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Opinion & Analysis

Match play can work for the Tour with a little tinkering

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As golf fans, we are seldom exposed to the extremely electrifying format of match play golf. When such weeks arise on what has recently become a very full calendar of golf, it definitely sparks some more attention from the viewers, as we know we will get to witness a form of competition that is much different from our weekly dose of stroke play.

While the fans seem to love when the PGA Tour switches its scoreboard from “even” to “all square,” it appears that the actual Tour, or the gentlemen and ladies who represent it, might not feel as strongly as we do. It’s been just over a week since one of the most exciting renditions of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, where 23-year old Frenchman Victor Dubuisson had his “hello world” moment. After watching Dubuisson hit two of the most miraculous recovery shots that match play has ever seen, to the average viewer it seemed as though such a Sunday performance from Dubuisson and eventual champion Jason Day reinforced that this tournament is as alive and well as ever.

However, if last week at the Ritz Carlton Resort at Dove Mountain appeared to be really great for golf, and more specifically the match play event, then why did PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announce that the location and sponsor for next year’s championship is unknown?

Well, there isn’t too much to look into at this point as the details on the subject are far from concrete. However, from a sponsorship standpoint it’s pretty tough to wrap your head around the fact that half of the tournament’s field is on a plane home before the second round even begins. Even more so, from a TV perspective, it has to be difficult to get huge viewership when there are only four golfers to watch on Championship Sunday, especially when none of the names include Tiger, Rory or Phil.

When addressing the media on the subject on Championship Sunday in the desert last weekend, Finchem went on to say that “the idea that players can come and play a day and be gone has always been something that we kind of looked at and wondered whether another format would be (better).”

While Finchem went on to say that he wouldn’t assume they are going to change anything at this point, there have been conversations circulating about format change for the season’s first World Golf Championship, in an effort to keep the games top stars around for as long as possible. In his article on GolfChannel.com, Senior Writer Rex Hoggard made it known that a member of the PGA Tour Advisory Council confirmed the Tour has been looking to alter the format to 36 holes of stroke play, followed by a cut, with either the top-32 or top-16 players moving on to a match play format on the weekend.

So we have established some pretty basic points as to why a title sponsor might not be getting the bang for their buck when you look at the format of the WGC Match Play event. After all, the PGA Tour is a business. And as a business if something isn’t working, well then you better fix it. Out of principle, there are some people who may not agree with having a match play event that is actually half stroke play. But if it means seeing the best players in the world play for one more round, subsequently increasing viewership, revenue, and all that jazz, then sign me up!

Back to my point about the match play format, with regards to a regular Tour event, whereby only four players are left for the final round. If 4-to-6 hours of golf coverage is centered around one match, then shouldn’t that match mean a little more to the players, the viewers, the sponsors, etc., than every other Sunday on Tour? With the exception of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, a European Tour event that doesn’t attract the same star power as the WGC Match Play, we only get to see the best players in the world compete on in match play event one other week of the year — in the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup matches. The extreme sense of pride that comes with representing your country in these events, according to the players, undoubtedly outweighs the paycheck that comes with a victory at a regular Tour stop. But what if the payout for a match play event was substantially more than just your average $1 million-plus Sunday?

Since its inception in 2007, and including all of the changes to the format to the FedEx Cup playoffs, there always seems to be those who criticize how the Tour crowns its $10 million man. But the new format changes proposed by the Tour for the WGC Match Play would probably make the most amount of sense for the season-ending Tour Championship. Why not have the end of the season and The Playoffs, with one of the biggest purses in sports, end in dramatic fashion like the NCAA March Madness tournament? The first three Playoff events would remain the same, being played as stroke play events, while the Tour Championship could operate as a 32-man match play event. While it appears that people are not as interested in seeing a head-to-head match up for a regular event (even though the Match Play is a WGC), I am pretty confident that such a format — with $10 million on the line — would spark a greater interest level from the fans than the current finale to the PGA Tour season.

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Oliver Berg is a golf fanatic whose roots in the game were formed in the rugged and rocky golf links of Southern Ontario, Canada. By putting the pen to paper, or more appropriately, his fingers to the keyboard, Oliver turned his passion for ‘talking golf’ online by starting The High Fade Golf Blog. Oliver works in the digital marketing space in the fashion industry in Toronto and has applied what he’s learned from social media marketing to his own Instagram golf account - @thehighfade. Having grown up in a family of golfers, Oliver was given a special gift at young age from his grandmother -- a pillow that reads “Life’s a game, but Golf is serious” is something that he sleeps beside every night, and he pretty much lives by that!

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Denzgolf

    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Great idea for Fedex but rather than still run risk of losing top ranked in first round (and actually to keep MP format thought out) why not go down path of World cup soccer, 8 seeded pools of four (ranked by position in playoffs not world ranking) who each play 3 matchplay rounds with top 2 of each pool going through to 16 from where it becomes knockout. 7 rounds required, make it 8 with final as 36 holes. Now that’s either a lot of golf in four days or run it over 2 weeks at a course (32 down to 8 in week 1, 8 to winner Friday to Sunday – or 6 days in a week – it is for $10m. There’s a chance of 2 wins each by 3 of four players in a pool, but you just define beforehand that if that occurs the top two seeded from previous 3 playoff weeks go through. If desired to, reduce this risk by allowing all square finishes at 18 in pool matches for half points.

    • Denzgolf

      Mar 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Obviously no one else really likes matchplay, not much but silence on this one???

  2. Phil C.

    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I’ve been mulling over the exact same thought for over a year dear author. I LOVE match play, love to play it, love to watch it, love the competitive clarity it brings among the players. And yet golf television starves me of it.

    Some of the most fun you’ve ever had sports with your friends was this virtual boxing ring you would construct with the big greats. Kobe vs Lebron, Lakers vs Celtics, Manning vs Brady. What does the golfer talk about hanging out at the bar? Tiger-bash? A conversation on course conditions which makes you wonder why a grown adult would have passionate arguments about grass texture? There simply is no head to head competition. Why not? Purists argue that golf is a pristine pursuit solely existing between the golfer and the course. I like to believe that is only the first step toward what golf will finally be. They would say that Seve Ballesteros, the great spanish short gamer, would in the heat of competition engage in small slights to push his match play opponents on edge. If a match play opponent would call for a free drop on some questionable obstructions he would then turn prickly. Questioning putting order on the green, questioning his opponents club choices, and any other small things to cloud his opponents head. While off the course he’d be known to be a good guy, his competitive nature turned him so HE WASN’T AFRAID TO BE THE BAD GUY.

    There is no “bad guy” in golf today. The closest thing we have is the disfunctional stockholm relationship we have with Tiger Woods. The golf channel tries to make the public care with a few 30 second bumpers describing the obscure names on the leaderboard, but to be honest the Joe Sunday watching isn’t going to care that Golfer #17 is a fade hitter from west palm florida if it has no interplay with any of the other golfers. And so it is shown on TV. Random golf shots here, random putt there. Golfer #1 hitting an approach, Golfer #32 out of a greenside bunker, Golfer #8 hitting out of the rough. No sense of where you are on the course (other than a small window indicating hole #), no sense of how you got there, and no sense of the gravity or brevity of the shot make shot play golf very difficult to watch. But I’ve got some ideas.

    #1 Format Change
    Tim Finchem must have stolen my bedside notebook because I have very similiar thoughts. Bring stroke play into the first 2 days. Match play into the final days. But here are the finer details. First 2 days the entire field plays 27 holes. Field is then cut to the top 32 players. Next day is stroke play, STROKE MATCHES PLAY TO 6 HOLES. 3 rounds of 6 hole matches are played to reduce the field to final four. Champ Sunday is the am 9 hole match to reduce the the final two, and then an afternoon 18 hole championship match.

    The first two days are loaded more simply to help qualm the argument that match play victim to luck and circumstance. That a match was won or loss because of a favorable course condition that happened at the time, or less skilled opponent. My rebuttal to that is that the players have played 54 holes of golf. If they aren’t in position to have a chance to win at the title, why exactly are they there? And more importantly, why does there need to be TV coverage of them?

    Match play hole count was reduced to 6 holes. To put it simply, MAKE EACH SHOT MATTER. The argument again, is that 6 holes is not enough time for evaluation of skill. But SKILL has already been evaluated with the first 2 days, now it is time to test the players ability to deal with PRESSURE. To deal with the moment that you’re stuck in the bushes on your last hole with your opponent on the green, and your options are exhausted. Take the drop you lose. re-hit your last shot with penalty you lose. You’re simply forced into an arena where the only ticket out is the amazing. And if we do not put players into such duress, we’re never going to see such amazing shots.

    All in all the big thing is to try and get more viewership to the game and help this game survive. Less dads and moms are playing golf and that means less kids will even be aware of the sport. I really do love this game, I just wish it wasn’t so laborious to watch it…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work? Part 1

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Of all the clubs in our bags, wedges are almost always the simplest in construction and, therefore, the easiest to analyze what might make one work differently from another if you know what to look for.

Wedges are a lot less mysterious than drivers, of course, as the major brands are working with a lot of “pixie dust” inside these modern marvels. That’s carrying over more to irons now, with so many new models featuring internal multi-material technologies, and almost all of them having a “badge” or insert in the back to allow more complex graphics while hiding the actual distribution of mass.

But when it comes to wedges, most on the market today are still single pieces of molded steel, either cast or forged into that shape. So, if you look closely at where the mass is distributed, it’s pretty clear how that wedge is going to perform.

To start, because of their wider soles, the majority of the mass of almost any wedge is along the bottom third of the clubhead. So, the best wedge shots are always those hit between the 2nd and 5th grooves so that more mass is directly behind that impact. Elite tour professionals practice incessantly to learn to do that consistently, wearing out a spot about the size of a penny right there. If impact moves higher than that, the face is dramatically thinner, so smash factor is compromised significantly, which reduces the overall distance the ball will fly.

Every one of us, tour players included, knows that maddening shot that we feel a bit high on the face and it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s not your fault.

If your wedges show a wear pattern the size of a silver dollar, and centered above the 3rd or 4th groove, you are not getting anywhere near the same performance from shot to shot. Robot testing proves impact even two to three grooves higher in the face can cause distance loss of up to 35 to 55 feet with modern ‘tour design’ wedges.

In addition, as impact moves above the center of mass, the golf club principle of gear effect causes the ball to fly higher with less spin. Think of modern drivers for a minute. The “holy grail” of driving is high launch and low spin, and the driver engineers are pulling out all stops to get the mass as low in the clubhead as possible to optimize this combination.

Where is all the mass in your wedges? Low. So, disregarding the higher lofts, wedges “want” to launch the ball high with low spin – exactly the opposite of what good wedge play requires penetrating ball flight with high spin.

While almost all major brand wedges have begun putting a tiny bit more thickness in the top portion of the clubhead, conventional and modern ‘tour design’ wedges perform pretty much like they always have. Elite players learn to hit those crisp, spinny penetrating wedge shots by spending lots of practice time learning to consistently make contact low in the face.

So, what about grooves and face texture?

Grooves on any club can only do so much, and no one has any material advantage here. The USGA tightly defines what we manufacturers can do with grooves and face texture, and modern manufacturing techniques allow all of us to push those limits ever closer. And we all do. End of story.

Then there’s the topic of bounce and grinds, the most complex and confusing part of the wedge formula. Many top brands offer a complex array of sole configurations, all of them admittedly specialized to a particular kind of lie or turf conditions, and/or a particular divot pattern.

But if you don’t play the same turf all the time, and make the same size divot on every swing, how would you ever figure this out?

The only way is to take any wedge you are considering and play it a few rounds, hitting all the shots you face and observing the results. There’s simply no other way.

So, hopefully this will inspire a lively conversation in our comments section, and I’ll chime in to answer any questions you might have.

And next week, I’ll dive into the rest of the wedge formula. Yes, shafts, grips and specifications are essential, too.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Amazing Session with Performance Coach Savannah Meyer-Clement

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In this week’s episode, we spent some time with performance coach Savannah Meyer-Clement who provides many useful insights that you’ll be able to implement on the golf course.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 RBC Heritage betting preview: Patrick Cantlay ready to get back inside winner’s circle

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Just a two-hour drive from Augusta National, the PGA TOUR heads to Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Hilton Head Island is a golfer’s paradise and Harbour Town is one of the most beautiful and scenic courses on the PGA TOUR.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a par-71 that measures 7,121 yards and features Bermuda grass greens. A Pete Dye design, the course is heavily tree lined and features small greens and many dog legs, protecting it from “bomb-and-gauge” type golfers.

The field is loaded this week with 69 golfers with no cut. Last year was quite possibly the best field in RBC Heritage history and the event this week is yet another designated event, meaning there is a $20 million prize pool.

Most of the big names on the PGA Tour will be in attendance this week with the exceptions of Hideki Matsuyama and Viktor Hovland. Additionally, Webb Simpson, Shane Lowry, Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner have been granted sponsors exemptions. 

Past Winners at Harbour Town

  • 2023: Matt Fitzpatrick (-17)
  • 2022: Jordan Spieth (-13)
  • 2021: Stewart Cink (-19)
  • 2020: Webb Simpson (-22)
  • 2019: CT Pan (-12)
  • 2018: Sotoshi Kodaira (-12)
  • 2017: Wesley Bryan (-13)
  • 2016: Branden Grace (-9)
  • 2015: Jim Furyk (-18)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Harbour Town

Let’s take a look at key metrics for Harbour Town Golf Links to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach is exceedingly important this week. The greens at Harbour Town are about half the size of PGA TOUR average and feature the second-smallest greens on the tour. Typical of a Pete Dye design, golfers will pay the price for missed greens.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.27)
  2. Tom Hoge (+1.27)
  3. Corey Conners (+1.16)
  4. Austin Eckroat (+0.95)
  5. Cameron Young (+0.93)

Good Drive %

The fairways at Harbour Town are tree lined and feature many dog legs. Bombers tend to struggle at the course because it forces layups and doesn’t allow long drivers to overpower it. Accuracy is far more important than power.

Good Drive % Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Brice Garnett (88.8%)
  2. Shane Lowry (+87.2%)
  3. Akshay Bhatia (+86.0%)
  4. Si Woo Kim (+85.8%)
  5. Sepp Straka (+85.1%)

Strokes Gained: Total at Pete Dye Designs

Pete Dye specialists tend to play very well at Harbour Town. Si Woo Kim, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson are all Pete Dye specialists who have had great success here. It is likely we see some more specialists near the top of the leaderboard this week.

SG: TOT Pete Dye per round over past 36 rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+2.27)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.24)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+2.11)
  4. Brian Harman (+1.89)
  5. Sungjae Im (+1.58)

4. Strokes Gained: Short Game (Bermuda)

Strokes Gained: Short Game factors in both around the green and putting. With many green-side bunkers and tricky green complexes, both statistics will be important. Past winners — such as Jim Furyk, Wes Bryan and Webb Simpson — highlight how crucial the short game skill set is around Harbour Town.

SG: SG Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Jordan Spieth (+1.11)
  2. Taylor Moore (+1.02)
  3. Wyndham Clark (+0.98)
  4. Mackenzie Hughes (+0.86)
  5. Andrew Putnam (+0.83)

5. Greens in Regulation %

The recipe for success at Harbour Town Golf Links is hitting fairways and greens. Missing either will prove to be consequential — golfers must be in total control of the ball to win.

Greens in Regulation % over past 24 rounds:

  1. Brice Garnett (+75.0%)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+69.9%)
  3. Corey Conners (+69.0%)
  4. Shane Lowry (+68.3%)
  5. Patrick Rodgers (+67.6%)

6. Course History

Harbour Town is a course where players who have strong past results at the course always tend to pop up. 

Course History over past 24 rounds:

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+2.34)
  2. Cam Davis (+2.05)
  3. J.T. Poston (+1.69)
  4. Justin Rose (+1.68)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (+1.59)

The RBC Heritage Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (24%), Good Drives (20%), SG: SG (14%), SG: Pete Dye (14%), GIR (14%), and Course History (14%)

  1. Shane Lowry
  2. Russell Henley
  3. Scottie Scheffler
  4. Xander Schauffele
  5. Corey Conners 
  6. Wyndham Clark
  7. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  8. Matt Fitzpatrick
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Ludvig Aberg 

2024 RBC Heritage Picks

Patrick Cantlay +2000 (FanDuel)

With the exception of Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Tour has yet to have any of their star players show peak form during the 2024 season. Last week, Patrick Cantlay, who I believe is a top-5 players on the PGA Tour, took one step closer to regaining the form that’s helped him win eight events on Tour since 2017.

Cantlay limped into the Masters in poor form, but figured it out at Augusta National, finishing in a tie for 20th and ranking 17th for the week in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. The former FedEx Cup champion will now head to one of his favorite golf courses in Harbour Town, where he’s had immaculate results over the years. In his six trips to the course, he’s only finished worse than 7th one time. The other finishes include three third places (2017, 2019, 2023) and one runner-up finish (2022). In his past 36 rounds at Harbour Town, Cantlay ranks 1st in Strokes Gained: Total per round at the course by a wide margin (+2.36).

Cantlay is winless since the 2022 BMW Championship, which is far too long for a player of his caliber. With signs pointing to the 32-year-old returning to form, a “signature event” at Harbour Town is just what he needs to get back on the winning track.

Tommy Fleetwood +3000 (FanDuel)

I truly believe Tommy Fleetwood will figure out a way to win on American soil in 2024. It’s certainly been a bugaboo for him throughout his career, but he is simply too talented to go another season without winning a PGA Tour event.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, Fleetwood made a Sunday charge and ended up finishing T3 in the event, which was his best ever finish at The Masters. For the week, the Englishman ranked 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 10th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 16th in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is a perfect layout for Fleetwood, and he’s had relative success at this Pete Dye design in the past.  In his four trips to the course, he’s finished inside of the top 25 three times, with his best finish, T10, coming in 2022. The course is pretty short and can’t be overpowered, which gives an advantage to more accurate players such as Fleetwood. Tommy ranks 8th in the field in Good Drive % and should be able to plot his way along this golf course.

The win is coming for Tommy lad. I believe there’s a chance this treasure of a golf course may be the perfect one for him to finally break through on Tour.

Cameron Young +3300 (FanDuel)

Cameron Young had a solid Masters Tournament last week, which is exactly what I’m looking for in players who I anticipate playing well this week at the RBC Heritage. He finished in a tie for 9th, but never felt the pressure of contending in the event. For the week, Young ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 6th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Despite being one of the longest players off the tee on the PGA Tour, Young has actually played some really good golf on shorter tracks. He finished T3 at Harbour Town in 2023 and ranks 20th in the field in Good Drive% and 16th in Greens in Regulation in his past 24 rounds. He also has strong finishes at other shorter courses that can take driver out of a players hand such as Copperhead and PGA National.

Young is simply one of the best players on the PGA Tour in 2024, and I strongly believe has what it takes to win a PGA Tour event in the very near future.

Corey Conners +5500 (FanDuel)

Corey Conners has had a disappointing year thus far on the PGA Tour, but absolutely loves Harbour Town.

At last week’s Masters Tournament, the Canadian finished T30 but ranked 20th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. In his past 24 rounds, Conners ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 3rd in Greens in Regulation % and 24th in Good Drive %.

In Conners’ last four trips to Harbour Town, his worst finish was T31, last season. He finished T4 in 2021, T12 in 2022 and ranks 8th in Strokes Gained: Total at the course over his past 36 rounds.

Conners hasn’t been contending, but his recent finishes have been encouraging as he has finished in the top-25 in each of his past three starts prior to The Masters, including an impressive T13 at The PLAYERS. His recent improvement in ball striking as well as his suitability for Harbour Town makes Conners a high upside bet this week.

Shane Lowry (+7500) (FanDuel)

When these odds were posted after Lowry was announced in the field, I have to admit I was pretty stunned. Despite not offering much win equity on the PGA Tour over the last handful of years, Shane Lowry is still a top caliber player who has the ability to rise to the top of a signature event.

Lowry struggled to score at The Masters last week, but he actually hit the ball really well. The Irishman ranked 1st for Strokes Gained: Approach on the week and 7th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. As usual, it was the putter that let him down, as he ranked 60th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Harbour Town is most definitely one of Lowry’s favorite courses on the PGA Tour. In his six starts there, he’s finished in the top 10 three times, including third twice. Lowry is sensational at Pete Dye designs and ranks 7th in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds on Dye tracks. 

Lowry is perfect for Harbour Town. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 2nd in Good Drive% and 5th in Green in Regulation %. If he figures it out on the greens, Shane could have his first win in America since 2015.

Lucas Glover +12000 (FanDuel)

This is one of my weekly “bet the number” plays as I strongly believe the odds are just too long for a player of Glover’s caliber. The odds have been too long on Glover for a few weeks now, but this is the first event that I can get behind the veteran being able to actually contend at. 

Glover is quietly playing good golf and returning to the form he had after the understandable regression after his two massive victories at the end of 2023. He finished T20 at The Masters, which was his best ever finish at Augusta National. For the week, Lucas ranked 18th for Strokes Gained: Approach and 20th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Over his past 24 rounds, Glover ranks 9th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 13th in Good Drive %. Harbour Town is a short course that the 44-year-old will be able to keep up with the top players on Tour off the tee. He’s played the course more than 20 times, with mixed results. His best finishes at Harbour Town include a T7 in 2008, but recently has a finish of T21 in 2020.

Glover has proven he can contend with the stars of the Tour on any given week, and this number is flat out disrespectful.

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