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The GolfWRX Guide to Playing in a Scramble



This story is part of our new “GolfWRX Guides,” a how-to series created by our Featured Writers and Contributors — passionate golfers and golf professionals in search of answers to golf’s most-asked questions.

Scramble tournaments mean one thing: birdie-fest! How could you not be excited to play golf where others make up for your mistakes and you get four runs at birdie on nearly every hole? Before you lies the opportunity to team up with three of your closest friends or favorite ringers.

Unfortunately, golfers or entire groups miss the point of playing in a scramble event.

There’s no right answer, but you don’t want to show up at the event without an agenda. If you’re competitive, you might be in it to win it. If you’re charitable, your goal is to raise money for the cause. If you’re generous, your No. 1 concern is to ensure that your friends have a great time and come away with a great story to tell.

You may be inclined to assume that if you’ve played one scramble, you’ve played them all. Before you fire that shot across the bow, let’s take a look at your check list for a successful scramble golf tournament.

Know your format

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It’s a bit odd to call an event a traditional scramble, but it seems that tournament organizers are jonesing to separate their tournament from the rest by way of an altered format. The traditional scramble event follows the following protocol: each golfer plays from the tee, then the group selects one drive. From there, each golfer hits a second shot and then the procedure is repeated until the ball is holed.

In recent years, the Shamble has gained some traction, perhaps to keep teams from riding one player too hard to victory. The shamble requires each golfer to tee off, then have the team select its best drive. From there, each golfer plays his own ball to the end of the hole and the team records the two best scores. While a traditional scramble score will be in the low 60s with handicap, a shamble tally doubles that figure.

Knowing your format is critical to picking your participants.

[quote_box_center]Before teeing off, work out a game plan between you and your partners,” said golf journalist Rusty Cage. “Each person has strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the format, you can cover up for each other’s mistakes.[/quote_box_center]

A number of Buffalo-area golfers and professionals chimed in with their thoughts as well — No. 1 being the need for great putters. The more guys you can get to drain those eagle and birdie putts, the better.

One club pro mentioned 300-plus yard drives. These are the white buffalos of scramble participants — rarely seen, but when you do it’s a pleasure. If you can snag yourself one of these 300-yard driving white buffalos, you’ll be looking at a bunch of birdies, eagles, and hitting from shorter distances than you’ve ever seen. If not, it may be just a helpful to have guys who know precisely how far they hit the ball, with every club in the bag. Realistic strikers help way more than the dreamers.

Preparation breeds success

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Mulligans and strings are the boon and the bane of many a scramble event. Offered before play begins by the tournament committee, mulligans are do-overs and strings are lengths of cord used to move the ball closer to the hole. Each is sold at the check-in desk, with all proceeds going to charity. I have a friend who purchases mulligans, then invariably uses each one twice. Whether he simply loses count or knows what he is doing, it’s cheating! Since he has yet to win an event, the golf gods clearly believe in karma. However, if your goal is to take home the tiny, first-place jug, then get your money in and purchase those mullies and strings.

Remember that order of play is a big deal in scramble events, so you should prepare properly within your group. There is usually one skittish player in every group, so he should hit either first or second each time to alleviate the pressure. If he hits a bad one, he has three golfers to bail him out.

If you play your weak players toward the back of the order, they’ll feel the pressure (self-imposed as it is) every time. There is usually one chap who loves the attention and jumps up to be lead-off man, no matter the shot. Try to reel him back as much as possible. Finally, there is one father figure, the guy who perceives himself as Mr. Pressure. He’ll offer a quiet nod when you ask him if he doesn’t mind the anchor slot. Keep the batting order for as long as it works, but don’t be afraid to mix things up if you get stale.

Load up your team


Golf offers one simple rule to all of its competitors: the hottest player wins. The local scramble brain trust, always intent on winning an event, assembles a team that includes one long driver, one solid iron player, one top-notch putter and a fourth boasting some necessary skill (like money, to purchase the mulligans and strings mentioned above). The problem with this approach is, if one of the experts is off his particular game, the team suffers appropriately. Camaraderie, rather than talent, usually wins the day. Four guys who get along, forgive each other’s misses, and keep the smiles big and the attitudes positive will capture the flag over an all-star compilation.

The other way to do this is to grab three of your greatest friends, guys who love to talk friendly smack, have a cold one and roar when the big dog eats. Whether you win or not is inconsequential; what matters is that a good time is had by all.

Let’s be honest: who brags about winning a scramble? They don’t bring you local ranking points and you can’t qualify into the state amateur by winning one. Keep your priorities in order and your head level. You’ll have a great time and your friends will invite you out to their next scramble.

Get advice from others

Opinions, like noses, are what everyone has. Throughout my fact-gathering process, I was told by experienced scramblers to have the best putter go last. One guy thought outside the box and said to have the best putter and driver hit first. If those skill guys show you the line or put it in play, it frees everyone else up to hit their best shot.

In events where everyone has to count a certain number of drives, swinging free and loose is critical. No matter what they say, however, remember that your partners are flawed. If they were great, they would be on tour somewhere, or playing in the local amateur championship. They aren’t, so they’re not. Having a great time ensures that you will play together again. The more you play together, the more likely you are to have success.

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Ronald Montesano writes for from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.



  1. Daniel

    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Nice article, I especially like the part about preparing mentally before the round. I am usually the “A” player when I play a scramble, not because I’m a great golfer, but because I happen to be better than the guys I play with. The hard part of this is the expectation that I have to get it done if the team is going to play well. Mostly this expectation is self imposed, and it’s hard to just go out and play my game. For example, the team has a 20 ft birdie putt and I’m the last one to go. I miss the putt and get upset because I have seen the line and I didn’t make it. Now if I’m playing my own ball and miss a 20 ft birdie, it’s no big deal.
    I like the advice someone said in the comments about having the best putter putting 2nd or 3rd. It’s so hard when you’re last and you are trying to make sure you don’t leave it short, so you end up blasting it through the break.

    I guess it’s tough being a skittish A player.

  2. Steve

    Apr 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Here’s a head gamer tactic we’ve employed. I won’t promise that it will make you win, but it will affect other groups nearby. Eagles really are game changers in a scramble. Of course, when they happen, your team will likely be heard by other teams in the same area of the course. So what’s to stop you from letting out an equivalent cheer, no matter the score? I realized this once on an eagle putt I made from really far across the par 5’s green. We roared when the 70+ footer went in. The green was perched about 20′ above (by elevation) another green and tee box. That roar HAD to get in the heads of our opponents. Pick your locations wisely (for most effect) and let that same roar happen even if your anchor misses that 12′ birdie by an inch. He taps in quickly but the team reacts like they’ve gained serious strokes on the field.

    It’s just a head game. And your opponents will feel the multiplied pressure, no doubt.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

      What goes around, comes around. If everyone employs that strategy, will it be golf? More important, will it be good form?

  3. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 24, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Rule #1… you always need one player who is good at flagging down the cart girl.

  4. Gary Gutful

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Enjoy playing scrambles but typically find that it’s the team with burglars that do really well. A 18+ handicapper who generally hits the ball well but has the odd blowout the stops their handicap coming down is perfect for this type of format. Pair two burglars with two solid single figure golfers and you are laughing.

  5. Tre

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Good article. The most fun I have ever had on a course was a scramble with a group of teachers I worked with on the last day of school. Any tips on when to use the mulligans and strings? We had two, used them on long birdie putts which changed a par to a birdie. I could see benefits to using them on approaches and par 5s in 2.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      I would use them early, to gain momentum or to keep it going. If you save them for later, the pressure to make them count multiplies. I am a fan of approaches on par fives, so that’s another good option.

  6. Joe

    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I played in a scramble with a marker where we legitimately shot 50 (-22). Par on one and then 5 eagles (1 on a par 4) and birdied the other 12 holes. We missed from 10 feet on 1 and then made everything including a few putts over 30 feet. It can happen, but with the same group we haven’t shot better than -17 in over 15 years. -20 3 straight years as mentioned above is some high quality BS.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

      I agree, Joe. We’ve played in a scramble at a course you can get, and only once did we catch lightning in a bottle. It was a great ride, though!!

  7. Andy

    Apr 23, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    For 10 years in SE Missouri, I played 4-man scrambles for money. For 9 holes, the “A” players picked his partners, every player puts in 10 bucks, winning 4some takes all… Then do it again & again, heck all day.
    As an “A” player, my first choice was the best iron player, somebody that hits it close. Even with 4 of us putting on 30-footers, need luck to hole it. 10-footers we make 99% of the time.
    Next pick is the good putter, last pick was the long drive guy, which is funny in that Sean Fister was in this scramble game for years, and nobody hits it longer…

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      That’s an excellent point, Andy. Someone who can stuff it in there and feels no pressure is better than golf.

  8. MarkNado

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    The most important thing in scrambles is to down shooting 10 under after playing by saying things like “we couldn’t make any putts” or “we had 3 eagle putts but they all lipped out”…that’s all I ever hear

  9. MarkNado

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Make sure one of your teammates uses a pencil wedge.

  10. Truth

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I love playing a good scramble its always a lot of fun because i never really care about winning. Simple fact is there will always be one group who takes it too seriously and will end up cheating. Im not saying they wouldnt of had a low score anyway but there will always be a handful of holes they lip out a putt and count it anyway or someone takes a second go at it. You will never escape cheaters in this format just dont let it bother you have a good time

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:01 am

      It’s up to every group to police the one ahead of them. We know what birdie putts and birdie/eagle reactions look like. If the guys were blaise about it all day, they didn’t shoot the number they turned in.

  11. Nate

    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great article, Ronald. Thanks for posting this!

    I prefer to go with a set order off of the tee and on the green but go with the “next man up” philosophy for approach shots and chipping.

    Off the tee, I think the ideal setup is to have the most consistent or accurate guy go first so that he can put one in play. Have your weakest or most skiddish player go 2nd so that you can minimize the liability, and then have the big dogs go 3rd and 4th. On the green, I really like having the best putter go first so that he can show the group the appropriate line and pace. I’ve found it difficult though when putters 2-4 struggle to make consistent contact. Nothing worse than having your best putter go first to show you the line and then have the other 3 guys mishit their putts – a waste of great opportunity!

    At the end of the day, playing well in scrambles comes down to having a fun group and having at least one person get hot with the flat stick.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 29, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Thank you, Nate. If you only have one good putter, you won’t be in the mix. Your top putter has to be borderline arrogant about her/his stroke. You should have a mate who can hit a line, if not the hole, and she/he should go first. Everyone agrees on the line, then that “crash test dummy” goes ahead and hits the anticipated line. 2 gives it a run, then your best putter goes 3rd. If you get to #4, don’t worry if it doesn’t go in.

  12. RobG

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

    A few years back in our company scramble me and a buddy (both avid golfers) got paired with two absolute beginners. I’m a long ball hitter, JP is phenomenal iron player and we both have decent short games and putters. We shot 58 (-14) riding basically just the two of us. If we had one more guy who could putt, a 52 probably could have happened. It is the lowest round (by 9 shots) to have been recorded in the 15 years of the tournament and it was the 2nd lowest 4-man scramble score ever posted at that golf course – the record is 56. Golf came easy that day and I doubt I will ever have another day on the course like that again.

  13. BD57

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:24 am

    My “rule” for order of play (for what it’s worth):

    Identify the person who’s going to hit last for every “shot” – who’s your anchor off the tee, on second shots, short game shots, putts? Doesn’t have to be the same person (probably isn’t).

    Once that’s done, the first to play of the other three should be the person most likely to hit a decent shot (whatever the shot may be). That person coming through allows everyone else to take a rip.

    Important (IMO) in putting is that the first player to putt be decent on speed – we want to see what the putt does when hit at decent speed so we can adjust our read accordingly (if necessary).

    Playing with friends is a VERY good idea. Scramble teams that enjoy each other’s company tend to do better.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Friends make the day. If you can raise a toast to each other and laugh off your foozles, you will have a great scramble.

  14. Bob Quigley

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Speaking of your three guys in denim comment, we have a foursome like that who the last three years have won our outing with reported scores of -20, -20 and -22. This year, we thought we would slow them down by requiring at least 4 drives from each player in their foursome. When they reported their score at 20 under, I bet them $100 to play against them any hole they wanted, me against their foursome. They selected hole # 1. They scored a double bogie and I was lucky enough to score a par. I am not so sure we will be seeing that group again!

    • BD57

      Apr 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Your experience is evidence of how important it is that there be little to no “Prize” for “winning.”

      Played years ago in a scramble with good friends: Husband & wife (he was a 2, she played golf in college), a long hitting buddy who was about a 5 at the time, and me (also a 2, at least back then).

      We went on a hot streak, aided by the wife playing from the women’s tees (we were using her drives all day), three of us being good putters who had a good day (H & W and me), and our long hitter having a good day. We were 15 under.

      Guys in front of us reported 16 under. There was no way … we saw pretty much every shot they hit, saw them putting, etc. There’s “celebration” in a group which is dropping putts from all over (there was in our group), and we didn’t see it there.

      BUT – – – there was no real “prize” for winning, so it didn’t matter. We’d played well, had a very good day, enjoyed each other’s company, and helped raise money for a worthy cause.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 29, 2015 at 9:38 am

      One word: Inconceivable!

      Another word: Awesome.

  15. Josh Spangler

    Apr 23, 2015 at 10:30 am

    In arkansas we have so many good golfers …if you don’t shoot 17-20 under in a 4 man…u ain’t winning

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Is that a scratch or handicap 4 man, Josh?

      • Josh A

        Apr 23, 2015 at 11:47 am

        I can’t speak for the other Josh, but I am also from Arkansas and have played in a number of scramble tournaments here. There are multiple areas in the state–Jonesboro for example–which have a number of charity scrambles each summer that are very competitive. Players will come from all across the state to compete in these, and if you’re not in the low 50s (scratch) then you have no shot at winning the championship flight. These tournaments are expensive, but also provide very generous payouts, so the top teams in these areas basically treat this as a summer scramble tour.

  16. Gorden

    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I like the bland draw scramble where players are put in A,B,C,D rankings by handicap. Each team is a made up of one each A<B<C<D player. Only drawback with this type scramble is the A player that is not really an A player….we all see the 10 handicap showing up with a 15 handicap but far worse is the 15 handicap showing up with a 7.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Good points, Gorden. If the people all know each other or are all very gregarious, the blind draw works well. Many golfers eschew this format, as they must leave their comfort zone to perform in front of golfers they don’t know.

    • Person of interest

      Apr 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

      We often have the same ABCD events at our club, i often end up being the A player. The biggest factor seems to be if your C and D players can hit good drives, I’ve had some D’s that can outdrive me and is always in the short grass, and have had others who are lucky to hit it 100 yards and while keeping it in play! Those are the challenging days.

      This guide is just OK, most of it is fairly obviously advice. Putting strategy is very important, I think the best putter should putt 2nd or 3rd, so he gets a read, but doesn’t have the do-or-die pressure of being the final person to putt.

      • Jive

        Apr 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

        Our club has a stag day ABCD, where the A hits from the men’s tees, the B from what some would call the old man tees, and the C&D from the ladies tees. Use everyone tee shot 3 times. Very little money on the line, but good food before, good food after and libations that whole day. Great kickstart to the season after the Masters. Format levels the playing field, usually a 5 shot gap between first and worst. More money is won or lost on the braggadocios emergency nines or cards afterwards.

  17. Scott

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:31 am

    The other rule:

    Everyone cheats, and be prepared to have your honest score that you think will do it squashed by 3 guys in denim and a 4th man with a senior flag on his cart by 6 strokes.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:31 am

      I’ve been fortunate to not play in those events, Scott. Either we are in the running or we have played so poorly that we know we won’t win. I think the tip-off to cheating is the amount of strings and mulligans purchased. If guys are buying buckets of each, you chalk it up to a good day with great friends, on a great course, followed by a great meal and fellowship.

  18. other paul

    Apr 23, 2015 at 1:36 am

    People that clicked “shank” are dumb. I play in a charity tournament every year and we do just about everything here. 2 of us bomb it. One accurate iron player, one putter. And one of us is solid around the green. Shot 63 last year. And won a few of the other prizes as well. Good article.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Other Paul,

      At least the shankers voted. Not every “Guide” is 100% thorough (as I found with the Push Cart piece last week) but it opens up a dialogue, making WRX a place to be for golf. I enjoy the scrambles as well. Unless you’re the greatest friend in the world, in a normal outing, you’re trying to beat your buddies. Here, you play together for a cause of sorts. Thanks for your commentary…Keep on reading and scrambling!


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19th Hole

5 examples of how Lexi Thompson has been treated harsher than any of her peers



Following Lexi Thompson’s Solheim Cup post-round presser on Friday evening, the 28-year-old has been the topic of much discussion.

Golf pundits and fans alike have been weighing in with their takes after this exchange with a reporter surrounding an untimely shank on Friday afternoon went viral:

After the incident, LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said that Lexi has “been picked on and drug through negative comments. She is tired of it”

So has the criticism of Lexi Thompson been justified, or is this yet another example of her being unfairly treated?

Well, here are five times, in my opinion, that Lexi has been scrutinized far differently over the years than her peers.

2022 KPMG PGA Championship

At the 2022 KPMG PGA Championship, Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead with three holes to play. She couldn’t close the deal and lost the tournament.

Afterwards, she was fined $2k (as were the rest of the group) for slow play.

Lexi declined to speak to the media and got hammered on social media for doing so…

Almost every golfer at some point has skipped a media session following disappointment on the course, and nobody has really batted an eyelid.

Tiger skipped back-to-back post-round media briefings at the 2019 WGC Mexico after being frustrated with his putting. Remember the backlash over that? Nah, me neither.

Donald Trump


Every (or nearly every) big-name golfer under the sun has played golf with Donald Trump. Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy etc. Nobody really cared.

For whatever reason, when Lexi Thompson did, it was a story, and she took herself off social media soon after the photo was posted.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi)

2021 U.S. Women’s Open

In the final round of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson had a 6-foot eagle on her opening hole. She missed and made birdie to lead by five.

She then lost the tournament.

Following the round, Brandel Chamblee said on ‘Live From’:

“She’s got 6 feet away. Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. “

Honest? Absolutely. Correct? Brandel usually is. Has any other LPGA golfer been handed the full-on Chamblee treatment? Not to my knowledge.

2023 Solheim Cup

Lexi Thompson spoke the words, “I don’t need to comment on that” when a reporter asked her about a failed shot, and the golf community collectively lost their minds.

Lost on many people is the fact that she literally answered the question instantly after.

Jessica Korda described the reporting of the awkward exchange with the media member as yet another example of the golf media shredding Lexi, but in reality, it was really just golf media covering the furore created by golf fans reacting to the viral clip.

Lexi then won her next two matches, collecting 3 points from 4 for the U.S. team. But nobody seems to care about that.


‘yOu ShoUlD PrAcTIce puTTinG’

There’s very few golfers that have been plagued with such inane posts on their Instagram page as Lexi Thompson has.

I’ve tracked golfer’s social media accounts over the past few years (job requirement, sort of?). I can categorically say that Lexi gets some of the angriest and most aggressive responses to her posts of any golfer. Male or female. (She also gets some very nice ones too).

Despite countless posts of Thompson relentlessly practising her putting, the number of comments from dummies accusing her of neglecting that area of her game is both bizarre and alarming. Notice how the comments have been disabled on the post below? Probably not a coincidence.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi)

Go on any other golfer’s social account, and it will be hard to find the same dynamic.

Throw in the scandalous rules decision at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title and spawned the “Lexi rule,” and it’s hard not to think Lexi has had a bit of a raw deal at times.

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The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips



While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.

  1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
  2. Don’t just “do”…observe.  There are two elements of learning something new.  The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
  3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
  4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
  5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.

My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?

More from the Wedge Guy



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19th Hole

Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks



The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.

In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.

As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.

2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks

Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT

A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.

In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.

C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT

At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.

A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.

Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT

After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.

Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).

James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT

James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.

He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.

Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT 

Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.

His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.

Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT

In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.

Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.

Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.

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