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More Distance for Golf (Part 2): Long-Drive Equipment

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In Part 1, I wrote about some of the technical aspects of the swing you can employ for more distance in your golf game from a professional long driver point of view. In Part 2, I get in to the equipment aspect.

As a visitor of GolfWRX, you probably have an interest in golf equipment… and I assume you are also likely aware of the importance of club fitting. To hit the longest drives possible, club fitting is an absolute must. No top long driver skips this component of distance, because advancing or not advancing can come down to only a yard or two.

Equipment optimization can be the thing that makes the difference.

Check Out the Optimizers

Both Trackman and FlightScope have free optimizer tools on their websites that you can play around with to input your club head speed and find out what kind of launch angle and spin rate will optimize either your carry or total distance. What you optimize for with regular golf, however, depends a little bit on your needs.

If you play hard and dry fairways where the golf course is right out in front of you, there aren’t many ground obstacles in your line of flight/roll, and the rough isn’t too penal, you might optimize for total distance.

If you play different types of courses that require forced carry, have soft/wet fairways, or where it’s a problem if you roll through the fairway on a dogleg, it may be better to optimize for carry.

Move Toward a Positive Angle of Attack

positive-AOA

Image Courtesy of Adam Young.

When you play with the optimizers, notice that, all other things being equal, a positive angle of attack (hitting up on the ball) will generally hit the ball farther than a negative angle of attack (hitting down on the ball).

PGA Tour players average an angle of attack of about 1.3 degrees down. Although they hit the ball far compared to the average amateur, they are not nearly as efficient as a professional long driver (they often swing more than 5 degrees up). The highest AoA I’ve ever been able to achieve is +15 on a FlightScope with a 4-inch tee that stood on the ground.

So although this is not really an equipment thing, it may be worth it to transition your driver swing to one that catches the ball on the upswing. As they say, tee it high and let it fly!

Get Custom Fit

Using the optimizers mentioned above, or if you know your optimal/desired launch angle and spin rate numbers, you can use that information to dial in your equipment to match those optimums. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Balls

A good club fitter can help guide you in to a ball that best fits your game, but when doing your club fitting, try to use the same ball you will play with on the course. It doesn’t have to break the bank.

As a fellow equipment junkie, you are probably already aware of some high-quality, low-cost balls from companies like Vice Golf, Costco, or Snell Golf, which is what I currently play. Using your favorite ball may mean you need to get a portable net on the driving range to hit into for testing, like what my PGA and Swing Man Golf Swing Speed Training Certified friend Darren deMaille does with his Trackman outdoors, but it can make a difference in optimization. Top long drivers will do their testing using their competition balls, which presently are made by Volvik.

Shafts

index

As a generalization, the long drive guys generally use 48-inch drivers… not all, but most. Drivers that length can be more difficult to hit in the center of the face (which causes a loss of distance), but they often can be swung faster (but not always). So if you do catch it on the sweet spot, you can really bomb one out there.

On the other hand, long-drive guys get eights balls to score one in the grid. For regular golf, accuracy is more important and it can take some testing to determine what length might be best for you to get the best mix of distance and accuracy.

If you can handle a long shaft (get higher club head speed and also hit the sweet spot) and your golf course is wide open with no rough, by all means go for something long. But for many of you going shorter (Ricky Fowler is using a 43.5-inch driver) means hitting the sweet spot more often. Your longest drive might not be as long, but your average drive might be longer. The added consistency of strike can also mean more predictability (and thus confidence off the tee) and accuracy. As long as you’re not giving up too much distance, playing from the fairway in most cases will also make it easier to get your approaches closer to the flag and shoot lower scores.

As for the flex and weight of the shaft that are best for you, getting the right one of those can be a combination of personal feel, individual strength/tempo, and downswing force. For more info about shafts, my fellow co-creator of Sterling Irons single-length irons and contributing Swing Man Golf equipment expert Tom Wishon has a lot of great articles right here on GolfWRX. Give them a read here.

Loft

The loft of the head is important because it can really affect launch angle and spin rate. For example, one time I had student switch to a driver that was 2 degrees different in loft. That simple change helped add 14 yards to his drives.

Most long drive professionals that you see on Golf Channel will be using really low-lofted heads in the 1-8-degree range (yes, 1 degrees!) by companies like Krank or Callaway. The average long driver swings around 135 mph, however, and the average champion swings about 146 mph. They need a driver that low-lofted to keep them from hitting high-spinning moon balls that don’t go anywhere.

The average golfer swings about 93 mph, so a driver with a loft in the 8-14-degree range made by virtually any reputable driver manufacturer is more appropriate. Don’t be afraid to go even higher if you need it, though. I’ve seen 20-degree drivers by Bang Golf perform well. For some people, that’s what it takes.

Grips

GolfPrideMCCPlus4-640x480

You might think that the behemoths of long drive all use big oversize grips. Many of them are over 6-feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds, and 2007 World Long Drive Champion Mike Dobbyn is 6-feet 8-inches and 300 pounds. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. Some use the smallest and lightest grips possible for extra speed and help with club release.

Multiple Drivers

It’s a bit unconventional, but it might be worth it to play multiple drivers. You may not need an entire staff bag full of drivers like you see with many professional long drivers, but it could be useful to have a draw-biased driver and a fade-biased driver. You could also have a driver for max total distance and one for max carry, or a long-drive-type driver for distance and a shorter one for accuracy. I’ve used all those combinations to my competitive advantage in various tournaments over the years.

As mentioned in the first article of this series, I do recommend working with someone who has the real-life experiences and tools to help you. To find someone reputable, check out the Top-100 lists that are available online. The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) and ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild) are also good resources.

In any case, I would recommend a brand-agnostic fitting and someone with a good inventory who is not going to push a certain brand on you because they have too much skin in selling a specific brand. I’ve heard good things about places like Club Champion and Hot Stix. My buddy, Doug Emma at True Spec Golf in New York, is also a great club fitting guy. Just pay attention to who you are working with for your equipment fittings, bag analysis, etc., and you’ll be fine.

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also shot the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons® here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – Millions of views!!!

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Old Gaffer

    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    I have a 300+ yard ‘drive’! Well, it’s more of a combo-drive because I don’t carry a driver and just one fairway 5-wood. I hit my 5-wood 175 yards and then an iron for the remaining 125+ yards. Sometimes I push it to 350 yards! Straight and narrow, and I use the same ball for a month.
    After that I have developed a great short game for my approach shots, and two putts later I’m playing sub-bogey golf. Bogey golf is my “par” (89).
    I don’t assault the golf course, I caress my way straight down the middle and into the hole. Meanwhile all the macho guys are playing out of the rough, the water or just lost. I don’t help anybody to search for their banana slice drive lost ball. I just tell them to drop another ball and play from where their ball went OB. I’ve seen macho duffers waste 12 ProV1s and then laugh it off as they brag about their useless WITB costly club set.

    • Funkaholic

      Mar 25, 2019 at 6:04 pm

      You are bragging about being short and broke, you don’t belong on WRX.

  2. The Dude

    Sep 12, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    What is the optimal launch condition??…..I was told it was 14* and 1,400 rpm (which I know is not achievable under normal conditions…..simply science). any truth behind this??

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 13, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Depending on who you ask, there is variation as to what is said to be optimal launch conditions…but you can ball park it. Most of what I have seen indicates that the faster your club head speed the lower your launch and spin need to be, but it also depends. For example, for maximum distance downwind you’d want a higher launch and more spin to ride the wind. Whether or not you optimize for carry or total distance makes a difference as well. Lots of variables! Play around with the Trackman and Flightscope optimizer tools mentioned in the article and you’ll get an idea of your own personal optimal numbers.

  3. Orville

    Sep 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks too, and I still don’t understand how driver axial rotation coming into impact can increase ball speed on a toe hit. The driver head essentially disconnects when the shaft tip flexes and torques through clubhead droop. The driver face also closes as centrifugal torque aligns the driver head CG with the swing axial rotation axis which is above the shaft axis.
    Assuming the toe does close into impact, how do you know whether the toe is open or closing resulting in an impact tangent that will either push or pull the ball?
    Impact is a complex event, and there is a Science & Golf paper on driver head kickback effect lasting microseconds. Something just doesn’t add up.

  4. Boss

    Sep 11, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    48 inches

  5. Prime21

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for the info. Great insight into some of the components that could help 1 increase driving distance and/or accuracy. I have had the privilege of working w/ Doug Emma, & simply put, his abilities are second 2 none. If you want to identify which equipment works best for your game, do yourself a favor & line up a session w/ Doug!

  6. JimW

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Several years ago, Ping were advocating to hit the ball higher up on their driver face, not the geometric center. This not only creates a slightly higher face loft due to bulge and roll, it apparently creates a “vertical gear effect” that results in longer distances due to better “smash factor”.
    What do you think about the Ping test results for driver distance?

    • Orville

      Sep 12, 2017 at 12:41 am

      Apparently not! This article on a Titleist patent application indicates that hitting toe-ward of the geometric center will give you an extra 7 mph of ball speed. Their patent application also shows the design of an optimal toe weighted golf club. Looks goofy.
      http://golf-patents.com/20140926/

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 12, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Yeah, when you hit higher on the face, it can increase the launch angle because the direction of the club face at the point of impact primarily determines the start direction of the ball. Since we have a vertically convex driver club face, higher hits on the face launch higher than lower face hits. The vertical gear effect you mentioned also can lower spin on hits higher on the club face. It’s the old high launch and low spin thing.

      With the Ping thing, it’s not everyone of course, but I think such advocacy would come about from a block of tested golfers who have a downward angle of attack with the driver. They would conceivably need a higher lofted driver to get the ball up in the air sufficiently, particularly the slower their club head speed. That higher lofted driver increases launch but also increases spin. In such cases, they may still be launching too low and with too much spin to optimize for distance, so with a fairly conventionally lofted driver, advocating a higher face hit helps get the ball launched even higher while bringing down spin, potentially bringing those golfers closer to the ideal launch conditions that would help maximize their distance.

      Personally, if you are talking achieving maximum distance like in long drive, you don’t want to be as general as simply launching with high launch and low spin though. You’d want to find your ideal specific numbers and try to marry your swing and equipment to get the impact conditions you need per your individual club head speed. If you need to go with a lower lofted head than what most places offer to do that, there are companies like Krank Golf or Callaway Golf who produce drivers with lofts under the typical 8 or 9 degrees.

      From a maximum distance standpoint, I’d try to optimize for an on-center hit with a very slight toe miss bias). The toe typically moves faster than the heel, so even though you are “mishitting” it by having impact out to the toe (and losing ball speed from a glancing blow), it evens out with the extra toe club head speed (thus re-gaining the lost ball speed). Depending on the person and how they move the driver through impact, perhaps you might even achieve a slightly higher ball speed with an ever so slight toe-ward strike. On something like a Trackman, this would read as a higher smash factor because you get a little bit more ball speed but the Trackman is still calculating club speed at the center of the club face versus the point of impact out towards the toe. The lower club head speed calculation with the higher ball speed reads out as a higher smash factor.

      • JimW

        Sep 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

        Thank you Jaacob for your very thorough explanations on my and Orville’s comments. Now it all makes sense to me, but without the Trackman numbers it would all be trial and error and error and error before you could get what is assumed to be ‘optimal’.
        In the era of launch monitors you can ‘engineer’ an optimal solution for each long driver. Can you imagine what life would be like without launch monitors? Engineers like you (and me) would still be swinging in the dark.
        And thank you Dr. Jorgensen and your D-Plane (Descriptive-Plane) physics enlightenment.
        I still can’t understand why anybody would want to have a driver downward angle of attack. Is it an anatomical or mental thing, or is it just teeing too low?

        • Jaacob Bowden

          Sep 12, 2017 at 5:40 pm

          I think there’s a consistency argument that can be made for a downward angle of attack with the driver. If you play all the clubs in the same ball position, the driver would end up being a downward angle of attack. You won’t max out on distance, which may hurt your scoring potential if you give up too much distance…but you might be more consistent.

          Tour players, in particular, also have to be careful about breaking what got them on tour. Many have enough club head speed they can get away with hitting down and being less efficient with a driver.

          • JimW

            Sep 12, 2017 at 8:05 pm

            So, hitting slightly down with the driver is less distance and more accuracy.
            Hitting up with the driver is more distance and less accuracy.
            ______________________________
            I hit up with my 10.5º (11.5º actual) driver at 95 mph max and drifting down to 85+ mph into the back nine. My normal shot is a high ‘power’ fade for 220-230 yard carry, and occasionally a straight drive.
            I carry a 12-13º smaller 2-wood when attempting a draw. No 3-wood and go into a 4 and 7-wood. That optimizes my drive/fairway game.
            Oh, and I use a 3″ tee for the 1-wood and a lower tee for my 2-wood.
            This is the result of 15 years of recreational optimizing and searching the scientific golf literature for answers.
            Thank you for your scientific and practical contribution to this fine forum and I recommend all your websites for viewing and study.

            • Jaacob Bowden

              Sep 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

              Hehe, that might be true for some but it’s not an absolute. For instance, I’m more accurate hitting up than down. So it depends on the person.

              Glad to hear you’ve found a setup for your drive/fairway game that works well for your game!

      • Orville

        Sep 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm

        Opps, please see my reply posted at the top of the topic thread, my bad.

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Opinion & Analysis

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

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Here we go again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Bets:

  • Seamus Power – WIN
  • Alex Smalley – WIN/TOP-5
  • Robby Shelton – WIN-TOP-10
  • Harrison Endycott – WIN/TOP-20
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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections

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

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

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

As my learned GolfWRX colleague says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Bets:

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

2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections

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Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.

Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.

The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.

For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.

Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”

The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.

In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.

Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.

Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.

Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.

Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.

After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.

Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.

I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.

The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.

Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.

2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.

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

The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.

There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.

He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.

Reccomended Bets:

  • J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
  • Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
  • Luke List TOP-20
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