What We Can Learn from the Tour Pros

Editors note: This article was originally published last August on www.Chicagoduffer.com.

I attended the opening round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on Aug. 12th, and every time I see a Tour event close up, I’m always amazed at how the best players in the world play the game. Note that I said “play the game” and not “hit the ball”. And while their ball-striking is extremely impressive and attention-getting, it’s how they manage the course, plan, overcome adversity, and take advantage of opportunities that truly separate the world class from the mere expert. I sat on the 7th hole most of the day and watched the best players in the world play a 230 yard par three with cliff and water to the right, and bunkers, and long rough to the left. Here are a few things that we can all learn from the tour pros, and implement into our own games, regardless of skill level.

· Get the big picture. The Tour pros know that an event is 72 holes over four (or more) days. A good round on Thursday or Friday wins you nothing, and to break it down further, two or three birdies in a row doesn’t win you anything either. But the opposite is also true, a couple bad holes, or a bad day doesn’t necessarily lose the event. Most of us don’t play in 72 hole events, but we still need to have a “big picture” mentality. Don’t get too excited about one great shot or great hole, and don’t give up after one bad shot or bad hole.

· Play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Most Tour pros have one shot shape or style that comes natural to them. Usually it’s a draw or hook. And they hit this shot nearly every time. If you watch golf on TV, the commentators make it sound as if the players shape their shots differently on each hole. This is not even close to accurate. Tour pros strive for consistency, and hitting a different shot on every hole is the farthest thing from consistent. They all have the ability to hit different shots, but will typically only do so when required. If a player hits a right to left draw, and the hole is on the right side of the green near bunkers or other trouble, he’ll play to the center of the green, and take his chances with a long putt, as opposed to playing a shot he’s not comfortable with. Same applies to a dogleg right hole. Playing to your strengths also affects course management. If a player is strong out of the bunkers, he may take a chance at a tough hole location guarded by bunkers. The opposite is also true.

· No penalty strokes. While watching the 7th hole at the Straits, the hole was cut back right, no more than 10 paces from the hazard. I watched over 100 players come through this hole and a total of one player found the hazard to the right of the green. It was Paul Goydos, and he made a double bogey. By playing away from the hazard and toward the left side of the green, players took any number larger than four completely out of play. This is magnified even more when out-of-bounds comes into play with its +2 stroke addition to your scorecard. You can survive being in the rough or in a bunker, and even have a chance at par on a hole, but good luck saving par with a penalty shot or two.

· Every shot counts. How many times have you casually stepped up to a three foot putt and missed it? If you’ve played golf at all, you’ve done it. That three foot putt counts the same as a 300 yard drive, or the 20ft putt you made a few hole ago. Make sure you’re ready to play the shot (but don’t hold up play, please).

· Course management. This is the biggest difference between the Tour pros and the average golfer. The average guy walks up to a 150 yard par 3, grabs his 150 yard club and swings away. The Tour pro looks at the size and shape of the green, where the hole is placed, the trouble surrounding the green, and the bailout areas before selecting a club. If the green slopes back to front, he will attempt to hit it below the hole. If there are bunkers or severe hazards on one side, he’ll play away from them to the other side of the green. Take a second to look at the entire hole, and not just the distance and the flagstick (but don’t hold up play, please). Proper course management means maximizing your margin of error. Watching the 7th hole at the Straits, fully 50% of the field missed the left of the green. Aiming slightly left of the green allowed for the widest dispersion of shots to remain in play, with a chance to save par. This also comes into play when choosing club on par 4s and par 5s. Look at the fairway and know how far away the widest part is and where the trouble is. It makes sense to lay up to the widest part of the fairway or to stay short of bunkers or hazards.

· Game Plan. The Tour pros have an idea what they’re going to do before then get to that hole. If you’re playing you’re regular course, you should too. You should know where the trouble is on the hole, and have a plan to avoid it. Remember, you want to maximize your margin of error.

· Short Game is everything. People are mesmerized by 340 yard drives and 200 yard 7-irons. And admittedly, a six foot putt isn’t very exciting. But the short game is where the money is made on tour and everywhere else for that matter. Everyone knows this, and most amateurs know this as well. But nobody practices their putting, or sand play, or wedge play. Even most TV commentators fall into this category, talking endlessly about a huge drive, or a par 5 that was hit in two, but never talk about a great par save from a bunker, or several consecutive 10 foot putts made.

It’s my belief that it’s not the ball striking that separates the world’s best from the next level. I’ve play in numerous club professional events over the years, and all the guys hit it long and straight. If you watch the best college players, they all hit is long and straight. If you watch a mini-tour event, they all hit in long and straight. Get the idea? What distinguishes the best from the rest are some of the boring, hard to define qualities. Using some of the above techniques can help get you into this mindset. For more info or advice consult your local PGA Professional, or send a video to http://www.FixYourGame.com/.