The 18: Berger repeats in Memphis

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. Daniel Berger defended his title at TPC Southwind on Sunday with back to back 66’s on the weekend, and as Andy Johnson mentioned in the Fried Egg newsletter on Monday, this feels like just another step in the direction of Berger’s road to superstardom. Thanks to the ridiculous starts that players like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have had to their careers, it feels like we don’t fully appreciate players like Berger, who at 24 years of age, now has two wins on the PGA Tour. That’s a big deal, and also as Andy mentioned, this in all likelihood guarantees that Berger will be making an appearance on the American Presidents Cup team this September. I haven’t thought a ton about it, but if you could pair Berger with a really good putter (Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, etc), he could do some real damage in a team format. Extended highlights from Berger’s final round can be found below.

The particulars:

  • Earns $1,152,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points for the win.
  • Moves from 43rd to 24th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and from 36th to 10th in the FedEx Cup.

2. At one point on Sunday, there were nine players tied for the lead, and while Berger eventually separated himself, it felt like the tournament was a bit of a dud overall. I don’t think it had anything to do with the course because TPC Southwind feels like one of those places that rewards good ball striking, and isn’t overly long. You can’t overpower it, and as a result, the winning score here doesn’t usually go too high. For whatever reason, it just felt like it lacked a little juice this time around.


3. Quick hits on a few other players from the week:

  • I can admit that I was pulling for Stewart Cink to play well on the weekend and take the tournament. On top of that fact that it’s crazy that he hasn’t won since the Open back in 2009, he’s been through a lot with his wife battling cancer, and it would have been nice to see him in the winner’s circle. Still though, he got through U.S. Open qualifying and he’s in good form, and that’s nice to see.
  • I’ve always been a big fan of Charl Schwartzel, and it was good to see him play well, but how much does that Saturday round sting? Schwartzel finished one shot back of Berger with rounds of 65-66-74-66.
  • Andy has been talking about Braden Thornberry for a little while, and even though I didn’t see much of him on the weekend, I’m very intrigued to see where he goes. I’m sure that he’s going to have lots of chances to win money in over his career, but his amateur status preventing him from winning north of $241,000 has to be at least a little upsetting.

4. The strokes gained leaderboard from Memphis, where Berger was solid all around, but got it done mostly with his ball striking. As always, this is with all stats courtesy of Data Golf and only features players who made the cut.

  • Off the Tee
    • Best: Adam Scott (+1.33)
    • Daniel Berger: (+1.15)
    • Worst: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (-1.56)
  • Putting
    • Best: Steve Wheatcroft (+2.23)
    • Daniel Berger: (+0.09)
    • Worst: Vijay Singh (-1.67)
  • Tee to Green:
    • Best: Daniel Berger (+3.05)
    • Worst: Martin Flores (-1.48)
  • Approach:
    • Best: Harris English (+2.17)
    • Daniel Berger: (+1.23)
    • Worst: Chip Deason (-1.29)
  • Around the Green:
    • Best: Seung-yul Noh (+1.48)
    • Daniel Berger: (+0.67)
    • Worst: Rick Lamb (-1.90)

5. So, we had another week of Phil Mickelson being in contention and then falling out of it thanks to a few bad holes. Phil finished the week in solo ninth, three shots back of Berger’s 10-under par total, despite making one more birdie than Berger did all week. Phil’s problem was the six bogeys, two doubles and one triple, which has emerged as a troubling pattern in 2017 as Phil has attempted to finish off rounds and tournaments. Myself and others have been attributing these miscues to Phil’s age and the fact that he’s getting tired earlier in rounds, which is something he alluded to ahead of the Players Championship a few weeks ago, but on Sunday, Phil offered up a different reason, at least for what happened in Memphis:

That’s certainly not the answer that I was looking for. Aside from peak Tiger and Patrick Reed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone be as confident on the golf course throughout his career as Phil, so for him to admit that he basically got scared while in contention is shocking. I still think that he runs into issues with being worn down during rounds, but this adds a little wrinkle that I never thought I’d see and it’s something to keep an eye on going forward as Phil looks to win his first tournament since the 2013 Open Championship.


6. Last week in this space, I talked about how I still thought there was a good chance that Phil would be teeing it up at Erin Hills, but that possibility seems more remote with each passing day. In an interview with Amanda Balionis after his round on Sunday, Phil said that he basically needed a four hour weather delay in order to make it back for his tee time from his daughter’s graduation. The good news? There’s a 60% chance of rain on Thursday right now, so there’s definitely a chance that it works out. The bad news? Four hours is a long, long time for a delay. What was interesting to me was the way that Phil answered the question, and how obvious it was that he desperately want to be in Wisconsin.

Of course, this led to people replying to me with something to the effect of “Amy got her way”, and implying that Phil doesn’t actually want to be at the grad. I really don’t see that at all. I think Phil is completely genuine in his wanting to be at the graduation and that he wasn’t going to miss it for anything, even the U.S. Open. I wouldn’t be surprised if Phil let word out a little early in an attempt to get the school to change the date or to get as late of a tee time as possible, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

The first thing that I thought about on Sunday when Phil mentioned the need for a four hour delay was Tom Watson playing in the Open Championship at the Old Course in 2015. Rain and wind caused heavy delays all week in what was going to be the last time Watson played in the Open. Fans lined the fairways at St. Andrews to get one final glimpse of Watson in competition, and because of the delays, it looked like it was impossible for Watson to have enough light to finish his round on Friday night, but the R&A decided to keep the players on the course and let Watson finish without him having to come back the next morning. I’m pretty sure that if they needed to, they would have had local school children line the fairways with wooden staffs that had been set ablaze for extra light.

It feels like Phil won’t be at Erin Hills, but there’s still part of me that says he plays. We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.


7. Good week for blowups on the golf course, starting with Schwartzel at the St. Jude…

…and finishing with probably the loudest F-bomb I’ve ever heard from a golfer before, courtesy Suzann Pettersen. Probably want to make sure the headphones are in for this one.


8. After Andy mentioned the Presidents Cup, I figured it was a good time to take a look at the current standings to see how both teams are shaping up. Note that each team will be making two captain’s selections in addition to their ten qualified members, but I’ve listed the top 12 in the two tables below.

Team USA Team International
Dustin Johnson Jason Day
Jordan Spieth Hideki Matsuyama
Justin Thomas Adam Scott
Kevin Kisner Charl Schwartzel
Daniel Berger Louis Oosthuizen
Rickie Fowler Branden Grace
Kevin Chappell Si Woo Kim
Jason Dufner Marc Leishman
Brooks Koepka Emiliano Grillo
Patrick Reed Hideto Tanihara
Matt Kuchar Adam Hadwin
Phil Mickelson Byeong Hun An

9. Over the past few months, whenever I’d scroll down the OWGR site, I’d see Dylan Frittelli’s name and realize that I didn’t really have any idea who he was, or how he played. Well, Frittelli won the European Tour’s Lyoness Open on Sunday, and I ended up doing some research because I really had no information on him. The South African played at Texas from 2009-2012, playing alongside Jordan Spieth for a year, while hitting the winning putt at the 2012 NCAA’s and finished his college career as a three-time All-American. Even though you may not have heard of him before, it’s clear that he’s really good.

At 27 years old, he’s still really young with a potentially bright future in front of him, especially if he can string together some more solid finishes this year and get his world ranking up from its current position of 76. I look at Frittelli as the super advanced version of the Berger theory mentioned above: pretty much no one will turn into Spieth, and very few will end up having as good of a career as Berger. Some take a little more time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have no idea what kind of career Frittelli will end up having, but I feel like he merits watching.


10. If I were at Erin Hills this week, here are the five groups that I would try to follow over the first two days:

  1. Brandt Snedeker/Alex Noren/Tyrrell Hatton: The best piece of advice I got at the Players was to follow a lesser known group to really get to know the course, so that’s what I did with Noren and I came away super impressed. These guys will play fast, and as a group, they might be the most underrated three on the entire tee sheet.
  2. Bubba Watson/Adam Scott/Sergio Garcia: Ball. Striking. Fiesta.
  3. Martin Kaymer/Jordan Spieth/Dustin Johnson: It should be pretty obvious why you’d want to follow these guys, but one other reason to pay attention is how different they all play. It’s always super interesting to see the differences in how top players dissect a course, particularly when you have someone like DJ who is super long, and Spieth who isn’t.
  4. Rafa Cabrera Bello/Thomas Pieters/Brooks Koepka: Pieters is the standout for me in this group, but all three guys are great players who won’t have the attention that some of the bigger name groups have. I can’t wait to see the kind of lines that Pieters takes from the tee.
  5. Henrik Stenson/Charl Schwartzel/Louis Oosthuizen: It was a damn near religious experience watching Oosthuizen swing the club live for the first time at Sawgrass, and if you haven’t done it yet, I highly recommend following him for a few holes just to see what true beauty is. On top of that, Schwartzel and Stenson’s swings are pretty great and all three guys have that ability to go super low.

11.

I know, I know: you’re all shocked that I think Sergio is flying under the radar here, but hear me out. So much of the pre-tournament focus has gone elsewhere, from Phil’s playing/not playing drama to Rory’s health to the fact that players like DJ and JDay are playing well and should love the course. Jordan contends everywhere, Rickie and Matsuyama need to make the next step, #RahmThreat is absolutely a thing, so on and so on. I’m not saying that Sergio is going to win this week, but theoretically, the course that demands length and precision fits him perfectly and it just feels weird to me that the current Masters champ seems to be getting very little attention as we head into the second major.

Just something to keep in mind.


12. The biggest unknown for me heading into this week is how Rory is going to play. Theoretically, the course should set up perfectly for him, but his rib injury and the fact that he hasn’t been practicing much is obviously a cause for concern. Now he’s switching putters:

Putting has never been the strength of Rory’s game, but this is curious to me on a few different levels. He recently made the switch to TaylorMade for clubs and ball, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that he’s making the change to another TM product, but statistically, 2017 is actually the best that Rory has putted in the strokes gained era. Granted, we’re looking at an extremely small sample size, but the numbers are there, so it does strike me as a little odd that he’d make the switch. The second thing is the timing, as Brendan Porath pointed out on Sunday when the news broke.

Rory’s obviously talented enough to win anywhere, so maybe I’m making too much of this, but at the very least, it’s a decision that is worth keeping an eye on this week.


13. So, Kevin Na is NOT a fan of the fescue at Erin Hills.

When I posted this on Twitter, I received a lot of replies about how the fairways are wide, it’s the same for everyone, Na should just get on with it, etc. I get all of those criticisms of Na’s video, but the super deep fescue doesn’t lead to the most exciting tournament possible from a viewership standpoint. I don’t need the winning score to be 25-under par or anything, but I don’t think that there’s much fun in watching guys hack out of the rough and attempt to advance the ball fifteen yards either.

Having said all that, the fairways are very wide at Erin Hills, so players shouldn’t be missing them all that often. Plus, Eddie Pepperell isn’t really looking at Na’s argument as anything more than just standard complaining.


14. Just when you thought the strange beef between Gary Player and Robert Trent Jones Jr. was over with Player calling RTJ a ‘strange coot’, Player unloaded on Jones again on Monday afternoon.

!!!!!

There are so many things to dissect here that we should have a Serial style podcast to truly dig in, but here are my five favourite things about this:

  1. The tweet starts off with a nice message about everyone at Erin Hills. If you didn’t actually read the letter, you’d think that it was about Player just wishing everyone well, but nope! That kind of framing before going into a rant about something completely and utterly unrelated is amazing. Very dishonest!
  2. “Let sleeping dogs lie” is the title of the letter, in which Player lets precisely zero dogs sleep or lie.
  3. “bemusement”, “diabolical condition”, “amnesia or senility”
  4. Player not understanding why Jones was at Sunningdale for the Senior Open, as if there was some kind of special guest list that existed.
  5. Nelson Mandela!

Aside from agreeing with Player about not being crazy about Chambers Bay, I’m not taking sides in this debate, if you can call it that. I’m just happy to be a spectator.


15. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, but it was marred by one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in any sport when the opening goal was waved off because the referee lost sight of the puck.

Pittsburgh may have won the game anyway, but there’s no doubt that this call had a tremendous impact on the game. I wish common sense would have come into play here where the referees got together and decided that the goal should have counted, but that didn’t happen. This doesn’t have anything to do with golf, but it is a reminder that for as much trouble as golf seems to have with the rules and how to enforce them, no sport is perfect and we’re always going to have these unfortunate incidents that get in the way of the outcome.


16. Your must reads of the week:


17. Your must watches and listens of the week:

  • Shane Bacon had Paul Azinger on the podcast this week, and as always, it was an absolute treat to listen to Zinger. There’s no better analyst in the game.
  • The one and only Kevin Van Valkenburg did a dramatic reading of Gary Player’s shredding of RTJ Jr., and it’s definitely the best thing you’ll watch and listen to all week.


18. In honour of Gary Player, he is the subject of the random GIFs of the week. First, we have his reaction to winning the 1961 Masters, and we follow that up with some exquisite #TourSauce at Augusta National in 1990.

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