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Opinion & Analysis

Is this the U.S. Open for Mickelson?

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Phil Mickelson has made no secret of his desire to win the U.S. Open. But much to Lefty’s frustration, the tournament has yet to deliver anything but a bunch of missed opportunities.

Mickelson has won four majors, but none of them have been the U.S. Open — a tournament where he’s finished runner-up a baffling five times.

His failures have seen him criticize himself — “I’m such an idiot,” he said after making a double bogey on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot to lose the tournament by a shot — as well as the set up and difficulty of the tournament’s host courses.

However, after playing two practice rounds last week at Merion Golf Club’s East Course, the venue for this week’s U.S. Open, Mickelson called the course the best Open set up that he’d seen.

At 42 years old, maybe Phil is becoming a bit wiser about how he takes on a U.S. Open. Whether he likes a course or not, it can’t hurt for him to be positive about the places where he’ll try and make history. And if Mickelson genuinely does like the U.S. Open setup, it’s even more good news for him. He played well last weekend at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, where he finished tied for second using a Callaway 3Deep 3 wood off most of the tees for extra control.

Despite the shorter, higher-lofted club, Mickelson still managed to finish tied for 11th in driving distance at 314.4 yards. In very non-Mickelson fashion, he also finished tied for 33rd in driving accuracy. The combined distance and accuracy of his 3 wood could be a huge advantage for him at Merion, where the tight fairways and long rough will take driver out of the equation for most players on all but a handful of holes.

The rest of Mickelson’s 2013 season has been solid as well, with four top-10s that included a wire-to-wire win at February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open where he shot a course-record 60 in Round 1 and finished with a 28-under total.

So will Merion provide Mickelson with his first U.S. Open victory? The 6,996-yard layout is shorter than previous U.S. Opens, which is often bad for long hitters like Mickelson. But Merion’s lack of length could actually be a good thing for Lefty, at least according to the stats.

He’s ranked first in birdie average on Tour, first in birdies on par 3s and first in birdie or better conversions. Maybe more important is that Mickelson is is putting well, ranking eighth in the PGA Tour’s strokes-gained putting stat.

It all boils down to this — if Mickelson can stay clear of the the rough and find a hot putter, then there’s no reason he can’t collect his first U.S. Open trophy this week.

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Troy Vayanos was born and still resides in Brisbane, Australia. He has been a passionate golfer for more than 25 years and loves learning and increasing his knowledge of the golf swing. He lives and breathes golf from his local golf course to the professional tours around the world. His website Hitting It Solid delivers the latest golf instruction that helps you break 100 and beyond. You’ll also learn the 7 critical steps you must know to play better golf today.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yes Uhgolfguy1, Phil has made a solid start in this year’s event. Long way to go yet but at least he’s heading in the right direction.

    I think the Titleist 5 wood is going to get a good workout at Merion.

  2. uhgolfguy1

    Jun 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Phil is rocking a Titleist 980f (5 wood?) in round 1

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    True Daniel,

    I think though with the 2013 US Open more so than many others the length of the course is a big issue. It’s much shorter than traditional venues which is why it’s become very topical.

    Normally US Opens are hosted at much longer courses and it not only requires accuracy but length of the tee as well. Merion is a very different set up than normal.

    Cheers

  4. Daniel

    Jun 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    “If he can find the fairways and get hot with the putter, he’s got a great chance.”

    I’ve just read that line in about 4 different articles about this tournament. Don’t you think that applies to about about half the field in any US Open. I’m not trying to knock this writer in particular, but that quote is the biggest cliche every year at the US Open

  5. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Very true Cody,

    I’m expecting him to hit irons or hybrids off most of the tees. If he does this and finds the fairways he has a real shot at it.

  6. cody

    Jun 10, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Phil is a guy that can go low or blow up. I am looking for him to play well. It is that one or two terrible holes a round that kill him.

  7. BigVinny

    Jun 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    if he leaves the driver out of the bag, maybe.
    his swing under pressure doesn’t hold up, no different to Norman.

  8. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I agree Ben, hopefully using the shorter clubs off the tee will help improve his accuracy. If he does this, look out!

  9. Ben

    Jun 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    He HAS to hit the fairways. Plain and simple.

  10. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Yes it doesn’t surprise me James, he’s long enough off the tee to hit irons. Whatever it takes to find the fairway in a US Open is a must.

  11. James

    Jun 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Also noticed Phil actually using irons off of some of the tees in Memphis too.

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Phoenix Open: Betting Picks & Selections

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There couldn’t be more of a contrast from the evil of Pebble Beach last week to the raucous party that will take place in Scottsdale this week.

From a depleted field to one that contains 18 of the world’s top 20 players, there is no doubt that the 2023 elevated events are attracting the biggest names in the game. Combine that with Superbowl weekend, a stadium course and one of the biggest crowds outside of the majors, and this will be one to watch all weekend.

Played for the last 36 years at Scottsdale, the course offers a mix of risk-and-reward holes as well as severe penalties for those that hit it wild. Witness the 17th, or 71st, hole over the last two runnings.

In contention, both Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele hooked their aggressive approaches into the greenside lake, handing the title to Brooks Koepka, whilst last year debutant Sahith Theegala found that luck was not with him, his tee-shot perfectly on line but finding a hard bounce, long roll, and a place next to those of the far more experienced duo.

Whilst the course offers it’s rewards, first-timers are far more likely to be put off by the enthusiastic, if slightly drunk, crowd, perhaps demonstrating why the list of recent winners includes major winners and contenders.

It’s always tough opting between the classier players at the top of the market, but world number five Patrick Cantlay makes most appeal at anything over 14/a and should be backed as such.

Understandably, there is plenty of repeat course form here, so it is testament to the 30-year-old’s class, that he contended a play-off here on debut last year.

There are few secrets from the elite of the golfing world and, like most, with Cantlay we get a solid bank of high-level form, highlighted by his efforts at the Shriners and Memorial tournaments, both included in a select group of comp courses.

It’s quite simple with Pat. At Summerlin he has recorded finishes of 1/2/2/8/2 whilst at Muirfield we get a pair of victories, third, fourth and seventh in just seven starts. I love this as a guide, particularly when looking at his numbers.

At both course, Cantlay ranks an average of around 11th off-the-tee, 22nd for approaches and 11th for tee-to-green. In last season’s play-off loss, he ranked 13th OTT, 27th SGA and 10th T2G – spot anything?

Cantlay often needs a run or two so I’m not worried about the opening 16th at the Tournament of Champions, and the 26th place at the American Express can possibly be upgraded a touch – 14th at halfway and fought back from a poor third round and 49th place – and he arrives at what looks a perfect course.

If most of the top lot are easy to read, I’m still not sure that we have reached anything like the ceiling for Tom Kim.

It’s tough to add anything new to this potential superstar other than most golf fans were waiting to see how he reacted to a stellar first full year on tour – it certainly isn’t disappointing!

17th on ‘debut’ at the Byron Nelson, the 20-year-old has done nothing but improve, and now ranks inside the top-15 thanks to victories at the Wyndham and Shriners championships, both with huge form links to the Pheonix Open, courtesy mainly to Webb Simpson and Cantlay.

If Kim was going to fall away he may have started at the seasonal opener where his lack of length would have been exposed. However, a fifth place secured his name in the minds of most for the rest of the year, enhanced by a sixth place at the American Express where a ranking of 16th in approaches was his worst for some time, the vast majority being inside the top-10.

Tom absolutely relished the party environment of the Presidents Cup and will no doubt do the same here on debut, another factor hardly worrying given his first-time efforts last year. It was close between he and compatriot Sungjae Im, but despite the latter’s course experience, there is a win factor element that gives the younger man the hard edge.

Mentioned already, Sahith Theegala is another name that should pay to follow for this year and beyond.

Once again, his profile is hardly secretive, and even if he has just that ‘unofficial’ pairs win to his name, could quite easily be sitting aside Tom Kim with two individual titles.

It’s almost impossible to ignore what the 25-year-old did on debut here last year, when even ‘star-struck’ playing with Koepka and Xander, he managed to find himself tied for the lead on payday Sunday.

However, in came the troublesome 17th, and whilst his tee shot took an awful bounce and careered his ball into the water, the highly-decorated Pepperdine graduate, came out of the event with a much higher profile and a fan club much bigger than the 100-or-so family and friends that surrounded him afterwards.

Previously, Theegala had led at the Sanderson Farms before proving a touch naive, whilst he also tried a miracle bunker shot when in contention at the last hole of the Travelers, something that caused a double-bogey and a two-shot defeat.

Add a top five at Muirfield to his collection of high finishes – an event he called ‘major tough’ – and we have a player that, like Kim, is progressing fast.

A pair of runner-finishes, third and four other top-10s have led to a place inside the top-40 of the world rankings and he has progressed from his opening two events of 2023 to finish tied-fourth at Torrey Pines, one of the classic ball-striking courses.

Ranking fourth for iron play and tee-to-green last time suggests he can attack these pins with relish, something he can build on after the usual quality driving, whilst an overall rating of 14th for greens-in-regulation over the past three months will give the opportunity for aggressive putting, something he showed in that victory alongside Tom Hoge.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Over in Singapore, the DP World Tour join the Asian Tour at ‘The Beast’, a 7400-yard course with huge undulations, and water hazards to catch out the more enthusiastic of drivers.

With little, in fact nothing, to go on for European Tour students, ante-post stakes will be lower than usual and punters, like the players, will surely learn a lot as we go through halfway.  This could be a great event for betting in-running – keep eyes peeled on the Bet Victor golf page.

It’s churlish to criticise Ryan Fox for not exploiting an opening top five last week, but after a first round 67, Ras did look open for a Fox saunter across a course that was certainly tighter than we had seen before, but had enough links-like characteristics to be right up his street.

11th is a strong finish, but at around 18/1 I need more, as I do if taking a couple of points less about favourite Robert MacIntyre.

Instead, start the card with the consistent Adrian Otaegui, who may not have the latent power of the other pair but has a guile to his game that might be a sneaky factor around a course that looks like it needs careful handling.

Winner of two match-play scenarios, he proved he could win a standard stroke-play with a win in poor conditions in Scotland, before showing the highest level of skill last October.

Coming off the LIV Golf bench, the 30-year-old (it’s that age again, the supposed peak of a golfer) won around Valderrama in record score and by a record-equalling margin of six shots, putting up figures rarely seen around what is a tough track.

It would have been almost impossible to recreate those numbers week-in week-out, but he hasn’t let his iron play slip, ranking an average of 10th for eight of his last nine outings – I’ll ignore Dubai as it was such an anomaly.

Add that to a set of scrambling stats that have the Spaniard inside the top 14 for 11 recent starts and a top-five rating for accuracy off the tee and we have a player that offers far more than hit-it-and-find-it. If this is a high scoring event, Otaegui’s placing could be valuable.

Back the four-time winner up with two maidens.

Matt Jordan has always been on the radar, particularly in links conditions, and he’s the potential value from the bigger hitters.

A pair of top-fives in Himmerland reads well, even if he should have finished better after a third round 62, whilst efforts in Foshan, Qatar and Portugal hint to being suited by this test, the middle of those the scene of a final round collapse after making his way to the front in difficult conditions once again.

The 27-year-old relishes a grind, something he’ll find over the next few days, but he makes the plan due to an upturn in putting form, something that was his nemesis over the last couple of seasons.

The trio of events since the start of the year have seen the Englishman steadily improve on the greens, finding half-a-shot, three-quarters and now over three shots on the field through Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras. Laguna National might have elements of all the places Jordan thrives, and I’ll take that chance.

Over to another Matt to complete the plan, this time Frenchman Matthieu Pavon. 

Taking a look at the 30-year-old’s best form, he was third at the links-dominated Scottish Open in 2017, runner-up alongside Lucas Bjerregaard to Thomas Pieters in Portugal, and split Jon Rahm and Min Woo Lee in Spain.

Top that with a runner-up in Mauritius, and a fifth place at the same place in 2017, both amongst big-hitters, as well as a silver medal at Foshan, and the two-time Alps Tour winner builds up a profile that should relish a test like Laguna National’s toughest track.

Over three months Pavon ranks in seventh place for total driving and top-40 for greens-in-regulation, figures he improved on last week at Ras Al Khaimah, when second in approaches, fifth tee-to-green and top-20 in greens. Take that onto Singapore and it doesn’t take that much to believe he is slightly overpriced in what looks a winnable event.

Recommended Bets:

Phoenix Open

  • Patrick Cantlay – 18/1 WIN
  • Tom Kim – 22/1 WIN
  • Sahith Theegala – 45/1 Each-way

Singapore Classic

  • Adrian Otaegui  25/1 Each-way
  • Matt Jordan 45/1 Each-way
  • Matthieu Pavon 60/1 Each-way
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Opinion & Analysis

Junior golf development 101

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So here’s a best guess: At 7-years-old, in the United States, there are about 200 junior boy golfers “trying.” That is, they are taking lessons, going to tournaments, and doing some sort of practice. In my estimation, this number doubles every year until high school. This means that at 13 there are 12,800 players trying. It also means that each and every year, it gets almost twice as tough to win. This of course continued until about 400 of these players go on to play NCAA Division 1 golf and another 1,000 or so go on to play NCAA D2, D3, NAIA, or club golf.

So why is this important? Because between 7-13 years old kids are gonna change A LOT. In particular, kids who start early and have some success are going to face infinitely better competition in three years. Likewise, students who start at 12 are going to lack experience playing competitive golf. This includes traveling, charting courses, and maybe playing in different conditions.

The difficulty with golf is that to become a college athlete the data suggest that by the end of freshman year in high school you should be able to shot about 78. Below are the scoring differentials (basically, handicaps) of players who, according to best guess are on pace to play college golf:

So what is a kid or parent to do? I would focus on the player developing at least six shots. They are:

  • go-to shot off the tee
  • stock iron shot
  • low iron shot
  • low spinning chip
  • flopper
  • bump and run

I would challenge them with games:

  • round with just even irons or odd
  • draw back; every time they miss a putt on the course, they draw the putt away from the hole a putter length
  • play the red tees and try to shoot as low as possible

The secret sauce for kids is to have the desire and internal motivation to continue to learn and grow. Kids that love golf and have a future will not only have some scoring success but will have a deep passion and interest for the game. They will spend countless hours honing different shots and trajectories, all while avoiding the dangers of adolescence (which, of course, is the real goal of youth sports).

The reality is that success, particularly in junior golf, has a ton to do with things people don’t consider. This includes when puberty happens, who your children play with at the club (other competitive players?), how much they want to compete and access to their club.

In fact, in all cases, your kid would be better off at the goat ranch down the road, without a range, with three kids of the same skill level than alone on his fancy range pounding perfect range balls.

Let that sink in.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work?

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Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.

That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?

Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:

  • Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
  • A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
  • And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
  • On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).

So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:

  • The distribution of mass around the clubhead
  • The shaft characteristics
  • The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.

We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.

That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.

Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)

The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.

Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.

Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, the clubhead.

Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.

All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.

So, why not wedges?]

This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”

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