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Want to go lower? The stats say you need an earlier tee time

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Recently, I was researching data for some of my PGA Tour clients on tee times (late vs. early) and scoring average. Is there a correlation, I wondered. I assumed there was, and knew that the results would be applicable to golfers of all handicap levels. Everyone could use these findings to help them refine their on-course and practice strategies and improve their scores.

The PGA Tour defines an “early round” as any round where the player tees off in the first half of the set of tee times for that day, and one of the clear results was that a player’s average score is typically better in early rounds than later rounds.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.17.59 PM

For the last five seasons, the early rounds scoring average has been 0.163 strokes better than the late rounds scoring average. While 0.163 strokes may not seem like much of a difference, it translates to roughly 20 spots on the PGA Tour Money List.

So, why are the late rounds worse than the early rounds? My theory is that it comes down to two different factors.

No. 1: Wind

The wind tends to pick up around noon and is usually at its lowest speed at the break of dawn. Here’s a chart showing the measured wind speeds in Orlando, Fla., on March 21st of this year. I picked this date arbitrarily to illustrate what the typical wind speeds look like during the day.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.19.21 PM

Last year I did some statistical research on Tour players and wind. What I found was that once the wind speed reached greater than 12 mph, the scores started to rise noticeably. The chart above shows that the wind increased to more than 12 mph around 11 a.m., but actually became consistently more than 12 mph around 2 p.m.

I also did research on players who became more or less effective when the wind picked up. When the wind speeds rise, I found that score averages also rise regardless of the player, but I wanted to check out the players who were the least affected by the wind and the players that were most affected by the wind and see what they had in common.

Some of the best wind players include:

  • Stuart Appleby
  • Brian Harman
  • Chris Kirk
  • Matt Jones

Some of the worst wind players include:

  • John Daly
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Bill Haas
  • Hunter Mahan

While there were some very good wind players who grew up in windy areas like Texas, Scotland or Australia, there were also plenty of poor wind players from those areas as well. That tells me that growing up in a windy area does not guarantee that a golfer will be effective in the wind. There were main areas of the game that the good wind players had in common, however, which were good play from 75-to-125 yards and with short game shots around the green.

My conclusions to those findings is that the wind makes it more difficult for golfers to find the green in regulation, and therefore golfers need to be able to get up and down with more regularity. It is certainly worth noting that big winds can take bad shots, specifically bad tee shots, and push them farther offline. That creates more third or fourth shots from 75-to-125 yards.

No. 2: Putting

There is the theory that it is more difficult to make putts later in the day because of the spike marks and foot imprints.

I did not know if that theory had any merit, so I started looking at the scoring averages of individual players in the early and late rounds over the years. I was most interested in the players who saw the largest regression from the early round scoring average to the late round scoring average and vice versa.

What I found was that the players who had the largest regression in the early rounds usually tend to struggle in three areas of the game:

  • Approach shots from 175-to-225 yards
  • Shots from 250-to-275 yards (most likely 3-wood play)
  • Par-4 Scoring Average

This indicates that golfers who tee off in the morning are playing the course on an even playing field because on Tour, shots from 175-to-225 yards have the largest correlation to success of any individual part of the game. And par-4 scoring averages correlates much more strongly to success on Tour than par-3 or par-5 scoring average. I am not sure what the shots from 250-to-275 yards indicate at this time.

The players with the largest regression in the late rounds, however, tend to struggle in these four very opposite parts of the game:

  • Putting from 3-to-10 feet
  • 3-Putt Percentage
  • Strokes Gained – Putting
  • Shots from 100-to-125 yards

The approach shots from 100-to-125 yards goes along with the research I have done on the better wind players on Tour. And the putting from 3-to-10 feet and 3-putt percentage indicates that the theory that you will make less putts in the afternoon does have some merit to it.

One of the other things my research has shown is that the golfers who rank the best in Strokes Gained – Putting tend to gain the most strokes on the more difficult greens like Pebble Beach and Riviera. Therefore, it does not surprise me that players who rank poorly in Strokes Gained – Putting would struggle more in the afternoon because the green conditions are more difficult.

Here’s some bullet points of what I think the average player can learn from my study:

  • You’re likely to shoot lower scores early in the morning, so do not be afraid to be aggressive in going after some flags and hitting driver instead of laying up.
  • If you have an afternoon tee time, check to see what the wind speed is like. If it is more than 12 mph, you may want to put a little extra time on hitting wedge shots and short game shots around the green before you tee off.
  • If you have an afternoon tee time, you may want to spend a little more time on the practice green to better help adjust to the worsened green conditions.
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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Cecilia

    Aug 30, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    HT

  2. leftright

    Aug 29, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I don’t like to dew sweep and want no part of the golf course early. I also cannot get loose when I play early, especially if it’s cold. I’ll keep my mid-day tee times. Only play early if you have to.
    Speaking of statisticians, I work with a guy who is a Bio-Statistics PhD and he wrote a couple of baseball books. He is really into baseball and knows a lot about the players and obviously their stats. His book says Tony Gwynn (recently died of cancer) was the best hitter when he gathered all his data and crunched it. I’m not trying to start a debate but I thought Rich might chime in on this if he is familiar with Dr Schell.

  3. Scooter McGavin

    Aug 29, 2014 at 7:12 am

    I like how my questions get ignored or not published, when I ask about the margin of error with these numbers. Probably because the .163 strokes difference between early and late rounds lies within the margin of error, which means there is literally no story here. As a “statistician” the author would know this, and was obviously trying to create a story from nothing.

  4. Pingback: Why and How to Become a Morning Golfer - Distance Direction

  5. DT

    Aug 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

    What % of amateurs actually hit the range before there round at all, never mind before an early round? Thousands of rounds of data and the best difference is just over 2 tenths of a stroke.

    The margin is so slim for the PGA tour, that’s after a proper warm up and stretch. Amateurs are lose by the third or fourth hole, move often then not starting with bogeys, doubles or worse.

  6. Rich

    Aug 27, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Really? So we’re talking about a quarter of a shot at worst right? Over analyse much! Keep reading your articles to see if one might be worth it but still haven’t found one. Hit the ball, walk, find it, hit it again. It’s that simple.

  7. John

    Aug 27, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Ok, it’s time a senior weighed in here. I’m 58, single digit capper in pretty decent shape. I swim and hike. However, the difference in my creaky body between 7am and 10am is significant. These days the later in the day I play, the better I play. My body just feels better with a few hours to oil up.

  8. MHendon

    Aug 27, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Yeah I’m sure early is better for most people but not me. It’s hard to play well when you’re still asleep. lol

  9. larrybud

    Aug 26, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    A couple of things were left out:
    1) Greens are probably more receptive on average in the morning before the heat of the day starts to bake them out
    2) If these stats include Sunday rounds, the pressure of a later tee time probably has some influence.

    It’d be interesting to see stats just for thursday and friday.

  10. GermanBallHunter

    Aug 26, 2014 at 10:42 am

    The reason why I play better in the morning compared to later in the afternoon is simply because my mind is fresh and less distructed from the day. In the morning I weak up and am totally focused on my game. I head with my coffee straight to the range, hit some balls and I am ready to tee off.

    Late tee times usually means that I was working or did my weekend shoppings before.

  11. Captain Oblivious

    Aug 26, 2014 at 9:45 am

    From Dave Pelz:

    “What is the lumpy doughnut?
    (Fig – pages 33,35) The lumpy doughnut is the congregation of footprints within a radius of 6 feet from the hole. The last 12 inches is almost footprint free and form the doughnut’s hole. This creates a volcanic like entrance ramp that can have significant impact on a ball’s line relative to its speed. The average 500+ footprints a foursome makes in the green take up to 2 hours to spring back up to normal shape. Fresh footprints are to the golf ball like a curb is to a pedestrian crossing the street… in other words, your ball can “trip” on its way to the hole. ”

    It amazes me how well the final groups do on the pro tours. They area at quite a disadvantage, IMO.

  12. Nigel

    Aug 26, 2014 at 9:29 am

    As someone who almost exclusively plays pre-8am rounds, I feel that there is a serious third factor: pace of play. I realize that it is possible to have a reasonable pace of play later in the day, but nothing gets me in a good groove like knowing that there is no one (or very few people) in front of me, and that I can play at my own (relatively quick) pace. I usually play my best golf when I can get around in 3.5 hours or less.

    • Dave C

      Aug 26, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      TOTALLY AGREE! At least a point for us amateurs.

  13. Nick

    Aug 26, 2014 at 8:59 am

    While I will say that greens are better when freshly mowed and not chewed up by spikes, the truth is the scoring average is better in earlier tee times because the players are better, not just the conditions. Players that tee off early usually have regular tee times and therefore are regular players, as opposed to say a guy playing his first round in 6 months. That guy usually isn’t in the 7:05 group. Not saying you won’t find lots of good sticks later, but I think, the averages favor the early birds. I bet the statistical significance of the scoring average would evaporate if controlled for handicap of player.

    • Captain Oblivious

      Aug 26, 2014 at 9:57 am

      How can you say “the statistical significance of the scoring average would disappear” when his study was conducted with the very best golfers on the planet?

      I rarely play early morning because I prefer to walk the course. However, when I do, I notice a favorable difference partly due to less wind, but mainly to the better condition of the greens. In the afternoon I have to deal with far more unrepaired ball marks, (which are much more easily repaired immediately than 2 hours later by me), many more scuff marks where some people cannot find the energy to pick up their feet when they walk and many, many more footprints.

  14. Early

    Aug 26, 2014 at 12:43 am

    “you may want to put a little extra time on hitting wedge shots and short game shots around the green before you tee off.”

    How about practicing to hit worm-burner bullets à la Lee Trevino so that it gets under the wind and rolls for miles, and also thinking about may be replacing the high-launching clubs with lower launching ones?

    “struggle more in the afternoon because the green conditions are more difficult.”
    How about the fact that pressure also has a lot to do with it, and not just green conditions?
    I don’t see anybody looking at the stats of the guys at the bottom 1/3 of the leaderboard on the 2nd day, as they are about to get cut and go home. Telling me they don’t count? The stats are skewed if you don’t count them in

    • Richie Hunt

      Aug 26, 2014 at 9:11 am

      On Thursday and Friday, everybody gets an early or late tee time on Tour regardless of score. So, if you tee off late on Thursday and take the lead after that day, you have an early tee time on Friday regardless of your position.

      I actually checked the late vs. early tee times for round 1 vs. round 2 vs. round 3 vs. round 4 and the stats were nearly identical. So for the sake of brevity, I just used the total early vs. late round data.

      • Scooter McGavin

        Aug 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm

        What is the margin of error for late vs early round averages?

  15. Early

    Aug 26, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Please lets not compare the Tour stats to our, menial, public-course type stats, hmmmm? Because they don’t relate.

    • Richie Hunt

      Aug 26, 2014 at 9:13 am

      So, are you saying that the green conditions do not get worse and the wind will not pick up later in the day?

      • Driving range closed

        Aug 26, 2014 at 9:23 am

        No, the difference being that public courses don’t usually have the driving range open an hour before the first tee time !

  16. paul

    Aug 25, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    For me the difference can be several strokes. I love playing at 6am and being done before its hot out. Greens are slowed down and putting is much easier. I suck on fast greens cause I am to aggressive putting.

  17. Paul Christianson

    Aug 25, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Good stuff. I’d be interested to see the results of just the first two rounds of tournament play. This would allow us to control for more variables and ensure that we are taking a proper sample. Once the cut is made, some more variables come into play that are harder to control for. Is it possible to just measure the 1st and 2nd rounds?

    • Richie Hunt

      Aug 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

      I looked at the data for each of the rounds and it’s very similar across the board. So, I just used the total round data for the sake of brevity.

      • Scooter McGavin

        Aug 26, 2014 at 11:40 pm

        What is the margin of error for late vs early round averages?

  18. TR1PTIK

    Aug 25, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    I prefer early tee times when I can get them – 7am if I can, but definitely before 9. I’ve found that I feel more comfortable in the mornings and tend to relax a little more because the temps are cooler, and unless it’s just nasty the scenery and lighting conditions seem to be better in the mornings which helps me stay positive. It’s not that I can’t score well later in the day, but it definitely requires more effort.

  19. Joe Calcio

    Aug 25, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Great article and research Rich. Very interesting.

    I’d be curious if you looked at whether the results hold up when only looking at Thurs/Fri rounds pre-cut?

    Part of me wonders if pressure of trying hold a lead or move up the board on Sat/Sun has any impact. But these are the pros, right? They don’t feel pressure!

    • Jimmy Jimmy

      Aug 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I wonder if the difference is even more than just a tenth of a shot. If Saturday and Sunday are included in the figures above, then the leaders (presumably playing better golf cause they’re in the lead) go out at the end of the day while those playing more poorly go out earlier. The guys that aren’t playing as good are being given a boost, resulting in better scores than the leaders.

  20. Martin

    Aug 25, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    It’s not better for me, I live in the north and am not a good enough putter to putt on greens covered in dew for 7 holes the 2 holes while it burns off and then a third speed when they are dry.

    I can count on one hand the number of really great rounds I have played before 9:00 AM.

    My preference is the crack of 10:00.

  21. Kristian

    Aug 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    For me, early tee times often have me playing slightly worse than daytime rounds purely for the fact that I get to short-warmup jitters. During the day, I’m awake, fed, and feeling energized. In the morning, I usually feel a bit tired, I’ve not always eaten a full meal, and I don’t always have time to really warm up. That difference usually results in me standing over the ball on the first few holes with an iron or a wedge in my hand having a n inner dialogue with myself about not making a mis-hit.

    • Happyday_J

      Aug 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Adam Scott had a similar problem and took the advice from a veteran tour player, always wake up 3 hours before your tee time.

      I do the same, and if it is a tournament, I will work out and go for a run before hand. That way, my blood has been pumping, I’ve loosened up from my sleep and when I get the range an hour before, I am ready to start warming up and preparing for the round of golf. Allowing to be in attacking mode the first few holes and not be cautious b.c I am not awake.

      Can make for early 4 am wake up calls, but hey, my motto, we all have plenty of time to sleep when we are dead, dont waste time while we are alive ;).

      • Early

        Aug 26, 2014 at 12:36 am

        HappydayJ:

        Yeah? Have you ever played the first tee time of the morning on a public course? The driving range ain’t open, man. it’s usually still dark as you tee the ball up. So how do you expect to “warm up”???

        • Happyday_J

          Aug 26, 2014 at 12:28 pm

          I have hit balls in the dark on numerous occasions, a warm up is a warm up, get the motion of the swing down, loosen up and make solid contact. Believe it or not, based on how you hit it, you can get a good idea where its going, shape and trajectory.

        • Happyday_J

          Aug 26, 2014 at 12:29 pm

          Sorry, missed the point of the range not being open, in that case, I have a couple spare balls in the bag that are hit-aways, and go to the range and hit them. There is always a way.

  22. Scooter McGavin

    Aug 25, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    For the Late vs. Early round averages, what is the margin of error?

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How To Overcome The Mid-Season Golf Blues

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Every Year around this time, golfers start getting tentative because they have missed a few too many golf shots and they immediately start to blame the faulty wires on the Pinocchio.

Of course, we are here to tell you that is not the case.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship: Outright Betting Picks

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With the PGA TOUR regular season in the books, it’s time to begin the 2022 FedEx Cup playoffs.

Previously known as the St. Jude Classic and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the event will now serve as the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and is named the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

While the name of the event and the spot on the PGA TOUR schedule has changed, the course remains the same. TPC Southwind is located in Memphis, Tennessee and has been a regular TOUR stop since 1989.

TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring 7,244 yards. The course features Bermudagrass greens and rough. With 94 bunkers and 10 water hazards, there is potential trouble on almost every hole.

The FedEx St. Jude Championship will play host to the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings with the top 65 and ties making it through to the weekend.

FedEx St. Jude Championship Outright Bets

Matt Fitzpatrick (+2200)

Typically, the FedEx Cup playoff events are won by players who have been among the best overall players for that season. Matt Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive golfers of the year. For the 2022 season, the Englishman ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total, which trails only Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.

Had it not been for Fitzpatrick’s incredible U.S. Open victory, TPC Southwind would have been a spot that I’ve always thought could be the perfect break through spot for the 27-year-old. Now that he’s won and gotten his first victory in the United States out of the way, it only increases his chances of being able to win a FedEx Cup Playoff event.

Talent was never the concern for Fitzpatrick. The former top ranked amateur in the world exploded onto the professional golf scene at nineteen years old and never looked back. Despite having eight European Tour victories by the time he’d hit his mid-twenties, many people questioned why he couldn’t win on American soil. Now that he’s a U.S. Open champion, there’s reason to believe the floodgates will open.

Fitzpatrick has had plenty of success at TPC Southwind in the past. In three starts at the course, “Fitz” has two top-six finishes including a fourth-place finish in 2019.

His success at the track isn’t all that surprising considering how well his skill set aligns with what’s required to compete at the course. It’s important to hit fairways, which is something he does at a high clip. He also is one of the best in the sport at limiting mistakes and ranks third in the field in Bogey Avoidance.

A FedEx Cup Playoff victory would add to what is already the best season of Fitzpatrick’s career and give him a chance to make a run at a being the FedEx Cup champion.

Will Zalatoris (+2500)

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen Will Zalatoris near the top of the odds board. Despite being one of the most talented players in the field, there was nothing about Detroit Golf Club or Sedgefield Country Club that made me interested in betting him at those spots. The opposite is true about TPC Southwind.

When targeting Will Zalatoris for an outright bet, it’s most prudent to look for spots on the schedule where his immaculate ball striking can set him apart from the rest of them field.  The Rocket Mortgage Classic rewarded driving distance and wedge play. The Wyndham Championship rewarded the best putters and most accurate drivers.

This week, the FedEx St. Jude Championship will favor the best iron players who can ball strike their way to the top of the leaderboard. In the past, Strokes Gained: Putting hasn’t been a strong indicator of who will play well at TPC Southwind; which is great news for Zalatoris, who often struggles with the putter.

As evidenced by his three top-six finishes including two runners-up at major championships in 2022, Zalatoris can absolutely compete in the strongest of fields. In fact, I believe his chances to win in a star-studded event are higher than they are to win a lesser event on TOUR. The 25-year-old is a big game hunter who does his best work when the stakes are high.

The first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs is an excellent time for “Willy Z” to finally break through for his inevitable maiden PGA TOUR victory.

Sungjae Im (+3500)

As frustrating as it was being a Sungjae Im backer on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, his overall performance and current hot streak can’t be overlooked.

The South Korean has now finished in a share for second place in back-to-back starts. In those two events, Im has gained an average of 8.5 strokes Ball Striking on the field, which includes both Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. At a course where ball striking is the most important factor, he should be in store for another strong showing.

Im had his best Strokes Gained: Approach day on Sunday at the Wyndham, gaining 2.0 strokes on the field in the fourth round alone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the putter going and lost 2.2 strokes putting while Tom Kim gained 4.5 on the day. If it weren’t for Kim’s unconscious effort with the putter, there’s a good chance that Sungjae would have notched another PGA TOUR victory.

If the 24-year-old can get the flat stick going this week, we may have back-to-back South Korean winners on the PGA TOUR.

Tyrrell Hatton (+6000)

It appears as if Tyrrell Hatton is trending toward a victory, as he’s playing arguably the best golf of his 2022 season. He finished 11th at the Open Championship and followed it up with an impressive performance at Wyndham, finishing eighth. In addition to his top-10 finish, the Englishman was impressive with his approach playing and gained 5.3 strokes on approach, which was good for sixth in the field.

Hatton got hot in his final round last week, shooting a 64. Oftentimes we see golfers who go low on the previous Sunday carry the momentum into the following tournament. Hatton is a much better player than he’s shown thus far in 2022, and it seems as if he’s found something ahead of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

If he has, TPC Southwind should be a good course for him as he finished in 17th last year and was in contention prior to a fourth round 72 that took him out of the running.

Russell Henley (+6000)

It’s fair to wonder whether Russell Henley can close out a victory on the PGA TOUR after witnessing him blow leads at last season’s Wyndham Championship and this season’s Sony Open. Considering that the FedEx Cup St. Jude Championship will be comprised of a much stronger field than either of those events makes it perfectly reasonable to question it even further. However, at his number, I’m willing to give it one more shot.

Henley is in the best form we’ve seen him in this season. In his past two starts, the 33-year-old has finishes of 10th and fifth and has gained 11 and 9.7 strokes from tee to green in those events. At the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Henley ranked seventh in the field in approach, and at the Wydham Championship, he ranked first.

TPC Southwind is a course that should fit Henley’s game to a tee. With a premium on iron play and hitting greens in regulation, the former Georgia Bulldog is a perfect fit. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a course where he doesn’t have to gain a bunch of strokes with the putter to win.

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Equipment

Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!

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The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on PGATOUR.com. We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.

 

 

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