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6 must-have exercises in any golf fitness program

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Golf is inherently an asymmetrical pattern. It also exposes the golfer to peak compressive forces of up to 8 times bodyweight through the lumbar spine. It’s no wonder then that the golf swing, when repeated over and over, can lead to the build up of physical asymmetries, overuse issues and injury.

Indeed, the literature relating to injuries in golf reports the most common injuries are due to overuse. Studies suggest time spent practicing and playing are significant factors that influence injury risk. Those who played at least four rounds per week or hit more than 200 balls per week were also shown to have significantly higher instances of injury. It has also been proposed in several studies that poor swing mechanics can accelerate this process. With this in mind, almost all keen golfers — not just the ones on tour — could benefit taking a proactive approach to managing their injury risk. It will likely prevent them from missing time on the course and keep them on the course for longer into old age.

It is fairly clear that managing the volume of golf swings and correcting faulty swing mechanics is likely a big part of the puzzle of preventing injury to golfers. There is also a large body of evidence to suggest appropriate strength training could also be used to reduce the injury risk to golfers. A huge, 2014 meta-study found that strength training reduced sports injuries by roughly 33 percent and overuse injuries by 50 percent. Interestingly, this study also found that stretching alone had no relationship to injury prevention.

“Implementing a training program that includes flexibility, strength and power training with correction of faulty swing mechanics will help the golfer reduce the likelihood of injury and improve overall performance,” another study concluded. The only problem is that golfers often make one of two mistakes in their training that prevent them from realizing these injury prevention benefits:

  1. They train with little regard to improved movement quality, jumping right to sexy-looking exercises without mastering the basic firsts. More on this later. 
  2. They train too “sport-specific,” seeking to mimic the golf swing using bands and cables, for example. By training in a highly specific manner, they end up neglecting antagonist/ stabilizer muscles and reinforcing those asymmetries inherent in the golf swing.

As such, we do not want to spend a huge amount of gym time stressing the joints in the same specific way we do on the course already. MLB strength coach Eric Cressey probably said it best: “Specificity works great until you’re so specific that you wind up injured and have forgotten how to do everything else.”

Balanced strength development through foundational movement pattern training and compensation strength exercises should, instead, form the vast majority (at least 80 percent) of your training activities, both from a sports performance and injury prevention perspective. The foundational movement patterns in question are:

  1. Squat
  2. Hip Hinge
  3. Upper Body Push
  4. Upper Body Pull
  5. Single-Leg Work
  6. Core Intensive Work (such as dead-bugs, planks, pallof presses and weighted carries)

The real key to unlocking the benefits of the foundational movement patterns and long-term success in your training lies in emphasising movement quality and picking variations/ progressions of each movement to suit you, rather than sticking to dogmatically programmed exercises that may not fit your body, your current training experience or goals. In really broad terms, this probably equates to selecting the most difficult exercise progression you can do technically perfect for the desired number of reps.

With this in mind, the rest of this article will be focused on providing some specifics for the six foundational patterns. It will also outline a progression framework you can use to gauge the best variation for you currently and where you should aim to progress in the future. That said, I would be remiss not to mention that getting the exercise selection and progression right is where a good coach becomes really valuable. He or she is able to take a full injury history and complete various assessments of joint range of motion and dynamic mobility to make sure you’re starting in the right place and advancing at the proper pace.  

Squat

The squat does a lot of great things. It teaches us to create and maintain appropriate position of the pelvis and core. It also helps us learn to create and absorb force while developing mobility in the hips, ankles and thoracic spine. I bet the image you have in your mind right now is that of a barbell back squat taken to the floor. That is one squat pattern variation, but it’s by no means the only way to squat. Everyone is different, therefore, everyone must squat differently and squat using the squat variation most appropriate for their current skill level and trainability.

The goblet squat is my favorite variation for most golfers, as the anterior loading helps to shift weight back while maintaining core/pelvic stability. It should also be noted that the barbell back squat might not be something the athlete ever uses, because their physical makeup might always be better suited to front-loaded squatting. That’s perfectly fine. Once again, the key is to find the “hardest” variation that you can do perfectly. From there, you’ll be able to train the squat pattern without internal restriction, get a great training effect and minimize joint stress. The goal is to move up the list over time and progress strategically.

Hip Hinge

The hinge is one of the most important patterns when it comes to protecting your lower back from injury, but many people have lost the ability do it. The hip hinge is often confused with the deadlift, which is a specific exercise that falls under the hip hinge umbrella (i.e. while not every hip hinge is a deadlift, every deadlift is a hip-hinge pattern).

Many people don’t deadlift because they think it’s too risky. And since the deadlift is the only hip hinge exercise they know, they skip training the entire movement pattern. This is a mistake. Master the hip hinge, and you’ll avoid chronic flare-ups, lower back tightness, and generalized “neural-lock” of your mobility and flexibility. The pattern should be slowly implemented at lower levels, however, which allows motor relearning to take place. Watch the video above to see the main progressions I use to reactivate the hip hinge from the ground up. 

Not everyone will have the ability to pull a barbell off the floor with good neutral spine mechanics due to different body types. Again, totally fine. If that’s you, don’t feel the need to force it. Just stick with having the bar or kettlebell elevated off the floor as I have in the video. In fact, this is what I have the vast majority of my golfers do.

Single-Leg

Single-leg exercises unlock strength and movement quality potential. They tap into your “primitive patterning.” You learned to walk in a sequence. You rolled over, crawled, pulled yourself up and finally learned to stand and walk. Not all of that was unilateral, but the movement between the steps was. That primitive patterning is what single-leg movements are targeting for re-education.

There are few movements more powerful than single-leg variations for identifying weak links, sticking points and pain patterns. Again, we need to work from the ground up to build optimal patterns and movement efficiency to keep us strong and healthy.

The single-leg lunge pattern does include more dynamic lunges. Under its umbrella are single-leg squats involving standing only on one leg, lateral squat variations and hinge-based movements such as the single-leg RDL’s. For the sake of brevity I haven’t covered these, but this doesn’t devalue their importance in a good plan built around the non-negotiable foundational patterns. Be sure to include both the knee-dominant variations shown above, as well as the hip-dominant patterns such as single-leg RDLs to cover all your bases.

Upper Body Push

Movement patterns are classified as either open- or closed-chain depending on the contact points with the ground. If the hands and feet are in contact with a stable surface like the ground, the movement is a closed kinematic chain. If the hands or feet are freely moving through space, that’s an open kinematic chain.

With the push-up, the hands are anchored to the ground (or stable surface) that alter the way the spine, gleno-humeral joint, scapula and acute muscular stabilizers of the region move. In this closed chain, the shoulder blades are able to move freely against the thoracic cage placing more of a dynamic stability emphasis on the musculature controlling this position. This skill of creating stability and tension in the shoulders and upper back is something that must be mastered in order to translate into a more static, stability-based position such as the bench press.

Starting with the mastery of the plank and push-up allows the biggest bang for your buck in full-body motor learning through the push pattern. From integrated core and hip stability to upper back and shoulder tensional recruitment, the push-up is a key player in learning how to generate stability in order to display power and strength. Once this skill is honed in at the horizontal plane of motion, vertical pushing will be the next challenge.

Upper Body Pull

Strong and stable shoulders depend on pulling more than pushing. Our sitting- and bench press-dominated world (guys I’m looking at you) leads to tonic anterior shoulder and chest muscles, lengthened/weak posterior shoulder muscles and internally rotated shoulders. To combat this, I will often program pulling to pushing in a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio. We must also bear in mind, however, that the vertical pull also places the shoulder into internal rotation during the movement pattern itself. This means we should bias the horizontal pull more than vertical pulling in our programming.

In order to create full-body stability at the shoulders through the pull, the horizontal pull must first be mastered before introducing the more complex vertical pull variations off the pull-up bar and beyond. Moreover, mastering the pull from a stable core and hips will help develop a strong posterior that can support athletic endeavors such as the golf swing. That’s exactly why this pattern must be a priority.

The pattern must first be introduced and perfected from a full-body, stability-based position. From this position, the pillar is challenged to generate tension and create stability through the legs, hips, pelvis and spine, while the upper body works to generate dynamic force.

Core Intensive Movements

The core muscles help safeguard the lumbar spine during sports, gym and everyday activities, and they are therefore crucial in preventing back pain. If the core is weak, then other muscles will have to compensate in order to stabilize the pelvis and spine, leading to faulty movement patterns, asymmetries and injury.

Golfers, for example, are more susceptible to lower back pain due to rotating at the lumbar spine. The rotation should occur through the pelvis and thoracic spine, with the lumbar spine remaining in a relatively fixed position. A strong core, in addition to the glutes and stretching out the anterior hip muscles, will help stabilize the pelvis back in more a neutral position. It helps prevent the lumbar spine from over extending and rotating into ranges of motion for which it is not designed.

Additionally, the core muscles link the upper and lower body. If a link in the body chain is broken, performance will suffer. Much of the power in the golf swing actually comes from the ground. In order to effectively transfer this ground reaction force through the body and to the club, the pelvis and spine need to be stable. This stability is achieved when the core muscles and glutes are strong and highly functioning.

Many train the core poorly, however. In short, you should train the function of the core — not it\s anatomy. This generally means training four patterns:

  • Rotational Core Strength
  • Anterior Core Strength
  • Lateral Core Strength
  • Hip Extension Strength/Bridging

For the sake of brevity, I offer an example of anterior or anti-extension core strength progressions in the video above. 

Over To You

All you have to do now is give the variations a try. Pick the ones that work best for you. I suggest videoing yourself while doing them to ensure proper form.

Follow a sensible progression strategy, add in some mobility work for the weakness you’ll have identified by trying different variations and you have the nuts and bolts of a really useful injury prevention program. I willing to wager you’ll feel better and, as many of the physical qualities developed in these exercises are also needed in properly executing the golf swing, you’ll be playing better, too.

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Nick is a TPI certified strength coach with a passion for getting golfers stronger and moving better. Through Stronger Golf he uses unique, research based training methods to create stronger, faster, more athletic golfers. Golfers who are more coachable, achieve higher levels of skill mastery, play injury free, and for longer as a result of improved physical fitness.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. bruce

    Jun 7, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Most guys I see on the golf course can’t walk and invent a new golf swing every try. The sport of last resort.

    • Nick Buchan

      Jun 8, 2018 at 8:51 am

      There is some truth to that Bruce. Hence why I recommend most golfers start working on general patterns such as above to develop good movement, gait, etc before we start to add and supplement with some more golf specific stuff.

  2. DB

    Jun 5, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Great article, and Imma let you finish, but… what is wrong with that guy’s arm?!?

    • Nick Buchan

      Jun 8, 2018 at 8:50 am

      I have a fair amount of laxity in my elbow joints – I can do some pretty freaky stuff with them and you should see my top of the backswing position. Something I probably should try to be aware of and correct more often as not the greatest stabilisation/ loading strategy but doesn’t seem to have any affect on me at all as yet to be honest.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Travelers Championship betting preview: Patrick Cantlay to continue impressive play

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The third major championship of 2024 did not disappoint as Bryson Dechambeau capped off a sensational week with the second U.S. Open victory of his career. The season rolls along to Cromwell, Connecticut, where TPC River Highlands hosts the 2024 Travelers Championship. This is yet another designated event with a $20 million dollar purse.

TPC River Highlands is a 6,841-yard par-70 that has been a PGA Tour stop for 40 years. Home of the only 58 in Tour history, it is possible to go extremely low at this Pete Dye design. However, TPC River Highlands does feature a difficult closing stretch with holes 16-18 all historically averaging scores over par.

The Travelers Championship will play host to 72 golfers this week. Being a signature event, almost all of the best players on Tour will be teeing it up. 

PGA Tour U winner, Michael Thorbjornsen, will be making his season debut this week at the Travelers. 

Past Winners at The Travelers Championship

  • 2023: Keegan Bradley (-23)
  • 2022: Xander Schauffele (-19)
  • 2021: Harris English (-13)
  • 2020: Dustin Johnson (-19)
  • 2019: Chez Reavie (-17)
  • 2018: Bubba Watson (-17)
  • 2017: Jordan Spieth (-12)
  • 2016: Russell Knox (-14)

Key Stats For TPC River Highlands

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

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach sits at the top spot in the stat model this week. The course is relatively short, and golfers with multiple types of skill sets compete here. Iron play is often the great equalizer allowing the shorter hitters to compete, and that should be the case again this week.

SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.61)
  2. Corey Conners (+1.11)
  3. Sepp Straka (+0.92)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.91)
  5. Tony Finau (+0.88)

2. Par 4 Birdie or Better %

With only two par-5s on the course, the importance of par-4 scoring cannot be understated. Whoever plays the par-4s most effectively this week will put himself in the driver’s seat.

Par 4 Birdie or Better % Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Eric Cole (25.4%)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+24.6%)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+23.5%)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+22.8%)
  5. Wyndham Clark (+22.7%)

3. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Ball striking combines off the tee and approach and will be the stat I use to incorporate off-the-tee play this week. The over-emphasis on approach play will incorporate golfers who give themselves plenty of birdie looks in the event.

SG: Ball Striking past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.56)
  2. Ludvig Aberg (+1.67)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.57)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+1.44)
  5. Corey Conners (+1.31)

4. Course History

Course history has proven to be a major factor at TPC River Highlands. With seven golfers who have multiple wins at the course, familiarity could be the key at the Travelers Championship.

Strokes Gained: Total at TPC River Highlands per round over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Xander Schauffele (+2.03)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.02)
  3. Brian Harman (+1.98)
  4. Rory McIlroy (+1.97)
  5. Scottie Scheffler (+1.54)

5. Strokes Gained: Total Pete Dye Designs

TPC River Highlands is another prototypical Pete Dye track where many of the same golfers play well consistently.

SG: Pete Dye per round Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.49)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+2.22)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+1.86)
  4. Brian Harman (+1.66)
  5. Patrick Cantlay (+1.61)

6. Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA Mix

TPC River Highlands is another prototypical Pete Dye track where many of the same golfers play well consistently.

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA Mix Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Denny McCarthy (+1.41)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+1.04)
  3. Keegan Bradley (+1.01)
  4. Robert MacIntyre (+0.98)
  5. Wyndham Clark (+0.84)

The Travelers Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (26%), Par 4 Birdie or Better % (13%), SG: Ball Striking (20%), Course History (13%), SG: Putting Bent/POA (14%) and SG: Pete Dye (14%).

  1. Xander Schauffele
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Scottie Scheffler 
  4. Viktor Hovland
  5. Corey Conners
  6. Sahith Theegala
  7. Brian Harman
  8. Keegan Bradley
  9. Collin Morikawa
  10. Tony Finau

2024 Travelers Championship Picks

Patrick Cantlay +2500 (FanDuel)

When a player contends in a major in the previous week, I typically like to fade said player the following week. However, this week feels a bit different to me. Cantlay has been struggling all season, and I can’t help but feel like the former FedEx Cup champion found something during the U.S. Open. I also don’t think he was incredibly disappointed with the result. He played well on Sunday and was impressive over the weekend, finally getting a true feel of what major championship contention felt like. It was all positives for Cantlay at Pinehurst.

Cantlay will now head to a spot where he’s had an incredible amount of success but has not yet notched a victory. In his last six starts at the course, he’s not finished worse than 15th. His best start came last year, where he finished T4. He ranks 1st in the field in Strokes Gained: Total at TPC River Highlands. Cantlay is also a Pete Dye specialist and ranks 4th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Dye tracks. The 32-year-old ranks 3rd in Par 4 birdie or better percentage.

Cantlay was spectacular across the board at Pinehurst. For the week, he ranked 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach, 7th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 10th in Strokes Gained: Putting. I fully expect him to build off of that performance and contend once again at one of his favorite Tour stops.

Sam Burns +3500 (DraftKings)

Sam Burns had a great Sunday at Pinehurst, which is always a bonus heading into the following week. He shot -3 in his final round, which got him into the top ten (T9) in what was a successful major for a player who’s not performed his best in them historically.

Burns is a prolific birdie maker who can win a boat race to -20 as well as anyone on Tour. He’s also had some success at both Pete Dye courses, where he ranks 13th in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds, and at TPC River Highlands, where he ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds.

Burns has been playing some solid golf of late. He has four top-15 finishes in his past starts including a T13 at the Wells Fargo Championship, 10th at the RBC Canadian Open and 15th at the Memorial Tournament. He has gained strokes on approach and off the tee in five of his past six starts.

The LSU product can win golf tournaments in a variety of ways. His ability to make putts if it turns into a wedge and putting contest makes him a strong candidate to contend this week.

Sahith Theegala +4500 (BetRivers)

Sahith Theegala has been playing some solid golf over the last few months. As we saw last year with Keegan Bradley, a missed cut at the U.S. Open shouldn’t necessarily scare someone off from a player who fits TPC River Highlands, which I believe Theegala does.

TPC River Highlands is the site of Theegala’s near victory a few years back. He finished in a tie for 2nd in 2022 after making double-bogey on the 18th hole with a one-shot lead, losing to Xander Schauffele. Theegala will now head back to the course as a more mature player who is in the midst of the best season of his career.

This season, the former Haskins award winner in having strong finishes in some of the season’s most important events. He finished 5th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, 6th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 9th at the PLAYERS Championship, 2nd at the RBC Heritage and 12th at both the Memorial Tournament and PGA Championship.

In his past 24 rounds, Sahith ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 11th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, 18th in Par 4 birdie or better percentage and 8th in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bent/POA mixed putting surfaces.

If this turns into another shootout, Theegala has the type of ball striking and putting combination that can win a race to -20.

Sungjae Im +6600 (BetRivers)

After seemingly regaining his form over the past month, Sungjae took a step back at last week’s U.S. Open. The South Korean missed the cut, shooting +10 over his first two rounds. Despite the disappointing result, I don’t believe one poor start at a long and difficult golf course is enough reason to give up on him. 

Although the score was regretful at Pinehurst No. 2, Im hit the ball pretty well from tee to green. In his two rounds, he gained strokes both off the tee and on approach. His downfall was with the putter, which can be extremely hit or miss, especially over the course of this season.

Prior to the U.S. Open, Sungjae had finished in the top ten in three of his previous four starts. He finished T4 at the Wells Fargo “Signature Event” at Quail Hollow, T9 at the Charles Schwab Challenge and T8 at The Memorial Tournament. He’s also gained strokes off the tee in nine straight events.

Im has made three starts at TPC River Highlands, finishing 21st, 58th and 29th respectively. Im hits fairways at a high clip, which will be a massive advantage this week and his lack of driving distance won’t be an issue. He also ranks 12th in the field in his past 24 rounds in Strokes Gained: Total on Pete Dye designs.

It’s been a long time since Im has won an event (2021 Shriners), but I believe he’s back on the upswing and is still a higher end talent on the PGA Tour with another win coming soon.

Tom Kim +6600 (BetRivers)

After a sluggish start to the 2024 season, Tom Kim has come on strong over the past month or so. The South Korean started his stretch of impressive play at Valhalla for the PGA Championship, finishing 24th. After that, Kim put together finishes of T4 at the RBC Canadian Open and a T26 at last week’s U.S. Open. In between, he finished T43 at The Memorial, but hit the ball great from tee to green.

Tom has done an impressive job of playing well at long and difficult setups, but this week, he will head to a course in TPC River Highlands that should his game immaculately. Both of Kim’s wins have come at short setups that mitigate his biggest weakness, which is driving distance. The course is short this week and fits the mold of the tracks Tom has had great success at over the past few seasons on Tour.

In his past 24 rounds, Kim ranks 7th in Par 4 birdie or better percentage, which will come into play this week. He also ranks 19th in the field in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking.

Kim is already a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and has shown that if he gets a sniff of contention, he can close out a tournament with the best of them.

 

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Memorial Tournament betting preview: Collin Morikawa to reign supreme at Jack’s place

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The PGA Tour heads to Jack’s place to play the 2024 edition of the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. The Memorial is regarded as one of the most prestigious non-majors of the PGA Tour season, and for the second consecutive year the tournament will be a “Signature Event”.

Muirfield Village Golf Club is a 7,571-yard par-72 located in Dublin, Ohio that features Bentgrass greens. A Jack Nicklaus design, the course was built in 1974 and redesigned by Nicklaus in 2020. The course can play extremely difficult due to its long rough and lightning-fast greens.

The Memorial Tournament will play host to 80 golfers this week, which is down from 120 last year. The top 50 and ties will make the cut. Being a designated event, the field is predictably stacked and will feature most of the biggest stars on Tour. All eligible players have committed to the event in addition to sponsor’s exemptions Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel. 

Past Winners at the Memorial Tournament

  • 2023: Viktor Hovland (-7)
  • 2022: Billy Horschel (-13)
  • 2021: Patrick Cantlay (-13)
  • 2020: Jon Rahm (-9)
  • 2019: Patrick Cantlay (-19)
  • 2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-15)
  • 2017: Jason Dufner (-13)
  • 2016: William McGirt (-15)

Key Stats for Muirfield Village

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

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Jack Nicklaus designs all have one thing in common: They reward the best iron players on Tour. When designing Muirfield Village, Jack created a second-shot golf course that strongly benefited golfers who could really dial in their approach shots. With that in mind, does it surprise anyone that Tiger Woods won this event five times?

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.37)
  2. Corey Conners (+1.14)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.14)
  4. Sepp Straka (+0.88)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+0.88)

2. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking does include approach, but if there is any week to overemphasize Strokes Gained: Approach, this is the week. The statistic also incorporates Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, which will be important considering the rough at Muirfield Village can be exceedingly penal.

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  2. Xander Schauffele (+1.88)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+1.60)
  4. Ludvig Aberg (+1.56)
  5. Corey Conners (+1.42)

3. Good Drive %

Driving the ball well will be an important factor. Bombing it off the tee is not a requirement at Muirfield Village, but distance always helps. The rough can get very long, and golfers who can’t put the ball in the fairway will fall out of contention quickly. Balanced and consistent drivers of the golf ball should be the targets this week.

Good Drive % Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Collin Morikawa (+88.1%)
  2. Tom Hoge (86.1%)
  3. Sepp Straka (+85.9%)
  4. Scottie Scheffler (+85.8%)
  5. Alex Noren (+85.8%)

4. Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass – Fast)

The Bentgrass greens at Muirfield are lightning quick. Whoever can master these difficult putting surfaces has a major advantage at Jack’s place.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass+Fast) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Justin Rose (+1.43)
  2. Thomas Detry (+0.88)
  3. Sahith Theegala (+0.77)
  4. Harris English (+0.74)
  5. Denny McCarthy (+0.73)

5. Strokes Gained: Nicklaus Designs

We often see similar leaderboards when events are hosted by Jack Nicklaus designed courses. The model this week will look to incorporate those golfers.

Strokes Gained: Nicklaus Designs (per round, min. 4 rounds) Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.49)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.32)
  3. Collin Morikawa (+1.99)
  4. Shane Lowry (+1.74)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+1.67)

6. Course History

We often see similar leaderboards when events are hosted by Jack Nicklaus designed courses. The model this week will look to incorporate those golfers.

Course History (Strokes Gained: Total (per round, min. 4 rounds) Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.75)
  2. Patrick Cantlay (+2.54)
  3. Justin Rose (+2.17)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.77)
  5. Jordan Spieth (+1.66)

The Memorial Tournament Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: BS (18%), Good Drive % (16%), SG: Putting Bentgrass – Fast (13%), Course History (13%) and SG: Total Nicklaus Designs (13%).

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Shane Lowry
  4. Alex Noren
  5. Sahith Theegala
  6. Collin Morikawa
  7. Rory McIlroy
  8. Tony Finau
  9. Keegan Bradley
  10. Sepp Straka
  11. Corey Conners
  12. Viktor Hovland
  13. Russell Henley
  14. Si Woo Kim
  15. Justin Thomas

2024 Memorial Tournament Picks

Collin Morikawa +1800 (Fanatics)

Collin Morikawa has consistently shown up in the biggest events over the past few months. He finished in a tie for 3rd at The Masters, 9th at the RBC Heritage, a tie for 16th at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 4th at the PGA Championship. He also finished 4th in his most recent start at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Iron play is always a strong indication of where Morikawa’s game is trending, and his Strokes Gained: Approach numbers have seen a recent uptick. The two-time major champion has gained an average of 4.0 strokes on approach over his last two starts, which despite not being as good as his peak approach numbers, are a major improvement over the past year or so.

Morikawa has played some great golf at Muirfield Village throughout his career. He won the Workday Charity Open in 2020 and lost in a playoff at The Memorial Tournament in 2021. His two most recent starts at the course have ended in a withdraw and a missed cut, but his current form is much better than it was over the past few seasons coming into the event.

In addition to the strong iron play, the ability to keep the ball in the fairway will be a major advantage for a Memorial Tournament that I anticipate will play relatively difficult. Morikawa has gained strokes off the tee in eight consecutive starts, including 3.8 strokes at the PGA Championship and 4.0 strokes at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The American has been fantastic at Nicklaus Courses since he burst onto the scene on the PGA Tour, and that was once again on full display at Valhalla last month. In his last 36 rounds, Collin ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus designs. He also ranked 1st in the field in Good Drive %, which will be a key this week.

It’s been a while since the 27-year-old has won a big event on Tour, but that could very well change this week at Jack’s place.

Justin Thomas +2500 (BetMGM)

Justin Thomas is winless in last 43 professional starts, dating back to the 2022 PGA Championship. For a player with 17 professional wins and in the prime of his career, that’s a long time.

Other than being “due”, Thomas has shown signs that is just about all the way back from his two-year slump. He has four top-ten finishes this season, with three of those being at a “signature” event or a major. Most recently, he’s finished in a tie for 5th at the RBC Heritage, a tie for 21st at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 8th at the PGA Championship.

JT has loved Nicklaus designs throughout his career. He finished 2nd at the 2020 Workday at Muirfield Village, losing in a playoff to Collin Morikawa. In his last 30 rounds at the course, he ranks 6th in Strokes Gained: Total.

In addition to the obvious course fit, Thomas’ ball striking numbers have come to life of late. He gained 4.1 strokes on approach at the PGA Championship to go along with 4.6 strokes off the tee. Valhalla another Jack Nicklaus design so it’s encouraging to see that’s where he had arguably his best ball striking week of the season. The key for Thomas will be keeping the ball on the fairways this week and he’s improved his SG: OTT performance in four consecutive starts.

Thomas is finally in form and ready to get back in the winner’s circle at Muirfield Village.

Byeong Hun An +5000 (DraftKings)

Byeong Hun An is playing the best golf of his career. This season, the 32-year-old has finished T16 at the Genesis Invitational, T16 at The Masters, T8 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 3rd at the Wells Fargo Championship.

The South Korean’s ball striking has been fantastic this year. He’s gained strokes both off the tee and on approach in six consecutive events. An will now head back to a course where he’s had plenty of success. Back in 2018, he lost in a playoff to a surging superstar named Bryson DeChambeau. Ben has five top-25 finishes in eight starts at the course. The few times he missed the cut were in 2020 and 2021 when he was really struggling with his game.

An has had some close calls of late and I believe we need to stick with him for one more week.

Corey Conners +6000 (DraftKings)

Corey Conners is absolutely striping the ball right now. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 2nd in Strokes Gained: Approach, 5th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 22nd in Good Drive %.

At last week’s Canadian Open, Conners ranked 4th for the week in approach and finished in 6th place. In his previous two starts, Conners ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained: Approach at the Wells Fargo Championship and 4th at the PGA Championship. There are very few players on the planet that are currently hotter with their irons than Corey Conners.

Conners has a solid history at Muirfield Village with mixed results. His best finish came in 2022, when he finished T13 and also finished T22 back in 2020. While putting is typically Conners’ greatest weakness, he’s gained strokes on the greens in three of his six starts at the course and ranks 30th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bentgrass, so there’s hope that the 32-year-old can putt to field average this week.

Conners’ ability to hit fairways and dial in his mid-irons can propel him to the top of the leaderboard this week at a course that favors ball strikers.

Will Zalatoris +8000 (DraftKings)

I’m not entirely sure if Will Zalatoris is fully healthy based on his recent struggles, but there are enough positive signs for a player of his talent at this number.

Zalatoris made a Friday charge in his most recent start at the PGA Championship, which enabled him to sneak through the cut line. For the week, he gained 3.56 strokes on approach and has gained on approach in nine of his past ten starts.

Although he’s struggled at times, Zalatoris still has some strong finishes in big events this year. He finished in a tie for 9th at the Masters, a tie for 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie foe 2nd at the Genesis Invitational.

If Zalatoris is feeling fit, Muirfield Village is a perfect course to showcase his strengths. He’s one of the best iron players in the world and already has a 5th place finish in his most recent start at the course (2022).

This is a buy low opportunity on a world class player that has win equity.

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Opinion & Analysis

Saso says so! Yuka Saso survives for second U.S. Open title

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One of my favorite golf writers was the late Ron Balicki, and not just for the shared first name. Balicki was called, and enjoyed, the nickname “Wrong Ron,” because whoever he chose to win, was guaranteed to do not that. I might have inherited the moniker, sadly, and if you read yesterday’s update, this week goes miles to secure that designation. Four amateurs made the cut, and three of them tied for low amateur at 12-over par. I picked the one that did not make that number. Hilarious, no? As for the tournament proper, the new “Wrong Ron” guessed the correct country, but the wrong golfer. I went with Hinako Shibuno, and it was the other pride of Japan, Yuka Saso, who stole the show. Alas!

For a healthy portion of the day, odds were in the favor of a player earning a second Open title. Important note:  her name was not Yuka Saso. As golfers around her crumbled, Minjee Lee held steady at +1 on the day, and -4 on the week. Arpichya Yubol from Thailand had made the big move of the day. She reached -3 on the day an -1 for the week, before two late bogies dropped her to solo fifth position, a remarkable achievement. The round of the day came from Ally Ewing, who posted four birdies against zero bogeys for 66 and a tie for third spot.

As for Minjee, the round’s thread began to unravel at the 9th. A missed fairway led to bogey, and she followed with a three-putt for another at the tenth hole. Double bogeys at 12 and 14 took her out of the running for the title, and opened the chase to a new segment of the field. Hinako Shibuno would ultimately finish in solo second, one of two golfers to finish under par on the week. Shibuno was never a threat for the title, but when others lost their momentum, she found herself positioned for a runner-up finish.

It was Yuka Saso who turned in the day’s memorable performance. Saso turned in even par on the day, preserving her position at one-under par. Andrea Lee (+5) and Wichanee Meechai (+7) fell away from their place atop the third-round chart, as did Minjee Lee. Suddenly, Saso had posted four birdies in five holes on the inward half. She finished at two under on the day, four under on the week, and earned a three-shot win over Shibuno.

In her post-0round comments, Saso revealed that she had doubts that she would win again, especially a major title. She discussed the addition of a new putter to her bag, and her extraordinary confidence in her driver. Finally, Saso revealed how important the first cut of rough was to the resolution of the tournament. That wee bit of playable grass made all the difference in her mind.

With the refreshing transparency that all writers desire, Yuka Saso won for a second time on Sunday. We’ll forgive her if she values the US Open silver a bit more.

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