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Opinion & Analysis

Slow play is all about the numbers

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If you gather round, children, I’ll let you in on a secret: slow play is all about the numbers. Which numbers? The competitive ones. If you compete at golf, no matter the level, you care about the numbers you post for a hole, a round, or an entire tournament. Those numbers cause you to care about the prize at the end of the competition, be it a handshake, $$$$, a trophy, or some other bauble. Multiply the amount that you care, times the number of golfers in your group, your flight, the tournament, and the slowness of golf increases by that exponent.

That’s it. You don’t have to read any farther to understand the premise of this opinion piece. If you continue, though, I promise to share a nice anecdotal story about a round of golf I played recently—a round of golf on a packed golf course, that took a twosome exactly three hours and 10 minutes to complete, holing all putts.

I teach and coach at a Buffalo-area high school. One of my former golfers, in town for a few August days, asked if we could play the Grover Cleveland Golf Course while he was about. Grover is a special place for me: I grew up sneaking on during the 1970s. It hosted the 1912 U.S. Open when it was the Country Club of Buffalo. I returned to play it with Tom Coyne this spring, becoming a member of #CitizensOfACCA in the process.

Since my former golfer’s name is Alex, we’ll call him Alex, to avoid confusion. Alex and I teed off at 1:30 on a busy, sunny Wednesday afternoon in August. Ahead of us were a few foursomes; behind us, a few more. There may have been money games in either place, or Directors’ Cup matches, but to us, it was no matter. We teed it high and let it fly. I caught up on Alex’ four years in college, and his plans for the upcoming year. I shared with him the comings and goings of life at school, which teachers had left since his graduation, and how many classrooms had new occupants. It was barroom stuff, picnic-table conversation, water-cooler gossip. Nothing of dense matter nor substance, but pertinent and enjoyable, all the same.

To the golf. Neither one of us looked at the other for permission to hit. Whoever was away, at any given moment, mattered not a bit. He hit and I hit, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes within an instant of the other. We reached the putting surface and we putted. Same pattern, same patter. Since my high school golfers will need to choose flagstick in or out this year, we putted with it in. Only once did it impact our roll: a pounded putt’s pace was slowed by the metal shaft. Score one for Bryson and the flagstick-in premise!

Grover tips out around 5,600 yards. After the U.S. Open and the US Public Links were contested there, a healthy portion of land was given away to the Veteran’s Administration, and sorely-needed hospital was constructed at the confluence of Bailey, Lebrun, and Winspear Avenues. It’s an interesting track, as it now and forever is the only course to have hosted both the Open and the Publinx; since the latter no longer exists, this fact won’t change. It remains the only course to have played a par-6 hole in U.S. Open competition. 480 of those 620 yards still remain, the eighth hole along Bailey Avenue. It’s not a long course, it doesn’t have unmanageable water hazards (unless it rains a lot, and the blocked aquifer backs up) and the bunkering is not, in the least, intimidating.

Here’s the rub: Alex and I both shot 75 or better. We’re not certain what we shot, because we weren’t concerned with score. We were out for a day of reminiscence, camaraderie, and recreation. We golfed our balls, as they say in some environs, for the sheer delight of golfing our balls. Alex is tall, and hits this beautiful, high draw that scrapes the belly of the clouds. I hit what my golfing buddies call a power push. It gets out there a surprising distance, but in no way mimics Alex’ trace. We have the entire course covered, from left to right and back again.

On the 14th tee, I checked my phone and it was 3:40. I commented, “Holy smokes, we are at two hours for 13 holes.” We neither quickened nor slowed our pace. We tapped in on 18, right around 4:40, and shook hands. I know what he’s been up to. He understands why I still have a day job, and 18 holes of golf were played—because we both cared and didn’t care.

There you have it, children. Off with you, now. To the golf course. Play like you don’t care.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jeff Kinney

    Aug 19, 2019 at 9:55 am

    After reading this, I’m not sure what numbers you’re referring to. I doubt you would have finished in 3:10 if the course was 7,000 yards. It’s pretty simple arithmetic to me, but you didn’t really spell it out, only that you and your buddy kept moving.
    My take, play the proper tees. For me, 6800 yards is plenty, and 6400 yards is probably better. If only one foursome plays the wrong tees, it throws the pace of play off for the entire course.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:24 am

      Even if we jump it up to 4 hours from 7K yards, that’s the point you’ve made for me. It’s all about moving. Your other points are salient as well, but we can’t have golf police enforcing where people play from. That’s apocalyptic. As long as humans have pride that develops into hubris, we will have slow play.

  2. Roger S

    Aug 18, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Another commenter had it right – unless the group in front of them did their job, this wasn’t possible. Either that, or they had a five hole head start on your twosome.
    My experience is that slow play is rarely about our pace (I think we intuitively know to keep up with the group ahead of us), it’s more about those in front of us.
    It’s usually very apparent when you get a view of the 2 or 3 holes ahead of you, and one (or more) are vacant that your goal of a 4 hour round is in jeopardy. Now it’s time for the Ranger to get the train back on the track.

  3. Bruce

    Aug 18, 2019 at 9:59 am

    A mid 70’s golfer is a great player, better than 95+ percent of golfers, and ready to play fast. Unfortunately, the rest of us need to think about shots, club selection, and our swing which takes time. A 4 hour round is fine, but pushing for time ALWAYS COSTS ME POOR SHOTS AND MORE TIME. Everyone is a beginner at some time: pushing fast play frustrates the less skilled players and will push people away from the game. Even extreme speed golfers need the slower players to fund the courses and equipment companies. Pushing speed is hurting the game.

    • Fast Player

      Aug 18, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      So What? So that’s your excuse to play slowly? Didn’t your parents teach you morals, such as it’s impolite and selfish to impose on others? Sounds to me like you had poor parents.

    • Rascal

      Aug 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      If you are at least a 100s shooter or better, or in other words you are familiar with being on a golf course, there is no excuse for taking excessive time due to the things you’ve mentioned.
      The time to work those things out is at the practice tee where you can take as much time as you’d like.
      On the course, you reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the game you’ve brought that day. That’s golf.
      Remember that you can always pick up and move on if a hole becomes unsalvageable.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:28 am

      I think you’re incorrect, Bruce. It’s the thinking about things that slows you down. I will say that the great players do not understand the average and bad players who have no desire to consciously improve. A 120-shooter can improve 20 strokes within 2 weeks, by learning about the short game (2 lessons) and practicing diligently (6 trips to short-game green for practice.) The 150-shooter can do something similar with a 5-lesson series over 3 weeks, and 5 practice sessions. People are busy, and don’t have time/money/desire/both/all three to effect these changes. As a result, they try to make adjustments on course, not having any sense on whether they are warranted or helpful. Their continued frustration pains me.

  4. Charlie

    Aug 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

    I am Starter at my local GC 7-11AM. Every Saturday 3 brothers are 1st off the tee at 7AM. They always play a mulligan off #1 and they always finish 18 holes in 2 1/2 – 2:45. By 11AM rounds of 18 holes are taking 4 1/2 hours+ despite the best efforts of our marshal. Scramble golf tournaments go 5 hours+. If I did not play for free I would not play at all.

  5. Greg V

    Aug 18, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Tom Coyne – name dropper! Actually, I enjoyed both the Ireland and Scotland books, so well done.

    What a lovely way to play. And CCB West is also one of my favorites for fun round on an historic course.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Ha ha! I’ve not heard it called that before, Greg. And you know me, and you know that dropping names is something I rarely do … but when I do it, I go all in!!

  6. JP

    Aug 17, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    Bryson is still a twit. He should read this stuff and change his ways.

  7. Brandon Bolt

    Aug 17, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Ready golf is the key. The who is away bs really slows the game down. Leave that to the pros. Just finished a 5 hour round that was so painful. Pace of play is the biggest negative force impacting the game today.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:33 am

      Brandon, you’ve got it. We are not the entertainers. If golfers say “I have my best conversations of the week on the course. I don’t want it to end,” well, hang out on the terrace for an hour and some apps, after you finish. The conversation doesn’t have to end. 4 hours plus 1 hour is still the same 5 hours. I didn’t want to use the cliched term “Ready Golf,” but that is precisely what we did. And we re-hit many a putt, or chip, for practice or understanding. We just kept hitting.

      The point about preoccupation with numbers has been totally lost here. Why does bad golfer take so many swings? Trying to post a score! Why does great golfer read putts from 20 angles? Trying to post a score. Why does average golfer check the wind/alignment/topography 6 times? Trying to post a score. Not every round needs to be recorded for posterity.

  8. Roy

    Aug 17, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    You played fast and based it on your not caring attitude, but the on.y reason you finished in 3:10 was because the group in front of you played at about that pace. What was their attitude – were they playing for $$ or nothing, caring or not caring. Good read, but does not support your thesis.

    • Greg V

      Aug 18, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      got a good feeling that Ron and Alex went through a couple of groups – as they should have. They were playing fast. At Grover, slower groups usually let a fast 2-some through. Everyone knows the score. Or, at least most, in my experience.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:37 am

      Roy…reread what you posted. IF the group in front plays quickly, all it does is afford us the opportunity to play quickly. It was our responsibility to accept that mantle and do it justice … and we did. I don’t know what their attitude was, but I predict it had nothing to do with money nor score.

      If golfers get juiced by playing for cash, and their play slows down as a result, they are selfish. Can you disagree? They are not thinking about the greater good. They are thinking about taking money from their friends. That is such an odd point of satisfaction. I’m going to wreck a friendship, or have one wrecked, AND I’m going to hold other people up, exponentially. By doing so, I’m going to ruin their rounds as well.

  9. BobbyC777

    Aug 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    I’d give those 4somes in front of you a lot of credit for doing their part!

  10. Lawrence Rogan

    Aug 17, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Good read. I have just a few golf buds and we enjoy our rounds the same way.
    Play when your ready. If someone else is taking an extra few seconds let them take their time. Leaving the flag stick in has helped speed things. Putt when ready. When 3 or 4 of us play we always finish under 4 hrs. As a twosome around 3 hrs. No anger, no splitting of hairs whose away. Just enjoy your friends and the day outside.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 20, 2019 at 8:40 am

      Lawrence,

      Then you read what some of the other comments reveal, and all you can do is smile. You know those guys, you’ve watched them hang their reputations, their interpersonal relations for the next 48 hours, their budgets, on the outcome of their golf game. In order for them to win money, they need to be on, and their opponent(s), off. What a small chance at victory.

      I did pass through the score-matters stage, so I understand where they are in the arc of golf development. Hopefully, they will have the same epiphany as I, and will not concern themselves any longer with scores that will be forgotten by sundown.

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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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Bogey Golf

Bogey Golf: Can a club fitting get you to hit longer drives?

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Larry D interviews a club fitter and talks about his first club fitting. They go into detail about how the process can improve your game, even for higher handicap golfers.

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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The 19th Hole: Rory or Brooks?

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Host Michael Williams breaks down the Player of the year controversy in a must-listen open, and we give you a perfect destination for Fall Golf! Guests include acclaimed golf writer Adam Schupak and Giants Ridge Director of golf John Kendall.

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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