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.
- 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
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
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