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.
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.
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.