Stat attack!: Valero Texas Open preview

By John AntoniniMarch 25, 2014, 8:07 pm

What a difference a course makes. Prior to the 2010 playing of the Valero Texas Open, the tournament moved from the LaCantera Resort to TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks course. LaCantera was a haven for low scores. Tommy Armour set the PGA Tour’s 72-hole aggregate scoing record there with a 254 in 2003. TPC San Antonio has been anything but accommodating. The average winning score since 2010 is 276.75, more than 13 strokes higher than the 263 average at the par-70 LaCantera from 2006-2009. Martin Laird (pictured) won a year ago with a final-round 63 that tied the course record. From 2002 to 2009 there were 29 rounds of 62 or lower at LaCantera. TPC San Antonio ranked as the fifth hardest par-72 course on tour in 2013, after being the second toughest in 2011 and 2012. The fairways and greens have been among the hardest to hit each of the four years it has been used on Tour.

TPC San Antonio’s statistical ranking on Tour

 Year Scoring Rank Rank among par-72s Accuracy (rank) GIR (rank)
 2013 72.74 15 5 56.34% (13) 59.52% (7)
 2012 73.99 4 2 53.11 (9) 55.26 (4)
 2011 73.66 7 2 51.65 (5) 56.32 (4)
 2010 72.35 17 9 55.02 (6) 59.74 (7)

At 7,435 yards TPC San Antonio is so long that even the bombers have trouble keeping up. In the PGA Tour’s “Going for the Green” statistic – the number of times a players tries to reach the green in two on a par-5 or from the tee on a par-4 if it is a viable option – players made the attempt only 32 percent of the time. They were successful less than 12 percent of the time, the lowest figure on Tour in 2013. The course ranked second the previous three years. The par-5 holes were the hardest on Tour in 2011, second-hardest in 2012 and ranked fourth last year.

Going for the green at TPC San Antonio

 Year Going for the green (rank) Success rate (rank) Par-5 scoring (rank)
 2013 32.49% (4) 11.86 (1) 4.88 (4)
 2012 29.94 (2) 11.49 (2) 4.96 (2)
 2011 36.45 (6) 12.34 (2) 4.94 (1)
 2010 30.23 (4) 12.65 (2) 4.87 (3)

Laird, who beat Rory McIlroy by two strokes after making birdie on his last three holes, took more chances in 2013 than any other player in the field, trying for the green 60 percent of the time when it was a viable option. He only found the putting surface 8.33 percent of the time, which was actually lower than the field average, but the gambling paid off in the long run with the victory. Interestingly, in 2014, Laird’s success rate when trying for the green leads the Tour (33 for 63, 52.68 percent).

PGA Tour leaders in Going for the Green - Hit Green Percentage (*in the Valero field)

  Player Going for the Green Success Pct. Successes Attempts
 *Martin Laird 52.38% 33 63
 *Charlie Beljan 44.07 26 59
 *Danny Lee 42.86 21 49
 Robert Garrigus 39.08 34 87
 *Briny Baird 38.64 17 44

Laird, however, was not on his game at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Playing his first tournament since the birth of his son, Jack, earlier this month, Laird finished last among those who made the cut. Of those who finished in the top-10 at the API, only six are in the field at San Antonio.

Top finishers at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the Valero field

 Player API finish Valero Texas Open history
 Jason Kokrak 4 Two starts, T-15 in 2013
 Erik Compton T-5 One start, WD in 2012
 Ryo Ishikawa T-8 Making his tournament debut
 Freddie Jacobson T-10 Seven starts, Second in 2010, 3 top-10s
 Sean O'Hair T-10 One start, T-58 in 2008
 J.B. Holmes T-10 Three starts, T-11 in 2011, T-13 in 2010

From that list, Freddie Jacobson stands out. In fact, the Swede has never missed the cut at the Valero, no matter where it’s been held, and has never finished worse than T-29.

Freddie Jacobson at the Valero Texas Open

 Year Finish Scores
 2013 T-15 70-74-71-69—284
 2012  T-18 68-76-71-72—287
 2011 T-5 72-75-67-69—283
 2010 2 71-69-65-70—275
 2009 T-5 66-66-68-67—267
 2007 T-21 66-65-71-69—271
 2004 T-29 68-68-64-72—272

Despite his stellar numbers, few eyes will be on Jacobson this week. Phil Mickelson is making his first appearance at San Antonio since a T-47 in 1992. He’s one of several former major champions who are making a rare appearance at the Valero Texas Open

Major champions in the field with less than three Valero Texas Open starts

 Player Majors Texas  Open starts Last appearance
 Phil Mickelson 5 1 T-47 in 1992
 Ernie Els 4 1 T-3 in 2010
 Jim Furyk 1 2 T-3 in 2013
 Retief Goosen 2 1 T-53 in 2013
 Padraig Harrington 3 1 T-10 in 2013
 Trevor Immelman 1 0  
 Geoff Ogilvy 1 2 T-23 in 2011
 Mike Weir 1 2 MC in 2011

What the Texas Open wouldn’t give to have had that group of players a few years ago. Mickelson and Els are looking at this week as key preparation for the Masters. Some of the others, notably Harrington, Immelman and Weir, are looking to get their game back on track.

One final thought: Once the event moved to TPC San Antonio, previous tournament experience became less important than it is at most events. Three of the last four winners - Adam Scott in 2010, Brendan Steele in 2011 and Ben Curtis in 2012 - were all playing the Texas Open for the first time. Laird was making his third appearance in 2013, but runner-up McIlroy was making his Valero debut. Among those making their first appearance this week are Puerto Rico Open winner Chesson Hadley and Ryo Ishikawa, who is 26th on Tour in the FedEx Cup standings.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.