Every week, the editors of Golf.com assemble an all-star cast of stat-busting superstars — players whose dominance in key areas of the game left the rest of the Tour in the dust. This week: The Frys.com Open, held at the Johnny Miller-owned North Course at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif. Did winner Sang-Moon Bae grab a spot on our esteemed list? Please. You don’t win on this Tour without doing at least one thing great. The others? Scroll on for a few surprises.
Jason Kokrak, 29 (4th season on Tour)
Official World Golf Ranking: 122nd
Why he’s our pick: Kokrak made the 7,200-yard-long North Course at Silverado play more like 5,200 by averaging 321.3 yards off the tee.
That’s average, folks, which means for every drive he knocked 310 yards over California wine country, he blasted one 330. Gross. Even more impressive was that he finished in the top third in driving accuracy (57%), and Silverado isn’t what you’d call “wide.”
This probably won’t be the last time Kokrak finds his name on this list. He’s huuuge — 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. And he’s smooth. Like Ernie Els, Kokrak never appears to swing fast, even though he’s moving the club 120 mph-plus and looks like he could rip a phone book in half. His secret: Shoulder power. Kokrak turns his delts to the max on his backswing. His arms? It’s like they barely move. Favoring shoulder turn over arm swing has always been the power hitter’s secret. Let your shoulders pull your arms into motion on the way back. Once your shoulders stop, so should everything else. You’ll feel tighter at the top. That’s good, because tightness is energy.
Best Iron Player
Sang-Moon Bae, 28 (4th season on Tour)
Why he’s our pick: Bae picked up his second PGA Tour victory without really breaking a sweat. At one point on Sunday, the Daegu, South Korea native carried a six-stroke lead, but it was over way before that — his eagle-birdie finish on Saturday was a knockout punch that was celebrated even in North Korea. Sang-Moon’s final round was simply an exercise in keeping the field at bay. How? By hitting greens. Bae missed just three greens during his final round, and hit 75 percent of them for the tournament. That’s crushing to the saps chasing you from behind. When you have a big lead, the only way you can blow it is by hitting errant approaches. Smart and accurate iron play. Nice job, Mr. Bae.
Bae’s iron swing is typical of today’s young players in that it relies on creating room between the body and the ball so the hands can swing through impact unimpeded. Bae does it by starting his downswing by moving his rear end away from the ball, not toward it. A good way to practice this is to swing in slow motion, pulling your rear end back as you swing down to the impact zone. Keep your knees flexed. You’re doing it correctly if it feels like your thighs are taking on the majority of your body weight as you move into impact.
Best Short Game Player
Martin Laird, 31 (8th season on Tour)
Why he’s our pick: Martin Laird is a big-hitting Scotsman with a 115-mph swing. But hey — even brutes have a soft side. Case in point: a Scrambling percentage of more than 84 percent at Silverado. The Tour average is around 50 percent. So? So that extra 34 percent netted Laird an extra $230,000 in prize money. Cool! Another Mercedes! Crime may not always pay, but getting up and down does. Big time.
Laird missed 19 greens over four rounds at the Frys.com Open. Seven of those errant approaches landed in greenside rough. He made bogey once from the junk. Hitting successful pitches and chips from rough isn’t always easy. Your best bet? Take a tip from Top 100 Teacher Anne Cain. Set up with your feet hip-width apart and the ball in the middle of your stance. Using your wrists, hinge the club up in front. Next, turn your left wrist clockwise until the logo on the back of your glove points toward the sky, then turn your upper body as you normally would. Now swing down and through. Practice like this, but when you play short shots for real, blend the hinge and turn moves into a single motion. Works every time.
Retief Goosen, 45 (21st season on Tour)
Why he’s our pick: The two-time U.S. Open champion bagged just his fourth top-3 finish since 2009 at Silverado, riding middling ballstriking stats but a hot — very hot — putter. We mean, white hot. His Strokes Gained Putting average of 2.318 would have been the fifth-best tournament total last year. Strokes Gained isn’t the easiest stat to explain. Basically it’s the sum of your one-putts judged against an expected one-putt percentage from every distance. Like that helped. Don’t let the sublime nature of Strokes Gained demean Goosen’s performance. Basically, he made a ton of putts other Tour pros tend to miss. Even more impressive is that he was the oldest player to lead an event in Strokes Gained since Scott McCarron did it as a 46-year-old at the 2012 Honda Classic.
Goosen is on record as liking slick greens, like those at Silverado. “I like them fast, because I can ease the putter through the ball,” Goosen says. “Tempo is critical: You want the putterhead to move at the same smooth pace back and through. The quicker the putt gets, the slower the putter comes through. On slippery greens, I stroke the putter as slowly as possible.” A word of caution: “Slow” doesn’t mean the putterhead should come to a stop, no matter how fast the greens are. Most amateurs either take the club back too far and decelerate coming into impact, or shorten the takeaway and over-accelerate through the ball. Keep the same speed and let the ball just get in the way.