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High School reunion golf: When 58 feels like 18 again

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golf buddies reunion

Eric and David were winning our match as we approached the halfway point of the back nine at Falls Road Golf Club in Potomac, Md. But when my partner, Chip, yes, chipped in for eagle, their 15-footer for eagle suddenly seemed doubly long. David’s exuberant fist pump after draining his putt to match us said it all – the juices were flowing, and the match wasn’t going to be lost due to lackluster play or attitude. That we were paired together in a reunion tournament 40 years after the Class of 1978 graduated from Winston Churchill High School mattered not. We were athletes then – all four of us played on a Maryland state championship football team together – and, by gosh, our competitiveness was on full throttle now.

The years melted away as we traded stories about yesteryear and we learned about each other’s lives in the four-decade interim. Family and golf are shared passions, and our match showed it. While we were happily catching up in laughs and nostalgia, both teams clearly wanted to win. For bragging rights, of course. Once competitors, always competitors.

Cut to the past: David and Chip went on to play college baseball, while I stayed briefly with football, and Eric went forward playing basketball. Eric was such a gifted athlete that he not only quarterbacked our high school team to a senior year state championship (we also won it our junior year), he led the basketball team to a state title as well. A hoops scholarship to Georgetown followed, where he captained Coach John Thompson’s team his senior year. His teammates included Patrick Ewing, now Georgetown’s coach, among others. If you want to see Eric in action, Google “Michael Jordan game-winning jump shot in national championship.” You’ll find video clips of Eric (pictured below) running at Jordan a hair too late to stop His Airness from elevating and nailing the game-winning jump shot for North Carolina.

georgetown university north carolina national basketball championship 1982

Eric gets there too late to stop MJ’s game-winner in the national championship.

All to say that competition and living the athletic physical life contributed to our formation as people, and while we’re well removed from our peak years, we continue to pursue the pleasure that such activities afford. I’m still playing competitive baseball, and I’m trying to get David to join my team for the coming season, and a few other guys who I ran into at the reunion party the next night – Jimmy Flaikas, Mitch Orcutt, and Brian Hacker. How great it would be for us five former high school baseball teammates to be back on the diamond together. Priceless!

Jimmy and David have concerns about the physical demands, among other things, and whether their bodies are up to it. They’re both in great shape, so I’m confident they would do well. But they’re wise to weigh this carefully; discretion is the better part of valor when aging, after all. And that’s why golf is ideally suited to our current places in the circle of life. No torn meniscus or sprained ankles to be suffered, no concussions or broken bones forthcoming. Instead, we carelessly joked and competed with joyful appreciation of reconnecting through the game during our reunion weekend.

That golf is a lifelong game is one of its most appealing aspects. Perhaps it’s even an after-life game, as two elderly gentlemen illuminated. Lifelong friends now in their 80s, one of them fell deathly ill. His friend visited one last time and they reminisced about the good times shared through the game. As they parted, the friend said to his dying companion, “Do me a favor – let me know if there’s golf in heaven when you get there.” His friend promised he would and then he passed on peacefully that night. The next night, his friend was sleeping when he heard a voice. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there’s golf in heaven; the bad news is, you have a tee time tomorrow morning.”

Fore! Now and forever.

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Eric Smith

    Dec 12, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    Very nice Dan it was great to see you and the rest of the guys hopefully next year we be bigger and better.Bulldogs for life!!

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On Spec

On Spec: I fell in love at Sweetens Cove | Finding your golf “community”

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In this episode of On Spec, Ryan can’t say enough great things about his first trip to Sweetens Cove for the first Oil Hardened Classic—an event dedicated to persimmon and blade irons. He also talks about a new group of golf buddies in the era of social media.

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

It started with a crazy idea…

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It’s been nearly six years since Bob Parsons decided he wanted to get into the golf club business, and it was five years ago that Ryan Moore was presented with an iron that looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie.

Since then, the name PXG has been growing in stature as quickly as this industry has seen in a long time. In my time with Tour Ops Director Matt Rollins, I discovered once again that there was a point for all of these department heads, where the ability to work in a vacuum with no boundaries peaked enough curiosity to leave great jobs and take a winger on a man’s idea that at inception may have sounded a bit crazy.

Now let’s be clear, Bob Parsons knows golf clubs. Like many on this site, he’s a gear junkie—yes, with unlimited resources to find exactly what he wants. However, being a gear junkie myself, I always wondered what it would look like if I had the resources to go as far down the rabbit hole as I wanted to without risking the roof over my head AND without the mandate of a company to limit my search. This is important to understand because as you may have seen in the last video, the people Mr. Parsons chooses to work with seem to have this unrelenting curiosity as well.

The tour operations started this way: Ryan Moore was the perfect guy to attract early on. He’s a searcher, he has the resume to gain trust, and he’s extremely measured. Ryan doesn’t do anything on a whim, although it may appear so. He considers everything down to the last point before he says yes. I can say this in confidence knowing his story and interacting with him a few times. I have interacted with a good portion of the early PXG staff and to a person they have all said the same thing: “It seemed a bit crazy at the time, but I was curious: I hit the clubs and I wanted in.”

The current staff like the front office is a good mix of all personalities and as a whole they represent the perfect mix to get the PXG message out into the world. Players like Horschel, Perez, Ko, Hahn, Lee, ZJ, Moore, HOF icon Gary Player, and most recently aspiring LPGA player, long drive champion and influencer Troy Mullins.

Now, I won’t get into all of the club junkie tidbits I get from Matt here: ya just gotta watch the video. It was a fun interview and my biggest takeaway personally is that despite all of the opinions and polarizing discussions around PXG, these guys really care about what they are doing and where they want to go.

As you will see in Episode 6 of The Disruptors, Matt Rollins at first had a kind of “yeah right” reaction to the whole thing—then you start to get around Bob, and Mike and Brad and you begin to understand just how serious these guys are about taking PXG to places we have never seen. Are they one of the Big 4? No. They never will be—it’s not designed that way. Are they a company that has the nimbleness, brains, and swagger to continue to shake things up? Oh, yeah. And that’s exactly how Bob likes it.

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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:

  • Driving effectiveness
  • Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball speed

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”

Players on the rise

*The following rankings are based out of 194 players

Joaquin Niemann

The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.

This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.

The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.

Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.

Sung Kang

Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.

Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.

Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.

While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.

Sepp Straka

Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved

That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.

Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.

Sam Ryder

Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.

Wyndham Clark

 

One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.

The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.

Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.

Players on the decline

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.

J.B. Holmes

Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.

After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.

Patton Kizzire

Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.

Phil Mickelson

The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.

For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.

Francesco Molinari

Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.

The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.

But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.

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