Ten years ago I wrote this post about the urge to tinker with my game. Today I’m fighting the same urge after a good round yesterday at The Links of Gettysburg. Tinkering usually happens when we’re playing well because we get the feeling that we can perfect a certain aspect of our game that would make things so much better. Do we golfers ever learn?
Try this quick mental exercise. Who has the best swing on tour in terms of athleticism and technique? Rory McIlroy gets my vote. Why would he ever tinker with anything. In 2011 he crushed the field in the U.S. Open at Congressional. In 2012, he was the #1 player in the world, however he tinkered by abruptly switching equipment from Titleist to Nike. I remember thinking, “What the hell is he doing?” Predictably, the wheels came off and culminated in his on-course withdrawl at the 2013 Honda Classic. He was defending champion and was hacking terribly and blamed it on a tooth ache, but we knew the real story. Fast forward to March of 2021 where Rory was at it again. This time tinkering with his swing in an attempt to copy the move of Bryson DeChambeau. He twisted himself into a swing pretzel and was in a bad place for a while.
Be on the lookout for tinkering temptations. I have an affinity for Martin Hall on Golf Channel’s School of Golf. Love the guy and he’s a very knowledgeable instructor and entertaining personality, but it seems he has three drills he wants you to try on every episode. Imagine if you tried them all. That would be hyper-tinkering.
What happened to me? On March 5, I reviewed a curation of lesson feedback from three years of sessions with my instructor. A recurring drill emerged as we tried to get me to eliminate the pulled shot and effectively take the left side of the golf course out of play. I put that drill into play and have struck the ball well ever since. What’s different now is that I’m playing and practicing LESS, but am maintaining my good form. Clearly this is no WOOD band-aid. But a couple days ago, I reviewed a swing video my son took of me hitting some wedges in my back yard and didn’t like something in my takeaway. Bang! The urge to tinker! I resisted because the last time I got in tinkering trouble was after watching swing video.
Rory has started working with sports psychologist, Bob Rotella. Good move to focus on the mental game and let his natural talent flow. As for me, no tinkering so far, and I will continue the same simple swing keys that have yielded early season returns.
Are you tinkering? Hope not but play well even if you do!
First, The Stadium Course is probably more fun to walk and spectate at than play on. Yes, the layout is beautiful. Yes, the conditions are immaculate. Yes, 16 through 18 provide great theater. But imagine playing on a golf course this tight off the tee with water on 17 of the holes. As soon as I splashed a ball, it would be in my head for the entire round – no fun! I recall playing a very tight golf course after playing a wide open links course. The switch to the tight tee shots was a small shock to my system and I never got comfortable. Multiply that by 100 as the Stadium Course’s aim points looked like the size of a gnat’s rear end.
Second, play your own game. Did you notice that defending champion Rory McIlroy shot 10-over and missed the cut? Only afterwhich, he announced he had attempted to copy Bryson DeChambeau’s swing and it got in his head. Are you kidding me? Rory has done some stupid stuff in his career, but this is tops. And hats off to DeChambeau. This guy is a showman and is starting to garner a well-deserved big time following. Could you believe he contended on this straight knocker’s paradise?
Finally, I’m devoting 50% of my future practice time to putting. I love the way Lee Westwood took a weakness and turned it into a strength. Lee was one of the best ball strikers in the world but had hands of stone on the greens, which arguably prevented him from ever winning a major. Yes, he three putted the 71st hole from a very difficult spot, but he was unbelievably clutch nailing tough par putts time and again when his long game left him.
This was a great tournament, augmented by real fans, finally! Did you enjoy the 2021 Players Championship? What was your favorite part?
Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.
Justin Rose complaining?
Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling. Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format. While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets. 1) There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit. 2) Autumn in North America is for football. 3) They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016. So, they squeezed everything up front. The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do. The other two are related. Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy. The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been. Olympic golf doesn’t matter. Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio. Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup? Probably not. If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.
A new lunch entree?
Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18. Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?
What is up with Phil Mickelson? He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee. Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag. At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game. After shooting +5 in round one he was right.
And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott. Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts. And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors? It certainly hasn’t been out on tour. Will Tiger miss another cut? Was The Masters a fluke?
Recently a Golf Digest article came out where Phil Mickelson indicated he might not play in this year’s PLAYERS Championship. Being one of the leaders on the world stage, should he skip a tournament of this stature? It would be disappointing not having him participate but Phil doesn’t feel he’s a “horse on this course” as he sprays the ball a little too much, and even though he’s won here, it doesn’t set up well for him. I say, “skip it.”
Professional golf is unique because players get to choose where and when they compete. You are measured in two categories; total wins and victories in the majors. Phil is 9th all-time with 44 wins and five major titles. The better you are, the more selective you can be. More importantly, he’s in the 20-win club and has earned a lifetime exemption to play whenever he wants.
Other players before him have set the bar on selective participation. Rory McIlroy skipped the Olympics in Rio. Sergio Garcia skipped a recent FedEx playoff event because he was too tired. Several American pros have been known to skip the British Open because of the travel burden. Back in 1987, Greg Norman expressed a vehement displeasure with the 9th green at TPC of Avenel and didn’t play the Kemper Open for several years afterwards.
I will miss Phil’s participation if he elects not to play because I get a perverse pleasure of watching pros struggle with courses they are not suited for. Isn’t it fun watching Rory battle his internal demons at Augusta? Or watching Phil’s never-ending quest for the US Open with his cache of painful second-place finishes? Occasionally, someone breaks through like Sergio at The Masters. He had always underwhelmed at Augusta and had a horrible final round choking reputation. Bam! All gone in a flash. Very cool.
So, if Phil skips The PLAYERS, I’ll be fine. What about you?
By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.
Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules? You be the judge. Phil is a very bright articulate guy. After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.
We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.
These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope. But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent. When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of “the children”. What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this? Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.
I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test. What would Jack do? I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played. How would he have behaved in such a situation? I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies. Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior. Would love to hear his take.
I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this. What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.” Really? This time Phil outsmarted himself. What do you think?
It was exactly 5:11 p.m. on Saturday and the heavens opened up on The Masters. Along with the downpour, a fascinating subplot was hatched on how the best pros handle sudden weather changes. Commentator Dottie Pepper, said that you need to just play through it like nothing was happening. Rory McIlroy was on #13 hitting his second shot into the par-5 from a perfect position, and pulled it way left into the azaleas. They switched coverage to Patrick Reed getting dumped on behind the green at #12. He had a straight forward chip, which he blew by the hole and missed the par putt coming back. The weather clearly affected these guys, but what could they have done to handle it better? How about you?
My last round two years ago was in late November at my local muni. It started off sunny and 70 degrees but steadily grew colder and windier through the round. I knew this was in the forecast, but on #18 mother nature freaked out and sleet started pouring down and blowing sideways. I was unprepared and went into total golf shock, and my game collapsed. Earlier in the same season we were playing at Barefoot in Myrtle Beach and remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie were in the area. In retrospect, I was better prepared and handled that with ease. What is the reason for weather shock, and what can you do?
Shock clearly happens because your mind is on cruise control. Rory had just nutted a perfect tee shot and was playing in an exquisite rhythm. You can see when these guys are rolling that everything about their pre-shot routine is the same, from the way they take off and put on their gloves to the way they check yardage and discuss shots with their caddies. The weather change is a sudden distraction and crushes routines. When Rory yanked that approach way left, he was probably over the ball thinking, “Should I dry my grips? Has my guy got the umbrella ready? I can feel the rain hitting my back.” Reed was getting drenched and you could tell he was thinking about it after he missed his putt. He just wanted to quickly tap in and get dry.
I have found that physically preparing for the condition before it hits is the solution. Get your game and routine actively into the situation. At Barefoot, I knew we were going to get rain, but just didn’t know when. I started the round with my waterproof rain vest on and playing with one rain glove on as well. I had the other rain glove in my pocket. When the deluge came, I just pulled out the other glove and carried on without breaking routine. Now, it pays to have the proper equipment. For example, you don’t want to be playing with a full rain jacket on in 80 degree weather and high humidity just waiting for the storm to hit. That’s why I had the half-sleeve vest and rain gloves in play, but you get the idea.
One other point that Dottie made was critical. You don’t want to be playing or interacting with folks who complain about the weather, especially in adverse conditions. This will ruin your concentration. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but if the sudden change comes, I usually try to keep a bit away from the whiners.
Got any other tips for staying on point when weather hits? Please share and play well!
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.
We are PUMPED for the 2017 edition of The Masters! It feels like being first in line at Best Buy on Black Friday morning. Soon, the greatest venue in golf will fling open the gates, and we will charge in to witness the world’s best going head-to-head in the most anticipated and revered contest on the planet. So grab a pimento cheese sandwich and let’s go find you a winner.
Selecting major champions is tough business, but The Masters is the easiest of the four because of the reduced field size and the past champions who cannot contend. Most players love this course but there are a few that don’t, and we can quickly rule them out. There is no way you can not embrace Augusta National and win. For some, the course doesn’t suit their game and others can’t overcome the baggage from previous failures. Both factors will play a part in our selection.
Let’s start the addition by subtraction with the world’s best player; Dustin Johnson.
DJ has worked incredibly hard on his short game and putting. He’s now to the point where he’s the most complete competitor from tee to green, and can destroy tournaments. Old DJ couldn’t chip and putt well enough to win a green jacket. New DJ can. But anyone who’s ever fixed something in golf has that bad swing thought or faulty process buried deep in their subconscious. The synapses can fire at the worst of times and this course can trigger. One year he’ll win one, but not quite yet. Looking for a top five, though.
The world’s best ball striker is Rory McIlroy. When his swing is on he can thump it like nobody. Rory is not the world’s best putter, and is far from it. I’m not sure if it’s attitude, mechanics, or innate ability that hold him back. He’s won the other three majors and would dearly love to close out the career grand slam, but you need a deft touch on these greens, and a cool head when you miss. Plus, he still has that final round 80 in 2011 lying dormant.
Phil Mickelson‘s performance in the majors began to slip over the last couple of years. But then, BAM! What a show for the ages he put on at 46 in last year’sOpen Championship. Unfortunately, Henrik Stenson bested him with one of the greatest final rounds ever played in a major. Lefty’s game is suited for Augusta. But come on, he’ll be 47 in two months and nobody since Jack in 1986 has won a major at that age. Sorry, Phil, you aren’t Jack. Should be a good week though, and a top-10 finish.
Briefly: Justin Thomas peaked a little too early this year and needs more seasoning. It’s either vertigo, mental breakdown, illness, or injury. I’m done picking Jason Day in this tournament – watch him win it now. Sergio Garcia doesn’t like the venue and nobody ever won The Masters putting with the modified claw grip (read this Phil!) Adam Scott; no broomstick allowed, no chance. Hideki Matsuyama; too mechanical and the stage is too big (but it’s shrinking). Rickie Fowler is this year’s trendy pick. He certainly has the outfits to look the part, but trendy never wins The Masters, especially for those who can’t hold a lead or hold up well under 4th round pressure. Rickie is more suited to a PGA type venue where he can battle in the first three rounds and come from behind to win. When will PLAYERS Champion Rickie re-appear? 2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett remains on the world’s greatest one and done tour. Can Canadian Adam Hadwin contend? Should be on his honeymoon but is turning his new wife into a golf widow at Augusta. Okay, he gets a pass. Adam probably needs a couple years on the course but this guy has stones. Love his pressure game.
The last man standing is Jordan Spieth, your 2017 Masters champion. Best putter in the field. Best vision in the field, best clutch chipper in the field. Sometimes hits it crooked off the tee but you can get away with that at Augusta. And finally, if anyone can immerse in the process of shot to shot it’s Jordan, and that will help erase the mental foible of the 12th hole from last year. I love his chances. Who’s your choice?
I am fond of Charles Mingus’ old saying that goes, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” In 2013 Rory McIlroy changed to Nike equipment and struggled for half a year with the change, and he’s a professional. He had millions of reasons to complicate his life.
Last weekend I re-gripped my golf clubs and made an interesting discovery. The three Cleveland CG-16 wedges that came with my custom fit Mizuno irons had several layers of tape built up on the shaft under the right hand. It’s a common practice to build up the right hand on wedges, but I have never played with the right hand built up. I began to wonder if this was related to the problems (chip yips) I had experienced since changing wedges. After the grips were dry, I took them out to the driving range for a bake off with my old Cleveland Tour Action gap and sand wedges. The results favored the older wedges, so I removed the CG 50, 54, and 58 wedges for my round today, and replaced them with the two Tour Action wedges and a 5-WD.
Previously, I’d hit all my sand and green-side shots fine with the 56 degree Tour Action. During my round today I felt very confident around the greens chipping and pitching with the older club. I realized that the only reason I removed the older wedges was because the new three wedge system came with my club fitting. By changing equipment for the wrong reason, I may have inadvertently messed with my short game. With the new clubs, I was trying to decide which shot and technique to use based on whether I was using the 54 or 58. Egad.
It’s been said that putting old equipment back in your bag is like getting back together with an old girl friend. It’s great at first but you eventually remember why you broke up. Nobody forced me to dump my old wedges, they were working fine. This break up should never have happened.
Which camp do you fall in? When you play your best on the golf course how do you feel, confident or cocky? Try to align yourself with one of today’s top professionals. Jason Day is confident. Henrik Stenson is confident. Dustin Johnson is surprisingly confident and a little bit humble. Just look at Rory McIlroy’s gait when he is winning. Tremendously cocky. Jordan Speith has transitioned from a cocky youth to confident consummate professional. When he was at his peak, Tiger Woods was the most cocky AND confident player on the planet. Now he exhibits neither, which is why I’m skeptical of his comeback attempt. Phil Mickelson, the ultimate showman, is both. Bottom line: To play effectively, you need one or the other.
WARNING ALARM! I hope this isn’t you. The last time I played my best, I was neither confident nor cocky but rather surprised. This is not a good state to be in. It was probably due to my lower level of preparation and infrequent play. However, five years ago, I was in an excellent hot streak and exhibited a high level of confidence. When I play and practice a lot, my confidence rises. Normally, I’m a 95% confident type, but when the 5% cocky appears, I’ll try some boneheaded shot that I haven’t practiced, which leads to a triple bogey. Have any of you confident types experienced this?
Our personality leads us to either a confident or cocky on-course persona and it’s best to play to your personality. Unless your on-course behavior is horrible, when we deviate from our personality is when we screw up. If you are a gregarious show-off, normally you’ll fall in the cocky camp and need to play as such to be comfortable, but if you’re a more quiet unassuming strategist, you’ll play as a confident type. This is why it took Phil Mickelson so long to adjust his on course behavior away from taking unnecessary risks that cost him several major championships. He’s still cocky at heart but has learned to become more of a tactician that always plays with a game plan. I think fans still love when “Phil The Thrill” comes out, but watch him in the majors and especially at The Masters. He’ll come out with a confident game plan and rarely deviates.
To be successful, you need one or the other. To find yours, think back when you were in competition and playing your best (and your worst). What did you have and what were you missing? As mentioned earlier, at my best I was supremely confident. At my worst I had nothing and was completely intimidated.
Confident vs. cocky; what works for you? Shoot me a comment with your type and a story if you’ve got one. Play well!
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!
Back in April, I was playing a round at Poolesville and had bunkered my tee shot on the par-3 8th hole. As I was preparing to play, a group pulled their carts up to the nearby 10th green. One of the carts was playing music loud enough for everyone in their group to hear, as well as my group and anyone within a couple hundred yards. At first I thought some house nearby was having a party, but then I watched this group play out on the 10th and drive off to the 11th tee and it was clear the source was them. The quality of this sound wasn’t off some phone, it was a powerful and came from a good set of speakers.
Fast forward to my Myrtle Beach trip in June. I’m playing an afternoon round at The Legends – Parkland with my friend and we catch up to a twosome of young guys on the 9th tee. They were blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd from their cart. While they were kind enough to ask us to join them for their final hole, they made no effort to turn the music off while any of us was hitting.
This morning I was out cleaning the patio in preparation for my July 4th barbecue. My house backs to the 3rd tee at Lakewood Country Club, and a foursome pulls up in two carts with music blaring. They all play their shots and speed off as if nothing happened.
When I’m out back working with power tools and a group comes through, typically I’ll power down as a courtesy until after they’ve hit, and sometimes I’m thanked. When you attend any professional sporting event, music is usually played during stoppages in play but when the action resumes, it’s discontinued. Music is hardly ever an issue at a professional golf tournament (with the exception of The Phoenix Open), and even there, the drunks keep the noise level on the 16th to a dull roar when players are hitting.
I love loud music. I’ll turn up my electric guitar when nobody is home and rattle the windows; rock and roll was made to be played loud. But on the golf course? Is this the new normal? Rory McIlroy is now sponsored by Bose and typically warms up with his music, but uses headphones. Where is the decorum out there? Have you noticed this as well?
Finally, the 2016 US Open returns to a classic course that will produce a classic test. Oakmont Country Club will feature tight fairways, deep rough, and the fastest greens on earth, and I love it. If you are a traditionalist, and you believe even-par is a great score in this tournament, and that this should be the hardest tournament on earth to win, you’re in for a treat. You can’t have been happy with last year’s carnival played at Chambers Bay, or even the 2014 contest at the redesigned Pinehurst #2.
Let’s look at the principals:
Justin Rose won the last US Open contested on a traditional layout (Marion – 2013) and sort of backed into it when Phil Mickelson found another way to finish 2nd. Rose has got to be considered a contender. He’s having a great ball striking year but his putter is shaky and these greens are going to be the most difficult the pros play all year. Regarding Phil, I believe the window is just about closed because of age. Phil plays more interrupt driven golf than ever before. Interrupt driven = pars and birdies interrupted by “others”.
Rory McIlroy leads the BABSBP category (Bad Ass Ball Striking Balky Putter) with Justin Rose closely following. Although Rory is arguably the best ball striker on earth when he’s on, the recent change of putting grip from left hand low to reverse overlap is disconcerting when done so close to a major. He pulled this before The Masters going from reverse overlap to left hand low and was ineffective. He struggled on the slickmeisters at The Players too, and when his putting is off, he clearly gets frustrated. The US Open requires steadiness with the flat stick and more patience than any other tournament, and for that reason, Rory’s out.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth is clearly the best putter in the world. He just recently won at Colonial too. Current world #1, Jason Day is arguably the best all around player and is deserving of his top ranking. With apologies to Masters champion Danny Willett, the tournament will come down to these two. Going head-to-head ten times, Day would win six. It’s that close. Will the heat be a factor? Day has struggled with health issues on and off and during some high visibility moments. Can Spieth keep the ball in the fairway? The occasional chicken wing move could be costly on the clutch tee shots on Sunday. Spieth won at Chambers Bay because he can putt and because there was no rough. Spieth became more and more jittery over his shots at The Masters and I’m not sure he’s overcome that nervousness. Day is cool, Day is calm, Day is collected. Jason Day is your 2016 US Open Champion. Did I miss someone? Who do you think wins it?
This year’s Masters Friday feels like a Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The early upsets are out of the way, some egos have been crushed, most of our bracket’s are busted, and a refreshing reset has set in.
Bernhard Langer and Larry Mize are headlining the weekend action! It’s amazing how some of the old timers continually deliver and the favorites disappoint. Is Phil finally hitting the wall? Maybe. As soon as Jack Nicklaus (had Phil) picks you for something, it’s like the kiss of death. 🙂
The first hole travesty that Ernie Els suffered through shouldn’t happen to anyone. Now this has zero comparison value, but I remember playing in a tournament 25 years ago and five-putting on a par-3 hole. I just wanted to climb into a shell and disappear. I cannot imagine how the Big Easy felt on the first hole of the greatest tournament on earth. It was difficult to watch and to his credit, Ernie answered all the questions with honesty and integrity.
My David and Goliath final match-up is history with both Zach Johnson (cut) and Bubba (made it on the number) shooting themselves out of contention. Zach was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard on Friday and missed it by those two shots, but was already on the back-nine bogey train and headed for the weekend off.
So how’s this play out? The good news is that we are in for a surreal weekend treat. Forget about the traditional Sunday birdie barrage. Look for a U.S. Open style battle of attrition where even par is a great score and the toughest course conditions in years force the players to grind grind grind. I think this favors all the ex-U.S. Open champions in the field. Obviously Spieth has to be favored. He has the toughest demeanor in the game and the guts around the green. If the wind continues to blow, the good ball strikers like Rory and Dustin Johnson should be right there although neither of them putt as well as Spieth. If Justin Rose can banish any putting demons, he has a shot. Jason Day has a good patient approach and figures to be right there on Sunday, but flights it a little high which could be a problem if the wind is a factor. And finally, despite making a 9 in Thursday’s round on #15, look for Angel Cabrera to hang tough. All he does is win when you don’t think he should. He is definitely a horse for this course and has an Open trophy and a green jacket.
Enjoy the weekend slugfest! How’s your bracket doing?
The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents. In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life. It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.
The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today. Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance. But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”. Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.
A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.
Group 1 (Superstars): Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title. Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
Group 2 (Cagey Veterans): Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk. All major winners and usually in contention.
Group 3 (BPTNWM: Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors. Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.
There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.
Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion. Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent. Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011. Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up. I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low. It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters. Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason. Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.
Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is. He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year. Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.
Someone with imagination will win The Masters Someone who’s a great putter will win. Someone who can grind will win. Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind? He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well. To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday. Not likely.
Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements. Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through. Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta. He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.
If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy. Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance. Sorry Sergio, no chance. I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson. Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time. I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.
So who’s left? It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson. David vs Goliath. Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic. But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.
So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third. For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap! Look for him to contend.
Boy what I would give for a ticket to this year’s British Open Championship at St. Andrews. The story lines are compelling, especially Jordan Spieth’s attempt to win the third leg of the Grand Slam. Early odds have him as an overwhelming favorite now that his main competition, Rory McIlroy is injured. The board (sans McIlroy) looks eerily similar to the pre-tournament betting at the U.S. Open. Spieth is the heavy favorite, and way ahead of Dustin Johnson, who’s at 12:1. Again, these are not the actual win probabilities, but how the public has elected to wager their money. Let’s sift through the data and get a smart pick for those who failed to cash in on Spieth at Chambers Bay.
Think Jordan Spieth needs more seasoning to win The Open? This guy handles pressure better than anyone on the planet. He putts better than anyone on the planet, and has more guts than anyone on the planet. I’m pulling very hard for him this week but don’t think he closes the deal. Why? The Open, more than any other major, is susceptible to the come out of nowhere winners like Darren Clarke, Tod Hamilton, and Ben Curtis. Also, some ageless contender like Tom Watson or Greg Norman (in their 50s) seems to make a serious run. It’s clear, the slower greens are the equalizer and don’t require as much nerve to putt, which negates Spieth’s advantage. I also don’t like that he’s playing John Deere in-lieu of the Scottish Open. He should have made the trip early to get acclimated. Make no mistake, he deserves the short odds and is playing the best in the world right now. I’m hopeful he gets it done but just don’t see it.
Rory McIlroy; very unfortunate timing on the ankle injury and will not play. Last time out at St. Andrews, Rory finished 3rd in The Open, eight shots behind in the route perpetuated by Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen has a beautiful swing but only seems to be in contention in every third or fourth tournament. Not this week.
Excellent value play is Adam Scott. Scott has gone back to the long putter, had a solid U.S. Open, shooting 64 in the final round, and seems to have shaken off his early season doldrums by resigning Stevie Williams on the bag. Williams was with Tiger Woods for both his Open Championship victories at St. Andrews which is a significant intangible. The stars are aligned, and at 20:1 odds the smart money is backing the Aussie.
What to do with Dustin Johnson. If anyone can forget the debacle at Chambers Bay it’s D.J. Nothing seems to phase him, but that three-putt was a bad choke; worse than the grounded club debacle at Whistling Straits in the PGA. Can he overcome? He’ll either contend or totally collapse. I think he contends and puts up a good fight. If D.J. is going to win a major, it will be The Open on the slower greens. I’m not feeling the closing power this week, though.
Sneaky long shot is Retief Goosen. You can get him at 250:1 to win and I don’t see a victory in his future but would not rule out a top 10. Goose is the perfect horse for this course despite his inconsistent play of late.
Interesting side note: I’m watching Phil and Tiger head-to-head this week. They’re both in the 25-30:1 range but trending in opposite directions, Phil is at the age where majors rarely are won. He still has game but doesn’t seem to put four consecutive rounds together any more. Tiger had a decent showing at Greenbriar in some very soft conditions. Links golf with it’s precision ball placement off the tee doesn’t suit Tiger’s rebuild project. If the wind gets up, it could get ugly. I’m thinking Lefty takes him down.
In 2015, the U.S. Open golf course will be the big news. The peculiarities and unknowns of Chambers Bay makes handicapping this field a little tricky, but with some reverse logic we can arrive with a solid pick to win.
We know the course is links style with a single tree standing out on the entire property. It’s long, with four par-4 holes measuring over 500 yards, and the greens are huge. There’s no shortage of consternation in anticipation of the USGA setting up a carnival ride, at least that’s what you hear from pros like Ian Poulter on social media. I think it’s in the USGA’s best interest to set up as fair a test as possible because they took a good amount of criticism for the non-traditional setup at Pinehurst last year. Folks want long, narrow, and slick for the U.S. Open and they’re not going to get it for the second year in a row, so expect the setup to be tough but reasonable.
Let’s look at the contenders. World #1, Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite at 7:1 but is coming in with zero mojo and off two missed cuts in Europe. When Rory is on his game, he is the best player in the world, no doubt. But why is he slumping now? Over the years, he’s had two recurring problems when he under-achieves: 1) Poor practice habits. 2) Distractions from a love interest. #2 appears to be in play and I don’t like Rory this week because of it. Jordan Spieth is next at 8:1 and I love his competitive “anywhere on any course” attitude. He oozes winning and I would bet the house that he finishes ahead of McIlroy this week. The rest of the field is way back. Mickelson, Fowler, Rose, and Dustin Johnson are all at 18:1. Chambers Bay is unique and will require an inordinate amount of imagination and patience to play well and Phil has the most of those attributes. Over the years, he’s learned to be patient despite his gambler mentality, but when you picture him and his imagination, you envision high flopping lob shots to impossible pins, not the low running ground game that Chambers Bay will require. For this reason, I’m feeling good about the defending champion, Martin Kaymer. Chambers Bay is cutting the fringes to almost the same heights as the putting surfaces. You may see guys putting from 50 yards off the green and Kaymer loves the putter from the fringe and essentially won at Pinehurst with that play. He’s an excellent dark horse pick at 40:1. Lastly, watch our rabble-rouser, Poulter. He’s playing well on the American tour and the venue suits his hit it anywhere-work the chipping and putting. If he comes in with a good attitude about the golf course, he could do some damage.
While I’d love to see Phil close the deal on the career slam, he’s got two main obstacles: his age and Jordan Spieth is in the field. So your 2015 U.S. Open picks:
Augusta National, like no other venue tests a player’s patience, persistence, and concentration. To win The Masters, players need to contend for 63 holes then charge on the back nine on Sunday. More important than shooting a very low round is avoiding a bad day. A deep dive into the tournament archives reveals that over the last 60 years, avoiding one bad number has been the key to Masters victory.
Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest Masters player of all time. From 1959 through 1993, Jack had only three rounds of 77 or worse in 125 played; just incredible consistency. He won with two 74s on the card in 1963 and a 76 in the second round in 1966. But when players card a 77, it’s basically over. In the last 62 years, only Nick Faldo in 1989 has won the tournament after recording a 77 for one of his four rounds. Go back to Sam Snead in 1952, for the next round of 77, to find another champion. So as we don our green jackets and settle into marathon coverage with our pimento cheese sandwiches, know that as soon as your favorite shoots 5-over for the day, he’s cooked. Just ask Greg Norman (1996) how that works.
For 2015, let’s see who can avoid the big number and who’s primed to win it. Get your Calcutta ready.
Group 1:“Masters Champions.” (Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods) Adam Scott has shot three 77s or worse in 48 Masters rounds, but none since 2008. Good recent consistency, ball striking is in excellent form, but his putting is horrible after switching from the broomstick. Might make the cut, but you gotta roll the rock. He will not contend. Defending champion Bubba Watson is in excellent form. Bombs it off the tee, short game is razor sharp, 2/24 at 77 or worse with rounds in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and he’s controlling his emotions. Great value play at 10/1 odds. Three time champion, Phil Mickelson has played 84 Masters rounds and fired only two at 77 or worse; amazing consistency for the proverbial roller coaster rider. But Lefty will hit 45 years old in June and hasn’t been in good form over the past two Masters. Scores are going up with age. Maybe he makes the cut. Tiger Woods; no chance. Just listed as a courtesy.
Group 2:“Other Major Winners.” (Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose) Rory McIlroy brings the Air 3-Iron show to Georgia and is a bit off mentally. Game is suited for Augusta with his high ball flight, but five of 22 Masters rounds are at 77 or worse; with one each in the last five tournaments. Enough talent to finish top-10 in his sleep, but I want to see him get over the psychological dumpster on this track before I ride him. Martin Kaymer has only one 77 out of 20 rounds but has never finished higher than 31st. You need to be a great chipper to win at Augusta. Kaymer is not and is more comfortable putting from off the green. I don’t like the fit. He will make the cut but bide his time waiting to defend at the U.S. Open. Justin Rose has only three bad rounds out of 36 and has never missed a Masters cut. Last five years have all been top-25 finishes. Is moving in the right direction and is more seasoned with pressure since his U.S. Open victory. Will be in the top-10.
Group 3: “First Major?” (Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ricky Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Day) Matt Kuchar has the best shot in this cast. His short game and putting could be best on tour and the ex-Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is very comfortable on the grounds. Could be his year but he already feels overdue. Dustin Johnson is playing great but doesn’t have the short game to win here. Sergio Garcia has a long record of futility at Augusta. Six bad rounds out of 54 were mostly early in his career, but he’s got that choke mentality on the back nine on Sunday and that’s where The Masters is won. Ricky Fowler tied for fifth last year and has not missed a cut in his four appearances. With only one bad round in 16, I look for a top-10. Henrik Stenson is the world’s #2 player, but as Judge Smails said in Caddyshack, “Some people just don’t belong.”
Henrik hasn’t belonged at Augusta because the course is in his head. He’s got three rounds in the 80s and five at 77 or worse out of 30. Awesome ball striker but historically poor around the greens, despite some improvement this year. Despite the angst, he’ll rebound and post a top-20. I keep asking myself when Jordan Spieth will win a major. He’s always in contention, but burns a little hot at times and must control his temper in this event. He’s not the straightest ball striker but that won’t hurt him at Augusta. Missing 3-5 foot putts will, and I’m not sure he’s sold on this looking at the hole part time putting method. If he figures it out, could win it. Patrick Reed is not one of the top five players in the world but is in the top 10. Awesome in match play format but has a very short Masters history. Needs more seasoning and will not contend this year. Jason Day was my pick last year and continues to disappoint. Always gets close and seems to make back-to-back bogeys at the wrong time. Flights it high like Rory and is suited for the venue, but struggles to control his distances on short irons. Miss with too many wedges here and you can’t win it. Look for another top-10.
Winner: Bubba Watson to repeat and weep.
Runner Up: Jordan Spieth cools his jets and gets closer than ever
Third: Rory McIlroy keeps all his clubs in the bag, breaks the bad number streak, but no career slam this year
One of the favorite debates we have in our regular weekend foursome goes like this, “Would a top-tier PGA Tour pro shoot lights out at the venues we play on?” We normally visit a circuit of courses with varying degrees of conditioning, length, and difficulty. A common opinion is that PGA Tour pros always play on immaculate conditions and they would not be able to adjust downward and tear up a common man’s track with it’s assortment of un-replaced divots, half fixed ball marks, occasional aeration holes, and partially raked bunkers. But as Granny Hawkins once remarked in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “I say that big talk’s worth doodly-squat.”
To figure this out, we do have a couple of reference points. First, one of the more difficult tracks we play in upper Montgomery County is Little Bennett, with it’s good conditioning, fast undulating greens, and severe changes in elevation. As a five-handicap playing from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and a par of 72, I struggle to break 80. The course has been the site of local qualifying for The AT&T National (Previously Booz Allen Classic / Kemper Open). Top local pros routinely shoot 64, 65, 66 to qualify, which blows my mind when you consider the difficulty level, and these guys are the lower-tier entrants in the PGA Tour event and usually miss the cut.
Reference point 2: Back in the mid 1980s, while working as an assistant in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section, our tournaments were contested on the best local country clubs and the difficulty level was considerably higher than the courses my weekend group now plays on. At the time, the top local pro was Fred Funk, who was working as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.
Funk ultimately won eight times on the PGA Tour and this was a few years prior to when he joined the tour full time in 1989. When Funk was in a MAPGA event, he’d routinely shoot in the mid 60s and everyone else knew they were playing for second place. In his career, Funk’s average driving distance topped out at 281 yards for one season but was usually in the 269-279 range. Nothing tremendous, but he was destroying us on the best of our local courses. Now fast forward and think what would happen if you put an average tour threesome of say, Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Graham DeLaet on your local muni. These guys all average over 300 yards off the tee. They would be hitting short and mid-irons into all the par fives and flip wedges into the fours. Now, put a major winning caliber group of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson on the muni and you start to paint a different picture. The only thing that could hold them back from the 58s, 59s, 60s, would be inordinately poor conditions on the putting greens. The muni wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’ve played with professionals who were good enough to qualify for the occasional PGA Tour event but never had the pleasure of playing with a top flight touring pro. Have you ever played a round with a regular member of the PGA Tour? If so, was it on your local course and did they tear it up? The thought is a fun one to ponder.
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