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The Wedge Guy: Has the game gotten too hard?

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Shortly after I started writing my blog as “The Wedge Guy” back in 2004, I created my “alter ego” so that I could occasionally pontificate on things that were outside my regular discussions that were focused on helping my readers hit better golf shots more often. Those “other” columns were penned under the pseudonym, “The Texas Wedge Hog: Rootin’ Out The Truth,” and I had fun sharing some opinions and observations and hearing from my readers.

So, in the spirit of The Texas Wedge Hog, I offer this observation for our discussion: I think the game has gotten too darn hard to be enjoyed as it should.

Let me begin by agreeing that golf is a hard enough game as it is. If you’ve ever seen Robin Williams routine on golf, it is side-splitting…but amazingly true. Think about it. We have this small white ball and a 4-1/4” hole somewhere a quarter mile or so away. We have these implements to strike the ball with, after we wrap that implement around behind us and attempt to deliver it back to the ball with accuracy and power, so that we can propel that ball toward the target. And we have this concept of “par” that allows us 3, 4, or 5 strokes to get from tee to hole at various ranges that average out to about a stroke for each 100 yards. But this concept of par allows that half of our strokes will be taken on the greens, after the long shots have gotten us there.

Please understand that my perspective on golf begins with an introduction to the game nearly as soon as I could walk (68 years ago next month). I began playing nine holes by myself or with my friends at the age of 6 or 7 years. I distinctly remember how the par-4 holes evolved from three 2-wood shots and a chip and putt (or two) and 54 was a good score. Then, I began to be able to reach some holes with two shots, and the goal became 45—then 40 as I gained enough strength to be able to achieve greens-in-regulation.

I grew up on a little 9-hole municipal course, and we were taught the game from the hole backwards. We were taught that way because of the relative difficulty of the game back then. Putting was the easiest skill to master, so we were taught that first. Greens rolled about 5-7 back then I suppose, but the Stimpmeter hadn’t been invented yet. Greens were relatively flat and simple.

Once we kind of had putting down, we progressed to learning chipping and pitching the ball, then short irons. Those skills evolved into middle iron play, and the long part of the game. In general, the closer you were to the hole, the easier the game got. Chipping was harder than putting, but easier than full iron shots. Mastering long irons and fairway woods was very difficult and driving not far behind with the old persimmon drivers.

My observation is that we (whoever “we” are) have flipped this upside down, and now the closer you get to the hole, the harder mastery becomes. With equipment and teaching technology, we can get a beginning golfer to efficient execution of the full shots pretty quickly. But there are simply no shortcuts to learning how to putt on and chip/pitch to today’s greens, which are firmer, faster and more undulating than those of the past.

As I understand it, the USGA adopted the Stimpmeter as a “standard” measurement of green speed back in the 1980s. So, they benchmarked green speeds on several hundred courses across the country and found those at Oakmont Country Club to be the fastest in the U.S— at something under 9! Augusta National wasn’t far behind, and those two have long earned the reputations for speed. But today you would be hard pressed to find any quality golf course with green speeds under 10 or 11, and many surpass 12 or 13. They get there by rolling the greens firmer, so they can cut them closer. Hybrid grass development is constant, so golfers can have as smooth a putting surface as possible. And this makes putting and greenside play more difficult than ever.

I personally do not believe this is good for golf. I love this game and all it has given me over this lifetime of playing and being fortunate enough to earn a living within it. But I don’t see juniors and beginners having much fun. And I don’t either when our course greens go dormant through the winter and greens that were designed in the 1980s for Stimp speeds of 8-9 now run off the chart. Many pin positions leave you looking for the windmill or clown’s mouth.

I do agree that the difficulty of golf is one of the appealing aspects of this game. But that difficulty should be mostly about making an airborne ball do what you want—not figuring out whether this 12 foot putt is going to break two feet or more—and wondering how the hell you are going to stop it close if you miss.

Next week: A radical idea for making the game inviting to beginners and juniors again.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Over his 40-year career in the golf industry, he has created over 100 putter designs, sets of irons and drivers, and in 2014, he put together the team that reintroduced the Ben Hogan brand to the golf equipment industry. Since the early 2000s, Terry has been a prolific writer, sharing his knowledge as “The Wedge Guy”.   But his most compelling work is in the wedge category. Since he first patented his “Koehler Sole” in the early 1990s, he has been challenging “conventional wisdom” reflected in ‘tour design’ wedges. The performance of his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to move slightly more mass toward the top of the blade in their wedges, but none approach the dramatic design of his Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf – check it out at www.EdisonWedges.com.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. 84425

    Feb 12, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Reading the title of the story I thought “is this guy nuts: harder? It’s become easier!” But upon reading it I think you might be right for the general masses. Those that have a good short game will not be affected too much, or might be even better of with faster greens. But if your short game is not great, you will strugle.

    Where it has become easier (too easy imho) to cross the first 300 yards of a hole, the last 50 yards have become harder (if you play where conditions are like you state). While both long and short game require practice, short game requires continuous practice. Hours and hours on the putting green, which is something not everyone has the time for.

  2. Jim Berry

    Feb 6, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Golf has always been hard. One thing that I have noticed about the better players have in common is a short game. When I score well, the putting and chipping are working. Many of the people that I see struggling with chipping and pitching have only one shot with their wedges. I never see them around the chipping practice area trying different shots and lies. The touch part of the game, chipping and putting, takes practice and attention to get better. I am 71 now, and am scoring better than I ever have. I love a course that is in great condition, and am willing and eager to deal with the challenges.

  3. Pelling

    Feb 5, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    Golf is much easier now than it has ever been. The ball goes straight and doesn’t cut on mishit shots. The clubs are huge with sweet spots the size of diner plates. Wedges are versatile and putters are almost automatic, especially from five feet and closer. Lasers yield exact distances. Shoes are lightweight and fabrics conform to the elements. When I started the game, at age 10 in 1963, I inherited my dad’s Spaulding Top Flight irons and his Kenneth Smith 4 wood with a tear drop shaft. I caddied and got to play the local country club on Mondays at 7:00 AM. My hand me down leather Footjoys were immediately soaking wet from the heavy dew and weighed about 10 lbs. I had a heavy leather bag with a thin terrible strap. Modern technology at the time was a Hogan Sure Out sand wedge with a flange the size of a quartered orange.
    My brass headed Billy Casper Wilson putter had a sweet spot the size of a pea. There was no club fitting, golf ball covers cut violently on mishits, and I had a nine iron that I learned to open up and play all sorts of lobs, cuts, and pitches with in my back yard. It was my scoring club. Oh, and left handlers were out of luck as there were very few clubs, let alone good ones, available.

  4. Bob Jones

    Feb 5, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    I play on a course occasionally that has very good greens most of the time. It is a tournament course, and the rest of the time they are in tournament condition. Then they are fast, but true, and I can’t believe how much better of a putter that makes me.

  5. Red Nelson

    Feb 5, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Hi Terry,
    I’m going off-topic in order to reprimand you. Get off the fence, man. Only Jack Nicklaus, the ultimate White Bread, says “darn.” Man-up Texas-style and let your inner animal cut loose! Say “Damn, this game is hard.” I’m pretty sure no one will be offended. If they are, well, they can darn well fornicate themselves. Verdad, amigo?

  6. Chuck Urwin

    Feb 5, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    My old boss kept his 36 greens under 10! I realized as I got older he was trying to help the public golfer enjoy golf more! Low hdcp players did not like them that slow but they were in the minority of players, so it was slow as you go! I believe public greens are too fast now & should be slowed down! Private clubs who have always had fairly fast greens should continue to do as they like!

  7. Rob

    Feb 5, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    I’ll take super fast and smooth greens over slower but bumpy greens all the time. I can adjust to speed, there’s no way to adjust to bumpy. I play 90% of my golf on public courses and whenever I get the opportunity to play a private course with fast greens I find myself making more putts.

  8. Mark M

    Feb 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

    You’re right, that Robin Williams bit on golf is hilarious!
    I can see where Terry is coming from, golf can be especially hard for the beginner, the once a month player or the average weekend golfer. But there ARE courses with slower, flatter greens, wide open fairways and a lack of penalty areas. There are par 3 courses for those who need shorter courses, with less difficulty. Are those people playing these courses? Do they move up to a teebox suitable for their games?

    I see this whole idea of growing the game by making things easier as antithetical to the game of golf. I don’t think that golf is a game for the masses. Golf is inherently difficult. Golf is not bowling. You can’t just go out and play this game without any training, practice or work and expect to do anything but struggle.

    I think Jimmy Dugan said it best: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

  9. Tim

    Feb 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

    I agree. Green speeds are getting nuts. Ridiculously fast greens are creeping into the local course, not just the high end ones. It seems to me that the the traffic jams around the course are being caused by groups spending too much time on the greens- plumb bobbing and walking around and around like they do on TV. Slowing down the greens will make wedges stop faster and putts roll straighter. The short game will be far easier and less touchy – as a result – faster.

    The other truth of the matter is that people are imitating what they see on tv. People need to realize that what the guys on TV are doing is very different from what we are doing on a saturday morning. Golf is really akin to bowling. Its a silly little pass-time game, nothing more. So lighten up, hit the ball and move on.

  10. Mat

    Feb 5, 2020 at 4:02 am

    I would invite Americans to putt on “British” greens that are 8-9 on the Stimp. It is much more enjoyable.

    Every time I come back to the States and play, it’s just idiotic. The misses are so punishing, it’s clear that the game slows down from the putting. No wonder everyone takes a lot of time! It’s like putting on linoleum.

    No course should ever be over 10 unless the heat were to dry it out. No greenskeeper should ever want something higher than 10.0.

    Again, USGA is out of touch here. Just because you can make a 13 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  11. JThunder

    Feb 4, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    This article seems to posit that putting is ruining golf. Is Terry Koehler a pseudonym for Johnny Miller?

    yip yip yip

  12. Alex

    Feb 4, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Stop playing boxes that overmatch you and equipment that doesn’t fit you. The ball goes so much straighter and longer than ever and is so much easier to control than years before. It’s also not a game you can just pick up and be scratch overnight no matter how much of an athlete you think you are. The attention span and ability to work towards a goal being next to nothing nowadays and wanting instant gratification is why people perceive golf as hard.

  13. Rick

    Feb 4, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    I’ve been playing for 40 years, the game was harder playing with blades, persimmon woods and no 60 degree wedge! The ball goes farther the club’s are easier to hit and I’m hitting it just as far as I did in my 20s. Golf is and always will be for the few who have perseverance! The desire to compete and enjoy what it gives you. You can’t keep trying to force people to adopt the idea that everybody is a right to be good! Stop the insanity!

  14. Shallowface

    Feb 4, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    “Many pin positions leave you looking for the windmill or clown’s mouth.”
    The USGA suggests that pins only be set in positions that are as flat as possible three feet around the cup. Most superintendents that I speak to about this are completely unaware of that suggestion.
    Augusta National has its reputation for fast undulating greens, but truth is when you watch The Masters putts of that length are rarely played outside the hole. They follow the USGA’s practice.
    I’ve been playing nearly 50 years, and I think the game is the easiest its ever been. 460cc Drivers. Balls that don’t spin and therefore fly straight. Hybrids. Wedges available in a myriad of grinds. Putters that are impossible to mishit.
    And that’s why people drop out. They know the above is true. And they can’t help but think that if a person can’t play with this equipment, there must be something wrong with them. Just the opposite effect one would think modern equipment would have.

  15. Rich Douglas

    Feb 4, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    I’m with Hogan: putting is boring and a completely different game. I’m tired of seeing the groups ahead of me slowing the pace while they 4-putt all day. (The fourth putt just scraped away from 6 feet after the first three.)

  16. Juststeve

    Feb 4, 2020 at 11:49 am

    I think the game is a lot easier than it was when I first started playing in the 1960’s. The modern ball goes further and straighter. Modern clubs are much easier to hit and vastly more forgiving of minor mistakes. Today’s greens are so smooth and true that you can actually expect the ball to go in if you get the line and speed correct. When I started playing even at elite clubs putts over 15 feet were basically crap shoots.

  17. DB

    Feb 4, 2020 at 10:44 am

    I agree that the greens make the game VERY difficult for beginners. I see them getting frustrated when they 3-4 putt every single green. And I’m not talking about fancy courses either, these are public courses that were designed decades ago and now the greens run 10-11 like you mentioned. Some of the slopes and tiers that might have been challenging decades ago are now brutally punishing if you misjudge.

  18. dat

    Feb 4, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Bomb & gouge is boring. Creative golf is basically dead.

    • Moosejaw McWilligher

      Feb 4, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      The vast majority of golfers cannot “bomb”, and cannot “gouge” anywhere near the green. The vast majority of golfers don’t have the skill to be *deliberately* “creative”, which is even harder than the first two things.

      For the 0.1% of golfers who compete for big money at the elite level, “boring” will earn them more money in the long run than “creative”.

  19. Ryan

    Feb 4, 2020 at 9:36 am

    I think the Wedge guy hit the nail on the head with this one. I coach HS golf at a very inner city school. Golf has gotton to hard. We now make courses for those who are really good and there just are not that many of those golfers out there. We need to get back to shorter golf courses with less challenges. This will speed up play as well as get more people out there.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 PGA Championship betting preview: Rising star ready to join the immortals at Valhalla

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The second major of the 2024 season is upon us as the world’s best players will tee it up this week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky to compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.

The last time we saw Valhalla host a major championship, Rory McIlroy fended off Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and the creeping darkness that was descending upon the golf course. The Northern Irishman had the golf world in the palm of his hand, joining only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as players who’d won four major championships by the time they were 25 years old. 

Valhalla is named after the great hall described in Norse mythology where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The course is a Jack Nicklaus-design that has ranked among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” for three decades. 

Valhalla Golf Club is a par-71 measuring 7,542 yards with Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens. The course has rolling hills and dangerous streams scattered throughout and the signature 13th hole is picturesque with limestone and unique bunkering protecting the green. The 2024 PGA Championship will mark the fourth time Valhalla has hosted the event. 

The field this week will consist of 156 players, including 16 PGA Champions and 33 Major Champions. 

Past Winners of the PGA Championship

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-9) Oak Hill
  • 2022: Justin Thomas (-5) Southern Hills
  • 2021: Phil Mickelson (-6) Kiawah Island
  • 2020: Collin Morikawa (-13) TPC Harding Park
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-8) Bethpage Black
  • 2018: Brooks Koepka (-16) Bellerive
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) Quail Hollow
  • 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14) Baltusrol
  • 2015: Jason Day (-20) Whistling Straits
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-16) Valhalla

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Valhalla

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Oak Hill to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Valhalla will play as a true all-around test of golf for the world’s best. Of course, it will take strong approach play to win a major championship.

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Shane Lowry (+1.25)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  3. Jordan Smith (+1.05)
  4. Tom Hoge (+.96)
  5. Corey Conners (+.94)

2. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Valhalla will play long and the rough will be penal. Players who are incredibly short off the tee and/or have a hard time hitting fairways will be all but eliminated from contention this week at the PGA Championship. 

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.47)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  3. Keith Mitchell (+.90)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+.89)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+.82)

Strokes Gained: Total on Nickalus Designs

Valhalla is a classic Nicklaus Design. Players who play well at Nicklaus designs should have an advantage coming into this major championship. 

Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+2.56)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+2.35)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.79)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green on Very Long Courses

Valhalla is going to play extremely long this week. Players who have had success playing very long golf courses should be better equipped to handle the conditions of this major championship.

Strokes Gained: Total on Very Long Courses Over Past 24 Rounds: 

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.44)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+2.24)
  3. Will Zalatoris (+1.78)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+1.69)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+1.60)

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships

One factor that tends to play a large role in deciding major championships is which players have played well in previous majors leading up to the event. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships over past 20 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.14)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+2.64)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+2.49)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+2.48)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (2.09)

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens

Valhalla features pure Bentgrass putting surfaces. Players who are comfortable putting on this surface will have an advantage on the greens. 

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+1.12)
  2. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  3. Matt Fitzpatrick (+0.99)
  4. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  5. J.T. Poston (0.87)

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways

Valhalla features Zoysia fairways. Players who are comfortable playing on this surface will have an advantage on the field.

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways over past 36 rounds: 

  1. Justin Thomas (+1.53)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+1.47)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.40)
  4. Brooks Koepka (+1.35)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+1.23)

2024 PGA Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (25%), SG: Off the Tee (22%), SG: T2G on Very Long Courses (12%), SG: Putting on Bentgrass (+12%), SG: Total on Nicklaus Designs (12%). SG: Total on Zoysia Fairways (8%), and SG: Total in Major Championships (8%). 

  1. Brooks Koepka
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Scottie Scheffler
  5. Bryson DeChambeau
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Alex Noren
  8. Will Zalatoris
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Keith Mitchell
  11. Hideki Matsuyama
  12. Billy Horschel
  13. Patrick Cantlay
  14. Viktor Hovland
  15. Adam Schenk
  16. Chris Kirk
  17. Sahith Theegala
  18. Min Woo Lee
  19. Joaquin Niemann
  20. Justin Thomas

2024 PGA Championship Picks

Ludvig Aberg +1800 (BetMGM)

At The Masters, Ludvig Aberg announced to the golf world that he’s no longer an “up and coming” player. He’s one of the best players in the game of golf, regardless of experience.

Augusta National gave Aberg some necessary scar tissue and showed him what being in contention at a major championship felt like down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, he made a costly mistake, hitting it in the water left of the 11th hole, but showed his resilience by immediately bouncing back. He went on to birdie two of his next three holes and finished in solo second by three shots. With the type of demeanor that remains cool in pressure situations, I believe Ludvig has the right mental game to win a major at this point in his career.

Aberg has not finished outside of the top-25 in his past eight starts, which includes two runner-up finishes at both a “Signature Event” and a major championship. The 24-year-old is absolutely dominant with his driver, which will give him a major advantage this week. In the field he ranks, in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and has gained strokes in the category in each of his past ten starts. Aberg is already one of the best drivers of the golf ball on the planet.

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The Swedes, who are of Old Norse origin, were the last of the three Scandinavian Kingdoms to abandon the Old Norse Gods. A Swede played a major role in the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and I believe another, Ludvig Aberg, will be the one to conquer Valhalla in 2024. 

Bryson DeChambeau +2800 (BetMGM)

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the few players in the world that I believe has the game to go blow-for-blow with Scottie Scheffler. Although he isn’t as consistent as Scheffler, when he’s at his best, Bryson has the talent to beat him.

At The Masters, DeChambeau put forth a valiant effort at a golf course that simply does not suit his game. Valhalla, on the other hand, is a course that should be perfect for the 30-year-old. His ability to overpower a golf course with his driver will be a serious weapon this week.

Bryson has had some success at Jack Nicklaus designs throughout his career as he won the Memorial at Muirfield Village back in 2018. He’s also had incredible results on Bentgrass greens for the entirety of his professional career. Of his 10 wins, nine of them have come on Bentgrass greens, with the only exception being the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He also has second place finishes at Medinah and TPC Summerlin, which feature Bentgrass greens.

Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to argue that Bryson isn’t one of the most exciting and important players in the game of golf. He’s also one of the best players in the world. A second major is coming soon for DeChambeau, and I believe he should be amongst the favorites to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy this week.

Patrick Cantlay +4000 (FanDuel)

There’s no way of getting around it: Patrick Cantlay has been dissapointing in major championships throughout his professional career. He’s been one of the top players on Tour for a handful of years and has yet to truly contend at a major championship, with the arguable exception of the 2019 Masters.

Despite not winning majors, Cantlay has won some big events. The 32-year-old has won two BMW Championships, two Memorial Tournaments as well as a Tour Championship. His victories at Memorial indicate how much Cantlay loves Nicklaus designs, where he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds behind only Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm.

Cantlay also loves Bentgrass greens. Six of Cantlay’s seven individual wins on the PGA Tour have come on Bentgrass greens and he also was one of the best putters at the 2023 Ryder cup at Marco Simone (also Bentgrass). At Caves Valley (2021 BMW Championship), he gained over 12 strokes putting to outduel another Bentgrass specialist, Bryson DeChambeau.

Cantlay finished 22nd in The Masters, which was a solid result considering how many elite players struggled that week. He also has two top-ten finishes in his past five PGA Championships. He’s undeniably one of the best players in the field, therefore, it comes down to believing Cantlay has the mental fortitude to win a major, which I do.

Joaquin Niemann +4000 (BetMGM)

I believe Joaquin Niemann is one of the best players in the world. He has three worldwide wins since December and has continued to improve over the course of his impressive career thus far. Still only 25, the Chilean has all the tools to be a serious contender in major championships for years to come.

Niemann has been the best player on LIV this season. Plenty will argue with the format or source of the money on LIV, but no one can argue that beating players such as Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith is an unremarkable achievement. Niemann is an elite driver of the golf ball who hits it farther than just about anyone in the field not named Bryson DeChambeau or (arguably) Rory McIlroy.

Niemann is another player who has been fantastic throughout his career on Bentgrass greens. Prior to leaving the PGA Tour, Bentgrass was the only green surface in which Joaco was a positive putter. It’s clearly a surface that he is very comfortable putting on and should fare around and on the greens this week.

Niemann is a perfect fit for Valhalla. His low and penetrating ball flight will get him plenty of runout this week on the fairways and he should have shorter shots into the green complexes than his competitors. To this point in his career, the former top ranked amateur in the world (2018) has been underwhelming in major championships, but I don’t believe that will last much longer. Joaquin Niemann is a major championship caliber player and has a real chance to contend this week at Valhalla.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work? Part 2

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In my last post, I explained the basic performance dynamics of “smash factor” and “gear effect” as they apply to your wedges and your wedge play success. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

At the end of that post, I promised “part 2” of this discussion of what makes a wedge work the way it does. So, let’s dive into the other two components of any wedge – the shaft and the grip.

It’s long been said that the shaft is “the engine of the golf club.” The shaft (and grip) are your only connection to all the technologies that are packed into the head of any golf club, whether it be a driver, fairway, hybrid, iron, wedge or even putter.

And you cannot ignore those two components of your wedges if your goal is optimizing your performance.

I’ve long been an advocate of what I call a “seamless transition” from your irons into your wedges, so that the feel and performance do not disconnect when you choose a gap wedge, for example, instead of your iron-set-matching “P-club.” In today’s golf equipment marketplace, more and more golfers are making the investment of time and money to experience an iron fitting, going through trial and error and launch monitor measuring to get just the right shaft in their irons.

But then so many of those same golfers just go into a store and choose wedges off the retail display, with no similar science involved at all. And that’s why I see so many golfers with a huge disconnect between their custom-fitted irons, often with lighter and/or softer graphite or light steel shafts . . . and their off-the-rack wedges with the stock stiff steel ‘wedge flex’ shaft common to those stock offerings.

If your wedge shafts are significantly heavier and stiffer than the shafts in your irons, it is physically impossible for you to make the same swing. Period.

To quickly improve your wedge play, one of the first things you can do is have your wedges re-shafted with the same or similar shaft that is in your irons.

There’s another side of that shaft weight equation; if you don’t have the forearm and hand strength of a PGA Tour professional, you simply cannot “handle” the same weight shaft that those guys play to master the myriad of ‘touch shots’ around the greens.

Now, let’s move on to the third and other key component of your wedges – the grips. If those are not similar in shape and feel to the grips on your irons, you have another disconnect. Have your grips checked by a qualified golf club professionals to make sure you are in sync there.

The one caveat to that advice is that I am a proponent of a reduced taper in your wedge grips – putting two to four more layers of tape under the lower hand, or selecting one of the many reduced taper grips on the market. That accomplishes two goals for your scoring.

First, it helps reduce overactive hands in your full and near-full wedge swings. Quiet hands are key to good wedge shots.

And secondly, it provides a more consistent feel of the wedge in your hands as you grip down for those shorter and more delicate shots around the greens. And you should always grip down as you get into those touch shots. I call it “getting closer to your work.”

So, if you will spend as much time selecting the shafts and grips for your wedges as you do choosing the brand, model, and loft of them, your scoring range performance will get better.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Wells Fargo Championship betting preview: Tommy Fleetwood ready to finally land maiden PGA Tour title

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The PGA Tour season ramps back up this week for another “signature event,” as golf fans look forward to the year’s second major championship next week.

After two weaker-field events in the Zurich Classic and the CJ Cup Byron Nelson, most of the best players in the world will head to historic Quail Hollow for one of the best non-major tournaments of the year. 

Last season, Wyndham Clark won the event by four shots.

Quail Hollow is a par-71 measuring 7,521 yards that features Bermudagrass greens. The tree-lined, parkland style course can play quite difficult and features one of the most difficult three-hole stretches in golf known as “The Green Mile,” which makes up holes 16-18: two mammoth par 4s and a 221-yard par 3. All three holes have an average score over par, and water is in play in each of the last five holes on the course.

The field is excellent this week with 68 golfers teeing it up without a cut. All of the golfers who’ve qualified are set to tee it up, with the exception of Scottie Scheffler, who is expecting the birth of his first child. 

Past Winners at Quail Hollow

  • 2023: Wyndham Clark (-19)
  • 2022: Max Homa (-8)
  • 2021: Rory McIlroy (-10)
  • 2019: Max Homa (-15)
  • 2018: Jason Day (-12)
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) (PGA Championship)
  • 2016: James Hahn (-9)
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy (-21)

Key Stats For Quail Hollow

Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes gained: Approach will be extremely important this week as second shots at Quail Hollow can be very difficult. 

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Akshay Bhatia (+1.16)
  2. Tom Hoge (+1.12)
  3. Corey Conners (+1.01)
  4. Shane Lowry (+0.93)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+0.82)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Quail Hollow is a long course on which it is important to play from the fairway. Both distance and accuracy are important, as shorter tee shots will result in approach shots from 200 or more yards. With most of the holes heavily tree lined, errant drives will create some real trouble for the players.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+0.73)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+0.69)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+0.62)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+0.58)
  5. Chris Kirk (+0.52)

Proximity: 175-200

The 175-200 range is key at Quail Hollow. Players who can hit their long irons well will rise to the top of the leaderboard. 

Proximity: 175-200+ over past 24 rounds:

  1. Cameron Young (28’2″)
  2. Akshay Bhatia (29’6″)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+30’6″)
  4. Sam Burns (+30’6″)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+30’9″)

SG: Total on Tom Fazio Designs

Players who thrive on Tom Fazio designs get a bump for me at Quail Hollow this week. 

SG: Total on Tom Fazio Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+2.10)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+1.95)
  3. Tommy Fleetwood (+1.68)
  4. Austin Eckroat (+1.60)
  5. Will Zalatoris (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermudagrass)

Strokes Gained: Putting has historically graded out as the most important statistic at Quail Hollow. While it isn’t always predictable, I do want to have it in the model to bump up golfers who prefer to putt on Bermudagrass.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermudagrass) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Taylor Moore (+0.82)
  2. Nick Dunlap (+.76)
  3. Wyndham Clark (+.69)
  4. Emiliano Grillo (+.64)
  5. Cam Davis (+.61)

Course History

This stat will incorporate players that have played well in the past at Quail Hollow. 

Course History over past 36 rounds (per round):

  1. Rory McIlroy (+2.50)
  2. Justin Thomas (+1.96)
  3. Jason Day (+1.92)
  4. Rickie Fowler (+1.83)
  5. Viktor Hovland (+1.78)

Wells Fargo Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: Off the Tee (23%), SG: Total on Fazio designs (12%), Proximity: 175-200 (12%), SG: Putting Bermuda grass (12%), and Course History (14%).

  1. Wyndham Clark
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Xander Schauffele
  4. Shane Lowry
  5. Hideki Matsuyama
  6. Viktor Hovland 
  7. Cameron Young
  8. Austin Eckroat 
  9. Byeong Hun An
  10. Justin Thomas

2024 Wells Fargo Championship Picks

Tommy Fleetwood +2500 (DraftKings)

I know many out there have Tommy fatigue when it comes to betting, which is completely understandable given his lack of ability to win on the PGA Tour thus far in his career. However, history has shown us that players with Fleetwood’s talent eventually break though, and I believe for Tommy, it’s just a matter of time.

Fleetwood has been excellent on Tom Fazio designs. Over his past 36 rounds, he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Fazio tracks. He’s also been incredibly reliable off the tee this season. He’s gained strokes in the category in eight of his past nine starts, including at The Masters, the PLAYERS and the three “signature events” of the season. Tommy is a golfer built for tougher courses and can grind it out in difficult conditions.

Last year, Fleetwood was the first-round leader at this event, firing a Thursday 65. He finished the event in a tie for 5th place.

For those worried about Fleetwood’s disappointing start his last time out at Harbour Town, he’s bounced back nicely after plenty of poor outings this season. His T7 at the Valero Texas Open was after a MC and T35 in his prior two starts and his win at the Dubai Invitational came after a T47 at the Sentry.

I expect Tommy to bounce back this week and contend at Quail Hollow.

Justin Thomas +3000 (DraftKings)

It’s been a rough couple of years for Justin Thomas, but I don’t believe things are quite as bad as they seem for JT. He got caught in the bad side of the draw at Augusta for last month’s Masters and has gained strokes on approach in seven of his nine starts in 2024. 

Thomas may have found something in his most recent start at the RBC Heritage. He finished T5 at a course that he isn’t the best fit for on paper. He also finally got the putter working and ranked 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week.

The two-time PGA champion captured the first of his two major championships at Quail Hollow back in 2017, and some good vibes from the course may be enough to get JT out of his slump.

Thomas hasn’t won an event in just about two years. However, I still believe that will change soon as he’s been one of the most prolific winners throughout his PGA Tour career. Since 2015, he has 15 PGA Tour wins.

Course history is pretty sticky at Quail Hollow, with players who like the course playing well there on a regular basis. In addition to JT’s PGA Championship win in 2017, he went 4-1 at the 2022 Presidents Cup and finished T14 at the event last year despite being in poor form. Thomas can return as one of the top players on the PGA Tour with a win at a “signature event” this week. 

Cameron Young +3500 (DraftKings)

For many golf bettors, it’s been frustrating backing Cam Young this season. His talent is undeniable, and one of the best and most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. He just hasn’t broken through with a victory yet. Quail Hollow has been a great place for elite players to get their first victory. Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark all notched their first PGA Tour win at Quail.

Throughout Cam Young’s career, he has thrived at tougher courses with strong fields. This season, he finished T16 at Riviera and T9 at Augusta National, demonstrating his preference of a tough test. His ability to hit the ball long and straight off the tee make him an ideal fit for Quail Hollow, despite playing pretty poorly his first time out in 2023 (T59). Young should be comfortable playing in the region as he played his college golf at Wake Forest, which is about an hour’s drive from Quail Hollow.

The 26-year-old has played well at Tom Fazio designs in the past and ranks 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on those courses in his last 36 rounds. Perhaps most importantly, this season, Young is the best player on the PGA Tour in terms of proximity from 175-200 in the fairway, which is where a plurality and many crucial shots will come from this week.

Young is an elite talent and Quail Hollow has been kind to players of his ilk who’ve yet to win on Tour.

Byeong Hun An +5000 (FanDuel)

Byeong Hun An missed some opportunities last weekend at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson. He finished T4 and played some outstanding golf, but a couple of missed short putts prevented him from getting to the winning score of -23. Despite not getting the win, it’s hard to view An’s performance as anything other than an overwhelming success. It was An’s fourth top-ten finish of the season.

Last week, An gained 6.5 strokes ball striking, which was 7th in the field. He also ranked 12th for Strokes Gained: Approach and 13th for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. The South Korean has been hitting the ball so well from tee to green all season long and he now heads to a golf course that should reward his precision.

An’s driver and long irons are absolute weapons. At Quail Hollow, players will see plenty of approach shots from the 175-200 range as well as some from 200+. In his past 24 rounds, Ben ranks 3rd in the field in proximity from 175-200 and 12th in proximity from 200+. Playing in an event that will not end up being a “birdie” fest should help An, who can separate from the field with his strong tee to green play. The putter may not always cooperate but getting to -15 is much easier than getting to -23 for elite ball strikers who tend to struggle on the greens.

Winning a “signature event” feels like a tall task for An this week with so many elite players in the field. However, he’s finished T16 at the Genesis Invitational, T16 at The Masters and T8 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The 32-year-old’s game has improved drastically this season and I believe he’s ready to get the biggest win of his career.

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