Opinion & Analysis
Junior golf development 101
So here’s a best guess: At 7-years-old, in the United States, there are about 200 junior boy golfers “trying.” That is, they are taking lessons, going to tournaments, and doing some sort of practice. In my estimation, this number doubles every year until high school. This means that at 13 there are 12,800 players trying. It also means that each and every year, it gets almost twice as tough to win. This of course continued until about 400 of these players go on to play NCAA Division 1 golf and another 1,000 or so go on to play NCAA D2, D3, NAIA, or club golf.
So why is this important? Because between 7-13 years old kids are gonna change A LOT. In particular, kids who start early and have some success are going to face infinitely better competition in three years. Likewise, students who start at 12 are going to lack experience playing competitive golf. This includes traveling, charting courses, and maybe playing in different conditions.
The difficulty with golf is that to become a college athlete the data suggest that by the end of freshman year in high school you should be able to shot about 78. Below are the scoring differentials (basically, handicaps) of players who, according to best guess are on pace to play college golf:
So what is a kid or parent to do? I would focus on the player developing at least six shots. They are:
- go-to shot off the tee
- stock iron shot
- low iron shot
- low spinning chip
- bump and run
I would challenge them with games:
- round with just even irons or odd
- draw back; every time they miss a putt on the course, they draw the putt away from the hole a putter length
- play the red tees and try to shoot as low as possible
The secret sauce for kids is to have the desire and internal motivation to continue to learn and grow. Kids that love golf and have a future will not only have some scoring success but will have a deep passion and interest for the game. They will spend countless hours honing different shots and trajectories, all while avoiding the dangers of adolescence (which, of course, is the real goal of youth sports).
The reality is that success, particularly in junior golf, has a ton to do with things people don’t consider. This includes when puberty happens, who your children play with at the club (other competitive players?), how much they want to compete and access to their club.
In fact, in all cases, your kid would be better off at the goat ranch down the road, without a range, with three kids of the same skill level than alone on his fancy range pounding perfect range balls.
Let that sink in.
Opinion & Analysis
The best bets for the 2023 Valero Texas Open
Forget the $1.5 million due to the winner. The real prize at the end of this week’s Texas Open will be that last-minute invite to the 87th Masters starting on April 6th.
That payout is also nothing compared to the $3.5 million that Sam Burns copped when winning last night’s World Match Play, or the obvious prestige of what is to come. That has to affect the field this week, and we even lose local hero Jordan Spieth, veteran of seven outings around the San Antonio Oaks course.
The 29-year-old has, of course, an enviable record at Augusta with a win and four top-three finishes, so it’s no surprise he takes a break to prepare for the big one, after seven events since the start of February to prepare for the big one.
That all leaves world number 17 Tyrrell Hatton as clear favourite with his closest challengers (according to the market) being Hideki Matsuyama (#21) Si-Woo Kim (#39) and Corey Conners (#40). Behind there is a host of likely candidates that rank just off that vital top-50, with the likes of Rickie Fowler looking to continue his comeback and qualify for next week’s Masters after being a regular for 10 years straight until 2021.
The course itself ranked in the top third for overall difficulty last season and requires a solid overall game, favouring neither bombers or plodders. All styles have a chance here this week, and many of the past challengers confirm that view.
2016 champion and three-time runner-up Charley Hoffman said, “Tee to green is very visual, shapes with the trees and it’s a tough driving golf course,” whilst 2019 winner and three-time Masters top-10, Corey Conners summed up the test.
“Basically took care of the holes that you need to take care of, the par 5s, and No. 5, a short par 4, I was able to make birdie,” he said. “Other than that, just kept it pretty simple. There’s a few pins that are close to some slopes, so played a little safer on some shots, but struck it really well. So just tried to keep it simple and scored well.”
Wind is the main defence here, and therefore it’s no surprise that all the last four winners show form at the likes of Bay Hill, Waialae, Mayakoba, Hilton Head, and, in the case of Spieth, Conners and Kevin Chappell, at Augusta.
Since moving to its current slot just before the Masters, nobody has defended the Texas Open title, but it looks as if J.J Spaun is ready to strike again after an encouraging display at the Match Play last weekend.
After making his way through the grades, winning on the PGA Tour Canada and the Web.com tour, a misdiagnosis of his diabetes stalled the 32-year-old, and he dropped from just outside of the world’s top 100 to a place closer to 500th. However, in the second half of 2021, he ran up to Grayson Sigg at the Albertsons Boise Open before a top-10 in Bermuda settled the drop.
2022 was another year of progress as he took in four top-30 finishes early in the year – at La Quinta and, more relevantly, at Pebble Beach, Honda and Valspar – before a two-shot victory here. The final half was equally decent with one missed-cut in 10 outings, with top-15 finishes at the Shriners and (again relevant for comp course fans) at Mayakoba and at Sea Island. On top, he led the better-class St. Jude field for every one of the first three rounds before a final round collapse.
The new year has been mixed, with Spaun making the weekend in only half his eight starts. However, those 50 percent take in a fifth place at Kapalua (in second place going into Sunday) and 12th at the Sony, where again he was in the final group for the last round.
Again the 33rd finish at Riviera disguises that he was in the top-10 going into payday and he bounced back again with comfortable victories over Matt Fitzpatrick, Sahith Theegala and Min Woo Lee at Austin last week to head his talented group.
With a solid tee-to-green required this week, be encouraged that he ranked fifth at both his first two efforts this year in Hawaii, whilst his short game has seen him in the top-22 for scrambling in six of his last eight recorded starts.
Coming into this event last year, the Scottsdale resident had three midfield finishes mixed with missed weekends, something very similar to his lead in here this week.
Perhaps inspired by Matt Wallace’s victory in the Dominican Republic last week, Aaron Rai can continue a great run for British golfers following Wallace, David Skinns on the KFT and Georgia Hall’s very nearly come-from-behind effort at the LPGA Drive On Championship.
The 28-year-old stormed to the front rank in Europe after gaining automatic qualification from the Challenge Tour after three wins before the end of July 2017, before beating Matt Fitzpatrick in Hong Kong and Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off for the Scottish Open.
Hopefully that Boise Open is of some relevance, as Rai finished alongside Spaun as runners-up in 2021, letting a one-shot lead slip on Sunday, but still gaining his tour card.
It’s hard to argue against the view that everything since has been very one-paced, but on the pick of his form he has to be of interest here this week, particularly after a strong showing at Sawgrass.
2022 saw Aaron Two-gloves finish top-20 at Mikey, Houston, Canada, Shriners and Houston on the PGA Tour, and when dropped to the DPWT, he finished in the top echelons of the Italian and Irish Opens.
Rai hasn’t set the world alight in 2023 but was just outside the top-20 after round one at the Sony, led the Farmers field after the first round, was a never-nearer 29th at the Genesis, fifth after round one at Bay Hill and went into the final round at Sawgrass in the top five.
It’s going to be about putting it all together the same week, and he comes here after an encouraging top-30 here last year when two rounds of 74 and 73 spoilt the first and third rounds that saw him twice in the top seven.
In an interview after his first round 67 last season, Rai admitted it was useful to know the course:
” I think putting together how the course is on the Tuesday and having in mind how the course is going to change and I think that’s where it’s very good asking questions and speaking to people who have been here for a long time. So those are the most important things for me.”
Over the last three months, Rai ranks top-10 for driving accuracy, 11th for ball-striking, 10th for greens, and top-20 for tee-to-green at all of Riviera, Pebble Beach and Sawgrass. Perfectly able to find the short stuff in the wind, it’s clear that the flat stick is the one thing holding him back, but any improvement allied to those sharp stats will see him right there on Sunday.
Although always tempted by the younger, unexposed brigade, I’ll finish this week with two stalwarts.
First up is former top-class major contender Kevin Chappell, who was put up at 90/1 for the Corales last week, did nothing wrong and is now a much bigger price!
Formally 23rd in the world, the 36-year-old has dropped to outside the top 600 but has dropped hints over the last three weeks that he may be approaching the play that won the Texas Open, run-up at Sawgrass, and finish top-10 in four majors.
Since his body broke down in 2018, golf has been a struggle, and he has not recorded a top 10 since the CIMB in October of that year. However, after missing nine of his last 10 cuts, the Californian resident has improved to 29th at Palm Beach Gardens (round positions 84/48/50/29) and 15th at Puerto Rico (47/54/33/15).
Strokes gained were positive throughout at the Honda, and he ended up almost repeating his 2022 effort at the Corales, finishing one place worse, in 16th place.
Given his efforts also at the Honda (13th), here (18th) and Barbasol (21st) in the recent past, we need to heed any nudge that Chappell has made his way back.
Now on a run of 16/15/29 it appears that the four-time major top-ten player is over his near career-ending surgery, and he returns to San Antonio after a career record that reads one win, one runner-up, fourth, 15th and 18th.
With nine of his last 12 rounds being 70 or under, and none worse than 72, quotes in triple figures border on the insulting.
We don’t see many teenage ‘Kevin’s these days, so there is no shock in finding the final selection is in his 40s.
Rather like his namesake, Streels has been in the doldrums, and whilst his return to form is not as obvious as Chappell’s, it’s worth jumping on the positive parts of his resumé from the past 14 months or so, again returning to a favoured track.
Another with back-form that gives him a serious shout – top-three finishes at the Farmers, Sawgrass, Pebble Beach, Bay Hill and Harbour Town – he also backs it up with consistent form at Summerlin, home of the Shriners (amongst other titles), an event won twice by 2013 Texas champ, Martin Laird.
Monday morning back to work!!!
?@PGATOUR? ?@attproam? pic.twitter.com/Q0YQSd4kEq
— Kevin Streelman (@Streels54) February 6, 2023
While the 44-year-old has dropped well outside the world’s top-100, it’s noteworthy that he can still post top finishes and has recorded nine top-10 finishes over the last couple of years, including second-places at Bay Hill and River Highlands and a third at Silverado.
2021 saw several top-15s that incorporate Bay Hill (again), Wyndham, Match Play and at top-20 finishes at three of the four majors, whilst last season found him posting runner-up at the Barbasol, seventh at Valspar, and top-20s at Shriners, Honda and here, at the Texas Open.
Suddenly the results look far better than at first glance and many of his final figures tend to hide some decent play.
Since October ’22, Streelman was in 10th at the halfway point at the Sanderson, sixth going into Sunday at the RSM, 14th after round one at Riviera and made his way from 85th after day one at the Valspar to lie top-20 after the third round.
He’ll pick and choose his events but he’s still got fire in his belly, posting his best iron play for a while at Innisbrook last time out, and he’s back at a course that he’s played eight times, racking up every cut, an average position of around 21st and posting last three years finishes of 18/6/8.
- J.J Spaun WIN
- Aaron Rai WIN/TOP-5
- Kevin Chappell – WIN/TOP-5
- Kevin Streelman – WIN/TOP-5
- Kevin Streelman – Top-20
Opinion & Analysis
2023 PGA Championship: Interview with Jeff Corcoran, GCS
As ticket-holders exit their shuttles and enter the main gate to Oak Hill Country Club this May, their eyes will be attracted to so many sights. The 100-year old, Tudor-style clubhouse, designed by Thompson, Holmes, and Converse (of New Tammany Hall fame in New York City) catches and holds many glances. The market boardwalk will feature emporia of food, drink, and memories, all featuring the designs and flair of marketing teams. It’s a lot to take in.
Most attendees won’t enter the clubhouse, and their time along the merchandise promenade will be restricted to acquisition of souvenirs and sustenance. The majority of their time will be spent in the rough, adjacent to tees, greens, and fairways. Their eyes will roll across the hills of Pittsford’s jewel, but they might be forgiven if they don’t consider exactly how the course and surrounds came to reach this pinnacle of preparation.
Fortunately for them, we’ve tracked down the gentleman who knows more about Oak Hill’s preparation than any other. Mr. Jeff Corcoran is the Manager of Golf Courses and Grounds at the venerated New York state club.
GolfWRX: Tell us a bit about the re-invention of the fifth hole. What sort of hole did it replace, and how does it join itself to the course’s Donald Ross roots?
Corcoran: Our game plan doesn’t really change at all based upon the temperature. There are inherent agronomic aspects that need to happen to be successful, and some of that depends on the temperature and some of it doesn’t. Our focus is to plan for those aspects that we can control, and have a plan to react to any variables that are throw at us as we prepare.
GolfWRX: What question haven’t I asked, that you would love to answer? Please ask it and answer it. Thank you for your time.
The Wedge Guy: What really needs fixing in your game?
I always find it interesting to watch how golfers interact with the practice range, if they do so at all. I certainly can figure out how to understand that some golfers just do not really want to get better — at least not enough to spend time on the practice range trying to improve.
What is most puzzling to me is how many golfers completely ignore the rationale for going to the range to at least warm up before they head to the first tee. Why anyone would set aside 4-6 hours of their day for a round of golf, and then not even give themselves a chance to do their best is beyond me. But today, I’m writing for those of you who really do want to improve your golf scores and your enjoyment of the game.
I’ve seen tons of research for my entire 40 years in this industry that consistently shows the number one goal of all golfers, of any skill level, from 100-shooter to tour professional, is simply to hit better golf shots more often. And while our definition of “better” is certainly different based on our respective skill level, the game is just more fun when your best shots happen more often and your worst shots are always getting better.
Today’s article is triggered by what we saw happen at the Valspar tour event this past Sunday. While Taylor Moore certainly had some big moments in a great final round, both Jordan Spieth and Adam Schenk threw away their chances to win with big misses down the stretch, both of them with driver. Spieth’s wayward drive into the water on the 16th and Schenk’s big miss left on the 18th spelled doom for both of them.
It amazes me how the best players on the planet routinely hit the most God-awful shots with such regularity, given the amazing talents they all have. But those guys are not what I’m talking about this week. In keeping with the path of the past few posts, I’m encouraging each and every one of you to think about your most recent rounds (if you are playing already this year), or recall the rounds you finished the season with last year. What you are looking for are you own “big misses” that kept you from scoring better.
Was it a few wayward drives that put you in trouble or even out of bounds? Or maybe loose approach shots that made birdie impossible and par super challenging? Might your issue have been some missed short putts or bad long putts that led to a three-putt? Most likely for any of you, you can recall a number of times where you just did not give yourself a good chance to save par or bogey from what was a not-too-difficult greenside recovery.
The point is, in order to get consistently better, you need to make an honest assessment of where you are losing strokes and then commit to improving that part of your game. If it isn’t your driving that causes problems, contain that part of practice or pre-round warm-ups to just a half dozen swings or so, for the fun of “the big stick”. If your challenges seem to be centered around greenside recoveries, spend a lot more time practicing both your technique and imagination – seeing the shot in your mind and then trying to execute the exact distance and trajectory of the shot required. Time on the putting green will almost always pay off on the course.
But, if you are genuinely interested in improving your overall ball-striking consistency, you would be well-served to examine your fundamentals, starting with the grip and posture/setup. It is near impossible to build a repeating golf swing if those two fundamentals are not just right. And if those two things are fundamentally sound, the creation of a repeating golf swing is much easier.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: It’s not all about distance
- The Wedge Guy: Are you really willing to get better at golf?
- The Wedge Guy: Anatomy of a wedge head
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