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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rickie and Patrick Want Ryder Cup Spots!

If you learn anything from watching The Barclays this week, you should learn that hitting fairways is often more important than hitting it long. Among the Top10 on the leaderboard -- which actually numbers 17 players after Round 1 -- only four are considered long hitters, at least according to Tour driving stats.

Those four (with their ranks in parentheses) are Jhonattan Vegas (T11), JB Holmes (2), Jason Day (16) and Rickie Fowler (26).

Patrick Reed

Sitting alone at the top is Patrick Reed. He's long enough (at just under 297 yards he's 45th in the stats) but certainly not among the longest.

For comparison, Ryan Moore's in solo 4th right now. He ranks T164 off the tee, just under 282 yards. And Emiliano Grillo, sharing 2nd with Fowler, is T69 at just under 294. And although Rickie is long, he has hit 9 of 14 fairways each round, and has only one bogey for the week so far.

Clearly the Black has no respect for length if you're not in the short grass. I'll say it again: You should remember how important it is to hit the short grass, especially if you have problems with rough at your course.

Having said that, it's not hard to see why Rickie and Patrick could lock up Ryder Cup spots this week. If Rickie finishes as he is now, GC estimates that he'll finish in the 7th spot, which is obviously inside the Automatic 8. And Patrick already sits in the 8th spot; a win would move him up the list as well.

I don't think Ryan Moore can make the Automatic 8, even with a win. But two wins in three weeks -- you'll remember that he won the John Deere a couple weeks back -- and Captain Love may have to consider him for a pick. I say 'may' because, even though he's scoring well on this long tough course, Ryan isn't putting so well. (He's only T66 in the field this week. YIKES!) But managing his way around like this -- as Patrick did on Friday -- may be enough for Davis. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm watching Rickie and Patrick very closely. If they keep playing this way, the Ryder Cup dreams of Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson could be in serious trouble. (I think Brooks Koepka is safe in the 5 spot... but it could be close if he doesn't pick it up. He barely made the cut on the number.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Can Fix the "Ball Moved on the Green" Rule

If you saw Rory question whether he "was deemed to have made his ball move" on one of the greens during Thursday's round, you heard Daniel Summerhays make a brilliant (and obvious) observation. He simply said that the USGA botched this rule.

I agree, folks. And the fix is so simple that I can't understand why it's still a problem.



First, let's get one thing clear: Either you made the ball move or you didn't. There's no in-between here. Personally, I think the guys would be honest enough to say they tapped the ball if they did, so I wouldn't make it an issue at all. But that's not the way the USGA thinks, so we need a way to determine whether the player is "deemed' to have moved the ball... and that's a simple fix.

All you have to do is set a threshold, a distance that your putter should be from the ball to guarantee that you didn't touch it, and decide based on that.

So what should the threshold be? Greens are cut very close, so just use the width of a golf ball as the measure.
  • If ANY part of your putter is within one golf ball width of the ball -- regardless of whether you ground the putterhead or not -- and the ball moves, you DID make the ball move. Take your one-stroke penalty and replace the ball.
  • But if NO part of your putter is within one golf ball width of the ball -- regardless of whether you ground the putterhead or not -- and the ball moves, you DID NOT make the ball move. There is no penalty, play the ball as it lies.
This one simple change would eliminate problems on the greens. The question now becomes "Was your putter within one ball width of the golf ball?" That's a yes or no question that is easily answered. And players then know how to avoid the penalty: Don't address the ball with your putterhead closer to it than one ball width if you don't want to risk the penalty.

And just for the sake of clarity, let me suggest some solutions for the "deemed to make the ball move" question elsewhere on the course.
  • In the fairway, where the grass is cut fairly close, make the threshold two ball widths. Inside that, you made the ball move; take a penalty stroke and replace the ball. Outside that, play on and don't worry about it.
  • Anywhere else on the course EXCEPT TALL GRASS, we adapt the bunker rule: If you ground the club, you caused it to move. Take a one-stroke penalty and play it as it lies. I don't care if you're a foot behind the ball, if you grounded the club, you caused the ball to move. We play in bunkers all the time without grounding the club, we can do it in the rough as well. Ground the club at your own risk.
  • In tall grasses like heather and such, THERE IS NO PENALTY. PERIOD. Play the ball as it lies. Tall grasses are inherently unstable, and we shouldn't be surprised it the ball moves. Now I expect players to use a little common sense in these situations and not tempt fate by grounding the club two inches behind the ball. As long as they don't do something stupid like that, the bad lie is penalty enough.
I realize that some folks may disagree with these last three suggestions, especially my belief that you should play the ball from its new position if you aren't in the fairway. If you disagree, I'm okay with that. I simply see no reason to complicate play from the rough any more than we have to.

But when the ball moves on the green? Come on, USGA. This ain't rocket science. Simplify the rule and speed up the game.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Brian Jacobs on Fixing Your Plane (Video)

I don't post a lot of in-depth instruction about swing plane. It's not that plane isn't important -- I just think we're too obsessed with it, and most of the drills are too nitpicky. But I don't mind putting up something that's both simple and useful.

GCA Coach Brian Jacobs did a really short video that gives you a simple drill to improve your swing plane. I especially like it because it doesn't require training aids, which means you can use it on the course during a round if necessary. Here, take a look:


All you do is take your finish position -- that is, your "pose" after the ball is long gone -- and then, without changing your arms or shoulders, turn 180° so you mirror that position at the top of your backswing.

I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but don't underestimate this simple drill. If your "top of backswing" position mirrors your finish position, and if you make sure they match when you make your swing from backswing to finish, you're on plane. It just doesn't get any simpler than that.

And you can use this drill anywhere you can swing a club, which means you can do it in a few spare minutes every day in your backyard. Just do the drill a few times -- pose your finish, mirror it to the backswing, then swing back to the finish -- then see if you can swing to that top of backswing position from your address position. Once you can do that slowly, gradually speed it up to your normal speed.

If your swing plane is off, this drill will help you. Just add it to your practice routine and see.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at The Barclays

The whirlwind continues! We rush from the Olympics to the FedExCup Playoffs, beginning this week with The Barclays. This year it's back at the Bethpage Black Course and, once again, it should offer the players all they can handle.

View of the Bethpage Clubhouse from the course

As has been the case for the last few events, it's hard to predict what might happen this week. The PGA Tour's highly compressed schedule over the last three or four months has wrecked the neatly organized playing patterns many of the Tour's best are used to following. Some players will likely benefit from the shake-up while others may be running on fumes with no relief in sight... and there's no way to be sure on which side any player might fall.

The length of Bethpage Black would seem to favor the long hitters, so I'm favoring them this week also. I won't be surprised if some of the shorter hitters force their way into the limelight -- I saw what Inbee Park did last week under all that pressure, despite being unable to hit the ball her normal distance -- but all things being equal, a tired long hitter is more likely to score well at the Black than a tired short hitter.

With that being said, here are my "5 to Watch" up in New York:
  • Henrik Stenson remains at the top of my list. Despite the crushed schedule, since his W/D at the US Open Henrik has two wins -- the BMW International Open and THE OPEN -- plus that silver medal at the Olympics. He'll have had ten days off when he tees it up Thursday, and I think he's still got some gas in the tank.
  • Gold medalist Justin Rose doesn't have that recent run to lean on, but he hasn't played as much golf as Henrik either. He should be much fresher than his silver medalist buddy, and on a serious high after getting that gold. Let's not forget that he's added some distance off the tee as well, which should really help his chances to get his first win of the season.
  • Jason Day hasn't played for nearly a month, his last appearance being that runner-up at the PGA Championship. But he's won more than anybody else this year and I'm guessing the month off did him good. Will he have a little rust? Perhaps. But I don't expect it to last long.
  • Dustin Johnson is probably in even better shape than Jason. He had arguably the best run up to the Olympics -- two wins (US Open and WGC-Bridgestone), T9 at THE OPEN, and T2 at the RBC Canadian Open before missing the cut at the PGA. Given that time off seems to have very little bad effect on DJ, you have to figure he's in the best position of the four mentioned so far.
  • And my flier is Rickie Fowler. I can see the look of disbelief on your faces now, and I understand. Rickie has been, to put it mildly, pathetic this year. He has only two Top10s since missing the cut at the Masters, and even the Olympics couldn't raise his game. But he has the length to make some hay at the Black, and he can go low if he can get that putter of his working.
Look, there are any number of hungry players that I could have put in my list. Rory is almost back to form and Brooks Koepka has something to prove. Phil Mickelson is playing well, as are Tony Finau and Jhonattan Vegas. Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger would love to give US Captain Davis Love something to think about. And to be honest, I think the most sensible pick is probably DJ, as he has the most wins and best other finishes in the two months leading up to this event.

But I'm taking Rickie as my pick this week, and the reason is very simple: He HAS to play well. He's not in the Ryder Cup automatic picks and he's given Davis absolutely NO reason to pick him, what with Berger and Thomas waiting in the wings. Rickie's back is against the wall and he's got to turn things around NOW. So I'm gambling that desperation accomplishes what mere desire couldn't.

There's only one thing I'm sure of this week: The Black will put on the great show it always does when the Tour shows up. And that will make this a great tournament, no matter what.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Automatic Euros Are Named to the Ryder Cup Team

The Ryder Cup teams are finally beginning to take shape. The automatic qualifiers for the Euro Team were released on Monday.

Justin Rose at Rio opening ceremonies

Four players made the team via the Ryder Cup European Points List while five more qualified through the Ryder Cup World Points List. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
  1. Rafa Cabrera Bello
  2. Matthew Fitzpatrick
  3. Sergio Garcia
  4. Rory McIlroy
  5. Justin Rose
  6. Henrik Stenson
  7. Andy Sullivan
  8. Danny Willett
  9. Chris Wood
Euro Captain Darren Clarke still gets to name three Captain's Picks next Tuesday (that's August 30). Some question whether he'll pick some more young rookies like Russell Knox, who has two wins this season, or go for more veterans like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, who have been playing well lately.

You can make a good argument for either approach, although I don't think he needs to worry about having too many rookies. Most of his "rookies" are multiple winners, and Willett's the reigning Masters champ. Add THE OPEN champ (Stenson) and the Olympic gold medalist (Rose), and remember that Garcia and McIlroy have both won this season. What's there to worry about?

As for the US Team:
  • They'll finalize their Automatic 8 on Sunday, August 28. At present, only Brooks Koepka would be a rookie.
  • They add three picks on Sunday, September 11, after the BMW Championship. I think US Captain Davis Love really needs to pick some rookies, just to give more players some experience. You don't want your experienced players to drop off all at once in a few years and leave only noobs on the team.
  • And the final pick (aka the Billy-Ho pick) is named on Sunday, September 25, after the Tour Championship.
So Sunday is the next date for team news. But at least we're finally in the home stretch for Ryder Cup action!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Limerick Summary: 2016 Olympic Women’s Golf

Medals: Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Shanshan Feng

Around the wider world of golf: Si Woo Kim got his first PGA Tour win at the Wyndham Championship; Paul Peterson got his first ET win at the D+D REAL Czech Masters; Laura Gonzalez Escallon won the PHC Classic on the Symetra Tour; J.J. Spaun won the News Sentinel Open on the Web.com Tour; Brock Mackenzie won a seven-hole playoff to take the National Capital Open to Support Our Troops on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada; Bo-Mee Lee won the CAT Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details); and Curtis Luck beat Brad Dalke 1up at the 116th US Amateur.

Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng

I don't know if there's much more to say than has already been said. Inbee Park proved the world -- yes, that includes me -- was wrong for not believing she could overcome biting criticism from her country's media, back problems, thumb injuries, and several weeks of over-par rounds, missed cuts and no competitive golf to crush her competition at the Olympics and take the gold medal.

She came in at (by her own estimate) around 80%, unable to hit the ball anywhere near as far as she usually does, uncertain of what to expect from round to round, and simply left the field eating her dust as she cruised to a 5-shot victory. How do you possibly put such a dominant performance into words?

In the end, all you can say is that Inbee Park beat them all with pure strength of will. If that's not the Olympic Spirit, I don't know what is.

The women came into this Olympics in much better form than the men, there's no arguing that. Let's cut the guys a bit of slack for being the first to face this unpredictable pressure, but the gals still staged a much closer battle at the end than the men.

Well, closer except for Inbee. She lapped the field, but you knew that.

I can't help but wonder how many of those little girls who were inspired by Olympic golf will end up copying the slow, upright swing that decimated a field of long hitters. After all, none of the winners' swings fit the mold of textbook swings. Inbee has her swing, silver medalist Lydia Ko uses David Leadbetter's A Swing, and bronze medalist Shanshan Feng has one of the simplest swings you'll ever see -- not terribly long, with no exaggerated hip or leg drive. They were the giant killers, and you have to think their swings will be the goal of the young wannabees.

In the meantime, the female Olympians get their own Limerick Summary. And it's certainly well-deserved!
Inbee Park made it clear with her score
That her thumb is an issue no more!
Once she snagged the gold medal,
Ko and Feng had to settle
For silver and bronze, nothing more.
The photo came from this page at LPGA.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Olympic Golf

I'll do an Olympic Limerick Summary tomorrow. Today I just want to share a few thoughts I had about golf's first time in the Olympics.

Korean fans at the golf venue

When the men's event finished, I wrote that I thought it probably came out better than it would have if the top male players had actually shown up. My reasoning was that the top-ranked players had been somewhat off their form leading up to the Olympics and, had they shown up, they wouldn't have played up to expectations anyway.

By comparison, having the top female players on hand definitely made their event better. The ladies were mostly playing on form, and the results seemed typical of a regular LPGA event. The normally streaky players were streaky, most of the normally consistent players were right there at the end of the final round, and we got a few surprises in the mix as well.

The course initially appeared easy -- wide fairways and big greens -- but it proved that Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott had thought things out thoroughly. The layout of the course allowed the fickle winds to challenge players without being overly penal, while forcing players to think their way around the course in good weather. As a whole, good shots were rewarded while bad shots were punished, and new fans got to see lots of exciting shots, including hole-in-ones. That makes for great TV as well.

And of course, Brazil will now have its first municpal course, and it's one done by a big name architect and a golf legend. Win, win, win all-around.

Overall, I thought both golf events played out very well. And the huge crowds that showed up for both events should have given the Olympic Committee enough reason to keep golf in the Olympics past 2020. Golf's ability to deliver big, even without all of its big guns in attendance, was a tour de force that I'm not sure many other sports could have managed.

We got a really good cross-section of performers. No country was able to dominate the event. Medals went to Great Britain, Sweden, the USA, South Korea, New Zealand and China. An Australian set the men's course record and a Russian set the women's course record. A young Indian made a name for herself, as did players (both male and female) from Belgium and Thailand. The players interacted with the crowds as they always do. And there was a clear camaraderie between the golfers and the other Olympic athletes, as evidenced on social media. Could things have gone better?

As for media coverage, I felt that NBC's ability to use Golf Channel for full round, every round coverage gave the golf events a clear advantage over many of the other sports. And using Terry Gannon -- who, in addition to being a knowledgeable golf commentator, would also be known to non-golf viewers from his career as a basketball player and his coverage of other sports -- as the point man for both events was, in my opinion, a stroke of genius. Gannon is comfortable with everybody from players like Annika to athletes-turned-celebrities like Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

All-in-all, I think we have to declare this experiment a success. The future of Olympic golf could open some very interesting chapters going forward.