Bernie Najar

Golf Instruction

June 2019 Newsletter: Getting Your Game Ready for Big Tournaments and Learning Remotely

Playing in Big Events
As we get started with summer, we’re entering tournament time—big junior events like the Western Junior, where I was working with some of my students this week, or the Member-Guest you might be going to play at a club where you aren’t super familiar with the layout. In both cases, you need specific skills that don’t have anything to do with how you hit the ball to play your best.

The first thing good players do is adapt. Whether you’re one the road at an event or playing three or four days in a row at a different course than normal, your ability to adjust to different surroundings is crucial. I’ll use the juniors playing in the Western Junior as an example. Because of how important the tournament is, many players might get into town and want to immediately go to the course late in the afternoon to grind out 18 holes of prep. But the better move is to go play nine holes and spend more of your time resting and getting settled, so you’re at your best the next day. Tournaments are demanding mentally and physically, and you have to be mindful of it even when you're 15 or 16 years old.

What about when you’re playing a practice round? A key skill in golf is controlling distance, and the players who can come to a particular place and figure out how far the ball is going and what their strategy is going to be, they're not getting caught up in shooting a score. They've used their time wisely. Nutrition is another underrated element. The food at the event might not be the best, or you might get sucked into eating a bunch of fast food. And if it's hot? You better be drinking lots of water and getting your electrolytes.

How Teaching and Fitness Work Together
If you watched any of the U.S. Open, you saw the two players going head to head down the stretch, Gary Woodland and Brooks Koepka, showing what it means to be both an athlete and a golfer. They’re both big, strong guys, and they clearly spend a lot of time focusing on their fitness.

You don’t have to be a tour player to get the benefit from fitness in your game—but it’s important to work with a team to get the mix right. Brooks Koepka is doing lots of bench presses, but that might not be what you need for your body or your game. A good golf instructor and trainer work together to help you both maximize your golf skill with the body you have and improve your body so you can do more and more. Maybe a player can't get into a certain posture or do something with their legs. It's a limitation that can be addressed with a trainer, or you could see something that needs addressing by a physical therapist. I can show a player a few things to do in the gym, but I know the limits of what I know and don't know, and when to send somebody for specialized knowledge. Want to get "explosive" and not seeing the results? Or trying to become more mobile and not seeing any gains? That's where trainers really help. Tight might just mean weak, and the work you're doing isn't the right stuff.

One element that is underrated (especially in a world where so many players use cars) is endurance. It’s a big part of the game both mentally and physically. You lose shots late in rounds because you aren't fit, both because you can’t physically do some of the things you could do three hours before and because a tired body and mind makes you more prone to losing your patience and making bad decisions.

I photographed Gary Woodland’s swing during the Monday practice round at this year's Masters.

I photographed Gary Woodland’s swing during the Monday practice round at this year's Masters.

Congratulations to Gary Woodland
It was awesome to see what Gary was able to do at Pebble Beach. He has a complete game from tee to green—both in terms of power and touch. My favorite things about his game is his decision-making. As a long hitter, you sometime take more risks than you need to because you get enticed by the potential reward of a short wedge into a green. He doesn't do that. He knows when risks have the appropriate reward. It's a disciplined approach. He had a definitive plan for every shot. He had information in his topographic maps that he used, then he visualized exactly what he wanted to execute.

I was so impressed with the shot he hit on the 17th green, when he had to pitch the ball from the green surface. It was such a hard shot when you consider the stress he was under. I caddied at Q-school for a guy one year, and he had the same shot. It was so stressful, but those guys are so precise with how they deliver the club, it's like pitching from the fairway. They know the landing angle so well and their technique is so good that even if they hit it an inch behind the ball, the club would still slide. Most players panic and come out of it, which makes the bottom of their swing very narrow. The club is going up and down a lot instead of being shallow and skimming the turf. When you come out of it, you steal all your margin for error. Gary used good technique and let the club do the work instead of trying to force the ball in the air.

Mobile Coaching
Nothing can take the place of being live and face-to-face with a student, but busy schedules don’t always permit it. But with the beauty of technology—FaceTime, things like that—I can check in with a student even when they’re across the country. They’ll hook the phone up to a tripod and put the video on, then stick the ear buds in and hit shots while I watch and give feedback. It’s a terrific feedback loop for the player.

When I'm coaching players who are out playing tournaments, they check in every ten days or so so we can cover things that need covering. It’s useful because even the best players can lose their way and start making adjustments that aren’t really relevant to the issue at hand. I’ll often hear a student say that they’re playing great so they don’t need me to take a look. But when you're playing well is often the best time to see a coach to get some baseline data. My players at the Western Junior this week are both putting very well this week, so I put the Blast Motion sensors on their putters to get some data—not to show them their strokes, but to have it as a reference. Then they can go back to what they did in the past, if only to find a familiar feel.





May 2019 Newsletter: Tour Player Hints and How to Video Your Swing

News: Clinic Time
It’s always fascinating to spend time with tour players. Last week, I had the chance to do an annual clinic that’s held here at Caves Valley with Billy Andrade, who has had a long and successful career on the PGA and PGA Champions tours. I had never really studied his swing before, but I had a feeling he worked on his mental game with Bob Rotella because of how close Bob and Billy’s good friend Brad Faxon are. It turns out that Billy and Brad couldn’t be more different, both in how they swing and how they approach instruction. Brad is a legendary tinkerer who has worked with dozens of teachers, while Billy has done it mostly on his own with some occasional looks from Craig Harmon and help from Rotella on his mental game.

One of the most interesting questions that came up from the students in the clinic was about Billy’s transition from playing on the tour to commentating for the window of time between the regular and senior tours. What were the common things he saw from the players who were coming down the stretch in the lead late on Sunday from the different perspective of walking with those groups instead of playing?

Billy said he was amazed at how often those players made stress-free pars. The first putt they had inevitably led to a tap-in, which meant they weren’t burning mental energy grinding on saving par. If you have good distance control on your putting, you’re always going to be in the mix on tour. If you’re on a par-5 in two or up around the green, it’s an automatic birdie. You’re not throwing away strokes. And that putting skill takes so much pressure off the rest of your game, because it ramps up your confidence that you can get out of a problem if you run into one. You can swing the driver and the irons more free.

Another big element in Billy’s talk was the importance of a routine. He said his routine is what helps him relax when he’s playing, because it’s something he can always go back to no matter the situation. He developed in kind of a funny way, from a tai chi expert he met at a photo shoot. The tai chi guy showed him how to use deep breathing, and to be more aware of his breath under pressure. The tendency for most players is to actually hold their breath when they’re nervous. By releasing it, you’re helping yourself get ready for the shot calmly. Billy said it was actually more important than the relative sharpness of his swing on a given day.

Coaching Case Study: Tommy Morrison

I really enjoy helping talented junior players develop their potential, and I’m fortunate to have one student where the sky is literally the limit. Tommy Morrison is “only” 14 years old, but he’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s already swinging the driver 120 miles per hour, and his game has developed to the point where he missed U.S. Open qualifying this month by a single shot. He’s already being heavily recruited by the best college teams. He’s going to be a great player—and he’s already a great person.

The challenge for Tommy as he’s grown (when I started with him at age 10, he was 5-foot-5!) is keeping up with the specifics of his carry distances. We’ve had to change his clubs four times in the last few years because of how tall he’s gotten, and the distances he carries the ball with each club have changed to go along with it. Even though he practices and plays all the time, the week before U.S. Open qualifying he played in an event where he was consistently six or seven yards off with his carry distances on each club. That’s a big deal, because the difference between hitting a shot 140 or 146 with a precision club like a short iron is the difference between having a good look at birdie and missing a green.

I took Tommy through his bag during our last practice session and had him start with lob wedge and work up to driver and back down again hitting six or eight balls with each club each time through. At the end, we tossed out the outliers—the extra long shots or the extra short ones—and figured out his carry distances precisely. He thought his pitching wedge was 144 carry, but it turned out to be 150 on the nose. Even if you don’t hit it as far as Tommy does (and not many people do), it’s a hugely valuable exercise to go through because you need to know that carry number for your clubs. Knowing you hit your 7-iron “around 150” isn’t nearly as helpful as knowing you usually carry it 138 yards and it rolls out between 10 and 15 yards. Now you know what you need to hit to carry an obstacle, as well as having a realistic idea of which club you need to pick under each circumstance.  

Tech Corner: Video Camera position
Everybody has a smartphone with a video camera in it—and it can be a great tool to get a look at your swing. But if you want relevant information, you need to take some easy steps to make sure you’re recording from the right spot.

To start, get a simple tripod or clip that attaches to your bag so you don’t need to rely on a friend to show up and do it. Next, you’re going to want to pick the angle that captures what you’re interested in seeing. If you want to look at your swing in terms of the plane of motion, you want to shoot the video where the camera behind you and shooting down toward the target. Set it up so that it’s about belt high, four feet off the ground or so, and down your stance line—not the ball line. That will frame your body and club and you won’t get a distorted view of how the club is traveling. An easy way to do it is to put a club down in front of your feet and center the camera on that line. From that angle, when you share it with your pro, you can get some good feedback.

To shoot face on—which is great for checking ball position, stance width, grip and how your body is moving—try to shoot with the camera relatively perpendicular to the target and square to your center line. The center of the chest is a good reference point. If you do that, you can always have the same frame of reference. Be sure to check both views, because they work together. So many good things happen when you’re set up ideally and consistently. It’s something tour players are working on all the time, and they’re hitting more balls than anyone. Ball position is the one thing that influences club path almost more than anything. If you want to draw or fade it and the ball isn’t in the right spot, you’re going to have a mess. The distance you are from the ball? That can throw off your angles, too.

Go out and give it a try and post your videos on Instagram with me tagged (@bernienajargolf). I’ll give you some feedback on what I see.

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April 2019 Newsletter: Learning from the Masters and a Lesson with a Legend

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News: Watching the Masters from a Different Perspective
One of the great benefits of being a PGA member is that Augusta National offers teachers a chance to go watch the Masters simply by showing their credentials. It’s a perk I’ve taken advantage of every year since 2005. Watching the golf is entertaining from a fan perspective, but I also have a very specific purpose every time I go. I bring my camera, and I spend at least one day photographing players and their swings and practice routines. You can learn so much from the variety of swings out on tour, but capturing practice routines around the short game area and practice range gives great insight on the difference between working on skills and preparing for an event. I’ve spent hours watching players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do everything from hit drivers to play a variety of flop shots from the super tight lies they have at Augusta National.

As good as high definition television has gotten at showing the tournament, being right next to the players and seeing what they do gives you a greater appreciation for just how good they are—and how hard the golf course is. Watching Tiger Woods two-putt from a downhill position on the 9th hole was amazing to watch on the Sunday telecast, but when you see that green in real life and can get a full appreciation for the speed and slope, it’s truly incredible what he was able to do. It also reminds me of an important point I make to my students when we’re talking about course management. There are plenty of times when the best position to be around the green ISN’T on the green. In Tiger’s case, for example, he would have had an easier up-and-down from the fringe below the hole, even from farther away and a position where he needed to chip.

Just by understanding where the most dangerous places are on a given hole, you give yourself a much better chance of avoiding a big number. Think about the course you play most regularly. Do you ever go out and play a practice round like the tour players do, where you’re thinking more about playing shots from the areas that give you trouble instead of posting a score? Maybe there’s a long par-3 that you always miss short and right. What kinds of shots do you need to practice from that miss location so you have a better chance at getting up and down? Those are the kinds of things you see tour players doing religiously early in the week—getting ready for situations, not grinding away on improving a skill.

Coaching Case Study: Cal Ripken Jr.
When I got back home from the Masters on Tuesday night, I was looking forward to a lesson I had coming up with baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. I had met Cal before, but we had never worked together. He was coming in for an early-season assessment of his game and his gear. What a pleasure it was to spend some time with somebody who is both a nice guy and an impressive player. Watching Cal warm up, it was easy to see that he has the natural cadence and quality of movement you get by being a world class athlete your entire life. He’s a big, powerful guy, and even though his swing has a lot of the baseball movement pattern in it (obviously), he understood what elements of his swing made the ball do what he wanted. We talked a lot about the differences between being able to measure a swing with technology like TrackMan or Swing Catalyst and actually being able to do the things you’re working on improving in your swing when it comes time to post a score.

Using Swing Catalyst, we measured Cal’s baseball swing to get an understanding of how he used ground forces to create torque and speed. He was fascinated by the results, and said they reinforced what he felt when he was swinging the bat well vs. when he was hitting poorly. When he was struggling, he said he felt like he’d get the bat wrapped around his head and he couldn’t get it moving fast to the ball. I told him he had the same pattern in his golf swing. When he hit poor shots, it was usually because his lead wrist was extending too much in the backswing—or bending upward. Once he got that wrist into more extension and the feeling that he was creating more stretch in transition—pressuring his left pec with his bicep—he immediately picked up 20 yards. The ability to connect what he did in baseball to his golf swing really made the advice resonate with him, and got him excited about working on it. Even if you aren’t a baseball player like Cal (and who is?), you can take a cue from him and try to incorporate some of the dynamic movements of other activities you like in your quest for improving your golf swing. If you like to go bass fishing, bowl, dance or shoot a basketball, you can get better at swinging a club by incorporating some of those thoughts into your game. I’ll have a video on this subject later in the summer.

Tech Corner: The Difference Between 2D and 3D
If you spent any time watching the Masters telecast, you probably saw the biomechanical “model” they used to show some players hitting shots on the practice range. It was an interesting way to give a more 3D look at the golf swing than the traditional 2D view you’d get from watching a standard video replay. Video is fine for what it is, but you’re usually looking at a swing from face on or down the line—which limits the information you can get. When you add tools like the K-Vest system I have in my studio, you can see the real relationship between the parts of the body, and between the body and the club. It starts to reveal the actual “why” behind a smaller player like Rory McIlroy being able to hit the ball so far. At the top of this newsletter is a photo I took of Rory at the Masters from slightly to the side of true down the line. It shows part of what I’m talking about—that he has his hips turned dramatically toward the target by the time he gets to impact—but 3D can give you the actual measurements and sequencing of that move and how it works with the rest of his swing.

A great thing about CBS trying out those new graphics is that it extends the trend of getting golf fans more comfortable with data and the measurement of swings. TrackMan and Foresight machines use radar and cameras respectively to measure what the ball is doing. Now we know exactly how fast, high and far the ball goes, and you can use what the tour players are doing on television as a basis of comparison for your game. For example, Rory might hit his 7-iron 190 yards, and it reaches a peak of 120 feet in height. You can get the same kind of feedback on your game. The point isn’t so much to feel bad because you aren’t as explosive as a tour player—because almost none of us are!—but to get a benchmark for what you’re doing so that you can measure your improvement. Better measurements are also a massive help for clubfitting. Just by understanding what makes the ball spin, you can get 25 more yards out of your driver by switching to a shaft that works better with your swing.

One limitation on 3D is that you need to go to a studio and get measured by a teacher that has the appropriate equipment. That leaves a lot of players trying to use their smartphone to capture a 2D image as best they can. You can learn some interesting things from videoing your swing—which will be the subject of another newsletter down the line. I’ll leave you with a couple of pieces of advice so you can mess with it before we get to it. The first is to be aware of the distortions that can happen when you don’t film from a very specific angle. Instead of using video to evaluate and change things like swing path, angle of attack and even ball position—which are either impossible to see in 2D or subject to distortion depending on the angle you film—use the full speed video on your phone to capture your swing from the angle halfway between face on and down the line to match the feels you have in your swing with what you see. Are you in synch, or making a lot of extra moves? One big downside to shooting with the super slow motion video you can find on new smartphones is that slow motion disconnects what you’re doing with the natural rhythm of the swing. It can get you fixated on fixing a problem that might not even be the main thing separating you from a more effective swing.

To learn more about your game in 3D, you can always come by the Caves Valley Performance Center for an assessment. We’ve got K-Vest, TrackMan, Foresight and Swing Catalyst all working together to get your swing and your equipment tuned the way they should be. Click here to schedule an appointment.






Read my friend Tom Friedman's take on Tiger Woods in the New York Times

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Thomas Friedman is a good friend and client, and it’s been an incredible experience exchanging ideas with him on both the game and life. He was kind enough to write the foreword to my book, The Game, and even mentioned it in the column he wrote about Tiger Woods’ Masters performance and what it represented about perseverance and the pure joy of the came. You can read the complete column here. The photo that accompanies this post came from my own trip down to Augusta last week. I’ve been going down for years with my camera—Augusta National is kind enough to let club professionals attend just by showing our PGA credentials—and I try to get images of the best players to help understand what it is that makes swings so different and so special. Watching Tiger both on the course and in the short game practice area is truly fascinating. His combination of power, creativity and focus is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. You can also look for more of these photos in a book for which I’m contributing with my friend Mike Adams. It’ll be out in the next few weeks.

Check out my Masters analysis at GolfDigest.com

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Many thanks to my friend Matthew Rudy from Golf Digest for including me in a story he wrote about Tiger Woods’ incredible achievement at the Masters on Sunday. I talked about some of the new things he has been doing with this swing, and why his driver was working so well. Also great to see my friend Kevin Weeks weigh in about short game. Check the story out here.

The Game Now Available on Amazon.com!

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It’s a great time to be a player. But, as anybody who has ever searched for an instruction video on YouTube knows, having access to an unlimited amount of information doesn’t mean you’ll find the right information. And even if you find the right information, if you aren’t sure how to use it, it won’t do you much good. Identifying the problem is only the first part of the process. You must know what to do next. That’s where The Game comes in.

My goal was to create a roadmap for the game of golf—making it more fun one page at a time. I'm always trying to organize and prioritize information for my students. As a coach, my job is to reinforce these concepts and to motivate the player to enjoy the game and achieve the goals. In The Game, you will find help with some of the same filtering.

The Game is focused on eight of the most common questions and situations players have in the game, and I offer my answers to those questions. 

What makes this book different? Have you ever asked yourself the following:

·      What does getting off the tee better mean?

·      How do you get the most out of your next golf lesson?

·      How do you get better at competition – no matter what your level?

There’s an art and strategy to all of those things.

You can start from the beginning, but The Game is designed to be a reference book. You can pick the question or problem you want to solve today and go straight to it. It’s designed to be a step-by-step reminder for when you need to come back for a refresher course. Even the best players go through a tune-up phase at the beginning of a season, after they’ve put the clubs away for a few weeks.

I you to swing the club better, but more importantly, I wants you to enjoy the entire golf experience. To do that, we're going to focus on improving your overall golf skills—both on and off the course—so that you’re building great relationships with the people around you in the game.

And that’s when golf is really at its best.

Pick up a copy from Amazon.com, or click here to order a personalized one directly from me.