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Opinion & Analysis

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Ryder Cup

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By now you know it’s Ryder Cup time and golf is sliding into its “Keeping up with the Kardashians” moment, as it does every two years. OMG what are they wearing? Who is paired with who? And, God forbid, a wardrobe malfunction or a presser coup-d’état against leadership happens. So much drama.

While there was never a moment I cared about the Kardashians, there was a time when Ryder Cup Fever had me losing my mind every other September. I was a flaky 19-year-old in 1991, and I caught none of the hoopla at Kiawah and the War by the Shore. I didn’t really get the golf-bug until I was away at college and Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Am in a row. By the time Justin Leonard sank “the putt” in Brookline I was full-blown, out-of-my mind Ryder Cup crazy.

The following years didn’t help much: you know the drill. Massive, lopsided losses. Our “favored” team getting thrashed by the likes of David Gilford or Victor Dubuisson or That Guy who wore the Sergio Costume & Putted Better than The Real Sergio Ever Could. Those guys were busy beating Phil, Tiger, David and Dustin and everyone else. This didn’t stop me; no, rather it emboldened me. I argued with Euros about how good we really were. I built a spreadsheet once, in a moment of futile sadness, that showed how superior our American team was. American wins, putting averages, strength of field stuff – all very neatly organized. We lost that year. By a lot.

I soldiered on.

I forgave Hal Sutton for pairing Tiger and Phil. Then I changed my mind. I was on-site all week at Valhalla in 2008, my dad and me. While I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure our Valhalla crew started the sarcastic call-back to the Euro chants of “Ole” by mocking them with “No way, no way, no way, no way – nooo waaayy, NOOO WAAAY” as Anthony Kim walked around high-fiving everything, even trees, flagsticks, random Euro fans, everything, the dude was awesome that year. Maybe we didn’t start it, but considering the bloodbaths in the years before, it sure felt like the first time ever. I bled with the rest of us the very next year when we gave the trophy right back. To this day I partly blame the gods of Sky and Rain for what happened at Celtic Manor. Seriously, who holds a Worldwide Sensational Tournament at the Bottom of the Ocean (some call it Wales) in September? But I was still all-in on Team USA.

I was a smack-talking fool in 2012 as we marched into singles Sunday, where, clearly, we always won anyway. (This was the salve that soothed me all those years, about how the Euros usually won some archaic format we never played like “four ball” or “foursomes” – but singles – that was the real test of who’s better). Then …we…lost… on Sunday. The Meltdown at Medinah sealed it. It broke me. I said foul things about our boys, our coaches, even the WAGS and the clothing choices and the fans. All of it. I was done. Not watching again, not caring, bah humbug.

This was my way for 23 months.

Then, well, you know…I’d watch again. See what happened. The Tom Watson hanging party is what happened. We lost (again), thus validating my abandonment of the event. Now listen, I get it; it would be easy to say I was spent/done/over on the Ryder Cup because we sucked at it. Which would be mostly true. But giving up gave me: perspective. I went into 2016 with a curiosity I hadn’t had in years. There was this Task Force, which, with perspective, is freaking hilarious. I assume at their secret HQ they considered capes at one point and I promise you Tiger has an invisible plane from his time spent with the SEALs. Was this going to work? Like, really work?

And then, holey moley, it worked. They won.

But what was I watching? What got me fired up?

I was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of it all. It’s an exhibition. I know you’re all like “OK, Jack Nicklaus, I get it, blah blah.” But ole’ Jackie has got it right. It’s a blast to not care who wins it. I mean, c’mon that Rory-Reed match was flat-out fantastic. Then right behind it, That Guy who wore the Sergio Costume & Putted Better than The Real Sergio Ever Could was in a barn-burner with Phil. It was great to watch, fun to see what happened. I was glued to the set, but not once was I in a screaming mood. There wasn’t that lump in my throat watching a Euro line up an 80ft putt through a clown’s mouth, 2 bunkers and pure mud and worrying he’d actually make it. I just wanted to enjoy watching what happened – I was there for the exhibition of it all. Watching the best in the world, for Glory only, no money (not really anyway) throwing giant haymakers at each other. All for giggles, nothing else. Brilliant!

I’ll watch a lot of the show in France later this month; will I pull for Team USA? Of course I will. But I’m not too wound up to care what happens; there will be no screaming at the TV, no lumps in my throat. We are heavily favored, again, which if the last 30 years is right, means the Team Euro is gonna really enjoy this one. I won’t even care if Webb pops his tee ball up on the first tee again.

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A married father of 3 daughters (who cheer competitively, pray for me), Chris routinely takes his life in his hands by asking his wife to play golf all over Indiana. Deftly chiseling his handicap down from 18 to 8 in just 20 short years, his dedication to being a first-class golf nerd comes full circle as he documents the far reaches of his brain in printed word. He spends most days fiendishly plotting to replace Matt Ginella. If you're playing in the Indy area and a man wearing pink golf pants and chomping on a cigar is describing a golf bet so complicated only he can win it, tell my wife I'll be home in an hour.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Greg V

    Sep 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Funny, I’m an American, but I like to pull for the Euros. All those years when the Texans won easily deserves payback.

    • Kevin

      Sep 14, 2018 at 4:56 pm

      Pulling for the Euros, your no American! You should be ashamed of yourself and I am ashamed for you.

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Instruction

UYGP: Stop killing your score, here’s how to fully commit to every single shot

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Coach Will Robins explains the mindset you need to be able to commit to each and every shot during a round of golf, and avoid huge mistakes throughout the round. Learn how to make better decisions and become your own caddy. Some of the best pros and amateurs in the world use these tactics!

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

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Opinion & Analysis

What makes Bryson DeChambeau so good? A deep dive into the numbers

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I can relate, in a way, to this mad scientist of golf. When I had the idea to create a better method of analyzing golf by comparing each shot to a computer model of “scratch” performance 29 years ago, I was considered quite strange. My idea is now what is known as strokes gained analysis and has become the accepted standard for golf analysis. If you are interested in my journey, read The History of Strokes Gained on my website, ShotByShot.com.

Given Bryson’s recent success, will we all soon be switching to 7-iron length irons and practicing Bryson’s one-plane swing? I doubt it, but it is clear that Bryson is here to stay, so I decided to see exactly how his recent winning performance compares to that of other winners on the PGA Tour. Accordingly, I ran my analysis of Bryson’s ShotLink data for his three wins (The Memorial, The Northern Trust and the most recent Dell Technologies Championship). I compared this analysis to a similar analysis of all of the PGA Tour winners in 2017. For added perspective, I ran the same analysis for the entire 2017 Tour and for all the players that missed cuts in 2017.

As Bryson’s data sample is only 12 rounds on three courses, one might question how the numbers might be skewed by the differences in relative course difficulty as well as the relative strength of the fields. I believe we can agree that Bryson has won on relatively difficult courses and against very strong fields. Accordingly, I will overlook these factors.

Tee Game: Driving

Bryson’s driver is normal length. It is his irons that are all 37.5 inches long, or about the length of a standard 7 iron – why do the TV commentators always say “6 iron”? Anyway, Bryson’s unique one-plane swing produces long, straight drives. He averaged over 300 yards, 15 yards longer than the field, and hit more fairways than the 2017 winners.  Further, Bryson (Blue arrows below) had 35% fewer driving errors than those made by the 2017 winners. So LONG and STRAIGHT! Perhaps we all should be working on our 1-plane swings?


Approach shots 

I put Bryson’s approach game as not quite as good as the 2017 winners. His strokes gained relative to the field’s is not as strong (perhaps this can be attributed to stronger fields?). Bryson did hit more greens-in-regulation (blue arrows below). BUT remember he hit more fairways and made fewer errors. Finally, Bryson’s proximity when he hits the greens* is closer to the 2017 Tour average than it is to the 2017 winners.


*I look at “Proximity” much differently than the PGA Tour. The Tour’s proximity to hole includes approach shots that miss the green within 30 yards of the green’s edge.  I believe a miss is a miss and should not be counted at all.  For more on why, read my 2/26/18 GolfWRX article:Is Tiger’s “No.1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Again, Bryson’s wedges are 7-iron length, about two to three inches longer than a standard sand wedge. His short game data would indicate that the extra length does not present an issue from the sand. I chalk this up to the fact that for the most part greenside sand shots tend to be full swings. It is the shape of the swing that controls distance not the length.

Chipping and pitching, on the other hand, require a myriad of different swings and touch shots. The longer shafts seem to have a negative impact here which has been mentioned many times in the TV coverage. Below (Blue arrows) show that Bryson’s strokes gained around-the-green are about half the margin from the field’s as the 2017 winners. His chipping and pitching results are nowhere near the 2017 Winners. Perhaps Bryson should consider at least one normal length wedge for use around the greens? To support this, Bryson was ranked No. 118 in strokes gained around the green, with a negative .034 strokes gained thru the Well Fargo Championship (more than half way thru the season). He has improved since to No. 63 and a +.15 strokes gained in this category.


Putting

Bryson’s putter is 39 inches long, about three inches longer than standard, and he rests the grip against his left forearm. Personally, I believe his stance and stroke look very stiff and mechanical, which may account for what I discovered in his putting stats. Bottom line, he is outstanding from fairly close range (inside 20 feet), but very average from 30-plus feet. Bryson has almost TWICE as many three-putts as the 2017 winners from 30-plus feet (.5/round vs. .29/round for the 2017 winners). This makes sense to me as stiff and mechanical do not seem compatible with “feel” and optimal distance control.

That said, his success from close range might more than offset his apparent long-range weakness. Note below that Bryson’s one-putt success is noticeably better than the 2017 winners from every distance up to 20 feet. Incidentally, these ranges represent 68 percent of Bryson’s first putt opportunities. Very impressive! I may look more closely into Bryson’s short putting technique.


In conclusion, while Bryson DeChambeau is a maverick, he has found a unique method that works for him and has now made the entire golf world take notice. Will he change golf? Possibly. If he continues to have success, and I believe he will, I can see the aspiring, young players trying to adopt his methods just as many started to learn to putt while anchoring. As an aside, I firmly believe that the ultimate ban on anchoring had little to do with those of us that were struggling with the skill but everything to do with the fast-growing number of juniors that were having success using OUR crutch.

That is not to say that anything that Bryson is currently doing could be construed to be illegal. But he is clearly being watched. His side-saddle putting was thwarted by the USGA, and more recently, his use of a compass to help read his putts. Who knows what he will come up with next? I will be watching too!

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Accra Shafts — Finau’s proto, “What is the function of the shaft in a club head?”

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Accra Shafts’ Ken Thompson and Gawain Robertson chat with Johnny Wunder on the challenges of the shaft industry, what makes their shafts the best in the business, and Tony Finau’s custom set up.

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

3:45 — What makes Accra so special
5:30 — The origin of Accra
8:45 — The importance of TOUR Validation
15:10 — What is the function of the shaft in a club
17:30 — The TOUR ZRPG
23:40 — Mock Fitting for a specific player profile
31:00 — Accra Iron shafts
36:55 — Ryan Palmer
39:45 — Tony Finau
43:10 — Matt Kuchar
53:20 — S3 BluePrint Technology

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