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What it’s really like when tour players hit new clubs for the first time

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I call them “OMG” golf commercials. A tour player is on the range hitting a new golf club and he can’t believe how far and straight it’s going.

[quote_box_center]“Is this legal?” he might ask. “It’s amazing. It’s going in the bag today!”[/quote_box_center]

Watch enough of these commercials and you’ll probably be convinced, at least once, that your clubs have been your problem all along… Or that every golf equipment company is full of it… Or you’ll fall somewhere in the middle. But how do tour players really react the first time they test new golf clubs? That’s what I always wondered, and for that answer I attended TaylorMade’s 2015 ad shoot.

The shoot took place in September at Reynolds Planation in Lake Oconee, Ga., where Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Camilo Villegas, Ryan Palmer, Boo Weekly, Brendon Todd and Sebastian Cappelen tested the company’s new RSi, R15 and AeroBurner product lines for the first time. At the time of the ad shoot there were only a handful of hittable R15 and AeroBurner products in the world.

34caafe82e48861e0df3174083983de2

TaylorMade’s R15 430 driver

I use the word “hittable” loosely. TaylorMade engineers were still dialing in the look and feel of the metal woods. At any moment, one of the drivers, fairway woods or hybrids might break, the product team explained to me — it was the nature of any first prototype. The clubs stayed intact, but it was surprising to learn that a breakage was a possibility.

I spoke with Jason Day, who was taking a break from golf to rehab the thumb and back injuries he’d suffered during the 2014 season. He’d hit a few shots for the cameras, but that was it, so we talked about the process he goes through before he puts new clubs in the bag.

[quote_box_center]“I test everything on the range on a launch monitor, and the numbers have to be better for me to make the switch,” Day said. “If it’s going straighter and longer, I’ll change right away, but they have to be better.”[/quote_box_center]

IMG_3748

One of the first sets of TaylorMade RSi TP irons produced. They were given to Sergio Garcia at the ad shoot.

Day told me that he expected to make the change to TaylorMade’s new RSi TP irons in 2015, but what was really excited about was switching iron shafts. For years he’s used Rifle 7.0 iron shafts, but he’d heard great things about Nippon’s N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour 130X iron shafts from other tour players.

[quote_box_center]“Apparently, that shaft is off the charts,” Day said.[/quote_box_center]

Like us, professional golfers like to try what their friends are playing.

IMG_3749

Brendon Todd testing an AeroBurner 3 wood with Brian Bazzel (left) and Keith Sbarbaro (center), TaylorMade’s PGA Tour rep.

I spoke to Brendon Todd, who won his first PGA Tour event in May, the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation for metal woods, guessed before Todd’s fitting that he would likely be a fit for the company’s new R15 driver. He turned out to be a better fit for TaylorMade’s AeroBurner driver.

“He’s definitely an AeroBurner guy,” Bazzel said afterward. “That’s why you never go into a fitting with a closed mind.”

Todd was also a fit for the AeroBurner 3 wood, which he was hitting almost as far as the driver. He was so impressed with the AeroBurner line that he wanted to try an AeroBurner hybrid, which TaylorMade’s product team hadn’t expected. I then watched what I was sure never happened with a tour player. Todd proceeded to test an AeroBurner hybrid with a (gasp) stiff-flex stock shaft, which was entirely too bendy and light for him, but he didn’t seem to mind.

IMG_3733

Brendon Todd talks to Brian Bazzel about the AeroBurner hybrid.

[quote_box_center]“Those were some really good clubs,” Todd told me after the fitting. “Once you find something you like, you stick with it. I think [the AeroBurner] 3 wood might be the one.”[/quote_box_center]

Ryan Palmer was the most interesting player to watch get fit for metal woods. He’d held onto TaylorMade’s Burner SuperFast 2.0 driver from 2011 and it hadn’t hurt his game — he had his best year on Tour in 2014, earning nearly $3 million and finished 14th in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

With the Burner SuperFast 2.0, Palmer was averaging a launch angle of 11.5 degrees with a spin rate of 2200 rpm. His ball speed was a brisk 172 mph. With the R15 460, his launch jumped to 13 degrees and his spin rate fell to 2000 rpms. His ball speed also went up, to about 173.5 miles per hour. That gave him 9 yards more carry distance and 6 yards more total distance, but you wouldn’t have known it from his reaction.

When PGA Tour players use a driver that’s several years old, it’s because they really like it. A few extra yards isn’t always enough to get them to change; it often takes better performance and an increased sense of confidence from the new club, and the two things aren’t always synonymous.

I learned from Keith Sbabaro, TaylorMade’s PGA Tour rep, that Palmer doesn’t like to switch clubs. Sbabaro went on to say that Palmer’s 5 wood – a TaylorMade R9 from 2009 – would be the hardest club in his bag to replace.

Sbabaro said those words just as Palmer was testing TaylorMade’s new R15 five wood, which he was carrying about 10 yards farther than his R9 five wood. I saw Palmer uncork a big smile, which got bigger as he found he could replicate all his shots with the new club. The high draw, the low fade, the high fade, the knockdown… he rotated through his repertoire of shots looking for something he didn’t like, but he didn’t find anything.

Palmer was ready to make the switch, but the problem was that the TaylorMade team wasn’t ready to give him the club. Bazzel explained to Palmer that the sole design still needed minor tweaks, and besides, he couldn’t even test the club in public. The R15 line wouldn’t be made public until much later.

[quote_box_center]“If we make him wait, Ryan won’t trust us,” Sbarbaro said. “Everything about this club: the lie angle, the loft … everything is perfect.”[/quote_box_center]

At one point, Sbarbaro suggested that Palmer sign an impromptu contract that would allow him to take the club home and keep it there until he was cleared to take it to the range.

[quote_box_center]“I, Ryan, will not take the club out of the house,” Sbarbaro rehearsed with him.[/quote_box_center]

Bazzel pointed out that the 5 wood had an open hot melt port that gave it a higher-pitched sound than wasn’t ideal, but none of that mattered to Palmer.

“This one is just better,” he said “I don’t care.”

I was watching an “OMG” golf commercial, but it was happening in real time in front of me.

I watched several other fittings — Justin Rose, Boo Weekley and Sergio Garcia — and looked for similarities in the way the players approached their clubs. The one common theme? They had very little in common.

IMG_3778

Justin Rose tests TaylorMade’s RSi irons with Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade’s director of product creation for irons, putters and wedges.

Rose, like Jason Day, was mostly concerned with getting better launch monitor numbers with the new clubs, and he seemed to want to know everything about their design. Boo Weekley was the opposite. He didn’t even notice the slots on the faces of TaylorMade’s RSi irons until they were pointed out to him. He judged new clubs by their feel and ball flight, and showed an uncanny ability to predict what shots with the new clubs were flying slightly farther or spinning more – which the launch monitor always seemed to confirm.

My favorite part of the event came courtesy of Garcia when he was testing R15 drivers. Garcia said he would have played TaylorMade’s SLDR 430 driver last year, but there was something about the way it looked at address that he didn’t like. The SLDR 460, which is larger, looked better to him, so he played that driver in 2014.

IMG_3794

Sergio Garcia compares the R15 460 and the R15 430 drivers.

During the fitting, Garcia quickly decided that the R15 430 would be his driver for 2015. I watched him use it to hit drive after drive with similar trajectories. The launch monitor confirmed that each shot was flying about 290 yards in the air and rolling out to 315 yards.

Garcia then took a break to chat with Bazzel, and Rory McIlroy’s name came up.

“Every time, he tees it as high as he can and swings as hard as he can,” Garcia said. “If I hit every drive like [Rory], I’d be scared I’d hit it out of bounds.”

Garcia proceeded to “hit one like Rory,” teeing the ball as high as the tee allowed and swinging a little harder. The result was a higher launch angle, less spin and about 20 yards more distance, which he replicated with several more drives.

That was my “OMG” moment. If Garcia could do that, what else could he do? What else hadn’t I seen?

Thank goodness the PGA Tour is the testing ground for new golf equipment, and thank goodness for the unreasonable standards these players demand from their clubs. It makes the final product that much more precise.

The only downside? Less conviction when I blame bad shots on my clubs.

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76 Comments

76 Comments

  1. mobile strike hack reactor

    Jan 10, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Adhere to the tutorial below and start working with the hack to unlock exclusive things and weapons for
    Global Strike.

  2. Will

    Nov 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I’m currently toying with the idea of investing in the new TM gear in the new year. Currently a Titleist player off 3 so no bias there. Really informative article, especially the points regarding the new Nippon shaft that Day mentioned. I saw Stenson has also put this in his irons. Interesting how the players feel a steel shaft can make such a differerence considering the flex probably isn’t too dissimilar. Also the fact that Garcia preferred the 460cc SLDR last year, shows that pros don’t necessarily go with the longer hitting and more compact 430cc versions but choose more on personal preference.

    I would be interested in more information regarding the TP specifications and set ups the pro’s tinker with. I imagine the pro’s are playing substantially more advanced shafts than us lowly amateurs.

    Regardless, congrats on the article Zak, the first one that has impelled me to leave a comment.

    • Teaj

      Dec 8, 2014 at 10:10 am

      just don’t count out Titleist as their 915 Series of driver woods and hybrids are pretty dame good. I found that they were not as long as BBA and SLDR but their issue with spin on low hits with driver has seemed to lessen quite a bit which im sure due to the slot. I’m waiting for the Vapor Pro, R15 and the word on the street is that there is a Lower Spinning G30 coming down the pipeline. Exciting times at least for me in the new year when all the new gear is out.

  3. mike

    Nov 19, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I don’t usually finish long article, but this article is too interesting to read.

  4. Regis

    Nov 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I’ve been living, breathing and reading about all things golf for almost 50 years. I loved the article. I feel incomplete because I don’t speak Spanish but I do have the requisite intelligence to read a number of reviews before making my own decision then demoing a club and getting fit . And seriously how often does a major manufacturer introduce a driver that’s a real dud? Maybe not for me but…. Right now I’m gaming almost all SLDR products but its not because of what I read in an article.

  5. Jim

    Nov 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Really interesting article. Well done Zak!

  6. Dan

    Nov 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Without a doubt one of the best articles I’ve read on GolfWRX. Do you haters even pause to consider we see more articles like this about TMAG because they actually grant more access to behind the scenes stuff than any other company?

    • Mike

      Nov 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Also could be due to the fact that TMAG has about 3x as many product cycles as any other OEM.

      • Dan

        Nov 19, 2014 at 1:08 pm

        No, it isn’t. When did the SLDR come out again? 3 months ago right?

        • Regis

          Nov 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

          July 2013 but don’t let the facts get in the way of your opinion.

          • the dude

            Nov 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm

            sarcasm…?

          • Dan

            Nov 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm

            So, 18 month product cycle? Way too shoey and killing the business? Sheesh

  7. Desmond

    Nov 18, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    I’ve found the TMAG premium lineup is for the best players with speed … and that’s not me. But I found the article entertaining.

  8. golfing

    Nov 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    • golfing

      Nov 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      he learned the club and won 11 times that year.

  9. James

    Nov 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    So Sergio tees the club higher, which would indeed launch it higher, swings harder, which indeed would make the ball go farther, and it is all due to the club? Please. Maybe the setup he had helped him hit it straighter and not hook it as he feared but if you tee the ball higher, you have to make an adjustment in setup for it, and if you swing harder and hit it solid it should indeed go farther. I would say it had more to do with Sergio than the club.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Nov 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Who said it was the club?

      • Dave S

        Nov 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm

        Some guys just like trying to poke holes in everything.

        Great article. Love the insight.

  10. Sebastien

    Nov 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I loved the insider look at a product and experience. I think more articles like this are needed on WRX.

  11. Jose Jimenez

    Nov 16, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Hay Dios Mio!!!!!!!!! Que porqueria!,,,,,,,,, sorry! This poorly add disguised as a genuine article shocked me so bad I reverted to my native language! This once informative website is turning into nothing more than a online version of Golf Digest. And they wonder why I stopped reading their magazine after more than 20 years,,,,

    • Alberto

      Nov 17, 2014 at 3:45 am

      Estas criticando solo por criticar. Your comments don’t provide any constructive feedback. As you have great experience in the game for more than 20 years, tell the editors how to write an article, tu experiencia es valiosa, compártela. Don’t say that this is a porquería, just tell them what you expect from them, what they should include in any review or article, in that way they will improve and you and many others will be please to read these articles.

      Or go a step further. This website was hiring editors. You could be one of them.

      By the way, I’m just a reader that plays golf since a couple of years ago.

      • Jose Jimenez

        Nov 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm

        Dime en que lenguage quivers que respnda a lomque to has dicho, que tal si lo escribo en Español ? Imwill respond to you in English so everyone can read it. Did you notice that this gentleman ONLT answered those that complimented this add? I mean article. I want HONESTY, don’t tell me that this is “actual” reactions when we can tell it is nothing but scripted remarks. Last I read, they were hiring writers for this website, and there is NO WAY some one who says the truth about products tested would be bird since the ones who pay the bills (Taylormade just one of them) would NOT want honest reviews about their products. Since you stated your have been a golfer for just a couple of years, here is something you will NEVER read in articles here, a $50-100 fitting will do MORE for your game than shinny new clubs.

        • Dave S

          Nov 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm

          Haters gonna hate. Personas con odio van a odiar.

          • Jose Jimenez

            Nov 18, 2014 at 2:22 am

            Perdón? Quisiste decir “Odiosos van a odiar” that is the proper translation of haters gonna hate,,,,, see? Can’t trust Google translator !!

        • ken

          Nov 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

          Please provide an example of a “scripted remark” by one or more of the players interviewed.

      • ken

        Nov 19, 2014 at 1:57 pm

        Estoy de acuerdo
        I cannot stand it when one finds it necessary to always be contrary.

  12. Truth

    Nov 16, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Golf WRX more like Golf TMAG

    • Dave S

      Nov 17, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      So by your logic, this article would only be worthy of your eyeballs if the author went around to every manufacturer and compared notes of players’ responses during club testings? TMaG obviously offered to let him stop by, should he turn down the offer? SMH.

  13. Al385

    Nov 16, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Although I’m not a TM fan, I have to admit that this is a great article, well written and it also made me feel that I was there witnessing something that would answer all my questions about the hype of new products, especially from TM that every other month offers something new that claims to be longer and better. Good for TM in inviting GolfWRX and good for Zak for such a good article.

    Would I buy a TM club after this? probably not but for sure I will read with enthusiasm any other similar article from Zak about the launch of any other products. Hopefully he’ll get invitations from other manufacturers as this is the only way to read about this kind of experiences.

    By the way, latest WRXers visit to The Oven (Nike) deserved a to be in the front page, not only inside the forums.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Nov 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Thank you for reading, Al. We’ll continue to find ways to bring our readers closer to the action.

  14. allen

    Nov 16, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Would all this negative feedback be here if this was with Ping or Mizuno clubs? I dislike TM with a passion and I think it has been years since I have even hit a TM product (although I will not take my V Steel 3 wood out of the bag). I liked the article, it was a good read, and yes a little infomercial sounding, but that is fine, I will not hit any of these clubs anyway.

    • ken

      Nov 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Those players are signed to TM. Therefore they would not be testing other brands

  15. eric

    Nov 16, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Great PR piece. Congrats to Zak and golf wrx for your new job as the marketing dept at Adidas GOLF. Was this a paid placement by TM? Cause if it was not it should be. Hey whatever keeps those TM drivers coming…is the R15 like the 20th TM driver of 2014 so far? Awesome. Nothing like reading PR fluff with my nightly beers.

    • John Smith

      Nov 16, 2014 at 5:43 am

      Completely agree. This is just marketing tripe trying to be passed off as an independent article.

    • rob23

      Nov 16, 2014 at 8:55 am

      eric… there are always someone like you that hate to hate. Yet you are still here reading. Zak did a great job writing a piece that was less of a promo and more of a behind the scenes and you have to call foul. BORING bro… be right.

    • Matthew Carter

      Nov 16, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Great write up Zack!
      Dig insider info especially on the players and their thoughts on new product.
      Well done!

      • Tom

        Nov 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm

        I agree. This is info I can use when deciding to purchase new gear. I wouldn’t buy a car without doing research on it first. This type of information is helpful.

  16. donnie

    Nov 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Great article!

  17. J

    Nov 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Contrived. Sell more AD Space.

  18. Tom

    Nov 15, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you to all the positive people here. Those who continue to be negative and bash OEMS are just part of the problem with golf. I for one am excited to see the new changes. Every time a second version has come out with TM it has looked and felt better. i.e. r11 to r11s. RBZ to RBZ 2.

    • Joker

      Nov 16, 2014 at 3:03 am

      Can’t take a joke? We’re just ‘aving a laugh

      • enrique

        Nov 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

        I just did a tally. It’s 50/50 in the comments negative vs. positive. If half your readers are turned off by the subject, angle, approach, and have a gross feeling like they were just marketed to, then something is wrong.

  19. enrique

    Nov 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    more and more nausea….

  20. Bogeypro

    Nov 15, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    why do I feel like I just read a taylor made commercial?

  21. toomuch

    Nov 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Just more TMag propaganda! They would definitely have to pay me to even touch their clubs.

    • Rich

      Nov 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      They are a marketing machine but if you’re not playing their clubs purely based on that, you’re missing out. I don’t care what brand it is. If it works, I’ll use it. The new spider blade is an awesome putter. R11 woods were awesome and my spare set of R9 TP irons are nice as well.

  22. Oscar

    Nov 15, 2014 at 3:50 am

    And the Best Actor Oscar goes to………..

  23. Ben

    Nov 15, 2014 at 12:47 am

    This was a great article, I’d love to see other pieces in a similar vein. Always fun to see the pros in a different light.

  24. KK

    Nov 15, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Of course the equipment matters. That’s why you see a handful of very popular unsponsored items on tour: TM drivers, Scotty putters, Vokey wedges and Pro V1s.

  25. Fsubaseball21

    Nov 14, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    The RSI irons are no joke. 2 consecutive days on the monitor and the mis hits are as good as solid hits on on 3 other major oem sets. The toe hits were almost perfect. I know people are skeptical but these slots absolutely work. No question.

  26. JHM

    Nov 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    very interesting – thanks for the insight

  27. tina

    Nov 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Bazzel … ohh behave!

  28. Tom Duckworth

    Nov 14, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Very good read. It is fun to see what they think of new clubs for the first time. Sounds like most players won’t switch unless the clubs are really better. I also didn’t have to read about their pants….great!

  29. tiger woods

    Nov 14, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    awesome article! love hearing what the pros are actually thinking.. was really surprised by sergio’s “rory” drives.

  30. Derek

    Nov 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Ok,I have faith in the GolfWRX journalism again. Great read.

  31. Rich B

    Nov 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Great article. Something original and different to other recent ones.

  32. Leon

    Nov 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    On the tour level, especially for big players, everything is well built and tweaked for them. There is really no performance difference among different equipment brands. If there were, guess what, the players would certainly like to give up some endorsements but to make more wins instead. Plus, the players hit the ball so good that they don’t need the amount of forgiveness as we do.

    The problem is, the off the shelves products we got have noticeable variation of quality and performance. Most of the part came from the shaft quality. And for the average Joe, we need a hack amount of forgiveness to cover the miss. Now, the TM pushes the R15 GC more forward and even lower. Yes, it will give you more distance and less spin on a perfect shot, but guess what, it will make the club much harder to hit and you will lose more balls per round thanks to TM’s innovation.

    You won’t blame TM for this because the tour players play them, and because you can occasionally bomb it 10 yards further. You just think it is just your swing that causes the problem. Well, it is. But if you forget this “innovation”, you can simply save a few OB per round. Nobody would trade his hard money for more frustration, will you?

    • TM

      Nov 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      LOFT UP!

      It works. That’ll help you hit it easier too.

  33. totebagger

    Nov 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

    best article on the site so far. well done gwrx. more of this please!

  34. YB

    Nov 14, 2014 at 3:40 am

    And the Oscar goes to………………………

  35. mv

    Nov 14, 2014 at 3:30 am

    I am not TM fan..but I liked this article a lot..well done. I want to try these clubs after thos read:)
    You have to be paid by TM for such great stories. 😉

  36. Dufferino

    Nov 14, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Great Read!

    As Cory, i’d really like to see a follow up on how they get the chosen gear adjusted and tweaked before putting it in the bag.

  37. Jeff

    Nov 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Outstanding story, Zak. You seem to think and ask about a lot of the same things I would, I think it’s why you’re my favorite writer on WRX. What a fascinating experience. Cant wait to see Palmer hit a 5 wood or if Sergio’s driving distance goes up. Great, relevant story.

    • gunmetal

      Nov 16, 2014 at 11:46 am

      Sergio’s distance won’t change more than a couple yards in either direction. That’s what it has done over the past ten years. A lot of fellow wrxers get upset when I cite PGA tour driving distance statistics, but the simple truth of the matter is that they don’t lie. Distance has been around the same ever since the pro v1 surfaced and the decisions to limit the trampoline effect came down.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Nov 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      We’ll keep you updated on these players’ changes with our tour photos and WITB stories, Jeff. Thanks for reading!

  38. Bubba

    Nov 13, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Wow! Shocking positive commments/reactions from guys that are paid to play TM clubs! (sarcasm)

  39. sgniwder99

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    And here I assumed that they just went to the WRX classifieds like I do.

  40. Tomar200

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    This is the kind of stuff that drew me to Golf WRX to start with! Please keep this kind of content as priority!

  41. Travis

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Best article yet!

  42. Cory

    Nov 13, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    One of my favourite reads ever on this site. Great to see the first time reactions and how different guys are in getting their new gamers. Would be fascinating to see a follow up once they tried them on the course and if that changed anything for them when forgiveness starts to matter more.

    Also amazing to see how much a guy like Sergio is swinging less than his absolute max in order to stay controlled, good advice for most of us. Also maybe why Rory is so freaking good in that he doesn’t and still keeps it under control haha

  43. 3golfer3

    Nov 13, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I still feel like my Rocketballz 3 wood should be illegal.

  44. Cwolf

    Nov 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Great article!

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Travelers Championship betting preview: Patrick Cantlay to continue impressive play

Published

on

The third major championship of 2024 did not disappoint as Bryson Dechambeau capped off a sensational week with the second U.S. Open victory of his career. The season rolls along to Cromwell, Connecticut, where TPC River Highlands hosts the 2024 Travelers Championship. This is yet another designated event with a $20 million dollar purse.

TPC River Highlands is a 6,841-yard par-70 that has been a PGA Tour stop for 40 years. Home of the only 58 in Tour history, it is possible to go extremely low at this Pete Dye design. However, TPC River Highlands does feature a difficult closing stretch with holes 16-18 all historically averaging scores over par.

The Travelers Championship will play host to 72 golfers this week. Being a signature event, almost all of the best players on Tour will be teeing it up. 

PGA Tour U winner, Michael Thorbjornsen, will be making his season debut this week at the Travelers. 

Past Winners at The Travelers Championship

  • 2023: Keegan Bradley (-23)
  • 2022: Xander Schauffele (-19)
  • 2021: Harris English (-13)
  • 2020: Dustin Johnson (-19)
  • 2019: Chez Reavie (-17)
  • 2018: Bubba Watson (-17)
  • 2017: Jordan Spieth (-12)
  • 2016: Russell Knox (-14)

Key Stats For TPC River Highlands

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for TPC River Highlands to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach sits at the top spot in the stat model this week. The course is relatively short, and golfers with multiple types of skill sets compete here. Iron play is often the great equalizer allowing the shorter hitters to compete, and that should be the case again this week.

SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.61)
  2. Corey Conners (+1.11)
  3. Sepp Straka (+0.92)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.91)
  5. Tony Finau (+0.88)

2. Par 4 Birdie or Better %

With only two par-5s on the course, the importance of par-4 scoring cannot be understated. Whoever plays the par-4s most effectively this week will put himself in the driver’s seat.

Par 4 Birdie or Better % Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Eric Cole (25.4%)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+24.6%)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+23.5%)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+22.8%)
  5. Wyndham Clark (+22.7%)

3. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Ball striking combines off the tee and approach and will be the stat I use to incorporate off-the-tee play this week. The over-emphasis on approach play will incorporate golfers who give themselves plenty of birdie looks in the event.

SG: Ball Striking past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.56)
  2. Ludvig Aberg (+1.67)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.57)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+1.44)
  5. Corey Conners (+1.31)

4. Course History

Course history has proven to be a major factor at TPC River Highlands. With seven golfers who have multiple wins at the course, familiarity could be the key at the Travelers Championship.

Strokes Gained: Total at TPC River Highlands per round over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+2.03)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.02)
  3. Brian Harman (+1.98)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+1.97)
  5. Scottie Scheffler (+1.54)

5. Strokes Gained: Total Pete Dye Designs

TPC River Highlands is another prototypical Pete Dye track where many of the same golfers play well consistently.

SG: Pete Dye per round Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.49)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+2.22)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+1.86)
  4. Brian Harman (+1.66)
  5. Patrick Cantlay (+1.61)

6. Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA Mix

TPC River Highlands is another prototypical Pete Dye track where many of the same golfers play well consistently.

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA Mix Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Denny McCarthy (+1.41)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+1.04)
  3. Keegan Bradley (+1.01)
  4. Robert MacIntyre (+0.98)
  5. Wyndham Clark (+0.84)

The Travelers Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (26%), Par 4 Birdie or Better % (13%), SG: Ball Striking (20%), Course History (13%), SG: Putting Bent/POA (14%) and SG: Pete Dye (14%).

  1. Xander Schauffele
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Scottie Scheffler 
  4. Viktor Hovland
  5. Corey Conners
  6. Sahith Theegala
  7. Brian Harman
  8. Keegan Bradley
  9. Collin Morikawa
  10. Tony Finau

2024 Travelers Championship Picks

Patrick Cantlay +2500 (FanDuel)

When a player contends in a major in the previous week, I typically like to fade said player the following week. However, this week feels a bit different to me. Cantlay has been struggling all season, and I can’t help but feel like the former FedEx Cup champion found something during the U.S. Open. I also don’t think he was incredibly disappointed with the result. He played well on Sunday and was impressive over the weekend, finally getting a true feel of what major championship contention felt like. It was all positives for Cantlay at Pinehurst.

Cantlay will now head to a spot where he’s had an incredible amount of success but has not yet notched a victory. In his last six starts at the course, he’s not finished worse than 15th. His best start came last year, where he finished T4. He ranks 1st in the field in Strokes Gained: Total at TPC River Highlands. Cantlay is also a Pete Dye specialist and ranks 4th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Dye tracks. The 32-year-old ranks 3rd in Par 4 birdie or better percentage.

Cantlay was spectacular across the board at Pinehurst. For the week, he ranked 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach, 7th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 10th in Strokes Gained: Putting. I fully expect him to build off of that performance and contend once again at one of his favorite Tour stops.

Sam Burns +3500 (DraftKings)

Sam Burns had a great Sunday at Pinehurst, which is always a bonus heading into the following week. He shot -3 in his final round, which got him into the top ten (T9) in what was a successful major for a player who’s not performed his best in them historically.

Burns is a prolific birdie maker who can win a boat race to -20 as well as anyone on Tour. He’s also had some success at both Pete Dye courses, where he ranks 13th in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds, and at TPC River Highlands, where he ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds.

Burns has been playing some solid golf of late. He has four top-15 finishes in his past starts including a T13 at the Wells Fargo Championship, 10th at the RBC Canadian Open and 15th at the Memorial Tournament. He has gained strokes on approach and off the tee in five of his past six starts.

The LSU product can win golf tournaments in a variety of ways. His ability to make putts if it turns into a wedge and putting contest makes him a strong candidate to contend this week.

Sahith Theegala +4500 (BetRivers)

Sahith Theegala has been playing some solid golf over the last few months. As we saw last year with Keegan Bradley, a missed cut at the U.S. Open shouldn’t necessarily scare someone off from a player who fits TPC River Highlands, which I believe Theegala does.

TPC River Highlands is the site of Theegala’s near victory a few years back. He finished in a tie for 2nd in 2022 after making double-bogey on the 18th hole with a one-shot lead, losing to Xander Schauffele. Theegala will now head back to the course as a more mature player who is in the midst of the best season of his career.

This season, the former Haskins award winner in having strong finishes in some of the season’s most important events. He finished 5th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, 6th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 9th at the PLAYERS Championship, 2nd at the RBC Heritage and 12th at both the Memorial Tournament and PGA Championship.

In his past 24 rounds, Sahith ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 11th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, 18th in Par 4 birdie or better percentage and 8th in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA mixed putting surfaces.

If this turns into another shootout, Theegala has the type of ball striking and putting combination that can win a race to -20.

Sungjae Im +6600 (BetRivers)

After seemingly regaining his form over the past month, Sungjae took a step back at last week’s U.S. Open. The South Korean missed the cut, shooting +10 over his first two rounds. Despite the disappointing result, I don’t believe one poor start at a long and difficult golf course is enough reason to give up on him. 

Although the score was regretful at Pinehurst No. 2, Im hit the ball pretty well from tee to green. In his two rounds, he gained strokes both off the tee and on approach. His downfall was with the putter, which can be extremely hit or miss, especially over the course of this season.

Prior to the U.S. Open, Sungjae had finished in the top ten in three of his previous four starts. He finished T4 at the Wells Fargo “Signature Event” at Quail Hollow, T9 at the Charles Schwab Challenge and T8 at The Memorial Tournament. He’s also gained strokes off the tee in nine straight events.

Im has made three starts at TPC River Highlands, finishing 21st, 58th and 29th respectively. Im hits fairways at a high clip, which will be a massive advantage this week and his lack of driving distance won’t be an issue. He also ranks 12th in the field in his past 24 rounds in Strokes Gained: Total on Pete Dye designs.

It’s been a long time since Im has won an event (2021 Shriners), but I believe he’s back on the upswing and is still a higher end talent on the PGA Tour with another win coming soon.

Tom Kim +6600 (BetRivers)

After a sluggish start to the 2024 season, Tom Kim has come on strong over the past month or so. The South Korean started his stretch of impressive play at Valhalla for the PGA Championship, finishing 24th. After that, Kim put together finishes of T4 at the RBC Canadian Open and a T26 at last week’s U.S. Open. In between, he finished T43 at The Memorial, but hit the ball great from tee to green.

Tom has done an impressive job of playing well at long and difficult setups, but this week, he will head to a course in TPC River Highlands that should his game immaculately. Both of Kim’s wins have come at short setups that mitigate his biggest weakness, which is driving distance. The course is short this week and fits the mold of the tracks Tom has had great success at over the past few seasons on Tour.

In his past 24 rounds, Kim ranks 7th in Par 4 birdie or better percentage, which will come into play this week. He also ranks 19th in the field in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Kim is already a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and has shown that if he gets a sniff of contention, he can close out a tournament with the best of them.

 

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Memorial Tournament betting preview: Collin Morikawa to reign supreme at Jack’s place

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The PGA Tour heads to Jack’s place to play the 2024 edition of the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. The Memorial is regarded as one of the most prestigious non-majors of the PGA Tour season, and for the second consecutive year the tournament will be a “Signature Event”.

Muirfield Village Golf Club is a 7,571-yard par-72 located in Dublin, Ohio that features Bentgrass greens. A Jack Nicklaus design, the course was built in 1974 and redesigned by Nicklaus in 2020. The course can play extremely difficult due to its long rough and lightning-fast greens.

The Memorial Tournament will play host to 80 golfers this week, which is down from 120 last year. The top 50 and ties will make the cut. Being a designated event, the field is predictably stacked and will feature most of the biggest stars on Tour. All eligible players have committed to the event in addition to sponsor’s exemptions Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel. 

Past Winners at the Memorial Tournament

  • 2023: Viktor Hovland (-7)
  • 2022: Billy Horschel (-13)
  • 2021: Patrick Cantlay (-13)
  • 2020: Jon Rahm (-9)
  • 2019: Patrick Cantlay (-19)
  • 2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-15)
  • 2017: Jason Dufner (-13)
  • 2016: William McGirt (-15)

Key Stats for Muirfield Village

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Muirfield Village to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Jack Nicklaus designs all have one thing in common: They reward the best iron players on Tour. When designing Muirfield Village, Jack created a second-shot golf course that strongly benefited golfers who could really dial in their approach shots. With that in mind, does it surprise anyone that Tiger Woods won this event five times?

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.37)
  2. Corey Conners (+1.14)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.14)
  4. Sepp Straka (+0.88)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+0.88)

2. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking does include approach, but if there is any week to overemphasize Strokes Gained: Approach, this is the week. The statistic also incorporates Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, which will be important considering the rough at Muirfield Village can be exceedingly penal.

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+1.88)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+1.60)
  4. Ludvig Aberg (+1.56)
  5. Corey Conners (+1.42)

3. Good Drive %

Driving the ball well will be an important factor. Bombing it off the tee is not a requirement at Muirfield Village, but distance always helps. The rough can get very long, and golfers who can’t put the ball in the fairway will fall out of contention quickly. Balanced and consistent drivers of the golf ball should be the targets this week.

Good Drive % Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Collin Morikawa (+88.1%)
  2. Tom Hoge (86.1%)
  3. Sepp Straka (+85.9%)
  4. Scottie Scheffler (+85.8%)
  5. Alex Noren (+85.8%)

4. Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass – Fast)

The Bentgrass greens at Muirfield are lightning quick. Whoever can master these difficult putting surfaces has a major advantage at Jack’s place.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass+Fast) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Justin Rose (+1.43)
  2. Thomas Detry (+0.88)
  3. Sahith Theegala (+0.77)
  4. Harris English (+0.74)
  5. Denny McCarthy (+0.73)

5. Strokes Gained: Nicklaus Designs

We often see similar leaderboards when events are hosted by Jack Nicklaus designed courses. The model this week will look to incorporate those golfers.

Strokes Gained: Nicklaus Designs (per round, min. 4 rounds) Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.49)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.32)
  3. Collin Morikawa (+1.99)
  4. Shane Lowry (+1.74)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+1.67)

6. Course History

We often see similar leaderboards when events are hosted by Jack Nicklaus designed courses. The model this week will look to incorporate those golfers.

Course History (Strokes Gained: Total (per round, min. 4 rounds) Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.75)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.54)
  3. Justin Rose (+2.17)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.77)
  5. Jordan Spieth (+1.66)

The Memorial Tournament Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: BS (18%), Good Drive % (16%), SG: Putting Bentgrass – Fast (13%), Course History (13%) and SG: Total Nicklaus Designs (13%).

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Shane Lowry
  4. Alex Noren
  5. Sahith Theegala
  6. Collin Morikawa
  7. Rory McIlroy
  8. Tony Finau
  9. Keegan Bradley
  10. Sepp Straka
  11. Corey Conners
  12. Viktor Hovland
  13. Russell Henley
  14. Si Woo Kim
  15. Justin Thomas

2024 Memorial Tournament Picks

Collin Morikawa +1800 (Fanatics)

Collin Morikawa has consistently shown up in the biggest events over the past few months. He finished in a tie for 3rd at The Masters, 9th at the RBC Heritage, a tie for 16th at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 4th at the PGA Championship. He also finished 4th in his most recent start at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Iron play is always a strong indication of where Morikawa’s game is trending, and his Strokes Gained: Approach numbers have seen a recent uptick. The two-time major champion has gained an average of 4.0 strokes on approach over his last two starts, which despite not being as good as his peak approach numbers, are a major improvement over the past year or so.

Morikawa has played some great golf at Muirfield Village throughout his career. He won the Workday Charity Open in 2020 and lost in a playoff at The Memorial Tournament in 2021. His two most recent starts at the course have ended in a withdraw and a missed cut, but his current form is much better than it was over the past few seasons coming into the event.

In addition to the strong iron play, the ability to keep the ball in the fairway will be a major advantage for a Memorial Tournament that I anticipate will play relatively difficult. Morikawa has gained strokes off the tee in eight consecutive starts, including 3.8 strokes at the PGA Championship and 4.0 strokes at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The American has been fantastic at Nicklaus Courses since he burst onto the scene on the PGA Tour, and that was once again on full display at Valhalla last month. In his last 36 rounds, Collin ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus designs. He also ranked 1st in the field in Good Drive %, which will be a key this week.

It’s been a while since the 27-year-old has won a big event on Tour, but that could very well change this week at Jack’s place.

Justin Thomas +2500 (BetMGM)

Justin Thomas is winless in last 43 professional starts, dating back to the 2022 PGA Championship. For a player with 17 professional wins and in the prime of his career, that’s a long time.

Other than being “due”, Thomas has shown signs that is just about all the way back from his two-year slump. He has four top-ten finishes this season, with three of those being at a “signature” event or a major. Most recently, he’s finished in a tie for 5th at the RBC Heritage, a tie for 21st at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 8th at the PGA Championship.

JT has loved Nicklaus designs throughout his career. He finished 2nd at the 2020 Workday at Muirfield Village, losing in a playoff to Collin Morikawa. In his last 30 rounds at the course, he ranks 6th in Strokes Gained: Total.

In addition to the obvious course fit, Thomas’ ball striking numbers have come to life of late. He gained 4.1 strokes on approach at the PGA Championship to go along with 4.6 strokes off the tee. Valhalla another Jack Nicklaus design so it’s encouraging to see that’s where he had arguably his best ball striking week of the season. The key for Thomas will be keeping the ball on the fairways this week and he’s improved his SG: OTT performance in four consecutive starts.

Thomas is finally in form and ready to get back in the winner’s circle at Muirfield Village.

Byeong Hun An +5000 (DraftKings)

Byeong Hun An is playing the best golf of his career. This season, the 32-year-old has finished T16 at the Genesis Invitational, T16 at The Masters, T8 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 3rd at the Wells Fargo Championship.

The South Korean’s ball striking has been fantastic this year. He’s gained strokes both off the tee and on approach in six consecutive events. An will now head back to a course where he’s had plenty of success. Back in 2018, he lost in a playoff to a surging superstar named Bryson DeChambeau. Ben has five top-25 finishes in eight starts at the course. The few times he missed the cut were in 2020 and 2021 when he was really struggling with his game.

An has had some close calls of late and I believe we need to stick with him for one more week.

Corey Conners +6000 (DraftKings)

Corey Conners is absolutely striping the ball right now. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 2nd in Strokes Gained: Approach, 5th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 22nd in Good Drive %.

At last week’s Canadian Open, Conners ranked 4th for the week in approach and finished in 6th place. In his previous two starts, Conners ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained: Approach at the Wells Fargo Championship and 4th at the PGA Championship. There are very few players on the planet that are currently hotter with their irons than Corey Conners.

Conners has a solid history at Muirfield Village with mixed results. His best finish came in 2022, when he finished T13 and also finished T22 back in 2020. While putting is typically Conners’ greatest weakness, he’s gained strokes on the greens in three of his six starts at the course and ranks 30th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bentgrass, so there’s hope that the 32-year-old can putt to field average this week.

Conners’ ability to hit fairways and dial in his mid-irons can propel him to the top of the leaderboard this week at a course that favors ball strikers.

Will Zalatoris +8000 (DraftKings)

I’m not entirely sure if Will Zalatoris is fully healthy based on his recent struggles, but there are enough positive signs for a player of his talent at this number.

Zalatoris made a Friday charge in his most recent start at the PGA Championship, which enabled him to sneak through the cut line. For the week, he gained 3.56 strokes on approach and has gained on approach in nine of his past ten starts.

Although he’s struggled at times, Zalatoris still has some strong finishes in big events this year. He finished in a tie for 9th at the Masters, a tie for 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie foe 2nd at the Genesis Invitational.

If Zalatoris is feeling fit, Muirfield Village is a perfect course to showcase his strengths. He’s one of the best iron players in the world and already has a 5th place finish in his most recent start at the course (2022).

This is a buy low opportunity on a world class player that has win equity.

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Opinion & Analysis

Saso says so! Yuka Saso survives for second U.S. Open title

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One of my favorite golf writers was the late Ron Balicki, and not just for the shared first name. Balicki was called, and enjoyed, the nickname “Wrong Ron,” because whoever he chose to win, was guaranteed to do not that. I might have inherited the moniker, sadly, and if you read yesterday’s update, this week goes miles to secure that designation. Four amateurs made the cut, and three of them tied for low amateur at 12-over par. I picked the one that did not make that number. Hilarious, no? As for the tournament proper, the new “Wrong Ron” guessed the correct country, but the wrong golfer. I went with Hinako Shibuno, and it was the other pride of Japan, Yuka Saso, who stole the show. Alas!

For a healthy portion of the day, odds were in the favor of a player earning a second Open title. Important note:  her name was not Yuka Saso. As golfers around her crumbled, Minjee Lee held steady at +1 on the day, and -4 on the week. Arpichya Yubol from Thailand had made the big move of the day. She reached -3 on the day an -1 for the week, before two late bogies dropped her to solo fifth position, a remarkable achievement. The round of the day came from Ally Ewing, who posted four birdies against zero bogeys for 66 and a tie for third spot.

As for Minjee, the round’s thread began to unravel at the 9th. A missed fairway led to bogey, and she followed with a three-putt for another at the tenth hole. Double bogeys at 12 and 14 took her out of the running for the title, and opened the chase to a new segment of the field. Hinako Shibuno would ultimately finish in solo second, one of two golfers to finish under par on the week. Shibuno was never a threat for the title, but when others lost their momentum, she found herself positioned for a runner-up finish.

It was Yuka Saso who turned in the day’s memorable performance. Saso turned in even par on the day, preserving her position at one-under par. Andrea Lee (+5) and Wichanee Meechai (+7) fell away from their place atop the third-round chart, as did Minjee Lee. Suddenly, Saso had posted four birdies in five holes on the inward half. She finished at two under on the day, four under on the week, and earned a three-shot win over Shibuno.

In her post-0round comments, Saso revealed that she had doubts that she would win again, especially a major title. She discussed the addition of a new putter to her bag, and her extraordinary confidence in her driver. Finally, Saso revealed how important the first cut of rough was to the resolution of the tournament. That wee bit of playable grass made all the difference in her mind.

With the refreshing transparency that all writers desire, Yuka Saso won for a second time on Sunday. We’ll forgive her if she values the US Open silver a bit more.

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