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Opinion & Analysis

The 24 players who can win The 2018 Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players that are most likely to win the Green Jacket based on criteria that has strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 23 players. Last year, I had Sergio Garcia as one of my 20 players that could win the Masters. Despite Sergio’s lack of success at Augusta, he came away with the Green Jacket.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores. This year the projected Critical Holes are Nos. 3, 13, 14 and 15.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Filtered Out: Amateurs and First-Time Attendees

  • Wesley Bryan
  • Austin Cook
  • Harry Ellis (a)
  • Tony Finau
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Doug Ghim (a)
  • Patton Kizzire
  • Satoshin Kodaira
  • Haotong Li
  • Yuxin Lin (a)
  • Yusaku Miyazato
  • Joaquin Niemann (a)
  • Matt Parziale (a)
  • Doc Redman (a)
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Shubhankar Sharma

These first-time invitees are a little less battle tested on the big stage than the previous years’ first time invitees, although Finau, Schauffele and Li show some real promise in the future at Augusta. I also filtered out 11 past champions that I do not believe can compete at Augusta National anymore.

Filtered Out: Improbable Past Champions

  • Angel Cabrera
  • Fred Couples
  • Trevor Immelman
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Mark O’Meara
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson Debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always get pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par-5s more like par-4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par-5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par-5’s, his strength. The temperatures are predicted to be in the mid-70s this year. Unless that changes by 30+ degrees and the wind gusts double, I don’t see Johnson having a very good chance to win the event. Along with Johnson, I would also eliminate these shorter hitters:

Filtered-Out: Short Hitters

  • Adam Hadwin
  • Brian Harman
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Ryan Moore
  • Pat Perez
  • Ted Potter, Jr.
  • Chez Reavie
  • Webb Simpson
  • Kyle Stanley
  • Si Woo Kim

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out nine players for hitting the ball too low. Four of the nine missed the cut. One of the picks, Paul Casey, finished T6. His instructor, Peter Kostis, recommended that I not just look solely at the Apex Height metric, but also look at carry distance when it comes to the trajectory the player puts on the ball. I have done that for this year’s Masters picks and have eliminated four players.

Filtered Out: Low-Ball Hitters

  • Jason Dufner
  • Branden Grace
  • Russell Henley
  • Ian Poulter

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

Filtered Out: Never Made the Cut at Augusta

  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Tyrrell Hatton
  • Alex Noren
  • Jhonattan Vegas

I will also filter out the players that missed the cut at the Houston Open. Missing the cut the week prior to an event greatly reduces the likelihood of the player winning, finishing in the top-10, finishing in the top-25 and even making the cut regardless of the event.

Filtered Out: Missed the Cut in Houston

  • Rafa Cabrera-Bello
  • Yuta Ikeda
  • Martin Kaymer

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, nine of the last 10 champions have hit at least 49 Greens in Regulation during the week.

The key shots where the most strokes are gained/lost at Augusta National are from the Red Zone. Last year, I had 17 players filtered out for poor Red Zone play. Outside of Kevin Chappell (T7), almost all of those players performed poorly.

Filtered Out: Weak from 175-225 Yards

  • Kiradech Aphibarnrat
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Jason Day
  • Ross Fisher
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Billy Horschel
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Brendan Steele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Danny Willett

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Dustin Johnson. He currently ranks 176th from the Red Zone despite historically being an excellent Red Zone performer. At his current rate, he would like need to dominate Augusta off the tee with his prodigious length and putt very well to win the Green Jacket. But the numbers don’t like a player’s odds of being able to do that on such an approach shot oriented course.

That leaves us with 24 players that can win the Masters. Their Vegas Odds, which are subject to change, are in parentheses. My personal top-10 picks are just below.

The 24 players who can win the 2018 Masters

  • Paul Casey (22/1)
  • Kevin Chappell (100/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (66/1)
  • Rickie Fowler (18/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (28/1)
  • Charley Hoffman (80/1)
  • Mark Leishman (66/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (25/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (9/1)
  • Phil Mickelson (16/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (50/1)
  • Thomas Pieters (66/1)
  • Jon Rahm (18/1)
  • Patrick Reed (40/1)
  • Justin Rose (20/1)
  • Adam Scott (33/1)
  • Cameron Smith (150/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (10/1)
  • Henrik Stenson (40/1)
  • Justin Thomas (10/1)
  • Jimmy Walker (150/1)
  • Bubba Watson (14/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)
  • Tiger Woods (11/1)

My Personal Top-10 Picks

  • Paul Casey (22/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (9/1)
  • Phil Mickelson (16/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (50/1)
  • Jon Rahm (18/1)
  • Patrick Reed (40/1)
  • Justin Rose (20/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (10/1)
  • Justin Thomas (10/1)
  • Bubba Watson (14/1)

Click here for up-to-date betting odds on The Masters.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected]m or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

61 Comments

61 Comments

  1. DrRob1963

    Apr 12, 2018 at 8:34 am

    You should add a “Can’t Putt” catagory

  2. Grant

    Apr 11, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Hey Rich,

    Nice job on this! Wondering if you do this for the other majors as well?

  3. Tal

    Apr 9, 2018 at 3:21 am

    Great job on this! You picked the winner again.

  4. Woody

    Apr 8, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Hey man, I give you props. You had Reed in your top 10..expert proved right.

  5. Eddie Von Eric

    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:58 am

    Richies expert analysis is equivalent to that big deuce I dropped this morning in the IHOP bathroom.

  6. Kris

    Apr 3, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Great article. Fun to read.

  7. Jack Nicholas

    Apr 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    RG, mathematical probabilities are scary, huh. You should sharpen your pin and just stick away and leave the real analysis to the brainier ones of the species. Go bet some of your benjamins on Woosnam, Mize et al and see how far you get.

  8. kevin

    Apr 3, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    every stat i see has DJ in top 20 relative to approach shots within 175-200yds.

    https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.337.html

  9. J

    Apr 3, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Any of the field you see that can place top 10 or 20 outside of your top 24 to win?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 4, 2018 at 10:18 am

      I could see Dustin winning. If he can get his Red Zone play back to its old self, it can happen. Otherwise, he has to drive the ball ridiculously well and putt well to make up for it. It can happen, just a tall task. Kuchar is playing well right now and if the conditions start to favor him he could do something. Russell Henley is currently ranked #1 from the Red Zone. If the conditions work out for him, he could contend.

  10. Cliff Hartman

    Apr 3, 2018 at 10:15 am

    I don’t see where you have accounted for Daniel Berger???

    • Charles Aspinal

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      You beat me to it; I have same question.

  11. Dan

    Apr 3, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Cameron Smith is a first timer right? He’s on the list of 24 though. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  12. Undershooter30

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Reed doesn’t hit it high enough to win. He has the right to left ball flight but his shot height is very low.

  13. Trevor Heathers

    Apr 2, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    LOL that picture of Rich is from 20 years ago! Check out his video on Bebettergolf. He’s fat too.

    • Liam Pierce

      Apr 3, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      I know its hilarious. Guy is such an egomaniac that he has to post a picture of when he was young.

  14. Liz Murray

    Apr 2, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    Love your predictions every year! My question is do you think Matsuyama‘s recent injury will affect his playing this weekend?

    • Rich Hunt

      Apr 3, 2018 at 8:43 am

      Thank you.

      Tough to say as it’s difficult to predict if the injury and his game heals in time or not. That’s why I put him in the top-24, but not in the top-10.

  15. Michaele11111

    Apr 2, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Pretty lame stuff. Very full of holes.

    • Joel

      Apr 2, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Boo, this comment. Just, booooooo.

      This is a fun article every year.

  16. nyguy

    Apr 2, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    The #1 Player in the world doesn’t have a chance?? lol ridiculous.

    • Jack Nicholas

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Number 1 never wins The Masters. Hasn’t ever happened so it’s mathematically less likely.

    • Kris

      Apr 3, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      Yes. He was disqualified because of his 200-225 accuracy this year. Lmao.

  17. Robert

    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Rich please elaborate as to how is Jason Day weak from 175 yards when he is T33 according to pgatour.com?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      I am not sure what metrics you are looking at. For instance, just take a look at his play from 175-200 yards from the fairway where he ranks 199th: https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.337.html

      Generally, Day’s largest weakness in his game over the years has been from 150-200 yards. He uses his driving, short game play and great putting to overcome that. But that is a tall task to do at Augusta.

  18. kevin

    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Really enjoy this column. ignore the haters! Thanks Rich

  19. Zac

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Since when is Kyle Stanley a short hitter?!?!

    • Nate

      Apr 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      never. dude’s a beast

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Kyle ranks 140th in driving distance and 114th in club speed. He altered his swing a few years ago to drop his club speed from 117 mph to about 112 mph. Still strikes it great, but the numbers indicate that unless the wind picks up, winning at Augusta isn’t likely. In fact, it’s supposed to rain at ANGC which would only favor the longer hitters.

      • Kris

        Apr 3, 2018 at 9:04 pm

        Rain helps the shorter players. See Johnson Z. And Weir M.

        Makes the greens easier to hold. Which is a way bigger advantage than distance.

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 4, 2018 at 10:12 am

          Zach didn’t have rain. He had record low temperatures and high wind gusts. Even the bombers had trouble going for the par-5’s in two shots when Zach won.

          Generally on Tour, rain helps the bombers. But since there is no rough to really speak of at ANGC, I can see it helping shorter hitters a little. The time that Weir won, Weir was one of the very best in the world from inside 200 yards, so it wasn’t like he couldn’t play.

    • Matt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      My sediments exactly!

    • kevin

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      He’s 140th in driving distance in 2018.

      c’mon people…these stats aren’t that hard to look up.

  20. Megabill

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    How can you filter based on 175-225 performance? Doesn’t 100 to 175 have more influence on the winner?

    Does the 175-225 stat really influence who becomes champion?

    Also many filtered by that stat hit it so far that they rarely have to hit in from that distance.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      Shots from 100-175 yards do not have more ‘influence’ on the winner. And Tour players on average hit more shots per round from 150-200 yards than they do from 75-150 yards. It’s also not all about the frequency of shots. But it’s about the deviation in results. Combine those two at ANGC and that’s why you see players that perform well from there on top of the leaderboard.

  21. brad

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Xander Schauffele will make the cut, and Daniel Berger will be in the mix.

  22. Dan

    Apr 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Not a perfect system because none is but would anyone seriously take the rest of the field over Richies 24?
    I’d say DJ and Jason Day are tough ones but his list looks pretty good…. Fleetwood, Carera Bello, Noren maybe?

    List looks good to me

  23. Ryan Schmidlin

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Where is Daniel Berger on this list????

  24. Max

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:52 am

    I mean, if you look at last year’s results, many of the guys you filtered out finished in the top 10 and were probably a lucky bounce/bad break away from being in contention. Let’s also not forget guys like Bernhard Langer and Soren Kjeldsen were in contention a few years ago.

    I like the analysis, though, and the winner is more likely to be on your list than not.

    • Tal

      Apr 2, 2018 at 6:49 pm

      He’s not trying to predict the top 10, he’s trying to predict a single winner as as you say, they’re most likely on that list. I believe Rich has shortlisted the winner for the last 2 years, if I’m not mistaken.

  25. juststeve

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:35 am

    Very bold to rule out Dustin Johnson. Lets see if you’re right.

    • Kris

      Apr 3, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Not really bold, actually. If he doesn’t win the tournament Rich is right.

  26. Courtney (not female)

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:32 am

    What a backwards way of thinking, thoughts on Tiger getting to tee it up?

  27. dat

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:26 am

    A fair assessment, but you forgot about whoever wins the par 3 contest automatically being out of the running based on past data.

  28. Tim Braun

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Jason Day would be the one that I would question not being on your list. With his driving ability and his top putting that outweighs the approach shot debate. I’m not saying he is going to win, but Gary Woodland or Cameron Smith??? Certainly we can make a substitution.

  29. Mikec

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

    No filter is perfect, but this system seems to be a very logical way to get down to a set of names to wager — from there it is old fashioned gut and handicapping based on form etc — but I like the approach of thinning the field

  30. Oscar

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:20 am

    what about Daniel Berger?

  31. RG

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:03 am

    You filtered out a guy (Danny Willett) whose already shown he can win. This shows the inherent problem in your prediction filter. Oh, and statistically speaking any of those players CAN win the Master’s and I reject the null hypothesis that you present.

    • Al Czervik

      Apr 2, 2018 at 11:36 am

      He is talking about the 2018 Masters. Dude is 296th in the world.

      • Al Czervik

        Apr 2, 2018 at 11:41 am

        The real problem is that his Improbable Past Champions filter didn’t catch him. I would be far more shocked if Willett made a run than say Cabrera or even Langer.

    • Josh

      Apr 2, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      I made a lot of money on Danny Willett two years ago, but I wouldn’t bet one red cent that he’ll ever win another Masters. Dude was a fluke who only won cause Jordan blew it. For the record I also had a stake in Spieth so it was a good weekend.

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Opinion & Analysis

Club fitting isn’t magic

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I talk with golfers all the time about the benefits of having properly fit clubs and how they can help improve your game. But recently I have encountered some players who have actually come away from a club fitting disappointed in the final results, and it had me asking some questions, the most important being

“What were your expectations going in?”

As much as club fitting has made its way into the mainstream, the biggest misconception is that once you get a set of clubs that have been custom fit, you’ll suddenly start hitting more greens and hitting it 30 yards farther—when in reality that’s just not the case.

It’s not that those things can’t occur, but there is still a direct correlation between swing dynamics and skill level with what is possible in a club fitting because, after all, it’s physics, not magic.

Every time I drop change, I think of Gob and I giggle - GIF on Imgur

It’s all about creating the potential for better

In the modern “Amazon” world, we all want things NOW! With club fitting, there is still a lot of opportunities to quickly see improvements that come from reduced dispersion and more consistent results. For a driver that means limiting a miss to one direction, while hopefully increasing distance through optimization.

Now speaking of optimization the chart below, which was developed by Ping, it’s a scientific breakdown of launch, spin, and distance optimization based on ball speed. This means that at 150 mph, the farthest you are going to hit the ball under standard conditions is around 270 yards total. To put that into perspective, to reach 150 mph ball speed you need to be just over 100 mph in clubhead speed.

Why you shouldn't chase high launch, low spin in 2020 | Today's Golfer

If you are going into a driver fitting, and you are already seeing results within these ranges, don’t expect to magically pick up 25 yards out of thin air. Instead, you should have much more focused goals like the examples below

  • Seeing much tighter downrange dispersion. On the course, this will result in hitting more fairways, which should lead to hitting more greens, ultimately resulting in better scoring.
  • Reducing a big miss. A big advantage with newer drivers isn’t that they are way longer off the middle of the face—that’s just not true. It’s that away from the “sweet spot,” you will see a tighter variance in the launch and spin because of ever-improving MOI and driver adjustability. If you have one or two big driver misses in a round of golf that leads to a double bogey or worse and you can bring that number down to just one or even zero, you will see shots add up a lot slower on your scorecard.

At the end of the day, golf clubs are inanimate objects, just like a bike or even a car. Just because you have invested in making sure you have the best of the best equipment doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work on your game to see improvement.

New shoes won’t make you faster, but they can prevent injury and allow for more training—the end result you become a faster runner. Much the same way you can buy the most expensive and best-fit road bike in the world, but it’s not going to mean you are ready for the Tour de France.

Properly fit golf clubs give you the best opportunity to make better swings and the potential to be a better player—but it’s still up to you to utilize that potential.

This topic and a deeper discussion can be found in the most recent episode of the GolfWRX “On Spec” podcast with the conversation starting at 34:45

 

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Ball position do’s and don’ts for every club, including the putter

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From rolling the ball with the putter to catching the ball in the way up of the plus 10 degrees of angle of attack with the driver and everything in between including ball positions for fades and draws, high and low—there’s something here for everyone.

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Opinion & Analysis

Gil Hanse talks new Les Bordes project, what makes a good golf course, and much more

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professional photo

Gil Hanse is regarded as one of the finest “minimalist” golf course architects of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He’s been entrusted with restoring of the most revered and respected course designs in the game, including Oakland Hills (Donald Ross), Baltusrol (A.W. Tillinghast), and Fishers Island (Seth Raynor). And his original designs have drawn wonderful reviews, including for Streamsong Black, Rio Olympic Course in Brazil, and an 18-hole layout for the Crail Golfing Society in Fife, Scotland.

Hanse and his longtime partner and course shaper, Jim Wagner, enjoy the luxury of picking and choosing which projects they undertake, such is the demand for his services. One of them selected is the New Course at Les Bordes Golf Club in France’s Loire Valley, 90 minutes from Paris. It is scheduled to open in July 2021, and it will join the existing New Course (Robert von Hagge design). Together with the Wild Piglet, a 10-hole short course, and the Himalayas putting course, both which Hanse designed, Les Bordes is regarded at one Continental Europe’s finest golf clubs.

golf course aerial view

The Gil Hanse-designed New Course at Les Bordes Golf Club is surrounded by the Sologne Forest in France’s famed Loire Valley.

Dan Shepherd: Where do you see Les Bordes sitting on the golf world stage as a facility?

Gil Hanse: I think that, with the two 18-hole golf courses and the amenities that are already in place and the ones that are coming, I can’t see how Les Bordes won’t be considered one of the finest golfing destinations in Europe or in the world. You have all the cultural attractions around you, you’ve got the food and the wine, the quality of the amenities. It will be an idyllic place to spend time even if you weren’t playing golf, and then to have these two golf courses so different and varied in their challenges and their presentation really runs the full gamut. I don’t know where else in the world you could find that sort of variety.

DS: Can you pick out a couple of holes on the New Course that you especially like and tell us a bit about them?

GH: The 15th hole, a short-par four, would be one of them. There’s a lot of character and interest, when we were working on it we talked through the philosophy and then Jim Wagner shaped and executed it wonderfully and added some tremendous character to it. On the front nine, I’ve always liked the sixth hole, just the way it flows through the landscape and the different breaks. Trying to be reminiscent a little bit of Tom Simpson with segmented fairways and the way the green lays so simply on the ground.

DS: What makes the landscape at Les Bordes so special? And what makes this golf estate unique.

GH: The diversity of the plant materials is really something we have never encountered, with the broom and the bracken and the variety of trees throughout the property and the fescue grasses. Now they’ve also introduced heather so I think that there are all these great textures there that the golf course just seems to sit amongst. That’s what makes it unique, I can’t think of another golf landscape that looks and feels like the New Course at Les Bordes. There are so many different facets to heathland courses, which you can see in the courses just north of Paris like Morfontaine and Chantilly and the course much closer to where we live in Pine Valley, and I think there are all these different elements here that will create a unique experience at Les Bordes.

DS: How is it possible to build two completely different golf courses on the same estate?

GH: I think it was two different philosophies as to how Robert von Hagge did the Old Course and we approached the New Course. From that perspective, a significant amount of time passed between the creation of both golf courses, and I think that lent itself to, stylistically, different courses that appear differently, because one feels more manufactured and one feels more natural. Neither one is right or wrong, they are just different and one golf course extracts a very harsh penalty for poorly played shots and the other is a little bit more forgiving. I think that is what’s going to make Les Bordes one of the most wonderful golf destinations in the world, you have two distinctly different golf courses from two different eras but the quality of both of them is equivalent in how they were created and how they are presented.

golf course sand bunkers

The Old Course at Les Bordes was designed by Robert von Hagge, and it offers a diverse yet complementary counterpoint to the New Course that will debut in July 2021.

DS: When and how was this project initiated?

GH: The first time I went there was in June 2018. The owner and I had some mutual friends and the conversation came up that the owners were hoping to build a new golf course. The owner had said that he was really hoping to work with us on it, and that fact that we had mutual friends made that conversation easy to get initiated. Once I came to look at the property I was immediately sold on the potential of the ground, and then the hospitality that I was shown while I was there was amazing. Being able to stay on property and the wine and the food; I was treated very well.

DS: What course would you compare the New Course at Les Bordes with?

GH: I can’t think of a direct comparison. There are elements of a number of golf courses including a lot of the great heathland courses around London and several heathland courses around Paris. I think that Jim Wagner and I are always influenced by Pine Valley, which is very near to us here at home, and I think that some of the scale of National Golf Links is apparent out there. If you roll all of those into one, I think that’s a pretty good recipe.

DS: What was it that attracted you about the site at Les Bordes?

GH: The sand and the vegetation, and the reputation of the place. Obviously, we’ve heard of Les Bordes here, so the quality of the site itself and the commitment of the ownership as well, which is a big thing. When we’re considering the criteria of a project, Jim Wagner and I always ask ourselves “Do we have the potential to do something exceptional,” and I think that, while the topography at Les Bordes is not the most outstanding we’ve ever worked with, it still has enough character to it, and the vegetation and the soil gave us the opportunity to do something exceptional. Secondly, we ask ourselves “are we going to have fun doing it” and working with the ownership at Les Bordes, and if you can’t have fun in that part of the world and enjoy yourself then I think there’s something wrong with you. So I think the combination of all those really added up to that being a very attractive project for us. We’ve never built anything in Continental Europe and we wanted to make sure that our first project there was going to be something special, and Les Bordes gave us that opportunity.

DS: What can we expect from the New Course?

GH: You can expect fun golf in a natural, perfect setting. We were given the opportunity from the ownership to build some interesting golf holes; stylistically, it was fun for all of us to focus on Tom Simpson and some of his beautiful creations and some of his inspired designs, not that we copied him stylistically or design-wise but we were certainly influenced by him and that was a treat for us.

DS: It’s been reported you took inspiration from Tom Simpson, what elements of his work were most relevant here and how have you blended those with your own concepts?

GH: The scale of his bunkering was something that we really paid attention to, with clusters or rows of bunkers and that was interesting. From our perspective, it was just the way that they blended into the landscape that was amazing. Some of the green complexes that he built were fairly eccentric and so we felt that we could create a few on the golf course like that, but then he also built some greens that were simple in their presentation yet complex in their subtlety, and a lot of those things fed into what we did at Les Bordes. I know going forward, if the landscape is a good fit, we would certainly do more things in the style of Tom Simpson.

DS: How challenging was it for you to create a new course near the one (the Old Course) that’s considered one of the best in Continental Europe?

GH: I don’t think that we found it to be a challenge or challenging, we found it to be inspirational. It’s always nice when you come to a project and the level of quality is established through the existing golf course and the existing facilities, all of which are to a really high standard. We were excited and challenged in our creativity and what we were trying to do and hopeful that, when all is settled, Les Bordes has two golf courses that are very highly regarded, but I would be lying if I didn’t hope that ours was a little more highly regarded.

DS: Do you feel you succeeded in your goal and why?

GH: I do. I think that every golf architect when they are given a site hopes that the best that they can do is to maximize the characteristics of the site, and I feel that we have done that with the New Course. I feel that we have provided a great variety in the two different nines; we have captured the best of the topography on site; we have worked to enhance some of those areas through added elevation; and we have worked to create a very interesting and playable test of golf. I’m confident that, with all the work that we’ve done there, we have maximized the potential of the property and, as a golf architect when you walk away, that’s all that you can hope for.

DS: Tell me about the Wild Piglet.

GH: One of the things that golf is doing a better job on right now, and Les Bordes is certainly offering that with The Himalayas putting green and The Wild Piglet, is just fun. Fun and access, and providing an easy entry point to the game. You can go out and laugh at yourself, have a good time and not worry about losing golf balls or have the pressures of playing a full-size golf course. Our attempt there was to create a very fun and playable experience, but also one where a good player could go out there and be tested with shots. In order to succeed on The Wild Piglet, you’ve got to hit some really good shots, but you’ve also got the opportunity to just go out there and bang it around and have fun. One of the things that Jim Wagner and I worked with the team on was, basically, giving everybody their own golf hole or holes, and just letting everybody have a crack at it. It was fun and I think that if you go into your own little incubator, independent of everybody around you, it gives you the opportunity to be as creative as you want. Then, ultimately, Jim and I would take a look but I don’zt think that we’ve edited things very much. You have some individual expressions out there that, when put together, comprises 10 really fun, unique golf holes.

DS: What are the characteristics of a golf course that make you want to play it again and again? What makes it recognizable?

GH: I think that it’s fun and that there are interesting shots. It’s the ability to go out one time and then think, “OK, next time I play it I’m going to try this differently” or that you get put into a different circumstance each and every round, but that the design and the creativity within the design allows you to approach the problem solving differently each time. I think there’s that sense of the playability of the course and then there’s just the beauty of it and the presentation. I think that golf courses that have a sense of place and that feel like they belong where they’re sitting is also something that makes me want to continue to play it. I think that adds to the character and the quality of it so the way it looks, the way it feels as you walk through the landscape, and then, certainly, the way it plays and challenges you to be creative are courses that I want to keep playing over and over.

DS: How would you describe your style as a course architect? What are the general trends? And which architect has inspired you the most?

GH: We don’t have a style! I hope that we respond to each and every site, and that a golf course we have built at Les Bordes does not look like a golf course that we have built in southern Georgia at Ohoopee or Southern California at Rustic Canyon. I hope that every course we’ve built has a sense of place and a sense of belonging which will then, ultimately, provide unique opportunities. Through our methodology of being on-site so much, if we can capitalize on these opportunities, then each golf course should feel unique. I think our courses have some similarities in that we like wider playing corridors and interesting green complexes, and I think our bunkers are particularly attractive, but they do still blend into the native landscape and hopefully our courses change style to style depending on the site that we’re given.

DS: What does a course architect have as a weapon, apart from the overall length, to make a golf course really challenging for professionals?

GH: The greatest defense is firm conditions, and the opportunity to build a golf course in a place where the ball will bounce in the fairway and the greens. Professional golfers work so hard at their game and hone their craft so well so that they have a predictable outcome every time they hit a golf ball. They know when they hit their seven-iron what the outcome will be, but if the conditions are firm and they’re not sure if the ball’s going to bounce twice and check or not going to check at all, that’s the best defense, and that relies on the conditions on-site and obviously Mother Nature for a tournament. But I think from an architect’s perspective, the only other challenges we can provide are mental ones where golfers maybe feel a little bit uneasy about the shot that’s in front of them because they can’t quite see everything or they can’t quite determine the best way to play the hole is. Those are the type of courses that require study, and I think those are the best examples of golf architecture.

DS: What are the qualities of a good golf course?

GH: I think that a good golf course should have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, it doesn’t feel that it’s been transported from somewhere else and feels like it belongs on a property, and that it is one that has a variety of ways to play it, interest in the features that have been created or that have been found in the landscape, and it has to be fun. It’s a balance between fun and interest versus difficulty, and we want to provide ways for golfers to navigate around a golf course based on their own skill level and if a golf course gives you that opportunity to map or think your way through it, then I think that’s the best an architect can do.

DS: How much did/do you know about golf courses in France and what do you make of the architecture you have seen?

GH: I think of the countries where I have seen golf in continental Europe, France has by far the best, most superior golf-course design. You can put Morfontaine and Chantilly and some of the other courses around Paris up against some of the best courses in the world, not just in Europe, and so I think that when you have a few anchor courses that provide those opportunities, and then you have some newer courses that have been built that aspire to do really good things, and I think they do, I feel like France has a really good golfing baseline. That allowed us to build in a country that already had expectations for quality golf, and we’re hopeful that what we’ve created adds to that.

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