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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Stewart Sinks – How Stewart Cink surged to win the Safeway Open

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The 2021 season opener for the PGA Tour was a relatively light week as only 18 players in the field are also playing the U.S. Open this week. Despite many of the world’s top players taking the week off, we were still treated to some excellent golf with Stewart Cink capturing his first win since 2009’s Open Championship. It was fantastic watching Cink enjoy the round with his son on the bag, particularly contrasting that with images of Harry Higgs getting quite frustrated at times. While much has been written about the feel-good story from the weekend, ways to win focuses on golf and just how Cink was able to separate and get the job done using V1 Game’s performance analysis.

For Cink, it starts with his performance around the greens with his putting and short game. He gained almost six strokes with the flatstick, making almost 130 ft of putts on Saturday. Using the V1 Game Putting Analysis, Stewart gained strokes from every distance except 16-20 ft and only had a single three-putt on the week. His lone three-putt did come at an inopportune time, on the 17th hole of the last round while trying to close out a lead, however his performance throughout the week gave him some nice margin for error.

The next area where Cink excelled is Short Game. He consistently got up and down when missing greens and converted on birdie chances when around the greens. In V1 Game, we consider all opportunities inside 75 yards as Scrambling or Up & Down opportunities because, fundamentally, there is no difference in skill to convert an up-and-down for par or for birdie. One important note is that Scrambling and Strokes Gained Short Game are related, but not directly correlated, because Scrambling requires the player to make the putt. Strokes Gained Putting performance is measured separately from Strokes Gained Short Game. With that understanding, Cink scrambled exceptionally well, converting more than 73 percent of his opportunities. Combine this with the fact that Cink led the field in Greens in Regulation and there is a recipe for success: Hit greens and get up and down when you miss.

Surprisingly, Cink also performed particularly well with Strokes Gained Driving. He was 11th for the week in driving distance and 18th for the week in Strokes Gained Off the Tee. To excel in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, you need to do these three things in order of importance: avoid penalties or needing recovery shots from poor tee shots, drive the ball long, and drive the ball accurately. Cink did all of these things. Using insights from V1 Game’s Virtual Coach, we can see that the first round was Cink’s worst. This was because he hit into a driving error and sprayed the ball off the tee, favoring the right. We can see that he improved each day with accuracy and increased distance. Despite being one of the older players in the field, Cink was no slouch with driving distance.

For the week, it is actually difficult to spot anything that Cink didn’t do well. Looking at his Shot Histogram, Cink gained strokes on the field for every distance and type of shot with the exception of from 101-125 Yards. Quite the impressive performance. The Shot Histogram is particularly useful for seeing what types of shots you face in a typical round and where you should focus practice. One thing most amateurs do not realize is how many of their shots throughout a round are tap-in putts or putts that aren’t reasonably makeable. Looking at Cink’s data, many of his approach shots come from >200 yards, so excelling at longer approach shots is a key way to separate from PGA Tour fields.

It was a joy to watch Cink interact with his son and seemingly enjoy being out there while competing with the best. From a strokes gained perspective, his well-rounded game has little weakness, and that translated to low scores and a great win. The analytics and data in V1 Game can help you round out your game to play like Stewart Cink. With easy-to-digest analytics and the recently-released Virtual Coach and Virtual Caddie, playing great golf is easier than ever.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What makes a golf course ‘tough?’

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I found this past weekend’s golf to be some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking of the season. While the men of the PGA Tour found a challenging and tough Muirfield Village, the women of the LPGA were getting a taste of a true championship-caliber layout at Olympic Club, the sight of many historic U.S. Opens.

In both cases, the best players in the world found themselves up against courses that fought back against their extraordinary skills and talents. Though neither course appeared to present fairways that were ridiculously narrow, nor greens that were ultra-fast and diabolical, scoring was nowhere near the norms we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the professional tours.

So, that begs the question – what is it exactly that makes a course tough for these elite players? And is that any different from those things that make a course tough for the rest of us?

From my observation, the big difference for both the ladies and the men was the simple fact that Muirfield Village and Olympic shared the same traits – deep rough alongside each fairway, deep bunkers, and heavy rough around the greens. In other words — unlike most of the venues these pros face each week, those two tracks put up severe penalties for their not-so-good shots — and their awful ones.

Setting aside the unfortunate turn of events for John Rahm – who appeared to be playing a different game for the first three days – only 18 of the best male players in the game managed to finish under par at Muirfield Village. That course offered up measurable penalties for missed fairways and greens, as it was nearly impossible to earn a GIR from the rough, and those magical short games were compromised a lot – Colin Morikawa even whiffed a short chip shot because the gnarly lie forced him to try to get “cute” with his first attempt. If you didn’t see it, he laid a sand wedge wide open and slid it completely under the ball — it didn’t move at all!

On the ladies’ side, these elite players were also challenged at the highest level, with errant drives often totally preventing a shot that had a chance of holding the green — or even reaching it. And the greenside rough and deep bunkers of Olympic Club somewhat neutralized their highly refined greenside scoring skills.

So, the take-away from both tournaments is the same, the way I see it.

If a course is set up to more severely penalize the poor drives and approaches — of which there are many by these players — and to make their magical short game skills more human-like, you will see these elite players struggle more like the rest of us.

So, I suggest all of you think about your last few rounds and see what makes your course(s) play tough. Does it penalize your not-so-good drives by making a GIR almost impossible, or is it too challenging around the greens for your scoring skills? Maybe the greens are so fast and diabolical that you don’t get as much out of your putting as you think you should? Or something else entirely?

My bet is that a thoughtful reflection on your last few rounds will guide you to what you should be working on as you come into the peak of the 2021 golf season.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: My 3-wood search, Mizuno ST-Z driver, and Srixon divide golf ball review

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I am on the search for a 3-wood this year and talk a little about my top 3 that I have been hitting. Hit on the pros and cons of each option and what might be in the bag next week. The Mizuno ST-Z was on the course and a really good driver for players who want forgiveness but don’t need any draw bias. The Srixon Q-Star Tour Divide is a cool 2-tone ball that makes short game practice more interesting.

 

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How to turn technical thinking into task-based think in your golf game

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The mind can only be in one place at a time at 40 bits of information per second. To build a golf swing this way would be like an ant building New York City this way: a most impossible task. When you are task-based you are using the human self-preserving system, that works at 40 million bits per second, choose wisely.

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