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Focus on Fitness: What happens when an average golfer trains like a pro?

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For many years, the words fitness and golf were rarely uttered in the same sentence. But now we can’t go through one commercial break without hearing how athletic golfers are and how everyone can benefit from a focus on fitness. Sure, if we all had a few hours each day to devote to the gym, we’d see an impact. But it got me thinking, can we quantify the impact a focus on proper fitness can play in the golf game of an amateur?

To help answer this question, I reached out to Nick Randall, a GolfWRX Featured Writer and Strength and Conditioning Coach to elite golfers such PGA Tour player Cameron Smith, who enthusiastically jumped on board to help guide me through this process. In addition to his professional clients, Nick offers virtual training to anyone just like what I went through.

The goal wasn’t to simply drop everything and act like a pro. I didn’t get to play golf for a living, and didn’t have the time they have to devote to the gym. The goal was to see if my golf game could improve by utilizing a tour-proven approach to fitness, guided by an elite-level trainer, but adjusted for the time and skill level of an amateur.

Nick was based in Australia at the time (he’s now in Jacksonville, FL), so all our interactions would be done remotely. As a technologist and app developer, this presented another opportunity to test the theory that technology is transforming the way we interact, even when it comes to something like fitness training.

CommunicatingwithNick

Over the course of four months, Nick guided me through three training programs, a daily motor pattern and mobility program, and nutrition and hydration advice, all via his Golf Fit iOS app, email, and Skype video chats. Our objective was to train the body to rotate more efficiently. This would result in some changes to my swing action, but without the intention of directly manipulating the club face or ball flight. My only swing changes for four months would be a direct result of this training, with no outside input.

I also wanted to be as honest and transparent as possible, so good, bad or ugly, you’ll find links to my DEXA Scans, Trackman Combine results, and swing videos below.

Did it work?

If you are wondering if you should bother reading on, it definitely worked. Physically, I’m stronger and have less back pain every day including after golf rounds or practice. On the course, my misses are tighter, my focus is stronger, and my endurance is better. We’ll cover all of this in detail, but Nick and this experience have fundamentally changed my approach to fitness in my everyday life, as well as my golfing life.

Baseline Evaluation

Any new fitness program must start with an evaluation. There are many ways to evaluate someone and ideally, this would be done in person. With Nick in Australia, we couldn’t do the assessment in person, so we spent a lot of time talking via Skype and I answered a detailed questionnaire. I’ve had back issues in the past, and one of the primary goals of the program was to strengthen that area to reduce daily pain, as well as pain associated with golfing. I have had medical assessments done on my back and passed along my charts to Nick for review.

I also sent Nick videos of my current swing, and we used my initial Trackman Combine videos as well during the evaluation phase.

DEXA Scan

In addition to the written assessment and discussions, I got a DEXA Scan so we could see where I might have imbalances or other trouble areas. A DEXA Scan is a full body scan that measures body composition including total body fat, breaking down bone mass, fat tissue, and lean muscle mass in the body.

DexaFit Atlanta

To get the scan, I worked with Peter Fisher, the co-owner of DexaFit Atlanta.  Let me just say, wow, that was eye-opening. The short, 10-minute scan produced images and reports that laid out how much body fat and lean muscle mass I have. I have too much body fat and that black and white image above was not pretty to see.

We took a look at the reports and decided if I focused on better nutrition, in addition to strength gains, I should be able to take my body fat percentage down to 25 percent (from 32.2 percent). It was a very aggressive goal, but a motivator as well.

Initial Trackman Combine

While we were not planning to make any direct swing changes, such as worrying about my inside takeaway, we did want to get a baseline of my current swing. The best way to do that is with a Trackman Combine, so I headed out to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger, Director of Golf Instruction, who ran me through the combine.

The Trackman Combine is a standardized test that identifies strengths and weaknesses in the golf swing by scoring 60 shots from various yardages. If you haven’t had a chance to take the combine, I highly recommend it.

TrackmanBaseline_Updated

You can view the full Combine report as well as videos associated with some of my swings, by heading to this site I created.

Overall, I was happy with the results. The Combine was performed on a warm day with very little wind. My score was 69.2. I had 14 shots over 90 points. My max club speed with the driver was 104.8 mph and my longest drive was 278.8 yards.

Nick and I analyzed these results to find areas of weakness that could be attributed to poor body performance. The Combine swing scores are all about distance from the target. While dispersion can be driven by poor swing mechanics, it also is directly related to stability in the golf swing. We identified issues with my turn and posture from the videos and marked my max driver speed down as a baseline for any speed increases I might see.

The Fitness Program

Our fitness plan was broken up into three 1-month long programs. Each week included six days of routines: three strength days and three mobility and movement pattern days. That meant six days a week I was training my body with strength, mobility and movement pattern drills.

To track the progress, we used the Golf Fit iOS App, which Nick created for use with his athletes. Golf Fit is laid out to make it very easy to view your program, which includes photos and descriptions of the exercises, and complete your reps and sets.

GolfFit ProgressScreen

Month 1 was a primer month. It introduced me to some new exercises and eased me into my strength program. Month 2 switched up the exercises and ramped up the intensity. It also added some cardio to the warm up.

Month 3 was the hardest program and the one I found most interesting. It added more dynamic, golf specific exercises such as the Sidestepper with Band. I felt like I was able to better connect the exercise with how they would help my game. The Sidestepper, for example, was designed to activate the glutes and promote lateral stability, something very important during the golf swing.

In addition to the training programs, my favorite part of the Golf Fit app is the progress tracker. Most apps let you track your food or water intake and even how you feel, but they are cumbersome. With Golf Fit, you can easily score your progress, which brilliantly uses your averages as a default option. This made it very easy to track my progress every night.

GolfFit App Wellness Screen

I had many times over the course of the program, like when we had family in town over the holidays, where I wanted to do almost anything except my workout or nightly program. Everyone would be sitting in the living room, laughing and having a great time, and I’d be standing at the back of the room, Thoracic Pro strapped on, turning back and through over and over. But it felt great when I finished, especially on days like those.

I ended the program strong and even though our research for this story is technically over, my workouts continue. You can view my Month 1 program here and the free Golf Fit iOS app includes photos and explanations of each exercise

kane_thoracic

Essential Gear and My Spiky Ball Addiction

I bought two pieces of equipment — a Spiky Ball and the Thoracic Pro — to assist with my exercises, but you don’t have to. You can pick up some fitness bands at your local sporting goods store and be good to go.

I’m in love with my spiky ball. It’s this perfect little ball with raised rubber spikes you can roll anywhere you need to relieve tightness or discomfort. I used it every night to massage my lower back, legs and even chest and arms. Because it is smaller than a foam roller, you can get it into very specific problem areas. If you roll it around a sore spot, you’ll be amazed how loose that area becomes.

Spiky Ball and Thoracic Pro

I also purchased a Thoracic Pro. My posture and scapula control wasn’t as good as it could be. The Thoracic Pro is a harness you slip over your shoulders and when you properly engage your shoulder blades, a spiky ball in the middle of your back as well as two points on your shoulders, gives you feedback you’re in the right position. All I had to do was pull my shoulder blades back and slightly down. By doing this, I had pre-engaged my shoulder blades. My posture looked shockingly better and my turn was instantly tighter with less moving pieces. Every day for the next few months, I used my Thoracic Pro during the movement and motor pattern routine, and now I feel like it is second nature. I even took it to the range and hit balls with it on, which had a huge impact.

Movement Patterns and Nightly Routine

In order to make any meaningful change in my motor patterns, including the way I turn back and through the ball, I needed a nightly routine. Nick broke this into two programs, one for days where I was training and one for off days. They consisted of a mix of motor patterns with the Thoracic Pro as well as stretching and massage with the Spiky Ball.

These routines quickly became something I really looked forward to every night. It would take about 30 minutes to complete the motor patterns and stretching, and I enjoyed every minute. I got some funny looks from my wife as I was rigged up to the Thoracic Pro, turning and stomping behind her, but it really did work. I cannot guarantee I’ll continue my fitness programs with as laser-like a focus, but I definitely will continue my motor pattern and mobility work every night.

The motor pattern work consisted of the following routine:

NightlyRoutineUpdated1024

Nutrition and Hydration

Nick also offered basic nutrition advice, and he started by getting me to understand the majority of weight loss, which is something many of us want, is driven by nutrition. So eating cleaner became a goal. The Golf Fit app was a huge motivator to eating well and staying hydrated. Each night, the app asked me to score how I did on a scale of 1-10, ten being perfectly clean eating. I never did score a 10, but had quite a few nines. My average was 7-8, which as someone who works long hours and travels, is a comfortable way to start eating healthier.

For this story, the main takeaway is on-course eating. I’m amazed at how little my playing partners eat during a round. I used to only eat one protein bar around the turn. Nick’s recommendation was to take at least two snacks on the course and eat one mid-way through the front and back nines. For his players, he likes the Vega Sport Protein Bar or Macro Protein Bars, although there are others on the market. Adding an extra protein bar to my round made a big difference in my energy level. Below you can see what I typically have in the bag during a round.

Updated_NutritionBag

I also started keeping a bag of honey glazed almonds with me. I’m not sure Nick would love that I took a perfectly healthy almond and covered it in sugar, but it is a delicious snack packed with protein and healthy fats. And I noticed when I offered my playing partners a protein bar or almonds, almost all of them took the almonds.

As for hydration, I’m convinced the majority of golfers don’t drink enough water, myself included. Why? Because it’s really hard to be fully-hydrated. Based on Golf Fit’s recommendation for my body weight, I need to drink about 110 ounces of water a day (or 7 standard bottles) to be well hydrated. On the course, I tried to drink one bottle every three holes, and I would put a Nuun electrolyte hydration tablet in one of the bottles on each nine holes. I also downloaded a Water App to track my intake through the day which notified me with a reminder to drink every 1.5 hours. You will have to try it for yourself, but when I was fully hydrated I truly felt stronger and less fatigued, which dehydration can cause.

Shots like this awkward sidehill fairway bunker shot (pictured below), where stability and focus are so critical to executing the shot, was where I really noticed the training, and on-course hydration and nutrition pay off.

FromSand_Florida

Before and After a Round or Range Session

Pro golfers don’t just show up on the range or the first tee without warming up, so Nick recommended I perform one round of my Motor and Movement Patterns routine before practicing or playing.

One round of the routine takes about 10 minutes, and I noticed a difference when I completed the routine before hitting the range. I didn’t feel like I needed to hit as many short wedges to fire up the body. This helped on mornings where I was first off the tee and the range was barely open. I could roll a few putts and tee off knowing I had already made about 20-30 full turns warming up the main muscles I would need.

I completed the same routine as a warm-down after a round or practice session. Try the following routine from Nick, before you head to the first tee.

warmuproutineupdated

Checking in with Nick 

Throughout the program, Nick was checking in with me regularly, providing that extra motivation I needed. I was also sharing videos with him like the one below from early in our training program.  These check in videos were especially helpful at times when I wasn’t seeing the same on-course progress as I was seeing during practice.

What Can You Do If You Can’t Go All-In?

I went “all in” over the past four months, but I recognize that isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked about this program to avid golf friends of mine and they are intrigued, but likely won’t devote the time I have.

With that in mind, Nick put together a routine anyone can do that will have a positive impact on your game.  Click here to download a PDF of the routine.

The Final DEXA Scan

Once I had completed the last of the workouts, it was time to get a follow-up DEXA scan, so I went back to DexaFit Atlanta and worked with Peter Fisher.

We were hoping to see a decrease in body fat percentage and a small increase in lean muscle mass, and I was nervous about how the scan would go. I could tell I had lost weight and was getting stronger, but let’s be honest, if I said I was working out for three months and then got a body scan that shows no weight loss, you probably wouldn’t believe I had actually been in the gym.

FollowUpDexaFinal

I didn’t want that to happen, so I was happy to see I had decreased my body fat by 3 percent (-8.4 actual pounds of fat). Again, if you want to see the raw data, you can view the full results here.

I was initially disappointed by the loss of lean mass. It seemed counterintuitive, because I had been training more, but after talking with Nick it became more clear. I was eating cleaner, and likely taking in less calories despite trying to focus on eating more and better proteins. Our strength program wasn’t about big muscle gains, and we also only had three months. He was happy to see I essentially held onto the muscle mass, while decreasing my body fat. What I also found interesting is that I shed pounds without spending much time doing cardio. Sure, cardio is important, but it showcases the positives of better eating decisions, and what effect they can have on your health.

The Final Combine

I went into the final Combine with a healthy combination of nervousness and confidence. Almost every day for four months, I had focused on modifying my motor patterns or strengthening my body with the specific goal of improving my game. I was seeing improvement on the course, so one test on one day wouldn’t define all the work Nick and I had done. But I wanted to see results in plain, clear data. I headed back to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger again.

TrackmanFollowup_Updated

We were hoping to see more clubhead speed with the driver and better dispersion overall, driven by a more stable lower body and more solid turn back and through the ball. In plain, clear, data, I saw the results I was hoping for.

I had more shots closer to the pin, more shots scored above 90, more “perfect” shots, and 3 mph more max clubhead speed with the driver. Below are some high-level stats comparing the two Combines. You can view the full report and videos here.

TrackmanCompare

I left the Combine on a high. All the effort looked to be paying off… but we don’t play golf by hitting 60 shots during some test. My year-end trip to Florida, where I would play at least 5 rounds, would be the ultimate test.

Florida Trip and My Golf Game Now

I’ve been going to Florida for a week of golf and vacation every year for the last six or so years. I play at least five rounds during the week and look forward to it all year. I brought my spiky ball and Thoracic Pro with me so I could continue my mobility and motor pattern routines.

floridatrip

Just like the Combine, I was nervous and excited to hit the first tee. It wasn’t a testing bay anymore; it was the first tee on a real course after fully-dedicating myself to this program and plan the last few months. I “needed” to see a meaningful difference in my game.

After my first round, I knew something positive was happening. I was hitting more greens, splitting more fairways, and keeping myself out of trouble. I’ve never been more consistent or had as much control over my swing as I did over the five rounds during the trip. Not only did I lower my handicap and post my cleanest card on a front-9 (1-under), but I didn’t wake up midway through the trip with lower-back pain.

Here is a comparison of five rounds prior to starting this program, five rounds from last year’s trip and my five rounds during my trip this year.

FinalComparison

Final Thoughts

A focus on fitness can improve the game of amateurs. Whether you go all-in or take it slow, you can see results. To help get started, you can follow the mini-programs laid out in this story, and there are trainers like Nick all across the country ready when you are.

I won’t say the past four months have been easy. But they also haven’t been hard. Eating healthier, drinking more water, and sticking to my fitness and mobility routines have become a part of my day-to-day life. I can only continue to improve from here, and the longer I focus on fitness, the more likely I am to be able to play this great game for many years to come.

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When he is not obsessing about his golf game, Kane heads up an innovation lab responsible for driving innovative digital product development for Fortune 500 companies. He is also the co-founder of RoundShout and creator of Ranger GPS, the free iOS GPS app for the driving range. On a quest to become a scratch golfer, Kane writes about his progress (for better or worse) at kanecochran.com and contributes golf technology-focused articles on GolfWRX.com.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Scott

    Jun 2, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for the article Kane. My biggest thought through this article was how are you a 10 handicap? You have a good swing and more than enough club head speed. Anyway, appreciate the time you put into this to help motivate me to improve my golf conditioning and game.

  2. Nathan

    Apr 19, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Good article! I am glad that the topic of fitness is catching on in our sport. However, I am very leary of Advocare products, particularly Spark, due to potentially harmful ingredients. So I would recommend closer inspection into that aspect of this article. Otherwise, keep it up!

    • Kane Cochran

      Apr 19, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Nathan! Spark is something I have had in my bag since prior to working with Nick (replacing coffee on early morning rounds and giving me a more flavorful way to drink 24oz of water early in the day). It was not part of this program or his nutrition advice. While I did research the product prior to starting to drink it, I’ll take another look, especially at their use of artificial ingredients like the sweeteners. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. AC

    Apr 18, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks for the article. Is there a discount code available for Golfwrx members for the Thoracic Pro and Spiky Ball? Who do we contact to purchase?

  4. Kevin

    Apr 18, 2016 at 3:07 am

    Just go on You Tube , put in Titliest Performance Institue . I started Pilates 2 years ago SS wss 95mph now 102/104mph, all down to improved mobility. Interesting article though, but go practice short game and really see the over all performance

  5. Ron

    Apr 17, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    This was a great and inspiring article. It’s a bit intimidating because it doesn’t feel like the Trackman, Dexa and other diagnostic aspects of your process are available to golfers who are not geographically close to the areas where these items are located. I would be happy to go through the process but I don’t really know where to find them near me.

    Also, golffitpro.net is a mess. I’m sorry to say this because I was very inspired to do my own version of your program. I downloaded the iPhone app but had a real problem figuring out how to do the exercises. For example, he says for the initial exercise “Stop and pulse working through 3 speeds 33-99”. I had to search around the web to figure out what that means. Also, you need his equipment to do the workout, but at least 2 items are out of stock with no promise of getting more. That is very unimpressive.

    Also, the PDF you linked to in your article with a sample workout is meaningless without instructions about how to do the exercises. His whole website is very user unfriendly.

    The app is also problematic in that you set the timer but there is no audible signal for when the timer is over.

    I would love to see a follow up article that’s a little bit more accessible to readers. Thanks.

    • Nick Randall

      Apr 19, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Ron,

      Sorry to hear about the issues you have with the website. I have to say that this is the first negative feedback we have received regardless usability of the site, we will look into it.
      Regards the 33-66-99 concept, see below for an explanation.
      The timer on the app is being fixed in our latest round of app improvement work and will be available in the next update.
      The example PDF program exercises can be found on the app, with photo and text explanations.
      We are now back in stock for the items featured in the article.

      33-66-99 principle

      Ramsay McMaster developed the 33-66-99 principle as a guideline for intensity. He believed it could be applied as a philosophy to everything from your energy levels, to your warm up pre-round, to your golf swing tempo out on the course.
      “It’s about making people aware of their energy levels as well as their feels, range of movement, endurance and body controls. If 99% is your peak and when you feel sharp, then 33% is when you feel sluggish, tired and fatigued physically.”
      My understanding and interpretation when applying the principle to posture exercises and golf movement pattern drills is to consider 33-66-99 as 3 different levels.
      33 is like the start level, doing the movements slowly and really concentrating on using good technique and learning the exercise.
      66 is for once you have mastered 33 and are able speed the movement up and use more intensity whilst still holding good form and posture, thus increasing bio feedback and gaining more awareness of key areas in your body.
      99 is where you are working at near maximum intensity and speed, looking to really fire up your golf body “feels” and ingrain the movement pattern into your “muscle memory”.

  6. Sean Foldy

    Apr 16, 2016 at 7:43 am

    You have virtually zero hip turn in your swing, maybe that’s intentional or maybe you have serious physical limitations? To me it seems counter-intuitive to be training you core muscles when you don’t appear to be using them in your swing.

  7. michael johnson

    Apr 16, 2016 at 6:06 am

    dear kane,
    your short game sucks.
    best, mjohnson

  8. Christian

    Apr 16, 2016 at 1:45 am

    Reel them in with the misleading headline and then “the idea wasn’t to drop everything bla bla”

  9. Joe the F Buck

    Apr 16, 2016 at 12:18 am

    I bet your numbers would have been even better if you had done a p90x type of program.

  10. COGolfer

    Apr 15, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Average golfer in the title was quite misleading. Much better to start with a good swing than it is to be in peak fitness. Interesting none the less.

  11. :-ppp

    Apr 15, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    You know what happens? I pull my groin and get a hernia, and I can’t hump for a couple months :-ppp

  12. John-Michael Fawley

    Apr 15, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Very interesting article Kane. I have been looking to do something similar to this, but on a cheaper scale. My one question is, should a person actually have a evaluation to make sure the program that they are being put on will work best for them? Everyone has their own points they need to work so some exercises will help, but others might not. I would think it should be tailored to each person.

    • Kane Cochran

      Apr 15, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Hi John-Michael – Thanks for your comments. I would 100% recommend a personal evaluation. In-person or, if you want to go with a route similar to the one I went, via skype with additional data (swing videos, charts, etc) to help create a clear picture. You are completely right, everyone has different areas they need to work on. I wanted to share exactly what I was working on in the program, for the sake of transparency. And we wanted to include some more general starter programs, but it should be tailored to each person. That is something Nick is very big on as well.

  13. Nevin

    Apr 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Interesting and useful article. Thank you.

  14. Smoking Gun

    Apr 15, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Money, time, and talent!!! If you are a working human being, married with kids you can forget becoming an elite golfer. When are you going to find the time? Heart, passion, and ability play just as big a part if not bigger than that!

    • larrybud

      Apr 16, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      You don’t need money to eat right (in fact, it’s cheaper than buying processed food and going out to eat), and it’s not like you need to spend 3 hours in the gym every day.

  15. Raven

    Apr 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    So what you are saying is that being fitter and stronger helps you perform a physical task better? Who knew! Seriously, if anyone has the time to increase their focus on a task in a productive, educational manner then they will learn from it. Very few of us have that time, and even fewer improve without that level of effort. Your article could have been generalised for anything in life.

    • DC3

      Apr 15, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      I bet you’re delightful at cocktail parties.

    • larrybud

      Apr 16, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      What were you hoping from this article, that you’d play better if you woke up drunk?

  16. David Smith

    Apr 15, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Kane: the website says that the thoracic pro is out of stock. Any idea how/when/where we can get one? Thanks.

    • Kane Cochran

      Apr 15, 2016 at 5:10 pm

      Let me check with Nick and see if there are other options for you. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

  17. Bogeypro

    Apr 15, 2016 at 10:38 am

    How much did all the personal training with Nick cost (ballpark figures, if you don’t want to be too specific)?

  18. AllBOdoesisgolf

    Apr 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

    so, what I want to know, what is it like in the future? Who is running for President? Is there good weather in August 2016 and are we looking at a lot of snow in December 2016?

  19. Milo

    Apr 15, 2016 at 9:37 am

    How much did this cost?

    • Kane Cochran

      Apr 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Hi Milo – DexaFit Atlanta, Tom Losinger at BridgeMill Golf, and Nick donated their time to make this story possible. For the spiky ball and Thoracic Pro, I paid the wholesale cost. Nick is willing to give GolfWRX readers a discount on the Spiky Ball and Thoracic Pro. If you’re interested, just let me know.

      Here is an estimated breakdown of costs: DEXA Scan = $150 for each scan. Trackman Combine = $125 or less for each session. Thoracic Pro = $89. Spiky Ball = $12.90. Nick has various levels of training packages. I will post a comment on his ballpark costs soon. Hope that helps.

      • Milo

        Apr 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm

        Actually not as much as I thought. But still some good coin. Thank you for the answer.

  20. Large chris

    Apr 15, 2016 at 7:59 am

    It’s all good stuff and well done for the commitment, although generally if you spend the equivalent time just practicing the short game and putting you would also see score improvements…. The only thing I would take issue with is this modern mantra of eating and drinking constantly to keep hydrated and keep energy levels up. It really isn’t how the body is designed, if you read about IF (intermittent fasting), caveman diet or even typical housewife 5/2 diets it is clear that the human body is EXTREMELY adaptable to short term variances in calorie, macro and hydration levels. We’d have died out as a species 5000 years ago if that wasn’t the case when one big meal a day was the norm.

    • Philip

      Apr 15, 2016 at 9:50 am

      For calorie intake I am at my best when I am slightly hungry so that my blood does not rush to my digestion area. However, for hydration I quickly fade once it kicks in. I would expect most people live a large part of their lives being slightly to moderately dehydrated, especially during outdoor activities. I’ve drunk 4-5+ litres of water during a round and never had to pee until the next morning. We can lose a lot of water when outside. Surviving and being at our optimal are not the same thing.

      • tony

        Apr 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm

        agreed with this line of thought. i can go to work and function on 2 hours of sleep. am i going to be in top shape to perform at an optimal level at work on 2 hours of sleep vs. 7….No.

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship: Betting Tips & Selections

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The conclusion to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic was almost perfection.

The scant amount of viewers on a Monday morning would have been treated to a surely scripted play-off between world number one Rory McIlroy and his LIV nemesis Patrick Reed, bar that damned 13-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. It was, of course, a fitting start to the year for the world number one, and an ending that the week deserved after ‘Tee Gate to Tree Gate,’.

With our main man, Lucas Herbert, playing some sublime golf in behind and finishing strongly in third despite the absence of luck on the Saturday greens, it showed the DP World Tour in a cracking light.

It’s a shame this week doesn’t.

We move from the quality of Dubai to a standard DPWT field and, while favourite Adrian Meronk is improving fast and now up to 52nd in the rankings, the long,wide, forgiving nature of Al Hamra makes this nothing more than a bosh-it, find it, hit it, putt it, competition. Links-like it may be, but with no wind forecast, this won’t hit anywhere near the heights of the previous two weeks.

Previous DPWT winners here – Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard – suggest length is the one factor that separates the medalists from the also-rans and is the key factor behind high-level tee-to-green numbers, certainly rather than accuracy.

There isn’t really any option but to look at the handful of true links players at the top and it’s only narrowly that Victor Perez gets the vote.

Splitting last year’s winners (for there were two Al Hamra events in 2022) Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard is tough but I’ve always felt the Frenchman is capable of a higher level of play and he is the selection in front of favourite Meronk, even if they both have similar course and recent form.

I rarely get him right – backing him twice over the last six months – even if he has won two titles in the space of seven months.

Still, this is another day for the Frenchman (and me) and for a winner of the Dunhill Links, the Dutch Open and three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, he may actually be overpriced at 16/1.

It’s tough to find any better ‘standard level’ links form lines than beating the likes of Matt Southgate, Joakim Lagergren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tom Lewis and pals in Scotland, and beating Fox in a play-off at Bernadus Golf. However, he was at it again at Yas Links, leaving behind the names Min Woo Lee, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton – all synonymous with the test he faces this week, on the same paspalum greens and with opposition of higher class than three-quarters of this week’s field.

Perez looks to have produced evidence that a golfer is at their peak at 30-years of age producing an outstanding bunker shot to win his latest trophy, with a sound coming off the club reminiscent of his play at Wentworth in 2020, when splitting Hatton and Patrick Reed.

Watch Perez trophy-winning shot here!

Although this is his first outing here on the DPWT, he has a seventh and second place from two outings on the Challenge Tour and he is in the right form to take those figures one better.

Third for total driving over the last six months, Perez ranks in the top-10 for ball-striking over the same period (11th over three months) and arrives here in confident mood, telling reporters:

“I’m looking forward to playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship for the first time. I got the season off to a great start at the Hero Cup followed by my first Rolex Series win in Abu Dhabi, so this is a great chance to keep the momentum going and secure more Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points,” before adding:

“I’m playing great golf at the moment, and I’m hoping it continues in Ras Al Khaimah.”

Perez is a confident selection, but back him up with another proven rip-it merchant in Callum Shinkwin, who has come in a few points since the market opened but justifies the move after an excellent top five in Dubai.

First thing we know about the three-time winner is he hits it a mile, ranking in the top-10 for off-the-tee ten times since the start of the 2022 season, including being in the top three in the two events 12 months ago. That itself is worth noting, as are his best efforts away from the victories- at Fairmont, the Dunhill Links and last week in Dubai, all with pointers to this week’s test.

There was nothing wrong with mid-20 finishes here last year, the first just a couple of days after destroying the course in a fun Texas Scramble pairs, and he will surely take comfort in lying up there with Rory McIlroy last Monday, matching those final two birdies.

Another around that ‘magic’ age, this is a course that will give Shinks every opportunity to play shorter irons into the targets and, with last week’s top-10 ranking for putting, this may be the time to go with the Moor Park magician.

I can’t see a shock result here this week – the top lot have perfect conditions in which to show their class – but I’ll be looking at the top-10/20 markets for the following:

Tapio Pulkkanen – Trilby-wearing Finn that hits the ball a country mile. Trouble is, half the time he does not know in which direction it’s travelling. Here, with accuracy not a factor, he can take inspiration from last season’s seventh place in the first of the back-to-back events, when a three-over back-nine cost him a place in the medals.

20th just seven days later shows he can play the track, whilst best efforts over the last 12 months include a third place at the Czech Masters, 10th at the Dunhill Links and third in Portugal, again all events with a leaning to the type he’ll take part in this week. Given his tied-second in Prague a year earlier, we can surmise he repeats form at tracks that suit.

It isn’t impossible he suddenly finds his form on tour, and with an inkling he’ll ‘do a JB Hansen’ and go crackers for a spell. This would seem the perfect place to start.

Julien Guerrier – Third at Hillside and Celtic Manor last season show the former winner of The Amateur Championship (at Royal St. George’s) still has what it takes to compete at this slightly lower level. Add top-15 finishes at Denmark, Spain, Germany and Mauritius – all with front-rank putting stats – and it’s easy to see the two-time Challenge Tour winner having some effect in the top-20 market.

A sixth and eighth-placed finish at the Rocco Forte in Sicily behind Lagergren and Alvaro Quiros (both who turn up when they sniff links from a mile away) reads well, and his repeat performances at his home country, Portugal, Spain and Prague show he performs where he has good memories.

With four outings here, split between the Challenge Tour and the DPWT, the Frenchman can continue an improving course record of 19/13/9.

Jack Senior – I’m convinced that 34-year-old Senior is a better player than his current ranking outside of the top-500 in the world, and although it has been a while since his win at Galgorm Castle in 2019, he has racked up top-10 finishes at Gran Canaria, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (behind Min Woo Lee, Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick), Mallorca and on the Spanish mainland.

Back at Galgorm, he was tied-13th last year, a repeat result that sits nicely with his 23rd in Mallorca, and top-20s in Prague and Denmark, courses already highlighted as associates to Al Hamra.

I’m happy to ignore last week’s missed cut as it was his first outing since October, and he’s of enough interest back on a course on which he has a sixth, 11th and 19th place finish in three tries at the lower level.

I’m expecting one of the top eight or 10 to prove too good, but these events often throw up names on a surprise leaderboard, and it will take just one hotter-than-normal week with the putter for that to happen.

Recommended Bets:

Victor Perez – WIN

Callum Shinkwin – WIN/TOP-5

Julien Guerrier – TOP-10 TOP-20

Tapio Pulkkanen – TOP-10 TOP-20

Jack Senior – TOP-10 TOP-20

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2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Betting Tips & Selections

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Here we go again.

After the multi-course American Express and the two-track Farmers, the PGA Tour arrives at the legendary Pebble Beach for this week’s AT&T.

Shorter than the average tour event, the coastline course/s deliver a reasonably simple test for the high-level celebrities and their professional playing partners, but this changes dramatically should any of the famed coastal weather arrive.

Bad enough for those paid to hit a dimpled ball, it can turn an amateur’s enjoyable (and expensive) round into something horrendous like this.

Three players clearly stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, both in terms of quality and world ranking, and they do have figures that justify that – in spades.

Favourite Jordan Spieth is the King of Pebble. His record here is unsurpassed, and he relishes the challenges of this seaside terrain.

However, with no serious turn in conditions, I’m not sure his current game is much to go on. The 29-year-old has missed the cut in two of his last six starts, the best results coming in limited field events at two of the FedEx play-off events and the Tournament of Champions.Not as if Spieth needs to be in form – he won the RBC Heritage last year after a run of mc/35/35/mc, but even a win, runner-up, third , fourth, seventh and ninth, it always feels as if you take your life in your own hands when backing him at 10/1 and less.

Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland make up the elite trio, all residing in the top-16 of the world rankings.

Both justify being alongside the Texan at the top of the market, although until last season’s closing sixth place finish, only Fitz’s 12th at the 2019 U.S Open was worth noting from an event formline of missed-cut and 60th.

Interestingly, the Norwegian matched that finish three years ago, becoming low amateur for the second major in a row, and both are hard to argue against.

With combined wins in Mayakoba, Puerto Rico and Dubai, as well as top finishes at various Open championships, conditions suit both equally well. Choosing between them is tough enough, but with home players winning 27 of the last 30 events held here (17 of the last 18) and with doubts about the motivation for playing this week, they can all be left alone at combined odds of around 9/4.

The draw is probably as crucial here as any other event, with Pebble Beach having some of the smallest greens on tour and Spyglass Hill being affected occasionally by similar winds. Make the score at Monterey Peninsula, if at all possible.

Despite the quality up front, the section that includes defending champion Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealey, Andrew Putnam and Seamus Power has equally strong credentials for the title.

Hoge aims to become only the second player to defend this title since 2000 and, whilst playing as well as ever, is no Dustin Johnson, whilst it’s hard to put McNealey in front of the Irishman given the latter’s 2-0 lead in PGA Tour wins, and 3-zip if you count the KFT.

Power ranks in the top echelons of players with form at short courses and is easy to make a case for in an event at which he opened up a five shot lead at one point last year, before finishing in ninth.

The 35-year-old has never been better, now ranked inside the top-30 after a season that included that top-10 here and again at Southern Hills, a top-12 behind Fitz at Brookline, third at Mayakoba and fifth at the RSM. The highlight, of course, was the victory in Bermuda, sitting nicely with his first victory at the Barbasol, that Kentucky event showing links to proven coastal/short course player Kelly Kraft (runner-up here to Spieth in 2019) and Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Streelman, with six top-10 finishes between them at the AT&T.

Rather like the player he beat in that Barbasol play-off (J.T Poston) Power is fairly easy to read, and although the very nature of pro-ams doesn’t suit everyone, the course make-up suits perfectly.

Usually consistent and in the top echelons for tee-to-green, greens-in regulation, and for up-and-down, Power comes here looking to recover from an unusually poor performance on the large Abu Dhabi putting floors. Certainly the figures look awry compared with his 10 strokes gained for tee-to-green and 12th for around-the-green, and it’s easy to see improvement in California, where in 2022 he lay in fourth place into Sunday at the pro-am at La Quinta, as well as a previous ninth place finish at the Barracuda (fifth into Sunday).

He’s the best of the week but I’m also including:

Alex Smalley – We were on 26-year-old Smalley for the American Express a few weeks ago and he was going well until the PGA West (Nicklaus) caught him out, causing a drop into 62nd from 21st place, and close to two of the other three selections this week, as well as Garrick Higgo, who just missed out due to lack of experience here.

The recovery into a place just outside the top-20 was impressive, though, with a final round 63 comprising 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, as well as making all his putts under 10 feet.

Those sorts of figures have been expected from the outstanding Duke graduate, who made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the 2017 U.S Open. Since then, it hasn’t been plain sailing, indeed he has yet to win an event despite an excellent return to this level in 2022.

Starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, he then finished in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.

Since October, Smalley has made seven of nine cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking and significant given the test this week..

He couldn’t get it going at Waialae for the Sony but followed up the La Quinta effort with a top-40 at Torrey Pines, when his tee-to-green game was again perfectly respectably ranked in 33rd given the strength of the field.

Runner-up in the Dominican Republic, fourth and 15th in Houston, and with form at Colonial and Bermuda, this looks the prefect test for a player that at least had a look last year, and that the bookmakers simply cannot make their mind up about.

Robby Shelton – Makes his event debut here this week in his second time at the top level, but the former Walker Cup player has enough relevant form to make him of interest, particularly after a sixth place at the multi-course American Express a few weeks ago, his best finish in California so far.

Shelton included Scottie Scheffler and Ben Griffin as play-off victims when winning two of a total of four KFT events in 2019 and 2022, coming here after making eight out of ten cats (yeah, I know) since arriving back on tour in September.

Best efforts are 15th at the Shriners and a top-10 at the RSM, but let’s also throw in a sixth at Mayakoba, 11th at the Honda and a top-20 in Texas.

This is a drop in class, and significantly in distance, from Torrey Pines and I’d expect to see more advantage taken here.

Harrison Endycott – One of the Player To Follow for this season, it’s hard to work out exactly what the 26-year-old Aussie wants in terms of course set-up, but given his heritage and junior career, it’s fairly certain he can play well in the wind.

Having made his way through the grades including a win, two top-10s and two top-20s on the KFT, he wasted little time making his mark at the highest level, finishing tied-12th at the Fortinet in California, a joint best-of-the-day 65 launching him up the board on day three.A month later, Endycott started the Bermuda Championship with a pair of double-bogeys before signing for an opening nine-under 62, the catalyst for another career top-10, and in November he overcame a poor opening round at his home PGA Championship (111th) before flying through the field as the event progressed, finishing a never-nearer 18th behind Cam Smith.

Even the missed-cut at the Australian Open was not devoid of promise, an opening 68 seeing him start the second round in 7th place.

With a pedigree in Australia and a residence in Scottsdale, I’ll take the chance he will find something back in California, scene of the best of three events in 2023 – 22nd at the American Express – when his game showed the all-round prowess it did in Scottsdale – top-11 in approach and top-15 tee-to-green.

Recommended Bets:

  • Seamus Power – WIN
  • Alex Smalley – WIN/TOP-5
  • Robby Shelton – WIN-TOP-10
  • Harrison Endycott – WIN/TOP-20
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2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections

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Get your bets on earlier than usual this week as the Farmers Insurance Open runs Wednesday to Saturday, the advancement of a day avoiding a clash with the NFL Conference Championship games.

We raise the bar a notch as the tour reaches Torrey Pines, a course used for this (and related) events since 1968, although the current set-up on the South Course now measures almost 1000 yards than the one seen 55 years ago.

Now utilising the easier North Course for one round, players will still need to have their grinding game as the weekend progresses over a course re-configured for the 2021 U.S Open – won by this week’s hot favourite Jon Rahm – and one that has seen the last three winners score no better than 15-under.

As my learned GolfWRX colleague says:

While last year’s winner Luke List was a shock, beaten play-off rival Will Zalatoris certainly fits the bill in becoming the last of a long line of contenders at Torrey that have challenged at the majors.

Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and, of course, seven times Torrey winner Tiger Woods, would all be seen as elite in their time, and you can confidently add the likes of runners-up Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Xander Schauffele to those.

Greens change to Poa Anna this week, and with the home course possessing suitably tough greens, players need solid tee-to-green games to remain with a chance down the back-stretch on Saturday afternoon. Forget the pitch and putt of La Quinta and friends, this week is far from a repeat.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is the Woods era, a solid 4/1 shot heading the market.

Tiger he is not, but having won four of his last five events and winning the Farmers here in 2017 and the U.S Open four years later, Jon Rahm carries almost unbeatable status into this week. However, much depends on getting the right draw over the first two days – at the price he can be left alone.

With the trophy likely to go to one of the better fancied players, here’s a chance to select two or three from the next half-dozen and still look at a better return than backing the favourite – and, for me, Tony Finau and Jason Day fit the bill.

Unlike someone like J.T Poston, I can’t seem to call Tony Finau right, but if he is ever going to repay the faith, it is here.

Having raised his game to another level in winning back-to-back at Minnesota and Detroit, the 33-year-old was fancied to go well in Mayakoba. Naturally, he missed his first cut since the US Open in June, subsequently gagging up in Houston, making it three wins in seven starts – not Rahm (or Scheffler of early ’22) but not far behind.

Fancied to do another back-to-back special, Finau then withdrew from the RSM Classic before probably needing the run-out when 7th at the Hero World Challenge. – extremely frustrating but, on face value, continuing a career-best run.

2023 has seen encouragement in both starts, with eight rounds in the 60s leading to a seventh place at Kapalua and a most recent 16th at last week’s pro-am jolly, where he came from outside the top 60 on Thursday and from 34th at the cut mark.

Finau’s tee-to-green game remains of the highest class, ranking ninth in ball-striking over three months and third over six, but it’s now matched by a putting prowess that takes advantage of his constant green finding.

Events may be limited, but over the last 14 rounds or so, Big Tone leads the tour in putting average, beating even the likes of flying Jon Rahm. Sure, you can regard that as a skewed stat, so take it over another 12 weeks and he is in third – remarkable for someone that just a year ago was known for missing the vital ones.

Take the 2021 U.S Open away and Finau has four top-six finishes and a pair of top-20s here, and ignore last year’s missed weekend too – he was in the top-10 after the first round and was simply not at the races on day two.

Finau’s record on poa greens reads well enough – he won the Rocket Mortgage, and has top-10s at Riviera, Winged Foot and Olympia Fields, the latter pair giving credence to the Torrey/majors connection, whilst connecting Memorial form sees him record two top-10s and two top-15 finishes.

Being unconvinced that either Zalatoris’ or Justin Thomas’ games are pitch perfect, TF looks the best challenge to the favourite.

The favourite’s record in California is almost too good to be true, with four wins, seven top-5s and three top-10s but if anyone can challenge that, it’s surely Jason Day, who looks as if he is now fully recovered from injury and personal tragedy.

Winner here in 2015 and 2018, the Aussie also boasts a runner-up, third and fifth place around tough Torrey and an average position of 15th from 14 Pebble Beach outings. He loves California.

Having dropped from world number one to outside of the top-100 in five seasons, the 35-year-old has fought back from adversity to make his way back up the rankings, helped by a pair of top-10 finishes at, no surprise, Pebble and Torrey.

In order to protect what has been a fragile back, the 16-time major top-10 star reached out to swing coach Chris Como, formally an aide of Tiger Woods.

“Going into this year I did some swing changes with my coach, and I feel like those are slowly cementing themselves in there,” Day said on Golf Channel.

“I’m shallowing it out,” Day continued. “The swing has changed dramatically. It took me about a year and half to get the body correct, and the body movement correct until I could actually get into shallowing it out correctly.”

Judged on the latest figures, it seems to be coming together nicely.

Day ended 2022 with four cuts from five, including 8th at Shriners, 11th at the CJ Cup, 21st at Mayakoba and 16t in Houston, and last weekend finished in the top 20 at La Quinta having been third after two rounds.

16th for ball-striking over the last three months, slightly better over six, his top-30 for driving accuracy has led to a similar ranking for greens found. Take that, and any improvement, into an event he enjoys more than most, and we have a winning formula.

Away from the top, it’s hard to get excited about the chances of many.

Having nabbed a big-priced second last week with one of the 12 Players-to-Watch 2023, it is tempting to go back in again on Davis Thompson on a course that may suit even better. However, hitting 14 out of 18 greens at the Stadium Course is a far cry from a debut at Torrey Pines and he may just need the sighter.

Taylor Montgomery calls himself after his fourth top-five in just nine full-time starts on the PGA, particularly after a debut 11th as a sponsor’s invite last year. Prices in the 20s don’t appeal at all against proven and regular winners though, so take a chance on another top finish from the defending champion Luke List.

For someone that believes List is Dye-positive, his first win on the poa greens of Torrey Pines was a bit of a shocker.

I put the 38-year-old up as a lively top-10 bet last week, when the thought process was that this long driver should only need to drive and flip to the greens, but sadly his game was all over the place. However, I’ll take another chance in conditions that clearly suit last year’s play-off victor, a win that came off four straight cuts here that included a 10th and 12th placed finish.

Since the start of the 2022 season, List has 11 top-25 rankings for driving, five for approaches and seven for tee-to-green, whilst it was only a couple of starts ago that he matched the best at Kapalua.

As for the fabled short stick, it’s a case of being with him when he just works better than field average – 6th at Bethpage Black, in two of his four completions at Riviera and in three of five outings at Silverado, all of a  similar grass type.

Players constantly repeat form here at Torrey, so whilst he may not do a 1-2 or, indeed, a 2-1 on the lines of Mickelson, Day, Snedeker and Leishman to name a few, List is very capable of pulling out a finish on the first two pages of the board.

Recommended Bets:

  • Tony Finau Win 
  • Jason Day Win-Top-5 
  • Luke List Top-10 
  • Luke List Top-20 
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