Saturday at the Honda Classic
I arrived early on Saturday at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens for the finish of the second round and after the cut was determined, the start of the third round. I especially enjoy watching the PGA Tour pro’s play PGA National. First, it is a US Open quality test. It is long, narrow with deep rough and plenty of water. Throw in some wind and it is all you can handle. The second reason is that there are a large number of difficult shots that require expert skill and guts to perform.
I arrived perfectly to catch Phil Mickelson, Martin Kaymer, and Sergio Garcia tee off the 10th hole to complete their final nine of the second round. I had a delightful two hour stroll, with about 100 other spectators, watching three of the best players in the world. The crowd grew as the round progressed, but it was very manageable. I easily got right next to the teeing ground and had good views of the second shots. Phil and Martin played the back nine in one under. Phil, of course, was more exciting. He didn’t hit the fairway with his driver, but did with two driving irons and a 3 wood. He missed both par three’s, getting it up and down once with a spectacular spinning bunker shot. He missed two short birdie putts, but holed a 40 footer and a 12 footer for his birdies. Kaymer was a machine. A very regimented swing with great power. Short game is average for a touring pro. Like his full swing, it lacks imagination. Sergio struggled with his swing, and let his emotions out occasionally. He did his little Sergio pout and woe-be-me reaction. His short game saved a nondescript back nine that finished at two over. Phil was always “on” and smiled throughout and gave away golf balls to the kids. He seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself. Martin was business like, but not unfriendly, and Sergio engaging with ups and downs to his personality. All made for a pleasant insightful viewing experience.
After they completed their round, I went to see Zac Blair play his last two holes. If you remember from a previous blog, I last saw him when he was four years old, when his dad had him tell me the secret of golf. The secret? “Fairways and Greens”, was the reply. It was a small sample, but I liked how he handled himself and the presence that he showed. He is listed as 5’8” in the media guide, but in comparison to other players, he looks even smaller. The two tee shots that I witnessed where solid and straight, but short. One was 40 yards shorter than his playing partners. I believe, as he plays longer on the PGA Tour, he will gain length, but that distance disadvantage will be difficult to overcome in the long run.
I then went to the range to watch “paint dry”. My expression for watching the pros hit balls on the range. It is interesting to see the different swings, but it is more interesting to see what swing they use and the types of shots they hit on the golf course. That’s the true test.
I got to see a few holes in the afternoon before the heavens opened up and the rest of the day was washed out. I was lucky to leave before the serious rain came down.
Some observations. Not all PGA Tour pros are created equal. On a course like PGA National, there are shots that separate the boys from the men. On most courses you have a few difficult shots or holes, but at PGA National you have a challenge on almost every hole. If you are a bit off or lack courage to take on a shot, it will show. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Graham McDowell, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Dustin Johnson, and Charles Schwartzel all missed the cut. Except for Dustin, these are all major championship winners, so they definitely have the courage and game, but this week their skill couldn’t match up to the test. You would think that all tour quality pros have all the shots. They do not. That’s the fun when watching a Mickelson, Kaymer, or Garcia tackle a challenging course like this. They shaped and flighted shots that are unique. They are in the top rung of professional golf because they can adapt and create shots that others don’t have and have the ability to pull them off. It is easy to see the difference when you walk the course and witness the great artists of golf apply their talent.
If you have the opportunity to see a PGA Tour event, I would suggest picking a group of quality players that will not have a giant gallery and follow them the entire round. Seeing only a few holes will not give you a good idea how they play or attack the golf course. Golf is an eighteen hole test. Watch their routines, their mannerisms, the types of shots that they try to hit, and their course management. I think this is the best way to get the most out your PGA Tour experience and some insight and help your own game.