Tuesday, August 19

Mark Broadie: Mastermind of Strokes Gained Revolution

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

MARK BROADIE HAS WRITTEN A GOLF instructional book that won’t help you hit longer drives, improve your short game, or keep you from hitting truly awful shots. However, his new book, EVERY SHOT COUNTS: Using the Revolutionary Strokes Gained Approach to Improve Your Golf Performance and Strategy will change the way you play your game, and how you judge a player on the PGA Tour.

Mark Broadie is a college professor. Not only is he an academic, but he teaches courses in the Columbia Business School such as Derivatives, Security Pricing: Models and Computation. Yes, I know, geek classes.

Still, Mark doesn’t look like a geek. Meeting him in his campus office, he appears like a guy who is ready to slip out a back door to play a quick nine holes. Mark, by the way, plays to a 4 and has won both his club championship, and the senior championship, at his home course, Pelham Country Club in Westchester, New York, site of the 1923 PGA Championship when Gene Sarazen beat Walter Hagen.

What he has done, as a player and a professor, is to combine his scholarly research and his love of golf, to elevate golf statistics to a much higher and useful level.

He created Golfmetrics, a software application that captures and keeps golf shot data that quantifies the differences in shot patterns between players of different skill levels. Today, he is helping PGA Tour pros and amateurs alike dramatically improve their scores by studying how they play the game and learning what part of their game needs improvement, and why.

Mark Broadie’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has been selected as a member of the USGA’s handicap research team, writes a monthly column for Golf Magazine, and blogs every Monday morning on www.pgatour.com about that week’s tournament, breaking down and assessing the PGA Tour’s Shot Link data that the tour collected by laser technology on every shot hit at the just-concluded tournament. And when he isn’t doing that, he’s advising tour pros’ coaches on their player’s shortcomings, based on the statistics he has harvested and evaluated.

Building a Golf Shot Database

What Mark Broadie has done for golf can be best explained by comparing it to the book (and movie) Moneyball written by financial guru Michael Lewis. Moneyball is about how the Oakland A’s built a winning baseball team using a sophisticated approach towards scouting and analyzing players. In other words, applying Wall Street tactics to the world of professional sports.

Mark Broadie
Mark, however, was seeking answers to help his own game, and the game all golfers play, when he began his research in 2001. He wanted to know what is the best way to play a shot? How does a player know when to go for the green or lay up? He wanted to know the answers to the endless decisions a player has to make in a round.

As Mark writes in his book, “I wanted to dissect the game to better understand golfers’ strategies and performance. A mountain of detailed golf shot data, I knew, would allow me to analyze different strategies and performance outcomes, to gain new insights on how best to play the game.”

With his academic background, and the knowledge he possessed from being a low handicap player, he began his research by using his computer program called Golfmetrics to collect, store, and analyze golf data. Using his home golf course, Pelham Country Club, as his research site, he enlisted friends and fellow members to collect data on their games. Players were asked to place an X in a page yardage book, containing an image of the hole, indicating where their ball landed. After the round, the data was entered into a computer.

In a few years, Mark had a Golfmetrics database that contained more than 100,000 shots from 200-plus golfers ranging in age from eight to 70-plus years. The golfers were LPGA Tour pros, club pros, college golfers and male and female amateur golfers with scores ranging from the 60s to the 140s. With this data, he writes, “I could start analyzing and studying golf performance, and trends started becoming apparent.”

“A Cave Filled With Treasure”

While most of his data was from amateurs, Mark knew he needed information about professional golfers to compare the play of amateurs and that of the pros. As he writes in EVERY SHOT COUNTS, “Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I was creating Golfmetrics, the PGA Tour was developing its own shot-level data collection system, called ShotLink.”

Between 2003 and 2012, the ShotLink database gathered information on more than 10 million shots. In a forward-looking undertaking the the PGA Tour wanted to update their scoring system as a way to improve fan experience at tournaments, and provide better information for the media.

“For a researcher like me,” says Mark, “having access to this data is like exploring a cave filled with treasure.”

With the data provided by the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system, he is collecting information on how golf is being played on the tour and that will allow the PGA Tour and the USGA to answer questions about golf performance and golf strategy which, as Mark writes, “couldn’t be answered a few years ago.”

The statistical answers Mark found when studying the data from his Golfmetrics and ShotLink, he presents in his book, EVERY SHOT COUNTS. They can help everyone’s game. Here are a few examples:

  • It is the long game that makes the biggest difference in scores between pros and amateurs.
  • Long hitters not only hit the ball farther, they have more consistent swings, so they’re more likely to play their next shot from the fairway.
  • Shots from 100 yards or less account for only 60 to 65 percent of all shots.
  • Eliminate putts from three and a half feet or less, and the figure drops to 41 to 47 percent.
  • Practicing putting and chipping provides the most benefit to anyone’s game.
  • Consistency improves a golf round more than any other factor. While the numbers tell the story (and the score) of everyone’s round, Mark also knows that players need to assess the unique circumstances of each shot, from the lie, to the wind, to the pin’s location.

“Numbers aren’t a substitute for the drama of the game,” Mark sums up, “but they can enhance the fan experience.”

Henry Cotton, who won three British Opens between 1934 and 1948, said famously, “Every shot counts.”

Mark Broadie has taken that to heart. At Pelham Country Club where he’s been club champ, he can play. At Columbia University Graduate School of Business where he teaches, he can count.

Now his new book EVERY SHOT COUNTS proves he can handle them both, like a pro.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

Monday, August 18

Yang Defeats Connors to Win U.S. Amateur

Editor's note: A point of pride. The new U.S. Amateur champion attends my alma mater, San Diego State.

By USGA

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Gunn Yang, 20, of the Republic of Korea, defeated Corey Conners, of Canada, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final match Sunday to win the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club’s 7,208-yard, par-71 Highlands Course.

“I was just trying to make it to the match-play portion, really,” said Yang, a San Diego State University sophomore who had back surgery in May 2013.

“That was the goal, first of all. And then when I made it to the match play, I was like, maybe I can do this. I was just trying to go through by every single match, just trying to play my game and trying to see how it goes, and I got the trophy. So, I'm really excited and really happy about it.”

Yang, who grew up in Korea and played competitive amateur golf in Australia for five years, is the second Korean-born player to win the U.S. Amateur, joining Byeong-Hun “Ben” An, who claimed the title at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., in 2009.

Conners, 22, a recent graduate of Kent State University in Ohio who lost to eventual champion Matt Fitzpatrick in the 2013 semifinals, was vying to become the first Canadian winner since Gary Cowan in 1971. He was the first player since Patrick Cantlay in 2010 (semifinals) and 2011 (final) to advance to at least the semifinals in back-to-back years.

Yang, who was playing in his first U.S. Amateur after qualifying on July 21 at Hacienda Golf Club in La Habra Heights, Calif., held a 1-up lead through the morning 18 holes. He never trailed in the match.

“I haven't won a tournament for a long time, like maybe five or six years,” said Gunn.

“I was going through my injury, also. I was just trying to play my game. Obviously, it just popped in my head that if I beat Corey, then I win the trophy. But, I was just trying to concentrate and just trying to hit balls and just put it next to the hole and make the putt.”

Friday, August 15

Go Paddleboarding With Davis Love III

(Courtesy of Sea Island)
A LITTLE FRIDAY FUN HERE. Forget golf for a moment and consider paddleboarding with, yes, PGA champion and former Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.

From the release:
On September 14, Sea Island resort in Georgia is giving locals and guests the rare and exciting opportunity to meet and go on a paddleboarding adventure with one of golf’s most celebrated champions, Davis Love III. 
Hosted by Davis Love III himself, the “Off the Dock with Davis” event will take place from 3-9 p.m., starting at Village Creek Landing on St. Simons Island and concluding at Sea Island’s Rainbow Island, where a luau-style party will await. Participants will be able to interact with one of the greatest golfers in the country in a serene setting devoid of balls and clubs. 
Tickets are $65 for adults and $25 for children, which includes live music, food, paddleboard rental and transportation from Sea Island to Village Creek. This rain or shine event is open to the public but reservations are required and can be made by calling 1-855-572-4975 ext. 5111.
Maybe Davis will help you with your paddleboard grip and stroke.

Thursday, August 14

Tiger Woods's Full Ryder Cup Statement

(From TigerWoods.com)

Ailing Tiger (Allison)
I've been told by my doctors and trainer that my back muscles need to be rehabilitated and healed. They've advised me not to play or practice now. I was fortunate that my recent back injury was not related to my surgery and was muscular only.

I have already spoken to Tom [Watson] about the Ryder Cup, and while I greatly appreciate his thinking about me for a possible captain's pick, I took myself out of consideration. The U.S. team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best. I'll be cheering for the U.S. team. I think we have an outstanding squad going into the matches.

I plan to return to competition at my World Challenge tournament at Isleworth in Orlando, Florida, Dec. 1-7. It's an event that's important to me and my foundation, and it will be exciting to be playing again.

Wednesday, August 13

Bad Boy Bobby Locke (Conclusion): No Show

I asked John Coyne why he called Bobby Locke a "bad boy." Coyne said, "Locke wasn't liked on the PGA Tour. They blackballed him. Also, he was fired from his first pro job in Johannesburg." In this series, read how the South African golf legend made enemies by beating America's best. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

South African great Bobby Locke
WITH THE TELEPHONE NUMBER GARY PLAYER gave me while I was in South Africa in the winter of 1969, I called Bobby Locke and he answered the phone.

I explained who I was, and that I was traveling through Africa and Gary Player had given me his phone number. I told him my tale of being an 11-year-old who had seen him win the Chicago Victory Open in ’48 at Midlothian Country Club and that I’d like to meet him now and interview him for a golf magazine.

It took him a few minutes to pull all these references into focus, given the years, and the improbability of the phone call from an American stranger wanting to talk to him about a golf tournament that had taken place over twenty years before in the U.S. At the end, however, he seemed generally enthusiastic about meeting me, and I suggested his country club, given that he would be, I guessed, comfortable in those surroundings, and also I wanted to get an inside look at a South African golf course.

The next morning, I took a couple local buses to his club, arriving early and touring the residential streets of white Joburg.

What struck me immediately, having worked my way down the long west coast of Africa, by plane, train, buses, and hitchhiking, was just how wealthy this world was in the midst of those apartheid years. Wealthy and fortified. Every luxury home, even if not large nor situated on a large lot, was enclosed within a high stone or iron fence, displaying warnings about trespassing and displaying the name of the security firms guarding the property. South Africa in those years was an armed camp.

The club itself was not unlike most private ones in the U.S., with manicured lawns, grass tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a large and gracious club house dominating a slight rise. I wandered gravel paths through gardens of summer flowers with familiarity for such surroundings to find myself, as I expected, at the first tee.

It was a weekday midmorning and I stood in the shade and watched a few members waiting to play. Concentrated, I must say, more on the caddies than the members. The caddies were all African, and all dressed in white coveralls. They were chatty with each other, with the players. Clearly they were all of one world, at least on this golf course.

Then I went into the pro shop and introduced myself to an assistant pro and explained myself, and why I was at the club. I remember being greeted with great friendliness. Bobby Locke was a person of importance, and so was I, if I was there to meet him.

Victory Open Stories

What I had in my possession after all those years away from Midlothian was a handful of stories surrounding the last Chicago Victory Open. I had, I guessed, more fond memories than Locke, who reduced the great event in my life to a single photograph, and one or two lines, in his book, On Golf.

I was the youngest of three brothers who all caddied at Midlothian. I did know, and was friends with, Locke’s caddie in the Victory Open, Kenny Burke. Kenny was just a year or two older than me, and he had picked up Locke’s bag in the parking lot of the club when Locke arrived for a practice round.

The story in the caddie yard was that Locke wanted a little kid looping for him, not one of the men who hung around the caddie shack looking for a loop, or the few professionals who followed the sun, from one tournament to the next back in the days before a touring caddie became a personality and a wealthy man on the Tour. A little kid, it was rumored, wouldn’t cost him a lot of money. Locke won $2,000.00 for that ’48 Victory Open and Kenny Burke earned $75.00.

Locke had rounds of 65-65-70-66 for a total of 266. The 65s were course records, at the time, and the 266 was sixteen shots ahead of former tennis champion turned golf pro Ellsworth Vines’ 282. That score was, and still is, the largest margin of victory ever in any PGA tournament. Locke shares this record with J. Douglas Edgar and his win in the 1919 Canadian Open. The next closest is Tiger Wood’s fifteen-stroke win in the 2000 U.S. Open.

Our home pro, Jimmy Walkup, had 285 and tied for fifth place with touring pros George Fazio, Dick Metz and Jim Ferrier. Jimmy was an alumnus caddy of Glen Garden Country club in Fort Worth, Texas, better known for his fellow caddies, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. The members had known about Jimmy’s background but this was the first opportunity they had to see him compete with the best in the country.

Midlothian was built in 1898 by H.J. Tweedie. It was carved out of farmland and had small, flat, postage stamp size greens. With the exception of No. 11, situated on a slight rise, these were greens one would dominate with a pitch and run approach. What I remember most clearly from following Locke for four rounds was his ability to get it close to the pin, giving himself makeable short putts.

There were no ropes holding the gallery, and the truth was, there was not much of a gallery. Spectators could get close to the players, which I was constantly trying to do, but Locke had two members working as marshals, and they flanked him as he walked down, always, the center of the fairway. Those were wonderful days of watching great golf. No gallery ropes, no cops in uniforms, no cheering, no "IN THE HOLE!" shouted from the stands. In fact, there were no stands.

On the weekend, I’d guess there were less than two thousand spectators following Locke in the final twosome, and most of them were members, and friends of members, and golfers from the Southside of Chicago. In those pre-television days, golf wasn’t a spectator sport.

John Coyne today.
I shared these stories and more about the Victory Open, Chicago, “no, it wasn’t as dangerous as the movies said,” and about Tam O’Shanter, a golf course I knew, as well as stories about the All American Tournament in which I had caddied, with the pro shop crew, and the pro who arrived and became curious at my presence. I was offered a soft drink and a chair and after a half hour, calls were made on my behalf to the front office to see if Bobby Locke was somewhere else in the clubhouse waiting for my arrival.

Excuses were then forthcoming from the pro, saying that Bobby hadn’t been well; the accident, etc. I nodded, agreeing. I understood. After a good hour or so I thanked everyone for their hospitality and said goodbye.

Bobby Locke never showed up.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

Tuesday, August 12

Jack Nicklaus Wowed By Valhalla Drama

By Brian Keogh

Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following excerpt from Brian’s Irish Golf Desk is used with permission.

Jack Nicklaus
JACK NICKLAUS HAS BEEN A HUGE FAN of Rory McIlroy’s for quite some time but even the Golden Bear was bowled over by the Holywood star’s dramatic back nine comeback to win his fourth major at Valhalla on Sunday.

The 18-time major winner insisted last week that McIlroy had the game to win between 15 and 20 majors, if he had the inclination. And he saw nothing in the final round of the US PGA to dissuade him from that view as McIlroy came from three shots behind with nine holes to play to win by a stroke from Phil Mickelson. Nicklaus was hugely entertained by the great “theatre” of the final day that saw up to five players share the lead at one stage before McIlroy got back in the mix with that eagle three at the 10th and then put his foot on the accelerator over the closing holes.

“Fantastic,” Nicklaus said of the final round. “It was really a great tournament. It was great theatre. Great golf, actually. It was one of the best tournaments to watch—because of such good play—that I have seen in a long, long time.

“Henrik Stenson played fantastic… Phil Mickelson was unbelievable. Just pure guts and really great golf. And Rickie Fowler was simply terrific. He played well all the way down the stretch, until he couldn’t see at 18. No one could. So let’s just discount what happened at 18, because I just thought Rickie was terrific.

“Then Rory, who got three shots down, showed so much poise, confidence and determination coming down the stretch. The tee shots he hit today, wow. Early on, Rory was just playing along and couldn’t get anything going (2 over after six holes). All of a sudden, everybody else was getting something going. Then Rory got the right break at the 10th hole with a great shot—he made the right break at 10 with that second shot (to set up eagle). He was off and running from there.”

Nicklaus has become something of a mentor to McIlroy in recent years and sees no limits to the young Ulsterman’s potential.

“I think Rory is an unbelievable talent,” said the Golden Bear, who holds the all-time record with 18 majors. “It depends on what he feels his priorities are but I think he has the opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors if he wants to keep on playing.”

McIlroy has tried to flee from high expectations and said earlier in the week at Valhalla that his ambition was simply to get to four majors.

“If that’s Jack’s opinion of me, he has a high opinion of me. I’ve always said I’m on three, and I want to get to four. Hopefully I can get to four this week and then keep going from there,” he said.

Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.

Monday, August 11

'Rory's Glory'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - "Rory's Glory." That was the headline on the cover of The Courier-Journal, the metro newspaper for Louisville and southern Indiana.

Rory McIlroy won the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club last night. It's his second PGA victory, his second consecutive major and his third consecutive win spanning the last month.

All things seem possible for the 25-year-old Northern Irishman after winning four majors so young, putting his name in the same sentence with golf greats Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Rory won this one in a new way. He relinquished the lead early, as several able players charged up the leaderboard. Holding the solo lead on the back nine, Rickie Fowler looked as if he was poised to win his first major. Phil Mickelson also played inspired golf and held a share of the lead late in the day.

But Rory, at his best, is better than the rest. His length off the tee, his timely putting and his resoluteness were the difference on the back nine of a final round played in hurry-up mode.

I'm driving home from Louisville today. I had a great week at Valhalla, my first PGA Championship as a media member. In addition to Rory's performance, I'll remember the rain, sitting in on press conferences and talking to golf journalists and broadcasters. I'll remember the fans, too. They were into it.

Something special always seems to happen at Valhalla.

Sunday, August 10

PGA Notebook: Lowest Scoring Round in PGA History

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Notes via the PGA of America.

The scoring average for the third round was 69.57, easily the lowest single round in PGA Championship history.

18 players are within six shots of the lead heading into the final round.

Brooks Koepka had nine birdies today, matching Lee Westwood (Round 1) for the most in any single round this week.

Bernd Wiesberger and Hunter Mahan shot 65 in the third round to match the low score of the Championship--Kevin Chappell, Ryan Palmer, Lee Westwood in Round 1; Jason Day in Round 2.

Rickie Fowler has played 27 straight holes without a bogey.

Rory McIlroy one-putted nine of his last 12 holes on Saturday.

Kentuckian Kenny Perry turns 54 today; Perry shot his second consecutive 69 Saturday to get to 3-under par.

55 of the 74 players are under par through three rounds.

Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark made five straight birdies today, from holes 7-11.

There were 37 scores in the 60s in the third round, compared to 29 in the second round and 34 in the first round.

Eagles at No. 4

At the par-4 fourth hole, the PGA of America moved up the tees 70 yards from where they were on Friday. That reduction in yardage ramped up the excitement, as seven players made eagle 2 on the 292-yard hole. Among the seven were Kentuckians J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry.

No. 4 was the easiest hole today, with a scoring average of 3.311. (No. 6 was the hardest hole in the third round--only one birdie was made in the round; scoring average of 4.338.)