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Curved or straight? How should you hit the golf ball

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When you hit the golf ball close to the hole and have a short birdie putt, we call that positive variance. When you hit a less than ideal shot that curves into the woods, we call that negative variance. They both represent the same thing, a change in the average or normal outcome. With that said, almost every first coaching experience begins with an athlete wanting to become more consistent, but once shown how consistently they curve the ball, they quickly change their answer to wanting the ball to land closer to the hole on average.

There are only two ways to help the golfer. Either change the motion pattern to produce a different ball flight that better matches their intent, or help the athlete better understand their pattern and learn to use this consistency to their advantage when it comes to the formation of their strategy for maneuvering the golf ball around the course safely. Both options are valid with one requiring more “work” in the short-term than the other.

Is there a way in which we could use both strategies to improve performance faster, you bet! This is where we learn that aiming the face of the club head exactly at your target and expecting the ball to have zero curvature is an option, but probably not a likely outcome. Therefore, if we know the ball is likely to have some curvature, then we want to make sure that the ball is always curving towards the target, and not away from the target line and towards trouble.

Keep in mind you don’t hit it solid and straight when you hit it out-of-bounds and into the hazard, you hook and slice it into the out-of-bounds and the hazard, therefore learning to minimize curvature is the easiest way for a golfer to improve their score and save money on golf balls.

The Nine Ball Flights from a Physics Perspective

In general, we can swing the golf club head in three directions; left of target (out-to-in), at the target (square-to-square), or right of the target (in-to-out). Similarly, we can only point the face of the club head in three directions; left of the target, at the target, or right of the target. Understanding that we can swing the club head and point the face of the club head in different directions at the same time is key and explains why curvature happens.

If you assume center contact between the golf ball and the club head, the only thing the golf ball is aware of is which direction the club head is traveling in, and in which direction the club face is pointing. Transitioning away from a linear model of the golf swing motion, we now understand that angular momentum is needed to create maximum speed, and when we apply angular momentum (the club head torquing about the mid-hand point) we introduce “twisting” of the club head face about the club shaft. This “twisting” causes a separation between the direction the club head is moving in and the direction the club head face is pointing.

If the direction of the club head (Club Path) and the direction the club head face is pointing (Face Angle) are equal, assuming centered contact between the club head and the golf ball, the ball will fly straight with zero curvature. If the direction of the club head (Club Path) and the direction the club head face points are not equal, the ball will curve.

“The Face Sends It, And The Path Bends It” -Unkown

Assuming centered contact, the golf ball will always curve the opposite direction relative to the direction the club head is moving in (Club Path). Therefore, if you have your club head moving “in-to-out” by five degrees (+) with a club head face pointing (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), the golf ball will start fairly straight and then curve to the left (away from rightward club path).

The opposite of this is also true. If the club head is moving “out-to-in” by negative five degrees (-) (Club Path) with a club head face pointing (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), the golf ball will start fairly straight and then curve to the right (away from the leftward club path).

Shallow/Steep | Fade/Slice |Draw/Hook

As learned from Dr. Kwon, the golf club head only travels on an inclined “plane” from mid-downswing to mid-follow through. What determines the pitch of that “plane” has to do with the Biomechanics and the relationships within the human anatomy. Using Mike Adams definitions, a Side-Cover style athlete is going to have a “steeper” or more upright pitched “plane” meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be traveling more leftward at impact. This will tend to produce a more downward decent into the golf ball (Attack Angle). A Side-Under style athlete is going to have a “shallower” or flatter pitched “plane” meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be traveling more rightward at impact. This will tend to produce a shallower descent into the golf ball (Attack Angle). A Side-On Style athlete is going to have a more “neutral” pitched plane meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be very neutral at impact. This will tend to produce a more “average” decent into the golf ball (Attack Angle).

When Does a Fade Become a Slice and Vice Versa?

When the golf ball crosses the target line and begins to curve away from the target, either curving leftward or rightward of the target-line, then it goes from being classified as a draw/fade to a hook/slice. For example, if you line up “straight” at your target and start the golf ball 20-feet left of your intended target line, and it begins to curve back towards the target line, as it curves the amount of lateral dispersion between begins to diminish. The entire time the golf ball is curving towards the target line the “gap” between where the ball started, and the target line decreases. In this example the golf ball is curving rightward and if that golf ball should curve right of the target line while still in the air, it has become a slice and is now increasing the amount of lateral dispersion until the golf ball comes to rest.

Pattern vs. Straight

Without getting into “rabbit-hole” Biomechanics conversations about immobilizing joint segments, we are equipped with wrist that are capable of three translational movements and three torques which creates six degrees of freedom. We also need to create acceleration and force which will require angular momentum to create maximum distance. With that said, we are going to be introducing twist about the handle which will cause the club head face (Face Angle) to rotate open during the backswing and will require “closing” during the downswing.

Due to the rotation of the club face about the club shaft, there becomes an element of timing to having the club head face (Face Angle) equal to the direction the club head is traveling (Club Path) consistently. As Humans, and not machines we have to be willing to accept a certain amount of variance in our movements. It is impossible for a Human Being with as much variation as we have to repeat the same motion time after time consistently. Therefore, attempting to create zero curvature on every shot becomes a very elusive goal and tends to make golf very difficult.

If we are attempting to hit the golf ball with the center of the club head face, create a club head movement (Club Path) of zero degrees or “straight”, and point the club head face (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), more often than not, you are going to be unaware of which way the ball is going to curve on “non-perfect” golf shots creating a two-way miss.

There are two reasons for this, one is gear-effect which is another conversation, and the second reason is due to human variance. One swing, you may accidentally rotate the club face closed relative to the club path and the ball curves leftward, on another swing, you may have learned from your previous mistake and now you leave the face open relative to the club path and the ball curves rightward.

By Owning YOUR Curve, YOU Can Eliminate the Double Cross!

“Square” is a relative term. If we understand that a contributing factor to the “shallowness/steepness” of the golf swing is the relationship that exist which would be the between the overall height of the athlete and the wingspan of the athlete, for example if the athlete has a wingspan that exceeds their height, the hands will move more away from the center of the body as the hands make the backswing. This will in turn create less hand path “depth” and the athlete will tend to have a more leftward Club Path and a more deciding strike into the ball (Attack Angle). The opposite would also be true for an athlete having a wingspan less than their height, with the hands traveling more around the body during the backswing and swinging more rightward (Club Path) with a “shallower” Attack Angle.

Armed with the knowledge that we are going to swing it either leftward, rightward, or square-to-square, we now can begin to understand where our club head face (Face Angle) needs to be at impact to get the ball to start opposite of the intended curvature. As mentioned earlier, attempting to always have the Face Angle return to zero degrees at impact and getting the golf ball to land near the target is going to be very difficult for a Human Being to accomplish consistently. Therefore, moving them away from a “linear” approach and into a “pattern” approach becomes much easier to accomplish and produces the results wanted more consistently.

Once the Club Path (combination of Swing Direction and Attack Angle) is understood from an individual Biomechanics perspective, we can create a strategy that aligns with how we are designed to move. For example, an athlete has a wingspan that exceeds their height, will create a more “negative” or leftward Club Path at impact. Understanding that the “path bends it” and assuming centered contact between the club head and the golf ball, the ball is generally going to curve rightward (away from the club path). This means that we will need the golf ball to start or launch leftward of the target. Understanding that Face Angle is the first touch point of the golf ball and represents the majority of the factor that will indicate where the golf ball will start in time and space, it now becomes paramount that the club head face (Face Angle) returns “closed” relative to the target line.

Face Angle is a measurement of where the club head face is pointed relative to “square”, which is determined by the position of the Launch Monitor relative to the Target. Face-to-Path is a calculation of the relationship between where the club head face is pointing (Face Angle) and the direction the club head is moving (Club Path). With that said, if we have a leftward Club Path and the club head face (Face Angle) is “closed” relative to the target line, the Face Angle can still be “open” relative to the Club Path which will create a positive Face to Path relationship.

Creating the patterns becomes much simpler due to the simplified approach. If you are determined to create a more leftward pattern from a Biomechanics perspective, then creating a leftward Club Path must be accompanied by a matching “closed” Club Face relative to the target line, and an “open” or positive (+) Face to Path relationship. An athlete wanting to draw the golf ball would need a more “shallow” or rightward Club Path with a matching “open” Face Angle, and a negative (-) Face to Path relationship assuming centered contact.

Consistency Through Built in Margin of Error

Keeping with the idea of creating a pattern when we discuss error, the error becomes much smaller, and it becomes easier to eliminate one of the “misses”. For example, an athlete that is predetermined to make a “shallower” club head path from a Biomechanics perspective will understand that the Face Angle needs to be “open” relative to the target line to match their naturally occurring rightward Club Path. Therefore, if they should swing a little too far rightward, assuming centered contact and the face remains “open” relative to the target line the ball may Hook (cross the target line) some but is still a very manageable miss. This pattern is easy to manage as long as the athlete stays aware that Club Path or Face Angle becoming leftward not only doesn’t fit their Biomechanics, but also produces the worst outcome.

In conclusion, while attempting to create a zero-curvature golf shot can be accomplished, over a large enough sample size is going to produce very few occurrences due to the variable nature of the Human. Also, by understanding the geometric relationships within the golf swing, we can curve the golf ball either way and still maintain efficiency and speed production. While playing from the middle of the fairway is always going to be a great position, it is also important to be able to have a good chance of landing in the fairway/on the green while taking the obstacle that leads to a higher score completely out of play. 

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Graduating from the Professional Golf Management program at Eastern Kentucky University, Michael started his professional career as an Assistant Golf Professional. After a brief hiatus from the industry, Michael began to teach golf part-time at the Kendall Academy where Dave Kendall helped Michael find his true calling and passion in life. In addition to being exposed to Trackman, Michael was also exposed to Scott Hayes and “The Golfing Machine”. Scott Hayes was paramount in exposing Michael to the “science of golf” which has consumed him ever since. Without knowing the difference between kinetics and kinematics, Michael knew that there was a piece to the puzzle that was missing and quickly added his first set of force plates to go along with his Trackman. The force plates immediately unlocked the world of ground reaction forces and Biomechanics which led Michael into the BioSwing Dynamics group including Mike Adams, E.A. Tischler, Terry Rowles, etc. Getting a crash course into how the anatomy affects the motion of the golf swing, as well as how the forces and torques are acting on the anatomy gave Michael the piece to the puzzle that he had been missing all along. Michael wanted to create a performance training environment where everything was measured and quantified, and opinions didn’t matter. In November of 2020, Measured Golf opened for business. In addition to coaching athletes of all skill levels, Michael also works with several tour players and serves as an Advisory Board member to Swing Catalyst. Michael also consults and works with several other industry leading technology companies and continues to attend and present at education events around the world.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. lambs

    May 1, 2022 at 4:30 am

    I’m going to hang myself…straight !!!

  2. Bob

    Apr 30, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    Cliff’s Notes:

    Everybody needs to have and know their preferred curve. If you draw the ball, aim at the right side of the fairway. If it draws, you are in the middle of the fairway. If you hit it straight, you are on the right side of the fairway. Vice versa for a preferred fade.

    Very simple.

    If you hook or slice, quit.

    • Acemandrake

      Apr 30, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      True. I play a fade & my “miss” is a straight ball.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Genesis Invitational betting preview: Stage set for elite ball strikers to shine at Riviera

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The PGA TOUR’s West Coast swing makes its final stop to play a $20 million signature event at historic Riviera Country Club. The 2024 Genesis Invitational always delivers as one of the best tournaments of the year at one of the most iconic golf courses in the world.

Riviera Country Club is a par-71 that measures 7,322 yards. The fairways and rough consist of Kikuyu grass, and the greens are Poa Annua.

The Genesis Invitational field will consist of 70 players with the top-50 and ties making it to the weekend. 

Tiger Woods will also make his 2024 debut at Riviera this week. 

Past Winners at The Genesis Invitational

  • 2023: Jon Rahm (-12)
  • 2022: Joaquin Niemann (-19)
  • 2021: Max Homa (-12)
  • 2020: Adam Scott (-11)
  • 2019: J.B. Holmes (-14)
  • 2018: Bubba Watson (-12)
  • 2017: Dustin Johnson (-17)
  • 2016: Bubba Watson (-15)
  • 2015: James Hahn (-6)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value). 

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

This week, I find ball striking to be especially important. Riviera requires golfers to play well in all facets of their game.

Ball striking includes both off the tee and approach, as one or the other will not be enough this week. Golfers will need to excel with both the driver and irons this week if they want to contend.

Last year Jon Rahm gained 12.5 strokes ball striking. In 2022, Joaquin Niemann, gained 9.1 strokes ball striking.

Total Strokes Gained: Ball Striking in Past 24 Rounds (Average per round)

  1. Adam Scott (+2.08)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.97)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.54)
  4. Justin Thomas (+1.30)
  5. Chris Kirk (+1.18)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

While off the tee is included in the ball striking stat, I am double-dipping here by incorporating SG: Off the Tee. Driving distance is very important, as the course is long, and there are many fairway bunkers that require length to carry.

Driving accuracy is also important because the Kikuya rough can be quite penal.

SG: OTT Round in Past 24 Rounds (Average per round)

  1. Kevin Yu (+0.98) 
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+0.79) 
  3. Rory McIlroy (+0.78)
  4. Byeong Hun An (+0.67) 
  5. Cameron Young (+0.62)

Strokes Gained: Putting (West Coast)

Riviera’s fast and firm greens are notoriously difficult. Putts from 10 feet and in are far from a guarantee, and this is an area where we will see many golfers struggle this week.

SG: Putting (West Coast) Past 24 Rounds (Average Per Round)

  1. Nick Taylor (+24.2)
  2. Brendon Todd (+23.1)
  3. Sahith Theegala (+18.7)
  4. Sam Burns (+18.5)
  5. Taylor Montgomery (+17.7)

3-Putt Avoidance (West Coast)

Poa can get really bumpy late in the day, making tough par saves late in the tournament even more difficult. Average three-putts per round are much higher at Riviera than the TOUR average. 

3-Putt Avoidance: Gained in Past 24 Rounds (Average Per Round)

  1. Sam Burns (0.8)
  2. Kurt Kitayama (+0.8)
  3. Keegan Bradley (+0.8)
  4. Nick Taylor (+1.0)
  5. Dabis Riley (+1.1)

Strokes Gained: Around the Green

This event will be far from a birdie-fest. As mentioned, Riviera is a true all-around test.

With fairways relatively difficult to hit, playing out of the rough will create a lot of missed greens. Golfers will need to make some tricky up and downs to get away with par at Riviera.

SG: ARG: past 24 rounds (Average per round)

  1. Justin Thomas (+.78)
  2. Russell Henley (+.76) 
  3. Hideki Matsuyama (+62)
  4. J.J. Spaun (+.57)
  5. Beau Hossler (+.56)

Course History (SG: Total) (Average per round)

  1. Cameron Young
  2. Adam Svensson
  3. Mac Homa
  4. Viktor Hovland
  5. Patrick Cantlay
  6. Collin Morikawa
  7. Adam Scott
  8. Xander Schauffele
  9. Will Zalatoris
  10. Rory McIlroy

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: BS (28%), SG: OTT (24%), SG: Putting West Coast (17%), SG: ARG (17%), Course History (7%) and 3-Putt Avoidance West Coast (7%).

  1. Sahith Theegala (+3500)
  2. Max Homa (+1600)
  3. Justin Thomas (+2000)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+1400)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+1600)
  6. Scottie Scheffler (+750)
  7. Beau Hossler (+1800)
  8. Adam Scott (+4500)
  9. Viktor Hovland (+1200)
  10. Luke List (+15000)

2024 Genesis Invitational Picks

Justin Thomas +2500 (Bet365)

Justin Thomas was my headline bet last week, and I’ll be going back to him once again at Riviera. Although it wasn’t a spectacular performance, JT played well enough, finishing in a tie for 11th.

Statistically, Thomas didn’t play extremely well, however, he was solid in all facets of his game, which is a key at Riviera. He gained strokes off the tee, on approach, around the green and even putting. After making a putter switch after the first round, the two-time PGA Champion was positive on the greens for the rest of the week.

Thomas has had a great deal of success at Riviera, and history has shown that players who have a strong track record at the course are more likely to have a repeat performance. In his past six starts at the Genesis Invitational, Thomas has three top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish in 2019. In that event, JT lost to J.B. Holmes on a windy Sunday when he played 36 holes. He finished 20th last season. 

Although he’s yet to get in the winner’s circle since the 2022 PGA Championship, JT has finished 3rd, 6th and 12th in his three 2024 starts. I believe the win is coming, and one of his best chances of the year will be this week.

Tony Finau +3000 (BetRivers)

Despite not finishing extremely well, Tony Finau once again hit the ball great at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He gained 5.8 strokes ball striking, which should provide him much more of an advantage at a course like Riviera as opposed to the shorter track in Pebble Beach. Finau was also excellent at Torrey Pines, finishing 6th and gaining 7.0 strokes on approach, which was good for 2nd in the field.

Finau has a strong track record at Riviera. In 2021, he lost in a playoff to Max Homa and in 2019, he finished runner-up to Bubba Watson. He ranks 14th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total per round at Riviera. The 34-year-old has finished in the top-20 of the event in three of his last five tries.

It’s been a slow start for the bigger names at the top of the leaderboard this season, but I believe a player like Finau can get it done this week in a signature event.

Sahith Theegala +3500 (DraftKings)

This season, Sahith Theegala is playing like one of the best and most consistent golfers on the PGA Tour. In his past two starts, he’s finished 20th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am and 5th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Last week at TPC Scottsdale, Theegala gained 5.6 strokes on approach and 2.6 strokes off the tee.

In addition to the strong recent ball striking, the former Haskins award winner is an excellent putter on West Coast POA, ranking 3rd in the field in the category only behind some fantastic putters.

Theegala has proven that he’s extremely comfortable playing on the West Coast where he grew up and went to college at Pepperdine. He won the Fortinet Championship in the fall and can be another player, similar to Max Homa, who wins at Silverado and Riviera.

Adam Scott +4500 (FanDuel) 

This number is a little shorter than I was hoping for, but Scott’s combination of recent form and course history at Riviera is too difficult to ignore this week.

Last week at TPC Scottsdale, the Australian gained 6.5 strokes on approach, which was his best performance in the category since June of 2022. Scott has started his 2024 season finishing 20th and 8th in his two starts and a recent iron switch seems to be working out beautifuly for the veteran. He switched from Miura irons to the Srixon ZX Mk II (3, 4), Srixon ZX 7 Mk II (5-9), which are more of a cavity backed iron. He also switched to a TaylorMade driver and has gained 1.8 and 1.7 strokes off the tee in his two starts this season.

Scott’s history at Riviera is remarkable. In his last eight trips to the course, he’s finished in the top eleven five times, including a win (2020) and a runner-up (2016). In the field, he ranks 7th in Strokes Gained: Total at Riviera.

At his best, Scott can compete with all of the top players on Tour despite being in the back nine of his incredible career.

Hideki Matsuyama +8000 (BetRivers) 

This is simply a “bet the number” play for me this week. Hideki Matsuyama has been a tough man to predict since his 2021 Masters victory and he’s been relatively inconsistent to kick off his 2024 campaign. In between some mixed results, the Japanese star has finishes of 13th at Torrey Pines and 22nd last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

In the past, Matsuyama has played great at Riviera, however the results haven’t been as strong in the past three seasons. He has finishes of 4th (2015), 9th (2019) and 5th (2020), so he clearly has an eye for the layout.

Matsuyama is great with his long irons and is always one of the best players around the green, which are two of the most important factors at Riv. If Matsuyama can keep his driver in play, I think he will be around over the weekend.

Other Considerations

I decided to add this blurb this week of some players that I strongly considered but couldn’t fit on my card. If you need a break from some of my stalwarts such as JT, Hideki or Scott, a bet on one of these players looks great.

Ludvig Aberg +2200: Riviera should be a perfect course fit.

Sam Burns +2500: Playing extremely well at the moment and figures to be in the mix.

Cameron Young +4000: Played great here last year and seems to be finding some form. Driver can be a weapon at Riv.

Will Zalatoris :+5500: Still working his way back from injury, which is my concern, but Riviera is a golf course that will suit Zalatoris for the next decade plus.

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19th Hole

The biggest golf resort you never knew (but should)

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As a Korean-Canadian and an avid golfer for over 35 years, I am fortunate to have played on many beautiful golf courses in the West and the Far East. I still have a boatload of courses like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews on my bucket list, but I came to learn that Asia had plenty of such places to visit as well.

I have recently had the good fortune of playing the iconic Blackstone Golf Club at Mission Hills Resort in China, which is consistently ranked as one of the best courses in Asia. Blackstone is particularly famous for hosting the Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy exhibition ‘The Match at Mission Hills’ in 2013. The event brought international attention to the sprawling luxury resort and boosted the level of interest in the game in the region.

Before delving into my amazing experience at Blackstone Golf Club, here is a little bit of information about the best golf resort you may never heard of.

Tiger and Rory faced off at the very course I was at in 2013. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it by telling you who won.

The Best Golf Resort in The World?

Mission Hills Golf and Resort is located in the southern part of China on Hainan Island, which is about the size of Maine. Often referred to as the Hawaii of China, its tropical location gives the island year-round sunshine with temperatures between 75~90°F in the winter and 60~75°F in the summer. Along with dozens of other notable golf resorts and courses on the Island, the resort is a popular destination for golfers from Asia, Europe, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Mission Hills first opened its doors in early 2010 with the aim of becoming the best resort in the world. I’m not sure if they achieved their goal, but before you smirk at their ambitiousness, Mission Hills is currently listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s largest golf resort with a total of 10 world-class golf courses. That is an astounding 180 championship-class golf holes in one resort! The courses are designed by the talented Schmidt-Curley Design team who are behind some of the best courses in Asia and around the world.

The Blackstone Golf Club is considered the “crown jewel” course at Mission Hills Resort and gets its name from the plethora of black lava rock that is found all over the course as part of its beautiful charm. But don’t be fooled by its rugged beauty, as the monster-long Blackstone has hosted several World Cup of Golf championships (guess who teamed up for the US to win in 2011?) and the annual World Ladies Championships. It also hosts the annual World Celebrity Pro-Am attended by an amazing A-list of screen stars, pro golfers, and elite athletes from around the world.

So yeah, the course is quite good.

On top of that, the resort holds another world’s best distinction, with a total of 168 different hot springs and pools within the resort. Unfortunately, I was too immersed in playing golf to take advantage of a good hot soak, but it will be on the top of my list to do with my whole family next time.

Now, let’s take a close look at what the Blackstone course was all about, and keep in mind that the course descriptions and opinions are all my own from experience and perspective.

The early morning view outside the hotel room overlooking the course and resort is breathtaking

Greens

The green condition was quite superb, albeit a bit slow from Western standards. According to the caddie, the green speed was measured at about 2.9 meters, which translates to about 9.5 on the stimp meter. A speed of 7 is considered to be slow, and the average PGA Tour event is said to be about 12, so for us average folk the greens were rolling well.

The green size is quite large with nearly 5700 square feet average in size with less-than-subtle undulations and big rolling plateaus. The pins were placed slightly towards the front left of the green this day, and the approach shots were challenging for us amateurs to stuff close. The ball rolled straight and true to where it was aimed, and I only had myself to blame for missed short putts.

I don’t know if its an Asian thing, but we seem to have many courses with big greens and sometimes ridiculously big undulations and plateaus on them. We even have bunkers in the middle of the green, sometimes!

Fairways

Unlike many of the Korean courses I’m used to, the fairways are lush and readily yielded nice dollar-sized divots from well-struck iron shots into the greens. The course itself is huge and it was reflected in the long wide fairways stretching from tee to green.

Most of the fairways seemed to be free of readily noticeable trouble areas, meaning that what you see was what you got. However, upon close inspection, there were many subtle undulations which caused the stance to be slightly uneven at address. It wasn’t like St. Andrews level of fairway undulations, but it was there.

Also, the big prominent fairways bunkers often came into play and caused me to consciously aim away from them, which left longer approach shots into the green. We were somehow feeling confident this day and were playing from the blue tees. And for a guy who averages 240-yard drives on my best days, those small detours inevitably added 1-2 clubs more to the next shot.

Fairways were rolling nicely but were still a bit damp due to the sporadic short rain bursts.

Most fairways were quite wide, though it didn’t keep our balls from escaping into the jungle.

Rough

Truth to tell, the rough wasn’t all that intimidating, as it was only modestly long, and the wide fairways pushed the rough back considerably. As it wasn’t tournament season and the course was set up to mostly cater to vacationers, it made sense not to make the rough too punishing.

Beyond the rough was mostly deep jungle-like vegetation, which made it next to impossible to hit the ball out of, let alone find it in the first place.  Thanks to our amateur ball-striking abilities, however, we easily overpowered the hapless wide fairways to appease the jungle gods with our many golf balls.

The rough is almost non-existent from tee to green, except for a little bit around the bunkers and extreme sides of the fairways. The course is very long, so I guess they want golfers to relax and not get high blood pressure?

Fairway and 1st-cut rough

Bunkers

Blackstone had no shortage of fairway and greenside bunkers to daunt the average golfer. The many fairway bunkers were often quite large, and despite the mostly wide fairways, some were placed just at the right (?) places to catch drives that strayed left or right off the tee. Standing on the tees, the presence of so many bunkers was aesthetically pleasing yet intimidating at the same time.

The bunkers were meticulously raked and pristine, with the sand looking visually heavy but being very soft. Maintaining the bunkers to this level of readiness cannot be easy, as there are 10 courses at this resort! Even if there were just two bunkers per hole, that’s still 360 sand traps to rake and prep each day! Add to this the fairways and greens, not to mention the decorative foliage, the level of course maintenance at this level is quite mind-boggling.

I also don’t recall seeing any flat bunkers, as most seemed to have a healthy amount of incline at the front to make it harder to move the ball forward a long way. The greenside bunkers were also deeper and usually presented an upslope lie, and the shots had to have some climb to escape from them. If you have trouble hitting the ball straight, be sure to sharpen your bunker play when you visit Blackstone.

With the frightening number of bunkers at Blackstone, I only managed to get into two of them. I even managed to get up and down on one of them.

Bunkers and blackstones aplenty.

Despite being only the second time in a bunker, this one on the 18th cost me a devastating double bogey.

Tee To Green

Blackstone’s monstrous 7808 yards should satisfy most golfers’ urge to go all out on their shots. From the blues, it was still a challenging 6722 yards, and I don’t mind saying it felt longer than that all day.

Most of the pins can be seen from the tee box, and despite some slightly rolling fairways, Blackstone is a mostly-level parkland course without any significant drop or rise in elevation. Sprawling over a huge area of land, the holes do not double back in parallel but stretch forward through dense foliage, making for a scenic ride in the golf cart. One thing I also appreciated was the leisurely pace of play. The group ahead and behind were not visible for nearly the entire round, despite our less-than-quick pace of play.

From tee to green in its entirety, the course was in amazing shape and condition. The unexpected tropical golf experience was nothing short of amazing, and if I had to make a comparison to some of the other memorable tracks I’ve visited, the Hoakalei Country Club and Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer design) in Hawaii come to mind, along with Korea’s own Haesley Nine Bridge Club, which consistently ranks as one of the best courses in Asia.

The pictures below don’t do justice to the course, but I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

The sky was particularly blue and the course beautiful; so much so that my foursome didn’t seem to mind carding doubles and triples over and over again. What a joy.

For us short-hitters, we had to aim for the middle of the many bunkers and hope for the best.

If I had a dollar for every time one of us wished we owned a penthouse in one of the many condos dotting the resort…

Many holes are carved right through a lush jungle with a huge modern condo looming in the background.

Cluster bunkers are to be avoided at all costs.

The view from the 1st hole tee at Blackstone.

Looking like a pro in front of the picture board at the 18th tee… then promptly topping a drive 100 yards out. At least I looked good on camera.

Caddies & Carts

Unlike most courses in the West, golf clubs in Asia require each golfer to play with a mandatory caddie and golf cart. Also, if you each decide to have an additional caddie to help hold the umbrella, it can make for a sizeable group of 12 (greens keepers would be tossing in their beds in the west)! So how do the caddies move if you’re driving a power cart, you ask? They simply hop onboard the back of the buggy.

On this day, we ‘only’ had four caddies to attend our play, and they were fantastic. Despite my initial concerns, the language barrier was not an issue as they were conversant in all the needed terminology in English and Korean. This was a pleasant surprise, as I was able to ask more about the course to help my play, and there was always Google Translate.

The caddie fee was 500 yuan each, which is about $70 US. They were highly professional and quick on their feet, and I could tell that the resort had gone to good lengths in training the caddies (said to be 2000 in number!) to make the golfing experience enjoyable for their international guests.

Each foursome of caddies had a ‘master caddie’ that led the other three and acted to translate longer dialogues as needed. They had a good knowledge of the course and general breaks on greens. But don’t expect them to be like the actual caddies like for the pros. They are mostly for offering simple advice on reading greens, cleaning and handing over your clubs, and helping you to find your balls.

Not gonna lie… having a personal caddie wait on your every shot was nerve-wracking at first.

Resort & Facilities

Mission Hills Haikou has a 500-room hotel with several fine-dining restaurants and high-end boutiques within the main wing and the adjoining annex. They also have a shopping mall within the hotel featuring global brands like Taylormade, Adidas, and Skechers, along with a slew of high-end golf brands to luxury watches and whiskies.

The view from my room on the 9th floor was something to write home about, along with the impeccable services. Truth to tell, I had previously heard several horror stories of less-than-friendly services which led me to refrain from visiting China prior. That must’ve been a different country, as Mission Hills pulled out all the stops to impress and awe its visitors, and it certainly worked on me. We were treated like kings on and off the course, and the hotel personnel was on hand to assist us everywhere we went.

The entire resort complex was like a huge labyrinth of spas, pools, shops, and golf courses. They nearly had everything, including an incredible hotel buffet and several ethnic cuisines, a nightclub and karaoke, and an entire museum-like wing dedicated to the many celebrities and pro golfers that have played here. I could have stayed for hours simply looking at their vast collection of golf memorabilia. My golf buddy called it a golf heaven on earth, and I couldn’t agree more.

Again, the pics won’t be able to fully capture the experience, but they’ll give you an idea of the enormous size and quality of the place.

Spic and span to receive guests after a long hiatus during COVID-19, I bet.

I stayed in a nice-sized suite on the 9th floor with a good view overlooking the resort and course.

The tub is actually quite big and probably could fit three of me in it comfy.

The hotel service had complimentary ramen and beers, along with the local fruit.

Early morning view out the window showed the course shrouded in ground fog.

I wasn’t planning to do any swimming when I initially packed for the trip. Next time.

The pool behind the main hotel had sandy beaches!

A huge maze of trails and covered walkways branching off to a vast number of pools, hot springs, and saunas.

The morning buffet was one of the best I had in a while, with a full line up of both Asian and Western foods.

A sign at the entrance of the buffet showed the daily condition of the 10 golf courses.

Hotel Shops & Amenities

The shops inside the lobby were all high-end as well as ones I didn’t think to expect like the NBA-themed shop, Hennessy whiskey and Tabasco hot sauce shops!

Then there were dozens more shops in a whole other building next to the hotel, lined with the palm prints of celebrities and stars. The sheer size and scale of Mission Hills was outrageous.

Trip Overview

Hainan is a tropical Island in the South China Sea and can get quite hot and humid during the summer monsoon season. By plane, it took 4.5 hours from Korea to Hainan.

Interestingly, Hainan Island is designated as a tourist zone by the Chinese government and does not require a visa prior to arrival. It is issued when you arrive at the airport and go through customs.

During the end of 2023 when the trip took place, COVID-19 restrictions were largely over and there were the simplest of checks (1-2 minutes) using a machine to detect any virus before entering and exiting the airport.

The resort itself was only about a 15-minute bus ride from the airport. For those who travel often to Asia, they’ll know that courses and resorts can be up to two hours from the airport.

A brief warm-up on the range and armed with complimentary golf balls, we were off to the first tee.

True to its name, the course had stone walls and fences made from the igneous black lava rock.

Except for the absence of the sound of waves, the ambiance reminded me of courses in Hawaii.

Loved the open skies and the awesome panoramic views!

Be sure to pack some strong sunscreen and sports drinks or salt candy. The tropical climate can get quite hot and humid at midday.

Blackstone plays to par 73 and 6722 yards from the blue. I was happy with the score especially when the caddies told me it was the best they’ve seen in a while, LOL!!!

It looked like they were planning to build even more courses and condos. These folks sure like to think big.

Wall-to-wall memorabilia on display from past majors, champions, and legends of the game. So this is where all those signed Masters flags were!

The three-day stay went by all too fast… (T^T)

As part of the package, we were also shown to the largest duty-free shop in Asia. These guys have a thing for being the biggest, grandest, and most opulent; and it was awesome.

It seemed as if every brand of luxury was represented here, and it would’ve taken hours to see it all. If your partner is into this kind of stuff, leave them at home in case they get in the way of your golf.

A final meal at a popular restaurant before heading to the airport. Can you guess the menu? Yup, Chinese, but like nothing you see in the West. It was all delicious to boot.

Met a new friend while waiting for the limousine bus to take us the rest of the way. Even these guys were BIG.

After a rather simple and quick immigration and boarding process, we were safely on our way home to Korea. I have to give credit to the authorities for making the immigration/airport customs process simple and quick. Sometimes everything can be great, only to be ruined by a last-minute glitch or hold-up at the airport, and there were none.

A short nap and back in Seoul. I can’t wait to go back again soon with the whole family to jump in the hot springs. Now if I can only find a way to go visit Pebble Beach and St. Andrews similarly, I’m set. Wish me luck.

 

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: 2024 WM Phoenix Open First Round Leader picks

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The Waste Management Phoenix Open begins on Thursday in what is sure to be one of the most exciting events of the year. The PGA Tour is back to playing one course per event, which I find to be much more conducive to first round leader betting.

In the past five editions of the tournament, there have been nine first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the nine, five have come from the morning wave, and four have come from the afternoon wave. It appears there is no real advantage to either starting time historically but that can always be influenced by weather.

As of Tuesday, the wind looks as if it may be a factor during round one. The early starters should see winds 8 MPH with gusts up to 18 MPH. The afternoon starters will have the slightly more difficult draw. Winds will be around 16 MPH with gusts up to 22 MPH. For this reason, I’d slightly favor AM starters but wouldn’t rule out the PM wave completely.

Waste Management Phoenix Open First-Round-Leader Selections

Keith Mitchell +9000 (Bet365)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:22 p.m. Local Time

TPC Scottsdale is the type of course where Keith Mitchell’s skill set could propel him up the leaderboard. He will be able to let it fly off the tee and is always capable of getting a hot putter. Mitchell has had some success in the event, finishing 10th in 2022 while shooting four rounds in the 60’s. He also finished 16th in 2020.

K.H. Lee +10000 (FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:55 p.m. Local Time

K.H. Lee famously has played great golf at TPC courses, and TPC Scottsdale is no different. The South Korean came agonizingly close to victory at the event back in 2021, finishing one shot behind Brooks Koepka.

Lee missed the cut at The Farmers but had back-to-back top-30 finishes in his previous two starts at some easier courses in Waialae CC and PGA West. K.H. shot three rounds of 66 at the course when he contended so he’s no stranger to a low round at TPC Scottsdale.

Sam Ryder +12500 (Bet365)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:00 p.m. Local Time

Sam Ryder has been a boom-or-bust player, which is exactly what we’re looking for in a first-round leader bet. The 34-year-old recently had a hot stretch with the irons and is always a go-low candidate on easier courses.

Last year, Ryder finished 20th at the event, and he finished 23rd in 2022, but had a 2nd round 64, which would likely be good enough for FRL if he were able to repeat.

Victor Perez +15000 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 9:10 a.m. Local Time

Victor Perez hasn’t played much in 2024, so this is more of a gut play than anything else. He missed the cut in his only start at the Farmers Insurance Open but was able to still gain strokes with his irons despite the disappointing finish.

Perez was playing great in the fall and finished 8th at the DPWT Championship. A week on the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines should have been enough to get his feet wet and feel comfortable this week in Phoenix on a course where his strong iron play could help him shoot a low round.

Adrien Dumont De Chessart+20000 (Bet365)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:50 p.m. Local Time

This is yet another gut play with Dumont De Chessart. The 23-year-old from Belgium has enormous upside and one of the more talented young players in the world but has struggled to start his PGA Tour career.

De Chessart opened his Farmers Insurance Open with a first-round 68, which was a solid score on a tough track. The laid-back atmosphere of TPC Scottsdale and the scoreable layout could be enough for the rookie to find the form that made him a threat to win multiple Korn Ferry Tour events at the end of last season.

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