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Opinion & Analysis

Bryson’s greatest strength could have nothing to do with his swing speed

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To say that Bryson’s increase in size and swing speed has been well documented is like saying that politics is often times debated. No stone has been left unturned, nor range session undocumented.

Bryson’s transformation will one day become the stuff of legend, but right now it appears that his greatest strength is not his swing speed, it’s what the transformation represents to some of his contemporaries, most notably Rory McIlroy.

It started late 2020 when Rory had an interesting quote after playing with Bryson at Colonial

“He hit a couple drives that Harry (Diamond, his caddie) and I just looked at each other, and we’re like, holy $#!?, that was unbelievable. He hit one into the wind on 11. I hit a really good one and probably hit it like 315-320. He must have flew my ball by 40 yards. He hit it like 370-375 into the wind. It was crazy. It was nuts. It’s unbelievable.”

On the outside, many doubted that Bryson’s new style would play well at such a tough course when in fact it played right into his hands.

The success of this “mash it” style led to Rory McIlroy admitting this past week at The Players that his recent poor play can be attributed to his chase for distance caused by the Bryson Effect—and he’s not the only one.

A noted sportswriter for ESPN, Kevin Van Valkenburg actually made this point in November 2020 and reminded people about his take after Rory’s comments.

This is no different than the way other athletes have changed their perspective sports and the most parallel comparison is that of Steph Curry and the 3-point shot.

By looking at the “value” of a shot and taking percentages into play, the Golden State Warriors in the 2015-16 season went 73-9 to beat the all-time win recond set by the Chicago Bulls. Their advantage was their long-range shooting. It draws a comparison to how Bryson dismantled the long rough-lined fairways of Winged Foot to win the 2020 U.S. Open.

In 2021, Adam Scott has moved to an overlength driver and after several shaft experiments seems to have found a home with Fujikura Ventus Red and a lower spinning Titleist TSi4 driver.

The Quest for distance has ruined more golfers than it has generally helped with one famous example being Ian Baker-Finch whose pursuit of the longball after the 1991 Open Championship led him to miss erratically and even miss one of the widest fairways in the world at St. Andrews in 1995.

The more players that chase, and the more they get away from their own style of play, the more players might end up like Rory McIlroy at the 2021 Players. That would play right into Bryson’s hands—with ever having to lift a single weight.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

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1 Comment

  1. Dennis

    Mar 18, 2021 at 2:28 am

    What is with his wedges now, are they still one length 37,5”?

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Opinion & Analysis

The 23 players who can win the Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 20-25 players.

Last year, Dustin Johnson was one of my 21 players who could win the Masters. Dustin was at 9/1 odds. The other top finishers, like Cameron Smith and Sung Jae Im, were filtered out unlike previous years where players that were in contention were typically shortlisted. My theory on that is that due to the tournament being played in November, the course was not playing as firm and as fast as it normally does, and that allowed players who typically do not get through my filter to get into contention.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

This year, the projected critical holes are No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Firethorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.391 strokes per round on the hole.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in the inaugural event

  • Joe Long (a)
  • Robert MacIntyre
  • Carlos Ortiz
  • Charles Osborne (a)
  • Tyler Strafaci (a)
  • Will Zalatoris

Despite being first-time invitees, the data likes both Ortiz and Zalatoris as they would have gotten through all of the other filters to be selected as players that could win the Masters.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

  • Fred Couples
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par 5s more like par 4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par 5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par 5s, his strength.

This week the forecast is calling for high 70’s to low 80’s with winds topping out at only 10 mph. There are some scattered showers in the forecast that may soften up the greens and give shorter hitters more of a chance to win.

But I believe that it will not be enough to take the advantage away from the longer hitters.

Therefore I filtered out the following players.

  • Abraham Ancer
  • Brian Gay
  • Brian Harman
  • Mackenzie Hughes
  • Zach Johnson
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Kevin Na
  • C.T. Pan
  • Ian Poulter
  • Patrick Reed
  • Webb Simpson
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Robert Streb
  • Michael Thompson
  • Brendon Todd

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out four players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those four players, the best finish was Patrick Reed at T10. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

  • Daniel Berger
  • Christian Bezuidenhout
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Cameron Champ
  • Harris English
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Lanto Griffin
  • Jim Herman
  • Matt Jones
  • Sebastian Munoz
  • Victor Perez
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Lee Westwood

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

  • Max Homa
  • Jason Kokrak
  • Joaquin Niemann
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Matthew Wolff

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at San Antonio. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

  • Tony Finau
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Danny Willett

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, 11 of the last 12 champions have hit at least 49 greens in regulation during the week.

  • Jason Day
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Billy Horschel
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Martin Laird
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Adam Scott
  • Cameron Smith
  • Jimmy Walker
  • Matt Wallace

That leaves the following 23 players who can win the Masters:

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Stewart Cink (450/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Tyrrell Hatton (45/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Sungjae Im (40/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Si Woo Kim (125/1)
  • Marc Leishman (110/1)
  • Shane Lowry (110/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (45/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (75/1)
  • Ryan Palmer (150/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Justin Rose (80/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
  • Justin Thomas (12/1)
  • Bubba Watson (55/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson Dechambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
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On Spec

On Spec: The unexpected lesson from Jordan Spieth’s win | Plus ANWA & ANA Inspiration coverage

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In what can only be called the busiest week in golf so far in 2021, host Ryan breaks down the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour, the Drive, Chip, and Putt, and of course Jordan Spieth’s comeback win in Texas.

All of this is leading into the Masters, and Jordan’s win comes with a very important lesson for those golfers who might be struggling with their own game.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

To Mr. Whan: Make Walker Cup Trophy Club a one-and-done

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I’ll be brief: the United States Golf Association should make the $500 Trophy Club ticket a one-and-done for the Walker Cup. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a lead-in to its limited-spectator policy, the May 2021 edition will eliminate free access to the event. In lieu of the open-arms policy of every other playing of this team competition, the USGA has announced that only those with $500 to spare will pass through the gates of Seminole Golf Club, in Juno Beach, Florida.

I attended the 2009 playing at Merion, and the 2013 matches at National Golf Links of America. I wanted to be at Los Angeles Country Club in 2019, but the odds were not in my favor. Even though I was granted press credentials for both 2009 and 2013, I was gratified to see hundreds, if not thousands, of my fellow golf aficionados in attendance. These were lasses and lads without connections, without memberships, without any other means of access than the largesse of the governing body of golf in this country.

In 2025, the Walker Cup will return to our country, and will be held at storied Cypress Point Club, in Carmel, California. You see the trend here? These are the most historic (and most private) clubs in America. Access to the common man is unavailable, except for events like the Walker and Curtis Cups.

Mr. Whan, you and your association have pledged to expand the game of golf, to welcome people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages, and identities. Here is one small but important opportunity to put your mouth where your money isn’t. The USGA makes a lot of money at its annual Open championship. Leave the other kids alone, especially the amateur events. Free and easy access ensures that the game outlives us all, just as our foremothers and forefathers envisioned.

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