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Opinion & Analysis

Brian Gay and the search for power

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Last year, Brian Gay changed swing instructors. At the time, I imagined that he likely had some concerns about his shrinking distance off the tee and his clubhead speed getting slower. This drew some question marks from some people close to Brian since he had such a successful period from 2008-2010 with an instructor he started working with in 2007. In fact Gay’s caddy, Kip Henley, tweeted how he had some doubts about the switch this past fall until Gay had a successful Fall Series.

While roughly 1 to 2 mph of clubhead speed may not seem like much, it is a big deal on Tour. The historical data of players losing and gaining clubhead speed shows this. My guess is that part of it is an indicator of swing mechanics and the other part is that it will require the golfer to hit more club on their approach shots.

Let’s look at Gay’s clubhead speed over the past few years:

1

The shorter a golfer hits the ball on Tour, particularly if it’s mostly due to a lack of clubhead speed, the better they will have putt in order to be successful. I believe that this is mostly due to the fact that shorter hitters, particularly with lower clubhead speed, cannot go for par 5’s in two shots nearly as often as longer hitters. Thus, they are likely to have longer birdie putts on the par-5’s and in order to make more birdies, so they will have to do a better job putting to compete. That’s why all of the great players that were short off the tee were usually good putters. That does not take away from their pure ball striking, but the lack of distance in players like Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson or Brian Gay requires that they make up for it with the flat stick.

Where I believe Gay had good reason to be concerned about his lower clubhead speed is the lack of success on Tour of players whose clubhead speed was under 104 mph over the past few years. Here is a list of all of the players that finished under 104 mph of clubhead speed from 2007 to 2012 and their ranking on the Money List:

2

Obviously, Pavin played in select events. But, other than Gay, no player with under 104 mph of clubhead speed fared well on Tour.

For Gay, the lack of clubhead speed was taking a toll on the two most important ballstriking metrics on Tour, what I call Driving Effectiveness and Danger Zone play (shots from 175-225 yards). Here’s a look at those metrics for Gay over the years.

3

So, Gay ended up looking for new instruction with a focus on improving clubhead speed and distance off the tee. But, the learning curve hurt his ball striking.

5

As I wrote in my e-book 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis, Gay was able to accomplish his main goals of improving distance and clubhead speed. While it hurt his ballstriking in 2012, he was able to survive that season by finishing 103rd on the Money List.

It is something that so many amateur golfers face. Working on their swing and dealing with the short term negative effects for the potentially bigger reward down the road. Gay was able to stick it out despite the naysayers thinking he made a big mistake. And now, with his win at the Humana Challenge, he is the one getting the last laugh.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

 

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Richie Hunt

    Jan 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Glad to hear, Robert. If you have any questions on it, just shoot me an e-mail.

  2. Robert Hebert

    Jan 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I purchased 2012 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf.

    Thanks to Richie and to Mark Broadie, I am changing my equipment, and focusing my practice on driving and fairway woods.

  3. Richie Hunt

    Jan 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Long hitters do NOT dominate the Tour. Long hitters who have good amount of consistency off the tee, who can hit long approach shots close to the hole and are not the worst putters tend to do best on Tour.

    I think it is fairly obvious, the shorter you hit it the more fairways you need to find. I think what is not so obvious is the shorter a golfer hits it, the better they have to putt to be successful on Tour.

    Power is a nice advantage to have, but I think there is a big fallacy in thinking that bomb-n-gouge players automatically play well on Tour. If that was the case, Martin Flores would be a top-10 player in the world.

    • Brian Cass

      Jan 22, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Agree…same with Jonathan Vegas. Hits it 9 miles but you don’t see him dominating. So easy to ordain these guys after 1 win. Wasn’t Harris English supposed to dominate? Extremely hard to dominate over the best golfers in the world. I’ll take slightly below avg PGA Tour distance and better all around game (LUKE DONALD).

  4. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Nice post Rich,

    It’s interesting reading about domination of the longer hitters on tour. I think most people believe distance is an advantage and stats like this back it up.

    I’ve always been fortunate enough to get plenty of power off the tee. However, that won’t last forever and when the time comes my short game is going to have to improve.

    I’m pleased with Brian Gay who stuck it out and came out on top at the other end. Many another player would have quit and gone back to their old ways. It just shows the importance of distance off the tee!

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

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There is a sense that this is the week where the 2018 PGA Tour season truly gets underway. An iconic golf course playing host to a world class field, which includes none other than Tiger Woods. Last year, Jon Rahm won the event in sparkling fashion, draining a monster eagle putt on the 18th green to take the title by three strokes at 13-under par.

With a top field usually on show here, it’s no surprise that the role of honor list is so impressive. Besides Tiger Woods having won the event a remarkable seven times, the likes of Snedeker (twice), Jason Day and Bubba Watson have all won here in recent years — the only surprise victor in the past seven editions being Scott Stallings in 2014. With this being his first event of 2018, Tiger will grab the headlines no matter what happens, and I think every golf fan will be fascinated to see how the 14-time major winner will perform on a course he dearly loves.

The event is played over two courses on the opening two days, Torrey Pines (South) and Torrey Pines (North) before switching to the South Course for the final two days. The South Course is a real test, measuring more than 7,500 yards and usually with thick rough. The shorter North Course offers up the best opportunity for scoring, which adds pressure to each player’s solo trip here during the week. There is even a difference on the greens, as the South Course uses Poa Annua while the North Course has Bentgrass.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jon Rahm 8/1
  • Rickie Fowler 12/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 14/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Jason Day 18/1
  • Tiger Woods 22/1
  • Marc Leishman 22/1

On such a long golf course such as the South Course here at Torrey Pines, there is no doubt that length off the tee is important. But the ability to find the fairway is equally so. It was a surprise that up until last year Justin Rose (16/1, DK Price $10,600 ) had never displayed his best golf at Torrey Pines, but a T4 in 2017 shows that at long last he may have finally figured out the course.

The usually reliable Rose ranks sixth in this field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds and third in Strokes Gained Total. With limited birdie opportunities available, certainly on the South Course, I expect Par-5 scoring to be crucial this week… and Justin is a player with the ability to eat up Par 5’s. He sits fourth in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s in this field over his last 24 rounds. Performance on Par 4’s in the range of 450-500 yards should also prove vital with both courses containing five holes each in this range. Rose is 15th in Efficiency on holes of this length and sixth in Strokes Gained on all par 4’s in his last 24 rounds.

Rose made an important birdie on his final hole last Friday to make the cut in Abu-Dhabi, and in doing so seemed to shake off some of the rust in his game over the weekend. The current Olympic Champion shot bogey-free rounds of 67 and 69 over the weekend, giving him good momentum for this week. Rose finished ninth in Driving Distance last week and 10th in Driving Accuracy. If he can replicate that sort of form with the driver, then he should be able to give himself an excellent chance come Sunday afternoon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is an event which Tony Finau (35/1, DK Price $8,700 ) seemingly loves. In three appearances, he’s improved each time with finishes of  T24, T18 and most recently T4. His reliable Tee to Green game is a key factor behind his joy at Torrey Pines. Finau ranks 11th in this field in Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds and ninth in Strokes Gained Approach. On the important 450-500 yard Par-4 range, he sits 13th in Efficiency over the same period. The long hitter also excels on the Par 5’s. In his last 24 rounds, he ranks third in this field for Strokes Gained on Par 5’s. As usual with Finau, the question mark surrounds his putting. But he seems to be a little more comfortable on the greens at Torrey Pines, where he has gained strokes over the field on the greens in all three previous visits here.

If you’re looking for reliability in your DraftKings lineups this week, then it’s hard to look past Charles Howell III (45/1, DK Price $8,300 ). In his last five trips to Torrey Pines, the Augusta native has finishes of T9-T37-T5-T16-T2 with a career Strokes Gained Total of +39 here. DraftKings players using Charles this week will also be glad to know that he has never missed the cut at this event in 15 visits. He scores very well on the key statistics for the week, suggesting another high finish may be in the offing.

Howell III is fourth in this field over his last 24 rounds on Par 4’s between 450-500 yards, while he’s 19th in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s in this same period. He is also trending upward in 2018, finishing T32 at the Sony Open and T20 at CareerBuilder last week. It would hardly be a shock to see Charles post his best finish of 2018 at a site he loves, and if he is ever to win again it would probably be less surprising to see him do it at Torrey Pines than anywhere else.

In terms of value down the board, J.J. Spaun (90/1, DK Price $7,500) jumped out right away at being a little undervalued this week. It seems like Torrey Pines is a good fit for the California native. Last year he finished an impressive T9 on his debut. It also seems like Spaun is hitting the ball better than ever at the moment. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks ninth in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, seventh in Ball Striking, fourth in Approaching the Green and seventh in Strokes Gained Total — excellent statistics that he will be eager to see manifest into positive results soon. Spaun is sixth in Par 4’s ranging between 450-500 yards over his last 24 rounds and is also very competent on Par 5’s, where he sits 21st over the same period. At a price of $7,500there seems to be good value in adding Spaun to your DraftKings line up this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Justin Rose 16/1, DK Price $10,600
  • Tony Finau 35/1, DK Price $8,700
  • Charles Howell III 45/1, DK Price $8,300
  • J.J. Spaun 90/1, DK Price $7,500
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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training

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If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.

Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.

If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.

The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.

Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall

This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!

Med Ball Wall Ball

Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.

Med Ball Sky Chest Throws

This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.

That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.

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Podcasts

GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience

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Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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