This week, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will host the best golfers in the world as they attempt to conquer Golf’s Toughest Test, the U.S. Open. Whether they’re a hardcore or casual golf fan, almost everyone viewing the Fox broadcast will be familiar with the 10-or-so “fan favorites” this week. Will Tiger make the cut? Will Rickie finally win his first major? Does the course set up well for Rory? Questions like these monopolize golf conversations during the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open. This article seeks to give clarity to such questions, but first, we must examine the course.
Shinnecock has hosted four U.S. Opens, the most recent being in 2004. The landscape is now wide open due to recent tree removals, leaving it very exposed to wind. The fairways will be significantly wider than they were in 2004 even after being tightened by the USGA in preparation, however; they are lined with thick and penal fescue and rough.
Shinnecock is expected to play firm and fast, and the USGA will likely welcome carnage after a 16-under par winning score last year at Erin Hills. The course played brutally tough in 2004 with only two players finishing below par (Retief Goosen finished 4-under, two shots clear of Phil Mickelson). The USGA infamously lost the seventh green, adding to the controversy about the setup on Sunday that many deemed unfair. In that final round in 2004, no one broke par and only Robert Allenby managed an even-par round.
The course this year will come in at 7,440 yards and a par-70. It will favor players who can avoid trouble off the tee, hit greens and withstand bad breaks and mental hurdles that will inevitably come with a U.S. Open. The winner must also make some putts along the way.
In 2004, a plethora of elite ballstrikers dominating the leaderboard. Winner Retief Goosen ranked 21st in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 17th in Greens in Regulation. Mickelson, the runner-up, ranked 22nd in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, fifth Tee to Green, and 10th in Greens in Regulation for the season. Other high finishers such as Fred Funk, Chris DiMarco, and Ernie Els had similar statistical years.
The consensus once again is that Shinnecock sets up great for players that can hit greens and gain strokes on their opponents with their approach shots, while putting the ball in play, making some putts and avoiding big mistakes during the week. Now, we can assess the fan favorites of 2018.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: DNP, 2015: MC
Previous Shinnecock Appearance: T-17
Evidence for Success: Tiger has won three U.S. Opens, all at tough classic courses (Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, and Torrey Pines). He has hit his irons beautifully this year, ranking fourth in Strokes Gained Approach-the Green and fifth in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. He is coming off a strong week at the Memorial, where he also hit 71 percent of his fairways.
Evidence for Failure: Tiger ranks 120th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and a horrible 184th in Driving Accuracy. He is 102nd in Greens in Regulation. He also putted terribly at the Memorial, losing 1.924 strokes to the field.
Consensus: This isn’t a great setup for Tiger with his driving and recent putting woes. If he can get the ball in play and putt well, however, he can certainly make some noise.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-9, 2016: T-32, 2015: DNP
Evidence for Success: Despite losing the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings this week to Dustin Johnson, Thomas is still arguably playing better than anyone else on the PGA Tour right now. He ranks 15th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, sixth in Approach the Green, second in Tee to Green and third in Total Strokes Gained. These stats aren’t good… they’re great. Thomas is coming off a T-8 at the Memorial, and he has played well on courses with firm greens. TPC Boston, Quail Hollow, and PGA National are just a few in the past year.
Evidence for Failure: Thomas is not an accurate driver of the ball, ranking 148th in Driving Accuracy. Other than that, there is little evidence against him.
Consensus: The stats indicate the Thomas should be a favorite without question.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-9
Evidence for Success: Rory ranks 21st in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 15th in Total Strokes Gained. He has a win under his belt this year, and he played great at the Masters.
Evidence for Failure: Rory’s weak spots in his stats are Driving Accuracy (154th) and GIR (169th), not good for a place like Shinnecock. Additionally, firm and fast courses are usually not his friends, with all his major wins coming at rain-softened golf courses. His performances in the last two U.S. Opens have also been poor.
Consensus: While Rory is a great pick most weeks of the year, it’s not likely that he will play particularly well at Shinnecock.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: 1, 2015: T-2
Evidence for Success: Coming off a sensational win at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and an emphatic reclaiming of the No. 1 ranking in the world, Johnson’s game is in top form. He ranks first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and first Off-the-Tee. He is 17th in GIR, and he has contended on firm courses (Chambers Bay) and won on tough, classic courses (Oakmont, Pebble, Riviera). He has a superb ability to deal with poor breaks on the course.
Evidence for Failure: DJ can be wild off the tee, hitting only 58 percent of fairways on the year.
Consensus: DJ’s stats and recent form show that he should be contending come Sunday at Shinnecock.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: MC, 2015: T-64
Previous Shinnecock Appearance: 2
Evidence for Success: With his first win since July 2013 coming this year, Phil has been playing great. A second-place finish in 2004 and his rank of 12th this year in Strokes Gained Approach the Green suggest good things. He has also been putting superbly this year, ranking second in Strokes Gained Putting.
Evidence for Failure: Phil is 202nd in driving accuracy. That will not lead to success at a place like Shinnecock. He also ranks 139th in GIR, another poor sign. Finally, the immense amount of extra pressure of trying to win the Career Grand Slam will most likely affect him in some capacity.
Consensus: Phil’s driving accuracy issues, coupled with the fact that he is trying to accomplish the Slam, point to a poor week. Shinnecock is almost certainly not the place for him to complete the Slam.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-35, 2016: T-37, 2015: 1
Evidence for Success: Spieth is the usually the best iron player on the PGA Tour, and his No. 1 ranking in Strokes Gained Approach the Green last year back that up. This year, he ranks 17th in Approach the Green, second in GIR and fourth in Tee-to-Green. His U.S. Open victory came at Chambers Bay, a firm and fast setup.
Evidence for Failure: Spieth has putted terribly this year, standing 186th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is also 203rd from three feet. Since the Masters, Spieth has no top-20 finishes. He also missed the cut at the Memorial, his last tournament before the U.S. Open, and he only has four top 10-finishes this calendar year.
Consensus: Spieth should not be expected to play well at Shinnecock. His poor putting and recent form are bad signs heading into this week.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-5, 2016: MC, 2015: MC
Evidence for Success: Rickie ranks 18th this year in GIR and 54th in driving accuracy. He is 10th in Proximity from 125-150 yards, and he finished runner-up at the last major, the Masters. Additionally, a T-8 at the Memorial shows that he is in good form. Finally, Rickie is widely regarded as an excellent wind player, and his win at the 2015 Scottish Open provides evidence for that claim.
Evidence for Failure: None of Rickie’s stats this year standout, although none are particularly poor, either. The pressure of winning his first major will make things more difficult for Fowler.
Consensus: Rickie is a very solid pick this week. Statistically, he doesn’t jump out as an overwhelming favorite, but little seems to be working against him. He’s also recently engaged to long-time girlfriend Allison Stokke, which may alleviate some pressure on the course.
Previous 3 U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-23, 2015: DNP
Evidence for Success: Rahm is 20th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and second in Strokes Gained off the Tee. He is 13th in GIR. His peers speak very highly of his talent, and it would appear that a major championship win is coming soon given his two career wins, a fourth-place finish at the Masters and his peak position of No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings — all by the age of 23.
Evidence for Failure: Rahm ranks 119th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. More importantly, he has a temper on the golf course. While it’s something he says he actively works on — and there is no doubt his fiery emotion can be helpful to his game — it may not be helpful for a very difficult U.S. Open setup.
Consensus: Jon Rahm could be a good pick, but his emotions could hurt his chances to win at a tough U.S. Open course. With this being said, if he can manage his temper, he could be contending come Sunday.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-8, 2015: T-9
Evidence for Success: After a winless 2017, Day has won twice on the PGA this year at difficult golf courses (Torrey Pines and Quail Hollow). He ranks first in Strokes Gained Putting, fourth in Strokes Gained Overall and 14th Off the Tee.
Evidence for Failure: Day ranks 175th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. For an elite player, that’s bad. He is 113th in GIR and 94th in Driving Accuracy. Contrary to what many might believe, his ballstriking has been very shaky this year. He won at Quail Hollow hitting just eight greens on Sunday, and that will not fly at a U.S. Open.
Consensus: Day’s ball-striking issues of late show that he is not a good pick to play well at Shinnecock.
Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-27
Evidence for Success: Rose is second in Strokes Gained (Total), 11th in Strokes Gained Putting, seventh in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 57th in Driving Accuracy. He has claimed two Tour wins this year and is coming off a top-10 finish at the Memorial. He has also won a U.S. Open on a tough golf course (Merion, 2013).
Evidence for Failure: Surprisingly, nothing jumps out statistically that will hold back Rose. He seems to have fewer drawbacks than any other player.
Consensus: Justin Rose is be a fantastic pick; it would be surprising if he is not in the mix on Sunday.
Players Projected to Play Well: Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler
Players That Will Likely Not Play Well: Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day
Players in the Middle: Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods.
Club Junkie: Reviewing Callaway’s NEW Apex UW and Graphite Design’s Tour AD UB shaft
Callaway’s new Apex UW wood blends a fairway wood and hybrid together for wild distance and accuracy. The UW is easy to hit and crazy long but also lets skilled players work the ball however they would like. Graphite Design’s new Tour AD UB shaft is a new stout mid-launch and mid/low-spin shaft. Smooth and tight, this shaft takes a little more of the left side out of shots.
The Wedge Guy: Your game vs. The pros
I know most of us like to watch golf on TV. Seeing these marvelous (mostly) young athletes do these amazing things with a golf ball makes for great theater. But the reality is that they play a very different game than we do, and they play it differently as well.
I’ve long contended that most rank-and-file recreational golfers cannot really learn a whole lot by watching men’s professional golf on TV. It would be like watching NASCAR or Formula One racing and looking for tips on how to be a better driver.
The game is different. The athletes are different. And the means to an end are entirely different. Let me offer you some things to ponder in support of this hypothesis.
First, these tour professionals ARE highly skilled and trained athletes. They spend time in the gym every day working on flexibility, strength, and agility. Then they work on putting and short game for a few hours, before going to the range and very methodically and deliberately hit hundreds of balls.
Now, consider that the “typical” recreational golfer is over 45 years old, likely carrying a few extra pounds, and has a job, family or other life requirements that severely limit practice time. Regular stretching and time at the gym are not common. The most ardent will get in maybe one short range session a week, and a few balls to warm up before a round of golf.
The tour professionals also have a complete entourage to help them optimize their skills and talents. It starts with an experienced caddie who is by their side for every shot. Then there are the swing coaches, conditioning coaches, mental coaches, and agents to handle any “side-shows” that could distract them. You, on the other hand, have to be all of those to your game.
Also, realize they play on near-perfect course conditions week to week. Smooth greens, flawless fairways cut short to promote better ball-striking — even bunkers that are maintained to PGA Tour standards and raked to perfection by the caddies after each shot.
Watch how perfectly putts roll; almost never wavering because of a spike mark or imperfection, and the holes are almost always positioned on a relatively flat part of the green. You rarely see a putt gaining speed as it goes by the hole, and grain is a non-factor.
So, given all that, is it fair for to you compare your weekly round (or rounds) to what you see on television?
The answer, of course, is NO. But there ARE a lot of things you can learn by watching professional golf on TV, and that applies to all the major tours.
THINK. As you size up any shot, from your drive to the last putt, engage your mind and experience. What side of the fairway is best for my approach? Where is the safe side of the flag as I play that approach? What is the best realistic outcome of this chip or pitch? What do I recall about the slope of this green and its speed? Use your brain to give yourself the best chance on every shot.
FOCUS. These athletes take a few minutes to drown out the “noise” and put their full attention to every shot. But we all can work to learn how to block out the “noise” and prepare ourselves for your best effort on every shot. It only takes a few additional seconds to get “in the zone” so your best has a chance to happen.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS. You have complete control over your set-up, ball position and alignment, so grind a bit to make sure those basics are right before you begin your swing. It’s amazing to me how little attention rank-and-file golfers pay to these basics. And I’m firmly convinced that the vast majority of bad shots are “pre-ordained” because these basics are not quite right.
SHAKE IT OFF. The game is one shot at a time – the next one. That has been preached over and over, and something most pros do exceedingly well. Very often you see them make a birdie right after a bogey or worse, because the professional bears down on these three basics more after he had just slacked on them and made a bogey or worse.
MEDIOCRE SHOTS ARE THE NORM. And those will be interspersed with real bad ones and real good ones. Those guys are just like us, in that “mediocre” is the norm (relatively speaking, that is). So go with that. Shake off the bad ones and bask in the glory of the good ones – they are the shots that keep us coming back.
Let me dive into that last point a bit deeper, because some of you might find it strange that I claim that “mediocre shots are the norm,” even for tour professionals. First, let’s agree that a “mediocre” shot for a 20-handicap player looks quite different that what a tour pro would consider “mediocre.” Same goes for a “poor shot.” But a great shot looks pretty much the same to all of us – a well-struck drive that splits the fairway, an approach that leaves a reasonable birdie putt, a chip or pitch for an up-and-down, and any putt that goes in the hole.
Finally, I will encourage all of you – once again – to make sure you are playing from a set of tees that tests your skills in proportion to how their courses test theirs. This past weekend, for example, the winner shot 25 under par “on the card” . . . but consider that Summit had four reachable par-fives (most with iron shots) and a drivable par-four, so I contend it was really a “par 68” golf course at best. Based on that “adjusted par”, then only 20 players beat that benchmark by more than 5 shots for the week. So, obviously, the rest pretty much played “mediocre” golf (for them).
So, did your last round have at least one or two par-fives you can reach with two shots? And did you hit at least 10-12 other approach shots with a short iron or wedge in your hands? More likely, you played a “monster” course (for you) that had zero two-shot par fives and several par-fours that you could not reach with two of your best wood shots. And your typical approach shot was hit with a mid-iron or hybrid.
The game is supposed to be fun – and playing the right tees can make sure it has a chance to be just that. Paying attention to these basics for every shot can help you get the most out of whatever skills you brought to the links on any given day.
The ghost of Allan Robertson: A few thoughts on the distance debate
It’s that time of year in certain parts of the world. Ghosts, ghouls, and ghoblins roam the lawns. Departed ancestors return to these fields to visit with living descendants. It’s also a time (is it ever not?) when curmudgeons and ancients decry the advances of technology in the world of golf equipment.
Pretty big narrative leap, I’ll admit, but I have your attention, aye? An October 16th tweet from noted teacher Jim McClean suggested that it would be fun to see PGA Tour players tee it up for one week with wooden heads and a balata ball.
Others beg for a rolling-back of technological potency, raising property acreage as a critical determinant. Fact is, 90 percent of golfers have no experience with hitting the ball too far, nor with outgrowing a golf course. And yet, the cries persist.
Recently, I was awakened from a satisfying slumber by the ghost of Allan Robertson. The long-dead Scot was in a lather, equal parts pissed at Old Tom Morris for playing a guttie, and at three social-media channels, all of which had put him on temporary suspension for engaging violently with unsupportive followers. He also mentioned the inaccuracies of his Wikipedia page, which credits him for a 100-year old business, despite having only spent the better part of 44 years on this terrestrial sphere. Who knew that the afterlife offered such drip internet access?
I’m not certain if Old Tom cared (or was even alive) that his beloved gutta percha ball was replaced by the Haskell. I believe him to have been preoccupied with the warming of the North Sea (where he took his morning constitutional swims) and the impending arrival of metal shafts and laminated-wood heads. Should that also long-dead Scot pay me a nighttime visit, I’ll be certain to ask him. I do know that Ben Hogan gave no sheets about technology’s advances; he was in the business of making clubs by then, and took advantage of those advances. Sam Snead was still kicking the tops of doors, and Byron Nelson was pondering the technological onslaught of farriers, in the shoeing of horses on his ranch.
And how about the women? Well, the ladies of golfing greatness have better things to do than piss and moan about technology. They concern themselves with what really matters in golf and in life. Sorry, fellas, it’s an us-problem. Records are broken thanks to all means of advancement. Want to have some fun? Watch this video or this video or this video. If you need much more, have a reassessment of what matters.
Either forget the classic courses or hide the holes. Classic golf courses cannot stand up in length alone to today’s professional golfers. Bringing in the rough takes driver out of their hands, and isn’t a course supposed to provide a viable challenge to every club in the bag? Instead, identify four nearly-impossible locations on every putting surface, and cut the hole in one of them, each day. Let the fellows take swings at every par-4 green with driver, at every par-five green with driver and plus-one. Two things will happen: the frustration from waiting waiting waiting will eliminate the mentally-weak contestants, and the nigh-impossible putting will eliminate even more of them. What will happen with scoring? I don’t know. Neither did Old Tom Morris, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., Lady Heathcoat Amory, or Mildred Didrickson, when new technology arrived on the scene. They shrugged their shoulders, stayed away from Twitter and the Tok, and went about their business.
Add the tournament courses. Build courses that can reach 8,500 yards in length, and hold events on those layouts. Two examples from other sports: the NFL made extra points longer. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. The NBA kept the rim at ten feet. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. We don’t play MLB or MLS on ancient diamonds and pitches. We play their matches and games on technologically-advanced surfaces. Build/Retrofit a series of nondescript courses as tournament venues. Take the par-5 holes to 700 yards, then advance the par-4 fairways to 550 yards. Drive and pitch holes check-in at 400 yards, at least until Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire figure a few more things out.
Note to the young guys and the old guys from this 55-year old guy: live your era, then let it go. I know things.
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