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5 things we learned Thursday at The Players Championship

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As school districts closed in Ohio, and New York shut down major events across the state, the band played on at Sawgrass. The season’s first nearly-a-major teed off early, under delightful skies and little wind. It’s a shame, really, that major-championship golf is an all-or-nothing proposal.

The Players deserves better, but it doesn’t deserve major status. It lies on the wrong side of history, as it was born three generations too late. Let it be said, however, that it will identify a champion of the highest quality, and its champion will value the title as career-defining. With that Janus-faced lead-in, let’s have a look at the five things we learned on Thursday at The Players Championship.

5. As Hideki putts, so Hideki goes

Your first-round leader, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, made 8 birdies and an eagle on day one. Never mind that he bogeyed the easiest hole (16) on the course; the number that mattered most was his strokes-gained: putting tally: 4.25 on the field. As Hideki putts, so Hideki scores. Matsuyama is easily the most talented golfer on the planet with putting woes. Week in and out, fans hold their breath as he takes the flat stick back. No putt, of any length, is ever safe. On this day, Matsuyama was stellar. Should he maintain that stature, the tournament is over.

4. Si Woo Kim asks, “Remember me?” 

In 2017, the young Korean posted a marvelous 69 on Sunday to outdistance Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter by 3 strokes. Since that magical day, his victory total has yet to advance. On Thursday, Kim overcame a bogey at the 6th with 6 birdies and an eagle. He sits in a 2nd-place tie with Harris English and Christian Bezuidenhout, two strokes back of Matsuyama. What Kim did best on Thursday, was scramble. He missed 7 greens, but got up and down for par or better on 6 of them. He certainly would take a few more GIR the next few days, and let his putter go head to head with Matsuyama’s flat stick.

3. He shot what?

No expected the following numbers from the following golfers:

  • 78 from Tommy Fleetwood
  • 76 from Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari
  • 73 from Patrick Reed
  • 72 from Rory McIlroy (to his credit, he birdied the final three.)

The reality of all those numbers is, they are at least 9 strokes behind the leader. We know that Matsuyama won’t back up his 63 with another low number. If he does, power to him. These golfers, and anyone else at par or higher, are effectively out of the running for the baubles and accolades that will accompany the title of 2020 Players champion. Now, if Matsuyama were to putt like Matsuyama, things would certainly change in a hurry.

2. Bezuidenhout the perfect

Only the South African navigated the swamp with zero bogeys. After 16 composed holes, Bezuidenhout nearly came undone at the final two. He missed both greens in regulation, but was able to scramble for par at both holes. No matter what happens this week, the European-Tour winner will learn a lot from the pressure at TPC. What he won’t learn, is how heavy the trophy is. Put him in the same spot on Sunday, and his tee balls at 17 and 18 will both find the wet stuff.

1.  The band plays on, but the fans stay home

Beginning on Friday’s round two, the PGA Tour will play without fans for 15 rounds. The final three days at Sawgrass, followed by the Valspar, the WGC Match Play and Corales, and the Texas Open, will see golfers play with no sounds from outside the ropes—indeed, there will be no need for gallery ropes at all.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2021 Travelers Championship

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GolfWRX is live this week under the red umbrella at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.

We got an in-hand look at Titleist’s new T100, T100S, and U 505 irons as the company began tour seeding of the next generation of  T-Series wares this week.

We also got in-hand looks at Rickie Fowler’s Scotty Cameron flatsticks and Hank Lebioda and Cam Smith’s absolutely filthy looking prototype black T100 irons.

Oh, and we spotted Dustin Johnson returning to his immortal beloved (for the pro-am at least) Fujikura shaft.

Links to all our photos, below.

Special galleries

General galleries

Join the discussion in the GolfWRX forums. 

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Equipment

Inside Jon Rahm’s putter switch before U.S. Open win

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Editor’s note: We filed this piece for PGATour.com’s Equipment Report

His 18-foot, curling left-to-righter breaks toward the hole, eyes locked on its path, Jon Rahm raises his Odyssey Rossie S putter and unleashes jubilant fist pump as his ball dives into the darkness.

We’ve seen the highlight how many times in the handful of days that have passed since that putt clinched Rahm’s U.S. Open victory?

It’s hard to imagine after seeing the confidence and firm conviction the ball would roll inevitably into the hole Rahm displayed on Torrey Pines’ 17th and 18th greens, Sunday, that the world No. 1 only switched into the flatstick the tournament prior to the U.S. Open. It’s surprising, too, that the mid-mallet model he settled on was a significant departure from the gigantic rear-center of gravity, high MOI mallet he had been using for months.

So, how did we get here? How did Rahmbo look more like 2008 Sunday Tiger Woods on the 72nd at Torrey Pines and less like a golfer who was so frustrated with his putting he went back to the drawing board less than a month ago?

The week prior to the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, Rahm visited with Callaway head of tour operations Tim Reed and Odyssey rep Joe Toulon at the Ely Callaway Performance Center in Carlsbad, California, to test putters. There, Rahm was most intrigued by an Odyssey Rossie S mid-mallet putter. He remained happy with the Microhinge Star insert that had been, well, inserted into his 2-Ball Ten at the PGA Championship, so Toulon and company had the Rossie built with the Microhinge.

After evaluation on SAM PuttLab and Quintic (two putting analysis systems), it was clear the Rossie performed better than the higher-MOI, rear-CG 2-Ball Ten he had been putting with since joining Callaway’s tour staff in January. And as evidenced by his barnstorming three rounds at the Memorial Tournament and his clutch putt-filled win at the U.S. Open, the Spaniard’s putting performance was indeed elevated.

For the inside story of Rahm’s Rossie S, GolfWRX spoke with Odyssey tour rep Joe Toulon.

GolfWRX: When Rahm signed with Callaway, he was using a putter that looked very much like the Odyssey 2-Ball Ten he ultimately put in the bag. It intuitively made sense that’d be his choice, but he switched to a different putter at the Memorial. Why?

Joe Toulon: When he came into our putter studio in January, he hadn’t really been putting great. He was anxious to get into something. We had, probably, 20 putters made up for him, and the whole time, we were thinking the 2-Ball Ten with the S-neck would be the winner because it was similar to what he was using coming in.

But through that process, you have to listen to what the player is saying and how they’re saying it. He was struggling with setup and how his putter sat on the ground…and he found himself fidgeting.

In his college days, he used a 2-Ball. So the 2-Ball Ten, the way it sat on the ground for him was the reason he gravitated toward that. He felt comfortable with it…and with his path, he squared it up a little bit more and hit more putts in the center of the face.

The last thing we did with that putter was change to a White Hot insert. He’s such a feel player, and he told us that White Hot felt good at impact.

So that’s what he switched to at the Farmers Insurance Open and used through the PGA Championship.

Read the rest of the piece on PGATour.com.

*Featured image via Callaway’s Johnny Wunder

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Ways to Win: Karma (and ball striking) – Rahm outlasts the field at Torrey

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It took four days, but a U.S. Open broke out on the back nine Sunday at Torrey Pines. A stacked leaderboard turned into a bloodbath as a who’s who of golf crumbled under the weight of trying to win a U.S. Open at the iconic Torrey Pines.

  • Brooks Koepka had it -4 before bogeying two of the last three holes.
  • Bryson DeChambeau took a share of the lead on 10 before a back-nine 44!
  • Collin Morikawa saw his hopes dashed with a bad double on the par-5 13th.
  • Rory McIlroy looked like it might be his to win until going bogey-double early on the back 9.

In the end, it was a two-horse race between Jon Rahm and Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen played it calm and collected throughout the entire back nine, holding a two-stroke lead for much of it until Rahm did the unthinkable. It’s hard not to feel for Oosthuizen, constantly the bridesmaid and never the bride with so many second-place finishes in majors, but Louis did not lose the tournament as much as Rahm stole it with two clutch putts in the biggest moment. This is not the first time we’ve seen Rahm bury a long putt at Torrey. Rahm’s tournament will likely be largely remembered for those two putts, huge breaking left to righters that would have gone into a thimble they were so pure.

Leveraging putting analysis from V1 Game, Rahm is certainly not the best putter on tour. He does have a knack for rolling in the big ones. Rahm lost strokes to the field in 4 of the distance buckets, particularly closer to the hole where he only made 69% of his putts from 4-6ft. Easy to do on fast, bumpy poa annua greens. He excelled at the mid range putts where he gained a half a stroke per round on the field. For the week, he finished 21st in the field in putting. However, this was largely due to making 45 feet of putts in his last two holes! Had he failed to hole those putts he would have finished closer to 35th.

While Rahm’s putting performance certainly closed the door for Rahm and forced Oosthuizen’ hand into making a mistake on 17, it wasn’t necessarily his putting that put Rahm in position to win. So how did Rahm get it done?

V1 Game’s Strokes Gained stacked analysis shows how Jon Rahm performed round by round. Aggregating his performance for the primary strokes gained categories:

  • Driving: +5.2
  • Approach: +4.6
  • Short: +3.2
  • Putting: +0.7
  • Tee2Green: +13.0

Putting closed the deal, but Rahm separates himself from the field with ball striking. Rahm is long off the tee and gained the most strokes with his driving where he finished 5th in Strokes Gained Driving. Now, you might think that means he was also accurate. US Open’s do put a premium on accuracy after all with long penal rough. However, a quick glance at the players that hit the most fairways would reveal that fairways were not necessarily the route to success at this US Open. The players that finished highest on the leaderboard did not excel in fairways.

Like Jon Rahm, they tended to bomb it and make sure to miss in good places, whether that be fairway bunkers or on the safe side of the fairway. In fact, Rahm finished 28th for fairways hit. When the fairways are only 20 yards wide, everybody is going to struggle to hit them, so you might as well hit it far. Jon Rahm did that, finishing 12th for the week in driving distance. Pair that with accurate iron shots and a short game that rivals fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and you have a dangerous combination.

In the end, the U.S. Open is about avoiding mistakes and big numbers. Rahm did that making just a single double bogey for the week. V1 Game’s Virtual Coach shows just how close Rahm was to maximizing his potential averaging just 1.1 mistakes per round, where mistakes are 3 putts, penalty / recovery shots, and two chips. Rahm only 3 putted twice for the week and not at all on the final day.

It sounds foolish to say after Rahm made two bombs to win the tournament, but if Jon should work on anything, it would be putting. Had he eliminated the two 3 putts or been better from inside seven feet, he would have never had to make the putts on the last to win the championship. Every shot counts.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Jon Rahm’s game is not even captured by the above analytics and strokes gained. It could be his mental side. After a topsy turvy couple weeks, which included being forced to withdraw with a 6 shot lead at the Memorial, Rahm showed extreme poise and patience. The Twitter world was ablaze with opinions of unfairness in the face of COVID concerns. Instead of becoming bitter or angry, Rahm accepted that it was for the best and turned it into motivation to win an even greater championship. Personally, I entered this week not being a big Rahm fan and left the weekend truly admiring him. Not only is he a phenomenal golfer, but he seems like an even better human, with amazing perspective for a young phenom.

If you want to play like Rahm, V1 Game can help you understand what you need to work on to get better at any age and any skill level. Keep in mind that golf can be a confusing game. Many would have left the weekend thinking Jon Rahm won the golf tournament because of his putting. However, analytics and tools like V1 Game show us otherwise. Knowing what to work on is the first step to playing to your potential. Win your own US Open with V1 Game.

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