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Opinion & Analysis

Will Ernie ever win again?

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By Michael Williams

GolfWRX Staff Writer

There would have been something so right about Ernie Els (The Big Easy) getting back in the win column in New Orleans (The Big Easy). Alas, it was not to be. Els’ 8 footer to win the Zurich Classic slid past the hole, and Els continued on his slide that stretches back to 2010 without a Tour victory. As this golden opportunity turned to dust, the question that hangs in the air like a Mickelson lob wedge is this: will Ernie ever win again?

Els, 42, has been a force in world golf almost from the moment he put down his tennis racket and cricket bat to focus on golf at the age of 14. He was an outstanding junior player, and he translated that promise into a professional career that included two U.S. Open titles before the age of 30. And like Fred Couples before him, it was not only what he did but the way he did it; a swing so effortless that you’d think he would finish 30 yards short on every swing.

But after hitting age 40 Els found himself facing the three-headed monster that guards the gates of that age for golfers; family, injury and putting. Els has an autistic son, a situation that prompted his family to relocate to the United States to have access to the best facilities. Els is more than able to provide to provide for his son’s care but he acknowledges that it has taken a toll. Injuries came, not from golf but from participating in the other outdoor sports that he enjoys. Knee, hip and back injuries produced swing irregularities that robbed Els of precious distance and accuracy. And the putting that had been so nerveless early in the career became so errant that he switched to the long putter in an attempt to right the ship.

Under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, Els has resurrected his full swing, and most importantly, his putter. He has four top-5 finishes this year and if two holes had gone differently he would have two wins.

But like he old saying goes, “if if was a fifth, then we’d all be drunk.” History says that wins after that age of 40 are rare, with major wins at that plateau as evasive as a federal balanced budget. Sam Snead is considered the most successful senior golfer, winning a regular Tour event at an astonishing 52 years of age. Less known but equally amazing are his four straight West Virginia Open wins … the last coming when he was 62.

But by the numbers, the real King of (Porch) Swing is Vijay Singh. Even larger that Els in physical stature and matching him in his graceful swing tempo, Singh was the late bloomer to Els’ debutante. If you include his 2003 Phoenix Open win a month shy of his 40th birthday, Singh has won an astonishing 22 times on the PGA Tour in his 40’s. Throw in three majors, three leading money-winner titles, a Vardon Trophy, a PGA Player of the Year title and a stint at World No. 1 when Tiger Woods was at the height of his powers and you have the greatest career at that age in history. For Els, Mickelson and even Woods, Singh has set the bar for late-career excellence.

Els said in an interview, “I get asked all the time about retirement. Of course, it’s going to happen one day … But I’ve got a few good years left in the tank. I honestly think I have another major or two in me, but I have to get my putting back on the right track. That’s the key.”

He couldn’t be more correct.

Like a prank birthday present that gets passed on, shaky hands have plagued golfers from Hogan and Snead to Langer and Ballesteros after 40. It’s ironic that the issue that kept Singh from winning more earlier in his career is the issue that arises later in the career for other golfers, namely, the flat stick.  Throughout his career, Singh was a suspect putter who was known to change putters, grips and stances more often than a traffic light in Times Square. It likely worked to his advantage, because there was no sharp drop in feel or performance when he passed a particular age. For Ernie and the rest of the current Old Guard, the challenge is to forge the past and, like Singh, do whatever it takes to hit it close then roll it in.  If they can, then talk of majors is realistic. Without it, the expectations, and the results, will continue to diminish and we will find ourselves talking more and more about them in the past tense.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.

You can follow Michael on twitter — @Michaelontv

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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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mike Rees

    May 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Ernie has definately got a few more victories left in him, I think a win is just around the corner!!

  2. Pingback: Will Ernie ever win again? | Augusta Blog

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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