February 11, 2020
Watching a Professional Golf Tournament
If you have never had the opportunity to watch a PGA or LPGA tournament in person, I totally recommend it. It is one thing to watch on television and marvel at the brilliant shots the best players in the world can execute, but seeing it in person gives you a deeper appreciation for the skill that is required to perform those shots.
I recommend going to the tournament on the least crowded days. Thursday is best and Friday would be next. When I was in Colorado, I brought a few of my best students each year to watch The International PGA event at Castle Pines. One of the first things that they wanted to do was watch the pros on the practice tee. Although that can be insightful, it was not what I wanted them to learn. The object of the game is to shoot the lowest score and that requires course management, strategy, shot-making, short game skill, deft putting, and mental and visualization abilities.
Ben Hogan stated many years ago, "After a fellow learns how to hit a golf ball -- that's all there is left. Management is 70-75 percent of the game after you learn how to propel a golf ball. And if you don't know how to manage a golf game, you can't play." My approach was to pick a talented group of players that wouldn't have a large gallery and follow them for eighteen holes. One of the best groups that we got to watch was Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, and Vijay Singh. There were about 200 people following them that day. My students were able to see up close their preparation, pre-shot routines, shot-making, and how they handled the ups and downs of a tournament round of golf. Castle Pines is a demanding challenging golf course and an even par round there is good playing. The International used the Stableford point scoring system, however their gross scores that day would have been 69, 70 and 72.
One thing that was quite evident right away was that they didn't always hit 300+ yards drives straight down the middle. Their irons shots didn't go 10 feet from the hole each time and they missed a lot of 10 foot putts. I wanted my students to focus on how they strategized each hole and to watch their demeanor and composure. How did they handle a bad break? Did they deviate from their pre-shot routine? What was learned was that there are a lot of good and bad shots that make up a round. You can't get "too up" or "too down" at any point in the round. An eagle putt on the 2nd hole is just as important as the double bogie putt on the 17th hole. Each requires that same preparation and commitment, because they are strokes that add up to your final score.
Three weeks ago, I was able to attend the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. The first two rounds I watched about nine holes each day with Tiger Woods along with Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm. Of course there was a large crowd following Tiger, but it helps to be 6'3", so I saw all that I wanted. The final day, I watch Jordan Spieth, Matthew Wolff, and Lucas Glover play in the first group off in the morning and then left to watch the rest on television. Jordan is searching. His good shots are real good, but he is not consistent. Putting let him down again, and he was visually discouraged. I really hope he can figure it out. I think he will. Matthew Wolff is the real deal. Funny swing, but he can play. I don't think can be the best in the world, but top fifty definitely. Collin Morikawa, who played with Tiger the first two days, made a very positive impression on me. He handled the pressure of playing with Tiger with ease and his ball-striking was impressive. There are three great college players that came on Tour this past summer, Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, and Viktor Hovland, all will be outstanding, but Morikawa could be a world top five player in a few years. I was that impressed with him.
I admit, I'm a Tiger watcher. If I'm anywhere close and I have the opportunity, I want to see him play in person. It's like getting to seeing Picasso paint, or Michael Jordan dunk, or Sandy Koufax pitch. It's rare to witness greatness in person. I've probably seen Tiger play live around 25 times. What I saw at Torrey this year was someone very comfortable with himself, his swing and game. Much better than what I saw the previous two years. If healthy, watch out for the Tiger.
This coming week I will be at Riviera for the first two days of the Genesis Open. I will watch as much of Tiger as possible, but if it's too hard I will resort to picking the best group possible with a manageable crowd and following them for the day. Day one, I will go there with my best friend from high school and day two with my daughter. What I enjoy watching at a tournament are these main points; pre-shot routine, balance and smoothness of swing, ball flight, and lastly composure. If you are able to attend a professional event this year, try to follow your favorite player or an elite group. Watch their routine, their course strategy and demeanor. This might be more beneficial than trying to emulate their swing. Lastly, I'm sure you will get a greater appreciation of the skill that these athletes possess and make watching tournament golf on television even more enjoyable and insightful.