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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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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 Francesco Molinari emerge out of the pack and claim the title at Bay Hill, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action.

Hot

What a week it was for Francesco Molinari who was making his debut as a Callaway staffer. The Italian’s long game has never been an issue, and at the API Molinari excelled in this department, leading the field along with Rory McIlroy, for strokes gained off the tee with his Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero driver.

Throughout his career, Molinari’s nemesis has been the flat-stick, but equipped with his Odyssey Toulon Madison Stroke Lab, the 36-year-old shined. Molinari gained strokes over the field on the greens each day at Bay Hill, gaining almost seven strokes in total with his Odyssey putter – the most strokes he has gained on the greens in his career.

It’s been a lean stretch for Henrik Stenson, but after struggling in round one at the API, the Swede clicked into gear, particularly with his irons. Stenson gained 6.7 strokes over the field for strokes gained approaching the green last week, and the 42-year-old has only once bettered that number since 2016. Check out Stenson’s 2019 WITB here on our forums.

Bubba Watson produced a poor display with his irons at the WGC-Mexico, losing over four strokes to the field for his approach play, but it was an entirely different story at last week’s API. Watson gained 6.4 strokes over the field for his approaches at Bay Hill with his Ping Blueprints. That number represents Watson’s best performance with his irons at an event in over three years.

Cold

Hideki Matsuyama’s putting is what has arguably kept the Japanese star from claiming a major title so far in his career, and at last week’s API, Matsuyama suffered a miserable four days on the greens which could leave some mental scarring as we head towards major season. Matsuyama was the worst performer on the greens last week, dropping a frightening 8.3 strokes to the field with his flat-stick. Only on one other occasion has Matsuyama putt worse in his career. It’s a testament to his ball striking that the 27-year-old fashioned a T33 finish.

Bryson DeChambeau had a very quiet week at Arnie’s event, and on closer inspection, the 25-year-old failed to fire with his approach play. For just the second time in his last 11 tournaments, DeChambeau lost strokes in this department, and most worrying for the American is how much ground he gave way with his irons. DeChambeau lost 4.3 strokes to the field for his approach play at Bay Hill, which is his second-worst total in this area in his young career.

Justin Rose stumbled severely over the weekend at Bay Hill, shooting rounds of 77 and 75 to slide down the leaderboard. The Englishman lost strokes tee to green at the tournament for just the second time in over a year on Tour, but it’s his dismal display with his long game over the weekend that is most surprising. Despite being one of the best ball strikers in the game, Rose lost almost six strokes to the field tee to green on Saturday and Sunday at the API.

 

 

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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

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. M

    Mar 11, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Nobody will buy Honma now

    • Geoffrey Holland

      Mar 12, 2019 at 5:01 am

      Honma still better than hitting a Callaway Epic Splash.

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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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