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Have you taught a golf “Einstein?”




I have been active as a professional educator for approximately 14 years. In that time, I have engaged in teaching at a lot of different levels. I started out as a public school music educator in Maine, where I taught grades K-12 (including instrumental, general/classroom, and sometimes choral methods). I have also been a college instructor – lecturing at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine at Fort Kent I was also an instructional assistant at Florida State University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A large component of my university teaching experience involves pre-teacher education (mentoring and instructing undergraduate education majors how to be teachers).

I am an admitted degree “ho,” having earned four degrees in music and professional education (including a school administrative certification), and am now earning a fifth degree; a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction; curriculum and instruction being the “what and how” of the educational sphere. A current research interest for me is how issues and considerations in public school education transfer over into golf instruction, which serves as the premise for this writing. This interest comes from a very new experience for me – becoming the golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine while I finish my doctorate.

Please note: this article is geared mostly for those involved in golf pedagogy and instruction, including golf coaches, PGA professionals, golf educators, students and even parents. That said, I feel there is content here that may be relevant for a wide range of individual interest. Feel free to comment and I will respond to any and all questions to the best of my ability.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 


Let me begin by asking all the golf educators a simple question, “Have you ever taught an Einstein?” Maybe not a literal golfing Einstein like a Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus, but maybe a player you would put up against the best in their category, or even one who exceeds everyone else in that category. Some of you might say yes, others no. For those who answered in the affirmative, how did you qualify such a determination? Were you thinking about a particular student and the qualities he/she displayed? Did these qualities include any of the following (?):

  • That student was the best player you ever had.
  • Exhibited personal maturity above and beyond his/her peers.
  • Appeared to learn quickly/was easy or fun to instruct.
  • You liked him/her and maybe that student’s parents.
  • That student showed great enthusiasm for your instruction.
  • He/she beat everyone who played against them.

If any or all of these were your reasons for describing your student as an “Einstein,” then…you might actually be wrong. Sorry!


Let me share an old rumor with you about Mr. Einstein when he was in grade school. As the rumor goes, young Albert was labeled by his teachers as only average or even a slightly below average student, was somewhat defiant, and unengaged and rather quiet (yet another rumor was that he began speaking relatively late). Hardly genius material here, many might think.

Okay, this was just a rumor, and Einstein later clarified how it came about. Despite being the most gifted mind in the room (my words) Einstein found it difficult to work within the rote instruction process that characterized education of his period. Unfortunately, it also characterizes our period as well, but I digress.

Rote learning is a concept nearly all of you know well, even if you are unfamiliar with the term itself. The short of it as it pertains to education is: everyone showing up on time, sitting in orderly rows, silently listening to the teacher, remaining constantly focused (no talking!), “open your books and do examples 1-40 till the bell, and 40-70 for homework due tomorrow” … wash/rinse/repeat. Essentially, many of the things you might have hated about school are directly related to a rote approach. This highly structured (perhaps mundane) paradigm was an old European staple and made its way to the United States as it was looking for international recognition as a valid power prior to the second World War — kind of like OEM competitors copying the technology of whichever brand is leading the industry at the time.

While I taught public school, I was approached by a number of parents to take on their children as private students instead of enrolling them in band classes; their reasons including that the mainstream music program was not appealing to the child, though musical instruction, in and of itself, was highly desirable. Kind of crazy when you come to think about it, because I was also the music educator at the school! What these parents were actually telling me is that there was something about the structure I used when teaching many children was not right when it came to teaching their child.

There was no elitist mentality coming from these parents either; they weren’t the richest, they weren’t the most highly educated, etc. They simply realized that the traditional (rote) learning structure of the school was not what their child needed, despite his/her interest in music. I submit that the same kind of thing can happen in golf instruction.

Here is an interesting fact: the most accomplished music students I have ever taught never participated in my regular school music program. There was nothing about the approach I was forced to use in school that appealed to them. Of the students I am thinking of, one had her own solo recording career by age 14, and the other was a former Miss Maine, having competed in the Miss USA pageant. A number of other students went on to have successful (though minor) careers in New York and Nashville.

To further elaborate on this idea, nearly all of those private students had issues in school. They ranged from fighting with classmates, disrespecting teachers and other adults, truancy and below average academic performance. When they came to me for after school lessons, however, I rarely saw any of this. They were focused, almost always on time, and were upbeat and conversant; in stark contrast to how their other teachers described them. I am not taking credit for this change, rather I am pointing out that these students were ALWAYS that pleasant – it was the structure forced upon them that promoted the negative behavior and lack of motivation … most of the time. They were “diamonds in the rough,” or “Einstein’s in disguise,” if you will.

*2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson has a unique learning style — he’s never taken a lesson.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 


Here is the thing: the best minds and talents in golf, music or any other endeavor think and perform differently from their peers as a matter of course. It is logical to conclude that they might learn differently as well. Why then, do most instructors use one general methodology to teach ALL students? If you want a “different” result (discovering those rare talents who might simply be hidden behind a “misfit” image, like in the Einstein example), you can’t keep on with the status quo, expecting that different result to magically manifest.

Whew! That is a lot, right? This is where we bring it back to golf instruction…


Here are some thoughts for the golf coaches and educators to consider based on the experiences I just shared:

Be prepared for the “best and brightest” to not always look the part

I see it all the time. “We” like teaching the students who are the easiest to teach and who are the most fun to be around – subconsciously recognizing them as being most consistent with our own personal standards. This doesn’t make you a bad person; it is just human nature to enjoy the company of, and interactions with, those who we view to be most like ourselves. However, it may make you a better golf educator to realize that the students you feel yourself naturally gravitating toward (while worthy of your time as well), may or may not have the most potential in the game of golf, apart from being no more worthy of your attention than any other student. Don’t be one of the teachers who fall easily into this trap.

We must never look for the “easy button” when it comes to teaching others, especially the young ones. Look for the best qualities every member of the group displays and take time to get to know every student in your charge personally, as appropriate. Sometimes (many times) all that it takes for a student to come out of their shell and step up their performance is for someone important to take an interest in them. Further, if there is one student who is not fitting in with the rest of your students (like on a golf team or junior practice), what might change that is you showing the group that you “accept” him/her by showing equal interest. The group followers the leader, which is you. Set the best possible example.

You won’t always find who you are looking for. Rare talent is … rare!

I want you all to know that I am NOT saying that every “ugly duck” will turn into a swan (or Einstein golfer) with a little love and attention. I am also NOT saying that every underperforming or unmotivated student is a victim of an educational structure or mismatched instructional model. Sometimes children just act like punks, even older ones – I just think these children represent a minority viewpoint. A good teacher learns to take the good with the bad and keep offering opportunities despite a lukewarm reception or occasional middle finger. Regret is an awful thing, and anyone who has been teaching for any period of time can look back on at least one situation and say,

“Man, I wish I had done more for that kid.”

We don’t mean for things to turn out poorly, but sometimes it’s hard to keep working with a kid who never responds to what we are saying, or wants to think they know better than us, or may just appear to “not get it.” Our frustration comes from the subconscious notion that this is a reflection on us, when it may not actually be so.

The best instructors will keep trying, ask for help, research solutions, talk with parents, talk with the student, talk to your deity of choice; whatever it takes to get through to a kid. Poor behavior reflects on the student, but a lack of effort just because things are tougher than we would like reflects on you. Strive to have a teaching career with as few regrets as possible – they get worse with time, trust me. Even if you don’t find that one super student that comes around once a career, you will help a lot of others who might not have otherwise had the same attention.

It may be beneficial to reevaluate the instructional models you teach with

Some students DO actually need the rote learning approach; it isn’t totally irrelevant. In golf, there has to be a degree of repetition as a matter of course, and that isn’t likely to change soon. I just want to clarify that this repetition should focus on the performance of the golf swing, and not as much as it pertains to a golf educator’s analytical teaching presentations.

That said, there are a number of recent studies that show growing numbers of students are better served with mixed approaches as pertains to instruction. The good news is, early research is showing that greater numbers of students are displaying tactile learning preferences – those that learn from a more hands-on approach and by “doing.” This makes a bit of sense, if you consider all of the handheld “gadgets” children are using these days (iPods, phones, tablets, Xbox, etc.). All of these promote tactile expectations from learners, and to a lesser degree, visual ones. It is certainly good news for us, because golf itself is a tactile endeavor requiring implements (clubs), and greater numbers of students appreciating this quality of our sport is a very good thing, as it can be used as a selling point to bring more to the game.

What does this mean specifically for instructors? It means that you should be prepared to vary your methods and move away from lecturing students as a core, teacher-centered approach. Yes, there needs to be a certain amount of information conveyed verbally during lessons, but you should be willing to keep this to as bare a minimum as a given student needs, especially in-group lessons, junior golf practices and golf team practices. This is hard to do, because the measure of a “good” teacher has traditionally been judged by the accuracy and depth of their content knowledge, often expressed verbally. It is hard for those of us who have been trained in traditional methods to move away from a teacher-centered model (“Do what I say”) to a student-centered model (“What do you need?”).

Private lessons don’t mitigate the effects of rote instruction

Again, rote instruction is not inherently bad (for our purposes), but not knowing the appropriate time to use such an approach will cause problems for newer generations who learn in increasingly diverse ways.

Are your lessons simply “smaller” classroom situations? As a golf educator, do you spell out every aspect of a lesson and nothing happens without you prompting it? Do you tell a student to put in “X” number of hours of practice per week or to make specific changes to his/her gear specs?


Do you ask a student what you both should work on that day, or ask what they are feeling when their swing reaches a certain point, present a couple different options to correct an error and let them choose or ask them which kind of swing “model” appeals the most to them?

The former example is closer to the rote approach, and the latter is more student-centered. Either approach can be used one-on-one, but will only work well for certain groups of students. If you are sincerely interested in addressing the needs of all of your students (and yes, even discover a hidden Einstein golfer), you must be able to identify which model is going to work for a given student, and have the pedagogical skill to switch modes as needed.

The really hard part comes when you are teaching groups of students and need to change modes constantly. This is called differentiating instruction, and is a concept that many public and private schools are having difficulty implementing, but is a hurdle you have to overcome in your own teaching studio/school if you want to avoid the inconsistent results that currently plague our school systems.

The easy part in all of this is that it can be fairly easy to identify which mode of instruction might work best for a student. In most cases, you simply have to ask. Think about it: you probably have already said to yourself, “Yep that’s how I learn best” after I listed some of the differences in approach. Older students will identify with a certain approach if you describe some of the ideas and differences I described above. I have also found that speaking with parents can identify the preferences of younger students – no one knows their child better, after all.

To close, I want remind you that this writing is intended primarily as a self-reflection piece for golf educators, though I feel the content is also relevant for golf students, and/or parents of students. I write from the perspective of someone who has realized that there is a LOT of hidden talent out there in any field that goes unrecognized because it doesn’t fit into the “bins” that are created by schools and instructors in an effort to teach to the middle (or majority). None of what I am suggesting is easy, especially if you have grooved a particular teaching approach.

I suggest a good starting point might be taking advantage of local resources: asking around at local universities or public schools about conferences including specific educational content. Also, use your local library (and reference librarian!) to gain access to research articles addressing the subjects I mentioned. Those of you who are PGA Professionals might look for opportunities for professional development through your organization that deal with instructional delivery.

If you have any further questions regarding the content of this writing, please leave your comments below – I will be happy to discuss!

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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I am a professional musician, educator and researcher, in addition to being a golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My past academic achievements include a Bachelor's degree (in music performance) from the University of Maine, a Master's degree (in jazz performance) from Florida State University, a second Master's degree (in education) from the University of Maine, and K-12 teacher and school administrator certifications in Maine. My current research interests include overlapping content points between music and golf, as well as studying/comparing/contrasting how people learn in both endeavors. I have worked in education for 12 years, including public school education and university instruction. I have taught in the Maine public school system, and at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Florida State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My main area of musical endeavor is drumset performance with an emphasis in jazz, where I have performed with Chuck Winfield (of Blood Sweat and Tears), Dr. Billy Taylor (of the Kennedy Center), Yusef Lateef (jazz legend), and numerous local and regional groups in the New England area.

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The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips



While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.

  1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
  2. Don’t just “do”…observe.  There are two elements of learning something new.  The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
  3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
  4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
  5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.

My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?

More from the Wedge Guy



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19th Hole

Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks



The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.

In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.

As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.

2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks

Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT

A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.

In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.

C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT

At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.

A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.

Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT

After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.

Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).

James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT

James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.

He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.

Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT 

Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.

His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.

Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)

First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT

In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.

Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.

Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s Fortinet Championship betting preview: California native ready for breakthrough win in Napa



After a three-week break, the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season kicks off in Napa Valley at the Silverado Resort and Spa to play the Fortinet Championship.

Prior to 2021, the event was called the Safeway Open, but the tournament sponsor changed to Fortinet with contract that will last for three more seasons. Although the name has changed multiple times, Silverado’s North Course has been featured on the PGA TOUR since 1968.

The course is a par 72, measuring at 7,166 yards. Silverado features Poa annua greens that can be tricky, especially as the surface becomes bumpier in the afternoon. The tree-lined fairways aren’t easy to hit, but the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal. Shorter hitters are in play on this relatively short course, and accuracy will be at a premium.

There will be a re-routing at Silverado for this year’s Fortinet Championship. Ten holes will be played in a different order. Holes 1-7 and 18 will remain as in year’s past. The new finishing stretch – No. 14 (par 4), No. 15 (par 5), No. 16 (par 4), No. 17 (par 3) and No. 18 (par 5). The new 17th was previously the 11th, which is the signature hole on the course.

The field will consist of 155 players. Being the swing season, the field for this event is usually relatively weak. However, there are some intriguing names in the field including Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, and Kevin Kisner.

Past Winners

  • 2022: Max Homa (-22)
  • 2021: Max Homa (-19)
  • 2020: Stewart Cink (-21)
  • 2019: Cameron Champ (-17)
  • 2018: Kevin Tway (-14)
  • 2017: Brendan Steele -15
  • 2016: Brendan Steele -18

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

Strokes Gained: Approach

Historically, one of the North Course’s defenses will be tightly tucked pin placement, so effective shot-shaping and a higher ball flight may be an advantage this week. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa Annua greens.

Strokes Gained: Approach past 24 rounds:

  1. Chez Reavie (+24.7)
  2. Sam Ryder (+20.0)
  3. Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
  4. Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
  5. Doug Ghim (+17.1)

Good Drives Gained

Hitting fairways in regulation at Silverado is more difficult than TOUR average, as players have done so in the past at a rate of only 52.2%. While the rough isn’t extremely long here, controlling spin out of the thick grass is much more difficult than doing so from the fairway. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa annua greens.

In 2021, the top eight players on the leaderboard all had a positive week in “Good Drives Gained. The winner, Max Homa was +3.3 in the category and Mito Pereira, who finished third, was +8.3.

In 2022, 12 of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained in the category including the winner Max Homa (+6.0) and runner up Danny Willet (5.0).

Good Drives Gained past 24 rounds:

  1. Doug Ghim (+24.4) 
  2. Matt NeSmith (+23.8) 
  3. Russell Knox (+20.6)
  4. Brice Garnett (+19.9)
  5. Ryan Armour (+19.8)

Par 4: 400-450

There are six par 4’s at Silverado that are between 400 and 450-yards. It will be important to target players who excel at playing these holes. With the par 5s being fairly short and reachable, the par 4 scoring may prove to be the bigger difference-maker.

Par 4: 400-450 past 24 rounds:

  1. Beau Hossler (+14.7) 
  2. Max Homa (+12.4)
  3. Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
  4. Justin Suh (+8.3)
  5. Stephan Jaeger (+8.2)

Birdie or Better: Gained

With scores at Silverado potentially approaching the 20 under par range, making plenty of birdies will be a requirement in order to contend this week.

Birdie or Better: Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Nick Hardy (+15.3)
  2. Scott Piercy (+15.2)
  3. Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
  4. Max Homa (+14.0)
  5. Peter Kuest (+13.5)

Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua)

Poa annua greens on the West Coast can be quite difficult for golfers to adjust to if they don’t have much experience on the surface.

Prior to the 2019 Safeway Open, Phil Mickelson talked about how the type of putting surface is a major factor:

“I think a lot of guys struggle with the Poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing, so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the Bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different — it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here.”

This week it is important to look for the golfers who historically excel on Poa annua.

Total Strokes Gained in category in past 24 rounds:

  1. Kevin Kisner (+27.7) 
  2. Max Homa (+21.2)
  3. Peter Malnati (+20.5)
  4. Justin Suh (+18.5)
  5. Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: APP (25%), Good Drives Gained: (25%), Birdie or Better (20%), Par 4: 400-450 (15%), SG: Putting (Poa annua) (15%).

  1. Max Homa (+750)
  2. Doug Ghim (+5000)
  3. Andrew Putnam (+4000)
  4. Chez Reavie (+4500)
  5. Kevin Streelman (+5500)
  6. Mark Hubbard (+5000)
  7. Sam Ryder (+7000)
  8. Brendon Todd (+3500)
  9. Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
  10. Cameron Davis (+2200)

2023 Fortinet Championship Picks

Sahith Theegala +2000 (DraftKings):

Sahith Theegala is yet to break out for his maiden PGA Tour victory but is a great candidate for a player who can have a strong fall and take advantage of some weaker fields. The 26-year-old ended his season on a positive note, finishing 13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 15th at the BMW Championship.

I’ve long believed that Theegala’s first win would come on the West Coast. He grew up in California and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine University, where he became the fifth player to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, Haskins Award and Ben Hogan award all in the same year (2020). Sahith made his PGA Tour debut at Silverado in 2020, where he finished in a tie for 14th. Last year, he finished 6th at the Fortinet Championship.

Theegala is very comfortable playing in California. That is perhaps most noticeable on the putting surface where he gains an average of +0.44 strokes on the field per event on POA, which is more than four times what he gains on Bermudagrass or Bentgrass. The POA greens at Silverado can get especially difficult late in the day, which is a reason why players with a background on them have had so much success at the course. In the past seven years of the event, five winners have come from California.

Theegala is pricey this week and is as close to the top of the odds board as I can remember him being, but that’s the nature of the PGA Tour fall season. It’s hard to find a spot on the schedule that Sahith will have a better chance at winning than this one.

Justin Suh +5000 (PointsBet)

Consistency has been an issue early in the career of Justin Suh, but he’s shown flashes in 2023 of what made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with. After a few top-10 finishes at the PLAYERS Championship and the Honda Classic, Suh ended the season on a bit of a sour note, failing to finish better than 34th in his last five starts of the season.

Despite the struggles, I’m optimistic about Suh as we begin the fall swing. The 26-year-old made the trip to Crans-Montana, Valais, Switzerland to play in the Omega European Masters, and finished 24th in a decent field. More encouraging than the finish was how Suh hit the ball. He gained 5.24 strokes on approach and hit plenty of fairways.

The 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year grew up on California golf courses. Suh was a highly decorated amateur golfer with plenty of wins on the West Coast prior to attending USC, where he was one of the best players in the country.

When he’s on, Suh is one of the best putters on Tour, and he should comfortable playing in his home state in search of his first PGA Tour victory.

Akshay Bhatia +5500 (DraftKings):

Akshay Bhatia is still just 21 years old and one of the most tantalizing prospects in the world of golf. The smooth-swinging lefty was able to obtain his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California just a few months ago. The course is just a few hours ride from Silverado and the conditions and course should be very similar.

Bhatia will have no issue making birdies in bunches at Silverado, and the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal if he gets loose with his driver.

Bhatia made his debut at Silverado in 2020 at just 18 years old and managed to finish 9th. Since then, he’s gained a great deal of confidence and has refined his game as a professional.

Akshay got engaged this week. He can celebrate with a victory this week at the Fortinet.

Sam Ryder +8000 (FanDuel):

Statistically, Sam Ryder jumps off the page this week. In his past four measured starts, he’s gained 4.2, 5.4, 5.2 and 5.7 strokes on approach and is completely dialed in with his irons. Despite the numbers, he hasn’t managed to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard in that stretch but this is a field that is much weaker than he faced at the end of last season.

In addition to the recent stats, Ryder played some good golf on the West Coast last year. Most notably, he finished 4th at Torrey Pines in a loaded field and also finished 20th at both the Waste Managment Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational.

If Ryder continues with his hot approach play, he should be able to contend at Silverado this week.

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