Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today, the Rant!

Yesterday I "staged" a couple of rigged Ryder Cups, using the scorecards from the actual event, to try and prove that BOGEYS, not a defective system, are at the root of the US Ryder Cup team's problems. I think I succeeded.

And a few weeks back I did a post explaining why I think the European Ryder Cup team is stronger than it looks on paper.

So today I'm ready to rant!

Paul Azinger

I think what irritates me the most about this whole debate is the overwhelming belief that this problem is caused by magic and can therefore be solved by magic.
  • The Euros don't win because they play better; they win because they have a better system (or template or whatever they want to call it).
  • The US team doesn't lose because they play badly; they lose because they don't have an effective system (or template or whatever).
I'm irritated because these are professionals surrounded by mental coaches and swing gurus and club technicians and personal trainers, among other highly-skilled advisors, with the funding of huge corporate sponsorships that allows them to spend as much time practicing the game as they wish... and yet apparently this STILL isn't enough to enable them to go out and hit a little golf ball into the fairway, onto the green, and into the hole during a Ryder Cup.

I agree that the US side certainly appears to be disfunctional on a scale I would have never imagined, especially given all that's happened in the aftermath of the event. It's clear that they need some help.

But these same players frequently claim that they "find sanctuary inside the ropes" and that "just playing golf" allows them to deal with all manner of life-threatening circumstances. I didn't realize that an inefficient power structure was SO impossible to deal with! I guess it's a good thing they don't have to work regular jobs like normal people, huh? Imagine what a month trying to function in a corporate workplace would do to them!

Don't get me wrong -- I still think we have some of the greatest players on the planet and I love to watch them play. But I'm incredibly disappointed to see them squabble like spoiled children when a perfect Captain couldn't have won with the scores they posted last week. 

PGATOUR.com posted a brief summary of the debate, along with some potential names for the next Captain. Of course, the campaigning for Paul Azinger's return has already begun. No doubt Fred Couples will also be in the running, given his success as Presidents Cup Captain. And both of them would be good choices.

But unless they can find a lot more players like Patrick Reed -- you know, players who apparently don't give a damn who's in charge and don't use it as an excuse for poor play in any case -- or sneak in some technologically-advanced pinseeking golf balls that find their own way into the hole regardless of who hits them, I don't see any solutions on the horizon.

Solve the real problem -- TOO MANY BOGEYS -- and the symptoms will likely take care of themselves. At least that's what I think.

End of rant.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poor System or Just Poor Play? Let's Find Out...

I'm in the mood for a rant about the Ryder Cup, just like everybody else. But let's face it -- all these opinions are nothing but opinions. Is there some way to make my rant carry a little more weight?

Ah yes, I have it. I'll run another Ryder Cup -- no, wait, TWO more Ryder Cups -- to prove my point!

I know, that sounds silly... but I think I can make it work. Okay, here are the ground rules:

We have the results of every single match that was played at Gleneagles -- in fact, you can find them right here. All you have to do is click the little "details" button under each match to see the scorecards. Of course, I doubt that most of you will take the time to click on each of those little buttons to see each individual scorecard...

But I did. And I came up with a way to use these scorecards to stage two more Ryder Cups. In the table below you'll see every match for all three days listed down the right side. Then there are three more columns, each one representing one of my Ryder Cups:
  • Actual Results are what really happened.
  • US Bogey-Free is my first test match-up. I simply replaced every US score (on every hole, on every scorecard) that was a bogey or worse with a par -- Euro scores remained the same -- and then recalculated the results to see who won.
  • Europe Birdie-Free is just for comparison to give me an extreme. I replaced every European score (again, on every hole, on every scorecard) that was a birdie or better with a par -- US scores remained the same -- and then recalculated the results to see who won.
Do you see what I've done? US Bogey-Free fields a US Team that never makes worse than a par, while Europe Birdie-Free fields a European Team that never makes better than a par.

The Other Info column simply tells you if there were holes that didn't get played. (There were a couple of matches that didn't go the full number but my recalculations showed that those holes would never have been played in any case, so I didn't note the extra holes there.)

The results should be mostly self-explanatory -- eu5&4 means Europe won 5&4 while us1up means the US won 1up. If there are extra holes listed in the Other Info column, I had to make some guesses. Out of fairness, I assumed matches that were dormie or all square (as) were halved, and other matches were awarded to the leader at the last hole that was played -- if Europe was 1 up and there were 3 holes left unplayed, Europe wins the match.

All point totals list the US first, then Europe. I'll have my conclusions after the table.

Match-ups Actual Results US
Bogey-Free
Europe
Birdie-Free
Other
Info
Rose / Stenson
Watson / Simpson
eu5&4 eu3up as 4 to play
Bjorn / Kaymer
Fowler / Walker
halve us1up us4&2
Gallacher / Poulter
Spieth / Reed
us5&4 us6&5 us6&5
Garcia / McIlroy
Bradley / Mickelson
us1up us3&2 us2up
Friday Morning
Fourball Totals
2.5-1.5 3-1 3.5-.5
Donaldson / Westwood
Furyk / Kuchar
eu2up halve us1up
Rose / Stenson
Mahan / Johnson
eu2&1 us1up us1up
McIlroy / Garcia
Fowler / Walker
halve us4&3 us3&2
Dubuisson / McDowell
Bradley / Mickelson
eu3&2 us1up as 2 to play
Friday Afternoon
Foursome Totals
.5-3.5 3.5-.5 3.5-.5
Rose / Stenson
Watson / Kuchar
eu3&2 eudorm as 2 to play
Donaldson / Westwood
Furyk / Mahan
us4&3 us4&3 us4&3
Bjorn / Kaymer
Spieth / Reed
us5&3 us5&3 us6&5
McIlroy / Poulter
Fowler / Walker
halve halve us5&4
Saturday Morning
Fourball Totals
2.5-1.5 3-1 3.5-.5
Donaldson / Westwood
Johnson / Kuchar
eu2&1 as us2&1 1 to play
Garcia / McIlroy
Furyk / Mahan
eu3&2 eu1up eudorm 2 to play
Kaymer / Rose
Spieth / Reed
halve us5&4 us2&1
Dubuisson / McDowell
Fowler / Walker
eu5&4 eu2up eu3up 4 to play
Saturday Afternoon
Fourball Totals
.5-3.5 1.5-2.5 2.5-1.5
McDowell
Spieth
eu2&1 us1up eu1up 1 to play
Stenson
Reed
us1up us3up us2up
McIlroy
Fowler
eu5&4 eu5&4 as 4 to play
Rose
Mahan
halve halve us5&4
Gallacher
Mickelson
us3&1 us3&1 us4&3
Kaymer
Watson
eu4&2 eudorm us1up 2 to play
Bjorn
Kuchar
us4&3 us5&3 us5&3
Garcia
Furyk
eu1up halve us4&2
Poulter
Simpson
halve us3&1 us2&1
Donaldson
Bradley
eu4&3 eu3up eu1up 3 to play
Westwood
Walker
us3&2 us3&2 usdorm 2 to play
Dubuisson
Johnson
halved us2&1 us3&1
Sunday
Singles Totals
5.5-6.5 8-4 9-3
Final Points Totals
US-Europe
11.5-16.5 19-9 22-6

This table hints at some very interesting things. Let's compare the Actual Results with those of the hypothetical Bogey-Free US Team.
  • First of all, the Fourball sessions aren't much different between the two. The BF team is slightly better but not enough to make a stink over. In fact, many of the matches turn out exactly the same. Clearly the US Team didn't struggle in fourballs.
  • But that certainly isn't the case in foursomes. In the actual matches the US won 1 out of 8 points. If they had merely eliminated the bogeys they would have won 5 of the 8 available points! You do realize that fourballs used to be a strength of the US team, don't you?
  • Here's something you may not have noticed immediately. While the US Team's scores in fourballs are nearly the same, that's not the case when you compare the Singles results. But they're playing their own balls in both cases. What gives? Simple -- more bogeys start slipping through.
There are some matches where my rigged setup didn't change the outcome. These players (on both sides) were playing well. When they couldn't make birdie, more times than not they found a way to scratch out a par. My rigged Ryder Cup indicates that most of the US Team couldn't do it. If they had -- if they had simply managed to make pars when they couldn't score birdies -- they would have easily beaten the Euro Team and taken 19 of the available 28 points.

But perhaps the most striking thing to me is the comparison between the Bogey-Free US Team and the Birdie-Free Euro Team. Do you understand what I did? I created a Euro Team that was so bad that they couldn't make a single birdie on any hole in three days! And yet my rigged scores show that the US Team wouldn't have beaten that straw team much worse with their actual scores than they would have beaten the actual Euro Team if they had just avoided making so many bogeys.

In fact, there are a few matches where the no-birdie Euro Team (vs actual US scores) actually got better results than the no-bogey US Team (vs actual Euro scores). Consider the McDowell / Spieth singles match or the Spieth / Reed / Kaymer / Rose foursome on Saturday, for instance. The reason is simple. There were too many holes where replacing a Euro birdie with a par was still good enough to beat the US players' actual score. It's ALWAYS better to make par than to depend on your opponent screwing up!

David Feherty probably said it best. "It wouldn't have mattered if you sent them out paired by height. The Europeans just played better."

I think I've made my point. You want a winning system? MAKE PARS, NOT BOGEYS! That's a system that would have an immediate effect!

I'll take a little time tomorrow to rant about what I think should be done.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Ryder Cup

Winner: Europe 16.5-11.5

Around the wider world of golf: Believe it or not, there was quite a bit of golf going on this weekend. John Cook won the Nature Valley First Tee Open on the Champions Tour (Lee Janzen and junior partner Christopher Meyers won the pro-junior team event); Tyler McCumber won the Ecuador Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Hiroyuki Fujita won the Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup on the Asian Tour; Hao Tong Li won the Jianye Tianzhu Henan Open on the PGA TOUR China; Kanphanitnan Muangkhumsakul won the Taiwan LPGA Party Golfers Open on the TLPGA; and Miki Sakai won the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details).

Jamie Donaldson seals the win

Well, the European Team did it again... and that means we're in for another round of finger-pointing and second-guessing.

Apparently it's already begun in the American Team room. Phil Mickelson's comments in the after-round presser seemed to indicate that Tom Watson's "approach to team management" didn't set particularly well with many players on the team. I may do a post about those things later in the week, but one thing is very clear:

It don't matter what the Captain does if the players don't put up the numbers. Wouldn't you all agree?

In this short post I'll just point out some high points from both teams.

The top point getter for the Euros was Justin Rose with a 3-0-2 record and the top US player was Patrick Reed with 3-0-1. Rose has been passed over in past Ryder Cups -- that's unlikely to happen ever again! -- and Patrick Reed was widely maligned by fans and the media before the event. Again, that's unlikely to happen now.

And I should point out, for those who are convinced the Euros have a "magic system" that creates giant killers, that the one US player uniformly singled out for praise by European stalwarts like Darren Clarke was Reed. In fact, Colin Montgomerie told NBC, "If the US team had 12 Patrick Reeds, they wouldn't have been trailing 10-6 Saturday night."

Neither captain did particularly well with their picks: The Euro picks finished 3-5-2, the US picks 2-5-2. (So much for the "magic system.") The US rookies did far better than the Euro rookies -- 6-2-5 vs 5-3-1 (that's 8.5 points to 5.5) -- although I think it's safe to say both teams appear to have bright futures.

But none of these stats is as meaningful as 16.5-11.5, which is Team Europe's margin of victory. (I suppose even those numbers will pale compared to the number of champagne and beer bottles emptied in celebration this week!)

And therefore I submit this bittersweet Limerick Summary (bittersweet for Americans like me) to salute the European Team on yet another dominating Ryder Cup win. Man, this is getting old...
A troubled American Team
Soon found itself swimming upstream
‘Gainst the power of the current
Team Europe, who weren’t
The underdogs they tried to seem.
The photo came from this page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blair O'Neal Hits It High

Since the Ryder Cup failed to give me anything I wanted to write about -- I expected the US team to split the foursomes session but you know what happened -- I've decided instead to beautify my site with another of Golf Digest's Sexiest Shots in Golf videos. In this one, Blair O'Neal shows you how to hit it sky high over a tree:

That's simple enough to say, but it's going to take a bit of practice.
  1. Take the highest-lofted club that will still let you cover the distance of your shot. This will also be affected by how far you are from the tree. If you're too far away from your target or too close to the tree ahead of you, you won't be able to pull this off.
  2. Move the ball a little forward in your stance. This makes you hit it later in the swing, which gets more effective loft on the ball. This is what will take some practice because if you move it too far forward, you may hit the ball fat. You're trying to catch the ball right at the bottom of your swing arc.
  3. When you look toward your target, look up in the air over the tree. That will unconsciously help you get more height on the shot.
  4. Make a big swing with a high finish. That high finish is really important because it helps you release the club better, giving you more power as well as more loft.
And there you go. Spend a little time practicing this shot and you'll find it can also help you stop the ball faster on hard greens... even if you don't need to fly over a tree.

If for some reason the video didn't embed, here's the original link.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Looking Ahead to Saturday's Matches

This is another case of me posting early but most of you will still likely see the matches before you read this post. Here are my takes on Friday and my predictions for Saturday. We'll see how well I do.

First, let me say that I think Tom Watson's about to change the standard strategy for the US team -- namely, don't make anybody play all 5 sessions. Tom certainly intimated as much in his news conference where he remained noncommittal on whether he would sit guys or not.  On the first day Tom (and Paul too, for that matter) wanted to play every member of his team to see how they would do. There was some controversy when Tom chose not to play a certain pairing in both sessions...

Spieth and Reed

I suspect we'll see Spieth / Reed and Fowler / Walker the rest of the way out. (They're the power teams; ride 'em!) I also expect Furyk and Kuchar to play the rest of the way, although I don't think they'll play together. (I could be wrong, as that would mean that Bradley would NOT be paired with Mickelson in the afternoon. But that's my feeling.) And I suspect some other players are going to sit until Sunday -- specifically Webb Simpson. I think I'd send out Furyk / Johnson and Kuchar / Bradley in the afternoon.

For the Euros, I suspect Dubuisson / McDowell, Rose / Stenson, Donaldson / Westwood, and Bjorn / Kaymer will be the afternoon foursomes. Why mess with success? Let Rory and Sergio rest for singles, and unless Poulter plays better Saturday morning, sit him as well.

I'm not surprised Gallacher struggled a bit, just as I'm not surprised the other 5 rookies played extremely well. It's rough being the hometown boy, especially with all the connections his father had to the event. High expectations on a first-timer are rough; the other rookies sort of snuck in under the radar. Their play bodes well for both teams.

The US didn't play as bad as they may have looked. Had the team draws come up differently in the afternoon, the results would have been a little better for the US -- although I think it's likely the Euros would have still had a single point lead.(I think that's why Tom is putting Furyk and Kuchar out again this morning.) As it stands, I expect the US to gain a point back today, winning 4.5 of the 8 points up for grabs.

So at the end of today, I expect the Euros to be up 8.5 - 7.5 over the US. If I'm right, Sunday singles should be pretty exciting.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Patrick Reed-Jordan Spieth Pairing

I'm writing this before the first session of Ryder Cup matches begins. The weather has turned in Scotland -- it appears the teams may be facing 30mph winds and sideways rain, just what we tend to expect for a European Ryder Cup. (That's not a slam against Europe, just a matter of geography.)

The first four matches were named hours ago and, although I'm posting this a little earlier than normal, by the time you read this post those matches may be mostly in the books. But I couldn't help but make some observations about one particular team, perhaps the most controversial of US Captain Tom Watson's pairings.

Namely, the Patrick Reed-Jordan Spieth pairing which will face off against Euro rookie Stephen Gallacher and "the Match Play Ninja," Ian Poulter.

Patrick Reed and wifeJordan Spieth and girlfriend

This one seems to have caught everybody off-guard and the general impression is that their play will either make Tom Watson look like a genius or start the barrage of criticism. But this is why Watson was chosen as Captain; he has the ability to do whatever he thinks will work and not worry about the consequences. In this case, Watson liked the way the two played in the practice rounds.

But Spieth reportedly asked to play with Reed. PGATOUR.com quotes Spieth as saying, “I’ve played a lot of golf with (Reed), not only as a professional golfer, but junior and amateur golf. I think it’s a comforting factor for us and I think we’ll go out there and kill it.”

For his part, Watson told the media, “I told them today, I said, ‘I'm going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver. You're on your own. You get out there and you get it done."

No doubt you've heard the pluses this team brings to the event. Golf.com did an article that focused on the pairing which lists some of them (it's a good read, though it did fail to mention all the Monday qualifying Patrick did to become a PGA Tour member or how well Jordan did in his first Masters this year) but they missed something I think is very important to the success of this duo. Let me tell you about it.

You may not have heard Patrick's media presser but one of the interesting things that came out of it was that Patrick's dream foursome -- you know, one of those "get to know the players" questions that they all get asked -- included Ian Poulter. When asked why, Patrick said that he had been able to play some with Poults in a tournament and had enjoyed it immensely. Patrick said he was a blast to play with, and that he'd like to play with him again.

I know a Ryder Cup confrontation is different from playing in a stroke play tourney, but it means that Patrick Reed won't be intimidated by Ian Poulter. And since neither Patrick nor Jordan has proven to be intimidated by very much anyway...

That, my friends, could make for a very interesting match indeed.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tom Watson on Pitching from a Tight Lie

With Tom Watson leading the US Ryder Cup team this week, it only makes sense to have a playing tip from the Captain. Here's his newest tip at Golf Digest -- this one's on pitching from a tight lie (and yes, that's Rickie Fowler demonstrating in the photo):

Rickie Fowler pitching from a tight lie

Tom's simple tip for pitching from a tight lie -- that is, when there's no cushion of grass under the ball -- is to move the ball back about an inch in your stance and make a slightly steeper stroke, to insure that you hit down on the ball. That's it. No fancy club face manipulation or other tricky stuff. He says if you hit it a bit thin, you'll probably still get a good shot. (In fact, he often plays for a thin shot.)

He says to practice short pitches first, in order to get a feel for the shot, then move on to longer clubs. Here's the video he included; you can also see it at the above link if it doesn't embed properly:


Tom also suggests pitching into a crosswind rather than riding the wind. He says that the wind affects short shots more than most people expect, especially after the ball lands. Pitching into the wind minimizes the rollout.

You know, I bet the coolest part of being on the Ryder Cup team is being able to have Tom show you how to play these kinds of shots in person.