Matsuyama wins at home, Ko dominates, Phil and precision

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Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday on the 18th hole at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, following his victory at the Zozo Championship.

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Check back every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Hideki Matsuyama’s victory in his native Japan, Jin Young Ko’s rise and Phil Mickelson’s comments on driving accuracy and more.

1. Hideki Matsuyama collected from a one-shot deficit by eight holes to win the Zozo Championship by five shots. The event was played in Matsuyama’s home country of Japan, and on the Golf Channel broadcast, Pat Perez described the atmosphere as if fans had seen Elvis. Between this win and Matsuyama’s winning week at the Masters, what did you learn about his 2021 game that you did not know a year ago?

Hideki Matsuyama

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Sean Zak, Senior Editor (@sean_zak): Gee, I do not know. He is still a very bad putter by Tour standards. Maybe we have learned that he can still hit the ball to a victory when the moment is big? There’s pretty much nothing more insane than the last nine at Augusta, but he did not show it. I think we have learned what he has learned: that his caddy, Shota Hiyafuji, is an amazing teammate.

Josh Sens, Senior Author (@JoshSens): A great sports bettor who analyzes the statistics much more closely than I do tells me that Hideki’s putting improves with leaps and bounds when the greens are bent. But it’s deeper in the weeds than anything I’ve got on my own. The perfectionist streak in him is what struck me. Especially at the Olympics. I especially remember a shot, an approach on the back, when Hideki made the one-handed finish and fell on his shoulders. The ball ended up about 10 feet from the flag, pin high. I texted a Japanese reporter friend and said, “Hideki does not look happy with that result.” My friend texted back, “Never.”

Dylan Dethier, senior author (@dylan_dethier): I have learned how much there is still to learn. In August 2017, Matsuyama revealed at a press conference that his wife had given birth more than a month earlier. This was exciting news and remarkable for at least one surprising reason: No one knew he was married. Why? “No one asked right,” he said. Hideki and Shota occasionally reveal little nuggets of fun off course on social media; what I have learned this year is that it seems like this team is getting lots of things and having a good time together. But even that serves as a reminder that Matsuyama likes his private life kept private.

Michael Bamberger, senior author: This is not a statement about his game, but about his status. In Japan and across great shards in Europe, he is as big as Jumbo (Ozaki) was at the height of his powers, and then some. Bigger, really, than all the Ozaki brothers combined. Huge.

2. Jin Young Ko’s attempt to shoot a record 15th straight in the 60s fell just short when she shot an opening round of 71 at the BMW Ladies Championship — then she shot rounds of 64, 67 and 64 again and won the event in a playoff. It marks Ko’s fourth victory in seven events, and she is expected to put Nelly Korda at the top of the world rankings. As the golf year enters its final weeks, where’s Ko’s rise among the hottest races in 2021?

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Zak: This is the hottest race! I think we can make that claim pretty comfortably, even though Jon Rahm might be begging to deviate. She added numbers to her overall win. Rahm, technically speaking, only added one.

Feeling: Can not argue with those numbers. Now, how do you turn these flashy characters into TV ratings that match?

Dethier: Have not seen a dominant race like this since Zak at the office Golden Tee machine in December 2019. Korda made her run and now Ko has chased her down. The consistency stands out – she is relentless!

Bamberger: Absolutely, and please, save your writing, dear readers, if you want to accuse us of being “awake” but highlighting the beautiful race of a female golfer. Nothing in golf this year touches it.

3. Phil Mickelson downplayed the importance of accuracy from the tee this week. Ahead of this week’s Dominion Energy Charity Classic at the PGA Tour Champions, Mickelson said the host course would require him “to be a little more patient and manage my game a little better”, and a reporter noted this and asked, “Please correct me if I mistaken [but] your last victory on this tour, you were 81st in driving accuracy, I think. I do not know if I’m quite right, but would you like to get away with this this week? To which Mickelson replied, “So, I look the farthest, as if I’re trying to hit it the furthest out here, and I was No. 1 in driving distance. This is how I look at it. If you want to look at things that are irrelevant, you need to have it. What I’m looking at is distance. I want to hit it – I want to fly the 305 and try to – because I’m a really good wedge player, so if I get wedges in my hand, I’ll be hard to hit. Mickelson finished the event in 49th place. Is Mickelson’s obsession with distance wise, worrying, or somewhere in between?

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Zak: Not at all worrying. He does exactly what the modern game asks and allows. It will probably pay off on the PGA Tour once every two years. It will pay off a lot on the Champions Tour. Phil added that he’s just trying to have fun on the senior tour and keep competing. What he does is exactly that.

Feeling: Not worrying about him. But that does not make the game more interesting.

Dethier: It is an interesting thought experiment and an important analytical question. But Mickelson is still the best when he keeps the ball in play. In short, if he could run it straight, he would be much better. The death of the Gulf is not like that.

Bamberger: He does what he paid for: Finding a way to shoot the lowest 72-hole score he can, or the lowest 54-hole score. As for an approach, it stands to reason. As for making the game more compelling to watch, I think it does not work, but others would certainly disagree.

4. In the wake of the best season of his career, world No. 1 Jon Rahm takes a month to recharge. “More than my body, it’s my mind that can’t handle it,” he said. “… If we put it all together, I have to rest.” He added: “This is the first time in my life that I do not want to see a golf club.” With no real low season in golf anymore, do you sense that the mental wear and tear that Rahm describes has become a common problem?

Jon Rahm looks down the fairway during a golf tournament

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Zak: I think each player reaches his own limit. Or rather, they learn their limit. You never really hear Dustin Johnson talk about him needing a mental break. Rahm has been grinding all year through the many ups and very public downturns. He’s at his limit. I bet he learned something in the process. I do not think it means anything special to others.

Feeling: No doubt he is not alone. It is a job, and a demanding one. But you will forgive me for not shedding any tears.

Dethier: It’s a refrain I’ve heard from many playing partners. Who has not threatened to give up the game after a hard few rounds? If Rahm had been asked the next day or even after dinner, he could have answered differently. Grinding is part of the trade.

Bamberger: Yes, if you dig deep into the statements and body language of all these elite players, they all say it. It’s a shame. It is the pressure of modern life where all the focus, in all, is so extreme.

5. Golf channel analyst Brandel Chamblee and architect Agustín Pizá are planning, as our Josh Sens described it, a course that would double as a home for the finest female golfers in the world, a state-of-the-art facility that would be for the LPGA Tour what TPC Sawgrass is for PGA Tour. The course, in South Texas, would be designed specifically with women’s golf in mind, with the goal of hosting a party tent, the Players Championship-type event. What do you think of Chamblee and Pizá’s plan?

Augustin Piza and Brandel Chamblee stand in tall grass at the Butterfly Effect / Desertica project

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Zak: It’s absolutely brilliant in theory. I’m excited to see it in real life. I understand that we are still a few years away. Until then, I am very optimistic!

Feeling: Chamblee is not mistaken in saying that it is a long time ago. I am eager to see what happens in the transition from concept to reality.

Dethier: With ANA’s growth from Dinah Shore, the LPGA should definitely be targeting signature sites that it can clearly make its own. Whether Chamblee is the one to do it or not, he is determined on something – especially the idea that a course should not just be built from the tips and then adapted from there.

Bamberger: I was happy to hear about it, but it’s not too surprising. When the elite woman’s amateurs play Augusta National from the so – called members’ tees, it plays perfectly — just like AMac and Bob wanted it to play.

6. On this week’s Subpar podcast, Bryson DeChambeau’s caddy, Brian Zeigler, revealed that his boss’ bag has “had to weigh 55 pounds”, making it one of the heavier bags on the Tour. What is the heaviest and / or strangest item you have ever stored in your own bag?

Bryson DeChambeau and caddy Brian Zeigler go to the BMW Championship.

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Bamberger: Cans of dog food. My bag was actually too light and top heavy. It needed ballast.

Zak: Here in Chicago, there is a nice grass football field near the Diversey driving range. I took the football boots with me to the area so I could run some sprints after taking my cuts. I then left the cleats in the golf bag for a few weeks and found them in there on the next driving range I visited, up on SentryWorld, 240 miles away.

Feeling: My bag tends to run pretty slim. But once, when I was rummaging through to find a ball in the middle of the round, I came across a half Dane who must have been in there for six months. One of my gaming partners was so hungry that he asked if he could eat it. He did. And survived. Probably no worse for him than a hot dog.

Dethier: From maple from the Massachusetts / Vermont border, maple syrup has always been a staple as a topping on Sunday mornings or a gift for out-of-towners. But one day after a round, my dad put a small bottle of syrup on top of my bag. I did not notice it, it slipped between the head covers and could have been in the bottom of my bag forever, except that the bottle eventually broke. After wondering how on earth my grips had become so sticky, I got to the bottom of things. And I got a new bag.

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