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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 The Barclays

Winner: Jason Day

Around the wider world of golf: Jeff Maggert got his fourth win of the season at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open on the Champions Tour; Dicky Pride won the WinCo Foods Portland Open (and locked up his PGA Tour card for next year) on the Web.com Tour; Brad Clapp won the Great Waterway Classic on the MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR Canada; Kris Tamulis got her first-ever win at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic on the LPGA; and Bo-Mee Lee won the Nitori Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Jason Day with Barclays trophy

Friday afternoon everybody was wondering what happened to Jordan Spieth. Well, now we know...

He accidently left his game in Jason Day's golf bag, and we got to see what it looked like with Jason's muscles behind it.

The scoring at The Barclays surprised a few people but I doubt anybody expected the show Jason put on Sunday. His 8-under 62 was two shots better than anyone else on the course, and his -19 total was six shots better than his closest competition, Henrik Stenson. He tied the tournament record in the process.

But the numbers just get crazier. Earlier in the week I thought Jordan was more than 200 points ahead of Jason but apparently I read an older chart -- Jason now leads the FedExCup by 290 points over Jordan. And as if that wasn't enough, even though Rory will retake World #1 this week, Jason now has a chance to take that spot if he wins next week. Crazy!

And of course the debate about Player of the Year has already started, as both Jason and Jordan now have four wins. Jordan would likely win right now; he does have one more major and, according to ESPN, Jordan's stroke average is about a half stroke better than Jason's.

So far, that is. There are three tournaments left in the playoffs, after all, and Jason Day has won three of his last four events, the last two in record fashion. Perhaps I should write a few spare Limerick Summaries for Jason Day -- you know, just in case I need them in the next few weeks. It might save me some time...
A dry spell? Well, not anymore!
Since Jason’s gone three out of four
He’s first in the Cup
And his star’s rising up—
Could his Playoffs have more wins in store?
The photo came from this wrap-up at nationalpost.com.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jordan Spieth's Brain Games

Golf Digest has an interesting article about mirror neurons and how Jordan Spieth uses the science behind them to improve his game. It may not appeal to some of you but I'm guessing that a lot of you are just plain curious.

Everybody's brain has neurons, billions of them. At the risk of oversimplifying things, they're responsible for muscle memory. Mirror neurons are a subset of them -- roughly 20% or so -- that allow you to watch someone else do something and feel the action closely enough that you can copy it.

In other words, mirror neurons may help explain why we play better when we play with good players and worse when we play with players who aren't so good... at least, not on the day we play with them.

Yeah, that's dreadfully oversimplified... but it's good enough for our purposes.

Jordan's coach Cameron McCormick says that Jordan realized this relationship early on -- that is, he noticed that relationship between your play and that of the players you watch -- and talked to him about it. McCormick then says that "from then on [Jordan] made a concerted effort to pay keen attention to players who do things well, and to ignore those who didn't."

The article then covers some things you can do to use this information to help you play better. I won't list them here because it's not a long article and I don't want to just copy McCormick's work. But he has three examples of ways to use this info... and several funny ways to avoid watching bad players in your foursome, such as:
  • 2-Fairways-Over Slicer: Embark on an exhaustive search in your bag for that candy bar you ate already
Many of you have probably already figured this out, and you watch players you admire -- for example, you watch videos of Steve Stricker's swing and imagine what it must feel like -- while looking away when your partner starts jerking his putts ten feet off-line. But this article will give you the basic scientific reasons for it and maybe help you find some new ways to copy your golf heroes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Unfortunate But Not Tragic... for Some

Jordan Spieth has been making history all year, and Friday he added another bit to his resumé -- he became the first World #1 NOT to win in his first outing after achieving the feat. And as a result, Rory McIlroy will regain his #1 ranking next week without having to play at all.

It seems somewhat appropriate in a way, since Jordan made up the ground between him and Rory while Rory was out with that ankle injury.

Jordan Spieth

And, as Nick Faldo noted, Jordan will probably be the best #1 to lose it after only one week, having become the youngest two-time major winner on his way to the top.

I found it somewhat ironic that, even as Jordan was missing his first cut in three months or so, that a number of players on the Web.com Tour were also missing the cut with far more dire consequences.

Jordan may have gotten all the press but the real drama was happening in Portland. Unlike The Barclays, where the cut fell at +2, the cut at the Portland Open came at -2 and ended the dreams of several players. If you missed the cut at The Barclays, you've still got your Tour card for next year. That's not guaranteed for some of the players in Portland.

In case you don't know how it works, the Top75 on the Web.com Tour's season money list and numbers 126-200 on the FedExCup points list go to the four-event Web.com Playoffs. And THE 25 -- the Top25 players all season on the Web.com Tour -- will already have their PGA Tour cards for next season; they play in their playoffs largely to see if they can improve their position.

A new twist this year is that THE 25 get to keep their season money totals going into the playoffs, as a reward for their good play all year. (I agree with that choice. It bugged me that some players won a Tour card through a year of hard work but ended up ranked worse than players who played badly all year on both tours.)  Everybody else starts with $0, zilch, nada in the bank, and they're basically playing for the remaining 25 PGA Tour cards that are up for grabs.

Ron Oppenheimer missed the cut and is predicted to drop from 24 to 27. So not only did he miss out on the first 25 Tour cards but he now loses the $160,158 he accrued playing the Web.com Tour all year. He's in the same spot as #200 from the FedExCup money list. (Although at least Ron is guaranteed a full Web.com Tour card next season. That's something.) He's still got a shot at his PGA Tour card but now there are 124 other players from two tours with the same starting position after that same card.

For him, the dream just became a lot harder.

Other players didn't fare even that well. For example, Drew Scott also missed the cut. He was the bubble boy at 75, now he's projected at 79. That means no playoffs and not even a full Web.com Tour card next season. Scott Parel fared just as badly -- 74 before, projected 78 now. For these players, the season is over and the dream of a PGA Tour card is dead until next year.

So while you're feeling bad for Jordan missing the cut and losing his World #1 rank for perhaps only a week, but still teeing it up at Deutsche Bank next week with the #1 spot in the FedExCup rankings, spare a few moments to think about the guys still trying to secure playing privileges ANYWHERE next year.

After all, for every player who lives the dream there are at least a dozen who endure the nightmare.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Improving Your Pitches

Here's one of the Night School videos from School of Golf's Martin Hall and Sara Brown. It has some stats showing how badly high handicappers get up-and-down compared to Tour professionals, and it also has a drill to help you improve your pitching.

Martin says the key to improved pitching is solid contact. (Of course, that makes a world of difference in just about any golf shot!) You may have seen this drill before -- some of the Tour pros like Martin Kaymer use it on the range.



Please note that you don't have to use a ball for this drill. A stiff piece of foam will work, as will a balloon or a cloth bag stuffed full of rags. The idea is simply to maintain the 'Y' formed by your club, hands and forearms as you swing, and anything that lets you do that is fine.

What this drill does is teach you to swing your hands, arms and shoulders as a unit, rather than flipping the club with your hands and wrists. As Sara says, "connection" is one term that is frequently used for this. If you think about it for a minute, what this drill teaches you is that you've probably got too many moving parts in your swing. A pitching stroke is a very simple motion. Don't try so hard to hit the ball; learn how to swing the club smoothly and your pitching will improve.

And here's one quick tip: You'll make faster progress if you learn to relax your arms and shoulders as you swing. Tense muscles usually create jerky swings.

Have fun with this drill. I like drills that actually let you duplicate the entire motion of a swing rather than just learn a position. If you can hit solid pitches with this drill, it will translate directly to the course.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Prepare to Meet THE 25

I admit that I probably don't spend as much time blogging about the Web.com Tour as I should. After all, even though we focus on players who get their Tour cards capitalizing on sponsor exemptions or working their way through the European Tour, the Web.com Tour remains the primary route to the PGA Tour. It's where most Tour hopefuls cut their teeth learning the ropes of Tour life... and the place to which most players who fail to keep their Tour cards return.

This week we learn the identity of THE 25, the players who by virtue of their play for an entire season on the Web.com Tour have earned the first 25 Tour cards to be awarded this season.

The guy in the photo below? That's Patton Kizzire and, if I've done my math correctly, there's absolutely NO WAY that he won't be the winner of the first Golden Ticket, the fully-exempt card awarded to the Web.com Tour Money List Leader for the season. (The other Golden Ticket goes to the winner of the Web.com Playoffs, the 4-event series that begins the second full week in September.)

Patton Kizzire

This week's event, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, WILL determine the other 24 players to lock up their Tour cards. (Although I'm not sure how they'll handle #23, Patrick Rodgers. Rodgers locked up a Tour card by his play on the PGA Tour this year.) With something like $145k going to the winner of this event, almost anybody in the field has a chance to make THE 25, although a number of the players near the top of the list are safe.

Some of the names currently in THE 25 will probably be familiar to you.
  • Martin Piller, #2 on the list, is LPGA player Gerina Piller's husband. He's been on the Big Tour before, and two wins this season (plus his outstanding play in the other events) guarantee him enough dough for a 2016 card.
  • Dawie van der Walt, the South African at #3, has played a few events on the Big Tour before but has spent most of the last five years on the Web.com Tour... but not next year!
  • Jamie Lovemark, #13, is a two-time REMAX Long Drive Champion and has been on and off the Big Tour for a few years, mainly due to struggles with injuries.
  • Steve Marino, #14, had to return to the Web.com Tour this year to regain his Tour card.
  • Rod Pampling, #18, has been splitting his time between the two tours in an effort to regain his Tour card. A good showing this week could lock it up for him.
And of course there are a number of up-and-comers you may not know yet but soon will -- players like Si Woo Kim who, at #7, will probably make it to the PGA Tour for the first time. This was a breakthrough season for him and it should be fun to see how he does full-time playing against the big boys.

If you want a quick update of the impending drama, you can check this post at PGATOUR.com concerning the major storylines this week and this post will give you more info on the bubble boys.

Coverage begins today on GC at 6pm ET and, given that the WinCo is being held on the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge GC in Oregon -- site of two US Women's Opens, a US Amateur and a US Women's Amateur, btw -- the telecast will probably be live. If the FedExCup Playoffs aren't dramatic enough for you, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the Web.com finale this week!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at The Barclays

After some debate I've decided to do a "5 to Watch" post for each of the FedExCup Playoff events... especially this week.

Jordan Spieth

Plainfield CC is another Donald Ross course, like Sedgefield CC last week. The course is a par 71, only 6964 yards long and with more of those devilish greens that drove the guys crazy at the Wyndham. Because of that, this week's event has the potential to shake up the playoff race more than any other.

After all, short knockers who scramble and putt well have a REALLY good chance at winning here!

And that really makes it difficult to pick definitive favorites. For example, although he won last time, I'm not picking Dustin Johnson this time because the course was so wet last time. (Remember, that event was shortened due to Hurricane Irene. That much rain can make anybody's ball stay in the fairway.)

Here are my (admittedly) random favorites for this week:
  • It's hard not to include Jordan Spieth anytime he tees it up these days. Jordan's game seems ideally suited to any course except the longest ones, where he still has to be taken seriously. And since Donald Ross green complexes require some special putting ability, you have to pick the man who is arguably the best putter on the planet right now.
  • Likewise, Jason Day has won his last two events on very different courses under very different conditions. With a forecast of good weather this week -- and a hard fast course as a result -- this course wouldn't seem to be up Jason's alley. But he's "in the zone" right now, so I think he's got to be a pick.
  • Beyond those two, I'm looking at players who have played well on Ross courses like Paul Casey. Casey finished T3 last week, just two strokes back after rounds of 66-66-66-67. That would be -19 on this course [OOPS! Par is only 70 this week, not 71 as I thought], which just happens to be the score DJ won with in 2011. And given how well he's played this whole year, he definitely makes the cut in my picks.
  • Jason Gore finished solo second last week, and he managed a 62 on Saturday when Sedgefield was hard and fast. I'm guessing he'll be freed up this week since he locked up his Tour card for next year and he'll carry his good play into this week.
  • And who else would my flier pick be but Davis Love III? Davis has so much experience on Ross greens... and his putting seems to be back on track... and he can probably take 2-iron around this course, just like he did last week... and oh yeah, he won at Sedgefield last week. Age means little on a Donald Ross course!
This really should be an interesting week, given that most of the top players in the world skipped the Wyndham. Those players coming off good weeks in Greensboro should have a decided advantage over the top players, even though the top players should be more rested.

With 2000 points to the winner up for grabs at each of the playoff events, the leader after The Barclays will be either Jordan, Jason or Bubba. (Everybody else is more than 2000 points back of Jordan.) But with the added intrigue of a shorter Donald Ross course at this event, we could see the Top10 of the points list change dramatically by week's end. You gotta love it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Brooke Henderson Watch

As most of you know, newly-minted LPGA pro Brooke Henderson is trying to qualify for the five tournaments in the Asian Swing. To do that, she'll need to crack the Top62 on the LPGA Official Money List. (To make the Lorena Ochoa Invitational she'll need Top26 money.)

The trick here is that she only has THREE tournaments to reach that magic 62 position.

Brooke Henderson

To make it easier to keep up with her progress -- and I assume all of you are just as interested in her quest as I am -- I've added a "Brooke Henderson Watch" section to the Rolex World Rankings list in the sidebar and I'll be updating it as each week ticks off.

The Canadian Pacific Women's Open this past week was the first of Brooke's three tournaments. Although she struggled a bit early on, she went low with a 5-under 67 on Sunday. This gave her a T23 finish and her first official check, worth $22,816.

By comparison, the player at 62 has $171,383 -- a figure which will no doubt rise over the next three weeks. So, heading into the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic this week, Brooke ranks 132.

Yes, that puts her $148,567 behind the 62nd player with only two events to play. But all is not lost.

First of all, once you get down to the 31st or 32nd player on the money list, the gaps between players are not all that large. In fact, the gap between 32 and 62 is only $146,621, slightly less than Brooke's 132 is from 62. And when you realize that most of these players have averaged 18-20 events, it's clear that the total of the 62nd player probably won't rise a whole lot and some good play from Brooke should move her up the list quickly.

Second, looking at the remaining two events, there is definitely money to be had. The winner of the Yokohama event took home $195,000 last year, and T5 was worth $48,945. Even better, the Evian's winner took home $487,500 -- it's a major, after all -- and solo 5th got $136,946. And given that Brooke's had a win and three other Top5s this year (two of those in majors), a couple more Top5s -- or a single win -- would likely lock up a Top62 spot.

She'll have to play well to do it, but is it doable? Oh yes.

And finally, there will probably be some players who skip the Sime Darby Classic, which is the first event of the Asian Swing. If so, she may get an invite if she's just close to that 62 rank.

So I'll be updating my Brooke Watch as she pursues a spot in the Asian Swing over the next three weeks. (There's a one-week break between Yokohama and Evian.) Just keep watching the Rolex World Rankings section over in the sidebar to see how she's doing.