As the wise sage Samuel Roy Hagar reminded us, “There is only one way to rock.”
So too, do I submit (with perhaps less thought given) that there is only one way to play golf in the modern age – and that, my friends, is to BOMB IT!
I have been an on-and-off-again “bomber” since ’91, shortly after I first took up the game. Not the hardcore, superhuman, consistently past- 300 variety of bomber, just kind of on the intermediate side of things — the longest in my foursome by a lot, one of the 10 biggest hitters at my course, carry the ball on the occasional par 4…that kind of thing. And by the way, before someone replies with a “passive brag” comment – there ain’t nothin’ passive about it baby! Walk it like you talk it.
Okay, so I say “on and off again” because somewhere around 2002 I got side-tracked by a bunch of mental clutter: TV commentators and their suggestions of swing-overhauls, the “importance” of accuracy, annoying reminders of “The problem I see with amateur golfers is…,” coupled with preachy instructors talking about “XYZ-Factors,” hip and elbow positions and other forms of odd lingo. In other words, I started playing golf swing instead of playing golf. As you might suspect, the golf gods abandoned me for my blasphemous ways, and I suffered what was akin to golf exile for about three years – let’s face it, when your game really sucks and you are beyond frustrated, no one wants to play with you! It is a very lonely place to be.
I feel confident in telling you that I have tried and exhausted every cockamamie golf swing tip or tidbit known to man – because I HAVE! They all proved equally terrible. After all, big problems aren’t solved with one-sentence answers. Go figure! No, it wasn’t until I had exhausted every option, hit rock bottom, and stood on the 7th tee at Aroostook Valley Country Club having a Chevy Chase-style meltdown that sent flocks of birds and other forms of small wildlife fleeing in terror from the surrounding area did I find my solution.
Having nothing left, and purely out of anger, I resolved to hit that little white RFRP (stands for “Read Forum Rules Please”) just as HARD as I possibly could. Lo and behold, the ball took off like a scared wombat, sailed an impressive distance and come to rest on the 7th green, 327 yards in total. My response sounded much like a confused Tim Taylor:
That, or I was responding to a self-inflicted hernia.
Why did this work?! It shouldn’t have worked. I was told on dozens of occasions, “Don’t try to hit the ball hard, let the club do the work.” Not only that, but I was told this by old dudes. It is well known that old dudes are never wrong about things when it comes to golf – they will be the first to tell you. Everyone under 30 years old understands this, even if they don’t like to admit it.
Well, having played golf in total frustration for nearly four years, I was NOT going to let this go. I kept the round going with that one single thought and ended up hitting some of the biggest drives and towering iron shots of my life. Prior to that day, I had been playing army golf – hooking the first shot left, compensating and blocking the next shot to the right. Hitting a recovery and having to pitch it close and hole a putt for an up and down. THAT ladies and gents, is NO WAY TO PLAY GOLF. When I started swinging hard at the ball, I got a nice straight flight that carried forever. It was a bit higher than I was used to, but was really flat at the top and I got more roll too. It was “point and thrash.” Really simple.
That realization came in 2006, and I have been “on the mend” ever since. In fact, I have built my whole golfing paradigm on the concept of hitting the ball hard – aka, “bombing it.” What follows here are a few anecdotal (unsubstantiated) observations I would like to share with all of you who are, sadly, still stuck playing “golf swing.” This is meant to be fun, guys, so read with your “silly season” glasses on and with a mug of your strongest eggnog!
Observation 1 – Anyone can be a “Bomber”
For our purposes, let’s start with a definition of a bomber: A person whose only swing thought or intention is to “hit it hard.”
Notice that this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with actual distance. Golfers may find that they increase their distance by going after the ball more strongly, but again, this is a swing philosophy and not an outcome. You don’t need to clear three bills in order to consider yourself a bomber.
That means that the 7-year-old playing from the forward tees who practically turns him/herself around backwards to manage a 70 yard drive (or however far kids that age hit it) is a bomber. The older person doing the Gary Player hit-and-walk with no practice swing – they can be a bomber too. And yes, the six-foot-plus big guy who rips it deep from the black tees is a bomber.
The person who IS NOT a bomber is the cat who takes three practice swings trying to make their swing as perfect as possible, the person who stops his/her practice swing halfway back to check a position and the person who holds his finish for enough time for a painter to complete his portrait. Not bomber materially, sorry. Those folks need to go to the “swinger” corner where they can talk geek-speak (ahem!) I mean golf swing, and polish their belt-buckles to their heart’s content.
Observation 2 – Bombers look up, not down
Part of your indoctrination into “Bomberdom” must include the realization that you are likely hitting the ball too low. Most amateur golfers don’t understand what a good trajectory off the tee really is. Bombers CARRY THE BALL down the fairway, Gladiator-style. They don’t look to poot out little rabbit chasers on hard fairways (using drivers with too little loft) while expecting more roll than a Faxon putt. This is utterly disgraceful on-course behavior for one who is an aspiring bomber, and it should be changed straight away.
The first step to fixing this is when you visualize a shot on any particular hole, the ball flight needs to “appear” above where you would normally look for your shot in your mind’s eye. Changing your flight is one part equipment, one part technique shift and also one part conceptual shift, and sometimes the easiest way to start it all is to “trick” your mind into visualizing a different flight. After all, bombers don’t waste time with more than one swing thought (hitting hard); this is just a visual trick that tends to work for a lot of folks.
So, what should you be visualizing? The standard, cool-looking bombed drive is high and flat, folks. No hooky runners while telling people you “grew up playing in the wind.” Other bombers are going to laugh at you if you do. You also don’t want a shot that burns the clouds and falls down dead either. You DO want some amount of rollout, so start reading up on all the articles here about “Positive Angle of Attack.” I would go into it more, but this article is about a philosophy and not so much about technique. There are plenty of knowledgeable folks on WRX to ask!
Observation 3 – Bomber-golfing is fun, so act like you are enjoying yourself!
Have you ever seen a moody or pensive big hitter? Someone who maybe took him or herself a little too seriously at the expense of enjoying a round of golf? Heck, no! How can you be upset when you’re big-hittin’ baby? Yeah, maybe you might find someone getting down about something that happened off the course, but day in and out, bombers are optimistic cats and generally fun to be around…and humble too! Here is another big plus: long hitters know they will be chased out of any foursome if they passively brag about how far they hit it. They are the ONE group in all of golf who knows to keep their mouths shut about their play (except for me). How can you not like that?
Think about it; everyone wants to be the person who “knows that guy (or gal) who hits the big tee shots.” Everyone wants at least one bomber on his or her scramble team. The dinner-on-the-deck crowd actually quiets down to watch a big hitter on a nearby tee because they want to see where the ball goes. The “Boss” always brings the big-hitter employee out for on-course business dealings with other companies. Being a bomber comes with perks, people. How can you not enjoy yourselves out there? Be happy, have fun. Leave the brooding for the “tortured-artist” swinger crowd.
Observation 4 – You have to figure out YOUR OWN way to “get-‘er-done!”
Well, I am going to contradict myself a little here. There is no point in trying to hit the ball high and far if you don’t also know how to make that happen. I concede that. Ideally, you would put in enough time in practice so that when you actually get to the first tee, there is only the one thought left to you – hit it hard!
I am not a swing guru or professional; I am an occasionally humble golf team coach and educational researcher – no more, no less. I am not going to proclaim one right way of swinging the club to get big gains off the tee. That is not what this story is about. I do, however, submit that everyone needs to find their own way of going about things. I will share MY keys with you, but it is up to you to find your own way to get things done.
I found that, for MY swing, the key is all in the setup, and the more attention I pay to getting things right in my setup, the greater my expectations may be of producing a big hit off the tee. My keys are:
1) Ball forward – off the front foot.
2) Stand a little closer (because of ball position).
3) Big turn back while staying braced into my right instep.
4) Turn through hard left – legs drive, upper body stays behind the ball.
Boom, high cut. Nothing to it, it just takes a concept and a little practice. Again, I am not a pro, but this works for me – it might not for you. You need to read, research, ask questions, watch video and figure out what works for you. However, when you get to the tee, there is only one thought to focus on – RIP IT!
Observation 5 – Don’t waste time with too much focus on equipment
Real big hitters can hit your mother’s driver past yours; pretty much, they will launch the golf ball with anything you put in their hands. It is funny, but most bombers I talk to focus more on forgiveness than spin reduction. Think about it, J.B. Holmes destroyed the planet with the Cobra L4V (although his now a Callaway staffer). Bubba Watson topped the distance stat with the PING G15. Both are great heads, but are more in the “GI” category of driver heads than they are the “spin-killer” category. Neither played their drivers at extended lengths either (both typically play drivers in the 44 inch range). It seems the two picked very forgiving drivers with a lower loft, had their shaft of choice installed at a shorter total length, and then…bombs away!
Don’t forget about irons, either. Watson (again) plays PING S56 irons. Gary Woodland plays Titleist MB’s. The two longest hitters I know personally play Mizuno cavity-backs. None of these irons could ever be accused of having “jacked up” lofts (by today’s standards, anyway) or being the first choice for those wishing to pick up a ton of yards. They are indicative of a player more concerned with versatility and feel.
I am not going to keep pushing the point with equipment, because so much is subjective, and there are much more knowledgeable folks to hear it all from than me. I simply wanted to point out that you don’t always have to look to certain kinds of gear to find distance; sometimes it is better to find gear that will allow you to swing big without suffering the usual consequences. Big hitters need forgiveness and feel as much as anything else, so go to a good fitter and find the right balance.
Observation 6 – With great power comes great…OPPORTUNITY. Better not mess it up
So, you have resolved to adopt the philosophy of the big hitter – congratulations! Now you just have to figure out how to play actual golf with your new found freedom and confidence. Here is the thing – when you resolve to freewheel it off the tee and into greens, you need to expect to miss more often, but also score big more often as well. It is “risk/reward” without caring so much about the risk! Most folks find that if anything, the peaks and valleys of this approach make for some really interesting and FUN golf!
To make the point, just look at Bubba Watson: he is 135th in driving accuracy but No. 2 in GIRs. If you watch him play, you’ll see that he knows where he can miss and still have a shot into the green. He also knows that even if he does hit the ball into the rough, it will likely be far enough down the fairway that he will be hitting a shorter iron into the green. Which would YOU rather have: 5 iron from the fairway or 8 iron from the rough?
The other thing is, the long ball IS the straight ball. Even if your tee shot lands in the fairway and rolls into the rough, it isn’t like you have missed 45 feet into the trees (if you have done things right). You will still likely have a shot. This is Bomb-and-Gouge 101 people!
Also, with iron shots, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be flag hunting with any club 7 iron and less. No more excuses! Those pins need to be falling like a rope bridge in a Harrison Ford movie. Don’t worry about misses, just take dead aim. If you are ripping your irons like your tee shots, that means your approach shots are coming in higher and your ability to hold greens has increased as well. So, if you ever find yourself asking “smooth 7 or hard 8…” you can stop wasting time on that debate, because your new answer is “nuked 9.”
“Yeah, but…yeah, but…” I can hear all of the skeptics saying this. I know what you are getting at, what if you miss the green and are short-sided? Well, heaven forbid you should ever experience a challenge on the golf course people! That is why the golf Gods gave you…the flop shot. Every big bomber worth his/her salt has always been able to execute the flop shot. I am NOT talking about the cute little cut/lob shot all the instructors want to sell you on. I am talking about the completely opened, fully swung, Mickelson PANCAKE shot that launches about 20 feet into the air and comes down like a fried egg (want breakfast yet??). This topic isn’t really about short game shots; just suffice to say that if you want to be a bomber – you need this shot. Study up!
Okay, I know you want clarification before this wraps up. The first point I made (observation 1) suggested that anyone could be a bomber if they resolved to hit it big, or at least as big as they are able to. Most of the rest of the points I have made suggested the actual ability to hit super long shots as a prerequisite. Well, not all golfers are created equal. What I am proposing here is more a philosophy of play, and less about actual numbers. For our purposes, the intent is more important than the raw ability (after all, you can BUY distance). It is like doing P90X (I hear), you do as much as you can and forget about the rest. If all you can manage is 100 yards off the tee, but you gave it your all to get that 100 – you are part of the club my friend.
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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