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Opinion & Analysis

Brooks Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III, on BK’s PGA Championship victory, working with the game’s best, and more

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Coming fresh off the celebration of Brooks Koepka’s fourth major win, Koepka’s long-time coach, Claude Harmon III chatted with Johnny Wunder as he was just about to hop on a plane back to The Floridian.

Here are the highlights of their conversation.

JW: Claude how you doin’?

CH3: Uh, I’m hungover!

JW: Brooks is walking off the 18th green after another major triumph. What is the first thing you guys said to each other?

CH3: Well, obviously there was a lot of emotion in that moment, but he told me it was the happiest he has ever been on the golf course, and after everything he’s done, that’s a big statement.

For him to put in all the hard work and to fight as hard as he did on a golf course that completely changed on the last day and come out on top makes me extremely grateful to be a part of the team that supports that. I believe he will find out more about himself from getting through the final nine holes than he would if he would have had a parade coming in and won by seven.

JW: That’s a great point. It seems like he is more apt to win even more majors based on that back nine than he would have otherwise.

CH3: I don’t think if you were watching it on TV you could have any appreciation for just how difficult it was. What DJ did yesterday was impossible and having that up ahead applies even more pressure to a leader. Ricky Elliott and BK are looking at the scoreboard and seeing DJ and 3 under and having no idea how that’s even possible. It was that tough.

JW: I think Brooks stubbornness is part of his true greatness. Would you agree?

CH3: His perspective constantly was “I’m still in the lead and someone is going to have to catch me and this golf course is extremely difficult.” Even after all the bogeys on the back side, he still controlled the lead and kept that mantra. The crowd yelling “DJ! DJ!” actually didn’t piss him off, it woke him up and made him want to hit a good drive and show the crowd he was still leading.

JW: How did yesterday compare to Shinnecock? 

CH3: At Shinnecock it was an interesting situation because Fleetwood…posted before BK was even off and in that case, Brooks said it was like playing against a ghost. No matter what he does, Tommy isn’t going to make any more mistakes or change in any way. That’s a tough scenario when you are staring at a number that won’t move for 5 1/2 hours.

JW: What do Brooks and DJ have that people can learn from.

CH3: It’s funny because we hear these cliches in sports psychology all the time, but I believe those two are the living embodiment of ONE SHOT AT A TIME. They don’t look back. Ever.

JW: Speaking on DJ. I’m watching the back nine and thinking to myself this guy is playing out of his mind, it was literally a battle of the best.

CH3: We talk about it all the time in golf, what we always want is the two best players in the world going toe to toe. We had that yesterday and I hope as time goes by we can look at this final round as a battle we will be talking about for a long time. Best players in the world on a tough but fair golf course with the ultimate prize on the line. In situations like this when there is this kind of pressure and these stakes you can look at the leaderboard and see the cream rising to the top. Rory, DJ, Jordan all with good rounds on a really tough day.

JW: You met Brooks in 2013, he showed up in his mom’s beat up Explorer and don’t know him at all. What was your first impression?

CH3: I was introduced to him by Pete Uihlein, his old roommate, and at first glance, he had raw talent and a ton of speed, but no plan. At the time he was hitting a draw and was uncomfortable with that. He told me his current coach wanted him to hit draws, and I said well that’s your fault, not your coach’s. It’s the player’s responsibility to manage himself and the information he’s comfortable with. When we worked on him getting into a fade, he started to click and he turned to me and said “it can’t be this easy.” My reply was “it has to be this easy!” At that level, under the gun, it better be easy. [Golf is] tough enough already.

JW: What were his career goals early on?

CH3: Even then, he wanted to be an elite player who won multiple majors. I was coaching Ernie Els at the time who had just won his fourth major and Brooks was on the Challenge Tour. He was committed to getting there but needed guidance, someone with a plan that wasn’t just his golf swing. Obviously, it worked out.

JW: What would you say is the Harmon secret to getting the best players in the world to peak as often as you guys do?

CH3: My dad told me: “What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say.” At the Masters this year Brooks, in practice, was really struggling. Look, it’s Masters week and I’m not going to go in there and start putting thoughts in his head. At that point, if this is a shuttle launch, we are in the cockpit and there is no turning back. My dad always had his guys have a go-to shot that they “knew” they could hit. Brooks calls it his “fairway finder” which is a squeeze off fade with a driver. I told him to hit a couple of those knowing it might spur some confidence. After a few absolutely flushed missiles, his confidence went up and he turned to me and said…”fairway finder all day.” The rest is history.

JW: You coach DJ, Brooks, Jimmy Walker and Rickie. Describe each in one word

JW: DJ
CH3: Natural

JW: Brooks
CH3: Tough MF

JW: Rickie
CH3: Genuine

JW: Jimmy
CH3: Soulful

JW: Thanks old friend
CH3: Talk soon, thanks man.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Boss of the moss

    May 21, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Best article on here in a while

    Honest and informative

    More interviews with tour players, coaches, tour van equipment interviews as well, less opinion pieces. Thanks

  2. T-Bone

    May 21, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    What DJ did on the final day was impossible? There were 7 other 69’s, along with his. And 2 68’s. Yes, Brooks won. But I don’t see how he can feel that good with 4 over in the final round.

    • Mike Kutilek

      May 22, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      The 7 other 69’s and the 68’s were all earlier in the day before the wind got crazy. Of the last 12 groups only DJ was par or better.

  3. Borat S

    May 21, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Brooks is boring yawnnnnnnnnnnn. Like my sister.

  4. Stephen Peltier

    May 20, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    I was wondering when the Harmons would start getting their due. What do Tiger and Brooks have in common? Harmon.

  5. Benjamin Wright

    May 20, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    must be nice being given that stable of players from your dad

  6. Michael D Christiansen

    May 20, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Tough MF, I love it. Just going to get tougher.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Power and patience

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We had to wait a little longer than normal to see the 2020 U.S. Open, but it was worth the anticipation. A stacked field on a classic course where, for the first time in a while, the USGA got the set-up totally right. The course played difficult, but fair. Long, penal rough and undulated greens kept the world’s best off-balance while still rewarding solid golf shots.

The West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club proved a true test of golf and when the dust settled, only a single player remained under par. Bryson DeChambeau was the lone player to conquer the beast, displaying a unique balance of power and patience that the golf world hasn’t previously seen.

By now, the golf world knows how DeChambeau changed his body dramatically, particularly to chase these kinds of championships, and while sometimes he seems too smart for his own good, this time his calculations were right on. One certainly cannot fault his work ethic. Ridiculed for being a slow player, he has worked to improve. Take away his protractor and he finds another way to read greens. Though putting and short game were a weak point, he has improved. His body transformation was just another calculated risk from the golfing scientist after working hard with Chris Como to get his game just right.

However, winning a U.S. Open at Winged Foot takes more than just power. It took patience. DeChambeau outlasted the field by minimizing mistakes and capitalizing on scoring chances. But it would be misleading to say that this wasn’t a case of bomb and gouge. That is exactly what DeChambeau did, hitting just over 41 percent of his fairways for the week.

What happened?

U.S. Open rough is supposed to be the great equalizer. It is supposed to put a premium on ball striking and fairways and traditional golf values, but it failed.

How?

DeChambeau made an interesting comment in one of his many interviews this week when he said something along the lines of “If I’m going to miss the fairway anyway, I might as well hit it out there.” This statement ended up being fairly prophetic. DeChambeau finished T26th in fairways. Not surprising. However, what he realized early on was that everyone was going to miss the narrow, hard, and fast fairways at Winged Foot. Only 11 players in the entire field hit more than 50 percent of their fairways. Only two of those 11 finished in the top 10 (Rory McIlroy and Harris English). DeChambeau was able to overpower a course that many did not think could be overpowered. Using V1 Game’s advanced analysis, we can see that he averaged over 300 yards per drive every round of the U.S. Open.

There are really three areas that impact driving performance. In order of importance they are:

  • Minimizing mistakes: Do not drive into penalty or recovery situations
  • Distance: Getting closer to the hole for the next shot
  • Accuracy: Getting a better lie

While the driving performance plot from the new V1 Game Virtual Coach shows that DeChambeau was certainly long and accurate enough, the Mistakes view gives an idea of where he gave strokes away. His number of mistakes would be high for a typical week on the PGA Tour, but they are exceptional for a U.S. Open. DeChambeau did not take a single penalty, only four times did he drive into a recovery situation, and in each of those he was still able to advance the ball more than 75 yards. Therefore, DeChambeau did very well in V1 Game’s three keys to driving. He did have three three-putts on the week, but so did much of the field.

Overall, DeChambeau putted well, finishing 18th in the field for Strokes Gained Putting. He gained strokes putting in every round except for the third. Using the V1 Game Post Round Summary for the third round, we can see that he lost strokes because of two three-putts and two short misses inside six ft. His three putts were from 30-50 feet, which is not unexpected on the difficult greens at Winged Foot, but the easy-to-digest output guides DeChambeau on where he needs to focus his putting practice.

Adding it all up, where DeChambeau really won the tournament was on the ninth hole. In the final round, he sank a 38-foot putt for an eagle at a critical time when Matthew Wolff had roughly 10 feet for the same. While Wolff also sank his eagle putt, DeChambeau’s putt had to be deflating as he maintained his one-stroke advantage and momentum going into the back nine, where Wolff finally faded. DeChambeau eagled the hole twice on the week, accounting for two of his 15 under-par holes. Only 16 other players had an eagle in the tournament and no other player had two or more. When under par holes are at such a premium, eagles go that much further. DeChambeau succeeded with long drives and accurate irons.

DeChambeau was already a good young player before he bulked up, but he may be a great player now. In addition to his prodigious distance, his short game and putting are improving. His ability to scramble throughout the U.S. Open was critical to maintain momentum and keep blemishes off his card. U.S. Opens are often just as much about avoiding bogey as they are making par and DeChambeau did just that by minimizing damage and making nothing worse than bogey. A truly impressive performance by one of the game’s hardest-working tour pros.

DeChambeau did not just stumble into better golf. He accomplished it by setting goals, measuring progress, and looking at data. If you are ready to put in work on your game, V1 Game has all the tools to help you do the same. Actionable data and measurable results. Let V1 Game’s all-new Virtual Coach and Virtual Caddie help you bomb it like Bryson.

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On Spec

On Spec: Bryson Wins U.S. Open & playing with hickory shafted clubs

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How could we not talk about Bryson winning the US Open and being the only player to finish under par at Winged Foot?

In contrast to Bryson’s take on the modern game, our host Ryan Barath recently had the opportunity to play golf with hickory clubs for the first time and tells the story.

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Opinion & Analysis

Dear announcers: Stop saying “topspin”

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If there is one thing that grinds my gears, it’s when television announcers at the highest level in golf, with the largest audiences, get things so terribly wrong about the physics of the game. It may seem like a small issue, but the problem is these pieces of false information get into the minds of golfers, which then continues to perpetuate misinformation around the game, club fitting, and what actually happens when a golf ball is in motion.

The most recent account was during the first round of the U.S. Open when after a shot was hit from the rough and took off low with very little spin a not-to-be-named announcer said something along the lines of

“That really took off with some topspin, look at it roll out” 

This, from a physics perspective, is impossible. So I did what many commentators of the game do, I took to Twitter (@RDSBarath) to state my displeasure for the comment and share the truth about what really happens when a golf club strikes a ball.

The truth

Now that we have pointed out the falsehood, let’s help you better understand what’s really going on. In the golf vernacular, there are a number of ways spin is improperly described, with the two most common being; “sidespin” and “topspin.”

What is sidespin

Spin Axis – Trackman Golf

Sidespin is a commonly used incorrect way to describe the spin axis of a golf ball as it travels through the air. Rather than try and define it myself I will refer to the experts at Trackman to help me explain what’s really going on.

“Spin Axis is the tilt angle relative to the horizon of the golf ball’s resulting rotational axis immediately after separation from the club face (post impact).”

“The spin axis can be associated to the wings of an airplane. If the wings of an airplane are parallel to the ground, this would represent a zero spin axis and the plane would fly straight. If the wings were banked/tilted to the left (right wing higher than left wing), this would represent a negative spin axis and the plane would bank/curve to the left. And the opposite holds true if the wings are banked/tilted to the right.”

To better understand just how important spin axis is it to hitting shots that land close to your intended target check out the video below which demonstrates both spin axis and launch direction.

The falsehoods of “topspin”

As mentioned off the top, no pun intended, any shot struck under normal circumstances will not have topspin. The only scenario where is it possible is when a shot is topped into the ground with the leading edge or sole of the club above the equator of the ball.

The idea of topspin originates in paddle sports like tennis and ping pong where is it entirely possible to hit a low flying topspinning shot that hits their respective courts or tables and proceed to almost pick up speed.

The difference between a racket/paddle and a golf club, is a golf club delivers loft at impact, and the center of gravity is away from the contact point of the face. A golf ball even when hit in extremely low friction will still leave the clubface after impact with some amount of backspin, even on a putt.

The below video shows a putt starting to roll forward almost immediately, but what is really happening is the ball is struck under almost perfect putting launch conditions will very low backspin (but still measurable), friction from the ground resists the movement of the ball and the ball goes from skidding to forward roll very quickly.

In the case of the announcer who misspoke, it would have been much more beneficial to the viewer to have explained the shot like

“based on the lie and circumstances of the impact that shot came out a lot lower than it normally would with very little spin, and ran out more than usual” 

It’s a major change to the original statement and accurately describes what actually happened when the ball was hit from U.S. Open rough.

Remember, just because it was said on TV by a former professional golfer doesn’t make it true.

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