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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 @giancarlomag

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Podcasts

Mondays Off: Augusta National: start on the front or back nine? | Knudson’s Fujikura visit

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Would you rather start your round at Augusta National from the front or back nine? Mondays Off debates both after the most recent Masters had players starting from both. Steve gets some information on Fujikura shafts from Knudson’s visit last week and then Knudson confesses on how his first night of league play went!

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

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: How many wedges?

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From the feedback I get, many golfers are not entirely confident…or are completely confused…about how many wedges they should carry. Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.

The reason I think getting this right is so important is that your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.

As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players might not help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you simply cannot do that. The good news is that you can add some science to your wedge set make-up that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.

My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process

  1. Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set. Along the way, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5-degree gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
  2. The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
  3. Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft 1/4 to 1/2” longer to add a few yards to that club.
  4. Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at four-degree intervals, or it might be five – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that six-degree gaps deliver that distance progression.
  5. Challenge the traditional 52-56-60 setup. Those lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft. That hasn’t been the case in over 25 years. Most of today’s P-clubs are 45 degrees, which leaves a very large distance differential between that club and a 52-degree gap wedge. Some enlightened golfers have evolved to carry a wedge set of 50-54-58, which is a step in the right direction. But you can get whatever loft precision you want, and you should do that. At SCOR, we made wedges in every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, and our wedge-fitting tool prescribed lofts of 49-53-57-61 to many golfers, based on that 45* “P-club” and their stated distance profile. Those who took that advice were generally very happy with that change. We fitted and sold many sets at 49-54-59 as well. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend even numbers to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.

What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and less long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.

If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up) then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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19th Hole

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