Once upon a time, there was the great tennis boom.
The game was immensely popular and growing, and equipment manufacturers were researching ways to make the game more applicable. Some ideas like the spaghetti string racket design produced unusual overspin and were made illegal as they were deemed not to be good for the game. Other ideas like the big-headed racquet were utilized and both professional and average players made them the standard.
Courts sprung up everywhere and many were built with public funds so the game could be accessible to everyone and cost wouldn’t be a prohibitive factor. Tennis televised well so it got great exposure, and academies strictly for teaching the game were developed. All in all, it was a good thing.
Young people could also play tennis, and along with learning the game they were exposed to life skills that would help them as they matured. Seniors could play with their age group and adult residences featured courts. Tennis was a winner and it was going to become a central part of society’s fabric. There was nothing wrong it: nothing to impede growth.
And then something strange happened. The game dropped in popularity and the huge force of negative momentum took its toll. Participation dwindled well below that of the most modest forecasts.
Before I enrage the tennis-playing readers, I’ll backtrack a bit. In the 70’s, ‘Tennis Anyone?” was the norm. There were more than 30 million players in the U.S alone and counting. Forecasts predicted 50 million participants. Today, however, U.S. tennis participation is about 15-to-25 million.
Twenty-five million is a pretty good number until you factor in that U.S. population has increased from 210 million in 1972 to approximately 315 million today. Back in the 70’s, nobody thought tennis participation would drop with a 50-percent increase in total population. I’m not quibbling over the numbers. What I am pointing out is that a great sport that had everything going for it saw its participation drop and then flatten despite a huge population increase.
It’s been argued that such is life; things go in cycles and ultimately reach a sustainable level. In subsequent articles, I will outline the loss in golf participation and present one suggestion for a solution. I’m using the tennis analogy because there is some relevance, not the least of which is inertia. All this worry about golf participation might be a reaction to the game’s inertia trying to find its natural level. During the boom years, too many courses were built and now many are closing. Even though I’m on the side of being proactive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if we are reacting to a natural evolution.
I will carefully track participation numbers going back to 1985. The numbers are not good and the demographics, which see the average age of golfers increasing, are not good, either. The question becomes do we (we being the powers that be and all of us golfers) want to try and arrest the decline or do we accept it as a natural order of things?
In subsequent articles, I’ll discuss the situation in detail. What I won’t do is make arguments based on opinion. If I look at a five-year decline and say it isn’t good, I don’t consider that as rendering an opinion. If I say golf is in conflict with today’s cultural influences, that’s an opinion, and I’ll leave that side of the discussion to those who are more capable.
2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
The conclusion to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic was almost perfection.
The scant amount of viewers on a Monday morning would have been treated to a surely scripted play-off between world number one Rory McIlroy and his LIV nemesis Patrick Reed, bar that damned 13-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. It was, of course, a fitting start to the year for the world number one, and an ending that the week deserved after ‘Tee Gate to Tree Gate,’.
With our main man, Lucas Herbert, playing some sublime golf in behind and finishing strongly in third despite the absence of luck on the Saturday greens, it showed the DP World Tour in a cracking light.
It’s a shame this week doesn’t.
We move from the quality of Dubai to a standard DPWT field and, while favourite Adrian Meronk is improving fast and now up to 52nd in the rankings, the long,wide, forgiving nature of Al Hamra makes this nothing more than a bosh-it, find it, hit it, putt it, competition. Links-like it may be, but with no wind forecast, this won’t hit anywhere near the heights of the previous two weeks.
Previous DPWT winners here – Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard – suggest length is the one factor that separates the medalists from the also-rans and is the key factor behind high-level tee-to-green numbers, certainly rather than accuracy.
There isn’t really any option but to look at the handful of true links players at the top and it’s only narrowly that Victor Perez gets the vote.
Splitting last year’s winners (for there were two Al Hamra events in 2022) Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard is tough but I’ve always felt the Frenchman is capable of a higher level of play and he is the selection in front of favourite Meronk, even if they both have similar course and recent form.
I rarely get him right – backing him twice over the last six months – even if he has won two titles in the space of seven months.
Still, this is another day for the Frenchman (and me) and for a winner of the Dunhill Links, the Dutch Open and three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, he may actually be overpriced at 16/1.
It’s tough to find any better ‘standard level’ links form lines than beating the likes of Matt Southgate, Joakim Lagergren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tom Lewis and pals in Scotland, and beating Fox in a play-off at Bernadus Golf. However, he was at it again at Yas Links, leaving behind the names Min Woo Lee, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton – all synonymous with the test he faces this week, on the same paspalum greens and with opposition of higher class than three-quarters of this week’s field.
Perez looks to have produced evidence that a golfer is at their peak at 30-years of age producing an outstanding bunker shot to win his latest trophy, with a sound coming off the club reminiscent of his play at Wentworth in 2020, when splitting Hatton and Patrick Reed.
Although this is his first outing here on the DPWT, he has a seventh and second place from two outings on the Challenge Tour and he is in the right form to take those figures one better.
Third for total driving over the last six months, Perez ranks in the top-10 for ball-striking over the same period (11th over three months) and arrives here in confident mood, telling reporters:
“I’m looking forward to playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship for the first time. I got the season off to a great start at the Hero Cup followed by my first Rolex Series win in Abu Dhabi, so this is a great chance to keep the momentum going and secure more Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points,” before adding:
“I’m playing great golf at the moment, and I’m hoping it continues in Ras Al Khaimah.”
Perez is a confident selection, but back him up with another proven rip-it merchant in Callum Shinkwin, who has come in a few points since the market opened but justifies the move after an excellent top five in Dubai.
First thing we know about the three-time winner is he hits it a mile, ranking in the top-10 for off-the-tee ten times since the start of the 2022 season, including being in the top three in the two events 12 months ago. That itself is worth noting, as are his best efforts away from the victories- at Fairmont, the Dunhill Links and last week in Dubai, all with pointers to this week’s test.
There was nothing wrong with mid-20 finishes here last year, the first just a couple of days after destroying the course in a fun Texas Scramble pairs, and he will surely take comfort in lying up there with Rory McIlroy last Monday, matching those final two birdies.
Another around that ‘magic’ age, this is a course that will give Shinks every opportunity to play shorter irons into the targets and, with last week’s top-10 ranking for putting, this may be the time to go with the Moor Park magician.
I can’t see a shock result here this week – the top lot have perfect conditions in which to show their class – but I’ll be looking at the top-10/20 markets for the following:
Tapio Pulkkanen – Trilby-wearing Finn that hits the ball a country mile. Trouble is, half the time he does not know in which direction it’s travelling. Here, with accuracy not a factor, he can take inspiration from last season’s seventh place in the first of the back-to-back events, when a three-over back-nine cost him a place in the medals.
20th just seven days later shows he can play the track, whilst best efforts over the last 12 months include a third place at the Czech Masters, 10th at the Dunhill Links and third in Portugal, again all events with a leaning to the type he’ll take part in this week. Given his tied-second in Prague a year earlier, we can surmise he repeats form at tracks that suit.
It isn’t impossible he suddenly finds his form on tour, and with an inkling he’ll ‘do a JB Hansen’ and go crackers for a spell. This would seem the perfect place to start.
Julien Guerrier – Third at Hillside and Celtic Manor last season show the former winner of The Amateur Championship (at Royal St. George’s) still has what it takes to compete at this slightly lower level. Add top-15 finishes at Denmark, Spain, Germany and Mauritius – all with front-rank putting stats – and it’s easy to see the two-time Challenge Tour winner having some effect in the top-20 market.
A sixth and eighth-placed finish at the Rocco Forte in Sicily behind Lagergren and Alvaro Quiros (both who turn up when they sniff links from a mile away) reads well, and his repeat performances at his home country, Portugal, Spain and Prague show he performs where he has good memories.
With four outings here, split between the Challenge Tour and the DPWT, the Frenchman can continue an improving course record of 19/13/9.
Jack Senior – I’m convinced that 34-year-old Senior is a better player than his current ranking outside of the top-500 in the world, and although it has been a while since his win at Galgorm Castle in 2019, he has racked up top-10 finishes at Gran Canaria, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (behind Min Woo Lee, Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick), Mallorca and on the Spanish mainland.
Back at Galgorm, he was tied-13th last year, a repeat result that sits nicely with his 23rd in Mallorca, and top-20s in Prague and Denmark, courses already highlighted as associates to Al Hamra.
I’m happy to ignore last week’s missed cut as it was his first outing since October, and he’s of enough interest back on a course on which he has a sixth, 11th and 19th place finish in three tries at the lower level.
I’m expecting one of the top eight or 10 to prove too good, but these events often throw up names on a surprise leaderboard, and it will take just one hotter-than-normal week with the putter for that to happen.
Victor Perez – WIN
Callum Shinkwin – WIN/TOP-5
Julien Guerrier – TOP-10 TOP-20
Tapio Pulkkanen – TOP-10 TOP-20
Jack Senior – TOP-10 TOP-20
2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Betting Tips & Selections
Here we go again.
After the multi-course American Express and the two-track Farmers, the PGA Tour arrives at the legendary Pebble Beach for this week’s AT&T.
Shorter than the average tour event, the coastline course/s deliver a reasonably simple test for the high-level celebrities and their professional playing partners, but this changes dramatically should any of the famed coastal weather arrive.
Bad enough for those paid to hit a dimpled ball, it can turn an amateur’s enjoyable (and expensive) round into something horrendous like this.
Three players clearly stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, both in terms of quality and world ranking, and they do have figures that justify that – in spades.
Favourite Jordan Spieth is the King of Pebble. His record here is unsurpassed, and he relishes the challenges of this seaside terrain.
However, with no serious turn in conditions, I’m not sure his current game is much to go on. The 29-year-old has missed the cut in two of his last six starts, the best results coming in limited field events at two of the FedEx play-off events and the Tournament of Champions.Not as if Spieth needs to be in form – he won the RBC Heritage last year after a run of mc/35/35/mc, but even a win, runner-up, third , fourth, seventh and ninth, it always feels as if you take your life in your own hands when backing him at 10/1 and less.
Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland make up the elite trio, all residing in the top-16 of the world rankings.
Both justify being alongside the Texan at the top of the market, although until last season’s closing sixth place finish, only Fitz’s 12th at the 2019 U.S Open was worth noting from an event formline of missed-cut and 60th.
Interestingly, the Norwegian matched that finish three years ago, becoming low amateur for the second major in a row, and both are hard to argue against.
With combined wins in Mayakoba, Puerto Rico and Dubai, as well as top finishes at various Open championships, conditions suit both equally well. Choosing between them is tough enough, but with home players winning 27 of the last 30 events held here (17 of the last 18) and with doubts about the motivation for playing this week, they can all be left alone at combined odds of around 9/4.
The draw is probably as crucial here as any other event, with Pebble Beach having some of the smallest greens on tour and Spyglass Hill being affected occasionally by similar winds. Make the score at Monterey Peninsula, if at all possible.
Despite the quality up front, the section that includes defending champion Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealey, Andrew Putnam and Seamus Power has equally strong credentials for the title.
Hoge aims to become only the second player to defend this title since 2000 and, whilst playing as well as ever, is no Dustin Johnson, whilst it’s hard to put McNealey in front of the Irishman given the latter’s 2-0 lead in PGA Tour wins, and 3-zip if you count the KFT.
Power ranks in the top echelons of players with form at short courses and is easy to make a case for in an event at which he opened up a five shot lead at one point last year, before finishing in ninth.
The 35-year-old has never been better, now ranked inside the top-30 after a season that included that top-10 here and again at Southern Hills, a top-12 behind Fitz at Brookline, third at Mayakoba and fifth at the RSM. The highlight, of course, was the victory in Bermuda, sitting nicely with his first victory at the Barbasol, that Kentucky event showing links to proven coastal/short course player Kelly Kraft (runner-up here to Spieth in 2019) and Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Streelman, with six top-10 finishes between them at the AT&T.
Rather like the player he beat in that Barbasol play-off (J.T Poston) Power is fairly easy to read, and although the very nature of pro-ams doesn’t suit everyone, the course make-up suits perfectly.
Usually consistent and in the top echelons for tee-to-green, greens-in regulation, and for up-and-down, Power comes here looking to recover from an unusually poor performance on the large Abu Dhabi putting floors. Certainly the figures look awry compared with his 10 strokes gained for tee-to-green and 12th for around-the-green, and it’s easy to see improvement in California, where in 2022 he lay in fourth place into Sunday at the pro-am at La Quinta, as well as a previous ninth place finish at the Barracuda (fifth into Sunday).
He’s the best of the week but I’m also including:
Alex Smalley – We were on 26-year-old Smalley for the American Express a few weeks ago and he was going well until the PGA West (Nicklaus) caught him out, causing a drop into 62nd from 21st place, and close to two of the other three selections this week, as well as Garrick Higgo, who just missed out due to lack of experience here.
The recovery into a place just outside the top-20 was impressive, though, with a final round 63 comprising 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, as well as making all his putts under 10 feet.
Those sorts of figures have been expected from the outstanding Duke graduate, who made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the 2017 U.S Open. Since then, it hasn’t been plain sailing, indeed he has yet to win an event despite an excellent return to this level in 2022.
Starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, he then finished in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made seven of nine cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking and significant given the test this week..
He couldn’t get it going at Waialae for the Sony but followed up the La Quinta effort with a top-40 at Torrey Pines, when his tee-to-green game was again perfectly respectably ranked in 33rd given the strength of the field.
Runner-up in the Dominican Republic, fourth and 15th in Houston, and with form at Colonial and Bermuda, this looks the prefect test for a player that at least had a look last year, and that the bookmakers simply cannot make their mind up about.
Robby Shelton – Makes his event debut here this week in his second time at the top level, but the former Walker Cup player has enough relevant form to make him of interest, particularly after a sixth place at the multi-course American Express a few weeks ago, his best finish in California so far.
Shelton included Scottie Scheffler and Ben Griffin as play-off victims when winning two of a total of four KFT events in 2019 and 2022, coming here after making eight out of ten cats (yeah, I know) since arriving back on tour in September.
Best efforts are 15th at the Shriners and a top-10 at the RSM, but let’s also throw in a sixth at Mayakoba, 11th at the Honda and a top-20 in Texas.
This is a drop in class, and significantly in distance, from Torrey Pines and I’d expect to see more advantage taken here.
Harrison Endycott – One of the Player To Follow for this season, it’s hard to work out exactly what the 26-year-old Aussie wants in terms of course set-up, but given his heritage and junior career, it’s fairly certain he can play well in the wind.
Having made his way through the grades including a win, two top-10s and two top-20s on the KFT, he wasted little time making his mark at the highest level, finishing tied-12th at the Fortinet in California, a joint best-of-the-day 65 launching him up the board on day three.A month later, Endycott started the Bermuda Championship with a pair of double-bogeys before signing for an opening nine-under 62, the catalyst for another career top-10, and in November he overcame a poor opening round at his home PGA Championship (111th) before flying through the field as the event progressed, finishing a never-nearer 18th behind Cam Smith.
Even the missed-cut at the Australian Open was not devoid of promise, an opening 68 seeing him start the second round in 7th place.
With a pedigree in Australia and a residence in Scottsdale, I’ll take the chance he will find something back in California, scene of the best of three events in 2023 – 22nd at the American Express – when his game showed the all-round prowess it did in Scottsdale – top-11 in approach and top-15 tee-to-green.
- Seamus Power – WIN
- Alex Smalley – WIN/TOP-5
- Robby Shelton – WIN-TOP-10
- Harrison Endycott – WIN/TOP-20
2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections
Get your bets on earlier than usual this week as the Farmers Insurance Open runs Wednesday to Saturday, the advancement of a day avoiding a clash with the NFL Conference Championship games.
We raise the bar a notch as the tour reaches Torrey Pines, a course used for this (and related) events since 1968, although the current set-up on the South Course now measures almost 1000 yards than the one seen 55 years ago.
Now utilising the easier North Course for one round, players will still need to have their grinding game as the weekend progresses over a course re-configured for the 2021 U.S Open – won by this week’s hot favourite Jon Rahm – and one that has seen the last three winners score no better than 15-under.
As my learned GolfWRX colleague says:
The real 2023 PGA Tour season begins today. Let’s go!
— Matt Vincenzi (@MattVincenziPGA) January 23, 2023
While last year’s winner Luke List was a shock, beaten play-off rival Will Zalatoris certainly fits the bill in becoming the last of a long line of contenders at Torrey that have challenged at the majors.
Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and, of course, seven times Torrey winner Tiger Woods, would all be seen as elite in their time, and you can confidently add the likes of runners-up Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Xander Schauffele to those.
Greens change to Poa Anna this week, and with the home course possessing suitably tough greens, players need solid tee-to-green games to remain with a chance down the back-stretch on Saturday afternoon. Forget the pitch and putt of La Quinta and friends, this week is far from a repeat.
You would be forgiven for thinking this is the Woods era, a solid 4/1 shot heading the market.
Tiger he is not, but having won four of his last five events and winning the Farmers here in 2017 and the U.S Open four years later, Jon Rahm carries almost unbeatable status into this week. However, much depends on getting the right draw over the first two days – at the price he can be left alone.
With the trophy likely to go to one of the better fancied players, here’s a chance to select two or three from the next half-dozen and still look at a better return than backing the favourite – and, for me, Tony Finau and Jason Day fit the bill.
Unlike someone like J.T Poston, I can’t seem to call Tony Finau right, but if he is ever going to repay the faith, it is here.
Having raised his game to another level in winning back-to-back at Minnesota and Detroit, the 33-year-old was fancied to go well in Mayakoba. Naturally, he missed his first cut since the US Open in June, subsequently gagging up in Houston, making it three wins in seven starts – not Rahm (or Scheffler of early ’22) but not far behind.
Fancied to do another back-to-back special, Finau then withdrew from the RSM Classic before probably needing the run-out when 7th at the Hero World Challenge. – extremely frustrating but, on face value, continuing a career-best run.
2023 has seen encouragement in both starts, with eight rounds in the 60s leading to a seventh place at Kapalua and a most recent 16th at last week’s pro-am jolly, where he came from outside the top 60 on Thursday and from 34th at the cut mark.
Finau’s tee-to-green game remains of the highest class, ranking ninth in ball-striking over three months and third over six, but it’s now matched by a putting prowess that takes advantage of his constant green finding.
Events may be limited, but over the last 14 rounds or so, Big Tone leads the tour in putting average, beating even the likes of flying Jon Rahm. Sure, you can regard that as a skewed stat, so take it over another 12 weeks and he is in third – remarkable for someone that just a year ago was known for missing the vital ones.
Take the 2021 U.S Open away and Finau has four top-six finishes and a pair of top-20s here, and ignore last year’s missed weekend too – he was in the top-10 after the first round and was simply not at the races on day two.
Finau’s record on poa greens reads well enough – he won the Rocket Mortgage, and has top-10s at Riviera, Winged Foot and Olympia Fields, the latter pair giving credence to the Torrey/majors connection, whilst connecting Memorial form sees him record two top-10s and two top-15 finishes.
Being unconvinced that either Zalatoris’ or Justin Thomas’ games are pitch perfect, TF looks the best challenge to the favourite.
The favourite’s record in California is almost too good to be true, with four wins, seven top-5s and three top-10s but if anyone can challenge that, it’s surely Jason Day, who looks as if he is now fully recovered from injury and personal tragedy.
Winner here in 2015 and 2018, the Aussie also boasts a runner-up, third and fifth place around tough Torrey and an average position of 15th from 14 Pebble Beach outings. He loves California.
Having dropped from world number one to outside of the top-100 in five seasons, the 35-year-old has fought back from adversity to make his way back up the rankings, helped by a pair of top-10 finishes at, no surprise, Pebble and Torrey.
In order to protect what has been a fragile back, the 16-time major top-10 star reached out to swing coach Chris Como, formally an aide of Tiger Woods.
“Going into this year I did some swing changes with my coach, and I feel like those are slowly cementing themselves in there,” Day said on Golf Channel.
“I’m shallowing it out,” Day continued. “The swing has changed dramatically. It took me about a year and half to get the body correct, and the body movement correct until I could actually get into shallowing it out correctly.”
Judged on the latest figures, it seems to be coming together nicely.
Day ended 2022 with four cuts from five, including 8th at Shriners, 11th at the CJ Cup, 21st at Mayakoba and 16t in Houston, and last weekend finished in the top 20 at La Quinta having been third after two rounds.
16th for ball-striking over the last three months, slightly better over six, his top-30 for driving accuracy has led to a similar ranking for greens found. Take that, and any improvement, into an event he enjoys more than most, and we have a winning formula.
Away from the top, it’s hard to get excited about the chances of many.
Having nabbed a big-priced second last week with one of the 12 Players-to-Watch 2023, it is tempting to go back in again on Davis Thompson on a course that may suit even better. However, hitting 14 out of 18 greens at the Stadium Course is a far cry from a debut at Torrey Pines and he may just need the sighter.
Taylor Montgomery calls himself after his fourth top-five in just nine full-time starts on the PGA, particularly after a debut 11th as a sponsor’s invite last year. Prices in the 20s don’t appeal at all against proven and regular winners though, so take a chance on another top finish from the defending champion Luke List.
For someone that believes List is Dye-positive, his first win on the poa greens of Torrey Pines was a bit of a shocker.
I put the 38-year-old up as a lively top-10 bet last week, when the thought process was that this long driver should only need to drive and flip to the greens, but sadly his game was all over the place. However, I’ll take another chance in conditions that clearly suit last year’s play-off victor, a win that came off four straight cuts here that included a 10th and 12th placed finish.
Since the start of the 2022 season, List has 11 top-25 rankings for driving, five for approaches and seven for tee-to-green, whilst it was only a couple of starts ago that he matched the best at Kapalua.
As for the fabled short stick, it’s a case of being with him when he just works better than field average – 6th at Bethpage Black, in two of his four completions at Riviera and in three of five outings at Silverado, all of a similar grass type.
Players constantly repeat form here at Torrey, so whilst he may not do a 1-2 or, indeed, a 2-1 on the lines of Mickelson, Day, Snedeker and Leishman to name a few, List is very capable of pulling out a finish on the first two pages of the board.
- Tony Finau Win
- Jason Day Win-Top-5
- Luke List Top-10
- Luke List Top-20
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