Play Better Tournament Golf

It’s a common problem for golfers everywhere. When they practice things go well, but when they tee it up in a tournament nothing goes right.

This week I played in the South Carolina Open at Belfair Plantation. The tournament did not go quite like I was hoping  - see the damage for yourself here. However, I’m going to turn that poor performance into something we can all benefit from. Here are four ways to improve your play during tournament conditions. While we go through those ways, I’ll show you how following them would have helped my score.

Put The Ball In Play

The fastest way to watch your score go up is to add penalty shots. Out-of-bounds shots are the worst offenders as you effectively add two shots to your final score with every OB shot. Next up are shots into water hazards, as these add one shot to your final score. Finally, we have the unplayable ball (a ball stuck in a bush for example). Those situations add one shot as well.

Real-life example: My back nine in Round One featured four shots into the water. Let’s pretend those four shots find land, and my 85 has turned into 81.

Avoid Three Putts

I know, this is much easier said than done sometimes. The best players in the world three putt sometimes too, but our general rule is that any three-putt adds one shot to your final score.

The speed of the lag putt is the most important aspect to avoiding three-putts. Players will misread putts, but if the speed is correct usually there is just a tap-in putt left to clean up. Difficult two-putts happen when the lag putt comes up very short or is hit well past the hole.

Real-life example: I had one three-putt green each day. Round One is now hypothetically at 80, Round Two is at 77.

Recognize Difficult Hole Locations

In tournament play, hit your approach left of this flag. Any approach in the front bunker or down the hill on the right would make par extremely difficult. (Photo via theitinerantgolfer.com)

Many tournaments will utilize hole locations that make par a great score on that hole. As the player, the key is to recognize those hole locations and play an appropriate approach shot that makes the next shot as easy as possible. Sometimes it is best to play your approach shot away from the hole to the center of the green for an easier two-putt par.

Real-life example: In Round One, I hit the ball over the green to a back hole location on #14 and to the left of a bunker guarding a left hole location on #5. Round Two was better with just one mistake here, hitting the ball at a tucked flag on #8 instead of the middle of the green. Each spot left the ball in a spot nearly impossible save par from. Hypothetical Round One is down to 78, while Round Two is at 76.

Minimize Your Mistakes

Sometimes bogey is not a bad score, especially when the golf ball is in a tough spot. Taking Justin Rose’s mentality from the 2013 US Open at Merion is a great way to think about tournament golf: When the golf course makes you take bogey, take the bogey.

When saving par looks very difficult, make sure that you leave bogey as the easy option. Players make big numbers when trying to hit foolish recovery shots. Don’t take a double bogey trying to foolishly save par.

Real-life examples: Unfortunately, Round One has many examples of this. It started after hitting my tee shot in the water on Hole #12, I tried to advance the ball too far from the rough and hit it 50 yards. An easy iron shot would have advanced the ball far enough to reach the green on the next swing.

On Hole #5, I left myself short-sided behind a bunker. Instead of simply hitting the ball on the green, I tried the hero flop shot and hit it over the green before chipping the next shot on.

Finally, on Hole #8 I hit my tee shot near the lip in a greenside bunker. Instead of playing a normal, easier shot away from the hole location, I tried to hit a sidehill lie to a skinny part of the green. You guessed correctly – I left that short of the green. Then, I compounded my mistake by being too aggressive with that chip shot trying to save par and chipped it over the green. This is how you make a triple bogey instead of an easy bogey.

To recap, that’s four mistakes and four shots in Round One. That hypothetical score is now down to 74. While Round Two stayed at 76, correcting those simple things would turn my two-day total into 150. The cut after Round Two fell at 151. Following those rules could have turned a poor week into a successful one for me, just like they can turn your next tournament into a success!

The Basics: Posture

In returning to our series about The Basics, this post touches on the importance of posture in the golf swing. I define posture as the stance a player takes in anticipation of hitting a golf shot.

There are four critical things to keep in mind with your posture:

1. Start with a little bit of flex in your knees

  • Flexed knees allow  your weight to transfer properly and the club to swing freely through impact

2. Bend from your waist until your arms hang naturally below your shoulders

  • Here’s a simple self-check: Take your posture in front of a mirror and check that your arms hang straight down below your shoulders. Don’t have a mirror? Before you swing the club, take one hand off the club and let your arm hang. If the grip is still next to your hand, great job! If that grip is not next to your hand, adjust your stance and posture until it is.

3. Your weight should be balanced

  • The best tip I ever received in a lesson about this was, “You should feel the balance of your weight directly under your shoelaces.” 

4. Keep your chin up and away from your chest

  • One of the most common posture problems I see while teaching is my student will have his/her chin relaxed against the chest. Resting your chin on your chest restricts your shoulder turn and your weight transfer. Fix this by standing tall, somewhat like a basketball player getting ready to shoot a free throw. Getting your chin out of your chest will allow your shoulders to rotate and your weight to transition through impact.
Copy Tiger's posture to allow your body to hit better golf shots. (Photo: Golf Digest, Oct. 2010)

Copy Tiger’s posture to allow your body to hit better golf shots.
(Photo: Golf Digest, Oct. 2010)

Consistent ball-strikers are very good about setting up with great posture to every shot. If you get the chance to watch Tour players practicing on the driving range, notice how each of them start with great posture. To start improving your ball-striking, work on becoming more consistent setting up to the ball with great posture.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua

I recently returned home from a trip to Hawaii with my wife to celebrate our five-year anniversary. We went on the vacation we wanted to take for our honeymoon, just five years later! We spent five nights on the Big Island, followed by six nights on Maui.

Andrea and Ben

My wife, Andrea and I on the 18th Tee at Kapalua with the Pacific Ocean in the background.

While we were in Maui, I took the opportunity to play The Plantation Course at Kapalua, home of the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The prestigious tournament starts the PGA Tour’s season and only invites players who won a PGA Tour event the previous season. For the rest of us, Kapalua opens the golf course to the public the rest of the year. Here are my thoughts after playing:

 

The Great

  • The scenery is spectacular with views of Kapalua Bay and the Pacific Ocean from almost every spot on the golf course.
  • Kapalua’s staff treats you like a Tour player from the time you arrive until you finish your day.

The Good

Kapalua Golf Cart

Kapalua’s golf carts feature their recognizable butterfly logo.

  • The cheeseburger I ate for lunch in The Plantation House, the clubhouse restaurant, was delicious.
  • You can receive a complimentary bag tag from the bag drop staff upon completing your round.
  • Kapalua’s golf carts have a very accurate GPS system to help guide you in the right direction and distance.
  • If you’ve ever wanted to hit a 300 yard drive, make sure to play the 18th Hole. It’s downhill, downwind, and has no trouble off the tee so make sure to swing hard and see how far it can go!
  • The Coore/Crenshaw design features large greens and wide fairways, which helps all players deal with the windy conditions at Kapalua.

The Not-So-Good

  • If you’re not a fan of windy conditions, this is not the course for you. The wind blew steady at 25 mph, a normal day for this seaside layout.
18th Panorama

The 18th Hole on The Plantation Course at Kapalua in the late-afternoon sunshine.

While The Plantation Course is much different from what I usually play here in South Carolina, it was a treat to play! I enjoyed the challenge of dealing with hard-blowing winds, changing elevations, and a Tour-caliber layout. Even if your game isn’t Tour-ready, I recommend playing The Plantation Course at Kapalua if only to enjoy the views!

CBS Sports – Boring

CBS Sports, Boring

Maybe they should have put someone else’s name on this cart?

Every cart we use during the tournament has a sign so we know who it uses it. All the CBS Sports carts include the staff member’s last name. In this case, that was unfortunate.

What is it Like to Work a PGA Tour Event?

One of the perks of my job is the opportunity to work a PGA Tour event, The RBC Heritage. Here’s what a day in the life is like for our staff:

5:00 AM - Wake up to the alarm

5:05 – 5:20 AM – Get dressed and walk the dog. My co-worker Aric arrives to start the caravan that I drive. We only get two parking passes for our Assistants, so I drive five of us everyday.

5:30 AM – Staff members arrive to open the Practice Facility and Locker Room. Without fail a handful of players will be there before sunrise to be the first on the range and first on the golf course to get their work in early.

Range at Daylight - Work a PGA Tour Event

Our staff uses light stands so the early morning players can practice as the sun rises.

5:50 AM – After two stops to pick up three co-workers, we arrive at Harbour Town Golf Links. We park by Hole #18 due to our limited parking on property.

6:00 AM – The Golf Shop opens and we prepare to open four merchandise locations by 7:00 AM.

Bag Room - Work a PGA Tour Event

We keep the Bag Room open until the last player is finished at the Practice Facility.

6:10 AM – One of our staff opens the bag room.

7:00 AM – Overnight security leaves, so all our of merchandise locations open.

7:30 – 9:30 AM – Depending on the day, play starts during this time.

8:00 AM – The interns arrive for the day. We’ll have ten students from Methodist University‘s PGM Program and fourteen students from the Professional Golfers Career College assist our golf operations. Without their help, our merchandise operation would be impossible.

8:30 AM – Breakfast sandwiches arrive, usually the highlight of the morning. My choice is always the sausage and cheese biscuit.

9:00 – 11:00 AM – This is the slowest time of our day. Depending on traffic in the main golf shop and merchandise pavilion, our staff will get a chance to watch some early action on the course.

11:00 AM – 2:00 PM – Lunch is served! We utilize a building at our Racquet Club to cater a lunch for our Golf Professionals, Retail Professionals, sales reps and interns. Your 30 – 45 minute lunch break helps prepare you for the steady stream of customers the afternoon brings.

2:00 – 4:00 PM – This is our busiest time of the day and all hands are on deck. The merchandise pavilion is filled with customers while the golf shop is swarmed with guests as the phone seems to ring non-stop. These hours fly by while you work though!

Merchandise Pavilion - Work a PGA Tour Event

A typical busy afternoon in the Merchandise Pavilion as shoppers find their souvenirs.

5:00 – 7:00 PM – Our day starts to wind down at most locations, except for our merchandise tent by the 18th Tee. As the leaders come through on the weekend or as the parties start in the corporate hospitality tents, that merchandise location stays busy until closing time…

7:00 PM – Our merchandise locations close when security arrives. We start the accounting process to balance the banks before we can leave.

7:45 – 8:15 PM – We finish balancing the banks, so we set the alarm and head home.

9:00 PM – After picking up a quick dinner (usually at Arby’s or Chick-fil-A) and dropping off three co-workers, I arrive back at home.

9:45 PM – I can finally go to bed after taking a shower and getting tomorrow’s uniform ready. There’s seven hours until it all happens again!

By the way, this is a day where everything goes according to plan. There’s no weather delays to make play last until darkness, no computer failures where our merchandise tent has to hand-write all transactions like it is 1989, no major issues that require a staff meeting at the end of the day…

 

National Golf Day

After watching the Masters last week, we’re very excited that it’s time for the RBC Heritage! And in good form, @PGATour has announced that today is National Golf Day. Use #IAmGolf to explain why golf is more than just a game to you.

See all #IAmGolf tweets

Did you know that golf’s total impact on the US economy is $176.8 billion? See more in this infographic from wearegolf.org:

infographic

Bubba’s Hover: Golf Cart Innovation

Bubba Watson and Oakley Golf have teamed up to make the coolest golf cart ever. Bubba’s Hover is a specially-designed hovercraft golf cart that can travel over grass, sand and water, using less pressure to impact the grounds than the average step taken by a golfer on foot. Take a look at Bubba’s Hover on YouTube.

My favorite part of the video is watching the other golfer’s reactions to seeing a hovercraft golf cart pass them on the course.

When do you think we’ll see the day where we’re driving around the golf course on hovercrafts?

Bubba's Hover

Bubba’s Hover Cart

What to Wear to Play Golf – Learn How to Play Golf

For new players, choosing smart golf attire can be as important as learning the game. Here are the basics of what to wear when playing golf.

Find a Good Pair of Khakis

Khaki slacks or shorts are the most comfortable bottoms for golfing. Ladies can also use playing golf as a reason to find a new skirt or skort.

Most golf facilities do not allow players to wear denim jeans on the course. Even if they are allowed, they can be heavy and uncomfortable, so choose lighter tech fabrics that wick away sweat instead.

Select a Collared Shirt

DJ & RF, What to Wear to Play Golf

Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler show that golfers can look good in traditional and colorful outfits. (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A collared golf shirt is an essential in every golfer’s wardrobe. Almost all golf facilities require gentlemen to wear one. Rules tend to be more relaxed for women, but you can never go wrong with a collared shirt.

Collared shirts are classified by what they are made from: cotton or polyester (tech fabric). Cotton shirts are more traditional and look great while playing, but are heavier and warmer. Tech fabric shirts are becoming increasing popular with as they help keep you cool during warm days by wicking away moisture from your skin as you play.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

New players should wait to purchase a pair of new golf shoes until they become serious about the game. Golf shoes can be expensive, so make sure you like the game before spending that money on shoes. At first, wear a pair of sneakers. Ideally, wear a pair that are fairly flat to the ground and avoid running sneakers with too much cushion under the heel of the foot.

Once you start looking at new shoes, the trend in golf footwear has seen more players wearing spikeless golf shoes. Companies like Ashworth are making golf shoes you can wear on and off the golf course.

Use Accessories for the Elements

We all like to play golf while the sun is shining, putting golfers at higher risk for skin cancer. Make sure to wear protective gear like a baseball cap, sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your skin.

Clubs and Equipment – Learn How to Play Golf

Great news, you have decided to play golf in 2013! For those of you new to the game, you will need to find clubs and equipment to play. I’m here to help!

The Rules of Golf allow you to play with 14 clubs. However, when you’re first learning, you will not need that many. For most players, taking about half will provide a set that covers most situations.

To put together your first set, find the following clubs:

  • Driver
  • Fairway Wood or Hybrid (Ideally with 19 degrees of loft)
  • 6 Iron
  • 8 Iron
  • Pitching Wedge
  • 
Sand Wedge
  • Putter

When purchasing your first set, you’ll want to check two things:

  1. Make sure that you purchase a right-handed clubs, or vice versa.
  2. Make sure that the shafts have a similar flex. The most common labels are “stiff”, “regular”, and “ladies”. If a player swings hard and aggressively, usually the stiff shaft will perform better. Most beginning players will feel comfortable with a regular flex shaft. Most ladies will swing a ladies’ flex shaft the best at first.

While having golf clubs to use is important, you will need a couple more things as you learn to play:

  • Golf Bag - Bags come in all types of sizes and colors from the traditional to the unique. All you need to have in a good bag is room for the clubs and enough pockets to store balls, tees, gloves, and miscellaneous equipment (like a jacket for a cool day).
  • Golf Balls – A good rule of thumb for beginners is to spend less than $20 per dozen on golf balls. Until you are able to play and lose fewer than 3 balls per day, there’s no reason to spend more.
  • Gloves – Using a glove will help you grip the club and avoid blisters and callouses on your hands. A right-handed player wants a glove for his/her LEFT hand, and vice versa. When picking what size, feel free to open the package and try the glove on before you buy it.
  • Tees – Many courses will offer these free of charge if asked; however, stocking up is always a good idea. 2 3/4″ tees are the standard length tees.

A common objection to taking up golf is that it is too expensive to buy the equipment needed. While it’s definitely an investment to purchase clubs and equipment initially, follow these pointers to avoid breaking the bank:

  • Do not buy the latest and greatest (i.e. most expensive) clubs at first
  • Ask a Golf Shop or Retail Store if they have used or demo equipment for sale
  • Shop online sites like www.ebay.com for used or older-model equipment to save money

Set yourself a budget, which can be as little as $150, and stick to it when buying your first set. Then, get out to the driving range and try them out!

Learn How to Play Golf in 2013

Welcome to 2013! With the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions. If your resolution is to learn how to play golf, I’m here to help!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll blog on topics about how to begin playing the great game of golf. Here are the topics that I’ll address:

  1. Clubs and Equipment
  2. What to Wear
  3. How and Where to Learn to Play
  4. Basic Shots
  5. Take Your Game to the Golf Course
  6. Basic Etiquette and Rules
  7. Fun Games for Beginners

Golf can be a game that is terribly difficult to get started in. People find plenty of reasons to avoid getting started – costs associated to play, the time commitment needed, how difficult the game can be, etc…

My goal with this series is to simplify the basics of getting started in golf. Golf is one of the greatest games around. Let’s use 2013 as an opportunity to learn and play the game!