Matsuyama Wins the Greatest Game on Grass

Matsuyama Wins the Greatest Game on Grass February 7, 2016

The Phoenix Thunderbirds, sponsor of the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour, call the tournament “the greatest game on grass” partly because of its amazing attendance records. This year they broke their previous record with over 618,000 people in attendance for four days of the tournament. And yesterday’s 201,000+ attendance beat the previous one-day attendance set last year on Saturday by about 12,000 people. The no-clouds weather was perfect for both days with little wind and about 70 degree temperatures.

Twenty-three year old, Japanese, professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama won the  tournament today, held at the TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, Arizona, near where I live. He had won one tournament on the U.S. PGA Tour–Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Championship in 2014. And last year he had lost the Waste Management Phoenix Open by one stroke.

Once again, it was a very exciting finish. Matsuyama defeated American professional golfer and crowd-favorite Rickie Fowler on the fourth extra hole in a two-man, sudden-death playoff. Both players were paired together in the last group today on the fourth and final round, and both shot 67  to tie for first place at 14-under 270. Besides Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler has been the hottest pro golfer in the world in the past 10 months, winning four PGA Tour tournaments that included the Players Championship, with is like a fifth major.

Rickie Fowler had a two shot lead going into the sixteenth hole on his final round. That hole is about 330 yards long, so that some of the pros can drive the green. It is by far the shortest par four on the course. Yet it is one of the most difficult holes on the course. Water surrounds the green on the left side and behind the green, and there are several sand bunkers to contend with.

I had attended the tournament one previous day. But today, stayed home and watched it on TV. When Rickie pulled out his driver on the sixteenth hole today, I said, “Oh no.” If I would have been his caddy, I would have fought him tooth and nail against driving with that club there with a two-shot lead. I would have handed him his three-metalwood before he even had a chance to think about it. The only reason not to hit a three-wood there is that there is a bunker slightly right of a line from the tee to the middle of the green that requires a 260-yard carry. Of course, you don’t want to hit your first shot in that bunker. However, Rickie had been driving the ball very long. And that hole is a little downhill, which makes that carry a little shorter than 260 yards. Even if Rickie played safe away from the water hazard on the left side of the green, and landed in that right bunker, thus not carrying over it, that is not so bad because he should be able to still get a par from there with a fifty-yard shot to the green.

Rickie hit an absolutely perfect drive, even hitting it easy with a slight cut, which makes the shot go shorter. Yet his ball landed on a slight downslope and scooted, running across the very long long green from front to back, over the green, through the short rough for about fifteen yards and into the water hazard. Both Matsuyama and the other player hit perfect three-woods just short of the green. Rickie took a one-stroke penalty drop and made a bogey five. Matsuyama chipped well and made birdie three. So, both men were now tied going into the last hole, which they parred, setting up a playoff. If Rickie would have hit that same shot with a three-wood, he would have won the tournament.

The first three holes of the playoff were exciting. Then they played the sixteenth hole again as the fourth playoff hole. Rickie hit first, and this time he used a three-wood. But he hooked it into the water for a double-bogey six while Hideki hit a good three-wood again and made par four to win.

Then the television announcers told us that during all of the Phoenix Opens in which Rickie Fowler has competed, he has now driven into the left water hazard on the sixteenth hole a total of nine times. Wow! That’s a lot for a good player like him, especially because he is becoming a master of a fade, in which the ball flies slightly from left-to-right for right-handed golfers.

Many pro golfers have believed that playing a slight fade is a more accurate way to play golf. Ben Hogan seems to have proved that it is true, and he was by far the greatest ball striker the game has ever seen. But whenever I watched Hogan play (and I played with him twice in the Houston Open), his ball flight looked straight much of the time. When he faded his shots, the ball flew left-to-right very little.

It was surprising to watch Ben Hogan hit the ball because he had the flattest golf swing I have ever seen a pro golfer have. He always had his irons set at four degrees flat, which is unheard of. But Ben was five feet eight inches tall and had long arms, and he didn’t want to shorten his clubs because of that because he would have lost distance on his shots. So, he swung flat because of his physical stature.

(A flat swing causes a hook. That is a shot that flies right-to-left for right-handed golfers, like a hook shot in bowling for right-handed bowlers.)

I think Rickie Fowler swings more like Ben Hogan than any pro golfer on the PGA Tour nowadays. He has a slightly flat swing. And he “lays the club off” at the top of the backswing like Hogan did, which means the shat aims left of his target. That encourages a fade. Rickie also swings fast like Hogan did, and he has a very fast transition like Hogan did, which is the change when the backswing ends and the downswing begins. He is just the opposite on that as Hideki Matsuyama is. Hideki swings more like Sam Snead, with a pause at the top of his backswing. Hogan and Snead, who were the same age, were the two best golfers in the world for several years. Their golf swings were very opposite. Snead swung the club slowly on his backswing, but he still hit the ball very long.

So, I’m calling Rickie Fowler “the new Ben Hogan.” Incidentally, Rickie Fowler is a regular member of the PGA Tour Bible Study, and he likes to share his faith in God with people.

 

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