March 22, 2016
Straight or curving it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
The art of shotmaking is a lost art. This generation of professional golfers, except for Bubba Watson, are experts at hitting straight shots. The art of hitting high, low, right to left, and left to right shots is something that this current group would rather not deal with. This past week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was a perfect example of a player who kept hitting his customary shot and other players not having the shots necessary for them to win a PGA Tour event.
Great players like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus won tournaments by navigating the ball around the golf course. Draw it off this tee to set up the second shot, and then fade it into a curtain pin position. They had all the shots and where able to hit them when needed. Also, they had the power to shorten the golf course. Jason Day has one gear that he is the most comfortable with. That’s all out, straight and high. Yes, he can hit it low and fade it and do the other specialty shots, but he isn’t good enough with those shots to win if he had to consistently use them. Jason stuck with his “go to” customary shot and struggled with hitting fairways and greens, but he was brilliant with his short game and had an exceptional putting week. He is a world class player and world class players should win by finding a way to succeed when they are going up against lesser players.
Kevin Chappell and Troy Merritt are fine players and will earn a lot of money on the PGA Tour, but both are limited in ball striking ability. Each had similar shots on the ninth hole at Bay Hill that showed their lack of controlling a specialty shot that needed to curve. The shot was a low punch slice out of the rough from 150 and 160 yards. Each hit it well short of the green and way to the right, which lead to a bogie and a double bogie. If there was one place not to hit it, that was the place and they both hit it there. Day on the other hand did not put the ball close to the hole all day and missing some greens by wide margins. His two best shots on 9 and 17, in my opinion, were more that the hole ended up close to his ball as opposed to the other way around. If he was as fine-tuned, as he can be, his seven iron on 16 from a perfect lie to an easy pin position wouldn’t have gone 22 yards long and well to the left of the target. That is why I wasn’t that impressed with his 5 iron shot on 17 that ended up 12 feet away. The critical shot on 18 is to get the ball in the fairway on the drive. Day’s tee shot missed much worse than Chappell’s, but luckily had a lie, where Chappell didn’t, that he could hit over the water. From there he played a great bunker shot and clutch putt. The second ranked player in the world is supported to do that.
In the past, we would have winners on the PGA Tour that would have a hot streak with the putter and would win their only PGA event. Now that scenario is having a great putting tournament with an exceptional straight ball striking week. When those players are hitting it straight and not in trouble, they don’t have to curve the ball or work the ball, parts of their game that are weak and generally not up to the caliber of the top players in the world.
All the players are gearing up for the Masters, which will be in three weeks. The top five players are not in their best form. Jordan Spieth is unusually inconsistent. Rory Mcllroy is questioning his confidence. Jason Day, even though he won last week, shouldn’t be happy with his ball striking. Bubba Watson is having some back issues and Ricky Fowler isn’t finishing the way he would like. Next week’s Match Play event will better tell us where the major contenders are in their preparations. If none step their game up, this year’s Masters could be a wide open shootout.