, Illinois, for the John Deere Classic. Just like last week at the Greenbrier, this week’s course will offer up a lot of birdie opportunities for players. You can expect the winning score to be in the high teens or even further under par.

TPC Deere Run is a par-71 and measures 7,268 yards. The fairways are historically some of the easiest to hit on the PGA Tour, and with lots of short-to-medium length par-4s, it will be vital for players to have their wedge game in perfect shape for this week’s challenge. Birdie-or-Better Percentage, Approach Play, and form on the greens will all be areas to focus on this week.

Last year, Bryson DeChambeau shot a scintillating final-round 65 to post a total of 18-under par and take the title by one stroke over Patrick Rodgers.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Francesco Molinari 10/1
  • Bryson DeChambeau 10/1
  • Zach Johnson 12/1
  • Joaquin Niemann 16/1
  • Ryan Moore 16/1
  • Steve Stricker 20/1
  • Chesson Hadley 22/1

This week, Zach Johnson (12/1, DK Price $11,200) is the definition of a horse for the course. Johnson has an incredible record at TPC Deere Run, and it’s no surprise why — he has always been one of the best wedge players and putters on Tour. Johnson is 9/9 in cuts made at TPC Deere Run. He has finished in the top-5 six times, which includes a victory back in 2012.

Although Johnson’s form in 2018 has been patchy, there are real signs that his iron play is in excellent shape for the test this week. The American has gained a total of 10.8 strokes over the field for his approach shots in his last three events, and over his previous 24 rounds, Johnson is ranked third in this field for Proximity to the Hole. Johnson’s putting has also been excellent over his past two events, gaining more than five strokes combined over the field on the greens. With a scoring average of 66.89 around TPC Deere Run and his approach play and putting seemingly on point, take Zach Johnson to build your lineups. A high finish for Johnson is almost a certainty on his home course.

Playing one of the favorites ultimately adds greater importance to finding value further down the board, and Joel Dahmen (80/1, DK Price $7,600) screams value this week. Dahmen has been in superb form as of late with five top-25 finishes in his last seven outings. He tied for fifth last week at the Greenbrier, and most of his good work was done with his irons, which have been razor sharp all year. Dahmen ranks first in this week’s field for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and fifth for Ball Striking over his previous 24 rounds. Dahmen’s stellar iron play has seen a surge for the rest of his game, as he sits sixth in Strokes Gained-Total over the same period.

There are plenty of signs that TPC Deere Run could be an excellent fit for Dahmen, too. Over his previous 24 rounds, Dahmen is ranked fourth in the field for approach shots measuring between 100-125 yards. He’s also 12th in the field for approach shots between 125-150 yards. With wedge play being so important at TPC Deere Run, all signs point to Dahmen’s game being in perfect shape to attack the course.

Making birdies will be the order of the day in Illinois, and over his past 12 rounds, Dahmen has excelled in this department. In his last three events, Dahmen sits fifth in the field for Birdies or Better Gained and second for Eagles Gained. At a price of just $7,600, Dahmen makes a perfect accompaniment to Johnson, and he is my value play for the week.

Another man coming off a top-5 finish at the Greenbrier, Harold Varner III (110/1, DK Price $7,400), is priced low enough to interest me this week. The way in which Varner III performed last week, along with his excellent iron play, leads me to believe he can do the same again this week. Varner III was fifth in last week’s field for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and it was his second-successive week where he flushed his irons, ranking 11th in the same statistic at the Quicken Loans National.

Varner III sits sixth in this field for Birdie or Better Percentage over his last two events, and he is ranked 11th in proximity over the same period. A streaky player and whose immediate form signals that there may be another big week in store for the likable American in Illinois this week, Varner III represents excellent value at a low priced salary.

Recommended Plays

  • Zach Johnson 12/1, DK Price $11,200
  • Joel Dahmen 80/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Harold Varner III 110/1, DK Price $7,400
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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 @giannimosquito

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On Spec

On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)

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Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?

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Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.

That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.

All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18

Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined

  • 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
  • 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
  • 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent

Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018

  • 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
  • 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
  • 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent

Percent decrease 

  • 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
  • 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
  • 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent

One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.

Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.

So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!

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Opinion & Analysis

A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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