Let’s start by clarifying that we are not here to debate the use of mulligans. This article, much like science fiction movies that force you to accept certain realities as part of the plot (don’t get me started on any movie about guys going up in space to stop asteroids), is based around the notion that mulligans do exist and are used by many around the globe. Got that?
I’m not here to argue for or against the use of mulligans. On that topic, I will be standing over there in the corner, with my fingers in ear humming loud noises and pretending I don’t see anything. So let’s accept the premise that mulligans exist, shall we? What shots deserve them the most? What shots make you want to walk up, grab the ball and put it right back down where it was before you ruined your round and four hours of your day?
There really is nothing worse then coasting along around par and then making an octal bogey because you, well you….you probably did one of the below things. Should you really shoot an 80 instead of a 76 because of one swing? Oh crap, don’t answer that, we are not here to discuss that. We are here to discuss why you ended up with that 80. And here are some guesses:
1) The OB first drive
A classic staple of any terrible round. You get to the course early, you sink every putt on the practice green, you hit pure shot after pure shot on the range. It’s 8:15am and the sun is up, not a cloud in the sky, not super windy — going to be a great day. Maybe you make a little small talk on the first tee, “Hey Jim, what did you get up to last night?” followed by a few obviously predictable quips about your married friend being forced to do something by his wife, your single friend having a few too many and your workaholic friend already answering texts and emails on his Blackberry. Life is good. Oh it’s your turn to tee off now, no problem. Just stick that tee in and take a couple of practice swings from good measure. Start your nice smooth backswing and smack! Oh crap. It started a little left but might be OK, might be OK….oh god, please let it be OK. Aaaaaand, it’s not OK. Here’s some advice: just put the 80 on the card and save yourself four hours.
2) The 2-foot lip out early in the round
On the surface, it’s just one shot. But we all know that’s not true right? Usually the dreaded 2-foot lip out is either for birdie or par on one of the first three holes. Still, at that time you’re still optimistic. Maybe you started par-bogey and then hit it tight on the third hole — let’s say it’s a par 3. Walking up to the ball you’re thinking,
“No problem. Tap this in and get back to even and I’m golden. I’ve got the rest of the round ahead of me.”
You probably take for granted that you are going to make it. Maybe don’t give it a full read, I mean, it’s just a tap in right? You are not going to miss this. You might even say, “Guys do you mind if I just tap this one in to get out of your way?” As soon as the ball leaves the putter face you know something is wrong. It starts too far right. You want to reach out and stop it but you know you can’t. You sheepishly look at your playing partners who give you the “Hey that’s golf” look. In the end, it’s just one shot. Yeah right. What are the odds of you making par on the next hole? The smart money is not on yes.
3) The disastrous second — going for a par 5 in two
This shot has been frustrating golfers for years. The par 5 is the hole golfers of all skills and abilities have visions of making birdie on. It’s usually the first hole you birdie when you take up golf, and it’s the hole that stabilizes your round as you get better, either by getting you back into your round, or just ending a ride on the bogey train. Golfers of all abilities step up to the tee on par 5’s expecting good things. And that feeling only gets stronger and stronger after you knock one down the fairway and begin your walk to the ball with visions of making a 4, or god willing, a 3. But then something happens, the group on the green seems to be taking way too long.
Why are they lining up that putt from a foot? Why doesn’t he just pick it up? How many guys are still in this hole?
It seems like they’ve been on that green for 10 minutes now. Putting the ball and marking, putting and marking — they look like they’re passing a hockey puck around up there. FINALLY, the green clears and it’s go time. Except you rush it a bit don’t you? Your adrenaline was flowing, and the pressure of hitting a good shot built up when your group was forced to wait. There were trees on the right but no big deal, only a snap hook could…Oh boy, that swing felt a little quick.
4) The stubbed chip
I like to think of the stubbed chip as a subtle killer, because you never really expect it to happen, at least not once you’ve gotten to be a better player. Let’s say you miss the green on an approach, so you walk up to the ball still expecting to have at least a semi-makeable putt for par. Worst case scenario, you’re walking off with bogey and that’s no big deal, because people make bogeys all the time, even on easier holes — they’re certainly not round killers. That changes with the stubbed chip.
It’s an instantaneous feeling too — you feel the blade dig a bit too much and you know you’re in trouble. Even worse is if you’re chipping over a bunker and you stub it enough to leave it in the sand. Suddenly, your positive thinking about making par is suddenly a desperate grind to avoid making double bogey. And you tend to usually make that double bogey, don’t you? The second chip after the stubbed one is always good but not great. How can it be great? In your head you’re just hoping not to stub it again. So you knock it to 4.5 feet and then miss the putt. Golf is a stupid game.
5) The bladed bunker shot
The bladed bunker shot is worse then its cousin, the leave-it-in-the-bunker shot. If you leave it in the bunker you are usually no worse off except for the fact that you are in fact, one shot worse off. And usually your next lie is on an upslope, plus your frustration with your first bunker shot actually helps you with your next one. I can’t even count how many times I’ve left it in the bunker and then put my next shot to tap in range. When you are mad you tend to follow through better and finish your swing, which is exactly what you need to do to escape the sand. The bladed bunker shot is far worse though, because you usually end up in a terrible spot. Usually you’re waaaaay over the green in some serious cabbage — you generally aren’t going to get up and down.
The bladed bunker shot is almost an instant double bogey. That’s probably why guys leave shots in bunker more then they blade them out, because they are scared of this shot. Heck just knowing it can happen is scary. If you are in a bunker with OB on the other side of the green, you half consider swallowing that cyanide pill you keep in your pocket from your day job of being a spy. Oops, sorry that is my fantasy day job. But you get the idea.
6) The botched escape shot
This shot is always preceded by the following thought process:
“Hmmm, that opening in the trees looks mighty narrow. Probably should just punch out. But wait, it’s a Saturday round with my buddies, why would I punch out? Imagine if I hit that shot? We can talk about it after the round over beers, the great escape shot I hit on No. 8. Plus my lie isn’t too bad, so I bet i can do it. I’m sure I can do it. And who cares this round means nothing. I’m totally going for this.”
Let me put this pretty simply for you — yes that opening is narrow, and yes your ball is going to hit that tree and ricochet to an even worse spot where you will then make the smart decision you should have made to just punch out. Way to go man, you just turned probable bogey with a chance at par to an almost certain double with a chance for worse. The phrase “take your medicine” exists for a reason, and it’s not just so you literally take your medicine (which by the way you should also probably do). Next time just hit it back onto the fairway, OK Phil?
7) The uncommitted tee shot
You know the feeling, it’s a 360-yard par 4 and you could easily hit either 3 wood or driver. Which one do you go with?
You haven’t been hitting your driver straight today, eh big guy? Maybe it’s time to pull out the 3 wood and just pipe one down the fairway? You’ll still have a pitching wedge or 9 iron into the green. But you like hitting driver, of course, and if you hit driver you leave yourself a wedge in. Birdie time baby. No one plays this game to make pars. Pars are boring, plus you’re 2-over, so a birdie here gets you back close to par. Maybe you’ll shoot a great round. Reach for that driver, yup, we’re going with driver. Pull it out and take a couple of practice swings, just knock one down the fairway and stick it close. There isn’t even a lot of trouble on this hole so it’s all good. OK nice and easy backswing, wait a minute you don’t want to swing too hard here it’s still a short hole, just want to cozy it down there. Wait, should I be using 3 wood? Crap, I’m starting my downswing now, just steer it and …..arggggghhhh. You don’t finish your swing and your tee shot just hit someone doing garden work across the street. Aren’t 360-yard par 4’s supposed to be easy? Nice six my friend.
8) The hosel “fade”
Yes we know the shot I’m talking about. There are many words for it that cannot be repeated here, lest they be caught like a virus. It’s the most dreaded shot in golf. The one that imparts not just score damage, but psychological damage as well. I’m reminded of the match play tournament where Hunter Mahan hit a real beauty onto a peripheral fairway, looked somewhat sheepish, and then went over to that fairway and stuck a wedge close and walked off with par.
You know what though, you are not Hunter Mahan (unless you are literally Hunter Mahan and are reading this. If you are, hey, what’s up Hunter? Nice win at that tournament by the way, big fan and you know, thanks for taking the time to read this far). But where was I? Ah yes, you are probably not Hunter Mahan. So what are you going to do after the hosel fade? You are going to address the next shot so far out and close to the toe that you are either going to miss the ball completely, or hit a flat out terrible shot. You probably aren’t going to follow through either because you are so anxious to see if you hosel-rocketed it again. Basically, this shot is a disaster that torpedoes your round and stays in your head longer then the image of Henrik Stenson stripping down to his boxers to play a shot out of the water (wait, why exactly is that still in my head?). This shot requires not just an actual mulligan, but a mental one aswell. This shot requires the full out Ben-Affleck-in-Paycheck memory erasing treatment, which is also required for anyone who’s seen the movie “Paycheck”.
So, I’m not saying it’s OK to use mulligans. That’s for another story. But if you’ve hit any of the eight shots above, i just want to tell you, I understand. We all understand.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
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.
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.
- 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:
- Chez Reavie (+24.7)
- Sam Ryder (+20.0)
- Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
- 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:
- Doug Ghim (+24.4)
- Matt NeSmith (+23.8)
- Russell Knox (+20.6)
- Brice Garnett (+19.9)
- 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:
- Beau Hossler (+14.7)
- Max Homa (+12.4)
- Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
- Justin Suh (+8.3)
- 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:
- Nick Hardy (+15.3)
- Scott Piercy (+15.2)
- Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
- Max Homa (+14.0)
- 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:
- Kevin Kisner (+27.7)
- Max Homa (+21.2)
- Peter Malnati (+20.5)
- Justin Suh (+18.5)
- Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)
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%).
- Max Homa (+750)
- Doug Ghim (+5000)
- Andrew Putnam (+4000)
- Chez Reavie (+4500)
- Kevin Streelman (+5500)
- Mark Hubbard (+5000)
- Sam Ryder (+7000)
- Brendon Todd (+3500)
- Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
- 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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