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Willams: The deep field in 2012 evokes memories of 1981

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Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus. Johnny Miller. Greg Norman.

Just looking at the names on paper gives you a sense of awe and the mind begins to churn out familiar catch phrases. 18 majors. Six green jackets. Duel in the Sun. The Great White Shark. 63 on Sunday at Oakmont. Four of the most accomplished and charismatic golfers in the history of the game.

And at the 1981 Masters, they were the top four finishers. Watson won his second Masters championship by two strokes over Nicklaus and Miller, and finished three clear of Norman. And just behind that august grouping was Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and Raymond Floyd, making a total of seven Hall of Famers in the top 10. It might just be the finest leaderboard in the history of major championship golf.

Coming into this the 76th Masters tournament at Augusta, there is a sense of anticipation that the sport has not had for years. For the last 14 years, the conversation was centered on the “Tiger vs. the Field” wager. Whether he won or not, on Thursday Woods was the prohibitive favorite to win at the venue that provided the stage for his spectacular introduction to the sporting world. But this year the excitement is not reserved for Tiger alone. There is a full field of players who not only have shown their ability to win, but the ability to compete at the highest level on the biggest stages. With Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald, the possibility exists to have a Sunday finish that could rival the ’81 championship in star power.

It starts with Woods and his four green jackets. After his dizzying fall from the pinnacle of golf, Woods has resurrected his game and comes into Augusta fresh off of his seventh win at Bay Hill. Woods’ new swing finds him in the fairway with more regularity than at any time in his career, and he is striking his irons with prodigious length and pinpoint accuracy. Most importantly for this championship, he has rediscovered his putting stroke. Even when he has struggled, Woods has not been far down the leaderboard. If he can keep all three phases together for all four rounds, Woods could find himself shopping for a fifth hanger for his Masers closet.

If Woods is the King, then McIlroy at the tender age of 22 is the Golden Prince. When Woods burst on the scene there was no dominant golfer to depose. For Rory McIlroy, the landscape is cluttered with worthy opponents, none more formidable than Woods. With perhaps the best combination of pretty and potent in a swing since Sam Snead, McIlroy has shown he has the horsepower, the touch and the imagination to go low on any course in the world. He experienced the thrill of victory with a runaway win at the U.S. Open; he also experienced the agony of defeat during his collapse in 2011 on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta. Clearly McIlroy is a thoroughbred, and with a couple of par rounds could have three majors to his credit instead of one. He’s back this year, more experienced, more focused and with a king-sized Irish chip on his shoulder. A victory this week would position him squarely as the heir to Woods’ throne.

Mickelson has spent his career in Woods’ shadow. But Mickelson has won at Augusta twice (2006, 2010) since Woods has won once (2005). He has shed the stigma of playing head to head with Woods, besting him time after time in direct competition. Before taking a break earlier this season, Mickelson was the hottest golfer in the world. Working with Butch Harmon, Mickelson is swinging with more precision and athleticism than ever. A win this week would tie him with Woods at four championships and add to Mickelson’s quest to become the most successful over-40 golfer of all time.

Luke Donald is the Rodney Dangerfield of this group, seeking respect despite his No. 1 world ranking. Donald has won five times in the last year, and when favored son McIlroy took the number one ranking this year, Donald snatched it back with a win at Innisbrook. At 34, Donald is playing stellar golf in the prime of his career. Some have said that he is “too nice” to win a major. Donald will be out to prove that he is too good not to.

It would be a blessing from the golf Gods to have Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson and Donald in the final pairings on Sunday at Augusta. Throw in defending champion Charl Schwartzel, top-ranked American Hunter Mahan, past U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, defending PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, cartoon-long Bubba Watson … the mind boggles at the opportunities for legends to be born or burnished on Sunday. While the legacies of Woods and Mickelson are secure, the game is afoot to see if McIlroy, Donald and the rest can make to the leap from excellent to exceptional.

To use a line usually reserved for holidays that fall later on the calendar: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training

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If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.

Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.

If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.

The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.

Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall

This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!

Med Ball Wall Ball

Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.

Med Ball Sky Chest Throws

This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.

That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.

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Podcasts

GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience

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Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

I started playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros on TV dreaming what it would be like to play golf on the PGA Tour. When I earned my PGA Tour status for the 2014 season, that dream became a reality. And like anything, it’s not until I actually experienced that life did I have any idea what it entailed.

For those of you who are curious what it’s like to be on the PGA Tour, here are 5 things to describe it.

1) The Culture

Traveling the world to various cities can be fun, and it’s an underrated part of the Tour lifestyle; you get to see new landscapes and taste the cuisines that define different regions across the country and the world. Unlike some other professional sports, where players stay in one place for maybe a night or two, we get to stay in places for a week or more, which allows for plenty of time away from the course to see the sights and get a feel for what the cities and their cultures offer.

2) The Show

The setup and time that goes into planning an event — the grandstands, concession stands, volunteers, and the whole network that makes these tournaments run — is beyond impressive. We see the finished product at the event in the epicenter of it all, but the planning goes on behind the scenes all year. When it’s game time and the golf ball gets teed up, it’s time for us players to block all of that out, but we certainly appreciate all of the hard work that goes into putting on an event. It may feel like being in a circus at times, but performing in the show is a thrill.

3) The People

The game of golf in general brings people together, but especially so on the Tour. Thousands and thousands of fans come to watch the golf action and enjoy the festivities. The Pro-Ams are a great way for the fans to get an up-close look at what goes on at a Tour event, and they’re also a great way for us pros to interact with fans and maybe provide some helpful swing tips, too. In my opinion, one of the best events of the year is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a gathering of pro golfers, athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities. It’s a testament to how the game can bring people together from different walks of life.

4) Inside the Ropes

The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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