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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the Honda Classic

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. Last week saw one of the most dramatic Sunday’s thus far in 2019, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action.

Hot

There is only one man to begin this section with, and that’s the winner himself, Keith Mitchell. Mitchell came into the event with three missed cuts in his last four tournaments, and unlike many breakthrough winners on Tour, Mitchell didn’t claim victory due to an exceptionally hot putter in Florida. Mitchell gained less than a stroke with the flat-stick for the four days of action at PGA National, which was less than any other player who finished in the top-six, and significantly less than every other winner on the PGA Tour so far in 2019.

What Mitchell did was produce the performance of his career tee to green. The American led the field in strokes gained tee to green for the four days with a total of 11.9 strokes. Sergio Garcia was the only other player in the event to gain double digits over the field in this department. Click here to see what driver, woods and irons Mitchell had in his bag at PGA National.

Rickie Fowler came agonizingly close to forcing a playoff on late Sunday evening, and unlike in Phoenix where he scorched the course with his flat-stick, the 30-year-old did his best work last week with his long game. Equipped with his Cobra F9 driver, Cobra Forged irons, and Cobra V-grind wedges, Fowler gained 7.8 strokes over the field for his play tee to green. Only once since 2017 (last year’s PGA Championship) has Fowler gained more strokes in a tournament in this department.

Brooks Koepka was another man to miss out on a playoff on Sunday night narrowly, but his performance on the greens will buoy the American. After losing strokes to the field on the greens in seven of his last nine events on Tour, Koepka gained almost four strokes over the field with his Titleist Scotty Cameron Tour Only T10 Select Newport at PGA National. However, it’s Koepka’s iron play with his Mizuno JPX 919 Tour Irons which spearheaded his charge in Florida. Koepka gained 6.6 strokes over the field for his approach play last week, the third-best total of his career and best since 2017.

Cold

Known throughout his illustrious career as being one of the best putters in the game, last week Zach Johnson suffered a nightmare on PGA National’s Bermuda greens. Johnson lost strokes each day on the greens and finished the event with a negative total of 6.7 strokes with the flat-stick. Johnson was the second worst in the field in this department, and the total is Johnson’s worst strokes gained putting statistic post-2011.

Webb Simpson came into the Honda Classic boasting seven straight events on Tour where he had gained strokes over the field for his approach play and sitting third on Tour for the season for strokes gained approaching the green. Simpson, however, struggled mightily with his iron play at the Honda Classic, losing 4.7 strokes to the field for his approach shots. It was a case of what could have been for Simpson, who gained strokes in every other significant strokes gained statistics and finished the event T36. Only on two different occasions has Simpson lost more strokes to the field with his approach play in his career.

Justin Thomas failed to get himself into contention at the Honda Classic settling in the end for a T30 finish. One area of Thomas’ game which was off all week was his approach play. Thomas lost 3.2 strokes to the field with his irons at PGA National, and incredibly, it is the first time Thomas has lost strokes for his approach shots since the WGC-Mexico in March of last year.

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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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Opinion & Analysis

College golf recruiting: The system works

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Yesterday, one of the parents I consult with on college placement asked me what the lessons are from the recent college admissions scandal for her and her son. What are the takeaways?

Michael Young, who coined the phrase in 1956, writes, a meritocracy is “the society in which the gifted, the smart, the energetic, the ambitious and the ruthless are carefully sifted out and helped towards their destined positions of dominance.” For decades higher education has embraced the meritocracy, creating an effective system which it funnels students with amazing precision to school that matches their academic ability, courtesy of indicators like GPA, SAT and class rank. So why would people work to circumvent this system? Ignorance and entitlement; the members of this scandal were driven by having the right brand name to tell their friends at dinner parties, not the welfare of their children.

In my own experience, I have seen families put their kids into months of hardcore standardized prep, while signing up for six to eight sittings of the SAT under the guise of trying to get to a better school, all while balancing practice and tournament golf. The problem is that this does not make you a good parent, it makes you an asshole.

In my own examination of data in the college signing process over the past three years, I have found only three outliers in Division One Men’s Golf at major conference schools. Each of these outliers had a NJGS ranking outside of the top 1000 in their class with scoring differentials above 3.5. They also each had a direct and obvious connection with the school. They leveraged the relationship and had their children admitted and put on the roster. Success! Unfortunately, none of the players appeared on the roster their sophomore year. Why? By the numbers, these players are 6 shots worst than their peers. That’s 24 shots over a four-round qualifier.

Obviously, it needs to be said again; the best junior players (boys and girls) are excellent. Three years of data suggest that players who attend major conference schools have negative scoring differentials close to 2. This means that they average about 2 shots better than the course rating, or in lay terms; have a plus handicap in tournaments. This is outstanding golf and a result of a well thought out and funded plan, executed over several years.

There is no doubt that the best players have passed through top tier programs in recent years, however, they have entered these programs with accolades including negative scoring differentials and successful tournament careers, including a pattern of winning. In order to compete at the professional level, players must meticulously try and mirror these successes in college. The best way to do it? Attend a school where the prospective student-athlete can gain valuable experience playing and building their resume. For a lot of junior golfers, this might not be the most obvious choice. Instead, the process takes some thought and looking at different options. As someone who has visited over 800 campuses and seen the golf facilities, I can say that you will be surprised and impressed with just how good the options are! Happy searching.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: World Long Drive Champ Maurice Allen

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In this episode of the Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura Golf, Johnny chats with Remax World Long Drive Champion Maurice Allen on where he started, his crazy equipment specs and why he relies on his eyes over the numbers.

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

This could be Rickie Fowler’s year to get the major monkey off his back

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When Rickie Fowler first emerged on Tour, he was supposed to take the game by storm. The golf media raved about his talent and ramped up the potential of a “big two” that included him and Rory McIlroy. Fowler and McIlroy were supposed to compete as the sole forces in golf, like the Tiger and Phil of a new generation.

However, golf never goes according to a script, and it particularly hasn’t for Rickie Fowler. At age 30, and without a major, momentum has slowed behind Fowler despite him having five PGA Tour and two European Tour victories on his resume. Commentators, who were once sure that Fowler would be a golfing great, now doubt his winning abilities. However, I have a feeling that 2019 may be Rickie’s year; and by the years’ end, we will all be speaking of him in a whole new way.

After finishing in the top five in every major in 2015, a major win looked very close to the grasp of Rickie Fowler. But, it hasn’t been that smooth sailing for the 2010 Rookie of the Year. Majors have evaded Fowler’s grip thus far despite his best efforts, and some good tries. He finished one shot short of eventual winner Patrick Reed in last year’s Masters, despite shooting twelve under par on the weekend; a great example of many near misses for Rickie.

With every miss, the tag of being “the greatest golfer without a major” is packed more and more into the identity of Fowler. But, that tag shouldn’t necessarily by an insult. Players like Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson have all received the same designation in the past. Each man has had his record questioned, and his ability to win examined, but every man has since won a major and will no doubt make their way to the hall of fame. Fowler will do too, and 2019 will go some way to helping his cause.

Fowler’s game looks to be in great shape, and vastly improved from previous years. Statistically, Fowler’s most significant improvement this season has been in his putting. He is eighth in the strokes gained-putting category, a marked growth from 43rd in that section last year. With great putting being the games most sought after skill, and a much-needed attribute for a consistent winner; it is interesting to see just how good Fowler is in that area. He is also third in scoring average, 33rd in driving distance and sixth in the birdie average category. It seems that Fowler is acing the test in all of the most crucial statistical areas. His game is in excellent shape, and everything seems to be pointing in his direction.

Rickie won the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February in spite of a rag-tag final round. Most impressively, Rickie rescued his final round in Phoenix by birdieing two of the last four holes. Fowler’s ability to shoot a final round 3-over-par 74 at TPC Scottsdale demonstrated immense courage. Perhaps that newfound courage stems from his many near-misses. Some see the fact he is without a major at 30 as a curse, but it may be a blessing. We saw in Phoenix how Rickie now has the skill to keep his ailing rounds alive and to resurrect them when they look dead. It is now becoming clear that Fowler’s near misses have made him stronger and a better all-around golfer. He may not have the wins to date that most expected, but he is better off for it.

Rickie’s career bears comparisons to Justin Rose, a player who had struggled and often limped through his career when many thought he would be flying. Like Fowler, Rose learned from his mistakes and has achieved his best results in his 30s. Among many victories, Rose has a U.S. Open Trophy, an Olympic gold medal, and a FedEx Cup in his 30s. Fowler should take heed of the World Number Two’s achievements and be encouraged that he can emulate or even surpass them.

With the Masters on the horizon, don’t be surprised to see Rickie at the top of leaderboards and winning serious golf tournaments. Fowler is a better player than he has ever been, and after a great start to the year, he will surely rise to the occasion this season.

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