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Morning 9: Shh… | Hovland breaks through | PGL CEO speaks | Greatest putt ever?

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1. “Shhhhhh…”
Steve DiMeglio for Golfweek writes this regarding Patrick Reed’s WGC win…”A week that began with more biting criticism about his escapade in the sand in the Bahamas last December ended with an emphatic response from Patrick Reed.”
  • “Reed blocked out all the noise, deflected the condemnations and accusations of cheating and then stormed from behind during a tense back nine Sunday to win the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec.”
  • “En route to his second WGC title and eighth PGA Tour victory, the 2018 Masters champion shot rounds of 69-63-67-67 to finish at 18 under and one shot clear of Bryson DeChambeau. Reed scrambled for a finishing bogey after driving it into the trees and two-putted from 34 feet for the win.”
2. Hovland breaks through
AP report…”Viktor Hovland rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to capture his maiden PGA Tour victory in dramatic fashion at the Puerto Rico Open.”
  • “Hovland started the day with a one-shot lead, and at one point he built a three-shot advantage midway through the round. But after overcoming an ill-timed triple bogey, he was facing the prospect of a playoff with journeyman Josh Teater as he played the par-5 closing hole.”
  • “After his wedge came up short as rain fell in Rio Grande, the 22-year-old buried the birdie putt to finish the week at 20 under after a final-round 70 and polish off a breakthrough win.”
3. PGL CEO speaks
Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio reporting…”Andrew Gardiner, the league’s CEO, is the voice behind the league and he spoke for 90 minutes on the British-based golf show podcast hosted by Rick Shiels.”
  • “Gardiner, a London-based director at Barclays Capital, said the Premier Golf League would run from January through August and consist of 12 four-man teams, with Gardiner saying the owner or the leader of each team would pick two players to count for the team score prior the start of the first round.”
  • “Players would be required to play all 18 events, with each featuring 54 holes, shotgun starts, no cut and no dress code. Each of the first 17 events would have a $10 million purse, with the season-ending playoff tournament boasting a $40 million purse. An individual champion will also be crowned in the final event.”
  • “The goal is for the league to begin in 2022.”
4. PGL short on substance?
Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch…”For all the attention Premier Golf League has garnered, it’s still little more than spitballs against a whiteboard. There’s the promise of financing, but no hard assets. No players. No tournaments. No infrastructure. McIlroy’s stiff-arming isn’t quite a fatal blow – he admitted that if everyone else jumps then he’ll have to follow – but having the world No. 1 say he’ll join only at gunpoint doesn’t much recommend it to his peers. Guys like Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose have teased interest, but they are players who don’t have the longest competitive runway ahead of them.”
  • “To be viable, PGL needs commitments from multiple younger stars, and the biggest star in that constellation just said no. Six years after it was conceived, Premier Golf League is all promise, no delivery.”
  • “That PGL has lingered for so long speaks to the depthless focus on finances among some players and agents, but also to how urgently the PGA Tour needs a reckoning with its own reality. Because even Woods predicts this will not be the last renegade challenge the Tour faces.”
5. Ignoring the noise
ESPN’s Bob Harig…”The noise, at times, can be deafening, deflating. It is certainly distracting. Patrick Reed admits as much because it would be nearly impossible to say or do otherwise.”
  • “And so it was that Reed had not one, but two grenades tossed his way this week in the wake of Sandy-gate in the Bahamas, the “cheating” scandal that continues to dog him.
  • “For reasons of his own making, that controversy lingers, but Reed thrives amid chaos. We’ve seen it at the Ryder Cup and throughout the last few months as he’s endured his share of taunting and jeers, from spectators, fellow competitors and commentators.”
6. “I just suck at chipping”
Candor from the young man from Norway! Hovland found himself unwittingly playing the part of a 20-handicapper on the par-3 11th hole at the Puerto Rico Open…
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Hovland chunked a chip shot from near the cart path, then failed to reach the green again with his third. It added up to a triple bogey which erased his advantage and put his tournament chances in peril.”
  • “Hovland ranks 230th on Tour this season in strokes gained: around the green, and he didn’t mince any words when asked about what went wrong on No. 11.”
  • “I just suck at chipping,” Hovland said. “I definitely need to work on my short game, and I was 100 percent exposed there on that hole.”
7. A show for the home crowd
Cameron Morfit for PGATour.com on the two Mexicans who teed it up at the WGC-Mexico…”Meanwhile, Abraham Ancer, who grew up in Mexico and Texas and was the breakout star of the Presidents Cup in December, also shot a final-round 68 to finish 9 under (T12).”
  • “The previous best finish by a Mexican player here was Ancer’s T39 last year.”
  • “It was a very fun week,” Ancer said. “I think I left a couple of birdies out there, but my game was quite solid. I hit it very well from the tee, and I’ve got a couple of notes on things to improve for next year, but I’m happy. Each year I’ve been able to get a little better.”
  • “The highlight Sunday for Ancer: stuffing his tee shot to within tap-in range at the par-3 17th, where fans chanted his nickname (Turco, or Turk) as he walked to the green.”
8. Headed for Augusta National
Golfweek’s Adam Woodard…”In 46 days, the eyes of the golf world will be on Augusta National for the Masters, where van Rooyen will compete for the first time. He qualified for the Masters by finishing inside the top 50 of the final OWGR last year.”
  • “As a freshman in college in 2009 at Minnesota, the Golden Gophers played in Augusta State’s tournament, held the weekend before the Masters. Van Rooyen and his Minnesota teammates got tickets to Monday’s practice round.”
  • “I remember Tiger was warming up with Fred Couples, Trevor Immelman was on the range, and I guess you go see some iconic holes, No. 1, walked a few holes, and then went to Amen Corner,” recalled van Rooyen after Friday’s round in Mexico City. “Thirteen is a much bigger dogleg than what it seems on TV, and then we just kind of spent some time there, bought a little bit of merchandise, as everybody does, and yeah, just kind of tried to soak it in.”
9. Move over, Bobby Locke! 
Woodard again…”86-year-old Mary Ann Wakefield…[made] one of the most impressive putts you’ll ever see from the full length of a college basketball court.
  • “During the Ole Miss men’s basketball game against Alabama on Saturday night as part of the Cannon Motors of Mississippi Putt for a Car challenge, Wakefield had a 94-foot putt on hardwood to win a new 2020 Nissan Altima.”
  • “She absolutely buried it, dead center.”

 

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The future’s restoration: Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh

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The Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh is known for its Seth Raynor golf course. With Raynor’s guiding hand, the layout crafted onto this meadow in the eponymous section of the Burgh stands unique among the region’s golf courses. While nearby Oakmont can lay claim to being the only Henry Fownes golf course design, Fox Chapel can stake its own claim as Raynor’s best. That is heady company, given the likes of Camargo in Cincinnati, Blue Mound in Wisconsin, and Fishers Island in the waters between New York and Connecticut.

Over the course of the year 2020, Tom Marzolf of Fazio Design lived and worked these fairways, helping course superintendent Jason Hurwitz and a build team rediscover and recreate what Raynor laid down. By rediscover, the assemblage confirmed original putting surface sizes, fairway corridors, and bunker placements. Some of the latter had been lost, and many of the former had shrunk just a bit. By recreate, the bevy dreamed how Raynor and Banks would have placed bunkers and tees in an era of increased technological influence. What they turned out to the membership in the spring of 2021, was a restored and renewed Fox Chapel, one that brags of Raynor’s brilliance and sets the stage for the next 50 years.

Seth Raynor built the course in the early 1920s. Unlike other courses, we had evidence of what it looked like immediately after it was built, including great photos from 1925 when it opened, as well as aerial photos from the ‘30s and more. We could see changes that happened over time.

“[A.W.] Tillinghast was on property in the ‘30s, as part of the work he did for the PGA of America during The Depression, and evidently there was an attempt to remove some of Raynor’s design. You can see in aerials taken in 1938 Raynor features being eliminated and “Winged Foot-type” fingers going into Raynor’s hard-edged bunkers. Other geometric forms were rounded out, even mowing lines changed. For example, on the par-4, dogleg-right 13th hole, Tilly sharpened the dogleg and moved the green to the right, eliminating a classic Raynor double-plateau surface. The 16th hole was a “Bottle”; then the Bottle design was gone and Winged Foot-type bunkers were added.”

“Were some of the bolder features too hard to play? We don’t know, but we felt our job was to make members aware of the changes.” – Tom Marzolf, Fazio Design

Seth Raynor was the right-hand man of Charles Blair Macdonald, the blustery father of American golf. Raynor was contracted to build a nine-hole course at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, and it was there that he met one of the school’s employees, Charles Banks. Banks had served as both English instructor and development officer at the prep school and became enthralled with Raynor’s approach to design. After the school’s course opened in 1924, Banks abandoned his career at Hotchkiss and joined forces with Raynor. Banks would earn the nickname “Steam Shovel,” for purportedly losing a steam shovel in a bog at the Whippoorwill course in New York. When Raynor passed in 1926, two years after their meeting, Banks finished a number of Raynor’s courses.

For those not in the know, Macdonald and Raynor were purveyors of the “template” school of golf course architecture. During travels to Scotland and England, Macdonald had identified holes that he considered to be the finest examples of strategic golf course architecture. They bore names like Redan, Road, Biarritz, Punch Bowl, Hog’s Back, Eden, Maiden, and others. Many of these holes are found, in one form or fashion, at Fox Chapel. In fact, it is something of a scavenger hunt among template fans to determine which course or club has the finest, the most unique, the most authentic mimeo of the original. Macdonald’s magnum opus, the National Golf Links of America, sits in the Hamptons of Long Island, and is a treasure trove of templates.

In addition to the aforementioned, it should be noted that Raynor was a civil engineer, a man remarkably inclined toward geometry. As Mr. Marzolf notes, the following is a fine assessment of what the restoration committee set out to achieve

“Geometry, bisecting lines of play, straight mowing lines, bands of the fairway that go right up to a geometrically shaped bunker and then turn. The use of template holes, like his mentor C.B. Macdonald, repeating the size of bunkers. We’re trying to make this the strictest adhering to Raynor principles possible. It is not an interpretation, it’s truly putting Raynor back on the ground.”

Over the intervening decades, the Fox Chapel Club hosted a number of elite events but fell a bit of a victim to the architectural flavors of the different times. Trees grew up and green surfaces shrunk. Deep rough became a method of protecting par, rather than the firm and fast conditions championed by Raynor and other, golden-age architects. In 2014, the club retained the Fazio design firm to develop a master plan for the golf course. Tom Marzolf was charged with leading a return to Raynor principles. Over the next seven years, the club and the Fazio firm moved in the direction of restoring as much of Seth Raynor’s design to the grounds but kept an eye on the future.

Many bunkers were simply no longer in play, thanks to the gains of technology over the years. Some bunkers were moved farther down the fairway, keeping the Raynor essence but allowing the holes to challenge the top players of today and tomorrow. Greens were restored to their original sizes, and lost features were recaptured. The greatest (but not the last) reclamation took place on the 16th hole. In 2005, when this writer visited the club for a high school tournament, the antipenultimate hole was known as Raynor’s Prize Dogleg, although there was little leg to the dog. Marzolf and the club determined that this was Raynor’s Bottle hole, and worked diligently to restore that trace to the hole.

With new equipment, we needed to modernize the course, to address the effects of new clubs and balls. We had to have a course that fits the yardage that the best players hit the ball. So, we took Raynor’s concepts and moved them.

“For example, originally bunkers were 185 to 225 yards off the tee: In many cases, we eliminated those bunkers and added new ones in the 285- to 325-yard range from the back tees and on the same side of the fairway. Deleting old bunkers also meant smoothing the grades where they used to be, eliminating any evidence, and reworking all the fairway lines. Building new bunkers meant locating and staking them out, projecting them into the fairways, and making them the focal points that control club selection off the tee.” – Tom Marzolf

One might have expected that 2019-2020 would have been lost to the pandemic, but that was not the case. Mr. Marzolf moved to Pittsburgh to supervise the final steps in the restoration of Raynor’s western Pennsylvania gem. Under the guidance of superintendent Jason Hurwitz, the reclamation was complete. In June of 2021, the Fox Chapel Golf Club revealed its wonderful golf course to the public.

What about our “but not the last” notation, two paragraphs above? It turns out that the 13th hole, which extends to the southernmost point of the property, was once the site of a remarkable, double plateau green. It remains the sole feature to not be returned to the fabled layout. It’s on the minds of more than one member and fan, and it would be a spectacular addition to an already challenging hole. We can dream, can’t we?

FOOTNOTE: It is suggested by membership that Banks did work with Raynor at Fox Chapel. Two bunkers in particular bear his style: the bunker that guards the front right portion of the 15th green and another on the eighth hole. The relationship of the bunker floors to the green heights intimate the work of a man who would impart his own technique to the digging of sand pits. It’s impossible to move from speculation to fact, so we’ll leave it at that. Banks would continue Raynor’s work after his passing, but would ultimately succumb to ill health himself, dying at age 49 in 1931.

—————————

For more on Seth Raynor, read this piece by Raynor Society executive director Anthony Pioppi.

For more on Charles Henry Banks, read this excellent piece by Anthony Pioppi.

Photos courtesy of this writer.

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Tokyo Olympics men’s golf DraftKings picks

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60 golfers will be making the trip to Tokyo this week for the men’s Olympic golf competition. Kasumigaseki Country Club sits 35 miles outside of Tokyo and plays as a par 71, tipping out to 7,447 yards on the scorecard.

The Charles Allison design features bent-grass greens and zoysia fairways, and it received a total facelift from famed architect Tom Fazio in 2016. From all of the course flyovers and information we have at our disposal, Kasumigaseki features similar elements to other Fazio designs/redesigns such as Firestone Country Club, Quail Hollow, and Shadow Creek.

On-ground reports have mentioned that the course is playing on the softer side, which conjures memories of how Augusta National played for the November Masters.

Premier ball-strikers, specifically those with expertise with their long irons and wedges, and those comfortable navigating large and undulating greens seem to be the safest bets.

You can check out my betting tips and selections here. Let’s dig into the DraftKings slate!

2021 Tokyo Olympics men’s golf DraftKings picks

$10,000 range 

Xander Schauffele, $10,700 (Projected ownership: 13.3%)

Xander Schauffele is often the highest-owned golfer on the DraftKings slate, but it appears that fantasy managers feel more comfortable paying up for Collin Morikawa or Justin Thomas this week. I’ll side with Schauffele, the number one bent-grass putter in this field, who has won and finished runner-up the WGC-HSBC Championship in China, finished runner-up at Shadow Creek, and has an unbelievable track record at Augusta National and East Lake, one of the only courses on Tour that features zoysia fairways.

$9,000 range 

Shane Lowry, $9,600 (Projected ownership: 10.6%)

I’ve already shared my love for Lowry in my betting tips article, yet the idea that he is coming in at only 10.6 perccent projected ownership makes him an intriguing DraftKings option as well. Sandwiched in between Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey, fantasy managers are passing on the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone winner at Firestone, and I can’t quite understand why. Lowry is currently playing some of the best golf of his career. The Irish representative has gained over 1.3 strokes on approach in every measured start since March.

$8,000 range 

Cameron Smith, $8,900 (Projected ownership: 14.7%)

Cameron Smith is a player who just missed the cut for my betting card, yet I will gladly take the plunge in DraftKings. The Australian finished 11th at Shadow Creek, fourth at Sherwood, and runner-up at the November Masters. While Smith is by no means low-owned, Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im, and Corey Conners all project to garner more ownership than the recent Zurich Classic winner. I’ll side with Smith, a top-five bunker player and birdie maker in this field.

$7,000 range 

Sebastian Munoz, $7,700 (Projected ownership: 14.9%)

I’ll take the plunge with Sebastian Munoz this week, who has recorded an eighth-place finish on zoysia fairways at East Lake, a ninth-place finish at Shadow Creek, and a 14th-place finish at the November Masters. The former Sanderson Farms Championship winner has been awesome on bent-grass greens, with recent finishes of third at Colonial and fourth at TPC Deere Run.

$6,000 range 

Sepp Straka, $6,400 (Projected ownership: 14.9%)

This is where things get tricky. I almost wrote up Henrik Norlander, but 21 percent projected ownership is a tough pill to swallow. I will gladly pivot to Sepp Straka, who is by no means flying under the radar, but is essentially the same player as Norlander at $400 dollars cheaper and less ownership. The University of Georgia product is coming off a start where he gained 4.2 strokes on approach at the 3M Open. That’s good enough for me at this price point, as this is a barren range.

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Tokyo Olympics men’s golf betting tips and selections

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59 golfers will be making the trek to Tokyo this week for the men’s Olympic golf competition. This will be the fourth golf event in the history of the Olympics. It was played in Paris in 1900, St. Louis in 1904, and then after a 112-year hiatus, Olympic golf returned in 2016, as Justin Rose took home the gold medal in Rio. The Olympics will be a four-day stroke play event with no cut, similar to many World Golf Championships and shorter field events that make up the Asian swing of the PGA Tour.

While there is no hard data from professional competition on the host course, Kasumigaseki Country Club, we can responsibly draw comparisons to other courses that host professional tournaments. Kasumigaseki is a Charles Allison design with bent-grass greens and zoysia fairways. Famed architect Tom Fazio gave the course a total facelift in 2016, and from all of the course flyovers and information we have at our disposal, it features similar elements to other Fazio designs/re-designs such as Firestone Country Club, Quail Hollow, and Shadow Creek.

Playing as a par 71 and tipping out to 7,447 yards on the scorecard, length off the tee will certainly help here. Along with distance, I am primarily looking for players with experience navigating large and undulating greens, as well as elite long iron snipers and those who are capable of going low in benign scoring conditions.

Let’s dig into my outright selections!

Olympics men’s golf betting picks

Viktor Hovland (12-1, FanDuel Sportsbook)

The Norwegian sensation rated out as the number one player in my model this week due to his elite long iron play, length off the tee, expertise with his wedges, and ability to make birdies in bunches. Over his last 36 rounds, Hovland ranks inside the top-10 in strokes gained approach, strokes gained off the tee, proximity from 200 yards plus, proximity from 125-150 yards, and birdies or better gained.

With a 12th-place finish at Shadow Creek in the fall, and a third-place finish at Quail Hollow this spring, the two-time PGA Tour winner should be right at home on another tree-lined Tom Fazio course featuring large and undulating bent-grass greens.

Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

While concerns about Patrick Reed’s recent travel schedule are certainly valid, I’ve found reason to believe that the Olympics has his upmost attention. Reed is only in the field this week as a result of Bryson DeChambeau’s withdrawal due to a positive COVID-19 test, and despite learning this while in the midst of competing in the 3M Open, Reed jumped at the opportunity to represent his country.

The man deemed “Captain America” for his Ryder Cup heroics, has also experienced some incredible success on bent-grass greens, and tops this entire field in three-putt avoidance. While Augusta National is far from a perfect comp to Kasumigaseki, Reed always plays well at the Masters, and he is coming off a 14th-place finish at Sherwood in October and a sixth-place finish at Quail Hollow in April. I expect the nine-time PGA Tour winner to certainly be a factor come Sunday afternoon in Tokyo.

Shane Lowry (22-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

After an understandable hangover from his life-changing 2019 Open Championship win at Royal Portrush, Shane Lowry is back to playing some incredible golf this season. The Irishman has made the cut in every major this year, and recorded top-15 finishes at The Players, PGA Championship, Memorial, and most recently, The Open Championship in his title defense. One through-line we can draw from Lowry’s historical results is that he always plays his best golf on the biggest stage.

Lowry is a bankable selection in stronger-field events because of his elite approach play. The five-time worldwide winner has gained over 1.3 strokes on approach in every measured start since March. With a win already under his belt at the Fazio re-designed Firestone, I expect Lowry to add a gold medal to his already impressive resume.

Abraham Ancer (25-1, DraftKings SportsBook)

Ancer is a player who I rarely bet as he has still yet to record his first PGA Tour victory. With that being said, this feels like a logical breakthrough spot for the University of Oklahoma product.

Ancer has already finished runner-up at Quail Hollow this year, and I love the idea of a soft Augusta as a comp course for Kasumigaseki, where Ancer contended as well. More recently, Ancer has also recorded top-10 finishes at the Valspar, Travelers, and PGA Championship. His ball striking remains elite, and he is one of the better putters in the field as well, ranking sixth in strokes gained putting and third in three-putt avoidance over his last 36 rounds. Bent-grass has also historically been his best surface. I firmly believe that Ancer will be in the mix this weekend in Tokyo.

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