I can also be found at Rotoworld.com and on Twitter @RyanGolfBlogger.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year and a New Blog!

Happy New Year to all golf fans out there.  I have decided to launch a spin off blog to cover all things South Carolina golf related.  Please take a minute and check it out and let me know what you think!

The Palmetto State's Golf Fan Guide

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hyundai Tournament of Champions Field Has Me Thinking Ryder Cup

Finally something to write about!  In a way, the PGA Tour golf season began today with the release of the first committed field of the year.  Twenty-eight players have committed to play in the season opening Hyundai Tournament of Chapions event at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii next week.  Here is a link to the field http://www.pgatour.com/2011/tournaments/r016/12/30/field-set/index.html

The big first impression I got from glancing at the field list is the potential ramifications a 28 player tournament could end up having on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.  Several favorites to make the team including Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods are skipping the event, injured for the event or not qualified for the event, but 23 of the 28 in the field are Americans.  In a Ryder Cup year, only the current years tournaments and previous years majors count in the points, so this tournament is essentially twice as important as it is in a President's Cup year. 

In 2010, the Ryder Cup top 8 cut off at about $3.4 million.  If Keegan Bradley could win this 28 man tournament, he would already be at $2.5 million and a virtual lock to make the team.  Steve Stricker would be at about $1.6 million and almost half way there.  What I feel certain about is heading into the PGA Championship, there will be 2 or 3 guys in the top 8 that could easily fall out with a missed cut and 2 or 3 guys that could move in with a top 8 finish and another 5 after that who could move in with a top 3.  That's about 10 guys who will be on the bubble heading into Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship.  Some of those guys will be on that bubble because of a nice week this week and some of them will be kicking themselves because of what could have been this week.

Here are some guys playing this week who I think have a legitimate shot being on the Ryder Cup bubble headed into the PGA Championship.  I wonder who will help themselves out this week?
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Jonathan Byrd
  • Ben Crane
  • Lucas Glover
  • Bill Haas
  • Chris Kirk
  • Sean O'Hair
  • Webb Simpson (probably not on the bubble because he'll be in the top 5)
  • Brendan Steele
  • Steve Stricker (See Webb Simpson)
  • David Toms
  • Nick Watney
  • Bubba Watson
  • Gary Woodland
It will be interesting to see how this week plays out.  Success in this tournament doesn't necessarily spring board into a huge year, but a win would get someone not already qualified into the Masters and potentially other majors which award double points. 

Sometimes after a nice defensive play in a baseball game that potentially saves a run the announcer will say "put an asterisk beside that one."  Depending on the outcome, this tournament could be one of the asterisk.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What the Mini Tour's Are Saying

There are several mini tours that I follow pretty closely with the NGA Tour and the Egolf Tour being the primary two.  Geographically they end up competing for a similar pool of players with many players splitting time on each tour.  The NGA Tour boasts that they are the third largest tour behind the PGA and Nationwide circuits.  The Egolf is a newer tour, but is steadily gaining a following that is rivaling the NGA Tour; especially in the Carolinas. 

It seems the budding "rivalry" is also extending to the newsroom as each tour is touting various lists that are previewing the top 2012 Nationwide Tour candidates from each tour.  Here is the NGA Tour's link http://www.ngatour.com/general/news/release_831.html and here is the Egolf Tour's link http://egolfprofessionaltour.com/2012-in-preview-12-Nwide-players-to-watch which basically redirects you to a Golfweek article. 

Two names appears on both lists, and those are Phillip Pettit and Will Wilcox.  We're still a ways off from the Nationwide Tour Season, but several names on these lists have the feel of 2012 Top 25 grads including Adam Hadwin, Hudson Swofford, Russell Henley, and Will Wilcox.  I also like what I'm reading about guys like Philip Pettit, Cory Nagy and Chris DeForest.  I'm sure in the weeks leading up to the Nationwide season I will do a "Top 25" prediction. 

In the mean time, I'll sit back and watch what the NGA Tour and Egolf Tour say to their shared pool of players in an effort to maintain or swing the balance of mini tour power in the Southeastern United States.

Rod Pampling Acts Like a True Pro Plus a Ryan Moore Investment

In going through my usual sites that are linked on this blog I came across two stories that caught my eye on PGATOUR.com.  The first was on long time tour veteran and former winner Rod Pampling (http://www.pgatour.com/2011/r/12/27/notebook.ap/index.html) and the second was on former Wyndham Champion Ryan Moore (http://tourreport.pgatour.com/2011/12/27/moore-invests-in-washington-courses/).

For the first time in about a decade, Pampling lost his full status following the 2010 season.  As many veterans who lose their status do, Pampling contacted the tournaments that he normally played when he was exempt to ask for a sponsors exemption.  These exemptions are typically given to players like Pampling who may add to the notoriety and hopefully draw a little more interest to the tournament.  Even more higher profile players like David Duval and John Daly have benefited from these recently.  As the story goes, what Pampling did that was different was he took the time to personally go back and thank each tournament that extended him a sponsors exemption.  Because of those tournaments he finished 124th on the 2011 PGA Tour Money list and now has full status again.   

Ryan Moore is a refreshingly unusual PGA Tour star.  He came out of college as a can't miss star who like Tiger Woods, Scott Verplank and now Bud Cauley didn't have to darken the doors of Q School or the Nationwide Tour because of his earnings on sponsors exemptions.  What's more, he's become a bit of a throwback because he plays the equipment and balls that he wants to play and doesn't cater to equipment sponsors.  He's recently taken on Adams Golf, but I would assume that's because he wanted them.  He frequently will show up to a golf tournament wearing a tie dress shirt and roll up his shirt sleeves, much like you would see in the old Bobby Jones pictures.  Anyway, even though he's still in his 20's, he's just invested in his third golf course project in a down economy and is a budding entrepreneur.  This just adds to the complexity of Ryan Moore.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Early Thoughts on Hyundai Tournament of Champions

While the field isn't officially set yet, with commitments not due to be finalized until Friday, December 30th at 5pm, I've started to take a look at some trends with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.  Here are a few things that stand out.
  • There was a 10 year drought between 2001 (Jim Furyk) and 2011 (Jonathan Byrd) when no Americans won the Tournament of Champions.  During that same time period, golfers from the Southern Hemisphere enjoyed the majority of the wins.  Ernie Els (South Africa), Stuart Appleby 3 times (Australia), Geoff Oglivy 2 times (Australia) all grew up with summer being in January, so it may not be a coincidence that there game is in top form when most Americans are trying to thaw out in the dead of winter.  Also winning in that span was Vijay Singh from Fiji and Sergio Garcia from Spain.  While I've never been to Fiji, I imagine it being warm most of the time.
  • The Plantation Course is extremely long, but very wide open.  When predicting success, I give a nod to golfers who are strong all around players with a weakness for driving accuracy.  I also pay attention for golfers with good stats with the long irons and steady putters from inside 10 feet.  The winning score is normally in the -20 range, so the winner will need to make a fair share of 8 foot birdie putts and 5 foot par saves.
  • History generally favors golfers who are not making their first trip to Kapalua.  Daniel Chopra is the exception, but there is a mountain that influences a lot of the putts and some pretty extreme elevation changes on shots.
  • Most golfers are coming off of fairly long breaks, so it's hard to predict form.  Guys like Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland will be extremely tough to predict because there are a lot of things about their game that stack up well for Kapalua, but history isn't on their side.
Keep in mind that we won't know until Friday evening who's actually playing (only who has qualified), but here are a few guys that, at first glance, probably merit a hard look as a potential winner.
  • Adam Scott
  • Aaron Baddeley
  • Rory Sabbatini
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Nick Watney
  • Martin Laird
  • Dustin Johnson
  • K.J. Choi
  • Jonathan Byrd (defending champion)
We'll keep our eye on things over the next few days and see who commits and take a deeper dive a little bit closer to the first tee shot.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Moments I Will Remember

The ham and turkey have begun to wear off now and try as I may to look forward to the 2012 PGA Tour Season, there just isn't much to talk about this week.  This time next week, we will be in full preview mode for the first PGA event of the year, but for today I've decided to look back at things I will remember from 2011 on the PGA Tour.
  • Starting 2011 off with a bang, Jonathan Byrd won in a playoff at Kapalua immediately after winning his last even in 2010 in a playoff with a walk off ace.  This one was slightly less dramatic with a par on the opening hole after a Robert Garrigus short miss.
  • The birth of Johnny Vegas at the Bob Hope.  A year before some guy named Billy Haas made that his first PGA Tour win.
  • The 2011 final round of the Masters.  The old saying "the tournament doesn't begin until the back 9 Sunday" could not have been more appropriate.  There are three things I will remember.  Tiger having a chance on the back 9 after a stellar front 9, Rory beside butler cabin on 10 and hanging his head after his tee shot at 13, and Charl Schwartzel going on a birdie binge to put it away.  What a tournament!
  • Jonathan Byrd making birdie on 18 at Quail Hollow to force a sudden death playoff with Clemson teammate Lucas Glover, which Glover ended up winning.  That was Glover's first win since the U.S. Open at Bethpage.
  • U.S. Open at Congressional.....Rory = Tiger at Pebble on the course that normally hosts Tiger's tournament. 
  • Steve Stricker going tee to fairway bunker to fringe to hole for birdie on the tough 18th at TPC Deere Run to avoid a playoff with Kyle Stanley.  Not a high profile tournament, but what a birdie that was.
  • Adam Scott winning at Bridgeston and the Stevie circus.  I'll remember it, but not fondly.
  • PGA Championship.....here's hoping Jason Dufner bounces back.
  • Tour Championship - Billy freakin Haas out of the water....wow.
  • Disney.....Luke Donald showed up for one reason, and that was to win and take the Money title from Webb Simpson.  In very un Luke like fashion, he actually won and didn't just take a top 5 and wrapped up the money title and player of the year award.  Good for Luke!
Here's hoping for just as many, if not more, memorable moments in 2012!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hawaiian Dream Team

It's quite possible that the most exciting part of the upcoming "Hawaiian Swing" of the PGA Tour could be the recent announcement that Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo will share a broadcast booth together.  The first couple of tournaments don't always draw the biggest names and the outcomes are fairly unpredictable due to the lay off.  All that said, a Faldo / Miller pairing is sure to produce some uncomfortable moments and some memorable commentary.  I also expect a fair degree of competition for superiority to be going on in the booth.

Here's hoping that The Golf Channel lets Kelly Tilghman stay in the booth to make sure a fight doesn't break out!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas List to the Golfing Santa

While I will keep the list I’m writing Santa for my specific golf game to myself, I will share the spectator’s version of my list with you. 
Here are the 5 things on my golf watching Christmas list.
1.       I want to see Tiger become a force again.  We were spoiled for about a decade with watching arguably the greatest golfer of all time cause fields to wither in his presence.  I don’t know if that will ever return, but I would like to see him win Doral or Bay Hill leading up to the Masters.  I think every golf fan was glued to the television for the back 9 of the 2011 Masters and everyone remember Rory’s collapse, but no one talks about Tiger surging into contention after a brilliant front 9.  If Tiger could win 3 tournaments including 1 Major (most likely Augusta or The Open) think of how much more interesting golf is this time next year.
2.       I want it to become clear which of the 20 something’s or even early 30 something’s are going to carry the torch from guys like Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson.   There are a lot of guys are consistent and can win any given week, but none of them win consistently enough.  Matt Kuchar’s a Top 10 king, but doesn’t win that much.  Will Webb Simpson be one of those guys?  Can Rickie Fowler?  Nick Watney and his twin Bill Haas?  Lucas Glover has a U.S. Open and his Clemson teammate Jonathan Byrd has 5 wins…..either of them?  Dustin Johnson?  The point is, there are a ton of guys who “could”, but I want to see a couple of them start to really put Hall of Fame resume numbers up.
3.       I want to see Rory stare Tiger down when it matters.  Rory’s the closest thing to Tiger Woods, not Donald or Ishikawa or Simpson.  Rory’s got the flare, the youth, the swing and he’s got that IT factor.  I want to watch the torch passed.  How cool would it be for the last pairing on Sunday at Augusta to start “Fore please, on the tee Tiger Woods……Rory McIlroy.”  Rory could release his 2011 scar tissue and he and Woods could battle it out for which generation in on top.
4.       I want to see Jonathan Byrd win a Major and make the Ryder Cup.  This is personal.  I’ve met JByrd once and what a nice guy he is.  A true gentleman.  I would love to see him take the PGA at the Ocean Course in his former home state and make the Ryder Cup.  He’s good enough if he just believes it.
5.       Another personal one, but I want to see my buddy Matt Hendrix win on the Nationwide Tour and finish inside “The 25.”  He’s a former Clemson All American and a former Walker Cupper who had a one year stint on the PGA Tour about 5 years ago with about the worst reshuffle number you could have out the gate.  He’s plenty long, the putter seems to be steady and all he’s missing is a consistent iron game.  Our Sunday School Christmas party would get even livelier than it already is if we were celebrating that next December!
So, see what you can do for me Santa.  I’ll try to be good all year. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Early Ryder Cup Power Rankings

Is it too early to talk Ryder Cup?  Probably, but as the U.S. gets ready to try and take back the Cup it lost at the K Club I thought it would be fun to periodically check in on how the team will be taking shape with some early predictions and people to watch.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense to look at the current standings because it only takes into account last year’s Majors.  In first place right now is Keegan Bradley, as he was the only American to win a Major last year.  Two years ago this time, Lucas Glover was in first place but went on to barely miss making the team; so even first now doesn’t mean all that much.
Here is my current prediction as to who will represent the U.S. in 2012.
·         Matt Kuchar
·         Steve Stricker (I’ll be keeping an eye on his health)
·         Dustin Johnson
·         Webb Simpson
·         Nick Watney
·         Hunter Mahan
·         Keegan Bradley (He’s going to need to back up a great rookie year)
·         Tiger Woods
·         Phil Mickelson (Captains Pick)
·         Bubba Watson (Captains Pick) (or Gary Woodland)
·         Jim Furyk (Captains Pick)
·         Lucas Glover (Captains Pick) (insert another Sea Island guy here if Glover struggles)
This list can and will be extremely volatile, especially when the Major season comes along, bringing with it double points.  Any American who wins a Major this year will vault way up in the standings. 
Other players to keep a watch on:
·         Brandt Snedeker
·         Bill Haas (I’m curious to see if he stays motivated)
·         Rickie Fowler
·         Zack Johnson
·         Jonathan Byrd
·         David Toms
·         Gary Woodland (He could have a big year)
·         Sean O’Hair
·         Anthony Kim
And a few dark horse candidates:
·         Kyle Stanley
·         Chris Kirk
·         Harris English
·         Bud Cauley

In terms of captain’s picks, I have already posted that I don’t expect a huge year out of Mickelson and Furyk, but I don’t think Davis Love III can pass on their leadership and experience.  This is why Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink were popular captain's picks in the not too distant past.  I think a captains pick could come down to Bubba Watson or Gary Woodland and I think a final captains pick could come down to one of Love’s Sea Island neighbors (Glover, Jonathan Byrd or Zach Johnson).
The way the points are stacked so heavily this year, it’s entirely possible for a rookie to make the team.  If the Presidents Cup qualifications were the same as the Ryder Cup it would have worked out for Bradley.  That brings Harris English and Bud Cauley into the equation.  It wasn’t all that long ago that Brett Wetterich went from Q School to Ryder Cup, and the points system makes it even more likely now.
I will be interested to see how all of this takes shape with some clarity probably starting to show up sometime after Augusta in early April.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Veterans Who May Disappoint in 2012

As the PGA Tour season is sneaking up on us, I've kept up with the "Top 100" on PGATOUR.com http://www.pgatour.com/r/2012top100_archive/index.html .  For whatever reason, this got me thinking about who I see as susceptible to a disappointing season in 2012 from the veterans group.  There were at least 15 players in the final stage of Q School that own a PGA Tour win and each of those guys fell victim to this at some point.  And it's not just guys who may not finish in the Top 125.  Some guys are consistent top 10 type players that may fall to a less glamorous spot in the pecking order.

Here is my list of the top 5 established veterans that need to be on alert to avoid a career inhibiting year.
  1. Jim Furyk - Yes, I watched the President's Cup.  I know Furyk went 5-0, but I also watched the fourteen months of Furyk between his FedEx Cup Championship clinching win at East Lake and his triumphant Presidents Cup and see some things that give me pause for concern.  I'm not saying that Furyk will finish 2012 outside of the top 125 (and it wouldn't matter if he did), but what I am saying is that Furyk could easily find himself closer to 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) than 10th where he usually hangs around.  He also could find himself in jeopardy of needing a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup.  He was 164th in driving distance in 2011 and 150th in strokes gained putting.  I don't see him getting any longer off the tee, and once putting woes start for a veteran, they are hard to turn around.
  2. Phil Mickelson - Phil's a cut making machine (20/21 in 2011), but he seems to be slowing down having only won 1 time in each of the last 2 years.  He also seems to be scoring through some "smoke and mirrors" as he was 120th in Total Driving in 2011, 89th in Ball Striking, and 134th in Strokes Gained putting.  Phil's got a flair for the dramatic and still shows up in some key events, but I think he's looking past his prime.  I also think his interest in matters off the course, both good and bad, have picked up over the last few years and I believe golf has been put in a little more perspective for him.  Also, the belly putter works wonders for some, but it doesn't feel right for one of the game's icons to be tinkering with it.  Like Furyk, he's not going to fall off the map, but with all of the young guns coming on strong and Tiger becoming more relevant by the day, I'm just not sure how much room there is at the top for Phil any more.
  3. Ernie Els - This may be a year too late as he went from 2 wins and over $4 million in 2010 to under $1 million with 1 top 10 in 2011.  That said, I'm still selling my Ernie stock.  181st in Strokes Gained putting, 162 in All Around, 162 in Total Driving, 182nd in Scrambling and I can keep going.  It was all going wrong for The Big Easy in 2011, and I think it may be too much to fix in 2012.  Els years of hard charging across the globe may be catching up with him. 
  4. Paul Goydos - Who doesn't love to hear what's going to come out of his mouth next?  The problem with Goydos is that he seems to make way too high of a percentage of his money in way too few tournaments; and that's living on the edge.  He was 185th in driving distance, and 179th in strokes gained putting.  If you're not long and you can't putt, it's going to be a little hard to be consistent.  I could pick out 5 other statistically significant categories where he doesn't rank in the top 100 to continue to prove the point.
  5. Jerry Kelly - I love Jerry Kelly.  He's probably the most animated golfer on Tour, but his ball striking numbers seem to be very average of late.  This is more of a hunch where the other 4 were backed a little more solidly statistically, but I worry about Kelly.  He'll turn 46 this year and that's around the time players start to show their age and begin to look forward to the Champions Tour. 
I've got no axe to grind with any of those guys, and would be happy for them to prove me wrong.  I just see way too many holes in their collective games to maintain the stature they currently have.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From Novice to The Golf Aficionado

I did not grow up with a golf club in my hand, and I can’t tell you what the first golf tournament I watched was, when or where I swung a club for the first time, or when I developed a casual interest in golf.  I have never played a round of golf with my father, and feel confident that I never will since I’m not sure he’s played in my lifetime and I’m pretty sure he’s given his clubs away. 
Instead, many of the memories I have about golf have taken place over the last 10 to 15 years.  From a playing standpoint, I remember the first time a made a par on a par 4 was the summer after my freshman year of college (2000) on the 16th hole of Carolina Country Club (now the 7th as they flipped the 9’s).  My first birdie of any sort not on a Par 3 course was on a Par 3 at Green Valley Country Club a year ago next week (4 iron to 4 feet).  I birdied my first Par 5 several weeks ago at Thornblade Club on the 16th (Driver / 4 Wood / 3 Hybrid to 12 feet).  All of this is why you’ll never catch me giving playing advice.  I am proud to have my handicap down to a 23.4. 
From a spectator’s standpoint, I can trace my following of golf to my sophomore year of high school when a confident, bordering on cocky, kid named D.J. Trahan moved to my high school from Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Over the course of the next three years, it was kind of hard not to notice when state championship banners and local sports news coverage begins to highlight one of your classmates.  D.J. made it to the match play portion of the U.S. Amateur, I believe when he was sixteen, and it was around that time I started paying attention to local golf.  Around the same time, we also had a teacher / coach start at our school named Todd White who was strait off an extended stint on the then Nike (now Nationwide) Tour. 
At the conclusion of high school I ended up at Clemson University.  When I set foot on campus, I hadn’t heard of Larry Penley, Jonathan Byrd, Charles Warren, Lucas Glover, John Engler, Danny Ellis, Chris Patton, or Kevin Johnson; but all of that changed quickly enough.  It’s fun to pull for a winner, and I quickly found out that the Clemson golf program was much more prestigious than the basketball program.  While football is, and always will be, king at Clemson, Larry Penley’s golf program and Jack Leggett’s baseball program have a very strong following.  Coincidentally, the only national championship Clemson won in my 4 years as a student was the 2003 Golf National Championship.  While all the names I mentioned above laid the groundwork for that success, none of them played on that team.  The 2003 team was led by D.J. Trahan and the other competing members were Matt Hendrix, Gregg Jones, Jack Ferguson and Ben Duncan.  They beat an Oklahoma State team led by Hunter Mahan by two shots on Oklahoma State’s home course to win it.
Check out the NCAA final 2003 individual stroke averages taken from clemsontigers.com.  Any of these names look familiar?
Final 2003 Individual Rankings
Rk Player, School Points
1. Hunter Mahan, Oklahoma St. 68.69
2. D.J. Trahan, Clemson 69.22
3. Bill Haas, Wake Forest 69.57
4. Troy Matteson, Georgia Tech 69.60
5. Jack Ferguson, Clemson 69.62
6. Ricky Barnes, Arizona 69.65
7. Brandt Snedeker, Vanderbilt 69.82
8. Nick Watney, Fresno State 69.83
9. Matt Hendrix, Clemson 69.89
10. Chris Nallen, Arizona 69.95

As natural progression would have it, I began following my classmates as they entered the professional ranks.  I remember Jonathan Byrd winning the BMW Pro Am on the Buy.com (Nationwide) Tour and Charles Warren winning the same tournament the following year; launching each of their professional careers.  I remember having a conversation with D.J. Trahan during our junior year at Clemson when he was debating whether to go pro then or wait one more year, and he ultimately chose to stay.  His rationale was that he could get a better equipment deal if he waited another year.  When I asked him about Q School and the Nationwide Tour, he felt pretty sure he wouldn’t need those when he cashed in on his sponsor’s exemptions.  I guess the devil of the details proved that to be not quite accurate, but he’s had a very impressive PGA career with 2 wins and never losing his card once he got it. 
Once I graduated, I found myself becoming very interested in following the journey the not quite as well known Clemson grads were facing on the mini tour’s and Nationwide Tours.  That’s how I’ve stumbled on the Egolf Professional Tour (former Tarheel Tour), the Hooters Tour and some smaller ones than that like the Carolina’s Mountain Tour.  (Coincidentally, I was following the same thing with Clemson baseball players going through the minor leagues.)  I began to understand Monday qualifying, U.S. Open local and sectional qualifying and other things the casual golf fan doesn't know, or maybe doesn't care to know.
What stands out to me about golf more than other sports is that everyone seems to have a story.  Some are more dramatic than others like Erik Compton (heart transplant) and Kevin Hall (deaf), but there are plenty of people that are fun to pull for.  Sometimes when I’m watching a tournament I get excited seeing a blast from the past make a run, sometimes it’s a rookie making a statement or sometimes it’s Tiger blowing away a field.  But, I always first and foremost pull for my Clemson Tigers on Tour.  It’s generally served me well.  The only time I’ve not known who to pull for was at this year’s Wells Fargo when Jonathan Byrd faced off against Lucas Glover in a playoff.  The irony was that Glover beating Byrd might have cost Byrd a spot on the President’s Cup.
As you read my blog, this should provide a little insight about where I’m coming from on various points of view.  I’m also weighing the idea of a spin off blog to focus on golfers with ties to the Palmetto State (South Carolina).  I haven’t decided if I want to devote some time and space on The Golf Aficionado to lopsidedly cover the Clemson guys, as well as people like Bill Haas, Dustin Johnson and Will McGirt, or if I want to keep this site a little less biased and devote a second site to that. 
Feel free to chime in if you have a suggestion! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Notebook

Nothing too surprising happened in the finale's of the Thailand and Australian tournaments in their final rounds.  Lee Westwood capped off an outstanding week by cruising to a 7 shot victory in Thailand and Ian Poulter moved up from second to overtake Geoff Ogilvy for the JBWere Australian Masters title.

We are now 15 days away from the opening tournament week on the PGA Tour, but the 15 days between now and then are probably the slowest on the golf calendar.  I will try and spend some of that time getting into some personal golfing interests and maybe delve into some players I follow from a fan standpoint.  As I side note, I know that golf journalists have to be just that, but I would be interested to know some of their personal favorites.   Since I'm an average "Joe" with a blog, I'll take the liberty to allow some of my inner fan to shine through. 

If there are any topics you would like me to hit on in the next few weeks, feel free to let me know.

Until then....

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tournaments in Australia and Thailand Set to Wrap Up

Two nice tournaments are about to wrap up their final rounds on the opposite side of the world.  The JBWere Australian Masters is being led through 3 rounds by former U.S. Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy with Ian Poulter in solo second 2 shots back.  The first two big Australian tournaments of the Australian summer were won by Greg Chalmers and he sits T5 entering the final round.  Luke Donald, fresh off of his PGA Tour player of the year award, is hanging around the top 10.

In Thailand, Lee Westwood opened with at 60/64, but had a slight slip up with a third round 73 to let Charl Schwartzel at least somewhat in the hunt 4 shots back.  2011 PGA Tour rookie Michael Thompson is in solo 3rd 7 shots back.  Also interesting is John Daly's tournament.  He opened with a 65 and is hanging around the top 10 entering Sunday.  While I was not impressed by his decision to blow off Q School, it's probably a good thing for golf for him to display a little bit better form.  That, or this is just going to keep him barely relevant enough to extend the circus tour for another few year.

Good luck to all!

Friday, December 16, 2011

2010 vs 2011 Nationwide Tour Results

As I try to compile who the likely candidates are to move from the 26-60 category from the 2011 Nationwide Tour in 2011 into "The 25" in 2012, I think it's important to look back at how the players in the same category in 2010 ended up in 2011.

There will be 4 categories:  Those that advanced in Q School that December, those that ended up in "The 25" in 2011, those that remained in the 26th-60th category and those that fell out of the top 60.
  1. Players that advanced to the PGA Tour via 2010 Q School were - Nate Smith, Brandt Jobe, Will McGirt, Kyle Stanley, and Scott Stallings (5 out of 35)
  2. Players that finished in the 2011 Top 25 - Kyle Thompson, JJ Killeen, Jonas Bilxt, Mark Anderson (4 out of 35)
  3. Players that finished in the same category - B.J. Staten, Brian Smock, Alistair Presnell, Gavin Coles, Paul Claxton, Rob Oppenheim, Andrew Svoboda (7 out of 35)
  4. Players that fell out of the top 60 - Scott Gardiner, James Hahn, Chris Nallen, Jon Mills, Won Joon Lee, John Riegger, Jason Gore, Dickey Pride, Jin Park, Bradley Isles, David Branshaw, Steve Pate, Geoffrey Sisk, Jeff Brehaut, Ewan Porter, Zack Miller, Doug Labelle III, Jeff Curl (18/35)
What stand out to me is that only 4 of the 2011 25 finished in the fully exempt category from the year before.  I would have assumed that a much higher percentage of the top 25 would have come from the previous years 26-60 category.  What also stands out is that over half the players in that category from the previous year wont have full status on the 2012 Nationwide Tour after suffering worse perfromances in 2011 and not building off of decent years in 2010.  Also ironic is that 4 of the 5 that qualified via Q School will be back on the PGA Tour with the only exception being Nate Smith, who was the only one of those 5 that won on the Nationwide Tour in 2010.  Basically, nothing makes sense.

I'm not sure how to factor any of this into the 2012 projections.

Until Tomorrow!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2012 Nationwide Tour Preview 56th - 60th

Wrapping up our preview of the 26th - 60th positions from the 2011 Nationwide Tour money list are the final 5 spots.  Today's preview seems to be the group that played on the 2010 PGA Tour and returned to the Nationwide Tour in 2011.  They are as follows:
  • 56.  Roger Tambellini - After returning from a stint on the 2010 PGA Tour, Tambellini made 14 of 24 cuts.  He had 6 top 25's with 2 top 10's including a 3rd place finish.  Statistically, it's a little puzzling that Tambellini finished so low with an all around ranking of 18th.  The only real weakness that showed up was a final round scoring rank of 99th.
  • 57.  Justin Bolli - He made 14 of 22 cuts including 6 top 25's and 3 top 10's.  Like Tambellini, he spent 2010 on the PGA Tour before his return to the Nationwide Tour.  Also like Tambellini, he ranked extremely high in overall ranking at 19th.  103rd in scrambling was the only real weakness that showed up.
  • 58.  Craig Bowden - Another 2010 PGA Tour member, Bowden returned to the Nationwide Tour to make 11 of 21 cuts, 7 top 25's and 2 top 10's.  126th in driving distance and 101st in par 5 scoring highlight one of his problems.  The putter saves him though. 
  • 59.  John Kimbell - Kimbell made 15 of 24 cuts with 5 top 25's and 2 top 10's.  He doesn't rank in the top 50 in any major statistical category but doesn't drop out of the top 100 either. 
  • 60.  Travis Hampshire - Had a real shot to win the BMW Pro Am, but finished with 15 of 26 cuts including 6 top 25's and 2 top 10's.  He was consistent in most of his categories and a little above average in ball striking due mainly to fairways hit.  He will need some overall improvement in 2012.
Tomorrow I will look back at the 2010 Nationwide Tour money list to see how many of the 25th-60th place finishers moved into the top 25, how many stayed in the 25th-60th category and how many dropped out.

Happy scrambling!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NGA Carolina Winter Tour and Bridgestone Winter Tour Update

As I mentioned earlier in the week, one thing I would be keeping my eye on this week would be the Carolina Winter Tour, and more specifically how Big Break alum Robby Biershenk fared in his first event on that tour this week.  Unfortunately for Robby, he missed the cut shooting 77-83.  What was more surprising was that he played the par 5's at +7.  View the full leaderboard if you are interested in seeing how this tournament concludes on Thursday.

The Bridgestone Winter Series event at Shingle Creek finished up today with Daniel Stone taking home the victory with a final round 65.  The win moves Stone to 3rd place on the NGA Winter Professional Tour money list.  View the final round leaderboard here.

Nationwide Tour Preview 46th - 55th Positions

As we continue on with our 2012 Nationwide Tour Preview, today we will focus on the 46th - 55th positions from the 2011 money list. 
  • 46.  Bubba Dickerson - After flirting with success on the PGA Tour several years ago, Bubba has had a rough time of late.  He only made 11 of 24 cuts in 2011 with 3 top 10's and one third place finish.  Statistically, it appears when he struggles the putter is to blame finishing 100th in putting average and 108th in putts per round.  He also had a third round scoring average that ranked 111th, so when he's making the cut he's not doing himself any favors on moving day.
  • 47.  Casey Wittenberg - He didn't get his first Nationwide Tour start until late June, but he got a lot done in a little time making 14 of 16 cuts.  Imagine if he would have had a full year.  While he didn't have trouble making cuts, he only managed 5 top 25's and 3 top 10's.  At 9th in GIR and 3rd in birdie average, he'll be someone to watch with a full schedule on tour in 2012.  Total driving came in at 85th and scrambling was 88th, so that's where the improvements need to happen for 2012 to take off.
  • 48.  B.J. Staten - The southpaw only made 12 of 24 cuts, but when he played the weekend he hung around with 9 top 25's and 4 top 10's.  That means 33% of the time he made the cut he finished in the top 10 and 75% of the time he finished in the top 25.  There are no major weaknesses in his game statistically with 75th in GIR being the only yellow flag.
  • 49.  Alistair Presnell - He made roughly half his money in the first and last event of the year with a T2 in Panama and a T8 at the Tour championship.  Being an Aussie, it makes me wonder if he plays better closer to the Southern Hemisphere summer time than he does the Northern.  He had 13/24 cuts with 4 top 25's and the two top 10's referenced above.  The putter is what lets him down when he struggles and he can have a hard time making birdies on a tour that generally demands it.
  • 50.  Aaron Goldbeg - Just like Wittenberg, he made his first cut the last week of June, but only missed one more cut the rest of the year going 13/16 in cuts made.  He had 7 top 25's and 2 top 10's.  A 20th all around ranking shows all he needs is more starts and he'll have as many as he wants in 2012.
  • 51.  Steve Friesen - He didn't get his first start until August and won the Price Cutter Charity Championship with a -26 in his second start.  He made 6 out of 11 cuts but his only top 25 finish was the victory.  He did not play enough rounds for his stats to count officially, but I would be cautious that he may have caught lightning in a bottle for one week.
  • 52.  Greg Owen - Advanced to PGA Tour via Q School.
  • 53.  Kirk Triplett - Biding his time waiting on the Champions Tour, he stole a win out on the Nationwide Tour in 2011.  I wouldn't expect him to be a huge factor in 2012 because he'll head to the Champions Tour when he turns 50 at the end of March.
  • 54.  Ryan Armour - A guy who seems to be a career Nationwide Tour player only made 10/25 cuts, but did manage a second place finish to ensure full status for 2012.  His length seems to be hurting him because his driving distance and par 5 scoring stats aren't very good.
  • 55.  Andrew Svoboda - For the second strait year, he made 18 cuts, but saw his top 25's drop from 13 to 7 and his top 10's drop from 3 to 2.  There's no one area to point to as his all around ranking was 50th and nothing stands out as atrocious.  He just doesn't seem to have a go to strength either as he doesn't rank in the top 20 in any major statistical category.
Tomorrow I'll finish up the top 60 preview.  See you then!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nationwide Tour Preview 36th - 45th Positions

In continuing to look at the fully exempt Nationwide Tour players for 2012 and identifying what they need to improve on to advance to the PGA Tour in 2012, we will move on to those in the 36th - 45th positions from the 2011 Nationwide Tour Money List.
  • 36. Will Wilcox - He made 10 of 18 cuts, so he too could have benefited from a few more starts.  He had 6 top 25's and 2 top 10's in his 10 cuts made and both of the top 10's were 3rd place finishes.  There is nothing too bad statistically, but he could benefit from a few more fairways (102nd in driving accuracy) and a little better putter (85th in putts per round).  He did rank in the top 10 in both 3rd and 4th round scoring, so he did a nice job on the weekends.
  • 37.  Richard H. Lee - Advanced to the PGA Tour via Q School.
  • 38.  Luke List - Vandy grad ended up on this spot in the money list largely due to a second place finish at the 54 hole event at Stonebrae early in the year.  He only had one other top 10, but had a consistent 9 top 25's in his 13 cuts made, but also missed 12 cuts.  His inconsistency in making cuts can be traced to his ball striking (113th in driving accuracy and 94th in greens in regulation).  He finished 30th in scrambling, but his ball striking puts a lot of pressure on his scrambling.
  • 39.  Cliff Kresge - He made a steady 18 of 25 cuts with a symmetrical 9 top 25's and 4 top 10's including a 3rd place finish.  Kresge's season was the classic case of just needing to milk another stroke or two out of a few tournaments to move some top 10's to top 5's.  He hits plenty of fairways and greens, but the putter is what cost him finishing 100th in putting average and 107 in putts per round.  Not sure if he already has it in his bag or not, but may be worth Kresge getting trendy with a belly putter.
  • 40.  Paul Claxton - You mean a Georgia grad didn't make it through to the PGA Tour in 2011?  Claxton has the inauspicious "honor" of being 2nd on the career Nationwide Tour money list at over $1.5 million behind only Darron Stiles.  He made 17 of 26 cuts with 11 top 25's and 3 top 10's (1 third place).  As many times as he's seen these courses, I guess you would expect a high percentage of cuts made and top 25's.  His stats are strong across the board with the notable exception of driving distance (115th).  No reason to expect anything different than a solid, but not spectacular year next year.
  • 41.  Brendan Pappas - He made 8/16 cuts with only 3 top 25s and 1 top 10, but was the beneficiary of being the unofficial winner of the 36 hole rain shortened 2nd event of the year earning $108k of his $138k for the year in that start.  125th in GIR and 126th in total driving tell the story.
  • 42.  Brian Smock - He made 10 of 23 cuts including 5 top 25's and 3 top 10's.  Lucky for him one of those top 10's was a T4 at one of the richest purses of the year that included an amateur winner (Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational).  Key stats are 104th in GIR, 102 birdie average and 107 in scoring average.  He's pretty fortunate to have finished as high as he did.
  • 43.  Aaron Watkins - He was a cut making machine with 20/23 cuts made.  He only converted 2 top 10's out of that.  If he can learn how to finish a tournament, watch out next year.  Predictably, his stats were good across with board with the exception of driving distance (102nd).
  • 44.  Rob Oppenheim - A steady 16/26 cuts made could have turned into a better season with a few more top 10's (only 3).  His putting was solid but his total driving came in at 118th, meaning some better drives might give him a better chance to take advantage of his strong putter.
  • 45.  Matt Hendrix - The Clemson Tiger MQ'd his way on tour with a T10 in South Georgia and a T3 the next week at UGA (got T2 money due to an amateur winning).  He stayed hot through the end of July with another top 10 and two more top 14's.  He cooled off with only 1 more top 25 after that.  He was 80th in GIR, but what stand out to me is with his length (9th in driving distance) he only manged 2 eagles all year.  The other elephant in the room is 121st final round scoring average.  If he can play the 4th round like the first 3 in 2012, watch out.
I'll have 46th - 55th tomorrow.  Until then!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Early Nationwide Tour Preview for 2012

This probably will make about as much sense as a February College Football Preseason Top 25 Poll, but there isn't much going on in golf.  I'll take an early stab at what each member of the 2011 Nationwide Tour who finished in the 26th to 60th positions will need to do in 2012 to finish in the Top 25 and earn their card.  I will exclude those that qualified for the PGA Tour via Q School. 

Today I will cover 26th-35th.

  • 26.  James Nitties - He made 14/23 cuts with 6 top 25's, but only 2 top 10's.  Luckily one of those was a win.  If he could have made just one more cut he would have gotten through.  His stats were strong across the board with the only glaring weakness being his Total Driving (ranked 107th) and 108th in Sand Saves.  If he could make a couple of more cuts and hit a few more fairways, he'll be sitting nicely.
  • 27.  David Lingmerth - He only made 1/2 of his cuts (13/26), but when he did he finished relatively well with 5 top 10's including 2 third place finishes.  He finished 96th in Greens in Regulation and that's really his only category that was below average.  
  • 28.  Josh Broadway - He made 13 out of 19 cuts, so his biggest drawback might have been lack of starts.  He had 4 top 10's and a third place finish.  Weaknesses in 2011 were sand saves (123rd) and third round scoring average (121st).  If he can tighten up the bunker play and move forward instead of backwards on moving day he'll be in good shape.
  •  29.  Brett Wetterich - Former Ryder Cup player had a win, but was a little too feast of famine with only 8 of 18 cuts made.  Case in point, he finished in the top 25 in 6 of the 8 cuts he made.  For Wetterich, success rests on the shoulders of his putter finishing 108th in putting average and 119th in putts per round. 
  • 30.  Jeff Gove - Only made 10/20 cuts, but had a second, 4 top 10's and 8 of his 10 cuts finished in the top 25.  It's ironic that 3 of the first 5 guys just outside the top 25 missed 1/2 their cuts or more.  Like Wetterich, it's all about the putter finishing 113 in putting average and 117 in putts per round.  He finished an impressive 10th in GIR and his scoring average after the cut was great.
  • 31.  Tommy Biershenk - PGA Tour via Q School
  • 32.  Marco Dawson - PGA Tour via Q School
  • 33.  Darron Stiles - He made 13 out of 23 cuts including a second place finish.  Of the 13 times he made the cut, he made 9 top 25's.  He was 116th in driving distance and 92nd in GIR, but putted very well.  If he could make a couple of more cuts and improve the GIR, he could be in good shape.
  • 34.  Matt Davidson - After making 14 of 22 cuts and converting 10 top 25's and 5 top 10's, the only thing missing was a couple of high finishes.  If one or two of those top 10's could have been a top 3, then he would have probably advanced.  The two things that held him back were 3rd round scoring average (100th) and his Par 5 scoring average (126th) probably due mainly to his driving distance (122nd).  He was 2nd in driving accuracy which translated to 7th in Par 4 birdies.
  • 35.  Camilo Benedetti - Very consistently made 18/23 cuts, but only had 2 top 10's.  His stats were very good across the board with the only possible chink in the armour being GIR (71st).  If he could convert a few more of those made cuts into top 10's he could be in great shape.
Check back tomorrow for 36 through 45!

What I'll Be Following This Week

I'll admit there isn't much going on to catch my attention this week.  The one thing I found was an interesting name teeing it up on the NGA Carolina Winter Tour this week.  Big Break alum Robby Biershenk is competing in an event for the first time in a while.  One can only assume he's found inspiration from his brother Tommy's recent run of success both on the 2011 Nationwide Tour and in Q School.

Go to http://www.ngatour.com/ to follow both the Carolina Winter Tour and the Bridgestone Winter Series.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Notebook

There were several tournaments going on of note Sunday.  The one of most consequence was the Dubai World Championships won by Alvaro Quiros.  This tournament is the equivalent of the PGA Tour's Tour Championship.  Much more noteworthy that Quiros' win was Luke Donald holding off Rory McIlroy to win the European Tour Order of Merit.  He is the first golfer to win the PGA Tour money list and the European Tour Order of Merit in the same season.  Put an asterisk by that because I'm sure there were more than a few years where Tiger Woods would have accomplished that feat, but he has never been a "member" of the Eurpean Tour.  Major's and World Golf Championships count towards both tour's money lists so Tiger 2000 would have had to have walked away with both I would think.

Never the less, that's an amazing accomplishment by the current world number 1.  It's also consistent with what's happened since Tiger limped around and won his last major in 2008.  Consistency has ruled the day whether it be Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson or Luke Donald.  Each of those guys have amassed a plethora of Top 10's without nearly as many wins, but they have all vaulted into a higher place in the golf world. 

The other tournament going on today was the conclusion of the Franklin Templeton Shootout won by Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley.  It's a modified alternate shot first round followed by a best ball second round and essentially a captains choice third round.  I admittedly didn't watch a shot of this, but the one thing I saw as mildly interesting was the team that came in dead last.  Anthony Kim and Webb Simpson.  It doesn't leave me feeling all that well about the state of Kim's game although this tournament is basically meaningless.

Until tomorrow!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anyone Wonder What Tadd Fujikawa's Been Up To?

Now that the Q School dust has settled, I find it interesting to take a look around the mini tour's and see what's going on with all of the people who didn't have the success they had hoped for in the earlier stages of Q School.  The two mini tour's I follow with the most frequency are the EGolf Professional Tour and the NGA Hooters Tour.  Starting in the beginning of November, the Hooters Tour Winter Series and Carolina Winter Series each ramped up.  The buy ins for these tournaments are generally the same or a little less than the regular season mini tour's, so it's a good way to get in some competitive golf and hopefully make a little money to replenish the coffers for the pros living the not so glamorous lifestyle.

I took a good look at how the different winter tour's were taking shape and noticed a name familiar to most golf fans.  Tadd Fujikawa.  Who wasn't pulling for Fujikawa as he made back to back cuts in the Sony Open as a teenager.  Last I had heard, he was an aspiring member of Davis Love and Jonathan Byrd's Sea Island Mafia living on the Georgia coast and playing on the Egolf and Hooters Tours.  About a year and a half ago, I talked to someone who played in a couple of EGolf Tournament rounds with Fujikawa and swore up and down that his mechanics were impeccable and he would produce sooner rather than later.  Ironically, the player that told me that just finished last season inside the top 60 on the Nationwide Tour money list while Fujikawa is playing on the Carolina Winter Tour, but I digress. 

So far, Fujikawa has played in 3 of the first 4 Carolina Winter Tour events and currently sits 4th on the Money List.  He has a T3, a 4 and a T5 finish in his 3 starts.  While these tournament fields are roughly the professional golf equivalent of Rookie League pro baseball or Division III college football; don't count it out entirely.  Last year two players with past Nationwide and PGA Tour experience used the Carolina Winter Tour as a springboard to solid Nationwide Tour years.
  • Matt Hendrix won twice on the Carolina Winter Tour last winter and finished 4th on that money list at the end of the season.  He then promptly Monday Qualified his way to a 45th place finish on the Nationwide Tour money list in 2011.
  • Darron Stiles had a 1st and a 2nd in four starts and finished 7th on the Carolina Winter Tour money list.  He ended up 33rd on the Nationwide Tour money list.
Who knows what will happen this year, but if history is any indicator, one or two guys playing right now in these lower tier events may gain the confidence or form they need to make a run at a very successful year. 

Why not Tadd?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thoughts on Possible New Q School Format

It seems like every few years, the PGA Tour wants to tinker with the format of how many players become full time PGA Tour members through the Nationwide Tour and how many become members through Q School.  The Nationwide Tour has steadily become more and more of a factor and it seems like every 5 years or so the PGA Tour takes 5 spots away from Q School and adds them to the Nationwide Tour. 

There is an article on The Golf Channel's website outlining a new format that would essentially blend the lowest tier of the PGA Tour after the FedEx Cup with the top 75 players of the Nationwide Tour for a 3 tournament playoff where all 50 cards would be awarded.  Here's the link to the article by Doug Ferguson http://www.golfchannel.com/news/doug-ferguson/new-q-school-plans-starting-to-take-shape/ .

I get what the "pro's" are to this plan, and it's being sold that it will allow 150 very strong players to compete for 50 cards.  It also allows three tournaments of play to accomplish this, so one bad tournament wouldn't eliminate an otherwise good player. 

I smell a rat though.  The thing is, I'm not sure the current system is broken.  I haven't poured through the stats for the last decade or anything like that, but I know last year the number of Q School grads and Nationwide grads that kept their card were the same.  To the best of my memory the Nationwide Tour grads probably do a tad better most years, but it's not lop sided.  I'm not sure if this is the PGA Tour's way of making the Nationwide Tour more relevant, finding a good excuse to do away with the Fall Series / spice up the Fall Series in a different way or what, but I don't buy the thought that the PGA Tour really cares about the last few guys getting their cards all that much.  Brian Harmon running the table to get through every stage versus a guy who finished 70th on the Nationwide Tour money list getting through in this new format does nothing to change the PGA Tour.  Instead, I see this turning into a cycle that keeps the same 80 to 120 guys on a three year on again off again PGA Tour / Nationwide Tour rotation.

Here are the cons:
  • What happens if a guy wins two tournaments early in the Nationwide season and gets hurt in July and can't compete in this 3 tournament finale?  He would have had plenty of money to have gotten through otherwise.
  • What about past champions who aren't in the "next 75" after the FedEx cut off?  They can't try to earn a PGA Tour card now?  Len Mattiace isn't exactly a top tier player now, but he's earned the right to try and qualify for the PGA Tour every year.
  • What's the harm of a couple of guys a year running through all three stages and qualifying out of nowhere?  If they stick, good for them.  If they flame out, then more money for the better players the Tour really cares about anyway.
  • Every year, Q School "catches" some guys who were in the top 75 of the Nationwide Tour money list anyway.  They also catch some of the guys in the 126 to 150 status, so this classification of player probably takes about 1/2 of the 25 Q School cards anyway.
  • Players schedule tournaments on both the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour that fit their style of play.  It seems like the 3 courses selected for these tournaments could wind up being particularly penal or rewarding.  I'm not sure how you determine the courses.
If the Tour's interested in changing something; here are a couple of ideas:
  • How about let all of the guys who finish outside the top 150 on the PGA Tour have at least partial Nationwide status instead of going from the pent house to the out house.
  • What about let all the Nationwide Tour players who make the cut in an event into the next event instead of just the top 25?  As expensive and hard as Monday Qualifiers are, it's got to be frustrating to shoot a 65 on a Monday, win a 5 people for 3 spot playoff after that, make a cut and finish T36 just to try and do it all over again the next day.

At the end of the day, I'm not convinced the process to getting a PGA Tour card is broken, so I don't understand the motivation to try and fix it.  Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker have each made similar comments and they know a heck of a lot more about it than I do.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Who Could Be This Year's Webb Simpson and Bill Haas?

Webb Simpson had a huge 2011, and Bill Haas turned into the $14 million dollar man out of nowhere this year.  But did they really come out of nowhere, or could this have been predicted?  Let's take a look at the backgrounds of both of these guys and see what led up to career 2011's that included big wins and President's Cup appearances.
  • Webb and Bill were both highly touted amateurs out of a storied college program (Wake Forest). 
  • Bill had a string of solid seasons early in his PGA Tour career and never lost his card once he stepped on Tour.  He gradually built up his resume with several wins and took it to the next step by winning the Tour Championship.
  • Webb turned a decent 2010 on Tour (just under $1 million) into a monster 2011.  He had two top 10's and 7 top 25's in his 2010 campaign, so he found himself in contention a few times.
The three most likely to be this year's Webb Simpson are:
  1. Kyle Stanley - Played for Larry Penley at Clemson which produced Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, D.J. Trahan and Charles Warren and had an amateur career that rivals all of theirs.  His rookie year on tour saw him finish second to Steve Stricker at the John Deere as one of his 4 top 10's and 9 top 25's.  He also only missed 6 cuts in 28 events; so he was very consistent.
  2. Kevin Chappell - UCLA Bruin was a contemporary of Stanley in college and has a similar resume as a professional.  He finished the year with 3 top 10's including a second and two thirds.  He only made 50% of his cuts but, like Simpson and Stanley, was a college star and didn't have any trouble his rookie year on Tour.
  3. Cameron Tringale - The former Georgia Tech star took an extra year to get comfortable on Tour, but his sophomore season saw 4 top 10's and 8 top 25's. 
All three of the above were big time college stars from big programs that have acquainted themselves nicely on Tour and look to be fixtures for a long time.  A year ago, Webb Simpson would have been on this same list.  It's a lot of pressure to think one of these guys will win twice this year and finish second on the money list, but it wouldn't be completely out of nowhere if they did.

The three most likely to be this year's Bill Haas are:
  1. Kevin Na - He's had a nice run on the PGA Tour amassing over $11 million dollars and collected his first win this year to go along with a combined 8 seconds and thirds and 29 top 10's in 212 events.  This could be the year where a few of those seconds or thirds turn into multiple wins, and who knows, maybe even one at the Tour Championship.
  2. Chris Kirk - Very similar to Haas from a collegiate background, the UGA graduate broke through with his first win in 2011.  He's not nearly as accomplished as Haas at this point, but he's got a win an a successful year under his belt and big things could happen.
  3. Jeff Overton - "Boom Baby" from the 2010 Ryder Cup had an off year in 2011, but was really looking close to big things in 2010 with 3 seconds and 2 thirds.  Like Haas, he's also a former Walker Cup player and college star.
Bill Haas had a very solid year that culminated with a well timed Tour Championship victory.  Any of these guys could put together a year to earn their way to the Tour Championship and play well enough to walk away with the trophy (or trophies).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Q School Graduate Projections

As was done with the Nationwide Tour graduates, today I will offer some thoughts and predictions on where the Q School grads will finish on the PGA Tour in 2012.  It's probably a little tougher to predict where they will finish since to be in Q School it means they had an average year or worse on the Nationwide Tour, a below average year on the PGA Tour, or spent most of their time on lower level tours. 

Things to avoid are falling in love with one good round and overlooking an entire previous 12-month body of work.  Safer picks are guys who finished in the conditional category (126 to 150) on the PGA Tour money list, guys who finished just outside the Top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list and guys who finished high enough to get some early West Coast Swing starts on the PGA Tour in 2012. 

I would also encourage you to keep an eye on http://www.pgatour.com/ in the coming days, as I'm sure Rob Bolton will have his picks up soon.

Here are the Q School graduates in order of finish as well as my projection and comments.
  • Brendon Todd - History is generally kind to medalists more times than not which goes in Todd's favor.  What doesn't go in his favor is his past history both on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour.  After some terrible years, he did manage to finish 84th on this year's Nationwide Tour, so maybe some of his reported swing changes are rounding him into form.  I've got to see more.  I'm going to cautiously put him in the 126 to 150 range based solely on the number of starts he will get.
  • Stephen Gangluff - 120th in 25 Nationwide Tour starts doesn't give me any confidence.  Nice week at Q School, but probably fool's gold.  151+
  • Bobby Gates - Nice rookie year on the PGA Tour, barely missing his card.  Switched to the belly putter which seems to be like a magic potion for most golfers.  I'll put him in the Top 125.
  • Seung-yul Noh - Already a polished professional at 20, the question won't be his playing ability as much as his ability to adapt to the U.S.  It will only take a handful of really nice weeks, and I think he may have that in him.  I'll take him in the Top 125.
  • Tommy Biershenk - A little disclaimer, TGA is a Clemson graduate like Biershenk and actually grew up in the same home town as Biershenk.  The Spartanburg County (South Carolina) Amateur Tournament reads like a Biershenk family tree with Tommy's father Tommy, and his brothers Robbie (The Big Break) and Nick (former Clemson golfer and Limestone College golf coach) making up a golf dynasty.  It's long been known locally that Tommy is an excellent ball striker and a streaky putter with the main thing holding him back resting between the ears.  He has seemed to be in an excellent place for the past 12 months and frequently goes on hot streaks after spending time with his coach down in Bull's Bay (Charleston area).  He's also won a ton on the Hooter's Tour and Egolf Tour over the past 5 years.  If he can get off to a good start (I think the Sony Open suits his game), he could have a really good year.  If he gets off to a slow start and loses confidence in himself, he will have a tough time recovering.  Partially with my heart and partially with my head I'll take him in the Top 125.
  • Vaughn Taylor - Former Ryder Cupper and tour winner, Taylor fell on hard times this year.  Q School sets up well for him due to the number of rounds and the value of par, but there are only certain courses where Taylor's length renders him irrelevant.  I'll take him in the 126 to 150 category.
  • Jarrod Lyle - If he was a professional baseball player, he would be the "AAAA" player.  Too good for Triple-A, but never can quite stick in the Majors.  As I said in my Q School preview, I'm pulling for Lyle and hope he takes another step.  I'll take him in the 126-150 range.
  • Bob Estes - He's had a nice career to be sure, but his best days are behind him.  151+
  • Brian Harmon - Harmon had a great amateur career, but like many very good college golfers has spent several years on the mini tour circuit.  This past year on the Egolf Tour, he finished 10th on the money list and had 3 top 3 finishes.  I worry about a golfer making a jump straight from the mini tour circuit to the PGA Tour without success on the Nationwide Tour.  151+
  • Marco Dawson - Career journeyman with a ton of PGA Tour and Nationwide starts, he's not the guy I would normally expect big things from.  He did, however, finish 32nd on the Nationwide Tour money list and looked really good for the first 5 days of Q School.  I'll reluctantly take him in the 126-150 range.
  • Sang-Moon Bae - Currently the 30th ranked player in the world (AKA the highest ranked player you've never heard of) he should get a ton of starts, and he's played well on big stages.  Like Noh, I have no idea how he'll adjust to the culture, but how can I not take him to finish Top 125?
  • Kevin Kisner - He didn't have a very good PGA Tour rookie season, so it's hard to project if a second stint will fare any better for him.  He's not a long hitter at all, and his accuracy didn't bail him out much either leading to poor GIR numbers.  Familiarity could be on his side, but I have to say 151+.
  • Roberto Castro - The dilemma here is I picked him to finish 151+ in the Nationwide Tour projections, but he's moderately improved his number of starts by Q School.  I still don't know if I believe he will be a top 125 player, but I could see him in the 126-150.  I'll cautiously stick with 151+.
  • Will McGirt - Another disclaimer, TGA went to middle and high school with McGirt's wife.  McGirt accomplished something last year that is probably the hardest thing to learn how to do, and that's make cuts on the PGA Tour.  He didn't play weekends very well, but if he continues to progress at this rate, he could have a very nice year.  Top 125
  • Jeff Maggert - Steady but never spectacular in a Q School format, he'll need to either cash in on some tougher courses or play with a little more flash.  It's tough to call a guy with this kind of a track record on the PGA Tour.  There's a reason he was in Q School this year; 126-150.
  • Charlie Beljan - My feelings with Beljan are very similar to Harmon.  I think he would have really benefited from a year on the Nationwide Tour.  151+
  • Harris English - There seems to be one of these every year.  A hot shot college golfer who gets through on the first time and everyone expects never will look back.  Some don't (Jeff Overton for example), but some take a little longer to get their sea legs (Cameron Tringale, Billy Horshel).  English did win on the Nationwide Tour while still an amateur and played well out there after turning professional.  His long term prospects are very strong, but this year is a toss up.  I'll take him.....Top 125.
  • Patrick Sheehan - He didn't have a very good year on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 and has never really lit it up on the PGA Tour.  151+
  • Scott Dunlop - Q School format is favorable for veterans and journeymen more so than the PGA Tour itself.  At 48 years old to boot, I can't take him. 151+
  • Greg Owen - I will always remember Owen as the guy who had the monumental putting choke job at Bay Hill, but to be in that position he had to play well for about 70 holes in a prestigious tournament.  He also had a moderately successful year on the Nationwide Tour coming in at 52nd.  I'll bet on the Englishman having another run left in him.  Top 125
  • Daniel Summerhays - Call it a gut feeling, but something feels right about Summerhays.  He's got a year on tour under his belt, and I expect he may break out in 2012.  Top 125
  • Will Claxton - I didn't like how he went falling down the leaderboard on the last two days of Q School.  This leaves serious questions about if he can finish off tournaments after making cuts or if he can finish par/par on his last two holes to make a cut when he knows where he is.  151+
  • Edward Loar - He did next to nothing on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 and took advantage of two of the best scoring dates to slide in and get his card.  I'm not a buyer.  151+
  • Mark Anderson - Barely qualified through both the Nationwide Tour and Q School, I see this as a step in a process for him that won't be fully completed in 2012.  He should make some cuts and not go broke, but I still don't like him to do enough to avoid another trip to Q School; and not just because he's a Gamecock.  151+
  • Alexandre Rocha - He didn't show much on the PGA Tour in 2011 and doesn't have a very good number for 2012.  It's an uphill battle.  151+
  • Richard H Lee - He managed to crack the top 40 on his first year on the Nationwide Tour and fought like crazy the last two rounds of Q School to advance, including back-to-back final round birdies.  Lack of early starts will hurt him, but he's got a flair for the dramatic and might scratch out a decent year.  126-150
  • John Huh - At 21 years young, he really could benefit from a year on the Nationwide Tour, and with his number being so low, it's likely he'll make 8 to 12 starts on that tour anyway.  151+
  • Nathan Green - I don't trust his game right now.  He's had some very solid years in the not too distant past, but it took a miracle final round in Q School.  151+
  • Colt Knost - I'm a Colt Knost fan, but he's got a tough number to deal with and not a lot of great PGA Tour history to deal with.  You can basically copy my comments about Jarrod Lyle here too.  Daniel Summerhays is the third "triplet" of this group.  My gut feeling is just the strongest with Summerhays.  Knost 151+
Final Stats - Top 125 - (7), 126-150 (6), 151+ (15)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time to Talk Tiger

While one of the most interesting tournaments of the year was going on at PGA West last weekend, several Silly Season tournaments were going on across the globe.  Each of them produced thorough bread champions.  Tiger returned to the winners circle for the fist time in two years with his win at the Chevron World Challenge, while Rory was winning in Hong Kong and Lee Westwood was winning in South Africa.

Tiger's win has the golf world buzzing about if "he's back" and how many tournaments / majors he's going to win in 2012.  While there are signs that Tiger may be back to some semblance of his old self, here are a couple of reasons to be cautious.
  • Last year Tiger lost this same tournament in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.  This year he had to birdie the final two holes to hold of Zach Johnson by a stroke.  McDowell and Johnson are very much in the same mold, and last years success in the Chevron proved to be fools gold.
  • It was a limited field event where he has a lot of say so in all aspects of the tournament.  It's basically a "Tiger and friends" tournament at a course where he is understandably right at home.
Here are my thoughts on Tiger in 2012.
  • The most important part of Tiger's physical game in terms of winning isn't his driver or his putter; it's his iron game.  For years, Tiger was always at the top of the GIR (Greens in Regulation) stats, but in his two year drought that number has dropped.  While his scrambling numbers are terrible, some of that can be cured by better iron play.  Tiger's won an Open Championship purely off of iron play (Hoylake).  When he can once again hit that 3-wood stinger shot and short to mid iron a course to death.
  • Two other secondary categories to watch are par 5 scoring and third round scoring average.  Tiger has always been a much better front runner than chaser and this past year his third round scoring average was 176th on Tour. 
  • I believe it is very important for the overall health of the PGA Tour for Tiger to remain relevant in 2012, and I believe he will.  I'll be very interested to see how he plays Pebble Beach and Doral early, and believe he could win at Bay Hill.  He should never be counted out at Augusta, but that will be a lot of pressure even for him.  In the end, I'd set the over / under for his 2012 win total at 2 and say it's less than 50/50 he wins a major this year.  His best shots will be Augusta and The Open.  His driver will have to really improve for another U.S. Open to be in the cards and the wind at Kiawah will make the PGA impossible to predict.
  • Due to the math associated with the World Golf Rankings, I believe it's highly likely that Tiger will be ranked in the top 10 at the end of 2012 and maybe even top 5.
Bottom line, Tiger's win at Chevron is a nice step in his return, but it's just that.  A step.  The real question is how long of a learning curve he faces. 

Here are a few topics I will cover In the coming days
  • Who will be this year's Webb Simpson and Bill Haas?
  • Q School Grad's projections for 2012
  • What the 2012 Nationwide Tour is looking like

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cards Are Dealt!

After six long days at PGA West, 29 players (including 2 Nationwide Grads) finished inside the PGA Tour cut line that ended up at -8.  Here are a few observations and thoughts.
  • The biggest mover to earn a card was Nathan Green with a 66 on the Nicklaus Course. 
  • One golfer opposite the lead group for the final two rounds was able to earn a card by finishing on the Staduim Course, and that was Richard H. Lee shooting a 65/68 final two rounds.
  • A little off topic, but I hope that tournaments that give golfers like John Daly sponsors exemptions give some serious thought to giving those exemptions to the past champions that tried to help themselves in Q School.  Guys like David Duval, Lee Janzen, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and others who have made a healthy living could have sat back and hoped for sponsors exemptions, but instead tried to do something about it.  Scott McCarron finished T152 which does someone like him no good.  He had nothing to play for but pride the last few rounds, but he didn't get himself disqualified by hitting all of his golf balls in the water.
  • The final round weather conditions were not quite as bad as expected.
Here is the final leaderboard as can be found on http://www.pgatour.com/qschool/leaderboard/.  I will put their finishing position as well as where I had them slotted to finish in the final round as found in yesterday's post.
  • 1 - Brendon Todd - 3 to 8 range - Every round under par including a 68/68 final two rounds.  Well done.
  • 2 - Stephen Gangluff - Top 5 - Very steady week for an otherwise unproven player.  All six rounds were even par or better.
  • T3 - Bobby Gates - Missing by a shot - Snake bit no more, went low early in the final round and erased all drama in route to a final round 66.  I'm happy to say I missed this one.
  • T3 - Seung-yul Noh - 18-22 range - Rebounded with a final round 67.  Could be a sleeper in the mold of a Y.E. Yang on tour next year after a very solid week.
  • T5 - Tommy Biershenk - 8 to 12 - Life changing week for Biershenk who's seen moderate success on the Nationwide Tour over the past 15 years and won a ton on various mini tours.  
  • T5 - Vaughn Taylor - Top 5 - Aced his Q School final and should get back on track on the PGA Tour next year.
  • T5 - Jarrod Lyle - 7 to 15 range -  Back for another try at the PGA Tour in 2012.
  • T8 - Bob Estes - missing the cut - Big whiff on my part as Estes finished 69 67 to easily advance.
  • T8 - Brian Harmon - 12 to 15 range - Steady week for the soon to be Rookie.
  • T8 - Marco Dawson - Top 3 - Still advanced easily in regards to the number, but was all over the place in the final round.  Career journeyman back for another shot on the PGA Tour.
  • T11 - Sang-Moon Bae - no prediction - Recovered from a couple of rounds in the mid 70's to play his way through on the final day.
  • T11 - Kevin Kisner - advance - Great final round to easily skate through for an encore on the PGA Tour.
  • T13 - Roberto Castro - 20 to 25 - Finished higher than he did on this years Nationwide Tour 25 to improve his status and in all likelihood get into a few more West Coast Swing events.
  • T13 - Will McGirt - falling out - Glad to see McGirt reverse the course of most of his PGA Tour season by finishing the tournament with his second lowest round of the week.  Hopefully that trend carries over and he moves past just making cuts and begins contending on weekends.
  • T13 - Jeff Maggert - 12 to 18 range - Steady all week and played to the level of the courses.
  • T13 - Charlie Beljan - 12 to 17 range - Soon to be Rookie put together a solid week. 
  • T13 - Harris English - Top 5 - Surprisingly shaky finish, but potentially big things ahead.
  • T18 - Patrick Sheehan - no prediction - Strong final round to move into the Top 25.
  • T18 - Scott Dunlap - likely to advance from outside - One of the 5 I thought had a chance to move up into the number came through.
  • T18 - Greg Owen - See Scott Dunlap
  • T18 - Daniel Summerhays - 18 to 22 - He performed exactly as expected.
  • T18 - Will Claxton - 12 to 15 - Probably a good thing this ended when it did because the leader for most of the tournament was fading fast.
  • T18 - Edward Loar - Top 10 - He was stuck in neutral the final round, but still advanced with a little room to spare.
  • T24 - Mark Anderson - see Scott Dunlap and Greg Owen - I ended up 3 for 5 with my 5 likely to move inside the number!
  • T24 - Alexandre Rocha - 10 to 15 - Not as well as I thought, but good enough.
  • T24 - Richard H. Lee - no prediction - There's usually one ever year that advances from the opposite course rotation and this year it was Lee.
  • T27 - John Huh - no prediction - I know nothing about him but finishing 69 / 68 is impressive.
  • T27 - Nathan Green - no prediction - Started the round T63 and moved all the way up.
  • T27 - Colt Knost - 18 to 22 - Made a mess of 18 with a double bogey, but lived to fight another day.
I also correctly predicted Derek Fathaeur, Shawn Stefani, Billy Hurley III, Reid Edstrom falling out of the Top 25, but missed on Hudson Swofford, Matt Jones, and Scott Parel.

Later in the week I will have my predictions for how these players will fare on Tour in 2012. 

Congrats to all and best of luck on Tour in 2012!