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We’re in a struggle for the collective soul of golf



Once upon a time, being The Club Champion was a position of some distinction, and being known as a “scratch golfer,” or one of the very best players at any golf club, was an honor that carried a little more reverence than it does today. For a long, long time, most clubs in this world regarded The Club Championship as their premier event, an eagerly anticipated annual occasion where many would line the fairways to watch their club’s best golfers square off in the culmination of a quest to be crowned the champion golfer of the year. It was a great tradition, one each club’s best players planned their golfing year around. It’s the reason why most clubs (even today) hold their championships well into their season: to give golfers ample time to round into form, providing the best opportunity for an exciting event for both competitor and spectator alike.

“Infinite striving to be the best is man’s duty; it is its own reward.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Yes, once upon a time we respected and revered the best among us, and at least partly because of that, many more of us annually aspired to join their ranks. Unfortunately, we just don’t seem to do that as much anymore. At some point in the last century, there began a slow, but steady erosion of this long-standing tradition, and The Club Championship lost its place as most club’s preeminent tournament to handicapped events like invitationals and qualifiers, where players of varied abilities could team up for a shot at each club’s biggest prize. And as this tradition lost its relevance, a great many of us seemingly lost the desire, determination, and motivation to do the hard work it takes to embark upon that annual quest to be the best. So before this tradition completely fades from memory, I think it’s time to solve the riddle of just how, when and why this has occurred, and what we can all do if we want to go back to that place. To get there, I believe first a little golf history is in order.

The Scots are historically given credit for inventing the game of golf. A lesser-known fact, though, is that they also likely invented the precursor to the modern handicap system. Assigning the odds is what the Scots called the practice of handicapping, and the adjustor of the odds was the person who most closely resembled our modern-day handicap chairman. Their earliest attempts at handicapping golf events, however, didn’t benefit the competitors, but rather the bettors. As a result, the Scots and their nearly insatiable appetite for a wager unknowingly created a monster.

Even more so than today, it was not uncommon back then for there to be two or three golfers of exceeding ability playing in each club’s tournament, but the Scots endeavored to bring more horses into the field, and handicapping the competitors increased the number of individuals that one might bet upon, and subsequently increased the total of bettors and money in the betting pools. The natural progression of this, of course, was the idea of conducting tournaments where players would be given a certain allowance of strokes in order to compete against players of greater or lesser ability. All this aside, and even taking into consideration the rise of a unified handicap system in England during the late 1800s, the Club Tournament (played at scratch), or Club Championship, as it is more commonly called today, remained the preeminent annual event at most golf clubs around the world until the latter half of the 20th century.

So why and at what point did being the best golfer at any given club become an honor that fewer and fewer golfers annually strove to attain? Is there one thing or a host of things that have together conspired to facilitate  a detour along the road to self-improvement and our collective desire to not only be the best, but to also appreciate the efforts of those who do? Fingers may be pointed in a handful of directions, but in the end, I think there is a single culprit that rises above the rest when it comes to our having settled into this comfort zone of the commonplace. First, let’s take a look at those things I believe, at best, are merely contributory.

There are some who might point to equipment and instruction as having failed the masses, but nothing is likely further from the truth. Quality golf instruction has never been cheaper or more widely available. Whether it’s on the Golf Channel or the internet, the best instructors in the game are literally lining up each and every day to offer free advice. Prefer a more personal approach? With close to two qualified PGA or LPGA instructors per facility on average in the U.S., it’s truly a stretch to cast the blame in that direction. And vast improvements in equipment over the past few decades, as well as the emergence of a huge and affordable second-hand market via the internet have made hitting the ball cheaper and easier than ever, while leaving little excuse for the average golfer to not have good clubs that fit properly. So in the end, I believe these are the least likely reasons that we have for our acceptance of being average.

A case can be made for the rise in coverage of professional golf events after the advent of television some 50+ years ago. We can now marvel at the talent and ability of elite golfers from around the globe almost 24/7 via TV or the internet. These are golfers who, to an extent, can make our local champions look far more pedestrian by comparison. This argument, however, is thin at best and only takes into account half of our conundrum, the drop in admiration we may feel for local champions, while failing to address the other side of the equation. With the abundance of virtual access we have to the very best players, and the even larger scale celebrity (and compensation) they are now rewarded with for displaying elite skills, you could just as easily argue their influence upon our desire to play the game at a higher level is even greater than those local champions we long admired for their ability to simply best the best among us.

Is it the sandbaggers? Sure, at one point or another, we’ve all become tired of losing to bandits who’ve managed to acquire an allowance of strokes that seemingly exceeds their ability. That so-called level playing field the handicap system was designed to provide can often feel like it’s tilted in favor of the less honorable among us, but so much so that we have en masse adopted the mentality, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I hope not, but just in case it’s notoriety you’ve been shooting for, let me be the first to break a little bad news. There is no honor in being infamous, and there are no books being written, movies being made, nor legends being told about Joe Bogey, the best 18-handicapper who ever lived.

So if it isn’t the instructors, the equipment, the prevalence of better golfers being broadcast, or even the sandbaggers, where exactly can we point the finger of blame for our long slow descent into comfortable mediocrity? Well, let me give you my theory, and what I hope we will all consider so that we can at least begin to walk things back a bit. You’re free to disagree, of course, but if you, like me, believe our game has somehow, at some point, taken a wrong turn, it just might offer a bit of direction for how we can find the way back.

The game of golf in and of itself is not always fair. Just like life, there are bad bounces and breaks that we all suffer, while fortune and her golfing mistress, The Member’s Bounce, often smile upon those we deem the least worthy among us. We struggle to improve, while others can seemingly make this incredibly difficult game look easy with what we perceive as little comparative effort. Fair or not, that’s just life. At the same time, the goal of the handicap system is to facilitate fair competition among players of every ability. It mostly does that. Inadvertently, however, this leveling of the playing field — and the opportunity it affords players of all skill levels to win what we now consider our club’s most prestigious events — may have robbed us of what was long our biggest incentive to improve. And while we often bemoan the creeping pervasiveness of policies of “fairness,” in everything from politics to athletics, insisting everyone should earn their fair share (or their trophy), we mostly continue to lean on our handicaps when it comes time to compete. Is all that moaning and complaining just talk?

Most club champions work hard on their games, play to scratch, and are consequently some of the finest amateur players in their respective areas. They typically compete beyond the local level, often testing their mettle in high-profile amateur events against other players of similar abilities and on other courses. Despite all that, how many of you out there reading this would even recognize your club’s own champion if he or she were hitting balls next to you on the driving range? Better yet, how many of you are honing your skills as we speak so that you will be ready to answer the bell when it comes time to challenge him or her for that title this year? Anyone?

So this is my call to arms (or irons, if I may), because whether we realize it or not, we’re in a struggle for the collective soul of our game. Will we fight, or fold up our competitive tents and crawl back under the warm blanket of low expectations? Have we become so addicted to our allowance of strokes that we no longer entertain the idea of ultimately playing without them? I’m not suggesting we do away with handicaps, they serve a purpose, but could they be responsible for at least some of us falling into the habit of settling for smaller victories that could and maybe should be viewed as mere stepping stones? Let’s hope not, but we’ve at least wandered far enough down that path that it’s time to reassert the values of self-improvement and a greater appreciation for the practice. Because, as Gandhi said, if “infinite striving to be the best” is really man’s duty, then it’s time we start walking all that talk. And if it really “is its own reward,” let’s not use the Bandits, the Baggers, or even that infamous Joe Bogey as excuses for not pursuing it.

Vince Lombardi once said, “The only place that success comes before hard work is in the dictionary.” So it’s time to dust off that shag bag, file those wedges, and head to that lonely place called the practice tee. Because whether it’s golf, education, business, or anything else truly important to us in life, success and being considered the best are things that should be earned, and the surest path to them runs through hard work.

Obviously, being your club’s next Club Champion isn’t a goal that’s realistically on everyone’s radar this year. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all at least commit to some small goal of self-betterment, while promising anew to value and appreciate the efforts of those for whom it is. And if we do, we might just find ourselves having turned back the clock to a time when The Club Championship held it’s rightful place among each club’s traditions, and a place where we all used our handicaps as more of a measuring stick of our improvement, rather than a convenient excuse for not seeking to.

See you on the practice tee.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at



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  3. Matt

    Jun 10, 2016 at 6:42 am

    The weekend warrior jock fitness thing starting in the ’80’s combined with the neo-liberal era and downfall of heros like TW is slowing down golf as a popular pastime. I don’t mind this happening because the way the game is portrayed and marketed now is pretty dull (distance, power and having the latest gear). Perhaps if it is once again known as a ‘f#%k yeah’ desirable sport comprising history, commitment, skill, finesse, manners and style…

  4. Dale Doback

    Jun 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I would love to play in a club championship were the best player or player who played the best won. The problem is the flawed handicapping system. My club championship uses the handicapping system and then has the players play match play format. This does not produce the best player. At least when I play on the golf channel amtour events when a player has 3 events played their tournament index overrides their handicap to keep players from sandbagging.

    • mike dowd

      Jun 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Dale, I have used tournament handicaps exclusively in our events for the past 15 years and it really works well when it comes to dealing with the sandbagging issue. Allowing players to play and post their own scores in what are mostly casual rounds of golf, whether it be at the club, or form the internet in the comfort of your own home and then to use those handicaps in competition really opens up the door for the less honorable among us. It is essentially like asking each player what handicap they would like to play to that day when they check in for a tournament. We need handicaps, but we really need to re-evaluate system wide the types of scores that we allow to be counted as part of a competitive handicap and how they are monitored. That, however, is an article for another day. 🙂

  5. Alex

    Jun 7, 2016 at 11:29 am

    When I was a kid the Club Championship was the time of the year everybody was waiting for. The kids who wanted to make it to the finals, the hackers who wanted to see the great amateurs hitting the shots. The final match was and still is 36 holes on Sunday. Back then the course was shut so that people came up to follow the match. Dozens of people gathered.

    These days, only the format remains, and simply the best players care about it.

    True, the ambitious ones got prepared for the Club Championship, and we improved our golf in trying to do so and also imitating the few great players of our club.

    Anyway, I don’t want to sound sentimental, God Bless the Handicap.

  6. Ron

    Jun 6, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    The point of the article, if I understood it, was less about club championships and more about the value associated with one’s own personal improvement in the game and the dedication needed to accomplish that – even when that does not lead to a championship.

    The handicapping system is immensely clever – as a way of tracking one’s own skill level. And it allows golfers of different skill levels to have a friendly competition – and in that way is also brilliant. But if all tournaments in a club are net score or net team play, there is less incentive to work at improving if lowering one’s handicap makes a player less likely to be successful in those net competitions (it’s hard for a single digit to compete against a field of 18s). But courses and clubs want to have high participation in their tournaments in order to increase play or the size of the pot – so there has to be an incentive that will draw a lot of players. Hence the team tournaments, net tournaments, skins tournaments, etc., where more participants have a chance to win something. I used to play my County Senior Amateur – but only in the gross division, knowing that as a four or five handicap, I was not going to win (after all, I was in grad school when some of those guys were born!). But I could be in the mix if I played well, and that was satisfying and gave me an incentive to work on my game as the tournament approached. But it is no longer being held, as the local county courses decided they did not draw enough players to warrant hosting the tournament. So now I just work on my game a lot – and I now have the time to do that – in order to continue to improve, or at least stave off what I suspect will (eventually) become a steady decline in my skills as time goes on. I’ll never be a club champion, or County Am winner – but that’s okay.

  7. Mike Dowd

    Jun 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    In truth, you can never really go back, but I think a trip down memory lane once in a while helps us to remember things we actually value, but may have lost sight of for one reason or another. Investing in self-improvement, regardless of where we are on the handicap scale or whatever other scale we are using to measure ourselves is something that helps keep us engaged, enthusiastic, and enjoying whatever it is we are trying to get better at even more. Being stuck and feeling stagnated by being in the same place, whether it be at the same handicap or the same level of anything, is what ends up leaving people frustrated enough to quit, whether it’s golf or something else. I think that, despite the fact that I used the club championship and scratch golfers as my example, my point of re-connecting to the values of self-improvement is far from elitist and is actually most applicable to those who have the most ability to improve. I chair the PGA’s Growth of the Game Committee and have been working to grow the game for years and one of the biggest reasons people continually cite for leaving golf is the fact that they felt like they weren’t getting any better. As professionals I think we need to not just be involved in that process, but be just as involved with motivating people to want to, and part of that is helping to create a culture that values it. I know, obviously, that not everyone can become the club champion, but if at least at some level we stay continually engaged in the process of doing even small things that help us to get a little better I think we will continue to enjoy this great game even more than if we resign ourselves to that fact that we are as good as we’re ever going be. Call me the eternal optimist, or a peddler of hope, but I think that hope and the fact that we haven’t yet reached the mountain top is at least a part of what keeps us coming back.

  8. ca1879

    Jun 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Could it be that the vast majority of players, who have no chance of winning or performing well in the club championship no matter how many hours we spend practicing, have grown tired of providing the bulk of the money and time that it takes to support the competitive portion of a club and it’s tournaments? I play at my club for the camaraderie and events that we put on, and figuring out who is the best player this year is of vanishingly little importance to me. Our pros and the handful of players that play near scratch think it’s important, the other 90% of us are more interested in finding out how to have more fun. It’s funny that in the face of the decline of the game, you would suggest that the very competitive elitism that has partially created it is somehow going to become the road back. That seems very unlikely.

    • Nick

      Jun 6, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Your first line is exactly the attitude being discussed. Why do you think so little of your/others ability to improve at the game?

    • Nick

      Jun 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      Why do you think so little of yours/others ability to get better at the game? I think that mind set is what a lot of people are seeing.

    • Ryan

      Jun 30, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      That’s exactly how I felt when I couldn’t break 100, about 5 or 6 years ago. I still felt that way when I broke 100, but couldn’t break 90. I even jumped on 15-inch cup bandwagon for a little while. I am now a 4-hdcp, and I don’t say that to brag, but I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I say that to say that I believe anyone and everyone can do it. I know, and play with, guys with your same attitude. They say they CAN’T get better, and use it as an excuse to not work hard to try and get better. Don’t blame the 10% who work their tails off on the lazy 90%. Don’t worry, we’ll get you a participation trophy in the next tournament, but don’t bring down everyone else, and keep your playing partners from thinking they can ever improve.

  9. mike dowd

    Jun 6, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Love all the great comments here, most of which are all contributory factors. Family, the time commitment it takes to be a really good golfer, and changes in society that make it not near as acceptable for most guys to work all week and disappear to the club to work on their golf games all weekend have all played a role. At the same time, unfortunately, and I think my ultimate point was that the largest portion of competitive golfers I see these days are more worried about working on their handicaps than they are about working on their golf games and the types of events that we seem to most value these days only makes that problem worse. Playing best balls and scrambles are in truth quite fun, but they also open the door to situations where players are rewarded for having a handful of good holes or shots, without really being penalized much for having bad holes or shots. This not only contributes to the issue of sandbagging, but places little value on playing consistently good golf. You’re a much better teammate if you carry an 18 handicap and can par or birdie 6 or 8 holes, regardless of what you do on the others, than you are if you are a scratch golfer who makes two or three birdies per round off-set by two or three bogies. Think about it, in most club-level events these days, it’s almost a penalty to have a partner or teammate that is a really low handicapper, but that 12 to 18 handicapper who can shoot in the low to mid eighties occasionally is a hot commodity. Golf is the greatest game, and the fact that via the handicap system we can have relatively fair competition between players of all abilities is one of the greatest things about it. You can’t handicap a tennis match or just about any other sport and make it fair or fun for either player. If we don’t, however, find some ways to start re-asserting the value of being a better golfer at the club level, and of bringing those who are back into the fold in some may, we may wake up one day and find that very few people will even care to be one anymore. And that, I think, will be the biggest shame.

    • Other Paul

      Jun 6, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      I dont officially track a handicap. My average score is 84-86. I shot 39 on 9 last night. Left my driver in the bag.

  10. Joe Perez

    Jun 6, 2016 at 10:36 am

    I’m one of the officers of the Seniors Club at our local muni. Every time I’ve tried to advance the idea of having the results of our club championship crown *two* champions, a net-handicap champion and another with no handicap strokes given, I’m rebuffed.

    Our club does not award cash prizes for the club championship, and I doubt the trophy costs the club more than $10, and yet for years we’ve had net-handicap champions who are known to all for their sandbagging practices. A lot of the old folks in our club just aren’t able to endure long practice sessions, so in my case I think it just comes down to people who don’t want to admit that they simply no longer have what it takes.

  11. Scott

    Jun 6, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Everyone’s comments are great. At my club, the championship takes place over 2 weekends, if you make it to the finals. It takes place in mid July, which is prime family vacation time. That is a lot of time to commit, with other family commitments. I think that more people would try to play if it was only one weekend. If you really do not think that you have a chance, why commit two weekends? Our club has multiple flights and tries to put 8 golfers in each (other than the Championship flight), so everyone can at least play one round. It is still a popular event, but I know that a number of people have to miss due to family obligations.

  12. birdy

    Jun 6, 2016 at 9:46 am

    its already been mentioned, but the winning answer is that new generation of golfers aren’t joing clubs. they pay per play and don’t feel the need to be a member. members now consist of of the 50+ who have the time and money. that generation also likes the idea of joining a ‘club’ of any sort. clubs in general, not just in sport, are seeing declining membership. so your club winner is rarely the best golfer that plays routinely at the course. i know plenty of guys who frequent a course, are scratch, and can’t play in club championship. zero incentive to join a club as the break even on golf is typically more rounds than most could play through the year. private clubs a little different, but even more out of reach for most under 40

  13. Jamy

    Jun 6, 2016 at 5:01 am

    “It’s no fun playing in tournaments you can’t win.” You’ve probably heard this more than once from a mid/high handicap. Hence the handicap system.

    Now scratch players avoid most club competition because of the handicap system, it disregards their hard work and playing level. The mid/high handicapper avoids the strokeplay events because they feel that’s for those scratch players.

    Instead of bringing all golfers together in a way the handicap system also seperated the scratch player from the weekend warrior. The club championship became something for “those few fanatics”.

  14. Jack

    Jun 5, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    I agree. Our club still has a championship, but it’s not as important as it once was. It’s been replaced by member-quests, and member-member tournaments that place a higher priority on drinking, eating, and partying than golf. It seems our members enjoy these “beer busts in golf carts” (as I call them) so nothing is going to change anytime soon.

  15. SV

    Jun 5, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Nick, I agree whole-heartedly. I think the answer might be the “everybody gets a trophy” thinking that has permeated every kind of activity. Since the number of those that are capable of excelling is exceeded by the “average”, people have taken the easy way out and decided excelling isn’t important. It carries over into golf with “process is more important than result” instructor crowd. If results are important, in golf or anything else, why do it?

    • David

      Jun 7, 2016 at 10:43 am

      I just don’t see this at my club. We have a LOT of good golfers. In fact we have over 100 members that are single digit players and 15 or 20 that are below scratch. I see people working on their games all the time. I see people taking lessons, committing to getting better, and putting the time in. It is, admittedly, a subset of the total membership, but has that part (the practicing and grinding to get better) ever been much different?

      The thing that has changed the most is the economy, in my opinion. The new normal is 40 – 60 hour weeks for just about everyone, whereas when the economy was humming along for such a long time, you had entire industries where it was quite normal for people to put in 30 hours a week and kick off early a couple times a week to get some practice or play in. Those days have been gone for the last 10 years. Industries like insurance, real estate, sales (in almost any industry), etc. used to quite different than they are today even just 10 years ago. Today, most companies have notched up accountability tremendously. That’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just a reality.

  16. ButchT

    Jun 5, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Back in the 80’s I belonged to a club where my friends and I took carts (along with many others) out on the course to watch the club championship finals. We went because we knew all the top golfers in the club; frequently sat down at their table for a beer (or they sat down with us). We had about 200 golfing members – the club I belong to now has 600. The golfing core used to hang out some after a round in the men’s grill to watch golf on tv, or discuss the day’s play. Now everyone slams trunks and heads off to a soccer game. We were interested in the club championship mainly because we knew the participants – now I am on first name basis with about 20 other members! Perhaps it is my fault but that is the way it is.

  17. Mat

    Jun 5, 2016 at 5:57 am

    I have never been interested in joining a club because clubs (at least in the US) were VASTLY more expensive than paying to play. Usually, you’d have to play 60-600 times in a year to make up the cost. So why join? Pride? Sorry… Not joining a club helps me afford, you know, life. And frankly, I’d rather pay to play a few different courses. Join a club, play the same course over and over… no thanks. There are some places that offer 20 courses any time, and they want your first born child. Of course, it’s so expensive, you can will those rights to your second-born child, since your first is no longer available…

    • David

      Jun 7, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Yes, playing enough is the key to joining a club. You have to play 8 – 12 times a month to really get your money’s worth.

  18. PuffyC

    Jun 4, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    The big reason is that people don’t belong to clubs any more. Without the sense of community that comes with club membership, winning the club championship no longer has much meaning. So why do people no longer join clubs? First, it’s too expensive. Wages for those in the bottom 95% have stagnated, and where this country once had a thriving middle class, it’s since been decimated. The market of people who can afford to join clubs just ain’t what it used to be. Second, back in the “old days” adults put their own enjoyment and leisure time before their children’s. Today parents live for their kids and essentially put their own lives on hold while they spend their time arranging play-dates and going to soccer tournaments. I can’t hardly find a buddy to play golf with any more because every spare minute they have is spent catering to the wife and kids. Not making a judgment call on that, just explaining how it is. Golf takes time to practice and most of a day on the weekend to play and adults just don’t have that kind of spare time any more.

    • Mat

      Jun 5, 2016 at 5:54 am

      Ding ding. Winner here.

    • Gordy

      Jun 5, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      That’s a winner right here. I literally play by myself because i have no one to play with in my age range(28). I’d love to join a “club” but uncle sam dips into my pocket so deep, i either for retirement with extra cash, or 2. spend that money to join a club.

    • Mike W

      Jun 5, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      Well said. If I had a free 20 hours a week, sure I’d spend it working on my game. But there’s this inconvenient thing called work that I have to do in order to pay this little thing called a mortgage. Then after work I actually participate in the raising of my children, unlike 50 years ago. So for now this 39 year old will have to get by with a 10 handicap and fall asleep at night hoping maybe I’ll break 80 this weekend.

    • Skip

      Jun 6, 2016 at 9:37 am

      Nailed it. I Used to be the guy that pretty much played alone; now I have a family that comes first. To strengthen to PuffyC’s analysis – take a look at the various men’s clubs (fraternal order of _______) around town. They are a shell of what they used to be. Once a vibrant “Who’s who” of the local community, now relegated to the “Who used to be”. Men used to swing in for a drink and a smoke or two after work, and now they rush home to be with family. That’s how it is now and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

  19. Philip

    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Instant gratification – great for companies selling the fix, bad for a society that used to take pride in hard work and accomplishment. Why work hard when a few videos and a website makes one an instant celebrity – whether just in their own head or throughout the internet. That and cheaters – when I played as a kid – no one moved the ball unless the rules allowed, now I’m considered rare because I don’t move it before every shot. When you ask them they respond that it isn’t a serious game – yet they are still keeping their score … times a changing for sure.

  20. Ronald Montesano

    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    It lost its importance when golf became a game of the people. To become club champion means sacrificing things like family time, friend time, relaxation, all in lieu of solitary hours spent on the practice tee, the putting green, the bunker. It takes a singular mind, a driven soul, to desire, much less attain, the club championship and honors of its ilk.

    In place of the solitary victory, we now have the team/buddy victory. The invitational, the member-member, are titles that are shared. Born of camaraderie rather than isolation and seclusion, we have replaced Thoreau with Kerouac, minus the drugs I hope.

    Rather than the club championship being considered the collective soul of golf, we should ask ourselves why once-legitimate golf news sources report on what Paulina is wearing, what shank Michael Geller hit, and other bogus items that pander to a collective that gives little shrift to golf, but much attention and value to brief trends.

    • gvogelsang

      Jun 5, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      If you are good enough to contend, you know who the club champion is. And, you wish it were you.

      To all the rest, it might not matter. But it certainly matters to the best players who take their games seriously.

  21. owgr

    Jun 4, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Duh. The OWGR ruined it all. You didn’t know that? Look at how it was before that silly ranking system came along.

  22. Nick

    Jun 4, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I have seen the same thing happen in other activities. I don’t understand it but a lot of people have no pride in how good they are at something. I don’t know that there is a fix for it just the way people are now.

    • gvogelsang

      Jun 5, 2016 at 10:20 pm

      Maybe modern equipment made the game too easy? Anyone can hit the modern ball and the 460 cc driver.

      If players don’t care about who is the best in the club, maybe it is time to go back to more difficult equipment, so that the best players can distinguish themselves and their games.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks



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

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

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

2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks

Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT

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

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

C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT

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

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

Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)

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

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

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

James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)

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

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

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

Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT 

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

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

Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT

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

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

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

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s Fortinet Championship betting preview: California native ready for breakthrough win in Napa



After a three-week break, the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season kicks off in Napa Valley at the Silverado Resort and Spa to play the Fortinet Championship.

Prior to 2021, the event was called the Safeway Open, but the tournament sponsor changed to Fortinet with contract that will last for three more seasons. Although the name has changed multiple times, Silverado’s North Course has been featured on the PGA TOUR since 1968.

The course is a par 72, measuring at 7,166 yards. Silverado features Poa annua greens that can be tricky, especially as the surface becomes bumpier in the afternoon. The tree-lined fairways aren’t easy to hit, but the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal. Shorter hitters are in play on this relatively short course, and accuracy will be at a premium.

There will be a re-routing at Silverado for this year’s Fortinet Championship. Ten holes will be played in a different order. Holes 1-7 and 18 will remain as in year’s past. The new finishing stretch – No. 14 (par 4), No. 15 (par 5), No. 16 (par 4), No. 17 (par 3) and No. 18 (par 5). The new 17th was previously the 11th, which is the signature hole on the course.

The field will consist of 155 players. Being the swing season, the field for this event is usually relatively weak. However, there are some intriguing names in the field including Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, and Kevin Kisner.

Past Winners

  • 2022: Max Homa (-22)
  • 2021: Max Homa (-19)
  • 2020: Stewart Cink (-21)
  • 2019: Cameron Champ (-17)
  • 2018: Kevin Tway (-14)
  • 2017: Brendan Steele -15
  • 2016: Brendan Steele -18

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

Strokes Gained: Approach

Historically, one of the North Course’s defenses will be tightly tucked pin placement, so effective shot-shaping and a higher ball flight may be an advantage this week. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa Annua greens.

Strokes Gained: Approach past 24 rounds:

  1. Chez Reavie (+24.7)
  2. Sam Ryder (+20.0)
  3. Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
  4. Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
  5. Doug Ghim (+17.1)

Good Drives Gained

Hitting fairways in regulation at Silverado is more difficult than TOUR average, as players have done so in the past at a rate of only 52.2%. While the rough isn’t extremely long here, controlling spin out of the thick grass is much more difficult than doing so from the fairway. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa annua greens.

In 2021, the top eight players on the leaderboard all had a positive week in “Good Drives Gained. The winner, Max Homa was +3.3 in the category and Mito Pereira, who finished third, was +8.3.

In 2022, 12 of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained in the category including the winner Max Homa (+6.0) and runner up Danny Willet (5.0).

Good Drives Gained past 24 rounds:

  1. Doug Ghim (+24.4) 
  2. Matt NeSmith (+23.8) 
  3. Russell Knox (+20.6)
  4. Brice Garnett (+19.9)
  5. Ryan Armour (+19.8)

Par 4: 400-450

There are six par 4’s at Silverado that are between 400 and 450-yards. It will be important to target players who excel at playing these holes. With the par 5s being fairly short and reachable, the par 4 scoring may prove to be the bigger difference-maker.

Par 4: 400-450 past 24 rounds:

  1. Beau Hossler (+14.7) 
  2. Max Homa (+12.4)
  3. Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
  4. Justin Suh (+8.3)
  5. Stephan Jaeger (+8.2)

Birdie or Better: Gained

With scores at Silverado potentially approaching the 20 under par range, making plenty of birdies will be a requirement in order to contend this week.

Birdie or Better: Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Nick Hardy (+15.3)
  2. Scott Piercy (+15.2)
  3. Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
  4. Max Homa (+14.0)
  5. Peter Kuest (+13.5)

Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua)

Poa annua greens on the West Coast can be quite difficult for golfers to adjust to if they don’t have much experience on the surface.

Prior to the 2019 Safeway Open, Phil Mickelson talked about how the type of putting surface is a major factor:

“I think a lot of guys struggle with the Poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing, so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the Bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different — it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here.”

This week it is important to look for the golfers who historically excel on Poa annua.

Total Strokes Gained in category in past 24 rounds:

  1. Kevin Kisner (+27.7) 
  2. Max Homa (+21.2)
  3. Peter Malnati (+20.5)
  4. Justin Suh (+18.5)
  5. Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: APP (25%), Good Drives Gained: (25%), Birdie or Better (20%), Par 4: 400-450 (15%), SG: Putting (Poa annua) (15%).

  1. Max Homa (+750)
  2. Doug Ghim (+5000)
  3. Andrew Putnam (+4000)
  4. Chez Reavie (+4500)
  5. Kevin Streelman (+5500)
  6. Mark Hubbard (+5000)
  7. Sam Ryder (+7000)
  8. Brendon Todd (+3500)
  9. Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
  10. Cameron Davis (+2200)

2023 Fortinet Championship Picks

Sahith Theegala +2000 (DraftKings):

Sahith Theegala is yet to break out for his maiden PGA Tour victory but is a great candidate for a player who can have a strong fall and take advantage of some weaker fields. The 26-year-old ended his season on a positive note, finishing 13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 15th at the BMW Championship.

I’ve long believed that Theegala’s first win would come on the West Coast. He grew up in California and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine University, where he became the fifth player to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, Haskins Award and Ben Hogan award all in the same year (2020). Sahith made his PGA Tour debut at Silverado in 2020, where he finished in a tie for 14th. Last year, he finished 6th at the Fortinet Championship.

Theegala is very comfortable playing in California. That is perhaps most noticeable on the putting surface where he gains an average of +0.44 strokes on the field per event on POA, which is more than four times what he gains on Bermudagrass or Bentgrass. The POA greens at Silverado can get especially difficult late in the day, which is a reason why players with a background on them have had so much success at the course. In the past seven years of the event, five winners have come from California.

Theegala is pricey this week and is as close to the top of the odds board as I can remember him being, but that’s the nature of the PGA Tour fall season. It’s hard to find a spot on the schedule that Sahith will have a better chance at winning than this one.

Justin Suh +5000 (PointsBet)

Consistency has been an issue early in the career of Justin Suh, but he’s shown flashes in 2023 of what made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with. After a few top-10 finishes at the PLAYERS Championship and the Honda Classic, Suh ended the season on a bit of a sour note, failing to finish better than 34th in his last five starts of the season.

Despite the struggles, I’m optimistic about Suh as we begin the fall swing. The 26-year-old made the trip to Crans-Montana, Valais, Switzerland to play in the Omega European Masters, and finished 24th in a decent field. More encouraging than the finish was how Suh hit the ball. He gained 5.24 strokes on approach and hit plenty of fairways.

The 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year grew up on California golf courses. Suh was a highly decorated amateur golfer with plenty of wins on the West Coast prior to attending USC, where he was one of the best players in the country.

When he’s on, Suh is one of the best putters on Tour, and he should comfortable playing in his home state in search of his first PGA Tour victory.

Akshay Bhatia +5500 (DraftKings):

Akshay Bhatia is still just 21 years old and one of the most tantalizing prospects in the world of golf. The smooth-swinging lefty was able to obtain his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California just a few months ago. The course is just a few hours ride from Silverado and the conditions and course should be very similar.

Bhatia will have no issue making birdies in bunches at Silverado, and the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal if he gets loose with his driver.

Bhatia made his debut at Silverado in 2020 at just 18 years old and managed to finish 9th. Since then, he’s gained a great deal of confidence and has refined his game as a professional.

Akshay got engaged this week. He can celebrate with a victory this week at the Fortinet.

Sam Ryder +8000 (FanDuel):

Statistically, Sam Ryder jumps off the page this week. In his past four measured starts, he’s gained 4.2, 5.4, 5.2 and 5.7 strokes on approach and is completely dialed in with his irons. Despite the numbers, he hasn’t managed to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard in that stretch but this is a field that is much weaker than he faced at the end of last season.

In addition to the recent stats, Ryder played some good golf on the West Coast last year. Most notably, he finished 4th at Torrey Pines in a loaded field and also finished 20th at both the Waste Managment Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational.

If Ryder continues with his hot approach play, he should be able to contend at Silverado this week.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2




As promised, here is the follow-up to last week’s post about understanding iron designs. Today, I’m going to tell you what to look for as you try to figure out which iron best suits your type of play and is most likely to deliver the performance you seek. Oh, and these principles apply to wedges as well.

Let me begin with a historical observation.

Up until the introduction of the first mainstream cavity back/perimeter-weighted irons, the entire market was limited to some type of forged blade design. Across the entire spectrum of brands and models, there were only subtle nuanced differences from one to the other. Some featured some kind of “muscle back”, where the mass was concentrated low in the clubhead and the shaping formed a sort of crescent on the back of the club, the majority of mass being in the center of the clubhead (from heel to toe). Others spread that mass more evenly across the back of the clubhead (i.e. the Hogan designs), while others shaped their back to provide a bit more mass toward the toe, as in the traditional Wilson Staff models.

Then the “revolution” came with the Ping Eye 2 and all its copies. These early cavity-back designs moved much of the mass to the extreme perimeter of the clubhead, leaving a thin face, which delivered a high degree of forgiveness of off-center hits, but also deteriorated the consistent distance control delivered by the traditional forged blades. They also launched the ball much higher, making long- and mid-irons much easier to hit, but compromising the traditional precision of shorter irons.

Golfers had to make choice between shotmaking precision and forgiveness of mishits.

This design “revolution” also set in motion the continual strengthening of lofts in the shorter clubs to where we are today when “P-clubs” can be as low as 42 degrees – a far cry from what a true “pitching wedge” must be. See my post on that here

The one thing in common with both of these approaches to iron design was that “what you see is what you get.” There were no internal technologies, so a visual examination of the clubhead could tell you pretty much how that iron was going to play.

As iron technologies have advanced, many radical designs have come and gone, but the performance of the traditional blade and the traditional cavity-back remain. Modern technologies allow much more precision in making iron heads, and multi-material construction has given club designers much more freedom to explore and refine performance, but these principles of iron head design are constant. For the most part, the golf ball will react to how a clubhead’s mass is distributed and where its CG is located. Period.

Understand that for each clubhead number or loft, the weight of the clubhead does not vary by more than a few grams from model to model to model. The designers’ challenge is to position that finite amount of mass in such a way as to achieve the performance goals for that particular model. So, here are the parameters designers have to consider, and that you can consider when looking for a new set of irons:

To begin, golf ball performance is determined by how much mass will be directly behind various points of impact on the face. The reason blade designs are still preferred by the best shotmakers is that these designs put mass directly behind the point of impact with the ball, thereby giving the golfer the maximum ability to control distance, trajectory, and shape of the shot.

Conversely, if the area behind the strike zone is thin, the club will likely be “hotter” but distance consistency will be compromised.

If a large portion of the mass is positioned lower in the clubhead, that design will launch higher, and likely with less spin. While this might be desirable in the lower lofts; high launch and low spin are probably not what you want in your higher-lofted scoring clubs, say those over 37-39 degrees, and particularly not with your wedges.

If mass is concentrated in the center of the clubhead from heel to toe, center strikes will be extremely solid and repeatable, but misses toward the toe will be more compromised than a design that has the mass more evenly distributed across the entire clubhead.

If some of the mass is distributed toward the low toe area, that club will be more forgiving of toe mis-hits.
Thin, fast faces and hollow or foam-filled construction is the rage now, but the trade-off is losing some distance precision in exchange for more distance (which comes from higher launch and less spin).

Another modern development is the use of heavy tungsten inserts low in the clubhead, which adds to the higher loft and lower spin distance formula – that might be desirable in the longer irons, but that’s exactly the opposite of what you want in the scoring clubs.

Big wide soles were more the rage a while back than they are now, but the wider the sole, the lower the mass distribution, so the higher the launch angle and the lower the spin. And these super wide sole designs are not very good for tighter turf conditions.

All golf clubhead designs are bound by two distinct principles – gear effect and smash factor.

Gear effect determines the trajectory and spin the golf ball will take. The higher the clubhead mass is distributed (i.e. blade designs), the lower the ball flight and higher the spin rates. Likewise, the more mass that is distributed toward the toe or heel from the strike point, the more likely the ball will curve back to the center.

Smash factor is the efficiency of transfer of clubhead speed to ball speed. Every club has one perfect point of impact that maximizes smash factor and that transfer of energy begins to deteriorate as impact is moved away from that point. That’s why you get occasional “heaters” off most thin-faced irons and see significant distance loss on more traditional blades. It’s also why those high-face misses with traditional wedge designs just pop-up with greatly reduced distance and spin.

I hope this has been enlightening and helpful.

More from the Wedge Guy

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