MY alter egos, Mutt and Jeff, were glued to the box watching the Ryder Cup unfold last weekend.
I joined them for a discussion on the lessons, if any, they might have discovered from attending pro tournaments?
Mutt: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from watching a professional golf tournament?
Jeff: Not as much as you’d expect apart from the day I followed Gary Player for 18-holes around Portmarnock in the Irish Open and saw him shoot 1-under par 71 while hitting only one green in regulation - the par 5, 13th, which he was on the green in two blows and then three-putted!
Mutt: I’m sure you learned a lot about bunker play and chipping from watching Gary. His ball striking was often very poor but Gary knew how to score.
That’s exactly what most of us cannot do - gouge out a score. I couldn’t tell you the last time either of us walked off a course feeling as if we hadn’t wasted a few shots.
Jeff: That’s the difference all right. We have often watched a pro feeling, “I’m as good as him!” But, we’re not!
Mutt: One thing that we could apply to our advantage is pros don’t bother with practice swings. I suppose they consider them to be a waste of energy?
On short shots around the greens, however, it’s quite another matter. Sometimes, you think they will never hit the ball for all the practice swinging they do.
Jeff: What about this lining the ball up business on the greens?
Mutt: It’s about half-in-half! About half of them use a line drawn on the ball to help them aim their drives and putts and half of them don’t. I have no idea about the success rate.
Mind you, I’ve tried it but find it distracting. It takes my focus away from the target and onto the ball, which I think is a mistake. Jordan Speith putts while looking at the hole. I think that’s a better way of putting but I haven’t the guts to try it.
Jeff: Another thing I notice is how rhythmically and ‘easily’ the pros swing. Everything is unhurried and done slowly even on the practice ground; often taking several minutes between shots.
They warm up with short shots, work through the bag and then come back to square one; ending with some smooth, unhurried wedges.
Mutt: A good amateur player told me once that he wasn’t impressed by the shots the pros hit and felt that he could hit the same shots. While, pros are all impressive on the range, they are not quite the same on the course.
They hit the ball into the rough and trees far more than you’d think. It’s surprising how many greens the pros can miss in regulation even when making solid contact.
Mutt: That’s why golf is so tantalizing. Anyone can hit an occasional shot as well as the best player in the world. The problem is our bad shots and our inability to recover. Pros, by and large, are fantastic ‘recoverers’ from all sorts of lies and situations.
Jeff: And, they don’t go all out on their wedge shots, which they all seem to hit very low. Their drives fly high but their wedges fly low! Pros are creatures of habit. They are married to routine.
I saw Stuart Appleby doing a drill in 2009 and he was still doing that same drill in 2014. You could say the same about Miguel Angle Jiminez.
It’s worth going to a tournament just to see him warm up. Meanwhile, every time I see Padraig Harrington practicing he is doing something different and slightly weird.
Mutt: The progression from being a great amateur player to being on one of the mini tours and ultimately the European Tour or PGA Tour is never about the mechanics of perfect ball striking.
All the pros have sound methods that they can repeat ad nauseum.
It’s more about the five inches between the ears and how much they believe in themselves to be able to do what needs to be done and when they need to do it. The ability to hit great shots is not the separator. It’s how bad are your bad shots?
Knowing how to get there i.e. onto the Tour and then into contention is the hardest part of being a pro. Holding onto a lead or chasing down a leader is only for the exceptional few.
Jeff: The swing is not the thing - it’s how the pro thinks.
Watching the pros in action reminds me that many amateurs can hit the ball as well as them but posting a low score is another matter.
Mutt: It’s not one thing. It’s a lot of things and an attention to detail that must be meshed together. Enjoying the ‘circus lifestyle’ is another overlooked part.
Words of the Wise
PAUL McGinley is being eulogized for his attention to detail when captaining Europe to victory in the Ryder Cup but I bet even he doesn’t know that 25kms of rope were used in controlling the crowds; 500-240L Wheelie Bins were in use; 100-courtesy cars (with drivers); 5,250-white stakes; 600-event flags; 60-generators producing 11-megawatts of power; 14,278-seats in the grandstands; 40,000-sq.metres of tents; 9500-metres of extension lead; 270-double decker buses running from 06.15-21.00 daily.