The 18: Leishman wins at Bay Hill

The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two.

The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.

1. I was happy to see Marc Leishman close it out on Sunday at Bay Hill. One of the things that I’ve always tried to avoid when it comes to analyzing the game is falling into the “player X should win more events” trap. Golf is so hard, even at the professional level, that thinking that these players should win more events feels unfair, especially when a bad bounce or two can swing an entire tournament. This is something that Ben Coley touched on when talking about Kevin Kisner yesterday, and it makes a lot of sense.

Having said that, it really does feel like Marc Leishman should have more wins as a professional. Before winning at Bay Hill a few days ago, Leishman had posted two wins on either the PGA or European Tour in his career (the 2012 Travelers and the 2015 Nedbank), and while I’m not saying that he should be winning multiple times per year, two wins over the past five plus years seems a touch low for someone with Leishman’s ability. Part of this, I think, has to do with the way that he has performed in the biggest tournaments. He has played in the final few groups at the Masters and finished well in the Open Championship, including losing that playoff in 2015 at the Old Course to Zach Johnson.

Leishman could be the ultimate example of what I mentioned above as it relates to the difficulty of winning on the pro level. Since June of 2012, Leishamn has been ranked outside of the top 100 in the world for a total of just two weeks, and a lot of that time has been spent inside the top 50. He’s just a really solid player, and it’s always good to see players like that get rewarded with a win. Throw in all of the personal drama that Leishman has dealt with over the last few years and it makes the whole story even better.

The particulars from Leishman’s win:

  • Earns $1,556,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points
  • Jumps from 62nd to 32nd in the Official World Golf Rankings
  • Receives an invite to the 2017 Masters
  • Moves from 15th to 8th in the Presidents Cup standings

2. The strokes gained leaderboard from the API, where Rory continues to dominate from tee to green. All stats courtesy of Data Golf.

  • Off the Tee
    • Best: Adam Hadwin (+1.446)
    • Leishman: (+0.354)
    • Worst: Mackenzie Hughes (-2.651)
  • Putting
    • Best: Pat Perez (+2.190)
    • Leishman: (+2.055)
    • Worst: Grayson Murray (-3.693)
  • Tee to Green:
    • Best: Rory McIlroy (+3.369)
    • Leishman: (+1.500)
    • Worst: Harris English (-5.265)
  • Approach:
    • Best: Rory McIlroy (+2.449)
    • Leishman: (+1.228)
    • Worst: Seung-yul Noh (-3.791)
  • Around the Green:
    • Best: Fabian Gomez (+1.687)
    • Leishman: (-0.081)
    • Worst: Henrik Stenson (-2.981)

3. The tributes to Arnold Palmer last week were great, and I particularly enjoyed the Peter Jacobsen interview on Saturday where he talked to Mike Tirico about his experiences with Palmer over the years. Jacobsen was closer than most with Palmer, and the fact that the family gave Jacobsen one of Palmer’s cardigans to keep speaks to how much Palmer valued their relationship.

Giving the winner a cardigan instead of the navy jacket is perfect too, and I’m happy to hear that it’s going to continue.

4. I wasn’t able to watch much of the coverage on Sunday, but what I saw before I left the house had me feeling like there was a chance that I’d miss something special from Rory. The bunker shot he hit on the par-4 1st, setting up a birdie, was ridiculously good and as you can see from the stats above, the ball striking is very much on point right now and we should all be very excited to see what he does at Augusta in a few weeks.

Like I said though, I didn’t get to see much on Sunday, and when I would periodically check in on Twitter or WhatsApp, everyone was talking about him and it really felt like I was missing out. This is why he topped my Golfer Watchability Index in 2015. There’s no one in the game right now that is must watch TV like Rory, and much like Russell Westbrook or Mike Trout, when he is feeling it, there is no better show to tune into.

5. My favourite moment of the week was definitely Emiliano Grillo flipping his lid and firing his 3-iron into the lake on the par-5 6th. Grillo had already put two balls in the water with that 3-iron and after playing way right of the water on his third attempt, he clearly decided that the club was to blame and heaved it into the aqua.

My three favourite things about this clip:

  • Grillo’s caddie doesn’t even flinch. It’s almost like he knew it was coming.
  • The transition from swing to club release is probably the smoothest you’ll ever see on the PGA Tour. Oosthuizen levels.
  • Grillo just walks away in perfect stride after letting it go because he knew exactly where it was going to end up. This is the frustrated #TourSauce equivalent of Jack hitting into 16 at the ’86 Masters and telling Jackie that it was good right off the club face.

6. I watched a little bit of the WGC-Dell Match Play bracket special on Golf Channel last night, and I have to applaud GC for attempting to do something interesting with this set up. Having said that, it didn’t really change much from last year and I still think it’s pretty bland and could use a little spice. I still haven’t read a better idea on this front than what Soly suggested back in 2014.

If you read that piece and tell me that you’re not interested in watching, you’re either lying or you’re not a golf fan.

7. My three favourite groups for the week:

  • Group 2: Rory McIlroy, Emiliano Grillo, Gary Woodland and Soren Kjeldsen
    • Rory, Grillo and Woodland are self explanatory, but I love the dynamic of having Kjeldsen against these guys. It’ll be super interesting to see him go about it in such a different way because of the distance advantage the other guys have.
  • Group 4: Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Ross Fisher and Jim Furyk
    • Hideki and Louis are must watch guys whenever they tee it up, and it doesn’t even matter who the other two guys are, to be honest. You could do so much worse than Fisher and Furyk, though.
  • Group 7: Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Kevin Chappell and Shane Lowry
    • There’s always one group of death, and this is it. Garcia vs. Rahm is the most exciting match of the first three days, and I don’t think it’s particularly close, plus anytime I get to watch Shane Lowry is always good.

8. My three least favourite groups for the week:

  • Group 8: Alex Noren, Thongchai Jaidee, Francesco Molinari and Bernd Wiesberger
  • Group 11: Danny Willett, KT Kim, Russell Knox and Bill Haas
  • Group 16: Matt Kuchar, Brendan Steele, Tommy Fleetwood and Zach Johnson

The over/under on shots shown over the first three days for these groups is 11.5.

9. The annual match play records post went up yesterday, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind people of the variance and volatility involved in match play. Unlike March Madness where true upsets happen, there really isn’t any tangible difference between Rory and Soren Kjeldsen in an 18-hole sample. Over a full season, there is absolutely a difference, but when we’re talking about one match on one day, the concept of an upset doesn’t really exist. As I’ve said already today, all of these guys are really, really good.

So, if Hideki goes out there this week and goes 0-3, it’s not something to be concerned about and it’s not really an upset either. It’s just the way it goes sometimes in match play, and you shouldn’t be surprised when it happens to one of the best players in the world.

10. One thing that immediately jumps out about the field this week at the match play is the number of English players who are taking part. Nine English players are in the field, and the number is actually ten if you include Justin Rose, who qualified but decided to sit out in preparation for the Masters. The ten qualified players is the most in the history of this tournament, which dates back to 1999, besting the mark of nine set back in 2010 and while that might not seem significant, if you look back at the field lists from previous years, that is actually a massive improvement on where it has been recently.

It’s worth noting that this group of ten doesn’t even include veterans like Luke Donald and Ian Poulter or newer players on the scene like Jordan Smith and Andrew Johnston. It has been a long, long time since English golf had the kind of depth that it has now.

11. New PGA Tour commish Jay Monahan did a “My Shot” with Golf World’s Guy Yocum, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there that’s worth reading, but three points in there were of note to me:

  • Broadband enhancements: Monahan talked about how big Hideki is in Japan and mentioned that with how far technology has come, there will be a day when fans can just watch all of his shots in a round. I’ve talked about this at length in the past, but an style subscription service where you can pick, say 10 players, for a monthly fee and get everything they do would be incredible.
  • 24/7 network: When asked what he admires about other sports, Monahan focused on the playoffs and the fact that they market themselves well through their own 24/7 network. With the broadcast deals coming up in a few years with CBS and NBC, this is something to keep an eye on.
  • Slow play: Monahan isn’t particularly worried about slow play, which is one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard in a long time. Rounds simply shouldn’t take as long as they do now, and it should be addressed.

12. Interesting story here from Kirk Bohls, who sat down with Sergio to discuss where he’s at right now with both his game and his personal life, and it really does seem like he’s in a good place mentally. If you believe that the thing holding him back from winning a major has been his attitude, and that’s a valid position to take, this article might help change your outlook on him. As further proof to his personal life being in order, this was sent to me repeatedly over the past few weeks, and I’m pretty sure that we’ve never seen him this happy.

13. Last week in this space, I said that despite not playing at Bay Hill, I thought Tiger would still be playing at Augusta. A few days later, he was asked about it while promoting his book, and well…

“God, I hope so” is not the kind of quote that I was looking for, to be honest. If at this point, just a few weeks away, we’re getting “God, I hope so”, it’s definitely looking like he won’t be playing and even if he did, there’s no way that he’d be anywhere near ready.

14. I will never tire of stories of Jack beating his age on the course, and we got another one last week as Jack went out and fired a 71 at Old Palm while in town for Ernie Els’ charity golf tournament.

Just awesome. After Jack and Gary hit the ceremonial tee ball at the Masters, can we just let them keep playing and televise that?

15. If you missed Patrick Reed’s appearance on Feherty last night, I think it’s safe to say that it went about as expected. There wasn’t a whole lot of stuff said that surprised me, and they didn’t really do too much of a deep dive on some of the more controversial elements of Reed’s history. The fact that Reed clearly spends a ton of time at Bluejack National made me insanely jealous though, as that place is absolutely stunning. This may have been the most interesting part of the whole interview:

16. Jessica Marksbury of sat down with Fred Couples last week to talk about a range of topics, and what was the most interesting to me was just how bad his back has been over the years. Obviously we knew that it has caused him to miss a lot of time on the PGA Tour, which he touched on, but the fact that he hasn’t been able to practice putting for more than ten minutes at a time since 1993? That’s insane, and it’s proof of just how good of a player he was and still is that he’s been able to have the kind of career he’s had with all of these problems. As a subject matter expert, he also talked about Tiger’s back problems and the luckiest break of all-time when his ball stayed up in the bank on the 12th at the 1992 Masters.

17. Two great podcasts from the past week, and while both players are very different, I think the reason the podcasts were so good to listen to is because it feels like they are both very misunderstood. Matt Every joined the NLU podcast and gave a very frank and honest assessment of where his game is at and the struggles he’s had to get it back. It’s rare that you see any athlete, especially a golfer, be this open and honest about what is going on in their lives, and I’d be shocked if you didn’t end up being a bigger fan of Every after giving it a listen.

Secondly, Alan Shipnuck had Ian Poulter on the podcast and they touched on a variety of issues from Poulter’s play, to the Ryder Cup and his presence on social media. I know I’m in the minority on this one, particularly if you live in the United States, but I’ve always been a fan of Poulter and think that he’s good for the game, but even if you’re on the opposite side of that argument, I think there’s a lot to like about this interview. Poulter is very candid about things, especially when it comes to why he has toned things down on Twitter, and he tells some great stories at the end as well.

18. For your random GIFs this week, I present John Daly with his frustration that a putt didn’t drop at the 1993 Masters:

And perhaps the worst high five miss of all-time, courtesy of Phil Mickelson and Bones at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational:

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