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5 things I learned traveling with a Tour player

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This story was selected as one of the 15 best GolfWRX stories of 2015!

As golf fans, we all dream of one day getting a taste of life on tour.

I got my taste in 2014 as part of a PGA Tour “entourage,” traveling to three consecutive PGA Tour events in Malaysia, Mississippi and Mexico. My role was that of trainer, massage therapist and nutritionist to Cameron Smith, and I had exclusive, inside-the-ropes access at each of the events.

The young Aussie is aiming to become only the seventh player in PGA Tour history to bypass tour qualifying school and the Web.com tour, and play his way on to the Tour through exemptions via top-10 finishes and sponsor invites. A T5 finish in Malaysia got him off on the right track.

As a fitness professional and a rusty six-marker, I learned a lot from this experience and wanted to share my insights about fitness, golf and life on tour. Below are the top five things I learned from my time spent with Cameron Smith, from which I hope you will benefit as well.

Insight No. 1

These guys are good, but they’re not perfect!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78_1TSJARCc

Tour Example

I watched a lot of golf during those three weeks, following Cameron during each competitive and practice round. He was paired with a variety of different players, from major champions and Ryder Cup heroes to journey-man pros. They all missed fairways, they all hit it in bunkers and they all lipped out short putts. Although there were many, many great golf shots from each and every player, not one of them played flawless golf for 18, 9 or even 5 holes in a row.

What to learn

If the best players in the world aren’t perfect, then neither are you or I. Accept that you’ll make mistakes — even count on it. Lower your expectations a little and have some fun. You might even shoot a better score!

Insight No. 2

Travel destroys posture.

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Tour Example

Every time we got off a plane, I saw Cameron’s shoulder’s and head come forward and his hips tighten up — his movement quality declined as a result. We had to do lots of “anti-travel” exercises to compensate for this and get him back on track.

What to learn

You might not do a huge amount of plane travel, but I’m willing to bet you sit for extended periods of the day. The commute to work, using the computer and watching TV are the equivalent of those long plane journeys on tour. Sitting and slouching extensively reeks havoc with your posture, which leads to poor set-up, alignment, missed shots and even injury.

Sit less, move more, stretch often and do some postural training: Check out the GolfFit App here

Insight No. 3

PGA Tour pros don’t always aim at the flag. 

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Tour Example

Walking inside the ropes on practice rounds allowed me to eavesdrop on lots of strategic conversions between players and caddies. Often PGA Tour players are aiming 20-to-30 feet away from the hole. Why? Because they know they’re not perfect and don’t want to miss the green in a dangerous spot.

What to learn

These guys don’t miss by much, we miss by lots — so why on earth are we firing at flags? If we just aim at the middle of the green, we’ll probably end up closer to the hole!

A course-charting expert who works with Golf Australia is a firm believer that if we removed the flag stick from every hole, forcing us to simply aim for the middle of the green, then club golfers would score much better on average.

Insight No. 4

Nutrition and hydration are crucial.

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Tour Example

At the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, it was really hot and incredibly humid. Regular small snacks and a water intake of around 6 liters (1.5 gallons) during the round were key to Cameron finishing strong each day. By contrast, many of his playing partners faded badly in the last few holes and were noticeably fatigued.

What to learn

I’m big on food and water consumption before, during and after golf. Being well hydrated and nourished could be the difference between finishing our rounds strong and riding the bogey train express all the way to the clubhouse.

Have a solid meal two hours before tee off. Then eat a mix of fruit, nuts and natural protein bars on hole Nos. 3, 9 and 15. Quantity is dependent on the individual — try not to stuff yourself, but don’t go hungry either!

Water intake should be higher than usual before, during and after the round. Aim for 1.5 pints before the round, three pints during the round and another one pint after. Double that if you are playing in hot and humid conditions.

Insight No. 5

You’ll see and hear more as a spectator during a practice round. 

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Tour Example

Being able to walk inside the ropes with no one else around gave me a great insight into strategy and on-course preparation. The experience taught me that these guys are good (but not perfect), and allowed me to take up-close video footage and even chat to some of the other players.

What to learn

Instead of going to an event to watch the weekend play and fighting the crowds to get a glimpse of the leaders, try turning up on Tuesday and watching the practice round. Take your camera and make some notes on what you see — you might just learn something!

For more information on all things golf fitness, including blog articles, programs and more, check out Golf Fit Pro.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter, Rehab Expert and Massage Therapist contracted by PGA Tour Players and Golf Australia. Nick also works with club level and casual golfers of all ages and abilities to help them get the most out their bodies and improve their golf. Nick has developed the world’s most comprehensive golf fitness app, along with other golf fitness resources and products which available on his website. WEB - www.golffitpro.net EMAIL - nick@golffitpro.net

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Pingback: Revive Your Golf Resolutions before 2016 Ends – GoodLife

  2. nick

    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:10 am

    yeah thought at the start could be an interesting read .was quickly let down .. anyone who has had a lesson or talked to a good pro or a good travelling Am is told this constantly . even the commentators give this simple knowledge and more.

  3. Milton

    Jan 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Nice article. Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Do you need a hug? | The FutureNow

  5. JohnK

    Jan 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Yea I was hoping for more than that also. 3 weeks and that is all you learned!? What about how players play their practice rounds (multiple balls off tees, etc…), how they strategize, what other stuff besides practice rounds and the pro-am do players do before the Thursday tee off? You know, more stuff that you don’t see on tv.

  6. Birdeez

    Jan 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    stay hydrated and the guys aren’t perfect….

    i was hoping for a little more. Everything listed really isn’t anything new. Was hoping for a little more behind the scenes stuff. players and caddies hang out after rounds. go out to dinner or stay get take out. who hangs with who. how certain players travel between events. etc etc.

    Give me 3 weeks with inside access to tournaments and following players and we’d get a better article than ‘drink water and guys don’t aim at flags’

  7. other paul

    Jan 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I dont think I ever want to live on tour. Playing an event or two would be pretty cool. I have been chatting it up some guys playing in local Ams and they love playing, but hate paying.

    • leo

      Jan 12, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      if you ever got the opportunity to play on tour i think your opinion would change.what’s not to like about the chance to play golf everyday on the finest courses with the chance to make millions of dollars ,travel to the best destinations where the weather is usually beautiful and be treated like a king from arrival to departure,to have a personal valet aka caddie to attend to your every need ‘to have access to the best equipment,training,instruction and technology on the planet.even the tour caddies i know love being on tour.even being on the fringe of the tour,playing mini-tours going to monday qualifiers and q-school when they still had it,were the best years i ever had.

  8. other paul

    Jan 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I love the look of that range!

  9. Steve

    Jan 11, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Drink water, got it thanks

  10. Marshall Brown

    Jan 11, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Great article! Would love to read more articles about insight on tour. Thanks!

  11. Matt Johnson

    Jan 11, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    May I ask what is a “rusty six-marker”? I’ve never heard this saying and a quick internet search reveals very little. Thanks.

    • Mark

      Jan 11, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      A 6 handicap who doesn’t play much, or is probably not as good as they were when they were playing to 6 regularly.

      Handicaps don’t usually blow out as quickly as your form can.

  12. Philip

    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Very good info. I’ve pretty much incorporated all of the points (other than I don’t have many chances to watch golf on location) and I still have to resist flag hunting when I’m on a roll. I remember a couple of years ago, drinking 5-6 litres during rounds, plus additional water before and after, and not having to need the bathroom for hours after. It is incredible how much water our bodies can loss without us realizing it on hot and humid days.

  13. Ross

    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    What range is pictured in the very first image?

    • iknoweverything

      Jan 11, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri

      • Ross

        Jan 11, 2015 at 5:46 pm

        Wow that is unreal. I think I saw this on one of the Tiger Woods video games years ago and I thought it was just made up!

        • iknoweverything

          Jan 11, 2015 at 6:08 pm

          I probably need a life since I was able to instantly recognize the range on a Champions tour event.

          • Jeff

            Jan 11, 2015 at 10:22 pm

            Don’t feel too bad, I did the same thing, blew up the pic and saw Faldo and then realized it champions tour and then recognized the course. But it is way cool huh

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jan 12, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Does the range cart drive through the sand traps to pick up balls?

  14. Nick G

    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Saw this right as I posted. Good minds think alike.

  15. Nick G

    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Great article and insight! Would love to see more like this out there. Thanks Nick.

  16. Preston

    Jan 11, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Great article. We need more of this kind of insight.

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Instruction

Functional Golf vs. Optimal Golf

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Optimize this, optimize that. We hear so much about “optimal” golf these days. It’s great that we now have the technology to seemingly optimize every aspect of the golfer, the golf swing, and the golf club, but we have to be realistic in terms of our goals. Ask yourself this question: If I can’t do this optimally, is there a way I can still do it better?

And… how do we define better? That’s easy. More solid impact.

Yes, optimal golf is what we’d all like and perhaps that is the concern of highly skilled players. But for the vast majority of golfers, functional golf might be more realistic. John Jacobs, the best teacher ever, called his approach “practical.” I’m using the term functional in a similar, albeit more specific way. And many of my regular readers know by now that I credit Jacobs for whatever success I’ve had as an instructor.

During a recent lesson, I pointed out a particular swing flaw to a student while we were reviewing his swing on video. He stopped me and said: “See that, what you’re showing me right there? I have done that my whole life. I’ve taken a number of lessons and they all mentioned that very move, and I CANNOT change it. Why is that?”

I thought, man, if I had a few bucks for every time I’ve heard that I’d be, uh,  pretty comfortable.

There are certain habits some golfers simply cannot break no matter how hard they try. For one reason or another, they’re physically incapable of changing. I have observed this for more than 30 years over thousands and thousands of lessons. Does this mean you can’t change the problems these moves may cause? No, absolutely not. There’s a long list of major champions with so called  “flaws” in their swings, from Nicklaus’ flying elbow to Furyk and his quirky move. But what these greats did is find a move that they CAN make, one that’s compatible with their core move.

If you have a move that, for whatever reason, is embedded in the fabric of your golfing DNA, it is probably best you do not beat your head against a wall trying to  change that move, however flawed it may seem. Rather, let’s see if we can find something that blends with that move that you CAN execute.

The golfer I was teaching suffered from fat shots and blocks due to an early release. He simply never learned “lag” or a later hit. So the bottom of the swing arc ended up behind the golf ball more often than not. This golfer has done this for some 20 years, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel I took a different approach. I asked him to address the golf ball with more weight on his left side. Things got a little better. More weight on the left side, even better, and so on. In other words, we started his motion from a different place, one that was more functional for him.

To help this golfer create a more functional golf swing, I had to move his center of mass forward. It wasn’t optimal perhaps, but his real problem (fat shots) had to be addressed within his current skill set. “If I could just stop drop kicking every shot, I’d be happy,” he said. In other words, we worked out a compromise, a way he could hit the ball more cleanly and enjoy golf more.

As an instructor, that’s pretty much what I do every day. I’m always looking for a compatible motion that balances golf swing equations. “If that is a band aid, you better buy a whole box,” Jacobs would say.

I teach in a community of largely senior golfers. Senior but serious, I call them. They are looking for a way to put the club on the ball more often, which means a better impact position. There is no “in the long run” for seniors. I don’t say, “Let’s make a plan for later” because some are fearful of buying green bananas, let alone working hard on a long-term plan. There is also no “new” when your old move has been around most of your golfing life. Senior golfers, myself included, are on the back nine, much closer to the 18th green than the 1st tee. And most golfers are not going back and starting their round over… believe me. But this doesn’t mean they can’t play better. And they do. Every day.

This lesson likely applies to you even if you are younger and more physically capable. Some things just don’t change, and perhaps the learning psychologists or biomechanists can better tell you why. That’s why I encourage all serious golfers to work with an instructor to identify what moves in their swing simply will not change. Then they should learn to work around them, not try to fix them. That’s the way to better golf.

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A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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