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The 5 players without a major who are most likely to break through in 2019

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With the opening event of 2019 in the books and the first Masters commercial’s beginning to air, it’s hard not to look ahead to this year’s major championships. A whole host of top players will be looking for their maiden major this year, and here is a look at five players who I feel have the best chance of breaking through in 2019.

5. Tommy Fleetwood

Fleetwood’s heroics at the Ryder Cup back in September, combined with his back-to-back close calls at the last two U.S. Opens make him a serious contender for major glory in 2019. His lack of a victory stateside is the obvious concern, but beginning 2018 his good friend Francesco Molinari hadn’t won on the PGA Tour either.

Most likely major to win?

Fleetwood may still be searching for his first win in the states, but four wins on the European Tour, in some of the biggest events on the Tour, proves just how good Fleetwood is. Trending at the tournament and buoyed by the crowd who will undoubtedly be behind him in July, Fleetwood’s best chance of glory to be at this year’s Open Championship.

4. Jon Rahm

Winner on the PGA Tour in both 2017 and 2018, Rahm has all the hallmarks of a future major champion. After last year’s Masters where he got his first taste of the heat of battle on the back nine of a major, the fiery Spaniard now has the vital championship experience to go alongside his impressive game.

Most likely major to win?

Rahm’s form in Ireland cannot be ignored. The 24-year-old finished T4 at last year’s Irish Open, while in 2017, Rahm dominated the same event and won by six shots at Royal Portstewart. Just a 15-minute drive from that venue is the 2019 Open Championship host course Royal Portrush, and it’s an event that the Spaniard must be targetting.

3. Xander Schauffele

With four wins on the PGA Tour, including last week’s stunning victory in Kapalua, Schauffele has announced himself as one of the best young talents in the game. Three top-six finishes in just seven major championships played shows that the 25-year-old can perform at the highest stage.

Most likely major to win?

With back-to-back top-six finishes at the U.S. Open, Schauffele’s national championship may look like the obvious best bet for the 25-year-old. However, lack of course experience compared to his competitors hurts his chances, while the PGA Championship has become synonymous with being the event which players achieve their breakthrough. Expect Schauffele to feature at Bethpage Black.

2. Rickie Fowler

Fowler and his fans must be sick of the sight of his name appearing on these lists. Fowler came within touching distance at last year’s Masters tournament, and his clutch back nine finally proved that he has it in him to raise his game at the crucial moments. The confidence provided by that final round at Augusta in 2018 may make all the difference for the 30-year-old.

Most likely major to win?

The Masters. With four top-12 finishes at the year’s opening major in the last five years, Fowler has shown that he has the perfect game to capture a green jacket. Solo second last year, and with the way he’s capable of putting, he has every chance of going one better this April.

1. Bryson DeChambeau

The astronomical rise of Bryson DeChambeau in the past six months has been spectacular to watch. Four wins on the PGA Tour since June speaks for itself, as the American has developed into a ruthless closer. Lack of form in the majors isn’t overly concerning due to the level of play he has shown since August. DeChambeau is a far better player now than he was when he last teed it up in a major championship.

Most likely major to win?

You can make a case that DeChambeau could compete at all four this year. The 25-year-old would love to taste victory at Augusta more than anywhere, and he may well do it. But as with Schauffele, the PGA Championship’s more conventional set-up now offers the best opportunity for those in their 20’s looking to get their first major. Therefore, DeChambeau’s best chance is likely to come at Bethpage Black.

Notable Absentees

Hideki Matsuyama – Almost any other year Matsuyama would be number one on the list. However, a frustrating recurring injury has set the Japanese star back, and this year’s major championships may arrive too early.

Tony Finau – Still with just one victory on the PGA Tour, Finau has begun to lag a little behind some of his peers. Despite being in the final group at last year’s U.S. Open, the 29-year-old never looked likely, and the question marks over his ability to close remain. Finau’s time will come, but it’s not expected to happen in 2019.

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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 @giannimosquito

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Laurence Deveney

    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Enough already – Fowler is winning no majors!!

  2. blahblahblah

    Jan 9, 2019 at 3:00 am

    waste of time article – golfers really needs to do some proper well researched articles

  3. Craig

    Jan 8, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Leishman??

  4. Linkslover

    Jan 8, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    Portstewart is not “Royal”

  5. Rich Douglas

    Jan 8, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    I like BCD for the US Open. It requires a precise level of shot-making, more so than the other majors. But….

    BCD’s weakest part of the game is putting, and putting is a very big deal at the US Open, more so than even at Augusta. And he’s on record as saying that leaving in the flag with US Open pins is out, which I believe is already giving him an advantage elsewhere.

    I also like him for the Open Championship. Less emphasis on putting, but more on creative shot-making.

  6. Skip

    Jan 8, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    “this year’s major championships may arrive too early.” The PGA’s late in the summer, TF’s he talking about?

  7. 2putttom

    Jan 8, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Cameron Smith b 4 DeChambeau

    • Luke Kitzan

      Jan 8, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      Cam Champ > Cam Smith

    • BJB

      Jan 9, 2019 at 1:57 am

      I’ll take any of the guys on this list plus the two at the bottom PLUS Cam Champ before I took Cameron Smith

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

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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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

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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