The NCAA Golf Championship is Freaking Awesome

By Tyler Olson

ncaa-video-_1828Much is made nowadays about the best format for golf on television.

Some people say that stroke play – the format used for in both the Olympics and the PGA Tour – is the most complete all-around test of a golfer’s ability as an individual. Others think that team match play formats like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup makes for more excitement. Further outside the box, the European Tour has experimented with a “Super Six” format this year that combines stroke play with knockout six-hole matches for the top-24 after 54 holes.

However, they’re all inferior to the thrill-inducing, nerve-testing, team-building marathon that is the NCAA Championship.

The NCAA Championship is a SIX-DAY tournament that pits the top thirty collegiate golf teams in the country against each other in a combination of match play and stroke play in a way that weeds out the best individual players and team units like no other golf format can.

How It Works

Understanding the format of the NCAA Championship is a little bit confusing in theory, but it works naturally in practice. I’ll try my best to explain it clearly here.

The tournament starts with three rounds of stroke play over three days – the 2017 edition of the championship played these rounds Friday-Sunday – culminating in a 54-hole cut that whittles the field down to the top 15 teams and best nine individuals on teams outside of the cut line. Team scores are determined by adding up the lowest four scores from each team’s five starters. A fourth round of stroke play crowns an individual champion and decides the top eight teams that move on to the match play elimination bracket on the fifth and sixth days.

In the matches, all five players are forced to contribute. Teams face off in a series of five one-on-one matches and the first school with three points moves on to the next round.

The quarterfinals – akin to the Elite Eight of golf – is played on the morning of the fifth day and the semifinals in the afternoon. The championship concludes with a final match between the winners of the semifinal rounds on the sixth day. On the seventh, presumably, the golfers rest.

Is this not the coolest golf format you’ve ever heard of? It’s got everything you could ever want – individual superiority, team resilience and match play pandemonium – all packed into a six-day, seven-round festival of golf. If the PGA Tour ran its events each week like the NCAA Championship, I would weigh 400 pounds and be permanently attached to the couch in front of my TV.

A parity machine

This unique format has a way of creating some of the most riveting moments of any golf tournament. Just look to what happened in this year’s NCAA Women’s Championship.

On third day of stroke-play (women only play three rounds before match play begins), Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest carried a 2-stroke lead into her second-to-last hole of the day. She lost her second shot on the 17th into the water short of the green then three-putted for seven to drop one shot back of eventual champion, Monica Vaughn of Arizona State.

On the men’s side, Oregon provided viewers with a classic comeback story.

After the third round of stroke play, the defending national champion Ducks sat in 13th place, eight strokes back of eighth place, where they would need to be by the end of the fourth round to advance to match play.

The Ducks went on to rip apart Rich Harvest Farms the next day, scoring 10 strokes better than the field, sliding into the top-eight and securing the fifth seed in the match play bracket.

In the quarterfinals, Oregon got out to a quick start on Oklahoma State before holding off a late charge by the Cowboys to win the match.

For that effort, the Ducks got to face the daunting No. 1 seed, Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt dominated the field in stroke play, finishing the 13-under, 12 strokes better than second-place Oklahoma and 19 ahead Oregon.

The Ducks took two of the first four points in the semifinal, leaving it all up to Suleman Raza, the same golfer whose 21-hole slugfest with Texas’ Taylor Funk provided the winning point for Oregon’s 2016 national title.

Raza was 1-up in his match heading into the 18th, where he won the hole to finish 2-up and send Oregon, a team that was supposed to be rebuilding this year after losing three of its five starters in last year’s NCAA championship, to its second consecutive finals match.

While the Ducks were unable to beat Oklahoma on Wednesday to secure the NCAA title, their fight through the tournament was a treat to watch.

The future of the game

That so few people, even within the golf world, pay attention to college golf is a tragedy.

Not only is it as fun as any other golf event out there to watch, but it’s a preview of tomorrow’s superstars.

The individual championship regularly produces future legends of the game (Tiger, Phil, Jack and Crenshaw, among others, have won NCAA titles), and the match play format shines a light on golfers destined to leave their mark on the PGA Tour and international competition.

One of the most notable of these is Patrick Reed. He tore up the match play rounds in 2010 and 2011 to lead Augusta State to two consecutive national titles.

In the semifinal of the 2011 championship, Augusta State faced off against Oklahoma State, the team they’d beaten in the previous year’s championship match.

At Karsten Creek Golf Club, OSU’s home course and the site for the 2011 NCAA Championship, Reed and his Augusta State teammates had to deal with a hostile crowd filled with Cowboy fans still salty about the previous year.

Reed was matched against Peter Uihlein, the same player he’d beaten in the 2010 finals and one of the most hyped amateurs in the country. Despite fans up and down fairways in support of Uihlein and OSU, Reed demolished his opponent 8&7.

With that, and his subsequent victory over Harris English to bring home the team’s second straight NCAA Championship, Patrick Reed’s match play legacy, which now includes a 6-2-1 record at the Ryder Cup, began. All thanks to the NCAA Championship.


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The Rules of Golf Have Officially Cost Someone a Major Championship

By Tyler Olson

lexy cryingLexi Thompson played the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, in four fewer shots than any of her competitors.  But, because golf, she lost in a playoff.

On Sunday, Thompson was walking from the twelfth green to the thirteenth tee when she was approached by a rules official with some unfortunate news. A TV viewer noticed that while marking her ball on the seventeenth green, she moved the ball about a half of an inch to the side. That viewer sent an email to alert the LPGA, who confirmed the accusation with replay.

Thompson was assessed two strokes for playing the ball from the wrong spot (again, a half inch from its original location) and two more strokes for signing for the wrong score on the seventeenth hole.

As happened when Dustin Johnson was assessed a similar penalty for (maybe) causing his ball to move as he addressed a putt in the US Open, the golf world came together behind Thompson.

Fellow pro golfers voiced their support for her on Twitter:

Tiger Woods, who experienced a similar situation with a viewer calling in a penalty during the 2013 Masters, said, “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let’s go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.”

Smylie Kaufman opined, “Unbelievable. Such a shame for @Lexi. The guy eating cheetos at home shouldn’t have a say in the outcome.” After some backlash regarding the perceived knock on both Cheetos and the golf viewing public, he clarified, “My comment was only directed to the person who sent the email changing the outcome of a major! And for the record I like cheetos. #lexigate.”

Justin Thomas also decried the allowance if armchair referees in the professional game. He said, “Whatever number this is that people can call in, it needs to go away. Hoping it doesn’t cost @Lexi!”

Even caddies got in on the action. Brian Gay’s caddie, Kip Henley, tweeted, “Who and how are these ‘arm chair’ rules officials calling? I can’t even reach someone to see if there’s a rain delay for my guy!”

Besides the social media media outreach, fans at the ANA Inspiration showered Thompson with “Lexi” chants that brought her to tears.

Despite the setback, Thompson managed to gut out some birdies and finish tied for the lead at -14 with So Yeon Ryu. Thompson, however, lost to Ryu on the first playoff hole.

Where golf dodged a bullet in last year’s US Open when Dustin Johnson managed to win the tournament despite being assessed a bush-league penalty after-the-fact, it took a big hit with this penalty costing Thompson a major.

First off, when an NBA player looks like he traveled or committed a foul, fans cannot call into the game and suggest the referees call a penalty. Same in the NFL and the MLB and in every other professional sports league out there.

As I write this, I’m watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Gonzaga’s center, Prezmek Karnowski, took about seven and a half steps in the paint before putting in a layup. The referees missed the call. That call will not be reversed by a fan like myself emailing the NCAA. That would just be dumb.

Secondly, the enforcement of the location of the ball when being marked is unnecessarily strict. What other sport is so strict regarding fractions of inches?

Spots in the NFL are notoriously inexact. While they’re sometimes challenged and reviewed, this happens only when the spot can significantly affect the outcome of a game – specifically on possible first-downs and scores. Thompson’s penalty was assessed on a very short putt in a situation where her small movement of the ball gave her no competitive advantage.

Basketball refs aren’t unnecessarily strict during throw-ins, when the ball is put back into play from the location where it went out of bounds. Neither are soccer referees.

Baseball strike zones are entirely left to the discretion of the umpire with no second guessing.

Finally, why would we penalize Thompson for signing a wrong scorecard when she had no idea that she violated a rule with how she replaced her ball? I understand that one of the things that makes golf a unique game is that we trust the players to honestly police and call penalties on themselves, but does anyone actually think that what Thompson does wasn’t an honest mistake?

Does anyone believe that move of the ball gave her a competitive advantage? What about Tiger Woods, when he dropped his ball three feet behind where it previously was from the middle of the fifteenth fairway in the 2013 Masters? Or Dustin Johnson when his ball oscillated a fraction of a revolution in the US Open?

When the rules of the game cause the person (who didn’t intentionally cheat or gain any competitive advantage from her “violation”) who played the golf course in four fewer strokes than any of her fellow competitors to finish without a win, the rules of the game are bad.

The recently proposed changes from the USGA and the R&A were certainly a good start on the road to modernizing and simplifying the game of golf, but they’re just that – a start. There will be years and years of work involved in the process of paring down the byzantine monstrosity that is the Rules of Golf to something that does more to facilitate fair play of the game than discourage new players from picking it up.

Both Thompson and Ryu handled the situation with extremely well, reflecting positively on the game when the game itself failed to do so. The only thing I wish Ryu would’ve done was ask Thompson to jump into Poppie’s Pond with her. That would’ve been a powerful image and a rallying point for those trying in earnest to save golf from itself.

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The USGA and R&A Propose Several Welcomed Rule Changes to Simplify the Game

By Tyler Olson

rules-of-golf-1The USGA and the R&A lit up the golf world on Wednesday with a list of proposed rule changes to modernize the game. Some are great and some are questionable, but overall, they represent a welcomed rethinking of the rules without changing the integrity of the game.

Here are some of the more notable proposals:

  • Change in how golf balls can be dropped: When taking a drop, penalty or otherwise, a player will be able to drop the ball from any height above the ground instead of just at shoulder height. I suppose the goal is to prevent the ball from rolling so far when its dropped on the side of a hill or something like that, but I can see it being taken advantage of. The specific language of the proposal says, “The only requirement is for the player to hold the ball above the ground without it touching any growing thing or other natural or artificial object, and let it go so that it falls through the air before coming to rest; to avoid any doubt, it is recommended that the ball be dropped from at least one inch above the ground or any growing thing or object.” This is basically placing the ball. I think it’s a bad rule in that a player in the rough who might get a free drop or need to take an unplayable due to some sort of obstruction will be able to essentially choose their lie after the drop. This is the kind of little rule quirk that could end up affecting the outcome down the stretch at a PGA Tour event or God forbid a major. While it theoretically makes the game easier (golf being too hard is one of the reasons attributed to its decline), it’s an unnecessary change.
  • Reduced time for ball search: The maximum amount of time allowed to search for a ball is reduced from five minutes to three minutes. This is great for the PGA Tour and recreational golf, both of which desperately need to be sped up. The PGA Tour has galleries and spotters with their groups so a ball that isn’t found in three minutes probably won’t be found. In recreational golf, it’s not worth looking for a ball for that long. The only issue I can see with this rule in how it may affect junior and amateur tournaments. Those events don’t have the galleries and spotters available, so looking for a wayward drive sent into a cluster of trees would be left up to only the competitors. As a junior golfer, there were many shots from both me and my competitors that took more than three minutes to find because we were the only ones looking. Overall, however, this change will be very good for the game.
  • Repairing spike marks: If this rule takes effect, players will be able to tap down spike marks after years and years where the golf’s governing bodies inexplicably refused to allow it. This rule change is at least a couple decades overdue. As with any new idea, however, there are some concerns. William McGirt told USA Today, “Tapping down spike marks I think is going to lead to slower play. There are some guys that will walk a 40-footer and tap every single one of them down.” Despite the possible issue on Tour, this is a good rule.
  • Flagstick: There will no longer be a penalty for hitting the flagstick in the hole on a putt. Sure. This makes sense. Why should have that been a penalty in the first place? However, I will not be putting with the flagstick in any time soon. The greatest sound on earth is the sound of the golf ball rattling around at the bottom of the cup and leaving the flag in would deprive me of that beautiful music.
  • Relaxed rules in penalty area: This proposed rule would allow you to ground your club in penalty areas and move loose impediments. This one will be controversial depending on your perspective. If you want to make golf more accessible, faster, easier and more fun, in an effort to grow the game, you’ll be all for this. If you value the tradition of golf and believe that penalty areas should be used to penalize players for bad shots, you won’t like the rule. I personally will probably never get used to grounding my club in a penalty area, but in the spirit of growing the game, I’ll get being this rule as a major step towards the modernization of the game.
  • Shot clock: Committees should adopt a pace of play policy and it is recommended that they use a 40-second shot clock to speed up play. This is great. This directly addresses one of the largest problems in golf (pace of play) and it does it with specific recommendations. Of course, this rule should be applied with discretion. While it’s preferable a group in the middle of the pack on a Friday at a PGA Tour event keep moving, if the final pair on a major Sunday are on the eighteenth hole, it would be unfortunate to see the tournament decided because one person took 42 seconds to hit his 20-foot putt for the win.

rule change proposals_jpg-largeWhile there are going to be some growing pains and unforeseen pitfalls regarding any new rule that the USGA and the R&A adopt, these are some great steps to changing this game that’s been so resistant to change for so long.

Here’s a quick list of some of the other proposed changes:

  • No more penalty for ball moving during search
  • No penalty for accidently moving ball on putting green (shout out Dustin Johnson)
  • No more penalty if your ball in motion is accidently deflected by you, your caddie, or your equipment
  • Reducing the drop area for free relief from one club length to 20 inches
  • Fixed length of 80 inches for penalty drops
  • Giving the committee the option to mark all penalty areas with red stakes so lateral relief is always allowed
  • No more opposite side relief from penalty areas
  • Damaged clubs during a round can continue to be used during a round even if damaged in anger
  • Caddie can no longer line up a player while the player is taking his or her stance
  • The USGA and R&A will now recognize “maximum score” stroke play where a player cannot take higher than a certain score on a hole, typically double par.

Golf has always been slow to adapt. While the issues with the rules aren’t as morally unfortunate as the offenses of the past – not allowing women or African Americans into clubhouses – they do threaten the survival of the game by making golf inaccessible and convoluted. We all love this game and want it to be around for years to come, and these rule changes will help it do that.

The full list of proposed changes, which are open for a six-month public comment period then will theoretically be finalized in 2018 and take effect in 2019, is on the USGA website here.

Tyler Olson is a blogging and social media intern for the Game of Golf Institute. He is a freshman at Penn State University majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. Tyler enjoys telling stories about his glory days as a high school golf phenom (that is debatable) and sneaking on his local golf courses after dark and hitting range balls because #TheGrindNeverStops. Follow him on Twitter @TylerOlson1791 and the Game of Golf Institute’s official account @mygog


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How to Really Grow the Game

By Tyler Olson

                Everyone’s always talking about the next best way to “grow the game.” Golf’s been in a tough economic spot for the past few years due to a dwindling base of players and we want to find a way to sustain the game we love by sharing it with others.

Some of the ideas have been, well, interesting.

HACK-Golfs-TaylorMade-15-Inch-Hole-Event-600x387Taylormade sponsored a series of tournaments across the country with 15-inch wide holes. The idea was that it would make the game quicker and more fun by making putting easier.


footgolfSome have advocated Footgolf as the saving grace for our courses. Footgolf is essentially the same idea as golf but with the golf ball replaced by a soccer ball and clubs replaced with feet. Theoretically, by bringing out the fan base of the most popular sport in the world to spend time (and money) at golf courses playing Footgolf, courses would be able to stay open despite the decline in traditional golf.

Others believe that the biggest problem golf faces in the 21st century is that it takes too long. They say making six-hole rounds the norm would bring more golfers into the fold by making the sport more convenient to play.

I don’t really believe that. People nowadays have time to binge watch entire series in one day or go and see movies in the theatre still, so why can’t people dedicate 90 minutes of their weekend to playing golf?

While all these ideas may have their place in growing golf for the future, they don’t address what I believe is at the base of golf’s issues; its image problem.

The biggest issue facing golf is the perception that it’s boring. It’s too slow a game, they say. It’s for old people and nerds, people jeer. None of those solutions will fix that fundamental problem.

The Australian and European tours, however, might have just figured it out. This past weekend they rolled out a first of its kind tournament, the World Super Six in Perth.

The Super Six combines stroke play with match play with the recreational games we all play in the member guest tournament in our own clubs.

The first two days are simple stroke play the way any tournament on the PGA Tour or the European Tour would be. There’s a cut after the second round that whittles the field down to the top 65 and ties.

The third day is also stroke play, but there’s a secondary cut that brings the total number of players in the field down to the top 24.

Here’s where it gets fun. According to the World Super Six website, “If after the third round there are any ties for the 24th position, the players to advance will be determined by a sudden death playoff….”

Heck. Yes. Playoffs after the third round? This already sounds amazing.

But it gets better.

“The leading 24 players,” the website says, “Will battle it out over six-hole matches [on the final day] until one man is left standing.”

Where do I buy a ticket? Where is this tournament streaming? Take my money now so I can watch this!

Yet still, it gets even better.

Any matches not decided after the six holes (which, let’s be honest, with these pros, will be a lot) will go to a final shootout hole. The shootout hole is a par-three of about 100 yards. If the players tie on the shootout hole, then they will walk back to the tee and have a closest to the pin contest to decide the winner of the match.

This rule also applies to the final match of the tournament, so there is a very legitimate change that the tournament could be decided by a closest to the pin contest.

Imagine this:

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy walk back to the tee of the picturesque 18th hole on Congressional’s Gold Course. The two of them are going head to head in the final match of the first Super Six format tournament held by the PGA Tour.

After both draining ten-footers for birdie on the shootout hole, a closest to the pin contest will decide the winner after a grueling yet thrilling day of match play for both. One swing per man. The normally extroverted players walk side-by-side in uncomfortable silence down the cartpath.

At the tee, Spieth goes first. He sizes up the shot and deliberates with Greller, who eventually convinces him to go with the hard sand wedge instead of the soft gap wedge on this swing ­– the wind shifted in the previous couple minutes.

Spieth puts his typical sweet swing on the ball and it tracks right at the pin.

“Go ball… go ball… go!” he implores of his Titleist.

It lands just on the green, takes one big hop, and cozies up within five feet of the hole. The crowd goes insane.

Next, McIlroy steps up to the tee. He’s already talked with his caddie and knows exactly the shot he wants to hit, so he just stares down the green then squares up to his ball.

McIlroy’s shot balloons into the air and appears like it’s about to go over the green. The crowd lets out a worried gasp before the shot suddenly begins a steep descent at the putting surface.

The ball hits about ten feet past the pin and zips back towards the hole. It rolls by the pin and right at Spieth’s ball, then stops just a foot short of it. Four feet from the pin.

McIlroy unleashes a viscous fist pump while Spieth can do nothing but stand and applaud the beautiful shot while the gallery behind him jumps up and down, amazed by what they just saw.

Would you want to watch that on TV? Because I’d watch that. In fact, I think a lot of people would watch that and afterword change their preconceptions about golf being “boring” or “for nerds.”

If we want to really make golf a game everybody plays, then we need to make it a game the everyman will be interested in. Incorporating the “Super Six” format on the PGA Tour would be a great step towards doing that.

Listen to the newest episode of the Golf Swagger Podcast on SoundCloud for more on this and other hot topics in the golf world:

Tyler Olson is a blogging and social media intern for the Game of Golf Institute. He is a freshman at Penn State University majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. Tyler enjoys telling stories about his glory days as a high school golf phenom (that is debatable) and sneaking on his local golf courses after dark and hitting range balls because #TheGrindNeverStops. Follow him on Twitter @TylerOlson1791 and the Game of Golf Institute’s official account @mygogi

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The media needs to back off the Tiger coverage if and when he comes back

By Tyler Olson

                It’s a familiar cycle by now. Tiger Woods comes back to play on the PGA Tour. The media covers it like it’s the second (or third, or fourth) coming of Christ. Tiger plays golf that ranges somewhere between mediocre and sad. He goes on another extended break.

We saw a clear example of this media fiasco in just the past couple months.

When Woods returned to competitive golf for the first time since August 2015 at the Hero World Challenge, he birdied four of his first eight holes. Golf Twitter and golf media basically exploded.  I, your humble writer and tweeter, was just as guilty as anyone.  I looked back through our @mygogi TweetDeck and for the entire four days of the Hero World Challenge.  Exactly one of the tweets from my fellow intern Melynda and me didn’t mention Tiger; it was quoting a tweet from Dustin Johnson. That’s positively staggering over four whole days. In fact, I’m guilty of writing about Tiger right now and he’s not even playing.

Hideki Matsuyama was in the middle of winning his fourth tournament out of five in a field that Tiger himself ensured would be composed of nothing but the best of the best golfers in the world, but we only mentioned Matsuyama or anyone else in passing.

Things didn’t get much better when Woods headed to Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open. While we at Golf Swagger spread our coverage around much better, the media was in a predictable wall to wall frenzy around Tiger in his first full-field event back. Until he missed the cut.

Oh, so did his playing partners, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, who were placed with Woods to gin up media hype. I’m not saying their missing the cut was a result of having to watch Tiger’s bad golf, but I’m not not saying it either.

Omega Dubai Desert Classic - Day TwoNext, Woods flew to the middle east to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic where he shot a feeble 77 in the first round and withdrew due to back spasms before the second.

He’s now cancelled scheduled appearances at Genesis Open and the Honda Classic this month to let his back heal up.

This was Tiger’s umpteenth “comeback” and it had the same result as all the others: mediocre golf and more injuries. This is the new normal. This is the new Tiger. This is what people need to come to expect from him until he proves that he can do anything else. The media needs to change its focus from the whatever and whenever the next Tiger comeback is to the actual incredible golf that’s occurring on the PGA Tour.

The real losers in the media’s Woods obsession are the great young players on the PGA Tour who aren’t getting the coverage they deserve. We’ve already covered the injustice we at Golf Swagger and the rest of the media gave to Matsuyama at the Hero World Challenge, but what about Justin Thomas, who’s finally escaping the “Jordan Spieth’s old friend” shadow that’s hovered over him for years and getting known for his own great golf? What about John Rahm and Hudson Swafford picking up their first ever PGA Tour wins? What about the fact the average age of the first six winners in the 2017 calendar year is TWENTY-FOUR (s/o Kyle Porter of CBS for that stat).

Assuming Tiger makes it back for the Masters, the worst-case scenario is that a really important storyline like Spieth overcoming his demons from last year or Matsuyama continuing his hot streak or Sergio winning his first major (I mean, Trump is president, anything can happen) could be overshadowed. And all by some poor to mediocre golf from someone who used to be relevant on the PGA Tour.

To be clear, this isn’t a Tiger hate piece. I’m mourning along with everyone else that we no longer get to watch one of the game’s greats on TV every week. Tiger still has a future in golf as a Ryder cup captain and on the Champions Tour if he can get healthy. But let’s not let our nostalgia over one of golf’s great’s ruin our enjoyment of the gaggle of great golfers on tour today, many of whom are only pro golfers because Woods inspired them as kids.

For analysis on Tiger and more, follow the “Golf Swagger Podcast” on SoundCloud. Listen to the most recent episode of the podcast here>>

Tyler Olson is a blogging and social media intern for the Game of Golf Institute. He is a freshman at Penn State University majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. Tyler enjoys telling stories about his glory days as a high school golf phenom (that is debatable) and sneaking on his local golf courses after dark and hitting range balls because #TheGrindNeverStops. Follow him on Twitter @TylerOlson1791 and the Game of Golf Institute’s official account @mygogi. 

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Justin Thomas’ Game Examined

By Tyler Olson

                It seems Justin Thomas is no longer content being known to the rest of the golf world as “Jordan Spieth’s friend who is on the PGA Tour too.”

justin thomas 1Most know that Thomas had an impressive amateur career alongside Spieth, including a strong stint at the University of Alabama and a made cut at the 2009 Wyndam Championship at the ripe age of sixteen. He just hadn’t yet made much of a splash on Tour since he earned his card in 2015.

Within the past four months, however, it appears the era of Justin Thomas has come. He took the CIMB Classic in October then won the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in the last two weeks. Thomas is now up there in the discussion for the hottest player in the world right now with Hideki Matsuyama, who finished T27 at the Sony.

Oh, and not to mention the fact he shot a 59 last Thursday and finished the Sony with the lowest 72 hole score in PGA Tour history.

It will be interesting to see if he keeps up this level of play and manages to put up numbers in 2017 circa Spieth 2015; both he and Matsuyama are just about on track to do so.

justin thomas 2Thomas’ game is quite interesting in that he is not dominant in one statistical category or another in the way many of the game’s top players are. He doesn’t drive the ball like Dustin Johnson or Rory McIloy. He doesn’t putt like Spieth. He doesn’t strike his irons like Henrik Stenson. Thomas simply has a strong and well-rounded game that allows him to score well without being “elite” at any one element.

Looking at his stats from the 2016 season, his best statistical category was strokes gained on approach to the green. He was 20th. Yet still, he managed to finish 10th in FedEx Cup points.

Fast forward to this season, in which Thomas has three wins already, all his strokes gained stats are 5th or worse on Tour. However, his total strokes gained ranks 2nd. That’s because all but one of these categories (strokes gained around being the outlier at 77th) are 10th or better.

The man simply doesn’t have a weakness. McIlroy has putting woes. Spieth lacks explosive distance. DJ (used to) struggle with his wedges and is still just slightly above average around the green. Justin Thomas has none of that.

It will be interesting to watch what happens when he inevitably goes head to head with one of these modern titans of the game down the stretch on a Sunday. Will he be simply overpowered by DJ’s pure distance or overwhelmed by Spieth draining every single putt? Or will he outlast the others by not making any mistakes?

Thomas’ sudden vault to near superstardom also underscores another point we need to keep in mind nowadays; there will not be another Tiger Woods in this generation. Period.

justin thomas 3A graphic put out this week by Jamie Kennedy, a social media manager for the Euro Tour, shows us why. In his first 94 events as a professional, Tiger Woods had 24 wins, 63 top 10’s and a single missed cut. Next behind him is Spieth with 9 wins, 45 top 10’s, and 13 missed cuts. Phil Mickelson, Thomas, McIlroy, and Jason Day round out the list with progressively declining numbers.

The PGA Tour is so stacked with talent nowadays that no one individual, no matter how talented, will ever achieve the kind of success that Tiger did in his prime. 30 years down the road, when these guys are on the Champions Tour, who knows what may happen. But for now, it’s time to put an end to the Tiger comparisons.

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2017 Year Preview

By Tyler Olson

                Everyone for one reason or another seems to have had a rough time in 2016. On New Years eve, there were far more people out celebrating 2016’s eminent demise as opposed to reflecting positively on the events of the past 365 days. 2017 is now upon us and with it comes a clean slate, a whole bunch of New Year’s Resolutions that nobody is going to keep, and a fresh year of great golf ahead. So what have we got to look forward to?


                Every year people try to predict which players are going to win which major and every year they’re wrong. Especially recently, as the sheer depth of the Tour has increased exponentially.

matsuyama_1920_wmpo16_d4_hybridHowever, I will make one exception for this year. Hideki Matsuyama will win the Masters. Period. In his past six starts he has won four of them and his other finishes were runners up to Justin Thomas, who we’ll get to in a minute. Matsuyama is playing the best golf out of anyone in the world right now and it’s not even close. The question is how long can he sustain it? Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and others all got on streaks that had us comparing them to mid-2000’s Tiger and then cooled off. If Matsuyama can carry the momentum just a few more months, it will be difficult to stop him at Augusta National. He also has the advantage that English is not his native language so he’s not as susceptible to the hype machine that is modern media as guys from the US or Europe are. Besides, even if he were American, all the focus this Masters will be on Tiger Woods comeback.

Besides Matsuyama, here’s a list of players who are due for a major and why this could be their year.

  • thomasJustin Thomas- As we’ve covered, he has two victories in the past few months in which he beat the hottest player on earth, so it seems as if his game is finally realizing the potential we all knew it could reach. Thomas, a childhood friend of Jordan Spieth, made the cut at the Wyndam Championship when he was sixteen. He has the talent to be up there with the best in the world, now he just has to take the next step. His crazy consistent driving is a tool that will help him keep it together when the pressure is on.
  • Dustin Johnson- DJ is nearly unstoppable. His distance off the tee and with his iron is almost unmatched. His wedge play has evolved into one of the best on Tour. When his putting gets going, it’s hard to think of anyone outside of McIlroy or Day who could hang with him. Erin Hills, the location of the US Open this year, is an absurdly long course that could play right into his hands. Then again, no matter the layout, is tough to beat.
  • Sergio Garcia- He’s due. There’s only so many times you can collapse on the back nine on Sunday at a major, right? Through his career he has 22 top-10’s at majors with no victories. Something has to give here.
  • Jordan Spieth- After an unreal 2015, professional overreactors in the media wondered what the heck happened to Spieth in 2016, where he only won 3 tournaments and no majors. Well, if he were to continue his 2015 run for a 20 year career, Spieth would amass 40 majors and 100 wins. Nobody can sustain that forever. If he can get his mental game right in 2016 and block out the media hype, there’s no reason he can’t take home another major, or maybe two.
  • Rory McIlroy- McIlroy took home a couple victories in late 2016, possibly the beginning of some hot golf in 2016. He’s gone two straight years without a major and for a person with his talent, that’s an eternity. Oh also he’s already won twice at the site of the PGA Championship this year.
  • Patrick-ReedPatrick Reed- So, anyone watch the Ryder Cup? If Reed, not as superbly talented as many on this list, can make it to the back nine on a major Sunday, he has the killer instinct to close, even against better golfers.
  • Bubba Watson- While he hasn’t been playing particularly well as of late, Augusta National lines up so well with Watson’s game that he is almost always a factor in the Masters. If anyone is going to beat Matsuyama there, it’s Watson. Also, the Open Championship is at Royal Birkdale this year, which in 2008 played only 7,173 yards. Watson is one of the best in the world at taking advantage of short courses with his driver.
  • The field- The PGA Tour is so deep nowadays that any player can beat any other player on any given day. It’s possible a young and talented player like Tony Finau or Brooks Koepka or someone a little older like Kuchar, Furyk or Mickelson summon up four good rounds and beat the titans of the game.

The location of the non-Masters majors this year are Erin Hills for the US Open, Royal Birkdale for the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship will be at Quail Hollow.

Erin Hills, mentioned regarding Dustin Johnson’s chances there, is brutally long course in south central Wisconsin. It’s fine fescue fairways, however, allow for firm ground and extra rollout on drives to make it play slightly shorter. It hosted the 2011 US Amateur which was won by Kelly Kraft. Also in the field were Harris English, Russell Henley, Brooks Koepka, and Jordan Spieth.

Royal Birkdale last hosted an Open Championship in 2008, when Padraig Harrington took home the Claret Jug. It’s a traditional links test with few trees and waist deep grass looming on the side of wide fairways ready to make any wayward drive unplayable. Whoever keeps the ball in play off the tee here will have a shot at taking the Claret Jug.

quail-hollow-gc-club-house-jim-peterson-mk3_0106Quail Hollow, the site of the PGA Championship, will lend itself to a dearth of drama. As it is a yearly stop on the PGA Tour for the Wells Fargo Championship, many players are familiar with the course and have won there in the past. Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, James Hahn, and J.B. Holmes all have a win each at Quail Hollow. Rory McIlroy has two, including his first PGA Tour victory in 2010. McIlroy already has a couple PGA Championships under his belt and this would be the perfect location to add a third.

Tiger’s Comeback

                cst 118733 Ryder CupWhether you love or you hate the hype that comes with it, Tiger Woods is going to be back playing what looks like will be a full schedule in 2017. He said after a middling performance at the Hero World Challenge that he was going to be “smart” in the leadup to the Masters with how he scheduled his tournaments. He needed reps in live competition but didn’t want to get reinjured. Well, Woods must be feeling good because in late January through February he’s now scheduled to play four out of five weeks. This includes the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines (where he’s won eight times) Jan. 26-29, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (rather than the WM Open) February 2-5, The Genesis Open Feb. 16-19, and the Honda Classis Feb. 23-26. He’s not committed to any other events thus far but it’s probably a safe bet he will be at the Players, the WGC events, the Quicken Loans National, and the majors.

It’s unlikely that Woods pulls off a win in this early season schedule, as he will still be trying to knock off some of the mental rust we saw in Albany. However, a WGC event or possibly his own QL National might present the right timing for Woods to pull off his first win after the extended leave of absence.

The Presidents Cup

                After a 2015 American win of 15.5 to 14.5, the International team will look to get ahold of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.

As things stand, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are the far and away points leaders on the American side while Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama are on top for the Europeans.

Notable names on the outside looking in, at least for now, are Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Anirban Lahiri, and Marc Leishman.  They will about nine months to either make their way onto the top of their respective points lists or woo captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price.

Lydia Ko’s Coaching Change

              David-Leadbetter-1-2After a mediocre end to 2016, Lydia Ko fired her swing coach, David Leadbetter. She finished in the silver medal position at the Olympics, but managed only one top-5 in her next eight tournaments. She then let Leadbetter go in December.

Leadbetter alluded in an interview with the No Laying Up podcast that the decision to look for different instruction may have come more from her parents than Ko herself. There was also a philosophy difference between he and the parents. Leadbetter mentioned that he thought Ko should get some rest and take a break from the game, especially with how grueling her schedule had been all year. He also was an advocate of Ko spending lots of time in the gym with personal trainers to makeup for her relative lack of athleticism compared to other LPGA golfers. Her parents, however, believed Ko should continue with her busy schedule and keep practicing on the range and course until her play improved. Ko has defended the decision to cut Leadbetter as fundamentally hers and not that of her parents.

While Ko has not announced a new coach for 2017, she did change sponsors from Callaway to PXG.

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Hero World Challenge: What we learned

By Tyler Olson

Hero Tiger 2Tiger Woods made his much-anticipated return last weekend at his own tournament, The Hero World Challenge, and didn’t actually do too bad.  He completed all four rounds- not a small accomplishment given his past- and although he finished towards the bottom of the eighteen-man field  there were more than a few good signs in there.

Stretches of good golf:

            Early Thursday afternoon could only be described as the apocalypse for golf Twitter.   If Tiger had everyone’s curiosity when he birdied the third and had yet to make a major mistake through the fifth hole, he certainly grabbed everyone’s attention after stringing together birdies on six, seven, and eight to be tie for the lead at -4.  The Tiger of old was back and everyone was losing their minds.  Memes and gifs left and right. “Eighteen majors, here we come!” was the prevailing wisdom.

Woods then shot a cool +5 on the next ten holes to turn in a marginal 73.

Despite the mishap on Thursday’s back nine, Woods rallied with a bogey-free 65 on Friday and a 32 on the front on Saturday that included five birdies.  After playing well for that stint, Woods was two over on Saturday’s back nine and made a mess of the course on Sunday for a 76 that landed him in fifteenth place.

While many obviously hoped 2001 Tiger would magically appear on their television screens and vanquish the field full of top-ranked foes, expecting that after a sixteen-month layoff from pro golf is simply unreasonable. This tournament, with neither a cut line nor a full field, was merely a tune-up for Woods as he is focuses on the coming PGA Tour season and the majors, starting with the Masters in April.

Tiger played what amounts to thirty-six holes of great golf with a little bit of rust thrown in-between.  Woods made it very clear that he was happy with his performance and as he gets more reps, that rust should shake off with no problem.

Tiger_hero 1   “I need to play more tournaments,” said the fourteen-time major champion. “Zero in 15 months is not a lot, so this is one. I thought I made some good, positive things happen this week. Made a lot of birdies, also made a lot of mistakes. That’s something I know I can clean up.”

Other players also had total faith that Woods would back contending for trophies soon enough.

“Give him three or four tournaments, maybe six tournaments, maybe around the Masters. It’s easy to overanalyze a very limited amount of golf,” said Henrik Stenson, who finished second, just two strokes back of winner, Hideki Matsuyama.

Tiger’s Health

He looked good.  Tiger was ripping drivers at full force with recoil all week; not exactly something someone who is worried about back health is prone to do. Woods even believed he was healthy enough to come back and play back before he dropped out of the Safeway Open, but that his game was not in the place that he wanted it to be before he came back to playing on the PGA Tour. Given those pieces of evidence, it’s clear that Tiger’s long wait before coming back (pun intended) paid off. His health is a moot point until any evidence on the course or coming from Tiger himself suggests otherwise.


Hideki Hidden in all the Tiger-mania this weekend was the fact that Hideki Matsuyama absolutely had his way with the course at Albany. After Saturday, it looked like he had a chance to win this tournament, with its hand-selected field of the top golfers in the world, by double digits. His 73 on Sunday and a 68 by British Open champion, Henrik Stenson, made for just a two-stroke margin of victory. Still nothing to sneeze at.

Now the victor in four of his last five starts, if you’re planning on placing Masters bets early, look no further than Matsuyama.


                Tiger finished fifteenth out of eighteen this week, which was in line with our Twitter followers’ votes on our prediction poll. Out of the four options: Win, top half of the field, low half of the field, and injury WD/ 10+ over par, the plurality selected bottom half. So, good job there, guys.

I was incorrect with my prediction; in last week’s article I had Tiger finishing in the top nine. I simply underestimated the rust he would have. While the bouts of great golf that he put together weren’t surprising, I positively did not expect that Tiger freaking Woods would double-bogey the final hole on both Saturday and Sunday. But alas, that happened.

Where will we see Tiger next?

                Woods wants some live tournament experience so his game is on point come Masters time, so it’s time to speculate where we will see Big Cat play his next tune up event. The early-season events in California, especially in Torrey Pines would be a good bet, although his agent has alluded that he may make the trip across the Atlantic to play in the European Tour events in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where Rory McIlroy usually gets his golf season underway.

Fingers crossed Woods doesn’t get injured before then.

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So Tiger Woods is Coming Back this Week: What to Expect

By Tyler Olson

                Tiger Woods is going to play in a competitive golf tournament on Thursday for the first time in 470 days.  470 days ago, there were still seventeen people running in the Republican presidential primary.   The Chicago Cubs were still cursed. “Closer” by the Chainsmokers didn’t exist to be obsessed over by every girl in her teens and early twenties. The Rams were still in St. Louis.  Basically, it’s been a very long time since Tiger Woods has played golf.   So, what should we expect this weekend when he faces some of the best golfers in the world in his own tournament?


tiger painTiger Woods has a long and storied history of getting hurt.  He’s come back from various surgeries and ailments way too soon in the past, only to re-aggravate those injuries.  Don’t expect that this time.  Woods seems to have learned his lesson and is not pushing his aging body any further than it can go.  Just remember: People were calling for him to potentially come back for the Masters or US Open during this previous season, yet he resisted the temptation and stayed home.  Then, when he was scheduled to play in the Safeway Open this October, he pulled out at the last second, saying he thought he, “…wasn’t ready to compete against the best golfers in the world.”  Assuming he was being honest in this statement, Woods was sufficiently healthy to compete.   He just didn’t believe his game was sharp enough to be playing on the PGA Tour.   So, theoretically, he’s been in solid physical shape for some time now.   Of course, there’s always the chance his glutes stop firing on the back nine on Friday, but the smart money right now is that Woods will make it through all four rounds without problem.


tiger skills Tiger Woods told the USA Today that he can hit “…all the shots now, on call.”   When Tiger Woods says that he can hit “all the shots” that means something.  That means he is confident that no matter what the situation, he has a shot that can fit the circumstances, like the Tiger of yesteryear. There are lots of players on Tour who can’t even hit “all the shots, on call.”  Martin Kaymer is a perfect example of this. Back in 2011, when he was the top ranked player in the world, he physically could not hit a draw.

Videos of Woods’ swing surfaced online over the past few days, and it looks pretty good, even according to his former coach, Hank Haney, who said he has a great shot at a win or a top five finish.  Woods should be just fine in his ball striking, and one can only assume he’s been working just as hard on his short game.

Mental Game:

tiger mental   It almost feels silly to question Tiger Woods’ mental game.  He’s one of the most clutch golfers in history and has always had an air of intimidation about him.  But we have justification to.  First off, Woods had a nasty case of the chipping yips really not too long ago, and it’s possible that the nerves of not playing for so long could get to Woods. Additionally, he’s no longer feared by other players.  In his peak, anyone, from Serio Garcia to Phil Mickelson to the newest tour rookie would understand they’d be in for a tough fight when playing against Woods.  Now, as the 898th ranked player in the world, he won’t project the same authority, especially with the elite field Woods assembled for the Hero World Challenge.  Woods is paired with Patrick Reed for rounds one and two.  Reed wouldn’t be intimidated if he were playing one on one against LeBron James, so he won’t care that he’s playing with a guy who was a lowly Ryder Cup vice-captain when he was out there winning matches.


Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods.  He seems to have learned from the mistakes of the past and let his body heal properly from his previous injuries.  Without that worry hanging over him, expect at the very least a respectable performance from him this week.  It was reported that Woods shot a 63 at Seminole the other day, and if that is true, there’s no reason to expect him to come out and lay an egg.  But it is his first time out, so let’s moderate our expectations something short of a win.  Woods will probably not be in real contention at any time this week, and will finish outside of the top five, but he should be able to keep it in the top half of the eighteen-man field.  Look for someone like Dustin Johnson or Jason Day to run away with it.

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If Golfers Ran the World

By Tyler Olson

                Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. But a president isn’t a supreme dictator, he has dozens if not hundreds of people around him who help him do his job. The president has a cabinet, the military, his aides, interns, and more all surrounding him helping to keep the United States up and running. Being that President-Elect Trump is a golf enthusiast himself, maybe he’ll pick some of our favorite golfers to hold those positions. Here’s a list of suggestions that would help Trump on his road to making America great again.

Davis Love III- Vice President:

davis-love-ryder-cup-1280x850Yes he’s already picked Mike Pence, but DL3 is a natural leader. He took the 2014 disaster of a Ryder Cup and turned it around for a resounding victory just two years later. Donald is getting up there in age and the presidency is a stressful job. If an unfortunate event takes the life of our sitting president, Americans would feel safe knowing that Davis Love is waiting there in the wings.

Phil Mickelson- Speaker of the House:

A president can’t make any laws that aren’t passed by Congress first. Because of that, the president needs someone who can either woo or strong-arm 435 congressmen and women into voting for pieces of legislation. Phil is a perfect balance of the both. His friendly nature and vibrant smile make him a fan favorite and someone that other golfers like to play with during practice rounds. At the same time, Phil’s unfiltered opinions at the expense of others can also lead to real change. Case in point, his rant after the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. If the president needs something done, Phil Mickelson will be the man to do it.

Patrick Reed- Secretary of Defense:

patrick-reed-shushP Reed is a stereotypical war hawk. He plays mediocre on tour all season but when he gets the opportunity to vanquish his foreign foes in international competition- whether it be the Olympics, the Presidents’ Cup, or the Ryder Cup- he shines. When all the odds are against him, when European fans are shouting him down, he’ll sink that putt to buoy the USA’s hopes in a match and shush the crowd. If America gets in a real war, there would be no man better to command our military to a resounding victory.

Jordan Spieth- Secretary of State:

In international match play, Spieth is Reed’s unassuming right hand man. He’s humble, quiet, and respectful, but he gets the job done. As Secretary of State Spieth would use friendly yet strong diplomacy to keep America’s alliances strong while still making sure our enemies know who’s boss. His skill could advance America’s interests without there being a need for war.

JB Holmes and Bubba Watson- Generals:

bubba ball flight






These guys can launch missiles on the course, so why not off it. If one of our enemies decides to start a war, nobody will be better to send devastating ICBMs right at their targets. JB Holmes was the 2016 leader in driving distance on the PGA Tour while Bubba Watson was fourth. Why is Bubba better for this job than Dustin Johnson and Tony Finau, who came in second and third? He has just the right amount of crazy in his game to keep America’s enemies on their toes.

Zach Johnson- Chief of Staff:

Zach Johnson isn’t the most powerful driver of the golf ball, but he doesn’t need to be. His iron, wedge, and short games are so precise that he manages to score low anyways. The president’s chief of staff needs that same type of exacting attention to detail. He lays out the minute by minute schedule for the leader of the free world and oversees all the other staffers who do jobs that the White House needs to function properly. Without the chief of staff, everything in the executive branch would fall into chaos. Zach Johnson is the only man who can be trusted with such an important job.

Supreme Court Justice- Dustin Johnson

Donald Trump has a vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, and he may well get to appoint several other justices in his term. To pick a competent person to fill that vacancy, he needs to find someone who can truly understand the complexities of the law. Someone who has experience with its application. Someone like Dustin Johnson. Why? Well, no golfer has had as many dust ups with quirks within the Rules of Golf and the PGA Tour than DJ has in recent years. The 2010 PGA Championship, the 2016 US Open, just a couple holes later at the 2016 US Open, that time he was suspended but not suspended but maybe suspended, and that time he made his brother jump into a lake to save him two strokes all prove that he has the legal experience to apply the American constitution and legal code with a steady and seasoned hand.

Secret Service- Tiger Woods:

cst 118733 Ryder CupThe resemblance here in uncanny. The glasses. The earpiece. The intimidating look on his face. Nobody is messing with the president when Agent Woods is in the room.

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