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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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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 3M Open

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GolfWRX is live from the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota.

In addition to 13 general galleries from the range and putting green at TPC Twin Cities, we have in-hand shots of TaylorMade’s new MG3 wedge and 300 Mini Driver. Additionally, we have a look at Mizuno’s new Pro 225 iron and plenty of “new and/or interesting” in the putter and putter cover department.

Check out links to all of our photos below!

Tuesday

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Special galleries

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3M Open betting tips and selections

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Welcome to the first week of a new installment of betting tips from Andy Lack, staff writer and host of the Pick of the Pup Golf Show, a weekly golf betting podcast.

We’ll kick things off with the 3M Open. The PGA Tour travels to the TPC Twin Cities this week in Blaine, Minnesota, a course known for its generous fairways and an abundance of water hazards. That’s right, water comes into play on 14 holes on TPC Twin Cities, so avoiding big numbers and still taking advantage of scorable opportunities will be of paramount importance.

Let’s dig into my outright selections.

Bubba Watson (35-1, DraftKings)

The 12-time PGA Tour winner is quietly putting together a run of some incredibly impressive golf. Watson has now made seven cuts in a row, with four top-20s, including a contending performance at the Travelers, and a sixth-place finish at the Rocket Mortgage.

The main reason for optimism is the return of his approach play. Watson gained 5.3 strokes on approach in his most recent start, good for his best iron week since October. Iron play has proven to be paramount at TPC Twin Cities, with top-10 finishers gaining an average of 4.5 strokes on approach across two editions.

35-1 is a fair number on the two-time Masters champion, who is trending positively in the ball-striking department.

Emiliano Grillo (40-1, William Hill)

Emiliano Grillo fits a similar profile of Watson, a ball-striking extraordinaire who has shown recent top-end ability on approach. Over his last 36 rounds, the former Frys.com Open champion ranks second in strokes gained approach, ninth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in birdies or better. In my cumulative ranking of approach stats, Grillo laps the field as the best iron player teeing it up this week.

As is always the case with Argentina native, the putter is a concern, yet Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa may have shown Grillo the roadmap by finishing first and second here with nuclear irons and a field average putter.

Keegan Bradley (50-1, BetMGM)

While Grillo might slightly outpace Keegan Bradley in iron play, the former PGA champion is not far behind. Over his last 36 rounds, Bradley ranks third in strokes gained approach, fifth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in opportunities gained.

Prior to the Open, where he missed the cut by a stroke, Bradley gained 5.5 strokes on approach at the Rocket Mortgage, and 4.3 at the Travelers in his prior two starts. The Vermont native has lost strokes on approach just once this season.

Bradley has a bankable skill-set I can trust, and 50-1 feels a fair price in a field lacking an abundance of elite talent.

Doug Ghim (66-1, BetMGM)

Find a narrative. Stick with it. I’m selecting the best iron players in this field and praying that one of them putts well. One of them has to right?

Over his last 36 rounds, Ghim ranks fourth in strokes gained approach, first in proximity from 175-200 yards, and first in greens in regulation gained. The University of Texas product was a highly touted amateur who feels primed for a breakthrough on a larger stage.

The irons have been elite from day one, and we’ve seen slow, yet progressive improvements with his driver and putter. I’m willing to bet this is the week it all clicks.

Jhonattan Vegas (70-1, DraftKings)

While Vegas is known more-so for his off the tee prowess than his iron play, I have a hard time passing up on the big-hitting Venezuelan on a wide open track where he can really let the driver loose.

Over his last 36 rounds, Vegas ranks 22nd in birdies or better gained, ninth in greens in regulation gained, and fourth in driving distance. While he may not possess the same approach chops as Grillo, Bradley, or Ghim, Vegas’ irons are certainly trending in that direction.

The three-time PGA Tour winner has gained over 3.5 strokes on approach in three consecutive starts. Sign me up.

Scott Stallings (150-1, BetMGM)

This feels like a big number for Scott Stallings, who was 70-1 just a week ago at the John Deere Classic, and a popular selection at that.

While the 55th-place finish at the John Deere might have disappointed some, his ball-striking remained solid and he simply couldn’t buy a putt. Stallings has gained strokes off the tee and on approach in three consecutive starts.

Unlike some of my other selections, the three-time PGA Tour winner carries a more reliable putter as well. Stallings’ position on the betting board had the biggest discrepancy from my numbers. This was a must-bet for me.

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Morikawa solves Royal St. George’s for 2021 Open Championship title

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It’s known that Ian Fleming wrote a great bit of his James Bond series of tales from a cottage near Royal St. George’s, in Sandwich, England. It’s less known that the selected site for the pivotal match between Bond the hero and Auric Goldfinger the villain, took place at a renamed RSG. Fleming christened his links Royal St. Mark’s. Finally, on a sad note, the elected club captain Fleming passed away mere weeks before he would assume the position, and so his portrait does not hang on the walls of the RSG clubhouse. On this 18th day of July, 2021, a new captain did not play his way in. Instead, a Champion Golfer of the Year was recognized for the 15th time at this links and for the 149th time overall.

It would be interesting to ask the competitors if they considered Sandwich to be a putter’s course. My guess is that they would say “no.” More than that, it played this week as an approach course, and then as a driving course. Since writers and fans lead mundane lives, they like to fish around for a weakness in a player, forgetting that every golfer that tees it up is world-class.

With Collin Morikawa, they suggest that putting is not his strong suit. They forget that he worked with Mark O’Meara months back, adjusting his grip on shorter putts. He ultimately adopted the modified pencil, or modified saw, grip that he used with great success all week.

On Sunday, as his playing partner and others struggled around him, and as Jordan Spieth surged, Collin Morikawa made putt after putt of all lengths, shapes, and flavors. At week’s end, his average of 1.54 putts per green in regulation was exactly .01 behind the tournament leaders. So much for a weakness.

Flip the script to Morikawa’s perceived strength: his approach play. Over the course of the week’s four rounds, the eventual champion hit this percentage of greens in regulation: 72-83-66-77. Over the 72 holes, he putted for birdie or better three-quarters of the time. Unless you’re the world’s worst short-game practitioner from off the green, and on it, for that matter, those numbers are in your favor.

Morikawa knew instinctively when to land a ball dozens of yards shy of the putting surface, and when to fly it to the crevice. He found shelves and hollows all week long, and he was one of two golfers all week to post four rounds in the 60s. For the unfortunate Jordan Spieth, his quartet of sub-70s was not enough to sequester the Claret Jug for a second time.

Intangibles? He had them, too. Deep breaths, closed eyes, anticipated trajectories — it all led to trust and execution. When he got in trouble, as happens with champions, Morikawa joined his vision with the land, found a trace, and followed it back to safety.

Congratulations to the 2021 Champion Golfer of the Year, on his second major tournament victory. Let the pundits predict if and when Collin Morikawa will complete the career grand slam, and how difficult it will be for him to win a U.S. Open and a Masters.

For now, leave them to their augury and their conjecture. There is no better walk in golf than this one, and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost out to Morikawa this year, does know. He walked it in 2010, at the home of golf. Today, it was the turn of someone else, someone we may be fortunate to watch play and smile for many years.

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