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 predictive outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 20-25 players.
Last year, Hideki Matsuyama was one of my 21 players who could win the Masters. Matsuyama was at 45/1 odds. The top-5 in last year’s event consisted of three players that were shortlisted (Rahm, Leishman and Spieth). The other 2 players that finished in the top-5 were filtered out as Will Zalatoris was a first time invitee and Xander Schauffele was hitting the ball too low at the time of the event. In total 19 of the 23 players I shortlisted made the cut with 14 of the shortlisted players finishing in the top-25 and 6 “shortlisters” in the top-10.
The projected “critical holes” for the tournament are #8, #11, #13, and #15. 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.
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 0.414 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
Austin Greaser (a)
Stewart Hagestad (a)
Aaaron Jarvis (a)
Min Woo Lee
Keiti Nakajima (a)
James Piot (a)
Laird Shepherd (a)
Harold Varner III
Out of the group of first-time invitees and amateurs I like Sam Burns, Tom Hoge, and Sepp Straka’s chances to get into contention.
I filter out old Masters champions that I do not believe can get into contention anymore.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Next up, I filtered out those players that missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open last week. Recency has a strong predictive value for player performance and missing the cut in the event in the prior week greatly reduces the likelihood of winning the following week compared to players that miss the cut, take a week off, and then play the following week.
And let’s filter out those players that have never made the cut at the Masters as outside of their inaugural event and Fuzzy Zoeller’s victory there has never been a winner who had not made the cut at the Masters prior to winning.
Erik Van Rooyen
The weather and 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.
The weather this week may give the shorter hitters a better chance. Former champion, Mike Weir, has said that he felt that the wet conditions helped him win the Green Jacket in 2003 because it allowed him to hold long approach shots onto the greens. And if the wind picks up, it may neutralize the advantage the long hitters have on the par-5’s.
This week’s weather is calling for rain on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the winds picking up on Thursday to 15 mph and 20+ mph on Friday. It will be cool (by Masters standards) on Saturday with a high of 60-degrees and winds forecasted at 17 mph.
When the winds pick up the short game around the green becomes more important because players are likely to hit fewer greens in regulation. But historically there has not been many strokes gained around the greens of Augusta due to the difficulty of the green surrounds. If the weather does play out as projected, it may favor players who are exceptional around the greens slightly, but will more likely eliminate poor performers around the greens from winning unless they have a legendary ballstriking performance.
Having said that, I still believe that it won’t be enough for short hitters to get into contention, so I filtered out these players
Trajectory also has a strong predictive value in terms of winners. Simply put, there are not many low ball hitters (at the time of their victory) that won the Green Jacket and the better players of their era that were low ball hitters typically struggled at the Masters compared to other majors.
Last year I filtered out 14 players for hitting the ball too low and outside of Xander Schauffele (t-3rd finish) none of the players finished in the top-25. Furthermore, Schauffele was just narrowly filtered out for hitting the ball too low as I use a formula based on Apex Height, Launch Angle, Carry Distance and Spin Rate to filter out players for hitting the ball too low. I tweaked the formula a little after last year’s Masters and found that Schauffele would have made it thru the filter with the new formula.
Based on the new formula, the following players were filtered out for hitting it too low
Si Woo Kim
Spieth’s newfound low trajectory was surprising to me, but not as much as Adam Scott who is well known for traditionally being a high ball player. Out of the group I do like Russell Henley’s chances as well as he’s a great iron player and he currently ranks 27th in Strokes Gained – Around the Green and that may be helpful if the winds greatly impact play this week.
When people think about Augusta National they think of the greens and the crazy speeds and putts the competitors can have. However they mistakenly think that the winner is always decided by the putter. 12 of the last 13 winners have hit at least 49 greens in regulation and shots from 175-225 yards are where most of the strokes are gained and lost at the Masters.
Therefore the following players were filtered out for their performance this season from 175-225 yards
I made a specific point to filter out Rory McIlroy here instead of filtering him out for missing the cut at the Valero Texas Open as McIlroy has uncharacteristically struggled this season from 175-225 yards. He currently ranks 172nd out of 210 players from 175-225 yards.
Oosthuizen, Leishman, and Rose were narrowly filtered out for their performance from 175-225 yards.
I also filtered out two former Masters champions
Watson has barely played enough to derive any meaningful analysis from and Tiger hasn’t played in nearly 18 months coming off a horrific car wreck and we still don’t know if he is going to play. Anything could happen, but I think the likelihood is very low that either will win the Green Jacket.
That leaves us with 22 players that can win the Masters
Tony Finau (66/1)
Tommy Fleetwood (80/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (66/1)
Viktor Hovland (20/1)
Sungjae Im (66/1)
Dustin Johnson (16/1)
Brooks Koepka (18/1)
Jason Kokrak (100/1)
Luke List (150/1)
Shane Lowry (50/1)
Robert MacIntyre (125/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (40/1)
Collin Morikawa (18/1)
Joaquin Niemann (50/1)
Ryan Palmer (150/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Xander Schauffele (25/1)
Scottie Scheffler (14/1)
Webb Simpson (150/1)
Cameron Smith (14/1)
Justin Thomas (12/1)
Will Zalatoris (33/1)
My top-10 picks are
Brooks Koepka, (18/1)
Shane Lowry (50/1)
Robert MacIntyre (125/1)
Collin Morikawa (18/1)
Joaquin Niemann (50/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Scottie Scheffler (14/1)
Cameron Smith (14/1)
Justin Thomas (12/1)
Will Zalatoris (33/1)
Vincenzi’s Sanderson Farms Championship betting preview: Eric Cole ready to show his class in Jackson
After a dominant performance by Europe at the Ryder Cup, the PGA TOUR heads to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson.
The course is a 7,461-yard par 72 with fast Bermudagrass greens. The tournament had been an alternate-field event up until the 2019-20 season, when it was upgraded to a standalone event.
The field is largely as expected for a swing-season event, but there are some talented players teeing it up in Jackson this week looking to play their way into next season’s singature events. Some notable golfers in the 156-man field this week include Ludvig Aberg, Eric Cole, Keithy Mitchell and Emiliano Grillo.
Past Winners at Country Club of Jackson
- 2022: Mackenzie Hughes (-17)
- 2021: Sam Burns (-22)
- 2020: Sergio Garcia (-19)
- 2019: Sebastian Munoz (-18)
- 2018: Cameron Champ (-21)
- 2017: Ryan Armour (-19)
- 2016: Cody Gribble (-20)
Let’s take a look at several key metrics for the Country Club of Jackson to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
SG: Approach will be important this week as the club was renovated in 2008 and tried to imitate some classic Donald Ross course features. This means the greens will be relatively small, and finding the right level on approach shots will be crucial.
The course will generate plenty of low scores, so it’s important that players give themselves plenty of birdie looks. Sergio Garcia gained 7.0 strokes on the field in his victory three seasons ago, which was third in the field. Sam Burns gained 8.3 in 2021, which was good for second.
Last season, Mackenzie Hughes gained 5.3 strokes on approach in his victory.
Total strokes gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:
- Chez Reavie (+26.8)
- Alex Smalley (+23.7)
- Sam Ryder (+23.1)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.1)
- Eric Cole (+17.5)
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
Placing an emphasis on who the best drivers of the golf ball is a smart strategy. This stat has driving accuracy built into it, and though the fairways are relatively easy to hit at the Country Club of Jackson, long and straight is always a big advantage.
I am looking for golfers who are going to have the shortest approach shots and are coming in from the fairway. In 2020 and 2021, respective winners Sergio Garcia and Sam Burns led the field (+5.5) and (+6.1) in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. In 2023, Mackenzie Hughes was roughly average off the tee, but that seems to be an outlier when examining the winners in totality.
Total strokes gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:
- Brent Grant (+27.0)
- Ludvig Aberg (+26.8)
- M.J. Daffue (+17.5)
- Kevin Yu (+17.1)
- Trevor Cone (+16.8)
With the rough not being a major problem this week, the bomb-and-gauge approach should be very successful.
Driving Distance gained over past 24 rounds:
- Peter Kuest (+20.9)
- Brandon Matthews (+20.3)
- M.J. Daffue (+17.2)
- Garrick Higgo (+17.2)
- Kyle Westmoreland (+15.1)
Strokes Gained: Par 5
Three of the four par 5s on the course should be reachable by the longer hitters, with the longest par 5 hole measuring 587 yards. Finding eagle and birdie opportunities on the Par 5s this week may be the difference in determining a winner.
Total Strokes Gained: Par 5 in past 24 rounds:
- Stephen Thompson (+19.3)
- Scott Harrington (+14.1)
- Stephan Jaeger (+14.0)
- Grayson Murray (+13.8)
- Jason Dufner (+12.4)
SG: Putting (Bermudagrass Greens Fast or Lightning)
Historically, SG: Putting at the Sanderson Farms Championship has weighed as the most indicative score of the tournament winner. While this isn’t necessarily rare in PGA TOUR tournaments, it was 10% more important at Country Club of Jackson than the average course on TOUR.
The greens have been either “fast” or “lightning” in every round the tournament has been played. Whoever wins this week will need to catch a hot putter, so the best putters on Bermuda should have the best chance to do that.
Total Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermuda+Fast or Lightning) past 24 rounds:
- Martin Trainer (+25.0)
- Chad Ramey (+24.3)
- Brian Gay (+22.3)
- Alex Noren (+19.8)
- Ben Taylor (+16.2)
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%) SG: OTT: (25%), Driving Distance (18%), SG: Par 5 (18%), SG: Putting (Bermuda) 14%.
- Peter Kuest (+8000)
- Stephan Jaeger (+2500)
- Kevin Yu (+6500)
- Trevor Cone (+20000)
- Callum Tarren (+6000)
- Chad Ramey (+9000)
- Scott Harrington (+30000)
- Luke List (+5500)
- Matthias Schmid (+10000)
- Joseph Bramlett (+20000)
Sanderson Farms Championship Picks
Eric Cole +2000 (DraftKings)
With the PGA Tour’s new fall format, there are a few very talented players that will be looking to parlay a strong fall into an invitation to all of the big money signature events come the beginning of 2024. Eric Cole, who’s looked excellent since his emergence on the PGA Tour, is among the players who has the skill and motivation to challenge for one of the spots up for grabs.
The Florida native is extremely comfortable playing on fast Bermudagrass greens. In the field, he ranks 14th in Strokes Gained: Putting on similar surfaces and has some strong results on Bermuda tracks to back up the statistics. Cole missed the cut at the Country Club of Jackson last year, but he’s a much different player now.
In his most recent start at the Fortinet Championship, Cole finished 4th and gained 12.4 strokes from tee to green, which led the field. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach.
Cole was among the most impressive performers in the fall swing’s first event. Now, he’ll have a much weaker field to grapple with and will benefit from Sahith Theegala, Max Homa and Justin Thomas not being in the field.
S.H. Kim +3300 (BetRivers)
S.H. Kim had one of the most impressive ball striking displays at the first event of the fall series. Kim finished 2nd at the Fortinet Championship and gained 11.0 strokes from tee to green, which was good for second in the field. He also gained 6.0 strokes on approach and 3.2 strokes off the tee.
If his strong performance at Silverado wasn’t enough, he also has an encouraging history at the Country Club of Jackson. Kim finished 13th at the course last season and should be much more comfortable in contention this year with some strong PGA Tour finishes under his belt.
Kim has had two runner-up finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour, both of which came on Bermudagrass greens. If he can build off the best ball striking performance of his career, he will be difficult to beat this week in Mississippi.
Sam Ryder +5000 (BetMGM)
I followed Ryder closely during the Fortinet Championship and he put on a ball striking clinic, which has been the case consistently since July. He finished 14th at Silverado and gained 6.4 strokes on approach, which was good for 2nd in the field. Over his last 24 rounds, Ryder ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach.
The 33-year-old didn’t have his best putting week in his most recent start (-2.6 strokes), which makes some sense considering the putting splits he’s shown us throughout his career. He typically putts field average on POA greens but he’s statistically a positive putter on Bermudagrass throughout his career. The fast Bermuda greens should be a welcome change for Ryder this week, who grew up playing in Florida.
Ryder’s history at the Country Club of Jackson isn’t spectacular by any means, but he’s yet to play the course when he’s in the type of form he’s in at the moment. If he continues his superb ball striking, he should have a good chance to contend this week in Mississippi.
Ben Griffin +5500 (PointsBet)
Ben Griffin is a player who loves playing on Bermudagrass greens. He has top-5 finishes in his career at the Wyndham Championship and the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. After playing in the final few groups over the weekend, I believe he’ll feel much more confident when he finds himself in that position again.
In his past 24 rounds, Griffin ranks 20th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bermuda greens. Griffin is one of the better putters on Tour and can get hot in a hurry on the greens. Last year, we saw a shorter hitting good putter win this event, so the bombers can be beaten at the Country Club of Jackson, despite having an advantage.
Griffin played this event last year. He finished 24th in his first trip to the course and gained 6.2 strokes on approach, so the course layout seems to fit his eye. After making the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, the 27-year-old is ready to take the next step in his development on the PGA Tour.
The Wedge Guy: 3 surefire ways to never get better at golf
That may seem like a rather strange title for an article, but hear me out.
I’ve written this blog every week for nearly 20 years so that I can share some observations from a lifetime in this game and over 40 years in the golf equipment industry. If you read many of my posts, you know that one of my favorite areas of subject matter is the process of learning how to play this game at a higher and higher level. I can’t begin to number the hundreds of instruction books and articles I’ve digested or the innumerable hours I’ve spent watching golfers of all skill levels.
The simple fact is that the more often you hit your best shots – and the less frequently your worst ones show up – the more enjoyable the game becomes. What amazes me is how many golfers I encounter who must really not want to get better at this game. How else can you explain the fact that, in spite of all the gains in equipment technologies and the unlimited amount of instruction available (much of it free), so many golfers just cannot achieve any measurable semblance of success?
So, a bit tongue in cheek, this week I want to share what I believe are the three surefire ways to never get better at golf.
Ignore the importance of a proper grip
I was taught from the very beginning that the first fundamental of golf is learning how to hold the club properly. Doing so takes no athletic ability whatsoever, and you can practice it to perfection anywhere. I’m a firm believer that there is really only one way to do that, and close observation of elite players on the PGA and LPGA tours seems to verify that.
It doesn’t matter whether you opt for the traditional overlap (Vardon) grip, or the interlock grip, which has become increasingly more popular since the best player of the modern era made it his own. You can even choose the full-finger (not “baseball”) grip on the club, particularly if you are not as strong in the hands (ladies and seniors take note). Your grip can be rotated a bit stronger or weaker, but the fundamentals are the same:
- The club has to be controlled with the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the grip needs to be positioned under the heel pad, not across it.
- The lower hand pressure is also in the fingers, more specifically the middle two fingers – the thumb and forefinger have to be more lightly engaged, if at all.
- The upper or lead hand has to be “in control” of the movement of the club.
Very simply, if you are not holding the club in this fundamentally sound manner, the body and club just cannot move properly through the swing motion.
Disregard the importance of proper posture and setup
Likewise, it requires little to no athletic ability to “just stand there” in the proper posture for the athletic move that is a sound golf swing. And again, watch the best players in the world – there is little-to-no variance from one to the other in the way they position their body to be prepared for a fundamentally sound and powerful, repeating golf swing. I don’t need to describe it – just look at pictures and video of good players – they all start from basically the same posture and set-up. If you think you can become a solid player when you are starting from an unsound, “homemade” set up, you are sadly mistaken. The biggest mistakes I see in this area are that the hands are too high, eliminating the Secret Angle of Success, or that the hands are positioned way too far ahead of the clubhead at address.
Take instruction from your buddies
Golf instruction is part art and part science, and your buddies — even those who seem to be pretty good players — are not likely versed in either facet of golf instruction. But tips and advice are cheap, and I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve watched or heard a golfer who can’t break 80 (or even 90) try to “coach” someone who also can’t break 80. Unless your buddy has spent hours and years studying the golf swing and can play a pretty good game himself or herself, close your ears and eyes when they offer advice.
Compared to all the costs associated with golf, availing yourself of professional instruction is pretty darn cheap. My Dad had a wise saying: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And my bet is that you have already committed to the fact that golf is certainly “worth doing.” So, please, engage a professional instructor who “gets” you and see him or her regularly.
So, there you have it. Frank Sinatra made a fortune singing “My Way,” but that certainly isn’t the pathway to better and more consistent golf.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
5 examples of how Lexi Thompson has been treated harsher than any of her peers
Following Lexi Thompson’s Solheim Cup post-round presser on Friday evening, the 28-year-old has been the topic of much discussion.
Golf pundits and fans alike have been weighing in with their takes after this exchange with a reporter surrounding an untimely shank on Friday afternoon went viral:
Confounding answer from Lexi and subsequent reaction from the US side. It was one of the pivotal moments of the entire day and somehow that's off limits? pic.twitter.com/9std3LFlmN
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) September 23, 2023
After the incident, LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said that Lexi has “been picked on and drug through negative comments. She is tired of it”
So has the criticism of Lexi Thompson been justified, or is this yet another example of her being unfairly treated?
Well, here are five times, in my opinion, that Lexi has been scrutinized far differently over the years than her peers.
2022 KPMG PGA Championship
At the 2022 KPMG PGA Championship, Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead with three holes to play. She couldn’t close the deal and lost the tournament.
Afterwards, she was fined $2k (as were the rest of the group) for slow play.
Lexi declined to speak to the media and got hammered on social media for doing so…
Lexi Thompson has declined to speak with the media here at Congressional.
Not a great look?
— Zephyr Melton (@zephyrmelton) June 26, 2022
Almost every golfer at some point has skipped a media session following disappointment on the course, and nobody has really batted an eyelid.
Tiger skipped back-to-back post-round media briefings at the 2019 WGC Mexico after being frustrated with his putting. Remember the backlash over that? Nah, me neither.
Every (or nearly every) big-name golfer under the sun has played golf with Donald Trump. Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy etc. Nobody really cared.
For whatever reason, when Lexi Thompson did, it was a story, and she took herself off social media soon after the photo was posted.
View this post on Instagram
2021 U.S. Women’s Open
In the final round of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson had a 6-foot eagle on her opening hole. She missed and made birdie to lead by five.
She then lost the tournament.
Following the round, Brandel Chamblee said on ‘Live From’:
“She’s got 6 feet away. Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. “
Honest? Absolutely. Correct? Brandel usually is. Has any other LPGA golfer been handed the full-on Chamblee treatment? Not to my knowledge.
2023 Solheim Cup
Lexi Thompson spoke the words, “I don’t need to comment on that” when a reporter asked her about a failed shot, and the golf community collectively lost their minds.
Lost on many people is the fact that she literally answered the question instantly after.
Jessica Korda described the reporting of the awkward exchange with the media member as yet another example of the golf media shredding Lexi, but in reality, it was really just golf media covering the furore created by golf fans reacting to the viral clip.
So sad seeing golf media , yet again, shred Lexi. It’s easy writing about other people’s mistakes. It’s
Golf, bad shots happen- give the girl a break. She grows the game more than anyone on tour… And she’s a great player!!
— Jessica Korda (@Thejessicakorda) September 23, 2023
Lexi then won her next two matches, collecting 3 points from 4 for the U.S. team. But nobody seems to care about that.
‘yOu ShoUlD PrAcTIce puTTinG’
There’s very few golfers that have been plagued with such inane posts on their Instagram page as Lexi Thompson has.
I’ve tracked golfer’s social media accounts over the past few years (job requirement, sort of?). I can categorically say that Lexi gets some of the angriest and most aggressive responses to her posts of any golfer. Male or female. (She also gets some very nice ones too).
Despite countless posts of Thompson relentlessly practising her putting, the number of comments from dummies accusing her of neglecting that area of her game is both bizarre and alarming. Notice how the comments have been disabled on the post below? Probably not a coincidence.
View this post on Instagram
Go on any other golfer’s social account, and it will be hard to find the same dynamic.
Throw in the scandalous rules decision at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title and spawned the “Lexi rule,” and it’s hard not to think Lexi has had a bit of a raw deal at times.
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