The 18: Wesley Bryan wins at Harbour Town

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. This week will be a little shorter than normal with a few links at the end, as I’ll have a separate post coming tomorrow with thoughts on the Masters.

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

1. It’s difficult for me to put into words just how impressed I am with Wesley Bryan. When he first started out on the Web.com Tour, I didn’t really think much of it because all I think most of us knew about him came from the trick shot videos he would post with his brother George. It was one of those things, at least for me, that I expected to be a nice story for a little while but ultimately not amount to much and man, I could not have been any more wrong. Bryan was a massive story in 2016, earning his PGA Tour card in the most difficult way possible by gaining a battlefield promotion from the Web thanks to three wins, and now, he’s a PGA Tour champion thanks to a great performance at the RBC Heritage. It was clear last year that Bryan had a ton of game, but the speed at which he has accomplished things at the highest level is really quite astounding.

It’s not supposed to be this easy.

The particulars:

  • Earns $1,170,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points for the win
  • Jumps from 73rd to 37th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and from 59th to 14th in the FedEx Cup
  • Becomes fully exempt on the PGA Tour for the rest of this season and the next two years
  • Gains entry to the Masters for the first time in 2017.

2. One of the other things that’s worth keeping an eye on here is where Bryan stands in the Presidents Cup discussion. With his win, he jumped up from 80th to 32nd place in the rankings and you’d think that he’ll have to move up at least another dozen spots to get into the conversation for a captain’s pick. When you think about Bryan, he has the exact kind of game that should work well in a Presidents Cup setting.

He’s not the best off the tee, but he does everything else so well that you could easily pair him with a great driver of the ball and the two would probably be unstoppable. Think about something like Bryan and Bubba Watson or Brooks Koepka. Of course, Bryan could just keep playing this well and make the team outright, and it probably wouldn’t be a surprise at this point. Just something to keep in mind as we sit five months out from the Presidents Cup.


3. The strokes gained leaderboard from Hilton Head, where Bryan won with everything but the driver and Jonas Blixt was all over the place. with all stats courtesy of Data Golf. This is for everyone who made the cut.

  • Off the Tee
    • Best: Jason Dufner (+1.098)
    • Wesley Bryan: (-0.814)
    • Worst: Mark Hubbard (-1.777)
  • Putting
    • Best: Jonas Blixt (+2.435)
    • Wesley Bryan: (+0.944)
    • Worst: Charles Howell III (-1.576)
  • Tee to Green:
    • Best: Adam Hadwin (+2.533)
    • Wesley Bryan: (+2.009)
    • Worst: Jonas Blixt (-2.231)
  • Approach:
    • Best: Ollie Schniederjans (+2.146)
    • Wesley Bryan: (+2.110)
    • Worst: Jonas Blixt (-2.762)
  • Around the Green:
    • Best: Luke Donald (+1.562)
    • Wesley Bryan: (+0.713)
    • Worst: Danny Lee (-1.259)

4. Graham DeLaet played in the final group on Sunday with Jason Dufner, and didn’t have the best time, firing a 73 and ending up three shots back of Bryan. However, there are definitely reasons to be optimistic here going forward. As I said on the Fried Egg podcast after the Masters, DeLaet’s ball striking ability hasn’t gone away and the best news for him is that at least so far in 2017, the putter isn’t a hindrance. For the first time since 2014, DeLaet is a positive in SG: Putting, but the big issue right now is that the issues around the green remain, and we saw that play out a couple of times on the weekend at Harbour Town.

That was last year before the Memorial, and at least statistically, DeLaet’s issues around the green are still present. DeLaet ranks 202nd on the PGA Tour in SG: Around The Green, with only five players ranking below him. The fact that he has been able to put together six top-25 finishes this season with that kind of mark is a testament to how well everything else is working. If he can improve even marginally in that area while keeping up the same level of play in the other areas, he shouldn’t have a problem getting that first PGA Tour win.


5. Jason Dufner also struggled on Sunday to a 76, but it was nice to see him back in the mix. Statistically, the putter has actually been really good this year for Dufner, but there were some awfully twitchy looking strokes on the weekend that took me back to a few years ago where Dufner was a ball striking machine, but you never totally trusted him once he got on the greens. Also, I know that I’m a proponent of pretty much anything #TourSauce related, but this isn’t cool.

Having said that, it’s also not the end of the world and the worst thing of all time as this article suggests.


6. Davis Love III won five times at Harbour Town in his career, and while that’s super impressive, I’m not sure that it tops Luke Donald in terms of sheer craziness. With Donald’s runner-up finish, he now has seven top-3 finishes in this event, and what’s nuts about it is that he actually hasn’t won here yet. This is like the discount version of Greg Norman at Augusta. I’m a huge Donald supporter, and always enjoy watching him play well because he’s a magician with the short clubs and putter, which tends to get overlooked these days with how far everyone hits the ball.

It feels like he’s too good of a player to be ranked 69th (nice) in the world, but if he wants to get higher in the rankings, he needs to figure out what he’s doing off the tee. The fact that he shot 67 on Friday with how far offline he was is mind boggling, and the stats back it up. Donald was a -1.089 SG:OTT last week, and somehow finished second despite only four guys finishing below him in that stat for the week.

This was his first top-10 finish since the Wyndham last August.


7. So, Ian Poulter didn’t earn enough money or FedEx Cup points to retain his playing privileges on the PGA Tour last week. He still has one week left to earn about $30,000, and I thought this piece by Jeff Shain after Thursday’s opening round was interesting. Given his career earnings and likely openings on the European Tour if need be, it’s obviously easier for Poulter to take the “don’t care” approach than it would be for others, but this isn’t something that we’re used to hearing from Poulter, and who knows, maybe it’s helping to free him up on the course. I bet he earns the money this week and keeps his card.


8. This didn’t work, but I love the fact that Martin Kaymer actually tried to pull this off.

The bank is open? Worth a shot …

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

By the way, he still made par.


9. The older names above got a lot of the attention over the weekend, but shout out to Patrick Cantlay and Ollie Schniederjans (T3) and JJ Spaun (T6) for their quality finishes. Cantlay’s play this year has been ridiculous given the circumstances, and as talented as he is, I don’t think anyone could have reasonably seen this coming.

While we’re on the topic of young players playing well, Paul Dunne nearly won on the European Tour last week in Morocco, getting clipped in a playoff by Edoardo Molinari. It’s the first win for Molinari in nearly seven years. Tough finish for Molinari’s fellow countryman Renato Paratore, who played in the final group and struggled to a 75 to finish tied for 8th. The 20-year old Paratore is probably the fastest player on either tour right now, and absolutely bombs the ball from the tee. Love watching him play.


10. Lastly on Harbour Town: the players always talk about how much they enjoy the track, and I love that it allows players like Bryan and Donald to compete despite a lack of distance. So many courses on both big tours favour the longest hitters, and it’s nice to have a change of pace every now and then, but if we’re being honest, the course doesn’t always produce the most electric finish and this year was no different.

As Ben mentioned above, the set up didn’t really do the course any favours on Sunday. Maybe changing up some of the pins, particularly on the back nine, would help?


11. So, this came splashing across my timeline on Saturday morning:

There’s no doubt that Notah is very well connected in Camp Tiger, but it’s so difficult to take anything at face value these days when it comes to Tiger’s health and schedule, that I have no idea if this is at all true. There are two things you need to know about Erin Hills. The first is that it is obscenely long, as it can be stretched to almost 8,000 yards with a large amount of distance in between each hole. That’s basically the worst for someone with a bad back, especially one that hasn’t been playing much recently, and as such, you have to assume, not in tournament shape. The second thing is that we’re talking about the USGA here, which means thick rough just off the fairway edge, not to mention how thick it’s going to be wherever Tiger ends up off the tee.

Now, if we’re talking about Tiger playing in a few events prior and staying healthy, sure. It makes sense to play in the U.S. Open if you’re qualified and “ready” to compete. However, if he’s looking at Erin Hills as a potential landing spot for his most recent comeback attempt, it feels like a recipe for disaster. I want to see him as much as anyone, but not if he’s going to go out there and embarrass himself or get hurt again.


12. Hat tip to Geoff Shackelford for this note on the upcoming Fox coverage for 2017 USGA events, with the notable one being the twelve hours dedicated to the Walker Cup. Team events are great, but the best part is exactly what Shackelford noted: this will be the first look for many of us at the North Course at LACC, which is widely thought of as one of the best fifty courses in the world, depending on what list you look at. The North Course will be hosting the 2023 U.S. Open, and this is looked at essentially as a warmup for that event. Make some time for this one in September.


13. The teams for the Zurich Classic are starting to take shape, and I gotta say, I’m looking forward to this event. Clearly the players are interested in the format change too because there’s no way that New Orleans would have had this kind of field otherwise, which is great for these smaller events. My five favourite teams in terms of watchability that are confirmed right now:

  • Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson
  • Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara
  • Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay
  • Daniel Berger and Thomas Pieters
  • Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace

Also, Charlie Wi!


14. So, Lydia Ko is changing caddies…again. Gary Matthews got the boot after last week’s event in Hawaii, where Ko finished tied for second, three shots behind Christie Kerr. The runner-up finish was Ko’s fifth top-10 in nine starts with Matthews on the bag, so the timing doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but as we’ve seen before, Ko is awfully quick on the trigger when it comes to caddies. At the end of 2016, she dumped Jason Hamilton as her caddie and split with David Leadbetter as her coach, in addition to switching from Callaway to PXG for her clubs.

I don’t want to make too much of this because it’s not like Ko has struggled to find success and caddies get dropped by players all the time, but you’d have to think that Ko has rightfully earned a bit of a reputation for how quickly she makes changes. I’m very interested to see what comes of this one.


15. I thought these comments from Padraig Harrington on Sergio’s win at the Masters were interesting, and pretty much spot on. As much as Sergio is in a better place mentally these days, I’m not so sure that things would have gone his way this time around if he was paired with someone in the final round that he wasn’t so comfortable with already. Justin Rose and him are such good friends that it probably made things a little bit easier for Sergio than, say, if he was paired with Jordan Spieth or Harrington himself. It’s no secret that the two aren’t the best of friends, but it appears that at least from Harrington’s end, that there is definitely a level of respect for Sergio’s game and how he went about winning his first major.

On a side note, Harrington was doing commentary for Sky Sports during the Masters, and from everything that I heard, he was fantastic. That shouldn’t surprise anyone as Harrington has always been one of the more thoughtful players out there, and I would love to see him do a little more of it depending on what his playing schedule looks like going forward.


16. Friend of the blog Kyle Porter was selected to play Augusta National on the Monday after the tournament, and he wrote an absolutely beautiful piece on what it meant to him. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please take the time to do so. It’s about so much more than golf, and everyone that I have passed it on to has thought it was tremendously done.


17. When I finished reading Kyle’s piece, I started to think more about my own experiences while playing and covering golf and how it has brought people in my life together. My father has played pretty much his entire life, and he’s a good player but in all of the rounds he played growing up, he never broke 80. He had been close a few times, including one agonizing round with my uncle where he missed a short putt on 18 for 79 that he can recall in vivid detail decades later. A few years ago, we went out and played a round with a buddy of mine at one of the local munis that we’ve been to often, and he shot 40 on the front nine. We didn’t look at the scorecard after that, and him breaking 80 wasn’t in his mind at any point during the round. He continued to play well on the back and at some point as we were getting near the end of the round, my buddy glanced at the card and quietly, we had this conversation.

    • “Hey, has your dad ever broken 80 before?”
    • “No, he hasn’t. Been close a few times, but he’s never done it.”
    • “If he keeps playing like this, he’s gonna do it.”

We played the last few holes, and as we were in the parking lot putting our clubs away, my buddy tallied the scores. I played really well and shot 83 (I’ve never broken 80 either), and when he added up my dad’s total, a smile came across his face.

78.

After decades of playing this game and not breaking 80, he did it with room to spare. It was great to be there with him while he played so well and to see the reaction when he was told that he did it, even if, much like me, he has passed the point where he cares a lot about what the final number is after he finishes on 18. We all have moments like this, and golf isn’t the only sport or activity where they are forged, but they really are a big part of golf’s appeal, at least to me. Oftentimes, it’s about so much more than the actual shots you hit or where you hit them. It’s about the people you’re with and the time you spend together while hitting those shots that really and truly matters. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many of these moments, on and off the golf course, with my father and many other people. That’s what I thought of when I read Kyle’s piece, and I hope that the same is true for those of you reading this right now.


18. Your random GIFs of the week are a ridiculous recovery from Seve Ballesteros, and the swing of a very young Johnny Miller at the 1966 U.S. Open.

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