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A pair of Japanese stars emerge on the PGA Tour: Which one will shine brighter?



The number of Asian golfers who have played on PGA Tour are few. Of those, the ones who have achieved significant fame are even fewer. With Hideki Matsuyama and Ryo Ishikawa playing concurrent schedules in the U.S., Japan has delivered a pair of young, marketable talents with global appeal. Given the success they’ve had barely into their 20s, it’s natural to speculate on how far can they go and who will go the farthest.

Based on early returns, Matsuyama, 21, is more likely to capitalize on his initial success and could earn his first win on Tour in the 2013-2014 wrap-around season. He began the year ranked No. 128 in the world, but he is now comfortably inside the top 30. Discounting his lone missed cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, Matsuyama’s worst finish on Tour was a tie for 21st at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in early August. His consistently strong play carried over into the majors, especially at The Open Championship, where his late-Sunday charge at eventual winner Phil Mickelson raised everyone’s expectations. It also earned him a spot at the Presidents Cup, where just two years ago Ishikawa was making his second-consecutive appearance.

Ishikawa’s professional career has been following a trajectory that should have led to a third Presidents Cup trip this past season. Golf fans have been hearing a lot about his potential for what seems like a long time. Still just 22 years old, he’s been the acclaimed “can’t-miss kid” since his junior days. Back home, Ishikawa has been compared to Tiger Woods — and Brad Pitt — which should give you some idea of his cultural transcendence.

“He came into the sport young and naïve at a time when Japan’s golf industry was lagging behind the world in popularity,” said Dennis Allen, SVP of global business development at the Back9Network. “The LPGA of Japan was more popular than the Japan Golf Tour. And Koreans were beginning to make themselves known on the global stage. He brought a new personality and energy to the sport in Japan.”


Ishikawa didn’t so much step foot into his fame as barrel into it. He won in his first start on the Japan Golf Tour as a 15-year-old amateur in 2007. The following year, he won another event and became the youngest player to reach the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking. He followed up his success by winning the tour’s order of merit in 2009 and famously carded a 58 to win The Crowns a year later, the lowest round ever recorded on any major tour.

Ishikawa’s best moments, while notable, have occurred almost entirely on home soil. On the PGA Tour, his record has been equal parts hit and miss. Most American golf fans know of him primarily through his appearances in The Masters, which have all come by way of special invitation and have been negatively received by some critics. Ishikawa himself told reporters earlier this year that he was surprised to have gotten a fifth consecutive invite considering his extensive slide in the world ranking. Like his four previous trips to Augusta, Ishikawa was unable to make a compelling argument that he deserved a spot in the field on merit alone. Perhaps it’s a by-product of trying too hard; very few golfers have been under more media scrutiny or have had to single-handedly carry the torch for their country.

That Ishikawa’s star power has diminished at all is probably a welcome respite. Scenes like the one that happened at his PGA Tour debut at Riviera Country Club, where a mob of Japanese reporters overwhelmed the media center and snapped photos of a television showing Ishikawa being interviewed by an American sports network, reveals much about Japan’s insatiable appetite for all things Ryo.

Andy Yamanaka, an official with the Japan Golf Tour, described Ishikawa as being a near singular influence for generating interest in golf.

“Ryo is the complete package,” Yamanaka said in a 2010 interview. “I’m not sure if it was the same situation with Tiger Woods in the U.S. when he was younger, but I’ve never seen anyone like Ryo in terms of his potential as an international athlete.”


Matsuyama, only a year younger than Ishikawa, hasn’t had to deal with the same media obligations or scrutiny by virtue of his more conventional path through the amateur ranks. A collegiate player at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, the golf world first took notice of Matsuyama in 2010 when his victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship earned him an automatic invite to The Masters. He was the first Japanese amateur to compete at Augusta, and he took low-am honors that year. He followed that up by successfully defending his Asia-Pacific crown, but was unable to overtake 20-year-old Patrick Cantlay to repeat as low amateur champion.

Beyond that, there was a spell of almost two years where very little else was reported other than his win at the Japan Collegiate Championship in 2012 or his ascension to the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking — both quality achievements.

But that was then. To say that Matsuyama’s last 10 months have been good would be devastatingly modest.

“His ascent to the top has been meteoric by any standard,” Allen said. “No one saw this coming.”

Within the past year and a half, Matsuyama has vaulted up the rankings, going from 210th in the world to 29th. He also bagged three wins in Japan to go along with his stellar play on the PGA Tour.

For Japanese reporters, Matsuyama was clearly the main draw at the Open where he finished tied for third. Playing 40 minutes apart during the opening round, two-thirds of the Japanese media had left Ishikawa to follow Matsuyama by the time his fellow countryman arrived to the first tee.

“Until last year, there was just one player for Japanese media to cover. Now we have two,” Sonoko Funakoshi, a writer for Jiji press, said in an interview. “Results wise, Matsuyama has performed better [recently] so he is getting more exposure. If the results change, then Ishikawa will receive more attention.”

What the Japanese have, much to their glee, is a pretty darn good rivalry that doesn’t need help in the form of a media pep rally to sell it. Matsuyama, who just turned pro this past year, has been seemingly unfazed by his new-found stardom and the expectations that come with it.

Whether it’s representing his country at the Presidents Cup or having to be paired with Tiger Woods at Firestone, who was making a run at shooting 59, Matsuyama exudes poise. He has a swing that matches his personality — smooth and calm, with a slight pause at the top as if to say, what’s the hurry.

At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Matsuyama can fill out a golf shirt. His broad, athletic physique is consistent with today’s modern golfer, but he’s not a bomber off the tee. By comparison, the straw-thin Ishikawa actually gets a few extra yards off the tee with his lower, more piercing ball flight.

The key to Matsuyama’s game is accuracy, not distance. Put an iron or wedge in his hand and he turns golf into a game of darts. He ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour in approach distance from 50 to 125 yards, and was inside the top 10 in four other distance stats. He also led the Tour in GIR percentage in three separate categories. His game is remarkably similar to that of Henrik Stenson, who like Matsuyama, is an average, but streaky putter and who leans on phenomenal ball striking to set up good scoring chances.

Statistics also tell us that Matsuyama’s a closer. His 68.33 final-round scoring average ranked second on Tour and was two strokes lower than his pre-cut average. As for Ishikawa, his final-round average of 72.25 (71.64 overall) reflected the struggles he went through in his first full season on the PGA Tour.


Ishikawa’s disappointing 2013 season can be summed up this way — expectations, both from Ryo and new equipment sponsor Callaway, were higher.

Shoji Akihisa, vice president of sales and marketing for Callaway’s Japan division, said Ishikawa has had trouble adapting to course conditions in the United States.

“He has struggled mainly with adjusting to different grass surfaces and course layouts and it has affected his short game and putting,” Akihisa said. “It takes time to make those adjustments and there’s a learning curve.”

Ishikawa’s 53.27 percentage in scrambling was 160th on Tour and in another key statistic, strokes gained putting, he ranked even lower. Highlights for the Japanese star were few; he recorded a single top-10 finish in 23 starts and failed to earn enough money to remain fully exempt on Tour.

His detractors are quick to point out that the accolades he’s received in his young career have exceeded the results. It’s also been perceived that Ishikawa, who has been worshipped like a rock star in Japan since his teenage years, is unaccustomed to dealing with hardship.

It’s easy for critics to slap a label based on the results of his scorecards; they don’t see the sweat equity. They don’t see Ishikawa, who bought a home in San Diego in the offseason, grinding at the Ely Callaway Performance Center on his off weeks.

“We have a driving range down there and in indoor putting lab,” said Scott Goryl, senior manager of global communications at Callaway. “It was originally built as an extension of our R&D facility at headquarters. Ryo bought a house nearby and accesses it whenever he likes to practice. Phil Mickelson does this as well. He lives 15 minutes away and he comes in quite a bit to tweak his clubs and try out new products.”

Ishikawa told reporters back in March that “Japanese people are watching me all the time.”

“The biggest thing this year is to keep my Tour card,” he said. “They want me to be a Tour player next year.”

Ishikawa’s demanding 2013 schedule included 24 tournaments. It would’ve been exceedingly easy for him to rest up the remainder of the year and bank on his name and global appeal to cobble together a 2014 schedule heavy on sponsor exemptions. Instead, a humbled Ishikawa made it a point to regain his Tour card, competing in the Tour playoffs where he finished comfortably inside the top 25. His success in the playoffs has carried over into the new season where he’s earned more money in two starts than all of last season combined. And it has people talking about his play, rather than his much-ballyhooed contract with Callaway signed at the start of the year.

Ishikawa had been on Callaway’s radar since he was a promising junior using one of its Odyssey putters. When his long-term arrangement with Yonex expired, Ishikawa had a number of suitors that reportedly included Srixon and Nike. Yonex, of course, held an advantage over everyone, based on Ishikawa’s familiarity with them. But Callaway was persistent, at one point even sending out Allan Hocknell, senior vice president of research and development, and chief club designer Roger Cleveland to a remote course north of Tokyo to play nine holes with Ishikawa and talk shop.

When negotiations concluded, Ishikawa scored a record multi-year deal worth an estimated 600 million yen ($6.8 million) per year, easily eclipsing Ishikawa’s five-year commitment to Yonex that was worth one billion yen during the life of the contract.

For Callaway, the Ishikawa signing was part of a multi-pronged strategy to reinvigorate the brand with younger, hipper talent and to increase its leverage in Asia.

“They are going through a complete revamp of their business model and brand; it’s part of a broader global strategy,” said the Back9Network’s Allen. “They needed new blood to attract different demographics. And one country that they had always done well in over the past two decades was Japan. So it’s not surprising that they picked a young, vibrant, Japanese pro to be their poster boy.”

Japan, which has 2,350 golf courses and close to 9 million active golfers, is the second-largest market after the U.S. for demand. According to Callaway’s Akihisa, the signing of Ishikawa is all about increasing momentum, both in Japan, as well as in China and Korea. In terms of dividends, Callaway’s 2013 first quarter net sales in Japan were up 4 percent over a year ago and were even higher for the rest of Asia (12 percent).

Ishikawa’s equipment contract with Callaway naturally includes apparel, hats, gloves and footwear. His global ambassadorship and distinct sense of style is in itself a marketable attribute that Callaway has leveraged for its premium apparel line that is distributed by Sanei, a licensing partner it has worked with since 2002.

Working with Ishikawa since last October, Callaway and Sanei have fashioned a look that is distinctly vibrant, youthful and brash — qualities Callaway hasn’t been traditionally known for, especially in the United States.

“In Japan, we have a different approach in terms of apparel,” Akihisa said. “It’s a different style and a different price point than what we offer in the U.S.”

To help Ishikawa with his daily itinerary on Tour, Callaway appointed Kenji Shimada to travel with him. Shimada is responsible for fine tuning his equipment, coordinating his outfits, supervising photo shoots and pretty much anything else that might come up. Normally, an agent might handle some of these responsibilities, but certainly not a rep from an equipment manufacturer.

“It’s a unique situation in that there’s somebody traveling with Ryo on the PGA Tour this year to make sure his equipment is dialed in,” Goryl said. “And there’s a practice facility available to him near his home in Southern California. That is all new. I wouldn’t call it an experiment necessarily, but this is uncharted territory for us. It’s probably too early to tell if this turns into a blueprint [for how other signees are treated], but we’re definitely looking for young, talented players with global appeal.”

Callaway’s relationship with Ishikawa is unprecedented, some would even call it extravagant. But it could signal a trend in the industry as equipment companies seek to lock up deals with the next wave of talent hailing from Asia.

“These guys are heroes in their own countries regardless of what they do on the global stage, so the contracts are paid for by sales increases in Japan and China alone,” Allen said.

The best thing to happen to Ishikawa, who has yet to break through and win on the PGA Tour, could be Matsuyama and vice versa. Both players will push each other; it’s a case of pride — both personal and national. It’s good to see a chafed Ishikawa follow up Matsuyama’s strong performance at the Open by tying his own career-best finish at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas just a week later. He’s going to have to demonstrate some consistently strong play during the coming season if he wants to argue his case for being the best young Asian player on Tour. For now, it appears that Matsuyama has a lock on that title.

It will be exciting to watch how their careers unfold during the next decade and measure the influence they’ll have on the next generation of Asian golfers. Consider the impact Se Ri Pak had in South Korea after winning the LPGA Championship as a 22-year-old in 1998. Pak was the lone Korean player on tour at the time. By 2009, there were 47 players who collectively won more than one-third of the events. On the PGA Tour, veteran K.J. Choi ended up paving the way for Y.E. Yang, Seung-yul Noh and Sang-Moon Bae.

What will the Tour look like in another 10 years? Don’t be surprised if Matsuyama and Ishikawa provide those answers.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)



  1. Robert

    Dec 10, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Working here in Tokyo in the media,I can say Ishikawa is NOT the rock star the media makes him out to be at all.Most younger Japanese have little knowledge of him or golf.Basically he was a created idol.Not to doubt his ability though on Japanese courses,but the lack of competition here made him a flat track bully.He’s very introverted and not the ‘Brad Pitt ‘ the Japanese media want him to be.I wish they would give him a break.

  2. Rusty Cage

    Nov 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    It was interesting listening in on some of the banter between Ryo and his caddie at the Shriners. Clearly he doesn’t need an interpreter anymore.

  3. Scott

    Nov 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Best thing to happen to Ryo is his new caddy! Simon Clarke from Melbourne. Simon is one of the worlds best caddies.

  4. tyler

    Nov 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Ryo has game but is overrated IMO. His flamboyance makes him appealing but he really hasn’t done anything in the States. Callaway pretty much rolled out the red carpet for him and I guess I can understand why.

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Opinion & Analysis

The best bets for the 2023 Valero Texas Open



Forget the $1.5 million due to the winner. The real prize at the end of this week’s Texas Open will be that last-minute invite to the 87th Masters starting on April 6th.

That payout is also nothing compared to the $3.5 million that Sam Burns copped when winning last night’s World Match Play, or the obvious prestige of what is to come. That has to affect the field this week, and we even lose local hero Jordan Spieth, veteran of seven outings around the San Antonio Oaks course.

The  29-year-old has, of course, an enviable record at Augusta with a win and four top-three finishes, so it’s no surprise he takes a break to prepare for the big one, after seven events since the start of February to prepare for the big one.

That all leaves world number 17 Tyrrell Hatton as clear favourite with his closest challengers (according to the market) being Hideki Matsuyama (#21) Si-Woo Kim (#39) and Corey Conners (#40). Behind there is a host of likely candidates that rank just off that vital top-50, with the likes of Rickie Fowler looking to continue his comeback and qualify for next week’s Masters after being a regular for 10 years straight until 2021.

The course itself ranked in the top third for overall difficulty last season and requires a solid overall game, favouring neither bombers or plodders. All styles have a chance here this week, and many of the past challengers confirm that view.

2016 champion and three-time runner-up Charley Hoffman said, “Tee to green is very visual, shapes with the trees and it’s a tough driving golf course,” whilst 2019 winner and three-time Masters top-10, Corey Conners summed up the test.

“Basically took care of the holes that you need to take care of, the par 5s, and No. 5, a short par 4, I was able to make birdie,” he said. “Other than that, just kept it pretty simple. There’s a few pins that are close to some slopes, so played a little safer on some shots, but struck it really well. So just tried to keep it simple and scored well.”

Wind is the main defence here, and therefore it’s no surprise that all the last four winners show form at the likes of Bay Hill, Waialae, Mayakoba, Hilton Head, and, in the case of Spieth, Conners and Kevin Chappell, at Augusta.

J.J Spaun

Since moving to its current slot just before the Masters, nobody has defended the Texas Open title, but it looks as if J.J Spaun is ready to strike again after an encouraging display at the Match Play last weekend.

After making his way through the grades, winning on the PGA Tour Canada and the tour, a misdiagnosis of his diabetes stalled the 32-year-old, and he dropped from just outside of the world’s top 100 to a place closer to 500th. However, in the second half of 2021, he ran up to Grayson Sigg at the Albertsons Boise Open before a top-10 in Bermuda settled the drop.

2022 was another year of progress as he took in four top-30 finishes early in the year – at La Quinta and, more relevantly, at Pebble Beach, Honda and Valspar – before a two-shot victory here. The final half was equally decent with one missed-cut in 10 outings, with top-15 finishes at the Shriners and (again relevant for comp course fans) at Mayakoba and at Sea Island. On top, he led the better-class St. Jude field for every one of the first three rounds before a final round collapse.

The new year has been mixed, with Spaun making the weekend in only half his eight starts. However, those 50 percent take in a fifth place at Kapalua (in second place going into Sunday) and 12th at the Sony, where again he was in the final group for the last round.

Again the 33rd finish at Riviera disguises that he was in the top-10 going into payday and he bounced back again with comfortable victories over Matt Fitzpatrick, Sahith Theegala and Min Woo Lee at Austin last week to head his talented group.

With a solid tee-to-green required this week, be encouraged that he ranked fifth at both his first two efforts this year in Hawaii, whilst his short game has seen him in the top-22 for scrambling in six of his last eight recorded starts.

Coming into this event last year, the Scottsdale resident had three midfield finishes mixed with missed weekends, something very similar to his lead in here this week.

Aaron Rai

Perhaps inspired by Matt Wallace’s victory in the Dominican Republic last week, Aaron Rai can continue a great run for British golfers following Wallace, David Skinns on the KFT and Georgia Hall’s very nearly come-from-behind effort at the LPGA Drive On Championship.

The 28-year-old stormed to the front rank in Europe after gaining automatic qualification from the Challenge Tour after three wins before the end of July 2017, before beating Matt Fitzpatrick in Hong Kong and Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off for the Scottish Open.

Hopefully that Boise Open is of some relevance, as Rai finished alongside Spaun as runners-up in 2021, letting a one-shot lead slip on Sunday, but still gaining his tour card.

It’s hard to argue against the view that everything since has been very one-paced, but on the pick of his form he has to be of interest here this week, particularly after a strong showing at Sawgrass.

2022 saw Aaron Two-gloves finish top-20 at Mikey, Houston, Canada, Shriners and Houston on the PGA Tour, and when dropped to the DPWT, he finished in the top echelons of the Italian and Irish Opens.

Rai hasn’t set the world alight in 2023 but was just outside the top-20 after round one at the Sony, led the Farmers field after the first round, was a never-nearer 29th at the Genesis, fifth after round one at Bay Hill and went into the final round at Sawgrass in the top five.

It’s going to be about putting it all together the same week, and he comes here after an encouraging top-30 here last year when two rounds of 74 and 73 spoilt the first and third rounds that saw him twice in the top seven.

In an interview after his first round 67 last season, Rai admitted it was useful to know the course:

” I think putting together how the course is on the Tuesday and having in mind how the course is going to change and I think that’s where it’s very good asking questions and speaking to people who have been here for a long time. So those are the most important things for me.”

Over the last three months, Rai ranks top-10 for driving accuracy, 11th for ball-striking, 10th for greens, and top-20 for tee-to-green at all of Riviera, Pebble Beach and Sawgrass. Perfectly able to find the short stuff in the wind, it’s clear that the flat stick is the one thing holding him back, but any improvement allied to those sharp stats will see him right there on Sunday.

Kevin Chappell

Although always tempted by the younger, unexposed brigade, I’ll finish this week with two stalwarts.

First up is former top-class major contender Kevin Chappell, who was put up at 90/1 for the Corales last week, did nothing wrong and is now a much bigger price!

Formally 23rd in the world, the 36-year-old has dropped to outside the top 600 but has dropped hints over the last three weeks that he may be approaching the play that won the Texas Open, run-up at Sawgrass, and finish top-10 in four majors.

Since his body broke down in 2018, golf has been a struggle, and he has not recorded a top 10 since the CIMB in October of that year. However, after missing nine of his last 10 cuts, the Californian resident has improved to 29th at Palm Beach Gardens (round positions 84/48/50/29) and 15th at Puerto Rico (47/54/33/15).

Strokes gained were positive throughout at the Honda, and he ended up almost repeating his 2022 effort at the Corales, finishing one place worse, in 16th place.

Given his efforts also at the Honda (13th), here (18th) and Barbasol (21st) in the recent past, we need to heed any nudge that Chappell has made his way back.

Now on a run of 16/15/29 it appears that the four-time major top-ten player is over his near career-ending surgery, and he returns to San Antonio after a career record that reads one win, one runner-up, fourth, 15th and 18th.

With nine of his last 12 rounds being 70 or under, and none worse than 72, quotes in triple figures border on the insulting.

Kevin Streelman 

We don’t see many teenage ‘Kevin’s these days, so there is no shock in finding the final selection is in his 40s.

Rather like his namesake, Streels has been in the doldrums, and whilst his return to form is not as obvious as Chappell’s, it’s worth jumping on the positive parts of his resumé from the past 14 months or so, again returning to a favoured track.

Another with back-form that gives him a serious shout – top-three finishes at the Farmers, Sawgrass, Pebble Beach, Bay Hill and Harbour Town – he also backs it up with consistent form at Summerlin, home of the Shriners (amongst other titles), an event won twice by 2013 Texas champ, Martin Laird.

While the 44-year-old has dropped well outside the world’s top-100, it’s noteworthy that he can still post top finishes and has recorded nine top-10 finishes over the last couple of years, including second-places at Bay Hill and River Highlands and a third at Silverado.

2021 saw several top-15s that incorporate Bay Hill (again), Wyndham, Match Play and at top-20 finishes at three of the four majors, whilst last season found him posting runner-up at the Barbasol, seventh at Valspar, and top-20s at Shriners, Honda and here, at the Texas Open.

Suddenly the results look far better than at first glance and many of his final figures tend to hide some decent play.

Since October ’22, Streelman was in 10th at the halfway point at the Sanderson, sixth going into Sunday at the RSM, 14th after round one at Riviera and made his way from 85th after day one at the Valspar to lie top-20 after the third round.

He’ll pick and choose his events but he’s still got fire in his belly, posting his best iron play for a while at Innisbrook last time out, and he’s back at a course that he’s played eight times, racking up every cut, an average position of around 21st and posting last three years finishes of 18/6/8.

Recommended Bets: 

  • J.J Spaun WIN
  • Aaron Rai WIN/TOP-5
  • Kevin Chappell – WIN/TOP-5
  • Kevin Streelman – WIN/TOP-5
  • Kevin Streelman – Top-20
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Opinion & Analysis

2023 PGA Championship: Interview with Jeff Corcoran, GCS



As ticket-holders exit their shuttles and enter the main gate to Oak Hill Country Club this May, their eyes will be attracted to so many sights. The 100-year old, Tudor-style clubhouse, designed by Thompson, Holmes, and Converse (of New Tammany Hall fame in New York City) catches and holds many glances. The market boardwalk will feature emporia of food, drink, and memories, all featuring the designs and flair of marketing teams. It’s a lot to take in.

Most attendees won’t enter the clubhouse, and their time along the merchandise promenade will be restricted to acquisition of souvenirs and sustenance. The majority of their time will be spent in the rough, adjacent to tees, greens, and fairways. Their eyes will roll across the hills of Pittsford’s jewel, but they might be forgiven if they don’t consider exactly how the course and surrounds came to reach this pinnacle of preparation.

Fortunately for them, we’ve tracked down the gentleman who knows more about Oak Hill’s preparation than any other. Mr. Jeff Corcoran is the Manager of Golf Courses and Grounds at the venerated New York state club.

GolfWRX: We’ve introduced you already in your current role. Please tell us how you met golf and golf course maintenance, and what the a-ha moment was that this would be your career.
Corcoran: I started playing golf when I was about 9 years old, a friend and his father took me golfing, and I was hooked. I started playing every chance that I could get and that eventually lead me to a job when I was 13 years working on a public golf course in my hometown of Groton, NY called Stonehedges Golf Course. Working on the golf course was an end to a means, as it allowed me the opportunity to play a significant amount of free golf. I enjoyed working at the golf course so much, that I eventually figured out that I could go to college to study Turfgrass Management. I pursued that endeavor and eventually my way to SUNY Cobleskill and then Penn State University.
GolfWRX: Please trace your career path, from your first job in the industry to your current one.
Corcoran: As stated above my first job in the industry was working at Stonehedges Golf Course as a teenager. While I was in college I worked at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Cornell University, and eventually made my way to Oak Hill Country Club as an intern in 1994. I graduated from Penn State in ’95 and I came back to Oak Hill to work the ’95 Ryder Cup and soon after was made a 2nd assistant. While I was at Oak Hill I was fortunate enough to meet my mentor, Paul B. Latshaw, and I became his first assistant until I left to take my first superintendent position in 2000. My first superintendent position was at The Weston Golf Club which is located just outside of Boston. I was there until 2003, when I was asked to interview for my current position at Oak Hill, as Paul Latshaw had moved on to Muirfield Village. I have been at Oak Hill ever since, and in way or another have been a part of every championship held at Oak Hill since that ’95 Ryder Cup.
GolfWRX: The 2023 PGA Championship will be the 4th at Oak Hill’s East course, but it will be unlike the previous three. How did the course play, from your acquired knowledge, for those first three championships?
Corcoran: I can’t really speak to the 1980 Championship; however, I have a considerable knowledge of how the East Course played for the ’03 and ’13 PGA Championships. In ’03 the East Course went through a renovation performed by Tom Fazio/Tom Marzolf, where all of the bunkers were renovated and relocated to areas where they would affect playability of the professional golfer. Additionally, a considerable amount of length was added to the East Course prior to the ’03 Championship. The Fazio/Marzolf renovation had a significant impact on the playability of the East Course, and it proved difficult to the tour professional of the time. Ten years later in ’13 we held the championship again, and the course was essentially the same as it was in ’03. We didn’t really add any length or adjust any bunkers, however the tour professionals’ game had adjusted and improved significantly in that same 10-year period. In 2013, we had significant rainfall during the week, which softened the golf course, and the scoring for the event reflected the softer, easier conditions.
GolfWRX: Andrew Green’s 2019 restoration returned much of the course to its architectural roots. What will stand out most for those who have attended or competed in prior championships?
Corcoran: If I were to venture a guess that the most noticeable aspect for many individuals will be the reduction in the amount of trees on the East Course. We have been reducing the amount of trees on the East Course for 20+ years, however during the renovation we hit a point where the value of the tree removal hit a critical point where the vistas and views throughout the East Course were impacted in a way that allowed much more enjoyment of the property and its features. For the competitors, I believe they will also notice the severity of the Andrew’s bunker style combined with the ability to take the pin position out to the extremities of the greens. There will be many more pin locations in 2023 that will have a very close proximity to the hazards.
GolfWRX: Speaking of restorations, how was the Oak Hill grounds crew involved in the East Course’s return to its legacy?
Corcoran: The grounds crew was involved in every aspect of the renovation and worked directly with Andrew Green and LaBar Golf Renovations to ensure the product that was produced on the East Course was representative of Oak Hill and the legacy of the East Course.

GolfWRX: Tell us a bit about the re-invention of the fifth hole. What sort of hole did it replace, and how does it join itself to the course’s Donald Ross roots?

Corcoran: Andrew always indicated that he wasn’t designing anything on the East Course, that we was just taking what Donald Ross had designed and was tweaking it. With regard to our current 5th hole, Andrew drew inspiration from the original 6th hole, which was a classic Donald Ross heavily bunkered par-3. We fortunately had a considerable amount of pictures of this hole, and Andrew utilized them during his design phase. Additionally, Andrew made more than one visit over to our West Course and looked at our 4th hole, which is also a classic heavy bunkered par-3. The difference between our original 6th hole and the new 5th hole that Andrew produced is the location, and this is where the brilliance of Andrew Green came into play. Andrew tucked the new 5th green into the northwest corner of the property and it looks as though it has been there since day #1. To be able to achieve that immediate impact and value, really demonstrated his true genius.
GolfWRX: What will the final two months of preparation (April-May) demand from you and your staff?
Corcoran: I think that Mother Nature will hold the answers to the last 2 month of preparation, however it will be demanding and difficult. I anticipate that the my staff will work a considerable amount of hours, and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the playing conditions for the PGA Championship are exemplary.
GolfWRX: The weather for the championship week is anyone’s guess. A cold front came arrived in Tulsa last year, for the 2022 playing at Southern Hills. Ironically, Rochester’s temperatures that weekend were the warmer ones! How does your game plan change for unseasonable (both colder and warmer) weather and temperatures?

Corcoran: Our game plan doesn’t really change at all based upon the temperature. There are inherent agronomic aspects that need to happen to be successful, and some of that depends on the temperature and some of it doesn’t. Our focus is to plan for those aspects that we can control, and have a plan to react to any variables that are throw at us as we prepare.

GolfWRX: What question haven’t I asked, that you would love to answer? Please ask it and answer it. Thank you for your time.

Corcoran: “What is the most important aspect of your job as you prepare for the 2023 PGA Championship?”
The most important aspect of my job is building, taking care of, and facilitating our team that comprises golf course maintenance staff at Oak Hill. Without those individuals the championship doesn’t happen, and they will work a tremendous amount of time to ensure that golf course is ready for a spring championship. I am very proud of our team members, and I am extremely excited that their product will get the opportunity to shine on the world stage.
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The Wedge Guy: What really needs fixing in your game?



I always find it interesting to watch how golfers interact with the practice range, if they do so at all. I certainly can figure out how to understand that some golfers just do not really want to get better — at least not enough to spend time on the practice range trying to improve.

What is most puzzling to me is how many golfers completely ignore the rationale for going to the range to at least warm up before they head to the first tee. Why anyone would set aside 4-6 hours of their day for a round of golf, and then not even give themselves a chance to do their best is beyond me. But today, I’m writing for those of you who really do want to improve your golf scores and your enjoyment of the game.

I’ve seen tons of research for my entire 40 years in this industry that consistently shows the number one goal of all golfers, of any skill level, from 100-shooter to tour professional, is simply to hit better golf shots more often. And while our definition of “better” is certainly different based on our respective skill level, the game is just more fun when your best shots happen more often and your worst shots are always getting better.

Today’s article is triggered by what we saw happen at the Valspar tour event this past Sunday. While Taylor Moore certainly had some big moments in a great final round, both Jordan Spieth and Adam Schenk threw away their chances to win with big misses down the stretch, both of them with driver. Spieth’s wayward drive into the water on the 16th and Schenk’s big miss left on the 18th spelled doom for both of them.

It amazes me how the best players on the planet routinely hit the most God-awful shots with such regularity, given the amazing talents they all have. But those guys are not what I’m talking about this week. In keeping with the path of the past few posts, I’m encouraging each and every one of you to think about your most recent rounds (if you are playing already this year), or recall the rounds you finished the season with last year. What you are looking for are you own “big misses” that kept you from scoring better.

Was it a few wayward drives that put you in trouble or even out of bounds? Or maybe loose approach shots that made birdie impossible and par super challenging? Might your issue have been some missed short putts or bad long putts that led to a three-putt? Most likely for any of you, you can recall a number of times where you just did not give yourself a good chance to save par or bogey from what was a not-too-difficult greenside recovery.

The point is, in order to get consistently better, you need to make an honest assessment of where you are losing strokes and then commit to improving that part of your game. If it isn’t your driving that causes problems, contain that part of practice or pre-round warm-ups to just a half dozen swings or so, for the fun of “the big stick”. If your challenges seem to be centered around greenside recoveries, spend a lot more time practicing both your technique and imagination – seeing the shot in your mind and then trying to execute the exact distance and trajectory of the shot required. Time on the putting green will almost always pay off on the course.

But, if you are genuinely interested in improving your overall ball-striking consistency, you would be well-served to examine your fundamentals, starting with the grip and posture/setup. It is near impossible to build a repeating golf swing if those two fundamentals are not just right. And if those two things are fundamentally sound, the creation of a repeating golf swing is much easier.

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