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A Modern Blueprint to Breaking 80

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Background

When I was lucky enough to join a golf club many years ago, my No. 1 goal was to become a real 5-handicap. But first, I had to figure out how to break 90 on my new difficult golf course. I played on weekends and 9-holes after work without seeing improvement. I took one lesson from the pro, who laughed at my list of ambitious goals.  His response was, “OK, but how about we start with letting me see you hit a 5-iron.” His prescription was a minor grip change and much more practice time on the range.

In my second month of membership, I signed up for my first event: a one-day member-guest with my 70-year-old, 36-handicap father who had introduced me to golf when I was seven. We played nine holes every Saturday at a public course in Washington, DC, that had no hazards and no sand traps – just nine tees, nine circular greens and one gigantic fairway. When I was 12, “real sports” took over and I dropped golf and my dad.

Anyway, here we were at my great new club getting ready to play in our first event together. My dad, a lofty 36, and me, a shiny new 14-handicap. I was nervous for myself, but I was much more nervous for my Dad. How he would enjoy — or NOT enjoy — the long, difficult test of golf. I was so nervous, I guess, that I started to hit shanks on the practice tee… and I couldn’t figure out how to stop them. Finally, it was time to head to the tee for the shotgun start.  To my horror, we were starting on the most difficult par-3 on the course. It was 165 yards over WATER and we were paired with two fairly good golfers that I didn’t know.

“Go ahead,” one of them said. “Lead us off!”

Not wanting to expose my dad to the extreme pressure of going first, I took the tee. I somehow summoned my inner pride and made a fairly good swing with my 6 iron. I did NOT s_____, and my tee shot hit the green. I not only broke 90; I shot 78. Dad chimed in on a couple of holes with his two strokes and we won low net. It’s amazing what can happen when one totally forgets score and focuses on the process of selecting and hitting quality shots.

From there, I worked hard on my game and reached my 5-handicap goal and more. It led me to start a business providing a new type of golf statistics and analysis for golfers, now known as Strokes Gained, and you can read about the History of Strokes Gained on my website www.ShotByShot.com.

Want to break 80? Here is my blueprint

The game of golf is a puzzle and all the pieces fit together. Further, each round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots/errors. The challenge is to determine which piece of your game’s unique puzzle is your greatest weakness in order to target your improvement efforts on the highest impact area. If you track the simple good and bad outcomes listed below for a few rounds, your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.

Tee Game/Driving

Drive goals 2

Distance: I’ll ignore this and assume you’re playing from the appropriate tees for your game.
Fairways: Hitting fairways is important, as we are all more accurate from the short grass.
Errors: Far more important than Fairways Hit is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. ShotByShot.com users record THREE types of Driving Errors:

  1. No Shot: You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot, requiring some sort of advancement to get the ball back to normal play.  Preferably, your one error will be of this, less costly, nature.
  2. Penalty: A one-stroke penalty due to hazard or unplayable lie.
  3. Lost/OB: Stroke and distance penalty

Approach Shots

1-Appr. goal 2 Error = Penalty/Second: This means either a penalty, or a shot hit so poorly that you are left with yet another full approach shot from greater than 50 yards of the hole.

Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

If you miss NINE Greens, you will have EIGHT of these greenside save opportunities.

Chip/Pitch shots  

1.C.P goals 2Errors = Shots that miss the green.  The fringe does not count as an error

Sand shots  

You should have ONE of these greenside save opportunities.

1. sand goal2

Errors = Shots that miss the green.  The fringe does not count as an error

Putting  

You need 32 putts.

1. Putt goal 2

Good luck, and please let me know if and when you are successful.

Chart

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. EddieEdwards

    Aug 2, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Most important, you need to keep your drive in play, minimize penalties, and have a shot at the green most of the time. Next you need to hit greens or miss close. If you can do this, it’s unlikely your short game and putting will be that far behind. A couple up and downs, longer putts made, close approaches and you will break 80 and have a good day. On a bad day, penalties, duffs, 3 putts, burning the edges, an errant shot will keep you in the eighties.

    I’ve broke 80 several times, par once recently. Hopefully, I don’t have to resort to playing from the womens tees to break 70.

  2. BobInNH

    Jun 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I walk half the time and ride half the time on a very hilly course in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My scores do not depend on that fact. But, while walking I sometimes shoot my lowest scores because I am totally focused on my game, and not for looking for balls and taking care of the other guy.

  3. golfraven

    May 18, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Stats are way to go and each serious player should collect their own independent of Hcp. I would be looking at the avarage on the PGA tour. Considering that avarage for GIR is 66%, FIR 61% and scrambling 60% ish, this are the numbers to strive for in the first place to put down a reasonable score. Assuming you don’t 3/4 putt on 50% of the holes you should be in good shape.
    If you want to break 80 or Par then my best advise is to take your scorecard hopefully with a course map and set a strategy for each hole how you hit it of the tee (fade, draw or straight) and most importantly the landing spot of the ball on the fairway and green. Start recording where you miss it (also on the green) and this will give you and idea what to work on.
    Play your game and shots for instance the hybrid (if what is required) of the tee even if big Joe hits a driver – don’t bother what others play unless those guys are aspiring players and you practice with them.
    From the stats you should get a picture of your range, patterns and tendencies and you can adjust your practice and course management accordingly.

  4. Photo

    May 18, 2017 at 1:10 am

    The more I play and the closer I get to breaking 80, my tee ball has become the difference maker. An OB on the back 9 has been my downfall each time i’ve been close. Distance plus the strokes are killer. Other than driving, 3 putts are a nemesis. Outside 40 feet, the 2 putt % needs to be much higher. Good data!

  5. Dell Man

    May 17, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    This is great. I started keeping stats when I play almost any round. Fairways, Greens, and Putts. I also putt little tick marks when I get into the sand and circle it when I get up and down. Keeping the stats don’t necessarily make you play better, but they give you a better idea of what is costing you strokes. And if you can figure out what is really costing you strokes based on trends over several rounds, then you can use your likely minimal practice time to focus on those aspects. I struggle hitting full mid-irons shots and it has cost me because I hit 10 or more fairways quite often, but I’m hooking 7/8-irons and wasting the opportunities. So instead of hitting drivers on the range, I have been working hard on mid/short irons. This is a good way to break down your rounds. Good stuff.

  6. larrybud

    May 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    9 GIRS is PLENTY to break 80. I’m a 2 index who averages 55% girs. I just don’t make big numbers.

    Even when I was a lousy 40-42% GIRS I shot half my rounds under 80 and was a 4-5 index.

  7. setter02

    May 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Personally off the tee is the biggest issue. If I’m in the fairway off the tee, I’ll likely have a good day regardless of ball striking and putting (unless a complete outlier day happens) as I know I will avoid big numbers unless something is seriously off. Can’t go wrong with avoiding costly penalties (which likely also hurt you mentally for the rest of the hole) and being in a good position into the green.

    • Scott

      May 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Agreed. I have never had a great round if my driving was bad.

  8. Gurn

    May 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    95- (GIR *2) = score
    Assuming you putt to a Hula hoop distance… NO 3 putts

    So 8 GIR is minimum to break 80, 9-11 is a better goal..
    4-5 GIR a side is my goal…
    Gurn

  9. Adam

    May 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    This matches up with my experience really well. I got down to a single digit handicap after just a few years of playing. From my second season to my third I dropped from a 16 to a shaky 6, and it was almost entirely due to cleaning up mistakes. My ball striking improved just enough that I largely stopped hitting tee shots into the woods/water, and largely stopped duffing iron shots. I still missed half the greens, but I learned how to miss in places where I had relatively straightforward chips. I don’t think I even made more birdies – I just stopped throwing shots away.

  10. Max

    May 16, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Nice blueprint. For me, the GIR is definitely the difference for breaking 80 since I count anything withing 6 feet as a gimme. On a good day 7 GIR can get it done, but the more the merrier.

    Also, you forgot the number one tip: Play a par 70 course!

    • Jack

      May 16, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Anything within 6 feet as a gimme? Well that’s one way to lower your score lol. Look up the pro averages from 6 feet.

    • ROY

      May 17, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Why not move that magic circle back to 10 feet and shoot for breaking 70?? At 15 feet the course record is in danger!!!

    • Scott

      May 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      HAHAHAHA. 6 foot gimmes! I love it! You turned your course into a par 60 with that method.

  11. Sh

    May 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Try doing that on a US Open set up. You’d be hard pressed to break 100 this way.

    • JC

      May 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      When was the last time any of us played on a US open setup, dweeb.

      • B

        May 16, 2017 at 10:03 pm

        That’s the point. That this article doesn’t put handicap and slope to the formula because different courses will require different means to break that same 80.

    • Jack

      May 16, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      If you can’t break 100 on a US open setup then you shouldn’t be playing on it expecting to score well. What’s your point? Most of us should pick courses that suit our skill level.

  12. birdie

    May 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Another example of good shot or bad shot…you’re 120yd out, you cold top your approach and it rolls to front of green?

    just seems there is a difference in using the above in tracking scoring and tracking actual ball striking or playing level. are we trying to get to a point we’re tracking the quality of shots or simply the outcomes.

    • BobInNH

      Jun 14, 2017 at 9:38 am

      “you’re 120yd out, you cold top your approach and it rolls to front of green?”

      We call that a “son-in-law” shot. Meaning that, it was not what you expected, but in the end it turned out pretty good!”

  13. dapadre

    May 16, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Love love love this!
    My pro who also happens to have played pro sports ( NHL) and became scratch himself within 2 years of taking up golf, uses this philosophy and Ive used it to break 80 several times. His approach, cut the game into little strategical pieces based on GIR. 7-10 GIR almost guarantees me I will break 80. I simply focus on the task at hand, hitting the green, INSTEAD of getting to the hole. I know it sounds absurd, but that mental picture is easier.

  14. birdie

    May 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    my only question is regarding tracking errors in driving. is it only based on the outcome of the shot, or the actual shot. if you slice it into an opposing fairway and have a good look at the green, do you count this as an error even though the outcome is very playable.

  15. PSG

    May 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    This is a great format in terms of how to think about how to break 80. I think it is a very thought-provoking article.

    My only issue with it is that it is way way too broad, and ignores that each shot influences the next, so it doesn’t actually show you what you need to work on.

    For example, you want five one-putts. But practicing putting isn’t the best way to improve your one-putt percentage or number. The best way to get better at putting (And it isn’t close) is to hit the ball closer to the hole. There is no putter on Earth who is worse from 10 feet than the best PGA Tour putter is from 20. “5 one putts” sounds like a putting statistic, but it isn’t. Its an approach statistic. It should be in the approach box, not the putting box. Avoiding 3 putts should be the only thing in the putting category, because it is the only thing that evaluates solely putting skill.

    Similarly, “fairways” is meaningless. I can hit the fairway with a pitching wedge. While this is an extreme example, you will always be less accurate the longer you are (i will miss much further 1* open swinging 110 than 90 – the 90 will be a “fairway” in your system, the 110 won’t).

    Its the same thing with “chip/pitch” shots. Whats the best way to get up and down more often? And by “best way” I mean “most efficient way to practice”. Its not to hit pitches and chips until your hands bleed, its to improve your approach shots! If you hit one extra green, you can “get up and down” one more time by two-putting instead of pitching/chipping.

    This entire article should simply say “practice your driving and your approach shots” because that’s all that matters until you are around scratch. There is no amount of chipping, pitching or putting practice that will make up for hitting it closer and hitting the green more often. None. Zero.

    It is always more efficient to improve your putting, pitching and chipping by improving your approach shots. Practicing putting, chipping and pitching is a horrifically inefficient way to break 80 (and this doesn’t even include missing in the right spots – your article treats all missed greens equally, when this couldn’t be further from the truth – missing in the right spot is just as important to pitching and chipping success as technique).

    So, great article concept, just too long – you didn’t need to go past driver and approach. The rest doesn’t matter until you get up around scratch.

    Please note I DID NOT SAY pitching, chipping and putting don’t matter. I said that practicing them is way less efficient than practicing your full swing and your full swing controls how difficult your putting, chipping and pitching are on the course. Of course practicing them will “help”, but practicing chipping is silly unless your approach shots are around scratch level – you will automatically be better because you’ll hit more greens and have to chip less.

    “A Marine and a Navy man are using the restroom. The Marine leaves without washing his hands. The Navy man says “in the navy, they teach us to wash our hands. The marine says “in the marines, they teach us not to piss on our hands. ” Hitting greens is not pissing on your hands.

    “32 putts” is meaningless. If I hit it an inch from the hole on every hole I would get 18 putts!!!!! Best putter in the world!!!!!!! Until a certain very high level, the full swing is all that matters.

    • Brandon

      May 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Great comment

    • Iutodd

      May 16, 2017 at 5:02 pm

      I disagree that tee shots and approach shots are all that matters until you are around scratch. Nor do I think that practicing putting is an inefficient way to practice if you are trying to break 80.

      I’m actively trying to break 80 so I feel like I can comment on this with some meaningfulness. I’ve broken 40 for 9 many times but have never been able to put it together.

      Because on a par 72 course – getting to 79 means only giving up seven shots to par. Obviously if I hit every fairway and hit every approach shot to an inch I’d break 80. Then I’d have my girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence pick me up from the course in her Ferrari and fly to Vegas for the weekend. Practicing with that goal in mind just has no basis in reality.

      Missing fairways and greens are all part of being a golfer. The best golfers in the world miss fairways and greens all the time so it’s quite likely that I’m going to miss just as many, if not more. So in order to only give up seven shots to par you have to be able to limit mistakes in every aspect of your game. So you need to hit about 8 of 14 fairways. You need to hit about 9 of 18 greens. You need to have around 5 one putts and maybe sneak a birdie in there to make up for the inevitable 3 putt or drive that goes awry. When you miss the green you need to be able to get up and down 3 or 4 times out of 9 or 10 greens missed.

      The point he is trying to make – and he says it pretty clearly – is that breaking 80 involves EVERY skill you have. You have to drive the ball cleanly, get onto the green and 2 putt. You only have 7 strokes to give up. Yes limiting mistakes off the tee and on your approach is important…but it’s not any more important than chipping and putting well.

      I think if you were trying to break 90 focusing just on tee shots and approach shots would make sense. But if you’re trying to break 80? You gotta make putts and you have to score. That means you have to make putts.

      • Denny Jones

        May 16, 2017 at 9:19 pm

        +1

      • TR1PTIK

        May 17, 2017 at 8:53 am

        Agreed. The one and only time I’ve managed to break 80 I drove the ball decent (only getting into severe trouble on one hole – damn water!), hit 7 greens, pitched/chipped well, and putted slightly better than average (which is about 1.89 putts/hole). Simply put, it took every aspect of my game working together to achieve that feat. Since then, I haven’t been able to sniff 80 because pitching/chipping has been horrible and I haven’t been hitting enough greens. On the rare occasion pitching/chipping has been good, my driving or putting has slipped. You gotta be able to do it all moderately well and manage the course.

      • PineStreetGolf

        May 17, 2017 at 9:19 am

        Read the part of my post that said “PLEASE NOTE”.

        I’m not saying putting isn’t important. Of course it is. What I’m saying is that no amount of practice with your putter will make you better at putting than hitting the ball five feet closer to the hole. Its not that “putting doesn’t matter” or “putting practice is stupid” its that “the best way to practice putting is to hit it closer”.

        There is no better way to get “good” at putting than to make your putts shorter by being better at irons.

        • Iutodd

          May 17, 2017 at 5:19 pm

          I just don’t agree. Billy Horschel is T51 in terms of proximity to hole after his approach shots. He averages almost 36 ft! Number 1 is Chez Reavie at 33′. Alex Noren is last at 43′.

          The average 10 handicap golfer is probably, what, 50 feet? What does being 5 feet closer to the hole get me?

          I don’t think I’d make significantly more putts from 45 feet than from 50 feet – I don’t think anyone would. I make more 5 footers than 10 footers for sure – but THAT is down to chipping and lag putting – not approach shots or tee shots. That is true for pros as well and the statistics bear that out. Even inside 100 yards the average pro hits it to like 15-20 feet.

          Bottom line here: 79 is a great score for me – it’s about 6 shots better than my average round of 85 – so it’s like Rickie Fowler shooting a 62. Rickie can’t ball strike his way to a 62 and I can’t ball strike my way to a 79. Gotta make putts and I have to save strokes in all aspects of my game.

    • wrxer

      May 17, 2017 at 5:01 am

      @ psg- players who hit their shots 1 inch from the hole struggle for breaking 50 in stead of 80.
      Nevertheless your point is clear.

    • Leezer

      May 17, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Sounds like you’re looking for a real plan. Here’s the article from 2012… the links are dead on this site but you can find them by digging a little. http://www.golf.com/instruction/how-break-80-your-six-week-plan-lifetime-low-scores

  16. iShankEveryArticle

    May 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Great article. A hack like me needs a blueprint for breaking 90 though…

  17. Alex

    May 16, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    What you just described is looking at every shot in a vacuum. Don’t look at the entire round, don’t think about the hole on the score, focus on the task that is immediately at hand. There is no water, there is no green side bunker, the only thing that should be going through your mind is if you hit that 6 iron the way you should, it will go 170, and the rest will take care of itself. Getting to low single digit handicap is entirely mental. Being able to repeat the right mindset over 18 holes is what makes for good scores.

  18. Gareth Roberts

    May 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Hi Peter,

    How would you recommend tweaking those numbers to look at shooting low 70’s? (for context I’ve just been cut to 5 and keen to keep getting lower meaning regular rounds in the low 70’s are necessary)

    Thanks,

    Gareth

    • Peter Sanders

      May 17, 2017 at 8:36 am

      Gareth,
      Briefly, GIR’s should go up to 11 or 12 and weed out all the errors and short game saves to 50%.
      I hope this helps.

  19. Steve Dodds

    May 16, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I’ve always based it on GIR. If, using your formula, you have 9 GIR, and get up and down on 40% of the greens you miss, that’s 13 pars. That gives you an 8 shot buffer for the other five holes. So you can have 3 bogeys and two doubles.

    First time I broke 80 I had a couple of birdies which made up for the triple I had on the last as I limped over the line.

    • Peter

      May 16, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Thanks Steve,
      Yes, birdies provide a nice cushion. Bear in mind, those 9 GIR’s are only pars if followed by 2-Putts. Also, the errors sited tend to result in bogeys or worse unless followed by 1-Putts. It is a complicated puzzle.

    • BobInNH

      Jun 14, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Seven shot buffer, not eight.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: The 8 best prop bets for the 2024 Masters

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We’ve finally reached The Masters and excitement is at an all-time high. The world of golf has been fractured for the better part of two years, but for a week at Augusta National, all of the outside noise will disappear. All of the best players in the world will be together seeking to make history.

In addition to betting on The Masters champion. This is one of the few weeks of the year where there are so many more markets to explore, with value to be had in plenty of different categories.

Throughout this article, I’ll discuss all of my favorite props and players for the 2024 Masters.

Placement Bets:

Tony Finau Top 5 +750 (DraftKings):

I badly wanted to include Tony Finau in my outright betting selections, but I simply ran out of room on my card. Additionally, it’s slightly difficult to see him hitting the putts necessary to win the Masters on back nine on Sunday. However, I do strongly believe he will play great golf this week at Augusta National.

In his past 24 rounds, Finau ranks 4th in Strokes Gained: Approach is always amongst the best drivers of the golf ball in the game. Back in 2019, Finau had a great chance to win The Masters. I expect him to be hanging around over the weekend once again in 2024.

Gary Woodland Top 20 +550 (DraftKings), Gary Woodland to make the cut -110 (DraftKings):

Last season, Gary Woodland had his best ever finish at The Masters in his eleven tries. The 39-year-old finished T14 and played incredibly steady across all four rounds.

In Woodland’s most recent start at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, he struck the ball incredibly well. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+8.8) and Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (+10.0).

Gary has been working with Butch Harmon and absolutely flushing the ball both in tournaments and during practice.

Woodland appears to be healthy once again and in a great place physically and mentally. If he can build off his impressive performance at Augusta last year, he can place inside the top ten in 2024.

Additionally, the make the cut number on Woodland seems generous considering the number of players who miss the cut will be relatively small this week. Woodland is striking it well enough to make the cut even if he’s hindered by a balky putter once again.

Thorbjorn Olesen Top 20 +400 (FanDuel):

The Thunder Bear, Thorbjorn Olesen, made his Masters debut in 2013 and finished an incredibly impressive T6 for the week. In the two additional starts he’s made at Augusta National since then, the Dane has continued to be incredibly solid, finishing T44 and T21.

This week, Olesen heads into the week playing some good golf. He gained 3.8 strokes on approach and 5.52 strokes around the green at last week’s Valero Texas Open on his way to a strong T14 finish. Back in January, he won the Ras Al Khaimah Championship on the DP World Tour.

Olesen has the skill set to be successful at Augusta and seems primed for a good performance this week.

Top Nationalities:

Sergio Garcia Top Spanish Player +280 (DraftKings):

I believe Sergio Garcia can get into contention this week with the way he’s striking the ball in addition to his good vibes with a refurbished version of the Scotty Cameron that he used at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah.

I am slightly concerned about the emotional letdown he may face after losing in a playoff at LIV Miami, but I believe a veteran and former Masters champion should be able to regroup and focus on an event far more meaningful.

This is essentially a tournament head-to-head with Jon Rahm at +280. While Rahm deserves to be respected this week, the history of the lack of success of defending champions at The Masters is difficult to ignore.

Joaquin Niemann Top South American Player -230 (FanDuel):

While I hate paying this much juice, I don’t see a world in which Joaquin Niemann isn’t the top South American this week at The Masters. Joaco comes in playing better golf than anyone in the world not named Scottie Scheffler and has a serious chance to win the green jacket.

He only needs to beat two players: Emiliano Grillo and Camilo Villegas.

Tournament Head-to-Heads:

Justin Thomas -110 over Collin Morikawa

JT isn’t having his best season but is playing a lot better than he is getting credit for at the moment. In the past three months, there are only six players on the PGA Tour who have averaged 1.7 Strokes Gained: Tee to Green or better. Justin Thomas (+1.7) is one of the six and is currently tied with Rory McIlroy (+1.7).

Morikawa, on the other hand, has been extremely poor with his irons, which is incredibly uncharacteristic for him. I can’t help but feel like something is completely off with the two-time major champion.

Tony Finau -110 over Wyndham Clark

I explained in the placement section why I’m so high on Tony Finau this week. With how well he’s striking the ball, it seems as if his floor is extremely high. I’m not sure if he can make the putts to win a green jacket but I believe he will be in the mix similarly to 2019 when Tiger Woods emerged from a crowded pack of contenders.

Clark is a debutant, and while some debutants have had success at The Masters, it certainly poses a challenge. I also don’t believe Augusta National suits Clark as well as some of the other major championship venues.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Masters betting preview: Niemann to play star role at Augusta National

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It’s been over nine months since we saw Brian Harman parlay a dominant performance at Royal Liverpool into a claret jug. After another major offseason filled with a feud between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, talks of a merger, and a multitude of questions regarding the future of the game, the golf world is desperate for all of the best players in the world to come together again for a major championship. 

We return to Augusta National with excitement at a fever pitch. Scottie Scheffler has separated himself as the best player in the world heading into the Masters. At the moment, the 27-year-old seems to be an unstoppable force. However, questions about Scheffler’s up-and-down putter once again resurfaced as he missed multiple short putts at the Texas Children’s Houston Open including a 5’11” putt to force a playoff with Stephan Jaeger. 

Additionally, a handful of the PGA Tour’s top players such as Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth make their way to Augusta National with their current form in question.

Plenty of LIV golfers may be up to the task of conquering Augusta, but with so much time in between the last two majors, it’s not always easy to decipher how their games will stack up against Scheffler and co.

Last year, some important changes were made at Augusta National. The par-5 13th (Azalea) was lengthened by 35 yards and now measures 545 yards. Last year, Azalea played as the toughest of the four par 5s, and players averaged 4.74 for the week, which was down from 4.85 in 2022. However, eagles, birdies and bogeys were all up, so the lengthening achieved less pars, which equals more excitement. 

Without further ado, let’s get into the course breakdown and analyze some important statistics for Augusta National.

Augusta National is now a 7,510-yard par-72 with lightning-fast Bentgrass greens. The course’s primary defenses are the contoured greens, swirling crosswinds, the topography of the course, which creates uneven lies and the small landing areas that golfers will need to hit to avoid tight run-off areas around the greens.

Past Winners at the Masters 

  • 2023: Jon Rahm (-12)
  • 2022: Scottie Scheffler (-10)
  • 2021: Hideki Matsuyama (-10)
  • 2020: Dustin Johnson (-20)
  • 2019: Tiger Woods (-13)
  • 2018: Patrick Reed (-15)
  • 2017: Sergio Garcia (-9)
  • 2016: Danny Willett (-5)
  • 2015: Jordan Spieth (-18)
  • 2014: Bubba Watson (-8)
  • 2013: Adam Scott (-9)
  • 2012: Bubba Watson (-10)
  • 2011: Charl Schwartzel (-14)
  • 2010: Phil Mickelson (-16)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Augusta National

Let’s take a look at the six most important metrics at Augusta National and determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds. This should give us a good starting point for building out a betting card.

Strokes Gained: Approach

Approach is historically the most important statistic at Augusta National. The sloping, speedy greens and run-off areas create small landing spots that can be difficult to hit.

 Last year, Jon Rahm ranked 6th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. Overall, five of the past seven winners at Augusta have ranked in the top 6 in the category. Distance helps, but Augusta National is a second-shot golf course.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.30)
  2. Corey Conners (+0.99)
  3. Shane Lowry (+0.88)
  4. Tony Finau (+0.85)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+0.85)

Course History

More so than any other course on TOUR, familiarity with Augusta National is crucial. Only one player has ever won the Masters on their first try — Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Meanwhile, there are 17 golfers in history who have multiple green jackets.

In most cases, the Masters champion has shown some good form at Augusta in the past. Prior to Scottie Scheffler’s 2022 victory, he finished T19 and T18 in his first two trips to the course. Prior to 2023, Rahm had finished in the top-10 of four of his six starts at The Masters. 

Total Strokes Gained: Total at Augusta National in past 36 rounds (per round, minimum eight rounds):

  1. Will Zalatoris (+2.91) 
  2. Jon Rahm (+2.28) 
  3. Jordan Spieth (+2.22) 
  4. Scottie Scheffler (+2.22)
  5. Dustin Johnson (+2.01)
  6. Rory McIlroy (+2.00) 
  7. Hideki Matsuyama (+1.90)
  8. Justin Rose (+1.85)
  9. Rickie Fowler (+1.72)
  10. Russell Henley (+1.60) 

Par 4 Scoring Average

Since plenty of players can reach the par 5s at Augusta in two, par-4 scoring becomes more important. The golfer who separates themselves on the par 4s will be able to gain ground on the field.

Par 4 Scoring Average in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.88) 
  2. Chris Kirk (+3.92) 
  3. Jordan Spieth (+3.93) 
  4. Peter Malnati (+3.93)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+3.93)

Strokes Gained: Around the Green

Golfers with a solid short game tend to fare well at Augusta National. The run-off areas are treacherous, and players will often be scrambling to get up and down.

The majority of players who have won at Augusta National have a great short game and have shown consistent ability to get up and down from tough spots.

Total Strokes Gained: Around the Green in past 24 rounds:

  1. Hideki Matsuyama (+0.71)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+0.66)
  3. Patrick Reed (+0.61)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.53)
  5. Lucas Glover (+0.51)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Augusta National is most definitely a second shot golf course. Golfers can get away with a missed fairway here and there, however, it’s important that the misses with driver aren’t too wide of the target or there is serious trouble to be had.

Total Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.04)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+0.85)
  3. Scottie Scheffler (+0.84)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.71)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+0.68)

Strokes Gained Putting: Fast Bentgrass

The USGA calculates that, on average, the greens at Augusta National are the fastest greens in the country. Three-putting is fairly common at Augusta and golfers must be able to combat the speed of the greens with effective lag putting.

Total Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bentgrass in past 24 rounds:

  1. Justin Rose (+1.43)
  2. Sahith Theegala (+0.97) 
  3. Min Woo Lee (+0.88) 
  4. Cameron Smith (+0.70) 
  5. Patrick Reed (+0.70)

Statistical Model

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

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (25%); Course History (16%); Par 4 Scoring Average (10%); SG: Putting on Fast Bentgrass (16%); SG: OTT (16%). and SG: ARG (16%).

Last year, Jon Rahm ranked first in this model

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Hideki Matsuyama
  4. Tony Finau 
  5. Justin Thomas
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Will Zalatoris
  8. Corey Conners
  9. Si Woo Kim
  10. Rory McIlroy
  11. Stephan Jaeger
  12. Jordan Spieth
  13. Chris Kirk
  14. Keegan Bradley
  15. Wyndham Clark
  16. Sahith Theegala
  17. Russell Henley
  18. Collin Morikawa
  19. Matt Fitzpatrick
  20. Patrick Reed

My 2023 Pick:

Jon Rahm (+950) (FanDuel)
A few months ago, I never thought that I’d be able to say that Rahm would be going slightly under the radar heading into the 2023 Masters. It’s not that Rahm has done anything wrong, but both Scheffler and McIlroy have undoubtedly surpassed him as the scorching hot, super-elite, top of the market betting favorite category.

Since his win at Riviera, the Spaniard has finished 39th at Bay Hill, withdrew at The Players Championship, and failed to get out of the group stage at the WGC Dell Match Play. On the other hand, Scheffler won The PLAYERS Championship and McIlroy finished third at the WGC Dell Match Play.

Rahm has made six starts at The Masters and has come in the top-10 in four of them. The 28-year-old has incredible power off the tee, a requirement at Augusta which always plays longer than the scorecard indicates. He’s also incredible around the greens and ranks third in the field in Strokes Gained: Short Game, which is a combination of around the green play and putting, in his past 24 rounds.

As we’ve seen over the years at The Masters, having the ability to chip and putt your way out of difficult situations is a fundamental aspect of getting it done at Augusta National.

While Scheffler has made a strong case to be viewed as the world’s best player, I still believe that title belongs to Rahm. This will be the year Rahmbo joins the ranks of Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal, and Sergio Garcia as natives of Spain to don a green jacket.

2024 The Masters Picks

Brooks Koepka +2500 (DraftKings)

In order to win the 2024 Masters, a player will have to go toe-to-toe with Scottie Scheffler, who’s hitting the ball as anyone in golf over the last two seasons. When building a betting card this week, it’s important for me to choose players that I believe can stare Scheffler down on the weekend at Augusta National. Brooks Koepka fits that bill.

Koepka’s lackluster performance at LIV Miami is concerning, but he’s the type of player who can turn it on quickly during the week of a major championship. Although I’d have preferred, he played well last week, I’ll take the odds discount we got as a result of his most recent results.

Prior to LIV Miami, Koepka appeared to be in solid form. He finished in the top twelve in four of five starts on LIV this season. When it comes to the five-time major champion, it’s well known that he has another gear for major championships. Everything he’s done both in the off-season and during the LIV season is to gear up for the year’s first major at Augusta National.

In his past five starts at Augusta National, the 33-year-old has three top-7 finishes, including two runners-up. The two years when he played poorly (2019 and 2020) were when he was nowhere near 100% healthy. All signs point to Brooks being in a great place physically as we enter major season.

Last year, Koepka was the 36 and 54-hole leader prior to letting the green jacket slip away to Jon Rahm. He used the result as a springboard to win his 5th major at Oak Hill at the PGA Championship.

Brooks enters the week looking to get one step closer to achieving the career grand slam and golf fans would be foolish to rule him out.

Joaquin Niemann +2800 (BetRivers)

Full disclosure, I bet Niemann the second he was invited to The Masters back in February at +8000. Although the odds have shortened dramatically since then, I can’t pretend that the Chilean isn’t one of the players who has a real chance to win the 2024 Masters.

While I was speaking with Niemann back in March, he told me how much he loves Augusta National.

“Yeah, it’s a place that I love. I’ve been playing good golf. Especially last year, I wasn’t playing my best golf, and I had a good week there and made triple on 11 that kind of killed me a little bit.

I feel like I’m getting more ready and more prepared every time. My game is getting better too. I know that I’m playing good enough to be in that situation that I can have a chance to win the Masters and it’s all about how I react to that situation.

So yeah, I’m going to prepare myself to be ready for that situation if it happens and I can fight for the title on the Sunday which would be awesome.”

As Niemann alluded to, the Chilean was able to have his best career finishes at The Masters (T16) despite not being in the best form. This year, Niemann comes into the week playing better golf than anyone in the world with the exception of Scottie Scheffler. The 25-year-old has won three times since December and has shown the world why he was regarded as one of the games future stars since he was a teenager.

Historically speaking, Joaco’s win at Riviera a few years back seems to be an indicator of potential success at Augusta National. Fourteen players have won at both historic courses including Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Ben Hogan.

Niemann has all the shots to be successful at Augusta National. His low stingers will come in handy on plenty of holes down the stretch and he can work it both ways, playing the high draw or the low fade. He also putts best on Bentgrass greens and likes them fast. Whether PGA Tour or LIV, talent will always reign supreme, and I’ll always bet on that talent.

Cameron Smith (+4000) (FanDuel)

Cameron Smith is another player who we should get an odds discount on based off of the results at LIV Miami. Smith was forced to withdraw prior to the second round due to food poisoning. In my opinion, the number has drifted to a place where I’d consider it a “bet the number” play on the talent.

Smith is a contender for the green jacket anytime he tees it up at Augusta National. The Australian absolutely loves the golf course and has four top-10 finishes in his last six trips to the golf course. In both 2020 and 2022, Smith had a real chance of winning The Masters and came up just short, finishing T2 and T3 in those two tries. In his past 36 rounds, he ranks 4th in Strokes Gained: Total per round at Augusta.

In order to be successful at Augusta National, players must be creative around the greens and be shot makers who have plenty of ways to get around the golf course. Cam has all the shots required to be successful at the course at his touch around the greens will continue to serve him well in his hopes for a green jacket.

Smith is arguably the best putter in the world and has the capability to win a golf tournament on and around the greens. He’s already taken down Rory McIlroy at the home of golf on his way to a claret jug and is one of the few players who can stare down any of the world’s top golfers on the back nine at Augusta National.

Justin Thomas +4000 (FanDuel)

With how he’s been playing since his 2022 PGA Championship win, you may be shocked to see the name “Justin Thomas” in this preview. However, JT has drifted to a place on the odds board where I believe it’s worth taking a shot on the talent of a two-time major champion in his prime.

It’s not all bad for Thomas this season. He finished T6 at the signature Pebble Beach event, T12 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T12 at the signature Arnold Palmer Invitational. In his last 24 rounds, JT ranks 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 14th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 29th in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bentgrass greens.

Despite missing the cut last season, Thomas has played pretty well at Augusta National. He ranks 13th in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds at the course. He finished T4 in 2020, T21 in 2021 and T8 in 2022.

I believe the 2024 edition of The Masters is completely wide open. The past few years has been frustrating for Thomas fans, but I believe his peak form may be a bit closer than people realize.

Sergio Garcia +12000 (FanDuel)

Earlier this season, Garcia dueled with Joaquin Niemann before finally losing on the fourth playoff hole late into the night. Despite the loss, the 44-year-old seemed to gain confidence in his game. The results that followed weren’t spectacular, but in terms of his ball striking he’s shown some flashes of vintage Sergio.

At LIV Miami last week, Garcia played well on a massive golf course, losing in a playoff to Dean Burmester. He continued pumped the ball into the fairway and hit massive iron shot after massive iron shot. He also used a refurbished Scotty Cameron that he used in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. The putter served him incredibly well until he missed a short putt on the 18th hole to win the event. Overall, he gained 7.1 strokes putting at Doral.

Sergio Garcia is once again headed to Augusta National with a chip on his shoulder. Of course, having a chip on the shoulder is nothing new for the fiery Spaniard, but this year, the 2017 Masters Champion will arrive at Augusta with his game clicking on all cylinders.

Sergio winning a second green jacket is seemingly an almost impossible feat, but magical things tend to happen on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.

Adam Scott +11000 (FanDuel)

Betting Adam Scott over the past handful of years has been a Masters staple for me, and like many traditions, has been a hard one for me to let go of.

Last week, Scott finished T14 at the Valero Texas Open in a windy and difficult week. I believe the wind will be a major factor this week at Augusta National, and the more difficult the tournament plays, the more I favor Scott. Scott also ranks 5th in his past 24 rounds on Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bentgrass and has the short game these days that could help him contend in a major.

Since his win in 2013, Scott’s history at The Masters has been spotty. He has some poor finishes alongside a T9 in 2017 and a T18 in 2019. He’s been playing some solid golf this season, finishing T8 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T19 at the Genesis Invitational.

(All photos in piece belong to LIV Golf)

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The 22 players who can win the Masters

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Since 2013, I have created a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predictive outcomes to success at Augusta. The list of players that can win at Augusta is usually filtered down to 20-24 players and in that time I have correctly shortlisted every Masters champion.

This includes last year’s winner, Jon Rahm. Even though Rahm essentially walked away with the green jack and did not make it very close, there were some close calls on top of the leaderboard as I had filtered out Phil Mickelson (t-2nd) and Patrick Reed (t-4th) as the LIV Tour is still behind on providing advanced analytics for their tour. Russell Henley was also filtered out and finished t-4th, five strokes from Rahm’s winning score of 276.

If you’re watching at home, the “critical holes” that will likely determine the top finishers will be holes No. 7, 8, 11 and 13. The 11th hole is projected to be the most critical of holes as over the past five Masters the top players have gained nearly a 1.5 strokes for the tournament on that hole alone.

Just like last year’s column I will get the LIV Tour players I’ve filtered out of the way. Since LIV Tour does not provide ShotLink or Trackman data, it’s more of a guessing game as to how certain LIV Tour golfers are playing. I did utilize recent performance as well as performance at Mayakoba and Doral as they were two former PGA Tour courses that have some semblance of crossover to playing Augusta.

Phil Mickelson
Thorbjorn Olesen
Charl Schwartzel
Cameron Smith
Bubba Watson

Admittedly Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson are hard to leave out, but both have not played well as of late.

Next, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won three times by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller was the last to win in 1979. Prior to Zoeller though, it was Horton Smith in the inaugural event in 1934 followed by Gene Sarazen in 1935

Ludvig Aberg
Akshay Bhatia
Wyndham Clark
Eric Cole
Santiago de la Fuente (a)
Nick Dunlap
Austin Eckroat
Stewart Hagestad (a)
Ryo Hisatsune
Lee Hodges
Nicolai Hojgaard
Stephan Jaeger
Jake Knapp
Christo Lamprecht (a)
Peter Malnati
Denny McCarthy
Grayson Murray
Matthieu Pavon
Adam Schenk
Neal Shipley (a)
Jasper Stubbs (a)

Out of the first time invitees the data likes Ludvig Aberg and Eric Cole to play the best at Augusta National.

I also filter out old Masters champions that I do not believe can get into contention anymore.

Fred Couples
Jose Maria Olazabal
Vijay Singh
Mike Weir
Tiger Woods

Recency has a strong predictive value for player performance and missing the cut in the event in the prior week greatly reduces the likelihood of winning the following week compared to players that miss the cut, take a week off, and then play the following week. Therefore I filter out all players that missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open last week.

Byeong Hun An
Harris English
Rickie Fowler
Ryan Fox
Zach Johnson
Tom Kim
Erik van Rooyen
Camilo Villegas

I will also filter out the players that have never made the cut at the Masters:

Kurt Kitayama
Adrian Meronk

A Tradition Unlike Any Other…

Augusta National has traditionally favored longer hitters and even moreso in the past 20 years of the event. Of course there has been exceptions as in 2007 the short hitting Zach Johnson ended up winning the event.

Critics of my filtering system point out Johnson’s victory as a case for short hitters being able to win at Augusta, but they neglect the fact that Johnson’s victory came in historically low temperatures in the 40’s with wind gusts reaching 35 mph. That made the par-5’s almost unreachable in two shots and the course stressed wedge play and short game around the green where Zach had a sizable advantage.
It is projected to rain early on Thursday and then the weather is supposed to be sunny and warm for the rest of the week. It depends on how quickly the course dries up, but if it does dry out fairly quickly that will give the longer hitters the advantage as they will be able to reach certain par-5’s in two shots that the shorter hitters cannot reach if they don’t hit a quality tee shot and there may be par-5’s that some of the long hitters can reach in two shots with a short iron. Therefore I will filter out the following players due to a lack of distance off the tee:

Corey Conners
Lucas Glover
Emiliano Grillo
Brian Harman
Si Woo Kim
Chris Kirk
Shane Lowry
Colin Morikawa
JT Poston
Justin Rose
Sepp Straka

Out of these players the data likes Lowry and Morikawa the most. Both have good history at Augusta and they both just narrowly missed the distance benchmark set in the filter and both are excellent long iron players.

Last year I created a new formula to better determine ball height as Augusta has historically not taken too kindly to a low ball flight. Out of the 5 players filtered out for low ball flight using the new formula the best finish was only t-29th by Si Woo Kim. This year I’ve filtered out the following players.

Matthew Fitzpatrick
Sungjae Im
Luke List
Joaquin Niemann
Justin Thomas

Every year I filter out the poor performers on approach shots from 175-225 yards as Augusta National puts a lot of stress on those shots. Last year I filtered out nine players and three of them missed the cut with only Jordan Spieth finishing in the top-15 (t-4th) as the rest of the players were never a threat.

Here are the golfers I’m filtering out due to poor play from 175-225 yards:

Patrick Cantlay
Cameron Davis
Jason Day
Tommy Fleetwood
Russell Henley
Max Homa
Rory McIlroy
Jordan Spieth
Nick Taylor

Rory had a nice outing at the Valero Texas Open and hit his irons better there, but appears to be struggling with a leftward miss. Other than that, Rory still has the game to win his first green jacket. Henley is usually one of the better iron players on Tour, but he has struggled this season from 175-225 yards and is a short hitter anyway.

I will also filter out Danny Willett as he is coming off injury and making his comeback at the Masters.

That leaves the 22 players that can win the Masters:

Keegan Bradley (150/1)
Sam Burns (60/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (25/1)
Tony Finau (50/1)
Sergio Garcia (100/1)
Adam Hadwin (175/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (80/1)
Viktor Hovland (35/1)
Dustin Johnson (40/1)
Brooks Koepka (16/1)
Min Woo Lee (70/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)
Taylor Moore (300/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Patrick Reed (80/1)
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Scottie Scheffler (4/1)
Adam Scott (100/1)
Sahith Theegala (50/1)
Gary Woodland (250/1)
Cameron Young (50/1)
Will Zalatoris (35/1)

Here’s my personal top-10 picks:

Keegan Bradley (150/1)
Sam Burns (60/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (35/1)
Tony Finau (50/1)
Viktor Hovland (35/1)
Dustin Johnson (40/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Scottie Scheffler (4/1)

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