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Value bets and steals at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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The PGA Tour’s 2015-2016 season continues this week at the 2015 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, except big prize winnings from this week’s DraftKings fantasy contest; those go with you.

In this week’s contest, $200,000 is on the line with $50,000 allotted to the winner. Don’t miss out on the chance to get in the action, especially since I’m here to help with my “value bets and steals” for this week’s event.

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The Course

TPCSummerlin

TPC Summerlin measures 7,233 yards in length, plays to a tournament par of 71, and serves as the permanent home to the PGA Tour stop in Southern Nevada. The golf course was designed by Bobby Weed and opened in 1991. Past champions include Greg Norman, Paul Azinger, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.

The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is the second event for the 2015-2016 season on the PGA Tour and the scheduled field includes: Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Brooks Koepka among other big names.

Smylie Kaufman ($6,200)

SmylieKaufman

2014-2015 Web.com Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 269 (3rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 136 (T74)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 49.09% (12th)
  • Total Driving: 112 (T37)
  • Putting Average: 1.706 (5th)

Kaufman started his PGA Tour career last week in Napa Valley at the Frys.com Open with a T10 after a final round 68. Having qualified for the 2015-2016 season through his play on last season’s Web.com Tour, Kaufman is a strong all-around player, but particularly capable, at least statistically, on the putting greens.

Similar to many of the younger players now competing week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour, Kaufman appears ready to compete whenever he tees it up at this level. While the field in Las Vegas is certainly capable with the likes of Fowler et al., there is no reason Kaufman cannot walk away with his first PGA Tour victory. And at $6,200, he is worthy of consideration in your lineup this week.

Jim Herman ($6,400)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 653 (67th)
  • Ball-Striking: 11 (3rd)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 43.27% (69th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.301 (T52)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.029 (117th)

Herman finished 74th last season in the FedExCup rankings, earned more than $1 million, and posted eight top-25 finishes in 18 events. Unlikely to be a household name, Herman proved over the course of last season that he is a consistent ball-striker who struggled on PGA Tour greens. He did not play last week in Napa Valley and last teed it up on the PGA Tour at the Deutsche Bank Championship back in September.

If Herman is able to find his putting stroke this week in Las Vegas, then he could not only find himself high on the leaderboard on Sunday, but contending for his first PGA Tour victory. Herman posted a T18 last year. It may be a matter of shaking off the rust, but if you are seemingly strapped for cash and in need of a cheap addition with upside consider Herman.

Roberto Castro ($6,500)

RObertoCastro

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 849 (129th)
  • Ball-Striking: 218 (T110)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.67% (84th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.578 (37th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.728 (178th)

Similar to Herman, Castro warrants consideration, given his ability off the tee, though at least in terms of last season, it did not manifest itself into particularly strong ball-striking numbers. Admittedly, the last two seasons on the PGA Tour have been less than stellar for Castro, but in 2013, he posted 13 top-25 finishes and made more than $2 million in earnings finishing 21st in the FedExCup.

Castro started his PGA Tour season last week at the Frys.com Open with a T69 finish and hit 72.22 percent of the greens in regulation, which was almost 5 percent above average amongst the field. Castro’s putting difficulties are documented, but TPC Summerlin has a history of unlikely winners. An uncharacteristically strong week putting for Castro would not only alter his current status on the PGA Tour, but change his career. For $6,500, Castro is worth a look to round-out your lineup.

Patton Kizzire ($7,600)

2014-2015 Web.com Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 264 (2nd)
  • Ball-Striking: 59 (T16)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 51.90% (4th)
  • Total Driving: 121 (T51)
  • Putting Average: 1.694 (1st)

Kizzire skipped the Frys.com Open in favor of getting married and will begin his PGA Tour career this week in Las Vegas. Between his strong all-around golf game, which by all accounts appears PGA Tour ready, to his stellar putting, Kizzire (like his counterpart, Smylie Kaufman) is prepared to compete from day one.

During last season’s Web.com Tour, Kizzire posted two wins, two second-place finishes, one third-place finish, and 14 top-25 finishes in 23 events. He made more than $500,000 in earnings and finished No. 1 in that same category. Be ready to see Kizzire’s name on the leaderboard this week, despite not playing in Napa Valley. With his putting ability, Kizzire is a likely contender where birdies will be aplenty.

Chris Stroud ($8,400)

ChrisStroudDraftKings

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 766 (T-98)
  • Ball-Striking: 234 (122nd)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 37.82% (155th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.118 (89th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.174 (140th) 

Stroud single-handedly earned his way on to this list based on recent play. As his numbers suggest, Stroud struggled in many aspects of the game last season on the PGA Tour. Despite little to build upon, Stroud teed it up earlier this October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour and finished second upon posting a 16-under-par 272. Last week, Stroud competed at the Frys.com Open and posted a T10 to start the PGA Tour season.

Over the course of his career on the PGA Tour, Stroud has posted 59 top-25s in a total of 246 events and earned just more than $9 million in nine years. Expect Stroud to continue with the hot hand and threaten this week to win his first PGA Tour event. Again, Las Vegas has a history, especially in recent years, of rewarding players seeking to rejuvenate their games.

Nick Watney ($8,600)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 621 (57th)
  • Ball-Striking: 119 (51st)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 44.14% (56th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.618 (32nd)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.395 (T156)

Watney’s numbers reveal just how difficult it can be to compete against the best players in the world, without a putting game that is consistent. Nevertheless, Watney finished 58th in the FedExCup rankings last season buttressed by eight top-25 finishes. One of those finishes was in Las Vegas, where Watney finished T16.

While he did not play as strong as some of his counterparts on this list, Watney made the cut last week at the Frys.com Open, and brings a game to Las Vegas seemingly ready to click. Watney has earned almost $24 million in 298 starts on the PGA Tour and won five times. With a game that travels, though currently subject to the whims of his putter, Watney is a strong contender for any roster this week in Las Vegas.

Charley Hoffman ($9,300)

CharleyHoffman

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 559 (39th)
  • Ball-Striking: 168 (85th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 46.00% (35th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.212 (71st)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.070 (89th)

Coming off an outstanding season on the PGA Tour in 2014-2015, which was highlighted by a win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, a T2 at both the Humana Challenge and AT&T Byron Nelson, third place finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and T9 at the Masters, Hoffman is ready to challenge this week in Las Vegas. Hoffman has in the past, however, been hit or miss at TPC Summerlin missing the cut three times in the last five years, but also finishing fourth in 2013, T5 in 2006, and sixth in 2009.

It’s no secret that Hoffman would love to win in Las Vegas. Do not let his price tag be a deterrent because if there was ever a year to put your money on Hoffman, this is it. At a golf course where birdies will be the norm, Hoffman’s ability to go low at any moment may very well be the difference this year for the former UNLV Rebel.

Scott Piercy ($9,700)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 638 (63rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 149 (75th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.81% (81st)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.266 (60th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.120 (103rd)

Piercy is a three-time PGA Tour winner, native of Las Vegas, and 1997 graduate of Bonanza High School. While the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open will never be mistaken for the Masters, it is an important hometown event to Piercy. He finished T7 last year and will be starting his 2015-2016 PGA Tour campaign in Las Vegas. Piercy’s ascent to the PGA Tour was truly resuscitated back in 2007 when he won the $2 million Ultimate Game played at the Wynn Las Vegas defeating fellow current PGA Tour player, Tony Finau and others.

The overall point being the city of Las Vegas is replete with history and importance in the life of Piercy and apart from a major championship, there is no event he would rather win. Healthy and ready to compete, Piercy will be primed for a run at the title. Even at $9,700, he is a worthwhile investment under the circumstances for practically any lineup.

Ryan Moore ($10,000)

RyanMooreDraftKings

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 522 (33rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 176 (90th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.26% (93rd)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.414 (43rd)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.164 (64th) 

A former winner of this same event in 2012, Moore is likely to be a popular pick this week. While Moore missed the cut last year, he started the 2015-2016 PGA Tour season off at the Frys.com Open by finishing T10, having posted 135 over the weekend. As a four-time PGA Tour winner, Moore has demonstrated the ability to win with three of those four wins coming in the last four seasons.

When Moore’s success at TPC Summerlin is coupled with a strong 2014-2015 PGA Tour campaign that yielded one win, 10 top-25 finishes, and over $2.6 million in total earnings, the stars seems aligned for yet another run at the Shriners title. Notably, Moore is seeking to defend at the CIMB Classic for a second time next week in Kuala Lumpur. One should not be surprised and might even expect to see Moore trying to peak just in time for both Las Vegas and Malaysia.

Kevin Na ($10,400)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 573 (42nd)
  • Ball-Striking: 302 (T158)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 43.29% (T67)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.694 (28th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.232 (T49)

Having been much maligned for a decision to hit driver off the deck in last week’s playoff at the Frys.com Open, which ultimately cost him a chance at winning, Na will assuredly be vying for the Shriners title come Sunday afternoon. Na is presently ranked 24th in the Official World Golf Rankings, earned almost $20 million over his PGA Tour career, and finished 25th in the FedExCup last season without a win. In 2011, Na won this tournament for his lone PGA Tour victory.

Na’s price tag of $10,400 is inevitably a product of his play last week in Napa Valley and history at this event. Given the field this week, and Na’s success against a similar demographic in Napa Valley all signs to point to continued low scores and a chance to win. When determining which high price PGA Tour players are worthy of a spot in your lineup, Na has earned a place in that conversation.

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The Gear Dive: The TXG Boys are back!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny catches up with Ian Fraser and Mike Martysiewicz of TXG. They discuss their top club picks of 2020 and what to expect in 2021.

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The Wedge Guy: Is lighter always longer?

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One of the continuing trends in golf clubs – particularly drivers – is the pursuit of increasingly lighter shafts; this obsessive goal has given us the premise that the lighter the club, the faster you can swing it. And that idea is driven by the relentless pursuit of distance at all levels, and for all golfers.

But as long as he is, for example, Dustin Johnson ran away with the Masters because he was exactly that – a “master” at ball control and precision. DJ outperformed almost everyone in the field in terms of fairways and greens. That gave him more birdie putts, better looks because of his precise approach shots, and many fewer tough par saves.

But my topic today is to pose the question: “Is lighter really the key to being longer for all of us “recreational” golfers?”
Let me begin by saying that “recreational” doesn’t mean any lack of seriousness or dedication to the game. Hitting better shots and shooting lower scores is the goal for all of us who care about our golf games, right? What I mean is that we do not make our living playing the game. We do not practice incessantly. We do not spend hours at the gym every day specifically preparing our bodies to optimize our golf skills.

Today I’m going to put on my “contrarian” cap and challenge this assumption of “lighter is longer” on a couple of bases.
First, if you watch every accomplished player, you will see that the body core rotation is fast enough to “beat” the hands and clubhead to the ball. All instructors agree that the big muscles of the legs and body core are the key to power and repeatability in the golf swing. The faster you can rotate your body through impact, the more power you generate, which flows down the arms, through the hands and shaft and to the clubhead. This is a basic law of “golf swing physics”.

The simple fact is, the speed at which you can fire these big muscles is not going to be measurably impacted by removing another half ounce or less of weight from your driver. But what that removal of weight can do is to possibly allow for your hands to be faster, which would aggravate the problem I see in most mid- to high-handicap players. That problem is that their body core is not leading the swing, but rather it is following the arms and hands through impact.

Secondly, speed without precision is essentially worthless to you, and likely even counter-productive to your goal of playing better golf. Even with the big 460cc drivers, a miss of the sweet spot by just a half inch can cost you 8-12% of your optimum distance. You could never remove enough weight from the driver to increase your club speed by that amount. So, the key to consistently longer drives is to figure out how to make consistently more precise impact with the ball.

No golf adage is always true, but my experience and observation of thousands of golfers indicates to me that the fastest route to better driver distance is to get more precise with your impact and swing path, and not necessarily increasing your clubhead speed. And that may well be served by moving to a slightly heavier driver, not a lighter one.

I’ll end this by offering that this is not an experiment to conduct in a hitting bay with a launch monitor, but rather by playing a few rounds with a driver that is heavier than your current “gamer”.

Continuing with my “contrarian” outlook on many aspects of golf equipment, the typical driver “fitting” is built around an intense session on a launch monitor, where you might hit 30-40 or more drives in an hour or so. But the reality of golf is that your typical round of golf involves only 12-13 drives hit over a four-hour period, each one affected by a number of outside influences. But that’s an article for another time.

For this week, think about pulling an older, heavier driver from your closet or garage and giving it a go for a round or two and see what happens.

I would like to end today’s post by wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a helluva year for all of us, so let’s take some time this week to count our individual and collective blessings.

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