One of the main criticisms of golf is the time it takes to play a round.
A lot could be accomplished off the golf course in those four or more hours. You could clean the house, mow the lawn or organize your garage in that span of time, or you could watch an entire Peter Jackson movie.
I share your concerns about the time spent on the course. But if I could make one simple suggestion to make the day feel more accomplished and have your round seem more complete, may I suggest using your camera on the course?
Depending on where I am in the world, I’ve been known to bring my SLR (single lens reflex) camera with me on the course to capture the essence of the course the way I see it — from a golfer’s point of view. Like most of you, I own my share of golf calendars and books full of lush, green photos of faraway golf destinations. But these beautiful photos are typically from a bird’s eye view, capturing a perspective of the course that a player typically doesn’t have access to.
We have been spoiled to appreciate the beautiful landscapes of these golf courses by these professional photos and the amazing TV coverage from cranes and the MetLife blimp. But often times the beauty of the golf course is how the players see it, at eye level staring down at the pin 100 yards away. If I can provide you some tips for taking great photos on the course quickly and easily, I would argue that most of you would be able to produce your own album of golf photos that others would enviably say, “Wow! Where is this?”
But before I get into it a bit more, I want to add a caveat by pointing out that I’m not encouraging you to spend time walking the course and looking for the right photo opportunity. I’m sure you can imagine someone wandering off the fairway when they should be playing ready golf and I’m sure you can feel the frustration as you look at your partners asking:
“Would you look at this clown? What is he doing?”
Great photographs take time to compose, whether it is the right light, the right moment or the way the wind is blowing. That is what a lot of professional photographers are doing when taking the photos you see in books, and chances are they are not playing the course nor have a group of four behind them waiting (sometimes impatiently) to take your golf shot. Please use these five tips when the time is right and when you are not contributing to slow play on the golf course. If you are able to remember some of these tips while walking or riding the course, you should be able to take a quick photo in stride and not affect your speed of play. Besides, I don’t want the golf community to be angry with me for encouraging you to wander around the course like a tourist…or a clown.
Tip# 1: The best camera you have is the one you have available
There is nothing worse for a photographer like being unprepared for a photo opportunity and having to fidget around with controls, setting and lenses to ensure they get the right shot. That takes up time and annoys even a photographer like myself. Mobile phones have come a long way and are adequately equipped to take excellent photos, just as good as a point and shoot camera and some SLR’s. And because most everyone carries a smartphone nowadays, it is already with you and ready at the hip to take a quick shot. The photo above was taken using my iPhone — no special lighting, filters or lenses. I couldn’t miss this opportunity and grabbed the most available camera I had on hand. If convenient, and you were able to bring a camera bag with you, I would recommend taking an SLR camera with a wide angle lens as well, but typically the camera on your phone will be able to capture interesting and memorable photos if you are able to see things differently, which leads me to…
Tip #2: See the course differently
What separates an amateur photographer from a working professional is the ability to see the everyday in a different way. Now that might be a mind blowing concept for someone who doesn’t take photos very often, but I am talking to golfers and I know for a fact that golfers have an innate ability to visualize – whether it is seeing how the ball will draw/fade, how to manage the swirling breeze that just kicked up or reading a 60-foot putt that appears to have a double break and two elevation changes. That ability to visualize and see things differently is exactly what a photographer does before they take the shot. No one likes a “spray and pray” golfer — same goes for photographers.
For example, it is very common to take a photo at eye level standing up. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but you can make things a bit different and interesting if you were to see the course and the image differently. Maybe stand behind your ball and give it a dramatic view by taking a photo on the ground. The ball is the focal point, but the essence of the photo is still the backdrop of the hole, keeping the viewer well tuned that this is a golf photo on a real golf course. Think about an ant’s eye view rather than the bird’s eye view we are all accustomed to seeing.
Another example would be to take photos of the interesting lies you left yourself with. Maybe you are off the fairway in the woods and there is a small bit of daylight that lets you see the pin a few hundred yards away. Take that image as if you were setting up for the shot, with the ball in the frame and the pin a sliver of color and it gives the viewer a sense of the challenge you faced. Perhaps you ended up dropping the ball in the fairway, but at least the image shows the difficulty level of the shot. And you can always lie about how you punched the shot through the branches and landed it within 10 feet to save par. Bring the viewer to the course the way you saw it and the unconventional suddenly becomes interesting.
Tip #3: Use a focal point
The reason why golf courses design a “signature hole” is to create a focal point, a chosen hole that makes the course interesting and sets it apart from other golf courses in the world. They will use images of the signature hole for promotional purposes to frame and speak to the beauty of their golf course symbolized by this one hole.
You don’t necessarily have to wait for the signature hole to take photos though. The course itself has many features that make it different from others, and it is those features that can make a photo stand out. In Arizona, you can use the cacti or the visible division of fairway versus off-fairway details of desert golf to bring interest to the photo. In Orlando, the use of palm trees to line a golf hole makes it certain that this wasn’t a hole in Canada. In Alberta, many holes are framed by evergreen trees and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, something you would never see in Orlando. Include some golf details where possible to remind yourself that these amazing sights were taken on a golf course.
Other easy examples of focal points to compose interesting images are right in your bag. The reflection of your driver head can be used to capture your foursome and if you are really adventurous, you can hold the driver up off the ground and squeeze in the landscape into the photograph as well. This can be done at the tee box and wouldn’t take much time at all.
Tip#4: It’s all about light
Ask any professional photographer and they will tell you that the secret to taking great photographs of anything is light. Light is what enables us to see an image, and the use of light will determine the mood of a photo. Take a look at the professional golf photos in those calendars and books – you know what you will see? Almost all of them were taken at sunrise or sunset. During those two times of the day, we are given the best natural light for any photos. It is why many of us have a sunset/sunrise photo or two in our collection, we all know it is the most beautiful a sky can get.
So for the early morning golfer and the after work dusk golfer, you are in luck because most any photo you take during these times of the day will turn out really nice (light wise, composition is still up to you). The softness of the sun will always highlight objects and scenery with a pleasant warm glow that will certainly make you look like you knew what you were doing. Though the convention is to never shoot into the sun, it is during this time where you should experiment with it and allow yourself the opportunity to get the sun’s effect on the clouds and how it illuminates the sky with dazzling color.
For the other unfortunate souls who have to deal with midday light, I got nothing for you. Sorry.
Just kidding. In midday light, you will have good results when you have the sun slightly behind you or to the side. Even better is a partially cloudy day when the sun is hidden and the shade provides the best midday light possible. Without getting too technical, shaded light enables you to capture highlights, mid tones and shadows in the image which in turn provides dimension and avoids the appearance of a “flat looking photograph.” Photos at sunrise and sunset are successful because of the dramatic tones and transitions from light to shadow, allowing you to see the undulations of the fairway and greens and giving a sense of depth and dimension.
Tip#5: Take non-golf photos too
This one might take a little convincing, but if you were to enjoy the golf course as a chance to be outdoors and not just an activity where you drink and bet dinners with your friends, you will likely find it is no different than going for a nice walk or hike (just with a few tossed clubs and four letter words thrown in). And when people go for a nice walk or hike, they will take the time to see the flowers or the birds and really immerse themselves into the nature of their surroundings.
If you have a chance, don’t hesitate to take a quick snapshot of the eagle perched on the top of a tree or the flowers that greet you at the tee box. Unlike nature, golf courses are well manicured and taken care of so the flora you come across may seem too perfect. That is a perfect chance to get that image because like a food photo from a magazine, the staging is already done for you and all you need to do is take the photo.
Similar to Tip #3, use your surroundings to remind yourself that you aren’t in your own backyard. Take photos of the interesting features that you don’t see very often at home. I’m personally fascinated by architecture and have enjoyed seeing some of the amazing mid-century modern homes from the 50’s and 60’s that lined many fairways in Palm Springs. These are homes that I only get to see in magazines, and being able to see it in person was thrilling and almost transported me back in time until I had to pull out my 2012-model driver.
Taking photographs during your round is arguably a good way to multitask and can help you feel as though you’ve achieved a lot more than just golf in four hours (and it’s way better than sending work emails). As long as you are able to take the photos within the flow of the game and not slow down the pace of your foursome, you will be rewarded with some great images to share and look back on. It can also tame the frustrations of a challenging 18 hole ordeal — maybe your score didn’t prove it, but at least your photos can provide evidence that it was in fact a beautiful day.
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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