Dustin Johnson just cancelled his overdraft protection at the Royal Bank of Canada. DJ, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau have headlined a shift in the tectonic plates of world golf with their moves to the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf League. I’m bummed.
What this has done is removed the PGA Tour as the last holdout of pure meritocracy in North American sports. On tour, there were no performance contracts, no guarantees, you win (or make cuts) or you don’t get paid. There were several levels of minor leagues flush with aspiring competitors just waiting to take jobs from the guys on top. Even if you were good enough to make the annual exempt list on tour, that didn’t ensure you’d get paid. All that’s gone now with LIV’s huge guaranteed contracts. DeChambeau signed for $100M and never has to win again.
LIV has turned professional golf from competition to entertainment. Of course, the players still want to win, but when they don’t have to, the integrity of the competition suffers. Make no mistake, LIV is not an instantiation of the old poorly funded knock-off football leagues that tried to compete with the NFL and couldn’t land any top-level talent and eventually folded. These guys have money and star power. Expect more defections as the economic reality sets in. How the PGA Tour will react is anyone’s guess. As their star power and exclusivity wane, they’ll need to adjust. It was an awesome run while it lasted. What do you think they will do?
Historically, the U.S. Open has been the hardest of the four majors to win. The USGA has setup their venues to require great thinking, punishing rough, and lightning fast greens. It is the ultimate test in golf. The first US Open I recall watching was Jerry Pate’s victory in 1976 at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and every year I’ve looked forward to the penal nature of the competition and how it differs from the weekly birdie-fest on the PGA Tour. The last two years have been a major buzzkill with the ridiculous assault on double-digit under par at Erin Hills and the carnival bounces at Chambers Bay (2016). I’m looking for full redemption this year. Shinnecock Hills has been lengthened by 450 yards, the rough has been grown out, and there’s nary a tree in sight to protect the golfers from the winds that are sure to blow from the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay. The course is a national treasure and will not disappoint.
Who’s going to win? Beats me. But since I’m in the recreational handicapping business, let’s give it a go. Picking from this field is a big problem, but a good problem. As in this year’s Masters, the best and deepest pool of championship caliber golfers ever are competing. Of course the U.S. Open field is nearly twice the size of The Masters, making prognostication all that more difficult. Plus, half the Masters field is past champions with no chance. Here, qualifying is the ultimate merit based system.
I’m sensing this will be a ball striking contest. Essentially, who can drive it the best and manage the wind. Rory’s game is suited for links style golf and he’s a great driver of the golf ball. But he choked in round four of The Masters and I don’t think he’s hitting on all eight cylinders. Can’t win the U.S. Open with a four-cylinder engine. Jason Day is in good form and another great driver, but flights it too high. Jordan Spieth is the best major player in the field. Best mind in the game, but not the best driver (not even close). However, Spieth is always contending in every major and will be a factor. I loved the way Rickie Fowler finished at The Masters. Seems like he’s getting over his Sunday foibles, and he will be in the mix here. Of all the awesomely talented players, who’s the best when playing at his best? Dustin Johnson. It looks like he’s gaining that extra gear again and will be in the thick of the battle. Tiger is a lot of folk’s sexy pick, but Shinnecock accentuates his weakness: driving it consistently. Not his week. Nobody believes in Bryson Dechambeau except himself – and now me. As weird as his theories are, they work. This guy is more science than art, but is becoming scary good. Finally, the sneaky good fit for this venue is Tommy Fleetwood. Love his ball flight and familiarity and comfort with links golf.
So who takes it? The All About Golf Kiss Of Death goes to the best player in the world in the toughest tournament: DJ. Spieth is runner up, and Fowler takes third. Enjoy the action and happy early Father’s Day!
As of this writing, Tiger Woods is leading the odds at 9:1 to win The Masters. Can the four-time champion and greatest player of our generation take the green jacket? You bet he can. All the big names are competing, everyone is healthy, most are in good form, it should be awesome. Let’s look at Tiger and the rest of the principals to pick a winner.
Tiger. I have loved watching his resurgence and two recent top-5 finishes. His presence at Augusta and good form make for the juiciest pre-tournament hype. He is great for golf and for The Masters. The gleam is back in his eye. You saw it at Honda, Valspar, and Bay Hill. You know the one where he squints, slightly fatigued from his powers of universal concentration. It comes out when he gets in the hunt and he’s so close, but his driving is a bit too suspect and he’s been getting by with those stingers that keep the ball in play. They worked at the earlier venues and are great for the US Open and PLAYERS but you gotta have the big stick at Augusta. Prediction: Top 10.
Phil Mickelson. Awesome February run of top-10 finishes culminating with a win at WGC Mexico. Is this really happening at 47 years old? He’s playing this week in Houston but disregard any results because he’s just staying sharp. Phil always plays Houston before The Masters as a ritual. I’ll play the odds here and say Phil is on the wrong side of 46 to win another major, but he contends. Prediction: Top 10.
Last year’s champion, Sergio Garcia. As soon as I see a guy going to the claw grip, I think “putting problems – no chance at The Masters.” Sergio put that to rest in 2017 and brings all the other claw guys like Phil and Justin Rose into play. I’ve never liked Garcia in this tournament because of his issues on the greens and my gut is telling me there’s a market correction coming. Prediction: No repeat but a top-20 finish.
Dustin Johnson. We were denied a look at the world’s #1 last year because of a butt-busting slide down the stairs in his rental home. He’s here, he’s healthy, but he’s in mediocre form. I was surprised how poorly he played in the Dell Match Play and don’t know why. I’m assuming he can right the ship and get motivated, although you can never read his desire level. Prediction: 3rd place.
Rory McIlroy. Awesome display of power and finesse at Bay Hill. Has he really found it or is it another Rory streak. When he’s on, his birdie binges are incredible to watch. This week, he cools off a bit and plays on the fringes of contention. Prediction: Top 20.
Jordan Spieth. Been in particularly bad form lately but has caught fire through two rounds at Houston. Spieth can grab a minor tweak and leverage that better and faster than anyone. Greatest mind in the game among the young players. When his putter is on, always a threat to win. Prediction: Top 10.
Justin Thomas. Cocky, powerful, streaky, pouty at times. The Masters requires an even keel more than any other tournament. When Phil learned to play with steadiness, he started winning green jackets. Thomas still needs some seasoning. Prediction: Makes the cut but not much else.
Paul Casey. What’s he doing in this list? He’s got a couple recent top-10s in The Masters, plays a nice right-to-left ball flight, is plenty long, has his putting woes straightened out, and has his mind settled. Love the combo and this horse for this course. Prediction: 2nd place.
Justin Rose. Last year’s runner up. He’s hungry, is in top form, contends every week, is ready and will not be denied. He is your 2018 Masters champion.
How big is your golf gap? Your gap is the difference between what you know is the right thing to practice and what you actually practice. Your goal is to lower your scores through effective practice, and folks who have been playing and studying the game for a long time should have smaller gaps than beginners. The smaller you can shrink your gap, the more rapidly you should improve.
My gap is larger than it should be. I had a bit of an epiphany last weekend and the experience might serve a useful purpose going forward. It started when I read the article by Dustin Johnson in the February 2018 Golf Digest on how he practices. DJ was always an excellent ball striker but he truly became a superb player after he adopted his current routine of dedicating 80% of his range time to full and partial wedge shots. Considering how great he is with the driver, I was surprised to learn how little he practiced with it. Bottom line: his weakness was inside 100 yards and he addressed it.
Aligning my own game to DJ’s is like comparing a rowboat to a battleship, but his routine is instructive and should be copied. I reviewed my 2017 season performance notes and most of my good rounds were preceded by lessons and practice with my wedges. Like DJ, my goal last year was to get more consistent inside 100 yards. From some mechanical changes my pro helped me with (using primarily my wedges), my proximity improved greatly inside 100 yards and I began to hit it longer. I became enamored with the newfound length and in accordance, began hitting more practice balls with the driver. That’s when my performance dipped. Argh! My gap had widened.
Last weekend I hit the range with the goal of closing the gap and connecting the dots between practice and play. I only worked on hitting partial and full wedge shots. The contact was excellent and transitioned nicely to the few shots I mixed in with the longer clubs. What I would advise is that you hit the range and work on your wedges. See your pro if you need help with your technique. Then jot down what you are working on. This makes it easy to recall past practice that preceded good play, and of course, any “ah ha” moments you may discover. Finally, one caveat, if you are filming your own swing for analysis purposes, hit shots with a medium iron and a driver, as a wedge swing will often be too short and compact to reveal some critical swing flaws.
Pros can bomb the crap out of a golf ball. But what is the main difference between a pro’s swing and an amateur’s that creates the huge distance advantage? Careful not to get caught up in the comparison of a pro’s game or career, just the swing. The answer is the muscle groups that the pro uses and the sequence they are used in.
A pro is typically younger, has a full time swing coach, has a mental coach, has as much free customized equipment as he/she needs, has access to fitness and workout facilities, eats a very healthy diet, and dedicates their life to improving golf performance. As amateurs, we can partially emulate but cannot compete. We buy the same brands, we have access to some of the same top quality instruction via golf schools or on-line learning materials, and sometimes we can even play the same courses. However, we all have the same muscles in our bodies – can we get closer? What is the pro doing different?
To illustrate, consider a sliding swing scale. On the left at 0% is our average 35-handicap who’s self taught, been playing for years, and sprays the countryside. On the right at 100% is Dustin Johnson, the best ball striker on the planet. The rest of us fall in between somewhere. Typically, the more correct instruction you’ve had at an early age, the higher on the scale you will be. The main difference is that Johnson is starting his downswing from the ground up by turning and clearing his hips, which pull his upper body and hands through the hitting zone. His hands are passive. His grip, and club face react to the power generated by his big muscles. Watch when he prepares to hit a drive. See how softly he grips the club. Amateurs, on the other hand, grip it way too tight, and typically feature their hands and arms (small muscles) to start the downswing. This fails to leverage power available to them from their torso and causes a lot of pulling and slicing. You and I will never hit it like Dustin Johnson, but learning to start the downswing with your big muscles will help you get the club on a proper swing path and add power and accuracy to your ball striking. See the photo of DJ above. Can you get your hips into that open position at impact? That’s the key!
I was instructed at an early age to try and time my strike of the ball with my wrists and hands. Consequently, my big miss is a pull hook and I am working with my instructor to correct this habit after 40 years. I’m estimating it will take a full season to make the change but I can see it starting to work!
Where are you on the sliding scale? Any chance you can move in Dustin’s direction?
The 2016 PGA Championship has been thrown on its head by the Rio Olympics. For the first time in recent memory, the start of the fourth major of the season gets under way only 11 days after the third concluded. The Olympics are turning into a joke and the golf tournament is in the PGA’s traditional August slot. Who will be able to deal with the change in routine and the shortened rest and recovery window? The majority of the worlds top players are either skipping the Olympics or have not qualified, and if they manage to recharge quickly enough, could use the disruption to their advantage. Imagine them charging into the PGA full bore, skipping the Olympics, and using the extra time off to rest up for the Ryder Cup and FedEx playoffs, which also required significant energy.
Make no mistake, the PGA is the most important event left on the calendar and the American and European stars know it and will be highly focused. Let’s look at the particulars to get you a winner.
Phil Mickelson, fresh off one of his greatest performances in a major, always plays the week before a major but skipped the RBC Canadian Open because of the timing. Lefty has some local knowledge at Baltustrol, but he played so well at Troon and has got to be deflated from the energy spent on another 2nd place finish. I suspect he’ll have a go on Thursday and Friday but will run out of gas. Henrik Stenson can’t possibly duplicate his effort after his performance in The Open.
This major will play out in an epic slug-fest between the world’s top four. Jason, Jordan, Rory, and DJ are all skipping Rio and have their priorities in order. They have been bobbing and weaving in the 2016 majors with Dustin Johnson holding an edge in performance and consistency. Sergio Garcia has been performing well and is always buzzing around the top 5, and the last two majors have been won by players previously on the BPTNWAM list. Sergio is the trendy pick but he is going to Rio and will be too distracted. Who will win it? I am feeling a Rory, DJ and Scott Piercy Sunday horse race This will be a power ball striking tournament and DJ is striping it better than anyone now. He is your 2016 PGA champion. Yes, two majors in one year for a guy I thought would never win one. Like that pick? Who’s your pick at Baltustrol?
I always thought that if Dustin Johnson was going to win a major, The British Open would be his first because the slower bumpy greens equalize the putting ability of the world’s greatest players. Johnson is a notoriously mediocre putter especially during big clutch moments, but has suddenly turned the golf world on its head and is winning everything. Having cleared his first major hurdle, is he now unstoppable?
The other big three (Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth) all seem capable, but currently vulnerable. Spieth is suffering from mechanical issues. McIlroy hasn’t sorted out his putting, and Day had the WGC Bridgestone in control until an uncharacteristic late round collapse. The pre-tournament betting line has all four at 8-1. It’s going to be a wild ride so let’s sift through the morass and get you a winner.
It’s exciting when someone from the BPTNWAM list finally breaks through as DJ did at Oakmont. The final round at The US Open had layers of intrigue. DJ, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood were all well positioned. But alas, only one player can win it. I liked the way Sergio finished (for a change). He hung tough and didn’t choke. He’s looking good to me this week. Westwood was awful on Sunday and I have to believe that he didn’t believe enough in himself to play well under the gun. Rapidly joining that class is Rickie Fowler. I knew Rickie was done at Oakmont before the tournament started because he basically threw up his hands in the practice rounds and said (I’m paraphrasing) “I cannot putt these greens; they’re ridiculous.” Haven’t heard anything from Rickie this week, which is a good thing, but the guy is in a slump and he doesn’t close well. I need to see improvement before I even consider him for BPTNWAM membership.
The Open Championship always manages to tease us with an aging champion getting into contention, and sometimes gives us a winner, like Ernie Els in 2012 when Adam Scott collapsed late at Lytham. How about Greg Norman or Tom Watson? How about Colin Montgomerie in 2016??? Could you see a Monty, Westy, and Sergio BPTNWAM threesome battling it out on Sunday for the Claret Jug? No.
Back to reality. This year’s champion will have to steel himself mentally, and has to relish playing in the wind and rain (it’s forecast to be wet the whole week). Normally, I’d love someone who would leverage the adverse conditions against the field, someone who knows that bad weather culls the weak from the heard. Someone like a Phil Mickelson. But Lefty has run up against Father Time. Not happening for him this week.
I see the winner coming from a group of six players. The big four, Sergio, and Danny Willett will battle it out all week. Willett plays great in Europe, has the major bonafides and should be able to leverage the home court advantage. But he can’t sneak up on anyone any more.
Of these six, Day and Spieth have the best minds for the game. Day for concentration and patience, Spieth for guts and grit. It’s a battle of attrition, I’ll take guts and grit. Jordan Spieth is your winner of the 145th Open Championship. Let’s get it on!
The collective golf world owes U.S. Open Champion, Dustin Johnson a huge debt of gratitude. I have never found myself rooting as hard for a player to win decisively as I did for D.J. after “Penaltyshotgate” reared its ugly head with two hours left in Sunday’s final round. Fortunately, Johnson powered past the field and largely muted the issue and the accompanying social media storm.
Today, our athletic competitions exist in a culture of instant replay. I have many issues with instant replay in my sports, and most of those revolve around removing the human element of officiating from the games. But the goal of instant replay is to get the call right and move the game on, even if the process is sloppy. What the USGA did on Sunday to Johnson and the field, flies in the face of common sense and reasonable decision making. Golf is a game of personal integrity and is self-managed quite well by the players. The rules interpretation and final decision should have been rendered on the 5th hole and the issue put to bed. Perhaps this controversy will lead to some type of reform at the USGA, but for now, I’m very happy for Johnson for upholding the integrity of the competition. How do you think this should have played out?
Yes, good move for LaCava. Much speculation has been offered on LaCava’s decision to pick up Tiger’s bag with most of the sentiment running negative. Before we jump to conclusions, consider what LaCava’s motivations are. Early in his career he was on Fred Couples’ bag when Freddy took the 1992 Masters. He obviously earned a good living for the next 15 years and became Freddy’s confidant. Joe seems to want to remain on the big stage of the PGA Tour and switched to Dustin Johnson and his obvious upside potential when Freddy went on tour with the round bellies. I suspect LaCava is looking for more notoriety than earnings potential because unless Tiger is paying him a killer salary, Dustin Johnson’s playing potential is greater than Tiger’s. As we all know, being on Tiger’s bag can be a sideshow of its own and LaCava has positioned himself on center stage. Of more interest will be how Tiger performs at the Frys.com Open and if he can justify his controversial selection to the Presidents Cup team. Was the pick of Tiger and the timing of the switch of Couples’ long time caddy to Tiger coincidental? I doubt LaCava will have an effect one way or another on Tiger’s performance but he’ll certainly be along for the ride. The only loser here seems to be Dustin Johnson.
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