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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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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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