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Opinion & Analysis

The PGA Championship: Headlining the new Triple Crown of American professional golf

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The PGA Championship, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary at Bellerive Country Club just outside of St. Louis, marks the end of an era. Since the 1960s, the PGA has been the final major of the year, the last leg of the modern “Grand Slam” of professional golf. All that will change next year as the event moves to the third weekend in May, and moves from a major afterthought to being the most important major in the on-going growth of interest in our sport here in the U.S.

The Grand Slam has long been considered competitive golf’s ultimate achievement. This is more than a bit of a misnomer, though, since it is something that has never been accomplished in the modern game, and is simultaneously considered by most to be all but unattainable. Sure, Bobby Jones won what was called the Grand Slam back in 1929 as an amateur, but that was back when two of the four legs were amateur events, excluding most of the most accomplished players of the day.

And the immortal Ben Hogan, in his “Triple Crown” season of 1953, when he won the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship in succession, in theory had a shot at it. But at that time, the Open Championship and the PGA overlapped, making it impossible for him to compete in both, and the level of competition was nowhere near what it is today.

In modern professional golf, no player has ever even come into the PGA Championship with a shot at the “Grand Slam,” leaving the season’s final major to always feel like it’s finishing on a bit of an anti-climactic note. So maybe it’s time to stop wishing, hoping, dreaming, and talking about someone winning the Grand Slam, and instead, take a cue from Hogan’s immortal season, and start talking about someone winning the new “Triple Crown” of American professional golf that the PGA has set the stage for by making its move.

By moving to May, for the first time ever, the American majors will be conducted in three consecutive months. The PGA claims they did this for a number of reasons, including the addition of golf to the Summer Olympics, the fact that cooler May weather opens up a wider array of options for host courses, and to keep the season ending FedEx Cup Playoffs from having to compete with the start of football season. But there’s an unintended consequence of this move that will ultimately make the PGA Championship the most pivotal, and important major in seasons to come.

Like the Preakness in horse racing, the PGA Championship now becomes the second leg of what I will call the new “Triple Crown” of American major championships. Being only a month apart, winners of the Masters each year will now come into the PGA, the year’s second major, with more momentum. They will also contest that second leg under conditions most players feel are a fairer and more typical test of golf than the often brutal slog the USGA sets them up for at the U.S. Open.

The result of this should be that more future Masters champions will not only come into that second leg feeling like they have a realistic shot, but, as we see in horse-racing many years, could come out of it with a shot at the Triple Crown. The interest and excitement this will generate, and the build-up to the U.S. Open will increase ten-fold if we see a player winning the first two majors of the year, just as it does many years for the Belmont Stakes, when millions of eyeballs tune in because the storyline transcends the sport.

It doesn’t matter that (not unlike the Belmont) the course setup and conditions of the U.S. Open favors a very different type of player than the Masters and PGA Championship. What matters is more players at least having a shot at it. The move up of the PGA Championship will facilitate that, and with a more attainable goal, like the new Triple Crown of American professional golf, we should be in store for some much more exciting golf seasons in the very near future.

The PGA Championship will go from being a bit of an afterthought, to being the major most sought after in the quest for American professional golf’s new ultimate accomplishment.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. doesnotno

    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:55 am

    An alternate view to the PGA moving to 2nd spot in the majors calendar (and thereby you suggest raising its importance) might be that rather than looking forward to the event as the final major its seen as pretty much indifferent from the regular PGA events that take place in the weeks before and after it and people begin to question why it even has major status. The Masters has Augusta, the US Open has penal setups on classic courses, the Open has British weather and links layouts.

    Ask people what the PGA has and I feel most people would tell you ‘last major of the year’.

    • Ns

      Aug 9, 2018 at 11:57 am

      and……. you’re an idiot.
      The PGA Championships is representative of the PGA and the PGA Tour. That’s why it’s a Major. Always has been, always will be. But to modernize the game, they had to change it from match-play.
      If anything, they need this major sometime in October. That would be the way forward, where The Players would be the 5th Major in early summer and the PGA moved to the Fall since there is now a wrap-around season.

      • doesnotno

        Aug 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

        Some great ideas there. Oh no, you’re clearly sub-normal.

  2. Greg V

    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Nice try at Triple Crown. But to leave out the Open Championship, which is the oldest and many would say, the best of the majors, is disingenuous.

  3. Matt

    Aug 9, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Massive shank, find another term as Triple Crown is already being used in golf as the winner of the US Open, Open Championship and Canadian Open all in the same year. 2 players have done it, Trevino and Woods, there is even a trophy for it.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 9, 2018 at 6:09 am

    The term “Grand Slam” came from bridge, and the term “Triple Crown” comes from harness racing. Seems odd that golf wouldn’t have its own term. May in the northeast is very wet, akin to Wales (cough cough Ryder Cup cough cough) in the fall. It can also be cold. Venues like Oak Hill and Bethpage will suffer more than a few days of St. Louis’ weather this week, but they won’t have the summer sun to dry things. Also, ask a superintendent how much easier it is to get the course in shape for a major in May. This might be the way in which southern courses finally get major-championship recognition. I’m not a xenophobe, though, so I think that any focus on an American whatever is pushing the game away from the global direction it needs.

  5. Frankie

    Aug 9, 2018 at 2:58 am

    Amateurs vs pros in Bobby Jones’ era was completely the opposite from today, it was the amateurs who were better than the pros because pros couldn’t make enough money back then to play golf full-time so they had to work at the golf clubs as teaching pros. In Bobby Jones’ case, he was rich enough to play golf full-time and therefore he was better than all of the pros as an amateur, including Walter Hagen. The perception of amateurs vs pros in early 20th century golf didn’t shift until Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson beat Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in the Match at Cypress Point in 1956. To deny Jones’ skill of winning the Grand Slam is just blasphemy.

    • Mike Dowd

      Aug 9, 2018 at 7:38 am

      Bobby Jones’ accomplishment was one of the greatest, if not the greatest story in the games’ storied History. I was merely pointing out that it was not the same accomplishment as it would be today, and giving nod to the fact that some will feel the two amateur events being a part of his Grand Slam gives it a bit of an asterisk because players like Hagen were excluded. No one will ever accomplish what Jones did again, and so to a degree, I really believe the term should have been retired with him as a testament to that. Even winning two majors a year in today’s game is something that Player of the Year seasons are made of, and that’s why I think we should shift the storyline to something that is at least potentially attainable. Otherwise, it’s just a whole lot of talk for talk’s sake.

      • Ns

        Aug 9, 2018 at 12:01 pm

        “it’s just a whole lot of talk for talk’s sake.”
        That’s what America is built on. Talk without much substance.

    • Greg V

      Aug 9, 2018 at 8:48 am

      Not so. All of the other top 10 finishers in the 1930 US Open were pros. As a matter of fact, pros overtook Amateurs from the very beginning of American golf, as players such as Willie Anderson and Alex Smith were transplant pros from Scotland. Yes, you had Francis Ouimet, Jerry Travers and Chick Evans winning the US Open in the early teens, but after Jones won his 4 US Opens, no amateur has won since.

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Opinion & Analysis

Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics

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After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.

Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.

The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.

These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.

There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:

  1. Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
  2. You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
  3. Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
  4. All things being equal, take the younger player.
  5. Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.

A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):

The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).

The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).

It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.

The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.

Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:

Tiger Woods

This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.

Tony Finau

Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.

Bryson DeChambeau

Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.

Patrick Cantlay

This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).

From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.

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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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