The State Open finished last week up in the Sheboygan area – 54 holes at Blackwolf Run’s Meadow Valley, and 18 holes at Pine Hills. I finished, +3, T20, which felt pretty pathetic when driving back from the final round and thinking about how I played.
The whole event I felt like I was only hovering around par and didn’t have the ability to get under par and stay there. A big reason for my bad play was that I couldn’t ever get a sense of the greens on either of the courses. Issues with speed meant I had trouble with lags, and issues with reading the break lead to not making putts over 5 feet without luck. Hole to hole, I’d make a bogey or two, follow with a couple birdies to get it back, only to make a bogey again. Or sometimes I’d flip that, where I’d alternate from a birdie on one hole to a bogey on the next hole.
The biggest note of my scoring was I played the par 4 10th hole at MV a combined +5 in the three rounds played there. The makeshift hole is quite dumb, if you’ve played there you know what I mean. But then again, everyone had to play it three times, so not like I was the only one who had problems on it. Other than that hole, I had one double meaning I wasn’t taking huge steps back at any time. Just consistent bogeys.
I’ve always had a weak mental side of my game. I can count on one hand the number of times in my amateur career that I was in the zone for longer than 5 holes at a time (one example being the final 9 holes at the US Am qualifier in 2018 where I played it -2 in the 20 mph winds and penalty areas all over). My weaknesses are all over, an I can come up with plenty of individual examples showing the weakness (like the 72nd hole of 2011 State Am where I just whacked the 4 footer to tie and force a playoff rather than trying to make it).
When looking back and how I did in the State Open this year, I found that the story of my final four holes does a good job of explaining how to be good at on the course, and how frequent my weaknesses come up. This is my attempt at summarizing.
After making a random 20 footer on 14 for birdie to get to +4 overall, I get in the cart, drive over the rackety bridge up the hill to the 15th teeing area…
15, Par 3
The 15th is a slightly downhill par 3 we measuring 188 yards in the fourth round. Pin was front right on a giant green, where a miss short would be in a penalty area which likely would lead to drop zone of ~150 yards, a long miss slightly left would end up in a ravine five feet below where the pin was, a miss further left would be on another part of the green where you’d have to putt down to the ravine and then up to the hole, and a miss right would miss the green to having a short chip from longer rough. Basically the only play was to be directly at the pin and not be short.
The light wind of the day was in with maybe a slight quarter from left to right, but the quarter was negligible considering the inconsistency of the wind.
A note about lie of irons. I’ve talked to many people about importance of lie-loft machines and a huge difference they can make in both visual and physical feelings. With clubs bent too flat, I look down and can see that I have to change my swing to make solid contact by either strengthening my grip and / or opening up my body quicker. Similarly with a flatter iron, I can feel how the weight of the toe is further down, which means when I take it back, I can be thrown off and feel that I get into bad positions at the top and try to compensate on the downswing. Both cases cause problems.
I’ve spent so much time this summer bending clubs, the next day going to the range to test, realizing some are too flat or too upright, and then having to find another time to go back to the machine and try again. To bend each club, it takes a few minutes to set up the machine where I have to make sure it’s perfectly aligned to begin with, tighten the screws, then recheck that it’s still aligned. Then have to trust both lie and loft the numbers from the machine are correct, or in the end use a visual guess before moving to the next club. It’s a pain and struggle to not know what to trust and to know that you’re not going to get it perfect unless you’re able to hit balls in real time. Right now and at time of the State Open, a couple of my clubs are clearly too flat, but I don’t have a machine to do this (if you know of a used one someone wants to sell, dead serious, let me know).
My 7 iron however, is perfectly aligned. I can set up over the 7 iron and see and feel the club to know that even if my swing isn’t on the perfect path, meaning hitting the ball from inside or outside, it’ll be flat and solid at impact.
Back to the 15th. Light wind is into us, it’s slightly downhill which canceled that out, pin is 188, and my perfectly lied 7 iron lands 185-190 when swung solidly. With all of this thought about, I’m able to tell myself that there’s no excuse for me to hit a bad shot and to have confidence to be able to hit it perfect as I’ve done many times with it in the past.
The result was a perfect swing. The ball was hit dead solid, great trajectory, never left the target of the pin, landed 4 feet short, and rolled 4 feet past to the point where I’m not sure how I didn’t make it. John Jensen was the spotter on the green and he said it didn’t miss by more and an inch or two.
I wasn’t perfectly sure of how much the break was in the putt, but because I was 4 feet, and even though it broke more than I read, I still made it for a birdie 2. Par 3 birdies are rare, especially with a small landing area at the 15th.
16, Par 5
The 16th hole is a par 5 with an uphill tee shot with an angled dropoff on the right side of the landing area where the further right you hit your shot, the further you have to carry the ball to get to the fairway. If you get to the fairway, you can have ~225 downhill yards to the middle of the green. That green is angled back right however and has a giant low bunker guarding the green for more than 50 yards. Back left of the green however is light rough and a full green to work with, so pretty much stay left and go long and you’ll be fine. It’s a classic Pete Dye hole.
In the final round I hit a good tee shot but fell right to where it didn’t cover the dropoff to get to the fairway, so I had the 10ft high grass lip I had to hit it over to get back in play. This meant I wasn’t able to go to for the green. Instead, I was able to launch that perfectly lied 7 iron way left of the green and get it far enough that the low bunker wasn’t in play for my 50 yard approach. Really was a great second shot to get out of slight trouble.
Those two shots lead to a prime example of my golf course patheticness. The shot was 50 yards off the fairway, where the pin was 10 yards on the green. Flat from the ball to the hole and nothing in the way. The fairway grass was well kept enough that the amount of grain was negligible so that wouldn’t affect the ball if I landed it short of the green.
Flashback to the 3rd round in the morning. The pin then was way back right, and my second shot was a good miss to where I was within a foot of the green on the left which left almost 40 yards of green from ball to hole. I had two choices. First would be a long putt over multiple rolling hills on the green. The second was to hit a pitch shot that had the ideal landing area for any pitch shot. If I didn’t hit the ball hard enough, it would land on an downslopeing part of the green 40 feet short and get a kick forward to make up for the difference. If I hit the pitch too hard it would hit an upslopeing part of the green to take off some of that energy. In either case, the ball would have the right speed to get over the final upslope to the flat part where the hole is. I bet readers know of that kind of giant landing area and love it like I do. For that shot, I hit my 60, had it land at the bottom of the downslope, and it rolled the 20 feet to a tap in birdie. Good example of me thinking and performing.
For the 4th round though, I didn’t think, and I didn’t perform. I’m having trouble describing what I even did for that shot because I didn’t have a plan. I think a few seconds before I stepped up to it I thought “oohh I can leave this short of the green and it’ll bounce right up!” but after that I didn’t think about where on the clubface to hit the shot to determine spin, how high the ball should go, and what length of swing would give that result. I just whacked it and the ball didn’t even get to the green.
I was stunned. The hole before I was focused and hit an infinitely more difficult shot really well; here, I didn’t even hit the green from just off the front. I yelled at myself and asked what the hell I was doing. Such a waste getting the ball to that spot and having only short grass between my ball and the hole for such a good opportunity of a birdie. Imagine if there was a 50 yard par 3. Pretty sure we’d all be going for birdie. Instead I must have been too pleased with getting to a position that I had, where a bogey was off the table.
The green had some break to it in both directions, but even though I was a couple inches off the green, I barely read the putt because I didn’t deserve to have a birdie after that pitch approach that I couldn’t even get on the green. A pathetic par.
17, Par 3
The 17th hole at MV is the final par 3, similar to the one two holes before where you’re not exactly left with a bailout area. If you miss to the left of the green, you’ll have a 15 foot hill to flop up and over to get to green level. If you miss further to the left you’re in a penalty area. A miss to the right you’ll be in what I considered the longest rough of the course. So another case of hit the green or you’re probably making bogey.
Pin was lasered at 177, left side of the green but in the middle of the depth, and into the slight breeze. I consider a solid 8 iron lands ~175, so with a teed up flat lie, I’d be able to swing as hard as I wanted and the ball wouldn’t go too long. There was enough room short of the pin as well so a mishit, wouldn’t land short and in the penalty area there. This is one of the swings you want to have on an approach shot.
Unlike my perfect 7 iron, my 8 iron is still lies flat, which means when I change my swing to make up for it, the tendency is a little pull. So here, I aimed meaning slightly right of the pin, hit the slight pull, to where the ball ended up right in front of the pin about 20 feet short. Exactly what I thought would happen.
I could have shortened my swing with the 7 iron I talk so much about, but that would have been almost too much of a change from normal swing. In the future, and this is something I consider importance to be a really high level player, I’m going to want to have a swing and confidence to be able to club up and take distance off the longer iron in all cases. But here, I smartly knew what would give me the best result both in birdie chance and lack of high score.
As for the putt, this was a rare case of me having the correct read and speed where I hit the putt far enough to the right and it broke dead center with great speed. A few feet out I kind of walked it in while slightly surprised I read it that well. Another birdie on a par 3, where each one of those you’re gaining on the field.
18, Par 4
The 18th is a par 4, a quarter dogleg to the right, where the second shot to a huge rolling green is over the river. There’s also a second green on the hole straight out from the tee used by those playing the forward tees, which is to offer a second shot that doesn’t have to fly the 50 yards over water. That second green does come into play for either playing of the hole as bunkers and rough of that green that start ~300 yards from where our tees were.
I hit a really solid 5 wood that I drilled dead straight where the ball bounced enough in the fairway to get into that rough around the secondary green. It was a really great tee shot especially considering missing left or right brings in much more trouble where you can end up with a lie in the thick rough which makes covering the river tough for us, something we’re not used to in public play.
I found myself left with 163 to the back left pin. There was probably ~12 yards of landing area short of the pin, and then less than 5 steps past the pin until we hit the rough that is growing on a four foot kind of a wall of backstop to guard the clubhouse area against people who don’t know how far they hit it. My lie wasn’t bad where it didn’t have much grass behind it to affect the shot, I’d just need to hit is solid. I was in the same place my first round with a worse lie that did affected the ball flight.
Looking back, my pre-shot thoughts should have been that a solid 9 iron from fairway flies ~155-160. The little wind is crossing right to left, and because the greens had been firming, I’d probably want to land it 150-155. So I should aim a few steps right, take the 3/4 backswing, stay down and hit as solid where if the little grass behind the ball had an impact, it’d be to hit it longer. I hit 3/4 swing shots like that a lot in practice and on shots earlier in the tournament, so it’s not like it’d be a completely new swing. I feel quite comfortable with it and know that the result would keep the ball safe and let me get a birdie chance I wanted.
Instead, I saw the 163 show up on the range finder, thought to myself that that number is longer than the 155-160 a 9 irons usually goes, how I didn’t want to be short, so I need to swing really hard. I had the correct aim point to the right, and I did take that hard full swing my mind said I should. The ball was hit perfectly solid, but nothing short of nuked to where it landed past the pin, ~165, and bounced over into the rough on that little hill. In the cart ride from the fairway, over the long bridge to the green, I couldn’t help but think how dumb I was for not thinking about how I needed to land it the 10 yards short. I pulled the move of seeing the number and going with that rather than where to land it.
The lie by the green was so downhill in that rought that I couldn’t do any sort of flop without the risk of the club going under the ball and leaving it short. All I could do is land it in the rough 1-2 feet short of the back fringe and maybe get lucky with the bounce. I didn’t get that luck, and the ball bounced and rolled 30 feet past and ended up a two putt for a bogey and overall -1 on the last four holes.
What’s to Learn?
Some of what happened in the closing holes is different than what I do normally on a course. For instance, if we only counted par 5s, I was -11 for the tournament and 4th overall. On par 3s though, I was +6 and way down the ranking. In these final four holes though, I birdied both the par 3s and made par on the par 5.
Ignoring that difference of overall holes, the results of the individual shots was right in line with my issues. If I think through and really know what kind of shot I need to hit, I can have the results. Those really were two good irons on 15 and 17. My approach on 18 was a good swing and result of that swing, but my reasoning on why to take that swing was quite wrong.. On 16, I didn’t even think about the what pitch to hit or how to hit it. I have that happen many times around as it’s a lot easier to just swing and whack than to think.
The main thing to learn from these results is to remember and store the feelings I had standing over the shots on 15 and 17. Both cases I had confidence that I had the best club for me, which is the mental state I need to have for all shots. After the round and after I thought through all parts of my finish, I made sure to think about those individual shots to try to imprint into my mind the feelings that I had when standing over the shot and during the swing. The goal of that is to have shots I can think back on when faced with shots in the future. For example, next time I’m on a par 3, I want recreate the feelings I had before the successful swings. Writing about the shots in this post also helps imprint them in my mind.
The other part I want to learn from this ending is how dumb I feel for 16 and 18. By writing out the thought by thought / play by play of what happened, in the future I’m hoping to avoid making mental mistakes because of how I don’t want that feeling of stupidness again. Feelings of success == good. Feelings of weakness == bad.
As an overall statement, playing golf in cruise mode without thinking is much easier than playing golf while doing planning thoughts for every shot. So often, especially in random play on weekends, I go around and just hit the ball, find it, and hit it again. My game’s good enough and courses we play are easy enough where I can do that and still play alright. Why would I want to use my mind on a Saturday morning when it’s a lot easier to just hit and find and enjoy the sun?
I had that feeling in college most of the time. I played so many tournaments every other week that rounds became something I had to do so I didn’t feel like wasting mental energy on thinking. (The one time this really stuck out was end of my sophomore year when we had some good players on the team and kind of peaked at regionals. Having teammates that are all trying really hard meant I had to as well. That spring and summer was probably the best I’ve played, and also when I subtly realized I wasn’t good enough to be a pro in the future. That’s another story however).
There are many sport quotes that go around talking about how players are supposed to think back on a past game only after it completed, learn from it what they can, and then move on to the next game or event. That’s what I’ll have to do here.
I have owned plenty of types of putting mats over the years. Usually they are small, cheap, and allow you to hit 6 footers mostly flat on the ground until a ramp of foam at the end allows the ball to drop into a circle of emptiness that can be considered a hole. The biggest problem with those putting mats is that it never feels like you’re hitting an actual putt on a real live green.
When I first was finally able to check out David Roesch’s indoor learning center for this winter, besides the three net set-up with a couple simulators, by far the most impressive thing I saw there was this large putting mat frame that allows you to adjust the amount of break. So my brother-in-law and I decided to make a version of that ourselves.
Because of the fakeness of most mats, we want a mat that has the feel of an actual putting green and allows us to hit different types of putts in a basement or garage. With our finished product, we can hit full putts over 10 feet (and of course shorter as well). We have aluminum holes that make the sound you expect when making a putt on a course. We have enough width where we can hit from various places and it doesn’t feel like the same fake putt over and over. We also have fake turf that’s by far the best I’ve ever used.
There are more than a few of these types of these large adjustable mats out there that you can buy around or over the $10k price point. The one we built ended up costing $1,152.63. It isn’t cheap cheap, but as you’ll see in the list of costs at the bottom, a large chunk of that is from reusable tools. Our next version of this will cost much less.
The goal with this post is to tell people what we did, what we learned, what we’ll do differently in our next version, and convince others to build their own.
The first step is to figure out the dimensions of the mat. This mostly depends on size of the empty floor you have available. For us, we were able to clean a 14×6 foot rectangle of space in the basement.
Thoughts on sizing: 6 feet wide is pretty comfortable. We’re able to stand on either side of the hole and hit a putt without being uncomfortably close to the hole or the edge of the mat. This is great because I’m standing about the same place as I would be if we were on a practice green hitting between holes. Going down to 5 feet wide – or maybe even 4 feet wide – is a possibility.
That said, bigger is better. For our dimensions, we ended up stretching as far as we could within the space. I think our initial guess was 12×5, but after moving around some things Mike had in the basement, we were able stretch the dimensions. Remember, this mat isn’t going to be moving. It’s heavy, we’re not looking to bring it with us when we travel, and there’s really no downside to making it as big as possible.
Finally, we decided to have only two holes on the mat in a symmetrical way. Each is in the center of the 6′ width where the back of the hole is 20″ from the end. We decided on 20″ just because, so don’t feel like it needs to be closer or further away. We thought of adding a couple more holes to add more options, like on the low side of the mat, but the 6 foot width is enough to let us hit varying shorter putts so the single hole on each side is more than good enough.
With the dimensions figured out, the next step is to build the frame. This was the biggest part of the build and the one that caused a couple unforeseen issues down the line. Next time, we’ll know how to get it right the first time, and likewise for people reading, don’t feel bad if you make mistakes too.
I mentioned above that we’re not looking to move the putting mat, but at some point, we might want to. Therefore, we decided to make the frame in two identical pieces, each 6’x7′, and connect them in the middle using bolts.
Here’s a final picture of the first half of the frame. Hopefully this picture is big enough so that you can get a sense of how we constructed it. Three of the outer edges have two long 2x4s screwed together, and the edge closest to us in the picture has a single 2×4 because this is where the two halves of the frame will be connected to each other.
To build this first half, we did the math to determine the number and the lengths of the 2x4s that build the of the frame, making sure to keep in mind that 2x4s are 1.5 inches thick which clearly will affect the lengths. This step will depend on the exact dimensions of your frame. If you look at the corners, there’s a bit of a zipper connection between the edges. Cool, but not important enough to make a difference in the overall structure.
One afternoon in 2011, while sitting behind the 9th green at Erin Hills to sign our scorecards after finishing playing our first round at the US Amateur, our group was legitimately looked down upon by a standing USGA ranger who asked us why he shouldn’t give us a penalty for slow pace of play. We had finished the par 3 9th a few minutes beforehand where I’m pretty sure we all missed the green and tried to get up and down which I did from one of the front bunkers by making a 6 footer. On the hole before, the snap dogleg 8th, a guy in our group missed the fairway to the left so we all walked around looking for his ball in the fescue before we were able to go hit ours. Because there was a lost ball to search for and we finished on a difficult par 3, we were then asked why we didn’t deserve a penalty.
Spin forward 6 years, and my brother-in-law and I were playing in the 2017 US Four Ball. During our first round on Pinehurst #8, on the long par three 13th hole, the guys we played with had trouble off the tee and through the green. After finishing the hole, we were told that we were behind the allotted 14 minute time limit, so we had earned ourselves a pace of play warning. We walked to the 14th tee where we sat down on the bench because we were waiting for the group in front of us to move towards the green. That’s right, we got a pace of play warning from the USGA and had to wait on the next tee. All because we played a long par three that some in the group had trouble on.
This writing isn’t just about the USGA and their feeling and enforcement of the pace of play. Slow pace of play is a huge issue these days, and keeps getting pushed higher and higher in talking points. How bad is the problem? What are the fixes? We all have thoughts, but the possible solutions are not straightforward at all.
Why write about this?
Last week at the end of the Euro Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic stop (and before Bryson’s comment about being happy to play the Saudi event), Euro Tour twitter posted a video of Bryson talking to his caddie about a shot on the final hole of the event. It’s a minute and 13 seconds from the time he begins talking to the caddie to when he hits the shot. He discusses lots of things like distance, landing spot, and air density, which I assume was because he knew he was being recorded and wanted to push his “scientist” branding image even further.
People took off on trashing him in replies to the tweet about how slow he is and how much he overthinks his wedge shot. I tweeted this response, which I’ll now somewhat retract. Clearly Bryson’s wedge shot should have been hit quicker considering it was a wedge shot with complete lack of outside elements.
Brooks Koepka was interviewed a couple days after, where he said “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 to hit a golf ball; it’s not that hard,” and “It’s always between two clubs. There’s a miss short, there’s a miss long. It really drives me nuts, especially when it’s a long hitter because you know you’ve got two other guys, or at least one guy that’s hitting before you, so you can do all your calculations. You should have your numbers. Koekpa continued to say “If it’s blowing 30, I understand taking a minute and taking some extra time with some gusts, you know changing just slightly, I get that, but if it’s a calm day there’s no excuse.”
Not just Kopeka, others on Tour seem to all be of the same opinion of Bryson’s slowness.
In the Bryson video’s case, the slow play is because of overthinking the slow shot process. This is a problem, yes, but Koepka brings up the number one cause for slow play that I see most often: Difficulty.
What causes the slow play?
Similar to the DeChambeau video, the Euro Tour posted this video of Ian Poulter and his caddie’s conversation last year. . The timing of this video is kind of ironic since it was the week after the Euro Tour’s shot clock tournament where they enforced a time limit. People complained about the time it took him to hit the shot, but not as many as complained about Bryson. Poulter’s shot plays over 210 over water to the green with a big wind blowing. You’ll also notice Poulter is +3, meaning that the course is playing pretty hard. The stronger the wind, the more it takes to ensure you’re hitting the right club.
Besides wind, firm course conditions is another weather aspect that slows down play completely. Approach shots must really be thought about in terms of how short and where to land it compared with flat, wet ground. That takes time. Also if you’re reading this, remember that landing distance is the distance you should be thinking about, not necessarily the distance to the pin.
Course design with difficult green complexes can slow down play. Elevated, slopey greens are a great example. A missed green then brings into play imagining the putt or chip with the swales and roll outs. From there, pins placed in slopey areas lead to more 4 footers for par rather than tap ins. You’re going to spend more time over that 4 footer.
The final big cause of difficulty is the amount of trouble on a course and how long it takes to search for a ball. This is a huge part of slow play on public courses. Huge.
One of the new rules for 2019 which I’m not a fan of at all is limiting for searching for a ball from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. This doesn’t affect guys on Tour because of the spotters and fans in the area and, well, the fact is that they hit it pretty straight.
For public players, they don’t follow that rule to begin with. Never has anyone pulled out a cell phone to start a timer to ensure the search doesn’t go beyond 5 minutes. People have different opinions on how to deal with search. Some throw a new ball down relatively quickly, following the local new rule about (knee) dropping in the fairway where the lost ball was estimated to end up. Others take their sweet time either enjoying not wanting to lose a ball, or playing in a betting game where every shot counts so they want to try to find the first. And then we have to add how many times we’re searching for multiple balls on the same hole but different sides of the hole.
Maybe that’s why people keep pushing for courses to be wider with less rough and no trees. Fewer lost balls means way quicker play. Hmm.
How should it be fixed?
I talk of difficulty as the number one reason for slow play, but that can’t be changed at a tournament level. The fixes they need to look for are ones that work to get the players moving quicker, but in a fair and reasonable manner.
Asking questions using Twitter’s polls is a fun time to get people to think and talk about their opinions. Instead of only replying on the twitter threads, it’s easier to write here than be restricted by the 280 characters. These first three polls were all asking the question as to how much the course setup can change scoring – pin positions, the penalty of the rough and the speed of the greens.
How much of a difference do hole locations make?
Pins in any high level event are incredibly tucked, which leads the question, how much of a difference does that make?
At Firestone last week, there were plenty of examples of players missing short sided, causing difficult up and downs. There were also plenty of times where they stuffed it (on? to? at?) a pin, where the ball ended up between the edge of the green and the hole. Anecdotal evidence is never an accepted way to prove questions involving numbers.
If someone could give me the ShotLink data, that I could match up with pin sheets, we could get a sense of scoring averages depending on how close to the edge of the green the pin is. Yet apparently to get the data, I’d need to submit this giant form with tons of information, including my address, and the “institution” I’m a part of. Unfortunately, golf writing is not part of a university.
I voted for 2-3 strokes. Pin position makes a difference, there’s no denying that, but I can’t see too much other than a couple strokes a round.
Pinehurst #2. What to say, what to say. It’s been so tough to figure out what I wanted to say about #2 that I haven’t written this review until over 3 months after the Four Ball. And it’s even so tough now that I’ve been sitting here a while without knowing how to start.
After writing the post, I have a summary to share. Pinehurst #2 is somewhat of a bland course in terms of hole distinction and differences in important shots. But it is impressive in difficulty in that basically every bad shot, especially approaches, is penalized. This makes it an ideal home course if you’re trying to compete since every shot requires perfection, and every other course you’ll play will seem easier.
I guess the first thing to say is that my dad and I played #2 back in the day and were featured in the Pinehurst newspaper the next day. Don’t believe me? My mom found it can snagged picture of it before the Four Ball. This was from almost 10 years ago now, and holy crap were clothes baggy back then. Oof.
Holy baggy rain pants. It was pouring, pouring rain so much then that barely anyone went out and played. We were unsure if we’d do that ourselves, but not like you can reject playing #2 when down there. I actually remember when this picture took place. We walking up to the second green and a car stopped on the road that cuts between the 2nd green and 3rd tee and a dude with a camera stepped out. We walked up to the green, said he’s from the local newspaper and wanted a picture of us on the green to prove that people were playing the course despite the crazy daylong downpour. Fun times.
Besides the second green, I remember a few other parts of the course — 16 because of the pond, 17 because of the semi valley from the tee to the green that was just all that bermuda style rough, and 18 approach shot because I stuffed this hybrid to a foot or so and had a tap in birdie.
When playing earlier this spring, the course was a 1000% percent different. Somewhat because I bogeyed 18 instead of birdieing it, but also because of the unbelievably perfect weather, spring warmness, no clouds, no sogginess, and different type of missed fairway penalty.
With the intro over, it’s time for me to go through all the thoughts I have on the course.
The video below has the CBS coverage of the ending to this year’s Masters. If you want to relive the excitement from the ending, feel free to watch the entire clip, otherwise, fast forward to the 41 second mark which shows Justin Rose missing his birdie putt on the 72nd hole which would have forced Sergio to make his ~4-5 footer to tie.
Did you see his reaction? If not, here’s a screenshot of what he looks like after missing that putt:
During my sophomore year in college, I’m like 75% sure I had the lowest putts per round average in the 2010-2011 NCAA season, at least against teams who kept their stats with Golf Stat. I’ve been trying to confirm or deny that but can’t find the past stats from the site. One of the biggest reasons for that is because I averaged something like 10 GIR per round which meant I needed to drain a lot of putts to keep the scores somewhat low. But despite how badly I hit the ball, I did drain a ton of putts.
The specific moment I’m talking about here was at the 2011 NCAA championship at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma, which played incredibly difficult then with the long bermuda rough and woods on every hole which meant a lost ball if it got anywhere near the forest. It was the 16th hole (my 7th) in the first round where this memory comes to life. I missed the fairway on the par 4, had to whack it out of that rough, and then whacked a garbage wedge shot to something like 30 feet past the hole.
I remember walking up to the green incredibly relieved to finally not have to hit any more full shots on this hole, and knowing, legitimately knowing, that I was going to make that for par. It was this downhill somewhat sliding putt that I read, stood over the ball knowing it was going to drop, and never had a doubt that it was going in.
I’m not lying by saying that over the putt. I knew that I was going to make it. And if it hadn’t, I’d have been surprised, just like Justin Rose above.
The Correct Attitude
It’s difficult to convince people here what the “correct” attitude on a golf course is. On Tour, there are club slammers (Jon Rham), there are giant fist pumpers (TDubs), small fist pumpers (PMick), there are expressionless players (DJ), caddie complainers (Bubba). For me, I slam my club too often (my b), but I’ve only mini-fist pumped twice in my life (both on the last hole of a US Am. qualifier when I knew I’d made it), and can’t say I complain to my caddie since I pretty much never have one (shoutout to Grant!). And those different on course attitudes can definitely suit people with different overall attitudes.
As the title of this post says, my advice is to always expect a perfect shot, and be surprised if it isn’t. I can claim I have proof of why this attitude is perfect from that NCAA putt, but I look back and wish I had extended that attitude from the putting green to all shots.
I cannot push this enough. When watching the Masters this year that showed Justin Rose being surprised rather than angry with his missed putt, I finally knew I had a way to prove that at least one of the top 10 players in the world has this attitude. And I’ll guess that others do as well, but we just can’t see it.
If you’ve read all the way down to the bottom of the post here, you need to use this attitude.
When you go to the Tobacco Road website, you see a beautiful, sunrise picture of the par 3 8th green, the fairway of the par 4 9th hole in the background, and the following quote:
When talking about my favorite golf courses, I always tell people that the only feature that I need to see to be a fan of the course is that I have to be able to remember every hole individually after playing the course once. I need novelty, distinction, uniqueness, some other synonym of those words, and I don’t care at all if the course follows the rules of other courses.
Tobacco Road nails all of my requirements, and if I had to choose one course I’d play the rest of my short life, it would be Tobacco Road.
“It’s a beautiful course and even though I haven’t seen all 18 holes of many courses I could tell it was unique. I also liked ringing the bells when you left the fairway”
– My sister Sara, when asked her initial thought of Tobacco Road
“I figured you were writing a review but did not plan to be quoted ha”
– My sister Sara, when asked if she knew I was going to use her quote in the review.
“i REALLY did not expect you to use my second gchat hahah”
– My sister Sara, messaging me on gchat, after looking over the post and seeing her quotes.
I’m not sure when I heard of Tobacco Road for the first time, either way, when my sister and brother-in-law flew down to NC for a 3 day weekend to play golf back in February, I told them to head to Tobacco Road to check it out, and frankly knew how much they’d like it (and by they I mean both of them because my sister wasn’t playing, but she rode along in the cart). I also made sure to have them post a pic from the course, and obviously they went with the approach to the 13th green.
Fast forward a few months to the end of May when Mike and I (and couple caddie friends) were down in Pinehurst for the US Four Ball. Mike and I missed the match play cut, so we had an extra half a day before our flight back home, which meant that all four of us got a tee time at Tobacco Road mid morning, starting on the first tee.
I mentioned just above how an Instagram picture of the 13th hole approach shot is a frequently posted picture from the course. Another of the three main pictures is the view from the first tee to the fairway. Hills with shrubs for lost balls on both sides just before the landing area make it slightly intimidating, but they are also something that you’ll rarely see. Now, I’m lucky that I can hit drivers pretty far, far enough that from the back tees I can get so far over the hills that the fairway widens up enough. For those who don’t hit it as far, don’t worry, the fairway is still decently wide.
You’ll find this view nowhere else. On to descriptions of course features!
Semi Bucket Greens
Moving about 300 yards from the first tee to a 220 yard approach shot, the first green is a great example of the semi-bowl greens that are common to Tobacco Road. From the pic below, you can see the slope from the left side of the green over to the right. Looking at the bunkers on the right, you can see the slope to the back left of the green, and the slope from the back left to front right. A green that’s a valley.
It’s a very common feature of Tobacco Road (and exactly opposite of Pinehurst numero dos), and slopey greens make you need to know where to land the ball if you’re looking for a tap in birdie.
In my case, after a well hit driver off the tee and over the left hill (which is where to aim since the opening of the semi-bucket green is the left side), I hit a cutter 4 iron that fed down to the hole a decent amount from where it landed to 30 feet away, and I ended up 2 putting for a birdie.
These semi-bucket greens do make the course easier, but difficulty is not at all what I’m looking for when picking a course to play over and over and over, and neither is a feature that can help lower your score. The thought of landing areas and the excitement of seeing the ball roll to the hole, combined with the uncommonality of this feature, is the experience I want.
Doglegs where you choose how much to cut off, aka Loop Holes
If people start talking about this type of architecture as a Loop Hole, I’m getting credit for inventing the term.
When playing Tobacco Road, one of the main things you’ll see here are holes with giant, waste-area-bunkers between the tees and the greens, and a giant fairway that wraps around the entire thing.
Welcome to the GOTM analytics series! Here’s where I’ll keep writing posts about stats from the PGA Tour and how they affect results, courses, players. I have a background in computer programming, love scraping data, and grabbed a bunch of data already from pgatour.com meaning it’s time for a series of posts where I analyze stats on Tour. If you want to look at the method and code that I wrote to snag this data, you can check out the post on my other blog, Big-Ish Data, specifically this post.
Considering there are tons of different ideas on golf specific stats, I decided to write golf posts here, and leave the other blog for more specific programming topics.
If you have other ideas for Tour stats analytics, hit GOTM up on Twitter and I’ll see what I can do!
And to start out, I just want to say that this post violates Betteridge’s Law because the Strokes Gained stats are very impressive at determining scoring averages, and defining which parts of the game players are good at.
Part 1 of the series here is analyzing the importance of Strokes Gained. So what is Strokes Gained? Take a look at the PGA Tour’s press release. If you’re looking for a more technical explanation of strokes gained, read this article.
Basically, they know the average number of shots it takes a Tour player to hole out from a specific distance. They count the number of shots it takes a player to finish the hole from that distance, and then credits him for + or – strokes from the average, with a positive number indicating he is that many strokes better than the average. Then they add his strokes gained from the four different parts of a hole: 1) off the tee, 2) approaching the green, 3) around the green, and 4) putting. The total of those four is his total SG, but SG can also be broken down into the four components.
As an example, let’s look at Daniel Berger:
- Off the Tee: Berger ranks 39th, with an average of +.416.
- Approach-the-Green: Berger ranks 18th, with an average of +.595.
- Around-the-Green: Berger ranks 152nd, with an average of -.136.
- Putting: Berger ranks 25th, with an average of +.462.
To get Berger’s total SG, we add up all four averages to find a total SG of +1.337 which is exactly what the stats show for him here! (Note that these stats are updated weekly, so depending on when you read this, the numbers may not match exactly.) Super cool, and fantastic to show different places where players are better, and where they probably need to practice more. Based on these stats, Daniel Berger may want to focus more on shots around the green, since his average there is pulling down his total SG.
The goal of this analysis is to answer questions about the SG stats:
- How good is the Strokes Gained stat at predicting scoring average? (In case you’re wondering right now, it’s really really good).
- Which of the strokes gained values is most correlated with a player’s scoring average?
- If you have four different players who are all +1 strokes gained in each of the four different SG stats, which one would you expect to have the lowest scoring average?
Analytics terms defined
Before getting back to the golf stuff, I want to talk quickly about two terms you’ll need to be familiar with for the rest of this article to make sense: normal distributions and r-squared.
The scoring averages on tour follow a normal distribution, like this:
Look at that! So pretty. In this case, the average scoring average is 70.923 with a standard deviation of 0.591. This means that 68.27% of player’s scoring averages are between (70.923 + 0.591 =) 71.514 and (70.923 – 0.591 =) 70.332.
Before running analysis on stats, it’s important to make sure they’re normally distributed. Clearly the scoring average stats are normally distributed, and so are the strokes gained stats, as I’ll show quickly below.
We’re good to go on that front!
One last definition to mention that I’ll talk about a lot is the coefficient of determination, also known as r-squared. You’ll see me mention this a lot. R-squared values range from 0 to 1, and the higher the r-squared value, the more correlated the data sets. And since all the data sets we are using are normally distributed, these numbers are correctly comparable.
When looking at Strokes Gained stats for the first time, I decided to check how correlated the SG: Total stat is with Scoring Average. Checking that there’s an initial indication of how correlated these stats can be. When I saw the following graph and how correlated the numbers are, I knew this was a great part of PGA Tour stats to analyze.
Look at how incredibly, dead, freaking accurate this is! The r-squared value is an impressively high at 0.926, and just by looking at the graph, you can see how correlated those dots are.
Another quick test to see how valid this regression is by checking that fitted line on the graph. Using the equation of that line, if a player has 0 strokes gained total will probably have a scoring average of ~71.079, which is very close to the average scoring average mentioned above of 70.923. Since the slope of that line is -0.96, it means that adding one stroke gained in total, your scoring average will drop by 0.96 strokes. Not exactly 1, but so close that it proves how correct that data is.
Ok, now time to test the more specific SG stats.
In case you’re not sure how golf works, the first shot you hit on a hole is off the tee. And in this case, the SG stat measures performance using all tee shots on par 4s and par 5s.
This is the seventh entry in the GOTM Practice Series. The goal of all the entries in this series is to not only to describe practice drills, but also make sure you know how to practice with the right mental attitude, something just as important as the physical act.
It’s been a while since the last post in the practice series so figured I should add more in the coming week! People always talk about how you need to have the correct mentality when practicing, and this drill is a great way to force that mindset.
Use two balls on each putt, and after hitting both from the same location, choose the hardest putt you left yourself with, and then hit both next putts from that location until you make both putts. Basically, imagine it’s a worst ball scramble on a putting green.
Play a 9 hole “course” where you pick an new type of putt for each “hole”, and keep score with how many over par you are. After, play 9 holes again and focus on beating your score from the first 9 holes.
What to Focus On
The big key here, besides focusing on each putt (which is something I’ll talk about in a different practice post), is to watch your first putt, adjust the break that you read for your second putt. Helps you figure out a read correctly, and also makes you focus on the second putt because there’s no excuse for that putt to be further than the hole than your first. And as I mentioned above, this really helps make you focus on putting as if you were competing on a course.
The Phoenix area has plenty of 36 hole resort courses — Troon North, Greyhawk, Talking Stick, and in this case We-Ko-Pa. And if you’re in the area looking to pick one to spend a 36 hole day at, I can’t totally suggest which one to make tee times at, but playing a full day at We-Ko-Pa will never be a bad choice.
Story time From the Morning
From the AirBnb we were staying at in this baller little community in Phoenix with sweet looking one-story houses and tons of palm trees, we had about a 40 minute drive to the course. Now here’s some advice when you’re deciding which tee time to make. If you have the option of 7:40 or 8:50 tee time, you gotta pick 7:40. Biggest help of the day is that we didn’t have any traffic to the course which definitely would have been an issue for the 8:50. And if you’re playing 36 holes in one day, early tee times give you more time between rounds and also make sure that your first rounds cruises since you won’t have too many groups in front of you. (Also, if you’re playing golf in the morning, make sure to stop at a Dunkin and get a sausage-egg-and-cheese-on-a-sesame-bagel and medium iced coffee with cream and sugar. Perfect breakfast in my opinion.)
I got to the clubhouse at 7, paid, looked at all the apparel they have there with the We-Ko-Pa logo, and walked out to my cart to find my bag already loaded. Time to note one of the best things about We-Ko-Pa: they have so many carts that they don’t care if a group is using three carts by themselves. Granted, golfers are usually so nice that getting paired with randos isn’t a big deal if you have to share a cart, but it usually takes a little while to become friends with playing partners, which means sitting quiet and awkwardly at 7:30 in the morning isn’t completely ideal. Oh also, you’re not required to bring the cart back after your first round, which worked out perfectly because the We-Ko-Pa carts are charged enough so they won’t run out of energy when playing the entire 36 holes.
At 7:10 I drove up to the driving range which is a giant field with two levels of tee areas, really good grass, and pyramids of golf balls. Grass was in excellent condition and the range has a great feeling not only for warming up, but it also an ideal practice range. Considering I’d been hitting the ball like trash the past week (and past month really), I decided to just hit as many balls as I could before the round rather than hit a few putts to figure out the speed. This was the best decision ever for me considering I finally, finally figured out some swing thoughts and was hitting the ball way better than before. Remember people… keep your head down with your eyes looking straight at the ball, and stay in posture as much as you can, then you’ll hit it great. With that said, hitting putts beforehand is probably something I also needed to do considering I had four 3-putts that first round and thought of a GOTM Tip of the Day.
While I was striping the range balls for 10 minutes, a ranger called my name and asked if I wanted to tee off at the 7:20 tee time with the players who were already on the first tee of the Saguaro course. Since I didn’t know who I was supposed to play with for either tee time, I said screw it and was off to the first tee.
One thing to mention here is the length of time I take before I write these course reviews. In this case, I played at We-Ko-Pa about 3 weeks ago and I definitely wasn’t willing to write this review right away, even though I did have opinions about the course on the drive back to the AirBnB. When you do anything, such as playing a new course, going to a store to buy new clothes, thinking about changing to a new job, listening to new music artists, you’ll right away have a first impression either positive or negative. Over time, your reactions can change and there’s nothing wrong with that. Stop here before you keep reading and try to think of something that you’ve started in the past and initially loved doing, but you began to view more negatively over time. Now think of something you weren’t a fan of initially, but then became a favorite of yours. Talking about your early opinions happens so much that you need to label those as initial opinions so people know those can change.
A great example of this type of modeling for reviews is YouTube user BIGQUINT who has tons of entertaining videos about his opinions of rap / hip hop albums with over two hundred thousand subscribers. If you want some examples, check out his review of Frank Ocean’s Blond(e) (I’m a huge fan of the album). The first three quarters of that video is his initial reaction to all the songs on the album with him dancing and talking about the difference between songs. During the last quarter of that video, he talks about his full reaction after listening to the album “25 to 50 times.” Another one of his great reaction videos that’s a few days old is about Kendrick’s new album DAMN. (I’m a big fan of that album too). Considering Kendrick’s album had so much hype that BIGQUINT felt the need to post a video about his initial reaction right away, he’s splitting up his initial reaction video with another one coming for his full reaction. First reactions exist, but those can change over time. Another example of the mindset is from this New Yorker article about the NYT restaurant critic, who mentions how he goes to all the places at least three times before being able to write the review.
On my end, these reviews that I’m writing here are somewhere in the middle — I’ve only been able to play the courses once, (they’re in different parts of the US, somewhat expensive, and need to make sure to make tee times in multiple days), but I also take my time before writing about them so I have full thoughts and am not just talking about an initial reaction. Sometimes when I’m writing, I even imagine I’m out there on the same holes again, this time hitting perfect shots. My initial reactions count, but these articles are my full reaction.
Allll that being said, my opinions of the Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa are exactly the same as I had the day I played out there. So sometimes opinions don’t change. Time for the full reaction on Saguaro!
Saguaro is a tournament style course, full of mini-doglegs that require thoughts about what to hit and where to aim off the tee, and full of changes in fairway and green style depending on how long the hole is. These types of designs constantly require correct planning and shot selection, which is ideal for tournaments and adds thought to a round of golf that you won’t usually find on other courses.
As I mentioned just above, one of the first things you’ll find on tournament courses are something I’ll call mini-doglegs. Overall, doglegs come in two styles. The first is the ‘standard’ dogleg which you’ll often find on tree lined courses, especially up north. Hit your drive dead straight with whatever club makes you stay just short of the end of the fairway, and then hit your second shot something like 60 to 80 or even 90 degrees to the right or left. Famous examples of holes like that are number 11 at Augusta National (drivers straight since it takes a lot of driving distance to fade it around the corner), 18 at Augusta National as well, number 1 at Brown Deer (course I play all the time), 15 at TPC Sawgrass, 8 at Erin Hills (check out the US Open there this year, though there is a slight possibility for hitting drives over the hill, but keeping it in the fairway that direction is very tough).