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The Dan Plan: A man on a mission

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Dan McLaughlin’s introduction to the game of golf began three years ago when he wondered if the public golf courses in his area would allow him to use their practice greens for hours at a time each day.

What makes McLaughlin’s story compelling isn’t the fact that he knew hardly anything about the game, or that he learned the most basic fundamentals of scoring – making one- and two-footers round and round the putting green. It’s that he quit his job in Portland, Ore., as a commercial photographer to focus on playing golf full-time. McLaughlin, a self-described 30-year-old of average build and marginal athletic talent, now carries a single-digit handicap. It only took him about 3,000 hours to reach a level that one out of every six golfers ever gets to.

McLaughlin, however, isn’t remotely satisfied with his progress. He isn’t interested in playing at his club’s next member-guest and carving his name into the winner’s plaque. You don’t quit your day job, the metaphorical equivalent of jumping out of a plane sans parachute, to be a quasi folk hero in your home town. McLaughlin is one-third into a 10,000-hour experiment that ends with him playing his way onto the PGA Tour. Should he succeed, he’ll be a 36-year-old rookie on the circuit. It’s an advanced age to make one’s debut, but certainly not outlandish. Allen Doyle and Jim Rutledge earned their cards as 47-year-olds. But Doyle and Rutledge were life-long golfers with solid amateur and professional records. McLaughlin will be attempting to break golf’s version of the sound barrier after a scant six years.

In terms of his development as a golfer, the 2013 season is going to be a key moment in the odyssey known as The Dan Plan. He has a full-season of tournament play in front of him and his goal is to be competitive.

“I want to play in at least 20 tourneys this year, but am not sure how many I will be able to afford,” McLaughlin said. “I’ll play in everything that is realistic to enter and want to play in all the big ones in Oregon such as the Oregon Am and Mid-Am, (and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association) Am and Mid-Am. My approach will be different in that I know what to expect this year and have a goal of shooting in the 70s.  Last year I played in my first five tournaments ever and the only goal was to gain experience.”

McLaughlin won’t be in any position to consider a run at Q-School at the end of this year, but a full season of tournament play will give him and his team plenty of metrics to analyze as they tweak both practice and fitness routines for the next phase of his development. More importantly, his tournament performance will reveal something critical the numbers can’t measure — can he play his best golf when there’s something on the line?

A Game Of Numbers

Photo Courtesy of thedanplan.com

The idea that would end up being The Dan Plan started to sketch itself about a year before McLaughlin quit his job. He began building up his savings over a five-year period to put towards business school. It took one finance class to make him reconsider his options. So instead of thinking about meal plans, books and lectures, McLaughlin began thinking about courses, coaches and clubs. The algebra he came up with, assuming he spent his money wisely, would allow him to dedicate the next four to six years of his life to chasing a little, white ball.

McLaughlin chose to play golf for some less-than-obvious reasons. He wanted to be outdoors and he didn’t want to do something that would eventually become boring. He also liked how golf held individuals accountable for their own successes and failures and, most importantly, it was unlike anything he had ever done before. As far as having any connection to the game, McLaughlin would’ve been hard-pressed to name 10 players on the Tour even after spotting him a Tiger and a Phil. All things considered, McLaughlin could’ve randomly decided to pick up a tennis racket or a bowling ball. For it wasn’t so much a passion for golf that interested McLaughlin as it was discovering what he calls “the human potential.”

The idea that hard work, in particular the concept of deliberate practice, can trump innate talent has been written about at length in the following best-selling books — “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. The basic premise of both books is that talent isn’t born, it’s made. Success is ultimately achieved through persistence, sweat and a proper use of one’s time. A third book of note, and the one that heavily inspired McLaughlin is “Outliers: The Story Of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell claims that the key to success in any field, to a large extent, is the ability to practice a specific task for a total of about 10,000 hours.

Can someone, if they are willing to train consistently over the course of that many hours, become a bona-fide golfing savant? Anyone who has ever played the game long enough might scoff. There’s a reason why so few golfers, even those who excelled as juniors, ever have a sniff at the Tour, let alone make a successful career playing at the highest professional level. Whether through naiveté or over-exuberance, McLaughlin was unfazed by the daunting odds. But when it came to convincing others, such as his first golf coach, it was definitely a tough sell.

“To be honest, I had about 15 seconds for him, maybe 10,” Christopher Smith, lead golf instructor at Pumpkin Ridge told Golf Magazine in an interview. “I was kind of offended by how easy he thought this was going to be.”

McLaughlin’s foray into golf had a genuine Dickensian quality. His gear, courtesy of Nike, consisted of two pairs of shoes, a hand-me-down rain jacket and an off-the-rack Method putter. Lessons and practice consisted of learning to putt and rolling 100 balls from inside a 3-foot circle. At first, McLaughlin struggled to hole 80 percent of his putts. After about a month, he was averaging over 90 percent and steadily increasing the distance.

A repertoire of different putting games kept McLaughlin’s practice sessions from getting stale. One of the games he played, called the “6-foot call shot,” consisted of rolling the ball from four different spots six feet away from the hole. Before addressing the ball, McLaughlin would “call out” which part of the hole he was aiming for as well as the speed at which the ball would drop. McLaughlin cut his teeth on the putting green week after week, finally adding chipping practice deep into the summer.

“Initially, I don’t think Chris thought I would stick to it, but after a year of just chipping and putting he knew I was serious,” McLaughlin said.

Imagine spending three months just working on holing putts. While other weekend golfers warm up for 10 or 15 minutes on the practice green before heading out to the first tee to battle their chronic slice, McLaughlin is wearing out the face on his putter.

We’re Talking Practice

Photo Courtesy of thedanplan.com

Ask an aspiring recreational golfer how much better they’d play if they just had the time to practice all day long and you’ll likely hear a grand tale about winning tournaments and breaking course records. Then ask that same golfer if they’re willing to practice up to eight hours a day, six days a week, come rain or come shine and they might need a minute or two think it over.

McLaughlin may have come into the game without truly understanding the rigors of golf, but there was nothing bush-league about his dedication. In addition to the thousands of hours he’s logged standing over a golf ball, McLaughlin has spent a significant amount of time at the gym training like a world-class athlete. His workout routine consists of equal parts strength training, cardio and plyometrics. Olympic lifts, squats, lunges, hip rotations, torso twists and medicine ball throws make up a fraction of the exercises that have allowed McLaughlin, who weighs a modest 150 pounds, to generate 998.2 watts of power (Average Power = square root of 4.9 x body mass(kg) x square root of jump distance(m) x 9.81). To put into terms a golfer can appreciate, McLaughlin swings his driver in excess of 105 mph. He and his physical therapist, Shawn Dailey, are hoping to get his swing velocity up to Tour-level standards by the end of the year.

“I’ve seen many golfers who have come and have years of pain, playing with pain and changing their swing around pain,” Dailey said. “Dan has the advantage that he’s a blank slate. We can develop a very efficient, strong swing for him. A lot of his strength and power exercises revolve around his legs, his glutes, his core.”

While it must seem like fun to be able to workout and beat range balls day after day (minus the paycheck), the risk of burnout is great. The honeymoon period of The Dan Plan came to abrupt end after about eight months. At that time, McLaughlin was still limited to practicing with a pitching wedge and putter, and playing golf from inside 40 yards. He was also facing his first winter in Oregon as a golfer when the average temperature is usually 40 degrees and the playing conditions are almost always wet. On his website blog, McLaughlin asked himself a very basic question. “So, Dan, why are you doing this to yourself? And, if nobody else cares, will you still follow through?”

He considered quitting.

“Like anyone who is starting a business it can be tough to juggle everything in your life,” McLaughlin said.

The day after feeling miserable about his situation, he ventured out to Heron Lakes in the rain. Out there on his own, McLaughlin saw a tree fall to the ground without any obvious provocation. It immediately reminded him of a quintessential philosophical question — can something exist without being perceived? Maybe it was pure accident or maybe it was serendipity that caused the tree to fall. Either way, the tree left an impression, no pun intended. McLaughlin would occasionally write about experiencing fatigue and needing a short break from golf, but he would never get as low as he had that first autumn.

McLaughlin reached his first major milestone a month later, surpassing the 1,000-hour mark. In the spring of 2011, McLaughlin began to hit full shots with his pitching wedge. He also began working with a sand wedge. He didn’t look like much of a golfer slinging a mostly empty stand bag across his shoulders, but McLaughlin was coming close to outgrowing his beginner status.

A key point in his development may have occurred a couple of months earlier when McLaughlin visited the IMG campus in Bradenton, Fla. — a heralded golfing academy that has graduated notable alumni such as Paula Creamer, Michele Wie, Sean O’Hair and Peter Uihlein to name just a few.

McLaughlin went to Bradenton to measure his training against what world-class juniors are able to receive when budget isn’t a limiting factor. He was also able to observe some of the best teenagers in the country strike balls with machine-like precision. McLaughlin admitted that he felt intimidated, but he left IMG encouraged about his future.

“Back then I only had three clubs and had never even made a full swing,” McLaughlin said. “I didn’t even know what it meant to play golf, just chipped and putted and had no clue what this wonderful game is all about.  Back then I wanted to join those kids in ripping drives and now that I am confident on the course I would love to go back and play with or against them.”

After one year, five months and four days on the plan, McLaughlin passed the 2,000 hour mark. He wasn’t yet competing in tournaments like he had originally, and wrongly, predicted when he first started. But he was feeling upbeat about his progress. As for his relationship with golf, what started off as awkward as a blind date had turned into a genuine love affair. Days spent putting and chipping were now being augmented with rounds at Heron Lakes and Columbia Edgewater.

“I think once I actually understood the game and was playing the game I started developing a passion for it,” McLaughlin said. “I was completely hooked.”

McLaughlin was now carrying seven clubs (a putter, 56-degree, 52-degree, pitching wedge, 8-iron, 6-iron and a 3-hybrid). He was playing from the white tees and posting scores in the 90s and 80s. As the year drew to a close, his handicap fell to 11.4 with strong showings in his final two rounds in which he posted scores of 82 and 83.

Nearly two years of laborious and focused practice had gone into turning McLaughlin into a golfer. It’s a number most avid golfers who take up the game later in life can’t fathom. And while McLaughlin understands that the average person can’t commit the same time or resources into their game as he has, he thinks everyone can benefit by being more attentive to their practice habits.

“No matter how much time you have, practice interweaving,” McLaughlin said. “Try to not hit the same club twice and if you do, reset your brain by going through your routine each time. We learn optimally by having to adjust to new situations and circumstances and hitting ball after ball is nothing like the actual game, so practice randomly and with consequences.”

The Tipping Point

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McLaughlin’s new wedges arrived at his doorstep a few weeks ago. He posted a photo of his new clubs (still in their shrink-wrapped plastic) on Facebook. He made a few giddy remarks on Twitter. With his initials “DM” stamped in a random pattern along the sole of his 46-degree, you couldn’t blame McLaughlin for feeling a little bit like a rockstar, especially if you’re treated like one by the crew at Titleist.

McLaughlin toured the Titlelist headquarters in Carlesbad, Calif., in February. There he saw the racks of Vokey wedges that serve as an equipment archive for the some of modern golf’s greatest players. He met with “Voke” himself, and had his picture taken with the legendary craftsman. Later on he stopped by the Oceanside Test Facility and learned enough about lofts, bounce angles and grinds to fill a small textbook.

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The “wedge archive” at the Vokey Tour department in Carlsbad, Calif.

He also underwent a rigorous two-hour fitting in which he executed everything from bunker shots to bump-and-runs. The club-fitters at Titleist built four new clubs for McLaughlin. Two of them are standard SM4 wedges (46 and 50, each with eight degrees of bounce). The other pair (54 and 58 degree) are Vokey TVD grind. All four wedges have True Temper Dynamic Gold S200 shafts and Golf Pride New Decade Multicompound grips in green. McLaughlin, who must’ve felt like a child at a toy store, hopes he can return to Carlesbad for a full club fitting, seeing as how some his older clubs are no longer adequate for his swing.

Life has changed in some subtle and not so subtle ways for McLaughlin. In his blog, McLaughlin occasionally talks about reaching a tipping point. Coincidentally or not, the same author who penned “Outliers,” wrote an earlier work called “The Tipping Point” which describes how certain social conditions combine to bring about change quickly and unexpectedly. In terms of reaching critical mass, The Dan Plan is still in the early stages of gaining notoriety, but the days of rolling putts on soggy greens in relative obscurity are drawing to an end.

Over the past year McLaughlin has been gearing up for tournament play. His first official event was staged at Pumpkin Ridge, the site where the LPGA plays its Safeway Classic and where Tiger Woods won his unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Amateur. A gallery of sorts consisting of an AP writer and two cameramen watched a nervous McLaughlin shoot an 86. A decent score for a golfer getting his first taste of competition.

As McLaughlin has evolved, so has his team. He and his first coach severed ties last July over what McLaughlin describes as a communication rift. His relationship with Nike, which wasn’t an official relationship at all, also came to end around the same time.

“Nike decided to go with Rory instead of The Dan Plan and I have to admit that his chances of winning a major are a little better than mine,” said McLaughlin, jokingly. “[We] parted amicably. I appreciate how generous they were to provide my first set of clubs and wish them continued success with their new gear.”

McLaughlin and his new coach, Adrian Burtner, began working together last October. Last winter they started using TrackMan to enhance their training sessions. McLaughlin, in particular, has been engrossed with posting combine scores. The TrackMan combine consists of hitting 60 shots to nine different targets at various distances. Your score is tabulated based on how precise each shot is executed. In a lot of ways it’s like taking aim at plastic ducks at a carnival — only much, much harder. A good score for a Tour professional is an 83. McLaughlin, by comparison, posted a 66.9 his first time through the simulator. TrackMan has also allowed McLaughlin to accurately measure his swing efficiency for every club in the bag.

dan-plan-charts

While a huge component of The Dan Plan revolves around golf-specific training and improving his performance on the course, McLaughlin is increasingly spending time raising awareness and securing additional funding. Although McLaughlin has enough money squirreled away to theoretically finish his project, his self-funding strategy will greatly limit his opportunities to gain exposure and further enhance his training.

“I would really love to start playing in the smaller mini tours as early as this year if possible,” McLaughlin said. “Depending on budget, I would like to enter a couple gateway tour events to get a taste of what golf is like at that level. From there the goal would be to play in a full series of them next year and follow that with Q-School.”

In the past, McLaughlin has limited himself to accepting donations online through his website. But he and his newly hired publicist have been investigating alternative forms of fund raising including speaking engagements and corporate sponsorship. McLaughlin has also raised a few eyebrows when he recently issued a public challenge to Michael Phelps to play against him in an exhibition match this summer. There are some people who have been following The Dan Plan who feel that the Phelps match (should it ever happen) might detract from the project’s mission and its sincerity.

McLaughlin will certainly feel pressure this year. His tournament performances will be judged and graded. If he finds and accepts corporate sponsors, he’ll be expected to make good on that investment. There are countless examples of golfers who end up being derailed by expectations — both internal and external — rather than by lack of ability or desire.

There are plenty of individuals that would take great pleasure in watching McLaughlin strike out on the mini tours. But there’s an even greater contingent of supporters who have been following his story. People genuinely love an underdog and McLaughlin is probably the biggest underdog since Rocky Balboa. And while’s he not expecting anyone to unveil a bronze statue in his honor, McLaughlin would love to see a day that his wedges earn a place on the Titleist archive rack next to all the others that have been swung by the best in the game.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: The More You Improve, The Harder It Gets | Self Help QA

  2. Pingback: The More You Improve, The Harder It Gets : The Art of Non-Conformity

  3. 8thehardway

    Mar 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

    He would be a great candidate for Big Break… unique and compelling story, installed fan base, mutual promotion/exposure, etc.

  4. joe

    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Awesome! wish i had the balls to do this!

  5. Marshall

    Mar 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Loved the article! I have been playing golf for about 8 months, and I can fully relate to his mission. I’ve put in about 1,500 hours while also attending school. I’ll definitely continue following the Dan Plan.

    Good luck and I look forward to updates!

    • Rusty Cage

      Mar 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Marshall,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Feel free to contact Dan McLaughlin directly through this website – http://thedanplan.com – he’s open to discussing different ways to practice and train. Best of luck on your journey.

  6. Frank Dolan

    Mar 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Another great article Rusty. This one was a homerun – keep up the good work I enjoy them all.

    Frank Dolan
    “The Villages”, FL

  7. j

    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    It’s good for the game. Best wishes man. Look forward to the updates.

  8. Ed L

    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve been following The Dan Plan for over a year now, competed against Dan in a few local events last summer and Fall and was paired with him in the 2nd round of the PNGA Mid-Am. As a golfer with almost 30 years invested in the game, it has been fascinating to observe Dan’s journey and see the response from other golfers.

    The biggest thing that Dan has going for him is his determination and dedication to the entire project. What drove him to undertake this project wasn’t really a love for the game, but a curiosity about the nature/nurture argument and the forces that contribute to achieving excellence in any field. Whether he makes it on the PGA Tour at the end of 10,000 hours of practice isn’t the point of the whole venture, but merely a measurable goal to a hypothesis.

    For me, it’s hard to imagine any golfer not admiring the idea of truly dedicating one’s time and energy to see just how good you could get. I’ve been very surprised at some of the negative reactions from other golfers regarding Dan’s quest. I would think some of those negative vibes are just from jealousy. I’d guess that others feel offended by a novice having such grand, specific goals to be achieved in such a short time frame (relatively speaking). The notion that you have to pay your dues and suffer like the rest of us golfers in order to achieve anything in this demanding game.

    The Dan Plan embodies the dreams that many of us golfers have. How good could I be if I really dedicated myself to practicing? Do I have the dedication to persist and see it through? Dan has made the sacrifices to make it happen and it’s very apparent that he’s focused on seeing through in the right way. Can’t wait to see where he ends up at the 10,000 hour mark.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A few thoughts on off-season improvement

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Having lived my entire life in South Texas, one of the things I had to learn very quickly when I went into the golf business nearly 40 years ago was that this was a much more “seasonal” activity than I had ever thought about. Though we are blessed to be able to play golf year-round down here, we do have periods (like the past two weeks), where cold/windy/wet weather keeps all but the most devoted off the courses. Still, I certainly understand that there are many of you who have had to “hang ‘em up” for the next few months and get your golf fix with maybe one or two trips over the winter, or just by watching golf on TV and reading about it.

Over those 4o years I’ve talked with lots of golfers about what they do to “get their fix” during the long months when the weather just does not allow you to get out at all to work on your game. It seems I’ve heard everything from “I just try to forget about it” to “I’ll take a couple of trips to southern climates” to “it hurts every day”.

I’m going to try to offer you a bit more than that today, with some tips anyone can use to actually improve your game during the long off season. So here goes:

Improve your putting stroke. All you need is a strip of commercial grade carpet about 8 feet long if you don’t want to purchase one of the specialized putting mats (get it in a green color if you can, but any neutral earth tone will do). Find a place in your home where you can set this 12-20” wide strip of carpet down on the floor and leave it for regularly scheduled sessions. The goal with this off-season exercise is to improve your mechanics to a point where you have so much trust in your stroke that when you get to the course in the Spring (or on one of your trips) that you can focus entirely on making the putt.

One of my very closest friends was/is maybe the best putter I ever saw in the recreational ranks . . . because he dedicated time nearly every day to honing his putting stroke to a razor edge. He would spend a half hour each night watching the evening news with his putting mat in front of the TV and stroke 6-8 footers . . . one after the other . . . probably several hundred every day. He had so much confidence in his set-up and mechanics that the only thing he thought about on the greens was the line and hitting the putt the right speed.

While you might not work on it every day as he did, you can build an extremely reliable putting stroke over this off season that will pay off very well for you in 2023.

Rebuild your chipping/pitching technique. Making significant changes in our techniques during the golf season is the hardest thing we golfers try to do. What happens is that you learn something new, but on the golf course you are really wanting to get results, so you end up trapped between old and new, and quickly lose confidence in the new. I’ve heard it said that any new physical activity become a habit after 21 consecutive days of doing it. Well, the guy who wrote that probably was not a golfer, because this is a lifelong learning experience.

If chipping and pitching the ball are not your strengths, make this off-season the time to do something about it. In my opinion and years of observation of recreational golfers, poor chipping and pitching are the result of poor technique. There are dozens of good books and videos out there (not to mention dozens of my own posts here) showing you how to develop a proper technique, and physical strength is not an obstacle around the greens. ANYONE can learn to chip and pitch with sound fundamentals, and those can be better learned away from the course than on it.

All you have to do is commit to making the change, get one of the great books by Stan Utley, Tom Watson or others, purchase some of the soft “almost golf balls” that won’t break anything and work on it through the off season.

Keep yourself “golf ready”. As I have transitioned now to life after 70, I have realized that keeping my flexibility was the key to feeling great every morning, and to being able to maintain my golf skills. A number of years ago, I began a simple 4- to 5-minute stretching routine I do every day before I even get out of bed, and it has made a world of difference in everything I do and the way I feel.

Especially for those of you 40-50 years and older, I guarantee you that if you will commit to a daily stretching routine, not only will your golf dramatically improve, but it will change the way you feel every day.

So, there are three ideas for you to consider for using the off season to improve your golf game for 2023. Regardless of your age, there is no reason not to set a goal of making next year your best golf year ever.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Alfred Dunhill Championship: Betting Tips & Selections

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As the DP World Tour ends its stint in South Africa, the stars come out to play.

Whilst the Nedbank was officially part of the 2022 season, the invitational was the start of a four -event run that now concludes at the picturesque Leopard Creek, summed up by the course website:

“Golfing hazards take on a new dimension at Leopard Creek, for much of the water is home to the magnificent creatures for which the river is named – crocodiles. Extensive use has been made of water features and sightings of crocodile, hippo, antelope, buffalo and elephant are commonplace, on the course or in the Kruger Park bordering the course.”

Not only is this time for Tony Johnstone to show his exacting knowledge of the local wildlife, but golf fans can witness some of the true legends of South African and European Tour golf.

Whilst single-figure favourite Christiaan Bezuidenhout represents the best of the current generation of players, viewers will also see the likes of former Masters winners as well as the future of African golf.

In Bez we have a worthy favourite that is hard to crab given his current and course form. The 28-year-old won here in 2020 on the way to an impressive back-to-back fortnight that included the South African Open (at another Gary Player design), whilst both his victory at Valderrama and play-off defeat against Lucas Herbert in Dubai can be linked into Adri Arnaus, runner-up and third in those events and, incidentally, sixth here behind this week’s favourite.

Latest form sees the short-game wizard leave some acceptable, if disappointing, PGA results behind, with a fifth at his favoured Gary Player Country Club being followed a fortnight later with a very laidback third place finish at the Joburg Open.

At both home events, Bez started slowly and was never nearer than at the line, and trusting that the cobwebs have been blown away, he has to be in the plan, even if as a saver.

There’s a decent argument to say multiple event champion Charl Schwartzel and still-classy Louis Oosthuizen should challenge for favouritism (Oosty has now shortened up) but I’m simply not convinced their hunger is as strong as it once was, and of the three, I’d much rather be with the player with more to come.

If we are getting Bez beat, then it makes sense to row along with history, at least for a pair of back-up wagers.

There is a host of South African players attempting to continue the run of seven home winners from the last nine, but this course tends to lend itself to experience and Hennie Du Plessis looks the type to ‘do a JB Hansen’ and finally crawl over the line, as the Dane did in Joburg in 2020.

The 26-year-old has been banging his head against the winning line for a few years now, with many of his multiple top-five finishes having genuine potential to bring home the trophy instead of glancing at it.

6th at both runnings of the South African Open in Covid 2020, to Branden Grace and then Bez, he recorded a host of top-20 finishes at Challenge Tour level (including three top fives) before qualifying for the DP World Tour off the back of an 18th place at the Grand Final.

2021 ended well, with his three home visits, including 7th in Joburg and third in his home Open, suggesting a good year, and for more evidence he ended his first full DP season with five top-10s.

Unlike his more obvious compatriots, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, Du Plessis was a surprise call-up to the LIV Golf series, but he hardly let himself down in his brief spell, running-up to the 2011 Masters champion at LIV London.

After his season-ending top-10 behind Jon Rahm in Spain (third at halfway), Du Plessis followed a steady 33rd at Houghton with an improved and closing top-10 at Blair Atholl last week when his game was in acceptable shape in preparation for this week’s test.

Whilst length is somewhat negated around Leopard Creek’s twisting fairways, huge hitter Adrian Meronk finished joint runner-up here two years ago (look at him go now!) and Du Plessis should be able to club down on many of the tee-shots and take advantage of his tee-to-green play – a factor for which he ranked in ninth place through the DP season.

With players catching the eye much earlier than in previous generations, it’s hard to believe that Wilco Nienaber is just 22 years of age.

It’s a tough thing to say that this former amateur star should have won the 2020 Joburg Open, as it was surely only inexperience that cost him the trophy against a determined JB Hansen. Whilst hugely talented, the former world amateur ranked 28 has become frustrating, winning just once and that at the lower level co-sanctioned event, the Dimension Data, in the Western Cape, although an event the likes of Nick Price, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Oosthuizen, amongst others, have won.

Still, back to what he can do today and going forward.

Another huge hitter off the tee, Nienaber has been 18th and ninth in tee-to-green over the last two tournaments, finishing in 24th and 15th but in far better position through the events (10th at halfway in Joburg and 5th into Payday last weekend). Whilst last week’s test was right up his long-driving alley, that should have been a perfect warm-up for an event at which he’s improved to finish 24th and 12th in 2019 and 2020.

Adrian Otaegui has always been a tee-to-green machine, and whilst he already had three trophies in the cabinet, his six-stroke victory at Valderrama was a revelation.

It’s not as if the Spaniard was in poor form, having arrived in Sotogrande off the back off just one missed-cut in 11 starts, including a third place in Scotland and 13th at Wentworth and Le Golf National, interesting comparisons to this week’s venue. However, when recording figures of first in approaches, second for tee-to-green and second in putting, Otaegui not only took his form to a new level, but showed his strength against adversity.

The Spaniard became the first ex-LIV plater to win a ‘proper’ event, overcoming a bizarre attitude from the organising tour, who ignored much of his outstanding play and refused to cover any of the highlights on their social media pages.

I can certainly forgive a moderate effort the following week in Mallorca, but the 30-year-old has performed well of late, finishing 18th at the Nedbank (in seventh place going into Sunday), 16th at the DP World Tour Championship (11th at halfway) and dropping away from 8th overnight to 23rd at Joburg.

Take away the home contingent and Spaniards almost dominate recent runnings of the Alfred Dunhill, with Alvaro Quiros, Pablo Martin (x2) and Pablo Larrazabal winning here since 2006. Otaegui can make a good run at making it the nap hand.

I’m waiting for the right moment to back Joost Luiten, showing some tremendous play but only in spurts, whilst the likes of Tom McKibbin and Alejandro Del Rey are players I’ll have in the list of ‘follows’ through 2023. For the final selection, let’s go big!

Christiaan Maas is a young South African player that has been on the ‘watch’ list for a couple of years. His brilliant amateur career saw him rank a best of 19th and awarded him the Brabazon Trophy, the prestigious national amateur stroke-play event, as well as some of his homelands most valued events.

However, it is hard to understand how he rates 50 points shorter than his amateur rival, Casey Jarvis, who has recently shown he can compete with the legends of the game, leading George Coetzee at the South African PGA Championship before succumbing into second, and following that up with a top-10 at Joburg.

Following a stellar junior career, the 19-year-old won four of the best home amateur events in 2020, beating the best that South African golf could throw at him – including Mass – as he won the African Amateur Stroke Play in back-to-back years.

Maas took revenge on the development tour – the Big Easy – but Jarvis was back on the winner’s rostrum in July this year, and recent form suggests it might be better sticking with him this week.

A 63 in the second round in Joburg was matched only by multiple winner Daniel Van Tonder, and was one shot ahead of Bezuidenhout, so the game is there for all to see.

Jarvis missed the cut on the number when making his debut here in 2020, but the following week improved throughout the week to finish 25th behind Bez at the Gary Player Country Club. That is promising enough without much of what has gone on since, and it might pay to be on at big prices in better fields, before both he and Maas start mopping up the lesser home events.

Recommended Bets:

  • Christiaan Bezhuidenhout WIN
  • Adrian Otaegui WIN
  • Wilco Nieneber WIN/Top-10
  • Hennie Du Plessis WIN/Top-10
  • Casey Jarvis WIN/Top-10/Top-20
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Club Junkie

Club Junkie Review: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 Pro Golf Edition

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Technology has been playing a larger part in golf for years and you can now integrate it like never before. I don’t need to tell you, but Samsung is a world leader in electronics and has been making smart watches for years. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is the latest Samsung wearable running Google’s Wear OS operating system and it is more than just a golf watch.

The Watch5 Golf Edition is a full function smartwatch that you can wear every day and use for everything from golf to checking your text messages. For more details on the Golf Edition made sure to check out the Club Junkie podcast below, or on any podcast platform. Just search GolfWRX Radio.

Samsung’s Watch5 Pro Golf Edition has a pretty large 45mm case that is made from titanium for reduced weight without sacrificing any durability. The titanium case is finished in a matte black and has two pushers on the right side to help with navigating the pretty extensive menu options. The case measures about 52mm from lug to lug and stands about 14mm tall, so the fit on smaller wrists could be an issue. I did notice that when wearing a few layers on colder days the extra height did have me adjusting my sleeves to ensure I could swing freely.

The sapphire crystal display is 1.4 inches in diameter, so it should be very scratch resistant, and is protected by a raised titanium bezel. The Super AMOLED display has a 450 x 450 resolution with 321ppi density for clear, crisp graphics. Inside the watch is a dual-core 1.18Ghz Cortex-A55 CPU, 16GB + 1.5GB RAM, and a Mali-G68 GPU to ensure your apps run quickly and efficiently.

I do like that the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition’s white and black rubber strap has a quick release system so you can change it out to match or contrast an outfit. The Golf Edition strap is very supple and conforms to your wrist well, holding it in place during multiple swings.

Out on the course the Watch5 Pro golf Edition is comfortable on the wrist and light enough, ~46g, where it isn’t very noticeable. I don’t usually wear a watch on the course, and it only took a few holes to get used to having it on my left wrist. Wearing a glove on the same hand as the watch doesn’t really change much, depending on the glove. If you have a model that goes a little higher on the wrist you could feel the watch and leather bunch a little bit. Some of my Kirkland Signature gloves would run into the watch case while I didn’t have an issue with my Titleist or Callaway models.

The screen is great in direct sunlight and is just as easy to read in overcast or twilight rounds. The images of holes and text for distances is crisp and has a bright contrast agains the black background. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition comes with a lifetime membership to Smart Caddie for your use on the course. Smart Caddie was developed by Golfbuddy, who has been making rangefinders and GPS units for years. I didn’t sign up for the Smart Caddie app as I did not buy the watch and have logins for multiple GPS and tracking apps. Smart Caddie looks to be extremely extensive, offering a ton of options beyond just GPS and it is one that works seamlessly with the Galaxy watches.

I ended up using The Grint as it was an app I have used in the past and was already signed up for. Getting to the app to start a round was very simple, needing one swipe up and one tap to start The Grint app. The screen is very smooth and records each swipe and tap with zero issues. I never felt like I was tapping or swiping without the Watch5 Pro acknowledging those movements and navigating the menu as I desired. The GPS worked flawlessly and the distances were accurate and consistent. With The Grint’s app you did have to keep the phone in your pocket or in the cart close enough for the Bluetooth connection. For most that is’t a big deal and the only time I noticed it was when I used my electric cart and drove it well in front of me down the fairway.

Overall the Samsung Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is a great option for golfers who want one device for everyday wear and use on the course. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition still has all the fitness and health options as well as being able to  connect to your email, text messages, and social media apps. With the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition you won’t have to worry about buying a device just for golf or forgetting to bring your GPS to the course.

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