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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

LPGA Prime Time for Three Weeks in a Row

After two weeks in Australia, the LPGA moves to Thailand for the Honda LPGA Thailand. And once again we'll get to watch an LPGA event in prime time, starting on Wednesday night.

Defending champion Jessica Korda

Tony Jesselli's preview of the event is at this link. I'll just mention that the event is played at Siam Country Club's Pattaya Old Course and the defending champion is Jessica Korda, who pretty much blitzed the field with a four-shot victory. With Jess's sister Nelly winning this past week, it must be an odd vibe for the Korda sisters because Jess has had to withdraw from the event due to a forearm injury. (She's also opted out of the HSBC Singapore for the same reason, and hopes to be back in March at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Arizona.)

There are only 70 players at this event but Tony says this is still the strongest field of the year thus far by a large margin. Amy Yang is the only two-time winner in the field, and her wins came in 2015 and 2017. Might want to give her a look if you're playing fantasy golf this week. ;-)

The other two past winners in the field are Anna Nordqvist (2014) and Lexi Thompson (2016) so, even with Jess out, you've still got four of the last five winners playing this week.

Personally, I'd keep my eye on Moriya Jutanugarn this week. Her last two times at this event have resulted in 7th and T2 finishes, and she's coming off a T15 at the Australian Open, plus a T4 at the Diamond Resorts earlier this year.

GC's live coverage of the Honda LPGA Thailand stars February 20 (Wednesday) at 11pm ET. (I suspect that's live coverage.)

And, if you're interested, the US Ryder Cup captain will be named Wednesday morning at 9am ET. Probably going to be Steve Stricker, but that's when we'll find out for sure.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Limerick Summary: 2019 Genesis Open

Winner: J.B. Holmes

Around the wider world of golf: Nelly Korda won the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open on the LPGA; Ryan Fox won the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth on the ET; Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Chubb Classic on the Champions Tour; and Mark Hubbard won his first Web.com Tour title at the LECOM Suncoast Classic.

J.B. Holmes with Genesis trophy

Let's start with my results from last week: I picked Bubba Watson (T15) to win and Justin Thomas (2) to Top10. So my totals for 2019 thus far look like this:
  • Winners: 2 for 7
  • Place well (Top10): 5 for 7 (3 Top5 finish, 2 more Top10s)
  • Overall Top10s: 9 of 14 (5 Top5s, 4 more Top10s)
If you remember my pick post from last week, I noted that if I went with my gut I'd choose JT to win and Tiger to Top10. For a while on Sunday it looked as if that might just happen and I was afraid I had overthought things again, but fortunately (for me, anyway) that didn't happen.

And it was also fortunate for J.B. Holmes, whose good play early in the week was obscured by the bizarre tee times created by all the bad weather. J.B. actually shot 63 in the first round -- the best of anyone -- but it was hard to tell how good it was at the time, given how much conditions continued to change before the cut was made. And JT's stunning play for most of the first three-and-a-half rounds made him the favorite, regardless.

But the changing weather and staggered tee times and long days and lack of sleep and, at the end, the freezing winds turned Riviera into... well, when you think of, say, the French Riviera, you tend to think of warm beaches and relaxation. This was NOT that kind of Riviera! In the end, it was all determined by whose putting was the least bad.

And when the final putt fell, Holmes was the last man standing.

J.B. hasn't won in around four years, but surviving two brain surgeries nearly a decade back has given him the kind of perspective that allows him to keep on working on his game despite the lack of wins. It's a pleasure to give him a new Limerick Summary -- especially as he'll have time to enjoy it while on family vacation this week.  Congrats, J.B.!
For days no one gave Holmes a chance
But he shot low, and made his advance
Through the field unimpeded.
In the end, he succeeded
Despite freezing winds and wet pants.
The photo came from this page at pgatour.com.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Dr. DeChambeau Opens His Practice with Bubba

PGATOUR.com posted an article about Bubba and Bryson working together on the arm-lock putting style that Bubba is using (with considerable success) this week at the Genesis Open.

Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson practice putting

You've got to love Bubba's take on this:
“He’s so much smarter than I am,” Watson told me [writer Andrew Tursky]. “We’re looking at it from the standpoint of, for me personally, trying to eliminate the arm movement left-to-right or right-to-left that leaves the putter open and closes the putter. So that’s how I’m looking at it, that’s the only reason I’m trying it right now. That’s the thing though, everything that I’ve asked him, and everything we’ve done, it comes down to your swing. Even putting is a swing. It comes down to how you de-loft the putter or add loft to the putter at impact. There’s no right or wrong (loft) number if that makes sense.”
The article has the specs on Bubba's putters -- yes, he's trying a different one this week -- and the Ping guys are in on it as well. (Ping sponsors Bubba so of course they're interested.) They're still trying some different shaft lengths and such, trying to find out what works best for him. As Bubba says, he's never been in the Top100 putters on Tour, so he figures he has nothing to lose.

But it also shows that Bryson's approach to the game is gaining more respect on the big stage. Regardless of how you feel about the scientific approach Bryson takes, even David Feherty has said that Bryson is good at explaining all the science in a way that less technically-inclined players can understand.

And they don't get much less technical than Bubba. If this works for him, look for Bryson to get even more attention from the rest of the field.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bob Grissett on Straightening Your Trail Knee

There's a fairly long article over at golftipsmag.com about whether you should straighten your trail knee during your backswing or not. As you can see from the photos below, both Palmer and Nicklaus did it.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at top of backswing

In fact, the article shows photos of 14 different players who won 44 majors making this very move -- including not only Palmer and Nicklaus but also Snead, Player, Hogan, Trevino and Watson among their number. So why have we been taught to keep flex in both knees during our backswing when so many of the greats have not?

Instructor Bob Grissett says it's because we erroneously believed a theory that said hip turn should be restricted during the backswing. He says it is the single most damaging idea in golf instruction ever.

One reason I'm pointing this out is because he says this is a major cause for back problems in the golf swing. He writes:
An article published in February 2019 by Michelle Roberts, health editor for BBC News online, warns of how this restricted type of golf swing could play havoc with your back and put extra strain on your spine, according to U.S. doctors at the Barrow Neurological Institute.
Dr Walker [from Barrow] said: “We believe Tiger Woods’s experience with spinal disease highlights a real and under-recognized issue among modern era golfers. Tiger was using the mechanics of the modern day swing and that places a tremendous amount of strain on the back. It’s still a theory but we are starting to see the late stages of this in some of our patients. We are seeing younger and younger elite level golfers with degeneration in their lower back.”
He said any golfer, elite or not, who experienced pain should seek expert help.
The right knee extending and the left leg flexing forward on the backswing gives the hips freedom to turn by creating “hip slants.” Another benefit of the back-leg extending is that it helps you maintain your inclination toward the ball established at address.
For those of you interested in reading the entire article, here's the link to it at bbc.com. It has many illustrations to make the explanations clearer.

But the point of this post is that if you want to avoid back pain, you should start by allowing your hips to turn freely in your backswing. I learned long ago that just turning your trail foot outward rather than keeping it perpendicular to your toe line allows you to turn your hips more and it takes a lot of stress off your back. That's something that many instructors have recommended to older players for a long time.

Ironically, it also tends to encourage a straightening of your trail knee as your hips turn. Who knew?

Well, now you do. Live and learn!

Friday, February 15, 2019

ISPS Handa Stays Busy!

The ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth snuck up on me this week. I wanted to mention it, but realized that ISPS Handa has been in the midst of several recent golf events. It's easy to overlook exactly how many events this single sponsor has a hand in, so I wanted to take this post to give them a shoutout.

Panuphol Pittayarat at the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth

The International Sports Promotion Society, better known as ISPS Handa, is a Japanese non-profit organization that promotes blind and disabled golf worldwide. And they are developing a reputation for popularizing a number of unusual formats for regular golf tournaments as well.

In just the last two weeks we've seen several examples in Australia:
  • the Vic Open, the first event to have the men and women play the same course at the same time for identical purses
  • the Women's Australian Open, one of the big events for all of the women's tours
  • the World Super 6 Perth, a men's event with a unique blend of medal play and match play where the ultimate winner is determined by a series of six-hole matches
And those are just in the last two weeks! This article at Wikipedia will give you a better idea of just how many events they're currently involved with, and also how many they've helped in the past. I think you'll be surprised to see just how widespread their influence has been.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules of the World Super 6 Perth, this page at thegolfnewsnet.com will give you a quick breakdown of the format. Basically, a full field of 156 players plays three rounds of medal play, with a cut to 65 and ties after two rounds and another cut to 24 after three rounds, then those 24 play off with the six-hole matches to determine the winner.

It's a fun format that GC covers, and ISPS Handa's involvement in the current Australian events is just another example of how they look for new and unexpected ways to spread the game. They are certainly one of the unsung heroes in modern golf.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tiger Gives It Another Shot

I suppose you all heard the announcement that in 2020 the Genesis Open will become the Genesis Invitational, and will basically become Tiger's tournament the same way the Memorial is Jack's tournament and the API is Arnie's tournament. Complete with all the perks, of course.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods

But that's next year. This year it's business as usual. The event is played at Riviera Country Club, aka Hogan's Alley, and the defending champion is three-time winner Bubba Watson.

Of course the biggest story -- and the biggest mystery -- is that Tiger has played Riviera a dozen times without a single win, a fact that defies logic. It will be interesting to see how Tiger's revamped swing will fare here. (Last season he was still testing his back, his swing and his equipment at this event.)

It will also be interesting to see how Phil fares after his Monday victory at Pebble Beach. Both he and Tiger have talked this week about how they push each other, and Phil does have back-to-back victories here... although that's a decade past. With both men in the field -- as well as the young fellas who must be starting to wonder if they really want to see another Tiger/Phil era after all (the old boys do have three wins in the last twelve months) -- this could be yet another week of big stories to follow.

Which brings me to my weekly picks. For those of you who have somehow missed it, starting in January I began picking a winner and a Top10 finisher for each week's event, then upgrading my score the following week in the Limerick Summary post. So far I've picked two winners out of six (which would be three of six had I simply followed my gut with Rickie at Phoenix). This is an outrageously good record for me, so I'm excited to see if I can keep it up.

Last week I lamented not going with my gut and picking Rickie, so I did take the "gut pick" with Phil and got my second winner of 2019. The logical thing to do this week is follow the same plan, which would give me Justin Thomas to win and Tiger to Top10. (I really don't think Tiger will hit his stride until he gets to the Florida Swing.)

But I won't. Unlike TPC Scottsdale and the Pebble Beach courses, where upset winners happen quite frequently, Riviera truly is a track that seems to favor certain players. And the rain will only make this course harder for a random player to win. So here are my picks.
  • For my Top10, I'm taking Justin Thomas. That may seem to contradict what I just said, but hear me out. Previous to last year, JT's best finish was something like T39 and that was in 2017 when he began to post multiple wins. Last year he finished T9 -- clearly something changed there -- and in his first three events this season he's posted 3, T16 and 3. I think JT is trending, both in his game and at this course, and with his long high ball flight I think he can capitalize on the wet conditions.
  • And as my winner, I'm going chalk. It's time for Bubba Watson to become one of Riviera's back-to-back winners. He won in 2014, 2016 and 2018, and he finished T4 at Phoenix this year, another course where he feels very comfortable. The only real question is whether his putter shows up, and that's always the question with Bubba. I think Riviera has a better than average chance of seeing that putter get hot.
PGA TOUR LIVE will start streaming the event at 9:30am ET today, but GC's coverage begins today at 2pm ET. I look for something special to happen this week, although I don't know what. But there's a buzz in the air...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

More LPGA Prime Time Golf

The LPGA is still in Australia, which means the US gets live golf in prime time again.

Defending champion Jin Young Ko

The ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open is the third event of the LPGA season, and Jin Young Ko -- the 2018 LPGA Rookie of the Year -- is the defending champion.

Tony Jesselli, in his preview of the event, notes that this is one of the weaker fields of the year although 20 of the Top50 in the Rolex Rankings will be teeing it up. It appears to me that a number of the higher-ranked US players are skipping the event, as they did last week's. This may just be a function of having more tournament choices now, and the 15-plus hour time change may have become a bigger consideration for them.

At any rate, a number of popular US players will join the field and should have a chance to improve their rankings as a result. For one, I'm looking for Alison Lee to have a good week.

Don't be misled into believing that this won't be a good event, however. It's still got a lot of firepower in it, starting with Ariya Jutanugarn, and we should get a really good show from the gals.

GC's coverage of the event starts tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm ET. I'm really looking forward to it!