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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 Coach, Trainer, and Professional Golfer, keen on exploring golf and life’s broader lessons while offering coaching and swing speed training through JaacobBowden.com and SwingManGolf.com. With a history of driving remarkable golfing achievements, Jaacob intertwines his sport passion with holistic living. His writings reflect this blend, offering readers insights into improving both their game and their lives. Explore JaacobBowden.com and SwingManGolf.com to unlock a new level of golfing prowess and holistic enrichment.

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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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s LIV Golf Jeddah betting preview: Course specialist ready to steal the show in Saudi

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LIV Golf makes its third stop at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City this week to play LIV Golf Jeddah. 

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club is a par-72 that measures 7,010 yards. There is plenty of water on the course and it features large greens and numerous sand traps. The fairways are Zoysia grass and the greens are Paspalum. The course has hosted several prestigious events in the past including the Saudi International, LIV Golf Jeddah, the Aramco Team Series and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International. The course is undoubtedly one of the best tracks that the Middle East has to offer. 

LIV Jeddah will be absolutely loaded with storylines this week. Perhaps the most exciting of them all is the return of Anthony Kim to professional golf.

Last seen at Quail Hollow in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, the golf world often wondered aloud what ever happened to the charismatic party boy who once played a major role in the United States 2008 Ryder Cup win at Valhalla, thrashing Ryder Cup legend Sergio Garcia 5&4 in a singles match.

Six months later, “AK” made eleven birdies in a single round at Augusta National, shooting a -7 (65). The following year, Kim would finish 3rd at The Masters.

Kim was a “can’t miss” star who was poised to be near the top of the world rankings for the next decade. Until he wasn’t.

Starting in around 2010, injuries started to derail AK, causing him to have surgery on his Achilles tendon in June of 2012.

Reportedly, the then 26-year-old cashed in on an insurance policy that paid him somewhere between $10 and $20 million, which would force him into retirement.

Twelve years later, Kim will be playing at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club beginning on Friday this week.

There is still a great deal of mystery regarding what’s occurred in the past twelve years, but reports indicate that Kim is receiving somewhere between $5 and $10 million to sign with LIV Golf.

Details aside, Kim’s return to golf should be absolutely captivating.

Past Winners at LIV Jeddah

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-14)
  • 2022: Brooks Koepka (-12)

Past Winners at the Saudi International

    • 2023: Abraham Ancer (-19)
    • 2022:Harold Varner III (-13)
    • 2021: Dustin Johnson (-15)
    • 2020: Graeme McDowell (-12)
    • 2019: Dustin Johnson (-19)

The top of the odds board will be tough to beat this week. Jon Rahm has played well to start the year but still hasn’t gotten in the winner’s circle. He ought to be hungry to get it done this week. Brooks Koepka has won the event two straight years and is a force to be reckoned with. Dustin Johnson has a staggering record at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. In six trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-8 each time including two wins and a runner-up. 

Stats From LIV Las Vegas

2024 LIV Jeddah Picks

Sergio Garcia (+2500 FanDuel)

Sergio Garcia began his 2024 LIV Golf season with a bang, losing in a four-hole playoff to the Chilean superstar Joaquin Niemann at LIV Golf Mayakoba. Despite the runner-up finish, it was an encouraging start to the season for the former Masters Champion.

Garcia’s strong week didn’t directly follow him to LIV Las Vegas, where he finished 26th, but the unfamiliar course didn’t necessarily fit his skill set. Royal Greens Golf & Country Club is a relatively short course that can get extremely windy. Garcia still has the iron game to compete with the elite players in this field, and is a great wind player and shot maker. 

In Sergio’s seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-6 three times, and finished 3rd in both of LIV’s trips to Jeddah. 

The 44-year-old can still stripe it and my gut tells me he will be a part of the story late on Sunday. 

Paul Casey (+3500 DraftKings)

I’ve been extremely high on Casey to kick off 2024 and thus far things have gone extremely well for the Englishman. In his two starts this season, Casey has finished in a tie for 11th and a tie for 5th, and was the first-round leader at LIV Las Vegas. 

Casey has had success at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club and has finished 5th in two of his past three trips to the golf course. The 46-year-old is a superb ball striker and wind player when he’s healthy, and all signs point to him finally being back to full strength. 

In Vegas, Casey led the field in birdies made (tied with a few at the top), and finished in the top ten in both fairways hit and greens in regulation. 

Veterans have done well on LIV to date, and Casey may be next in line of players on the back nine of their careers who show they still have the game to compete with some of the world’s best. 

Matt Wolff (+4100 FanDuel)

The mercurial Matt Wolff has seemingly found a comfortable home with the RangeGoats and has been playing his best golf to date on LIV in his two starts this season. Wolff finished 4th at LIV Las Vegas and followed that up with a tie for 7th place finish at the Asian Tour’s International Series Oman. 

In his past four trips to the course, the 23-year-old (Wow! He’s still only 23?) has finished in the top-10 three times. 

The Oklahoma State product was once tabbed as a future superstar, and it’s still far too early to give up on such a talented player. A win is coming soon. 

Bubba Watson (+8000 FanDuel)

It’s been a long road back for Bubba Watson since he had surgery to repair his meniscus a few years ago, but the two-time Masters champion is beginning to show some signs that he may once again be healthy enough to complete.

In his two starts this season, Bubba has finished T21 (Mayakoba) and T15 (Vegas). Watson has always been a player who plays “his” tracks well, with multiple wins at Augusta, Riviera and TPC River Highlands. With a few more cracks at it, Royal Greens Golf & Country Club could certainly be one of those courses. He’s only played the course three times, but has a 2nd place finish in 2022 when he lost to Harold Varner III in a playoff.

In Vegas, Watson was 7th in the field in Greens in Regulation. When he’s on his game, there are few players more fun to watch than Bubba. 

 

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches betting preview: Grinders fancied to survive tough PGA National test

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After finishing the West Coast swing and making a pit stop in Mexico, the PGA TOUR heads to PGA National to begin its Florida swing and play the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. The event was previously called the “Honda Classic”.

The tournament will be a significant challenge for golfers, as PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR.

PGA National is a 7,054-yard par 71 and features Bermudagrass greens.  Originally a Tom Fazio design, it was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. The course features the infamous “Bear Trap” on holes 15-17, three of the toughest holes on TOUR. Wind tends to play a factor, which makes the scoring even more challenging.

The field is solid and much stronger than we saw last year with the event being directly after two signature events. Some notable players in the field include Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Min Woo Lee, Russell Henley and Gary Woodland. 

Past Winners at PGA National

  • 2023: Chris Kirk (-14)
  • 2022: Sepp Straka (-10)
  • 2021: Matt Jones (-12)
  • 2020: Sungjae Im (-6)
  • 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
  • 2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
  • 2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
  • 2016: Adam Scott (-9)
  • 2015: Padraig Harrington (-6)

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). 

5 Key Stats for PGA National

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

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach has been far and away the biggest indicator of the winner at PGA National. Hitting the target is especially important with all of the water at the course.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Tom Hoge (+1.08) 
  2. Mathieu Pavon (+1.07)
  3. Chesson Hadley (+.68)
  4. Michael Kim (+.67) 
  5. Adam Svensson (+.66)

2. Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida)

As we enter the Florida swing, players will have to adjust to the Florida Bermudagrass greens, which favors some golfers who are more accustomed to playing the surface over others.

Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida) over past 24 Rounds:

  1. Beau Hossler (+1.05)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+.87)
  3. Sungjae Im (+.81)
  4. Ben Martin (+.75)
  5. Denny McCarthy (+.71)

3. Strokes Gained Total: Florida

This stat will bring in players who’ve played their best golf in the state of Florida.

Strokes Gained Total: Florida Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Rory McIlroy (+1.72)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.62)
  3. Shane Lowry (+1.44)
  4. Sungjae Im (+1.32) 
  5. Chris Kirk (+1.30)

4. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Historically, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking has been much more indicative of success at PGA National than Strokes Gained: Short Game. The difficult track rewards a solid tee-to-green game, which is the key to avoiding trouble.

The winning score will likely stay close to single digits, so an extremely hot putter isn’t all that predictive. 

SG: BS Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Corey Conners (+21.1)
  2. Jhonnatan Vegas (+19.5)
  3. Adam Svensson (+19.3)
  4. Mathieu Pavon (+18.6) 
  5. Tom Hoge (+18.3) 

5. Strokes Gained: Difficult or Very Difficult Courses

PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR. Including this stat will highlight some players who thrive when scoring is difficult.

Strokes Gained: Difficult Courses Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Rory McIlroy (+2.62)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.59) 
  3. Tom Kim (+1.59) 
  4. Jake Knapp (+1.55)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.34)

Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: Putting Florida Bermuda (15.3%), SG: Florida 15.3%), SG: Ball Striking (27%) and SG: Difficult Scoring(15.3%).

  1. Chris Kirk
  2. Daniel Berger
  3. Jhonnatan Vegas
  4. Corey Conners
  5. Adam Svensson
  6. Rory McIlroy
  7. Tom Hoge
  8. Shane Lowry
  9. Sepp Straka
  10. Kevin Streelman

2024 Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Picks

(All odds are the best available at the time of writing)

Cameron Young +2200 (BetMGM)

Cameron Young has yet to break out with a PGA Tour win, but PGA National is a good course for the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year to showcase his elite driving ability. In his past 24 rounds, Young ranks 1st in Total Driving.

PGA National isn’t the longest course, but with water lurking everywhere, it helps to hit approach shots with higher lofted clubs. Bombers such as Rory McIlroy, Keith Mitchell, and Brooks Koepka have thrived at the course in the recent years, and Young could look to replicate their play style here.

Young has had a strong start to his 2024 season, finishing in a tie for 8th at TPC Scottsdale and a tie for 16th at Riviera. In those two starts, he gained significant strokes on the field both off the tee and on approach. He also finished 16th in his debut at the Honda Classic in 2022. With two additional top-13 finishes at Bay Hill, the 26-year-old has shown he likes playing in Florida.

With the fields in 2024 weaker than in recent seasons, Young is one of the best players teeing it up this week and has the talent to come out on top.

Shane Lowry +3500 (DraftKings)

Shane Lowry has been very quiet this season, but he’ll now kick off the Florida swing, which is the part of the PGA Tour schedule that he’s had most success at over the course of his PGA Tour career.

In his past eight starts in the state of Florida, the Irishman has finished in the top-13 five times, including a runner-up at PGA National in 2022 and a tie for 5th here last year. The former Open champion is a resident of Jupiter, Florida and is extremely comfortable playing on these Bermudagrass greens.

Lowry is typically amongst the favorites at PGA National, but this year is being offered at a bit of a discount due to his underwhelming start to the season. If the course plays difficult, which it typically does, there are few players I’d rather have than Shane Lowry on my betting card.

Byeong Hun An +4000 (DraftKings)

I’ve bet Byeong Hun An a few times this year and it almost paid off when the South Korean lost in agonizing fashion in a playoff to Grayson Murray at the Sony Open. Given his current form and excellent course fit, I feel compelled to give the affable An one more shot at PGA National this week.

An is a great driver of the ball and ranks 17th in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 4th in Carry Distance. With danger lurking on almost every hole, longer hitters will have the advantage coming in with shorter irons. While not typically the most reliable putter, Benny ranks 18th in the field in his past eight rounds on Bermudagrass.

In addition to his strong start to the season, An has also had plenty of success at PGA National. He finished in a tie for 4th at the course in 2020 and tied for 5th in 2018. If he can avoid the water, we may finally get to celebrate a Benny An victory this week.

Corey Conners +5000 (FanDuel)

On a difficult course that produces relatively high scores such as PGA National, players who are accurate both off the tee and on approach will have the advantage. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 4th in Total Driving and 2nd in Strokes Gained: Off the tee.

Conners is another player who has thrived in Florida. In his past seven starts in the state, he’s finished in the top 21 five times. The course history at PGA National hasn’t been great, but I am willing to overlook that in favor of his overall form in the state and his apparent course fit.

A few weeks ago, at Riviera, Conners’ signature iron play came back to life as he gained 5.04 strokes on the field on approach. If he can make some putts on Bermudagrass, which has been his favorite surface to date, there’s no reason why he can’t contend at PGA National this week.

Alex Noren +5000 (FanDuel)

Despite never having won on the PGA Tour, Alex Noren has racked up 11 total wins professionally, and has come close many times in the United States. The Swede has played on a winning European Ryder Cup team (2018) and has won big events in Europe such as the BMW PGA Championship and British Masters.

Noren is a tremendous wind player who has enjoyed plenty of success at PGA National throughout his career. He finished in a tie for 5th at this event in 2022 and finished 3rd back in 2018. Noren ranks 15th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on Florida Bermudagrass and 20th in three putt avoidance on the surface.

If the course plays as difficult as expected, the 41-year-old is the type of grinder who can contend on one of his favorite tracks.

Matt Wallace +10000 (FanDuel)

Matt Wallace demonstrated his ability to play well on a tough Florida track at last year’s Valspar Championship, where he finished in a tie for 7th. The Englishman has also played reasonably well at PGA National, finishing 29th last year and tied for 20th in 2019.

Wallace played well last week in Mexico and was more involved than his T33 finish would indicate. He struggled in round 4, shooting 74, but indicated that he was “playing for the win” which brought a lot more trouble into play. Wallace is one of the better wind players in the field and has shown winning upside in the past.

The 33-year-old is a grinder with winning upside.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: 2024 Mexico Open First Round Leader picks

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The Mexico Open begins on Thursday at beautiful Vidanta Vallarta. The tournament will have a full field this week with most of the big names on the PGA Tour taking the week off.

In the past two editions of the tournament, there have been seven first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the seven, six have come from the morning wave. At first glance, there certainly looks to be an advantage to having an early tee time this week in Mexico but with such a small sample size I won’t put too much stock in that and take a balanced approach.

As of Tuesday, the wind doesn’t look as if it will play a factor at all during round one. It will be about hot and sunny for most of the day with wind gusts never exceeding 7 MPH.

This week, I used the Betsperts Rabbit Hole to see each players floor/ceiling. You can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Mexico Open First-Round-Leader Selections

Jhonnatan Vegas +6000 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:15 p.m. Local Time

After a long injury layoff, it certainly seems as if Jhonnatan Vegas is “back”. In his most recent start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Venezuelan gained 7.2 strokes ball striking, which was his best performance in the category since June of 2022.

Vegas loves playing on Paspalum, and while he struggles with the putter often, he’s been consistent putting on these slow and spongey surfaces. I expect the big man to have a great week in Mexico.

Harry Hall +9000 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:14 a.m. Local Time

While you wouldn’t expect an Englishman in a flat cap to play his best golf in tropical paradises, that’s certainly been the case for the 24-year-old throughout his career thus far. The 6’4″ UNLV product with a soft touch around the greens has shined in places such as Puerto Rico and Puntacana as well as at Vidanta Vallarta last year.

Hall is a fantastic putter, which never will hurt you in the first-round leader market.

Adrien Dumont de Chassart 100-1 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:54 p.m. Local Time

Those who have been following me this season know that I’m high on this 23-year-old bomber from Belgium. With off the tee prowess being a major point of emphasis at Vidanta Vallarta, it makes sense to give him another crack at the first-round lead once again this week.

In his most recent start at TPC Scottsdale, ADDC gained 4.0 strokes off the tee.

Fred Biondi 130-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:47 a.m. Local Time

Fred Biondi recently won a National Championship as a Florida Gator and has loved playing on coastal courses throughout the early part of his career. In the fall, the Brazilian finished 13th at the Butterfield Bermuda and 23rd at the RSM Classic, with both events having fields either stronger or comparable to this one.

Biondi is a good iron player and putter and should be comfortable playing in Mexico.

Scott Piercy 150-1 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:25 a.m. Local Time

Scott Piercy got in the field this week after Will Zalatoris withdrew following a strong performance at the Genesis Invitational. Piercy may be well past his prime, but this is the type of event where the 47-year-old has thrived over the years.

Piercy has been prone to fast starts and has finished in the top-5 after the first round 32 times in his career and has been within two of the lead in the first round 45 times. He’s also been great on Paspalum, boasting finishes of 6th at the 2018 OHL, 7th at the 2015 CIMB Classic and 4th at the 2016 OHL.

Sebastian Vazquez 300-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:21 p.m. Local Time

Sebastian Vasquez is a name that many golf fans won’t be familiar with but has played some good golf in South America over the course of his career. At last year’s Mexico Open, Vazquez shot an opening round 67. At last year’s World Wide Technology Championship at El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Vazquez closed his tournament with a Sunday 64, which was just two shots off the round of the day.

The Mexican has been playing this season on the Gira de Golf Profesional Mexicana and doing so relatively well. He also finished 38th at El Cardonal in a pretty strong PGA Tour field. Vazquez could come out and fire a low one while feeling extremely at ease playing in his home country.

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