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Ways to Win: A New No. 1 – How Justin Thomas overcame a poor putting performance

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In the final tuneup before the PGA Championship in San Francisco, many of the world’s best teed it up at Memphis’ TPC Southwind in the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The final day showcased a stacked leaderboard and plenty of volatility, but in the end, it was Justin Thomas who came from four back to win for the third time this year. This was a quick bounceback after a letdown at The Memorial just a few weeks ago. Winning on the PGA Tour certainly takes stellar play and, typically, a little luck like Thomas’ pulled drive on 15 that skirted off a cart path, over a bridge and into prime position for a late birdie. Had that tee ball found the hazard instead, this article would likely be about Brooks Koepka and his late charge.

Golf is a game of misses and taking advantage of good breaks. That is not to take away from JT’s week of stellar ball striking. He finished the week first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and second in Strokes Gained Approach. That’s no surprise for the new number one in the world. What is surprising is how poorly Thomas putted throughout the week. It is extremely rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes to the field with the putter, but that is exactly what Thomas did.

In Ways to Win, it is rare that we highlight Short Game as a differentiating factor for winners. That is typically because to excel in the short game, one has to miss quite a few greens. When you miss greens, it’s hard to score. However, Justin Thomas was able to consistently get himself out of difficult situations, minimize damage, and turn bogeys into pars throughout his four rounds.

If you want to be an elite player, you can’t do it with your short game alone. It sure comes in handy on those off days, though. Just how good was Thomas’ short game? He finished fourth for the week in Strokes Gained Around the Green and got up and down inside 75 yards more than 80 percent of the time (including several clutch up and downs late on Sunday). His touch was particularly crucial, given that his putter wasn’t really cooperating.

Again, it is very rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes with the flatstick. Typically the winner is the best putter out of the best ball strikers, but not so this week. Thomas only three-putted twice for the week. However, he lost strokes to the field from three out of nine distance buckets that we analyzed using V1 Game’s putting breakdown.

In four other buckets, he was almost “net zero” in strokes gained with the putter. He only gained strokes with the putter from inside six feet. Making short putts is certainly a big key to golfing success. That is why short misses are highlighted in V1 Game’s post-round analysis: missing short putts is a quick way to compound errors. Thomas is not an elite putter by any means, but he is typically solid in the clutch.

V1 Game makes it easy to keep track of personal bests and track progress in a tournament. Any stat that the PGA Tour gives can be recreated with V1 Game. Here are some quick stats for Thomas’ week using V1 Game’s Personal Bests feature:

Total Score: 267
Best Round: 65
Worst Round: 70
Longest Drive: 347 yds
Longest Holeout: 28 ft
Most consecutive holes without a bogey: 24
Scrambling Streak: 9 in a row
Holes without a 3 putt: 20
Most birdies in a round: 6

Thomas certainly played well when it mattered, resisting the urge to look at a scoreboard throughout the final round and focusing on the job at hand. His patience paid off with his 13th victory in a young career. Short game play is a fantastic equalizer and a great tool for any golfer’s bag. However, Thomas really separates himself with ball striking.

The best way to improve your short game is to miss fewer greens, like JT. For most amateurs, short game practice should focus on eliminating mistakes, such as “two-chips” when you do miss the green. Once you can consistently get on the green and have a putt to get up and down, focus should shift to the long game. Tee to Green play is where the game’s best separate themselves from the weekend warriors.

V1 Game can help you with each of these items.

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GolfWRX Radio: Masters preview with Ryan Barath and Brian Knudson

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The Masters tournament is a special time every year and this April is no different. Barath and Knudson talk about their picks for players who could win as well as some players who they think aren’t ready to win. The discussion also includes some personal experiences with the Masters both at home and at the tournament.

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Club Junkie: Wedge Wednesday! New Edel SMS and Cobra Snakebite

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Wedge Wednesday is here! We have some new wedges from Edel and Cobra that were just released. Edel’s SMS wedge with Swing Match Weighting System is made to be adjusted for each player’s swing. Cobra’s Snakebite wedge has wider and shallower full-face grooves for more spin out of any lie.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Avoiding 3-putts

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Since you all seemed to enjoy my foray into putting last week, I thought I would follow up on that subject.

I think we would all agree there is hardly anything more frustrating in this game than to hit a good drive and approach, then 3-jack to put bogey on the card. I always think, “Two shots to cover 400 yards, and then three to finish the last 30-50 feet. What a waste!” Even the pros three-putt occasionally, but most of us amateurs do it way too often. So, let’s examine some things that cause three-putts and figure out how to eliminate most of them, at least with greater frequency.

There are three main causes of three-putts, and for most golfers, one of the three is the major nemesis. Which one is yours?

Missing short second putts. To avoid three-putts, you have to be efficient in converting the second putt of 2-5 feet. Even tour pros don’t make all of them, but if you are missing short putts too often, it is demoralizing. So, if missing short putts is your weakness, here are some things to try:

  • Lighten your grip. We tend to squeeze the putter too tightly when faced with a short putt. Particularly lighten the pressure in your thumbs and forefingers, as that is where tension sets in first. Feel the putter in the last three fingers – or even the fingertips – of each hand.
  • Slow down. Make your practice strokes very s-l-o-w-l-y. This sets up a good tempo – it’s a stroke, not a hit! I see golfers make these quick back and forth practice strokes – what kind of tempo is that setting up?
    Stare down the hole. Your eyes are the key to putting, so pick a small target at the back of the hole (for a straight putt) or on either side (if a little break is to be allowed) and focus intently on that spot.

Bad distance control. Probably the main cause of 3-jacks is poor distance control on the approach putt. This is a feel thing, so let’s start with the first two tips I outlined above – a light grip and slower tempo. Those are imperative fundamentals to good putting – of any distance. Then, take some time to really analyze the putt’s probable speed. Is it uphill or downhill? It helps to walk to the hole and back to get a good feel for the distance. Finally, make your practice strokes while visualizing the path of the ball tracking toward the hole. Make them while looking at the hole, not at the ball. You are not rehearsing technique, but the speed the putter has to be traveling at impact to roll the ball the correct distance.

Misreading the break. When you are playing a course that has large sweeping breaks, it is not hard to miss the hole 6-10 feet on either side on a long approach putt. One of my favorite techniques is to analyze the putt from the hole backward. Start with the last ten feet and determine what direction the ball will need to approach the hole from. Then back up another ten to “see” where the ball will need to be in order to get to that spot. Then back up another ten to see how that segment of the putt will break. Once you see the putt in pieces, you can visualize the entire putt and choose your starting line and speed.

Let me know if these tips help you get some three-putts off your card.

 

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