Let’s cut to the chase. Has there been a precipitous drop in golf participation or is it the hand wringing of borderline operators? I promised an analysis based on fact and will proceed accordingly.
Before I start, I want to talk about professional golf: the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours. This is not golf as far as a participation issue. It’s TV entertainment played by the most skilled golfers in the world. Take away TV and the purses would be peanuts with the PR folks desperately looking for sponsors.
As a percentage, professional golfers represent some 0.05-to-0.07 percent of all golfers, but if you read the golf magazines and listen to golf commentary and you might think that they were golf. No business model focuses on 0.05 percent of the market for decision making, yet the ruling bodies are greatly influenced by these stars and it’s almost as if the other 99.95 percent of golfers don’t count. Yes the pros are a factor in showing us the game at its highest level and yes they can be considered a positive influence. When you see the participation hard numbers, you will also see that while they’re a factor they haven’t moved the needle.
Add in the elite amateurs (another miniscule group: about 3.4 percent of golfers who play almost to a professional level) and we see more examples of an industry that focuses on the minority. Look up courses on the internet and you’ll find language such as, “Come play our 7200-yard, ultra-challenging course,” etc.
Really, if all the amateurs in the U.S. who could actually play a 7200-yard course were to play golf at the same time, there would be still be tons of empty golf courses in this country. But I digress…
This segment is about a statistical evaluation of participation. My primary database is The National Golf Foundation (NGF). The NGF is sponsored by the various facets of the golf industry and produce a variety of studies on participation. I promised facts not opinions, but others besides me have accused the NGF of painting the numbers in the best possible light. I prefer to look at the data and state the obvious.
- The NGF reports a core base of some 25 million golfers, down from 30 million in 2000.
- Some 40 percent of that total is a category called occasional golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than once per year. In 2000, they accounted for about 9.1 million golfers. In 2012, that number grew to 11.6 million golfers.
- Then we have core golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than eight times per year. They accounted for about 19.7 million golfers in 2000, but only 13.7 million golfers in 2012.
- I like to focus on what the NGF calls avid golfers, which are folks (age 6 and up) who play more than 25 times per year. In 2000, there were 10.2 million avid golfers, but that number dropped nearly 4 million to 6.4 million in 2012.
Why focus on avid golfers you might ask? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on getting the members of the other categories to play more? In fact, if you look at the occasional category you’ll see that it actually increased from 9.1 million in 2000 to 11.6 million in 2014. This would be an example of selective analysis, something for a cheerleader. I could point out this fact to the exclusion of all others. But when you look at the accumulated numbers, one thing is evident; there has been some success getting new players to the course, but it’s been overridden by the fact that they don’t continue playing.
I’m not going into the population factor in detail; over the years we had a significant increase as golf went up AND down. Today’s Caucasian population rate of increase is down, so overall increases come from minorities who are not inclined toward golf as a group. I could turn this data alone into a very negative assessment, but let’s just say population isn’t a positive factor.
In the marketing business this is very serious. The hard job is new customers, and when you get them and can’t keep them you have a major problem.
When I looked at the numbers in greater detail I learned that the avid category picked up the tab for some 71 percent of all golf-related expenses. So a modest increase in the avid category has greater impact than a more significant increase in the other two. If we add in the golfers who play more than eight rounds a year, we now have 94 percent of golf spending.
What about junior golf? What have all the industry sponsored programs achieved? It’s down 10 percent since 2000 and more than 20 percent since it peaked in 2005. That could be the subject of a study unto itself, but the bottom line is that it isn’t something of promise for the future. You can join the NGF for $125 a year if you want to peruse their data.
During the last 14 years there has been a variety of articles blaming weather, the economy and a variety of short-term influences. I maintain that over 14 years these influences have been mitigated.
Why are golfers leaving? In all surveys there is one dominant theme; too slow, no fun. And, for the record, too slow IS no fun.
This will evoke a response from those who say I’m ignoring cost. Not at all; I’m just focused on optimizing value. More than 145 courses closed in 2013 and the vast majority had greens fees and carts under $40. Value first, cost will follow. There was very inexpensive tennis during its decline.
There probably isn’t a reader that can’t point to one specific negative factor that is beyond my boundaries. There is the whole concept of disregarding rules and using “fixes” like 15-inch cups.
I understand the thinking behind all that, but with the overall objective of increasing participation I’ll stay focused; golf needs more avid players. We know who we want to get more involved in the game and we know why they are leaving. Let’s give the plan for bringing them back a 100 percent focused effort. If it shows no progress after a credible time period then we can go off the reservation.
The Wedge Guy: Plenty to be thankful for
This has always been my favorite week of the year, well, at least since I got old enough to understand that Christmas gifts do not just “appear” out of nowhere. I think that was about 60 years ago! This is the week of the year where, hopefully, we all take time to ponder the wonderful blessings of our lives.
No matter what 2022 might have brought you, I’m sure you can find at least a handful of blessings to be thankful for. My favorite holiday movie is a 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film called Holiday Inn. If you haven’t seen it and enjoy old movie musicals, you might make it a “must see” this season. Besides being the movie where the classic White Christmas was introduced, there is a wonderful song for Thanksgiving called Plenty To Be Thankful For. It’s also a favorite of mine.
As I ponder my own year and the 70 years before it, I realize I have so many wonderful things to be thankful for. That starts with my blessing of good health. I find it remarkable to be on the north side of 70 and still have no issues. No prescription drugs. Only one visit to the hospital in my life, the result of a motor scooter incident when I was 13. A fabulous Mom and Dad, small town upbringing. A lifetime of great friends and the blessing of living in a small town on the Texas coast. And most recently, the entry of a great lady into my life that makes it all so very much better.
I have the opportunity to run a fledgling custom wedge company, Edison Golf, which allows me to challenge the entire category with different thinking. And I love writing this column every week to share the many lessons learned and observations made in this 40-year career in the golf club industry.
There are just so many things I cannot list them all. But right there with them is the blessing of the strength and flexibility to still move the golf ball around pretty good. To be able to still play to a low single digit handicap from the regular tees (no ‘senior tees’ for me, thank you), and test courses from the back tees occasionally is fun.
That last blessing comes straight from God, of course, but I “help Him out” by making stretching and fitness a part of my daily regimen for over 30 years. And that is something anyone can do to improve their golf scores.
As we all face the “off season” (even here in South Texas it gets cold and rainy occasionally), you can make the decision to have lower golf scores to be thankful for this time next year. Just because you are cooped up inside for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to forego golf and preparation for next year can begin right now.
I believe flexibility is more crucial to stronger shots and lower scores than strength. A simple internet search can turn up dozens of good guides to stretching for a longer, fuller and stronger golf swing. If you add a bit of endurance and strength training to that, it’s amazing what will happen to your golf fortunes. Nothing more complex than a daily walk and swinging a weighted club daily or several times a week will pay off big dividends when you can get out on a winter golf vacation or next season starts.
I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving, and I look forward to another year of being able to share my lessons from a lifetime in golf and over 40 years in the golf equipment industry. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
2022 Fortinet Australian PGA Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
Is Cam Smith in Oz the Jon Rahm of the Spanish Open?
The recent, dominating T2/winner of the DP World Tour Championship went off at around 9/4 to beat Tommy Fleetwood, Min Woo Lee and company in Madrid in October, eventually sauntering home by six shots and delighting home fans supporting his third win at his home Open.
This week, Smith looks like going off at much bigger (at 7/2) to beat a slightly fuller depth of field, again including Min Woo, to win his third Australian PGA, after going back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.
There is little left to say about the winner of the 150th Open Championship in terms of class, summarised by the run of T2/T10/T3 at the three most recent Masters, as well as wins at the Sony Open, Tournament of Champions and The Players.
Of course, his career year has also been hot with controversy, denying a move to LIV and then vehemently defending his right to join the Greg Norman-led tour a couple of weeks later, but that’s not our concern as bettors. Indeed, look at the way his presence has been received back home.
Smith’s local Brisbane Times reports that the 29-year-old superstar was the first golfer to be awarded the ‘keys to the city’ and will also probably get his desire of a LIV event in Queensland.
He’s huge news back home, and if we are looking back at that Rahm comparison, looks pretty big at over 3/1.
Smith, though, is a grinder, no matter how good of one, and whilst wins have come in decent numbers under par, he tends to win when the short game simply outlasts everyone else in tough conditions. I’m not certain he gets that here, where the winning score was 22-under last time (in January 2022), and examining his impressive victories, it’s worth noting that none of his six PGA Tour victories have been by more than a single shot, with his second Oz PGA by just a stroke further.
You can count the LIV victory as better than I do if you like. No complaints on that score, but following that win he’s gone 42nd and 22nd on LIV – beaten by a lot less a player than he faces this week.
The filthy each-way doubles look certain to be popular, with Smith across the card from Joburg fancies Bezhuidenhout and Lawrence, but in a light betting heat, I’ll take a chance with just a couple of wagers.
Just one outright for me this week.
Golf form site, tour-tips.com rates Ryan Fox the number one this week, a short-head over Smith, and whilst he isn’t quite that elite class, his form shows he is plenty good enough to beat the favourite on his day, and hasn’t that much to find in comparison to Adam Scott, MIn Woo and Cam Davis, all of whom are rightfully respected and popular.
Fox is easy to precis.
In what has been a stellar season for the always-promising Kiwi, the 35-year-old has improved from around 200th in the world rankings at gthe start of ’22, to a current ranking well inside the world’s top-30, and certain of invites to all the most desired events.
Fox waltzed home by five shots in the desert at Ras Al Khaimah and won again by a stroke at the Dunhill Links, an event including tournament stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood. In between, Fox posted eight top-10 finishes including running-up in Belgium, at the Dutch Open, Irish Open and, just a couple of weeks ago, by a shot to Fleetwood and one of the latter’s favourite courses, the Gary Player GC.
Fox went into last week’s DP championship as a live contender for the title, which, given his commitment to the European Tour, would have been richly deserved. Perhaps that’s too political for here, though.
Either way, despite starting slowly in Dubai, he made his way up to 19th after four steadily improving rounds, enough to hold off Rahm from swapping places at the end-of-year rankings.
The silver medal is the least Fox should have got, and with a strong game on the sand-belt and a significant win in Queensland at the QLD PGA in 2018, challenging here should be a formality.
Fox has always had a strong driving game, and finding greens has rarely been an issue. However, he’s now gone from being one of the worst with the flat stick to ranking in the top-10 for putting average at even the toughest of courses.
I have the selection at the same price as Min Woo, who may have needed the run-out when a beaten 6/1 favourite here 11 months ago, so that 14/1 is simply too big to resist, especially as the latter has not won since July last year.
Fox can continue a big year for the Kiwis following Lydia Ko’s brilliant victory and subsequent crowning as this season’s LPGA queen.
The only other wager that appeals as a value pick is defending champion Jediah Morgan over Marc Leishman in a match bet.
Leish is a bit of a hero of mine, but it may sadly be time to give up on him as a serious potential winner in this class.
After a lucrative career, the 39-year-old came off a Covid slump to once again show up at Augusta over the last couple of years, but this has been a poor year.
There have been highlights – top-15 at the U.S Open, maybe – but he played poorly at River Highlands, in an event at which he historically does very well, and followed that with missed cuts at the Scottish Open and Open Championships, and midfield, don’t-write-home-about-it efforts at the first two FedEX play-off events.
Leishman is now at LIV, doing nicely ‘thank you’ and collecting $3 million for doing nothing much. In fact, his individual results gained him less ‘sole’ money than Pat Perez, another who caught onto the coat-tails of his teammates.
Respect to him, but Leishman isn’t going forwards these days, and will need the weather to turn bad if he is going to be able to live with some of these birdie machines.
Count Jediah Morgan as one of those birdie machines.
Although he produced a 100-1 shock in January when winning this event in just his fourth event as a professional, Morgan did it in some style.
The 22-year-old recorded three rounds of 65/63/65 to take a nine shot lead into Sunday, and simply went further clear, crossing the line 11 shots clear of Andrew Dodt, himself with plenty of previous in this grade at home, and a further shot clear of Min Woo.
In 2020 Morgan had won the Australian Amateur around this course, beating Tom McKibbin (see Joburg preview for his chances over there) by 5 & 3, an event that has thrown up Cam Smith amongst other multiple international winners, and whilst he hasn’t shown his best lately, returning to a venue he knows so well should be to his big advantage.
Morgan was one of the surprise signings to LIV Golf, although, as he admits, he “didn’t have much in my schedule,” given his exemption to the DP World Tour didn’t kick in till the 2023 season, plus it gave him the chance to compete at Centurion Club for LIV London – “The field is nice and strong so it’s a cool format to see how I shape up.”
Morgan has played every event since, although mixing it up with sporadic entries and invites onto the PGA, DP and Asian tours do not help a young golfer settle.
His Dunhill Links effort wasn’t bad – a 76 on that horrendous day two the cause of his eventual missed cut – but 25th and 13th at the last two events are as good as Leishman produced at the same events.
Leish has the back-form and the class but looks on the way down, and while the attention of being defending champ could overawe the younger man, he has put up with ‘Golf, but louder’ for a few months now.
I have these much closer than the prices suggest, so take the 8/5 in a match.
- Ryan Fox 14/1 Each -Way
- Jediah Morgan to beat Marc Leishman -72 holes – 8/5
TourPutt – The secret of the pros?
Driver vs. Putter: Your Choice?
If you were granted one golf-related superpower, which would you choose? The ability to hit 300-yard drives straight down the fairway all the time, or never 3-putt again?
Bobby Locke, one of the greatest putters in the game, said to ‘drive for show, but putt for dough’ And when you consider that the putter is the most used club in the bag, it seems like a no-brainer. But then again, according to Mark Brodie and his ‘strokes gained’ method, a long, straight driver may be more important to saving strokes. So what would you choose?
For me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the putting skills as I am currently suffering from the worst case of yips I’ve ever experienced in over 30 years. Sure, it’d be nice to outdrive the guys in my regular foursome, but I don’t think I can live down the shame of missing inside of 3ft all day, every day. And with no genie in site, I have searched high and low for that perfect putter that can cure my woes.
After trying nearly 50 putters over the past two years and enduring numerous snide remarks to get putting lessons instead, I finally gave in. I bit the bullet and sought professional help from Jong-hwan Choi, Korea’s number one putting coach to the pros.
Choi is an accomplished Tour putting coach who has made a name for himself through relentless research and dedication to master his chosen craft. Thus far, the pros and elite amateurs he helped have won a total of 350 tournaments, including KPGA, KLPGA, and LPGA wins. He is so popular that it can take up to a year to book a lesson with the man himself, but I was desperate. After pulling all the strings I can muster, I was able to get an interview with him in the hopes of getting some help
with my flat stick.
When the day finally came, I arrived at Choi’s academy armed with 3 of my current best-performing putters. I was eager to glean the secrets of the pros and to find out which of these best fit my stroke. I was greeted by Choi and briefly shown around the spacious academy, which had a large flat putting surface and some basic training aids that are common online. Upon chatting about Choi’s background and teaching philosophy, he reminded me of the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He was constantly emphasizing positivity and proactive learning reinforced with hard work and dedication towards self-growth – that skills are built, not born. Sure, I get that.
But surely, preaching alone doesn’t improve (my) putting?
TourPutt: The Secret of the Pros?
When Choi offered (after some subtle arm twisting) to look at my putting, I was puzzled when he pulled out a tablet rather than some kind of putting trainer. I figured maybe he was going to film me first, then point out some flaws on the monitor. Nope.
We were going high-tech for this one. We were joined by his friend and business partner Chan-ki Kim, a software engineer who co-developed TourPutt, a state-of-the-art putting training system.
According to the dynamic duo, TourPutt was developed to accurately assess a player’s putting tendencies, habits, and skills utilizing big data and A.I. Rather than second-guessing and trying to identify the faults, Tour Putt acts like an MRI machine that shows the doctor where to problem lies. Once the diagnosis is made, Choi would bring to bear his extensive experiences to cure the ailing putter. Sounded simple to me. But how would it know what my problem was?
As Choi’s fingers danced over the tablet in his hand, the TourPutt sprang into action and a small circle the size of a hole-cup appeared on the artificial putting surface. As I surveyed the circle of light beamed from a ceiling projector, Choi asked me a question I hadn’t considered before. ‘Which breaks are you most comfortable with on short putts? What are the odds that you make them?’ Taking my blank look as his cue, Choi proceeded to explain the process of mapping my putting pattern to gauge my stren gths and weaknesses.
To begin, I was directed to putt a golf ball into a hole from 36 random locations ranging from 3 to 6 ft. A ball tracking camera with two projectors mounted on the ceiling rendered various crisp, clear images onto the putting surface. Prior to start, I was informed that the putting surface was sloped 3% from top to bottom. So if you were to imagine a clock face, the 12 o’clock location would be a 3° downhill straight putt, while 6 o’clock would be a 3° uphill straight putt.
As I am right-handed, all putts from the left side of the 3 o’clock would be a hook like, and the left side a slice lie, all to varying degrees. When I asked why it was fixed at 3%, Kim explained that tour regulation greens don’t allow for more than a 3 degree slope within 6ft of the hole. Also, most amateur golfers had a difficult time detecting such a small amount of slope, and thereby misjudge the breaks to a higher score.
Knowing Where to Tap
After the pattern test began, it took me a little over 20 minutes to complete a total of 36 putts at random locations. I was quite conscious of the many eyes on my performance and equally frustrated at how often I was missing putts despite my best efforts. After I was done, Choi pulled up my results, or key performing index (KPI), on a large screen TV where I was able to see exactly where I was effective in my short putts. In brief, I had a tough time with both hook and slice lie putts. I showed slightly better results with uphill straight and slice putts, but absolutely nothing to write home about.
Now, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of the plumber who was called to fix a steam pipe. After looking around the pipes and tapping a couple of valves, he charged $200 for his services. When the irate customer demanded to know why it cost so much and asked for a detailed breakdown of the services, the plumber replied, ‘$10 for tapping, $190 for knowing precisely where to tap.’
As such, my results from the pattern test were eye-opening. I’ve never known what lie I was more effective at, much less the percentage of probable success. For example, the more often I use TourPutt to practice or diagnose my putting, the more accurately it can diagnose my skills. Thus, I can pinpoint which area to improve through practice, as well as try to get the ball to an area I am more likely to save par.
Wow. This was tour pro stuff. Was this the secret of the pros?
I was starting to get heady with the possibilities this digital marvel was able to provide. It took both of them to bring me down to earth again by informing me that knowing the areas of improvement is only half the battle.
For the actual tapping part, Choi and Kim then walked me through the many innovative features of TourPutt focused on helping me improve my putting. I was mesmerized by the detailed graphics that flashed all over the putting surface.
I was already impressed with the diagnostic aspects of TourPutt, but upon seeing the actual features to help me improve my putting, I was doubly blown away. From reading the green speed and breaks accurately to effective swing tempo and motion tracking, the system seemed straight out of the future.
Before TourPutt came into being, Choi was frustrated with the difficulty in collecting crucial data from an actual green as it was difficult to find a flat area to map his student’s patterns. When he discussed the matter with Kim back in 2019, Kim immediately became interested in ways to mesh modern technology and A.I. driven data to the art of putting. As an elite level golfer with extensive knowledge in the fields of VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality), Kim understood right away the issues faced by Choi and how he could help.
Delving deep into Choi’s experience and insights, Kim designed the TourPutt’s interface to yield accurate and reliable data that can be cross-checked, correlated, and compared across past and future performances. Best of all, TourPutt and its proprietary app feature the ability to keep track of all of my performance from any TourPutt system and access the data anywhere at any time. I could even replay all of my past putts and see the speed and the path it took, and compare them with other golfer’s data in the system. Mind. Blown.
Kim further explained that this feature of collecting real-world significant big data is one of the biggest advantages of TourPutt, and enables it to evolve further with every putt stored in its vast database.
The Student Becomes The Teacher
Once the flaws are identified, we moved on to the more traditional slow-motion video to see what I was doing wrong to miss the putts. For me, I kept too much weight on the back foot, and also needed more forward press to keep the putter head online through impact.
After several minutes of drill to correct the issues, I was holing the putts much better. The data from the second pattern test confirmed the improvement, and I was also shown the actual paths that my two putts took before and after the fix. All in all, being able to verify that the diagnosis was correct with immediate results, all backed by data was highly reassuring and enlightening. But what if these improvements were short-lived? That as soon as I walk out of Choi's presence, the magic evaporates and my crappy putting returns? I can’t tell you how often a club I thought was the answer to my prayers devolved into an ordinary stick as soon as I paid for it. It’s downright uncanny how often this happens.
To this end, Choi gave me a glimpse of hope. He assured me that since I was investing time into my skills and not money into more equipment, it will definitely last longer. Also, the coaching provided by Choi is reflected in each and every putt I had made since the lesson and recorded as part of my putting profile. So if I were to stray from the ‘good’ putts, the system can be used to bring me back on track. And if this cycle of improvement continues, I would be able to be my own teacher and
eventually practice effectively and independently on my own.
Honestly, I don’t know about this part. After all, I too know that the right diet and exercise will give me a six-pack; but knowing and doing it are two separate things. In the end, how effective any tool can depend on how well I make use of it, so it will have to remain to be seen. What I can say with certainty, however, is that TourPutt seems to work for a lot of people. Choi’s students continue to post wins on various tours with regularity, each crediting him with their improved putting performance. In turn, Choi credits his partner Kim and TourPutt’s growing database for accurate diagnosis and self-learning.
In Korea, the art of putting has found its poster child in Choi, with more and more golf academies and private studios installing TourPutt for its members. Several local tour pros and top amateurs have also installed the not-so-cheap system in their homes and have said to benefit from the move. Remember when Tiger showed up one day at the range with his own Trackman? I would imagine having a TourPutt in your basement is something like that, but I can only guess. I don’t have a personal Trackman either.
Now that I know where I need to improve on, does this mean I will be taking money off my foursome buddies with alarming regularity? Well, let me see. I signed up for pilates a few months ago and found out exactly where I need to work on for more flexibility. But as I still creak all over when bending over to tie my shoes, I’d guess my putting won’t miraculously improve right away neither. But hey, that’s on me. I’ll just have to start working on the tapping part. Anyone looking to buy some used putters?
For more information on TourPutt from the man himself, check out the video below.
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