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Bomb And Gouge....Golf Digest on the newest Big Bombers


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June 2006
Cover Story: Bomb & Gouge

There's a new way to play, and it's all about power

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Watson, Holmes and Villegas are 1-2-4 in driving distance and among the leaders of a new approach to playing at the highest level.
Photo: Dom Furore


By Peter Morrice
Golf Digest
June 2006

On a recent visit to the Ping fitting Center in Phoenix, tour rookie Bubba Watson was hitting the ball so far his drives were flying the range and bounding into a city bus depot next door. The company has since erected a six-story net to contain Watson's tee shots, which were traveling up to 360 yards. On the fly.

Today's tour bombers are not only crushing drives, they're establishing a new style of play: Bomb & Gouge. The thinking goes, bomb driver as far as you can and, if need be, gouge the ball out of the rough and onto the green. Golf's long-held ideal--fairways and greens--is giving way to this aggressive new style. Even from the rough, these power hitters say they can take advantage of shorter approach shots and create more birdie opportunities.

"I like hitting driver as much as possible because it gets me closer to the hole," says J.B. Holmes, another super-long rookie and winner of the FBR Open in February in just his fourth start on tour. "Hitting driver gives me the advantage of being 50 yards past other guys. If I hit 3-wood, I'm back where everybody else is."

That simple logic sums up the strategy of many long-hitting tour players today. Hotter, more-forgiving drivers and straighter balls allow big hitters to fire away without much risk. The best evidence that Bomb & Gouge is for real is the success of Watson, Holmes and a third rookie, Camilo Villegas, who together have created a serious stir on tour.

THE TITANIC TRIO

** Villegas (b-JAY-gahs), who also came up this year from the Nationwide Tour, ranks fourth in distance and had two second-place ties in five weeks, including one to Woods at Doral. Not to be outdone, Villegas has hit five tee shots more than 375 yards so far this season.
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** Holmes, the PGA Tour Qualifying School medalist last December, won the FBR by seven strokes with an average drive of 321 yards, including eight in excess of 350. Through early April, he ranked second in driving distance at 312.7 yards, seven steps behind tour-leader Watson.
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** Watson, a 2005 graduate of the Nationwide Tour, tied for fourth in his tour debut at the Sony Open in January, averaging 336.3 yards off the tee. Six weeks later, Watson shared third at Tucson, playing the event without a bogey, the first time in 30 years that has happened on tour.

But there's more to this new breed of bombers than hitting moon balls off the tee. They're finding the greens, too. Watson hit 61 of 72 greens at Tucson, Holmes hit 69.4 percent in his win (the tour average is 64.9 percent), and Villegas has been the most consistent of the three, knocking it on 75 percent of the greens in his two runner-up finishes. The point is clear: These rookies are using massive tee shots to hit more greens and get on leader boards.

HOW THE NEW BOMBERS DO IT

The stats suggest that Bomb & Gouge can be an effective strategy on tour, but why now? Advances in club and ball technology are playing a part, but some players see it as an inevitable shift in the game. "You're going to have advances in technology, but also advances in the human body," Woods says. "Guys are bigger, stronger, faster with added technology; hence, they're going to hit the ball farther."

Phil Mickelson agrees: "We talked about this five years ago, that the next generation of player was going to be an athlete who can take advantage of the technology and hit bombs, but can also chip and putt. Basically long-drive guys who can play."

Each of our three rookies represents a different part of Woods' "bigger, stronger, faster" philosophy. Watson, who is 27 and grew up in Bagdad, Fla., is the "bigger" player. He stands 6-feet-3 and creates an enormous backswing arc, swinging the club well past parallel at the top. "I just swing it real hard and use all my arms," says Watson, who hit a drive 422 yards in a Nationwide event in 2004. "I swing it long, like John Daly. All that put together is going to make a powerful swing."

Holmes, 25, is the "faster" player. He has one of the shortest backswings on tour but creates tremendous clubhead speed through impact. At only 5-11, he's a powerful natural athlete who learned to swing hard as a third-grader playing on the high school golf team in Campbellsville, Ky. "I've always had really quick hands in other sports--baseball, basketball, whatever," says Holmes. "I have big forearms and big legs and really fast hips. I've always had good balance and body control in other sports."

The "stronger" player is Villegas. A native Colombian, he arrived at the University of Florida in 2000 at a wispy 139 pounds, but immediately hit the weight room. "I was one of the short hitters when I got to college," says Villegas, now 24, "but I had the opportunity to have a trainer, so I took advantage of it." He has since put on 15 pounds of muscle, and now is the most ripped player on tour, Tiger Woods included.

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How power took over

Bomb & Gouge--the term popularized by instructor Chuck Cook--starts with monster drives, which in large part can be tracked to new technology. Average driver size on tour is approaching the maximum 460 cubic-centimeter head, and most players use a modern lightweight shaft. Pure hits rocket off the face, but off-center strikes lose only a fraction of the distance lost with the previous generation of drivers.

But that's only part of the distance explosion. The tour's new power players are optimizing their driver ball flight by using computer launch monitors that measure not only take-off factors but the entire flight as well as the bounce angle.

"The biggest factor in distance is that players are just now learning how to launch the ball at optimum conditions," says Tom Stites, chief of product creation at Nike Golf. "It's the technology of the equipment, yes, but it's also the technology of the selection process."

Another major factor is the modern ball. Tour players today hit multilayer, urethane-cover balls that spin less off the tee than wound balls of a decade ago. With the right impact conditions, players launch the ball high but with a lower spin rate, which lengthens but also straightens the flight (reducing spin reduces sidespin as well).

"With the [Titleist] Pro V1, the longest hitters went to bed one day and woke up the next 20 yards longer," says Jim McLean. Ball manufacturers continue to isolate the best flight characteristics, and ball-fitting has become a standard part of the equipment-fitting process. "Matching the ball to the driver being used has been a bigger variable than the equipment itself," says Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute.

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Still, bombers miss more fairways than shorter hitters, but that's where sharp clubface grooves come in. Today's box-shaped grooves are cut so sharp they can scuff the cover of even the harder modern ball. The result is, players can gouge the ball out of thick-rough lies and still spin it enough to stop it on the green.

Some tour players make sure their grooves are sharp by replacing their wedges on a regular basis. John Flannery, a rep for Cleveland Golf on the Nationwide Tour, the breeding ground for Bomb & Gouge, says, "I have some guys who want new wedges every month to get fresh grooves."

Besides equipment, other factors, both physical and mental, allow bombers to play their aggressive game. For one, their swings are typically instinctive and freewheeling. None of our three rookies has had much formal swing training, which teachers say might be to their benefit. Mechanical instruction could have taken some of the naturalness and, therefore, speed out of their swings. And with the exception of Watson, these rookies aren't doing it with super-long swings, either.

"The fact that young players are so much stronger now means they can develop a lot of power in a much more compact action," says David Leadbetter. "As years go on, swings are going to get much shorter."

As Leadbetter suggests, physical fitness is the last part of the modern power player's game. Fitness trailers have been on the PGA Tour since 1985 but have attracted many more players in recent years. Even tour veterans are using strength-and-flexibility workouts in attempts to keep up with their younger brethren.

"Fitness has done a lot to my game. I'm a lot more flexible than I've ever been, and I'm hitting it longer than I ever have," said Vijay Singh, now 43, in 2002. "I think every player is just turning toward that, and in the future, you'll see more younger and stronger guys coming out."

There's also a psychological aspect to Bomb & Gouge. "These young players have no scars from playing with the equipment of 20 years ago," says sport psychologist Dick Coop, who has worked with professional golfers for more than 30 years. "A lot of these guys were like tour players growing up, getting their clubs and balls matched up. They learned to play so much better at an early age."

On that point, here's another piece of homespun logic from the book of J.B. Holmes: "Going off the tee, the driver is the straightest club in my bag, so unless it's just a stupid play or I'm going to run out of fairway, I hit driver."

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A style catches on

As hot as the power game is, it's hardly new. Top players have often had a distance advantage, but they've usually used it cautiously. Jack Nicklaus was the bomber of his generation, but he played a decidedly conservative game. Nicklaus was famous for plodding his way around with 3-woods and 1-irons off the tee until he needed a big drive. Then he'd hammer one 50 yards by his playing partners. "I played a power game," Nicklaus says, "but I always believed the game of golf was a game of power when you need it, but placement and positioning was the more important part of that game. Today, the game to me is power. I don't think the other part is even there."

For most golf fans, power golf arrived when John Daly won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991. Daly went from an unknown to a power icon overnight, with much of his popularity coming from his grip-it-and-rip-it style. But Daly's career has been inconsistent, much like those of bombers of the past: brilliant on the good weeks, but out of control on the bad.

The best example of the modern power player is Singh. A few years ago, when Woods was perfecting his 2-iron stinger off the tee and Mickelson was favoring 3-wood, Singh was hitting driver everywhere. He didn't mind missing fairways and liked his chances of making birdie with a shorter club coming in. Using this strategy, Singh had one of the best seasons in tour history in 2004, winning nine times.

Both Woods and Mickelson made equipment changes toward the end of Singh's big year, noticing they had slipped in the distance department. Woods switched to a 460cc head and a 45-inch graphite shaft (from a 410cc head and a 43 1/2-inch graphite shaft) at the season-ending Tour Championship. The next season he added 14 yards to his driving average (316.1 yards, compared to 301.9 in 2004) and hit the fairway about as often (54.6 percent, compared to 56.1 in 2004).

"A few wild shots have always been an acceptable price for Tiger to pay in exchange for dominant length," says Woods' coach, Hank Haney. "The top players play the power game--and prove over and over that distance is king, especially when you have the ability to hit great recovery shots."

Mickelson hit 62.9 percent of his fairways in 2004, but he didn't like sacrificing distance to find the short grass more often than other long hitters. He made a driver change at the end of 2004 and rejoined the 300-yard club last year, but his percentage of fairways hit dropped to 58.7 percent for the season--a classic compromise.

Missing fairways is part of the distance deal. Longer tee shots are more likely to find the rough, for the same reason 4-irons miss more greens than 8-irons. In fact, as driving distance on tour keeps increasing, driving accuracy keeps dropping. The percentage of fairways hit the past two seasons--64.2 and 62.9--represents the biggest single-year drops since the tour started keeping those stats in 1980, and the number this season has dropped again, to just over 60 percent.

But to tour players, more important than driving it straight is hitting greens in regulation, which leads to birdie opportunities. ShotLink's "Top Guns," a group of nine leading players, including Woods, Singh and Ernie Els, hit 68.8 percent of greens through the Masters, with the tour average 64.9 percent. But the stars don't distinguish themselves when it comes to driving accuracy, where the Top Guns' 62.2 percent in fairways hit would rank 72nd on tour.

"I'd like to hit it from the fairway," Els said last July, "but if you want to stay aggressive and chase birdies, with equipment nowadays you can get it out of the rough and still stop it on the green."

Bomb & Gouge is so prevalent on tour that collegiate, and even junior, golfers are catching the wave.

"I've definitely had to change the way I coach," says Buddy Alexander, men's golf coach at the University of Florida. "I used to try to throttle my players back, but they see the guys on tour playing the power game and making all those birdies. That's where they want to be."

Puggy Blackmon, the University of South Carolina's head golf coach, says his players are 20 to 35 yards longer than they were five years ago. "I can see it on the courses we play year after year," says Blackmon, who coached David Duval and Stewart Cink at Georgia Tech. "On [par 5s] where kids used to lay up, now they're hitting driver and a middle iron."

Part of that, Blackmon says, is that top collegiate players, like the pros, work to optimize driver launch conditions. "These kids know all their specs--clubhead speed, ball speed, you name it," he says.

Aspiring junior and collegiate golfers are also emphasizing physical fitness. At the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., kids in their mid-teens follow golf-specific workouts five days a week. "We work mostly on mobility and stability, with some weights," says Tim Sheredy, senior instructor at the academy, whose graduates include Sean O'Hair and Paula Creamer. "The goal is to help them swing more efficiently and create more torque. We try to add speed and power to their games."

College coaches increasingly seek junior golfers with aggressive styles.

"A lot of coaches are looking for power players," says 18-year-old Kyle Stanley, a high school senior from Gig Harbor, Wash., who will enroll in Clemson this fall on a golf scholarship. "They like to see players taking risks and playing aggressively--that says confidence."

bomberdaly.jpg
How smart is bomb & gouge?

Aggressive play is often confused with careless play. It's true that Watson, Holmes and Villegas embrace a go-for-broke style, but Bomb & Gouge isn't all reckless.

When Holmes arrived at the 72nd tee at the FBR, he faced a drive that had to negotiate water and fairway bunkers. To the gallery's delight, Holmes pulled out driver and smashed it over everything, 354 yards. He claims it was the safest play he had.

"I knew I could hit it over the water with driver, and there was nothing else out there," he says. "Hitting a 3-wood or 2-iron wouldn't have been safe. I could have hit it in the water."

Tour players who lag in the power stats are well aware of the gap. "Some guys, like me, have to work it between the bunkers; other guys can blow it over," says David Toms, 97th in driving distance this season.

Fred Funk, who ranks 182nd in distance but has been the tour's most accurate driver for years, is even more candid. "There's no substitute for length and power, and there never will be," he says. "If a guy is hitting an 8- or 9-iron into a hole and I'm hitting 5-, 6-and 7-irons, he's going to beat me over four days, unless I'm really putting well."

Adds Holmes: "I can be more aggressive [into greens] than most players because I have more wedges in my hand. If I was back there with 6- or 7-iron, I'd probably hit it in the middle of the green, too. But put any of us up there with a wedge, we're going right at it. I don't count that as aggressive; it's just a smart play."

Many golf insiders argue that course setups play right into the power player's hands. "Until the tour and other events narrow the fairways to 25 yards and grow the rough to four or five inches, they'll continue to bomb it," says Butch Harmon. "Golf used to be driving and putting, and it still is, only getting the ball in play doesn't matter anymore."

"The golf courses [on tour] don't do anything to the guy who hits it 30 yards off the fairway," says Titleist's Phillips. "You're better to miss by 30 yards than five because you're beyond the irrigation line."

PGA Tour tournament director Slugger White confirms that better lies often exist farther off the fairway. It's the result, he says, of thousands of fans trampling the grass. "But we don't want our spectators to have to stay 50 yards off the hole, or walk in the woods," says White.

Some critics say the tour keeps fairways wide and the rough short to favor bombers, who attract fans and, therefore, corporate sponsors. "It's entertainment; it's like the WWF," says Phillips.

White says the tour does not set up courses for long hitters, but shorter hitters aren't so sure. Toms, in contention against Woods at Doral, wasn't thrilled that the landing area on the 18th hole at the Blue Monster was considerably wider for bombers off the tee. "I just don't think it's fair," he says. "Why do I have to hit into whatever that little fairway is, and then, you know, a third of the field can just hit it as hard as they want to?"

The tour's White thinks pushing back the tees week to week so bombers can't carry all the trouble would only hurt shorter hitters, who would then have more middle and long irons into greens.

One idea for putting a premium back on driving accuracy would be to "lower the floors of fairway bunkers so that they're real hazards," says White. "We can't just grow up the rough to six inches. The members at [our tournament sites] would not be able to play their own golf course."

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What bomb & gouge means to you

Most golfers already play their own version of Bomb & Gouge. You might not be hitting wedges into par 4s, but you probably hit driver off every hole you can. You've resisted the advice to put the ball in play with a 3- or 5-wood. Nothing compares to catching your driver flush, and you're willing to put up with the misses for the ones you hit on the money, however rare.

The good news is, technology has made this the smartest time ever to hit driver. Although it's true that advances in driver heads and low-spin balls have produced the biggest distance gains for the fastest-swinging players, most golfers are at least driving the ball straighter today. That makes bombing a safer proposition.

Shelby Futch, who runs the Golf Digest Schools, advises students to hit driver. "If a player has kept up with technology, his driver is the straightest club in his bag," says Futch. "Plus, looking down at that huge head and the ball on a high tee, it just gives you confidence. With a 3-wood, you have to tee it down, which promotes the steep swing we see in poor drivers."

In addition to more-forgiving clubheads, the proliferation of launch monitors has allowed many golfers to have drivers fitted to them. Still, some industry experts believe that promoting the distance game to amateurs is a dangerous move. "I'd hate to see the game go power only, because the average golfer does not have the strength, athleticism or practice habits to support that kind of game," says Jim Flick. "I still think most guys should try to get it in play off the tee. The 3-wood, with more loft and a shorter shaft, will help him do that."

Nike Golf's Stites agrees but concedes that a player's feelings about a club play a big part. "I don't think any amount of technology is going to make a driver more accurate than a 3-wood," says Stites, "unless the player's emotions and confidence level are so much higher with that driver."

Stites points out that the challenge with early versions of the 460cc driver was squaring the large clubhead at impact. But manufacturers have tweaked and re-tweaked the heads to facilitate face rotation. "Golfers who couldn't play the big drivers three years ago now can play them," he says, "and a large part of that is because they're easier to square than they used to be."

Hitting your driver exclusively might be smarter today, but look out for conditions that still make it unwise. If your course contains lots of water or out-of-bounds, or tight tree lines, consider using a shorter club off of some tees. Also think about your approach shot: If even your best drive on a particular hole will leave you with a fairway wood or long iron, tee off with a shorter club to increase your odds of getting a perfect fairway lie. Ironically, you might wind up hitting driver on shorter holes and using a more conservative strategy on longer holes.

No matter how often you use your driver, you'll see the most benefit with today's equipment if you increase your clubhead speed. Whether you get it through physical fitness, better swing mechanics or lighter clubs, more speed means more yards as never before.

The bottom line is, you didn't spend $350 on that new driver to keep it in the bag, but you don't have the swing speed to gouge out of the rough like the pros--and you're not gouging with a wedge. Titleist's Phillips has a solution: "I could see a day when [non-tour] players carry two drivers, maybe a 9-degree and also a 13-degree for tougher driving holes." That would give golfers a chance to play a safer club without feeling like they're keeping the big dog from coming out to play.

Mickelson has already gone to two drivers in special circumstances. Preparing for the Masters, he eliminated his sand wedge to go with two 9.5-degree drivers at the BellSouth Classic, and it worked.

"I have a driver I hit a long way that draws, and I have a driver that fades and stays in play," Mickelson said after going 28 under par to win the BellSouth by 13 strokes, averaging 309 yards off the tee and hitting 80 percent of the fairways. And in winning the Masters, Mickelson kept both drivers in the bag and led the field in driving distance.

The value of the Tour's new style

For many golf fans, Bomb & Gouge is pure entertainment. Television ratings and fan interest have been known to slump when Woods takes a week off. Now the tour has a new show with bombers who have the ability to turn second-tier events into power exhibitions.

"People get excited to see things they can't do themselves," says Holmes. "Most golfers can hit a wedge to five feet or make a 30-foot putt, but they can't hit the ball 340 yards. That's what they want to see."
Gary McCord, a CBS golf analyst and Champions Tour player, agrees that tour galleries go crazy for power. "They see these young guys launching it, and their jaws hit the ground," says McCord. "The average player wants to play with power more than the tour player does, and he sees guys like Bubba and J.B. and says, 'Hey, these are my guys.' "

Some traditionalists equate Bomb & Gouge with the death of golf's subtle arts. "The quality of shotmaking has deteriorated," says Harmon. "If you took today's player back 40 or 50 years, he wouldn't play so well. But if you had that generation's player today, he'd be even better than the guys we're seeing--he'd add distance to his great creativity."

Television analyst David Feherty, a former Ryder Cup player, agrees that shotmaking has changed but thinks it's for the better. "I stand up on the tee [at tour events] and look out at a fairway 350 yards out. I put my thumb on one edge of the fairway and my finger on the other--it's like 2 1/2 inches, and these guys are ripping it down the middle," says Feherty. "If that's not shotmaking, I don't know what is."

Tour players today might lack the depth of skills of the best players of the past, but the PGA Tour is a business--and bombers are good for business. Hitting fairways and greens was once the clear method of success, but Bomb & Gouge is a legitimate strategy today.

"Wait until you get guys who are built like Michael Jordan or built like Carl Lewis who've got speed, natural speed," Woods says. "Wait until you get guys who are bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic, didn't decide to play baseball, didn't want to play basketball--they want to play golf."

With today's tour bombers leading the way, the wait might be over.

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---Golf Digest June 2006

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The top three in driving distance as of today average 58.5 % GIR when they don't hit the fairway,with an average rank of 25th in that stat.

 

The bottom three in driving distance average about 47%, with an average rank of 160th.

 

That says it all about how tour courses are set up to benefit the long hitters.

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Some critics say the tour keeps fairways wide and the rough short to favor bombers, who attract fans and, therefore, corporate sponsors. "It's entertainment; it's like the WWF," says Phillips.

 

Totally agree. As the sport faces more and more challenge to fight for TV money and fan dollars they pretty much have to cater to whatever gets the most oohs and aahs.

 

"Wait until you get guys who are built like Michael Jordan or built like Carl Lewis who've got speed, natural speed," Woods says. "Wait until you get guys who are bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic, didn't decide to play baseball, didn't want to play basketball--they want to play golf."

 

Whatever Tiger, I'm sure LeBron James really struggled with forgoing a career in golf. Obvioulsy guys like Holmes, Watson, and Villegas provide evidence that players are getting stronger and driving the ball farther, but don't hold your breath waiting for the likes of the next MJ, Emmit Smith (who is strong but golfs terribly), Jerry Rice, Vince Carter, etc....Baseball is having a tough time recruiting and they pay big bucks with guaranteed contracts, does golf really care?

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Chalk up another victory for the bomb and gouge crowd, although you have to give Brett credit for actually nailing down a reasonable fairways hit percentage and a fantastic GIR for the week.

 

But for the year, 4th in distance, 95th in accuracy. 6th in GIR. That's the game today, folks. Driver, wedge. Notably, his "GIR from other than the fairway" stat is 61%, 6th in that category.

 

What I'd like to see "average iron number for approach from missed green". I'll bet it's a nine or pw.

 

I just hope that every once in a while, between the mind-numbing repeats of BBX, they'll show some of the pre-95 tournaments so that young players new to the game will actually get to see somebody hit a 3 iron approach to a par 4...

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This exchange between 3 individuals in this thread was truely childish and I apologize to the members that might have read it. I cleaned up the thread and am now closing it. I am hopfull that all of us will read the rules again and begin the follow them.

 

Rules we violated in this thread...

 

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-No mob mentality posting. Please respect every one no matter what.

-Please show everybody that you can be a responsible adult despite what age you are.

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      Garrick Higgo - 2 Aretera shafts in the bag - 2024 John Deere Classic
      Jhonattan Vegas' custom Cameron putter - 2024 John Deere Classic
      Bud Cauley's custom Cameron putter - 2024 John Deere Classic
      2 new Super Stroke Marvel comics grips - 2024 John Deere Classic
      Swag blade putter - 2024 John Deere Classic
      Swag Golf - Joe Dirt covers - 2024 John Deere Classic
       
       
       
       
       
      • 3 replies
    • 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic - Discussion and Links to Photos
      Please put and questions or comments here
       
       
      General Albums
       
      2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic - Monday #1
      2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic - Monday #2
      2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic - Monday #3
       
       
       
       
       
      WITB Albums
       
      Nate Lashley - WITB - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
      Hayden Springer - WITB - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
      Jackson Koivun - WITB - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
      Callum Tarren - WITB - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
      Luke Clanton - WITB - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
       
       
       
       
      Pullout Albums
       
      Jason Dufner's custom 3-D printed Cobra putter - 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic
       
       
       
       
       
       
        • Thanks
        • Like
      • 11 replies
    • Tiger Woods - WITB - 2024 US Open
      Tiger Woods - WITB - 2024 US Open
        • Like
      • 52 replies

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