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What we learned: Tony Finau’s win at 2016 Puerto Rico Open

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While Jason Day was working his way to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and his second win in a row, Tony Finau was making his own history at the Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach by winning his first PGA Tour title.

In this article, I’m going to discuss three things that were key to Finau’s victory, and what GolfWRX readers can learn from them.

Reconsider Your Strategy

How many times have you been told that distance is overrated, and putting is the key to shooting low scores, along with precision. Tell that to Tony Finau. In only his second year on the PGA Tour, he is leading the PGA Tour in driving distance at an impressive 314.7 yards.

Despite how you might feel about the advantage of long hitters in golf, the fact remains that big drives give golfers a better chance of hitting their approach shots closer to the flag.

Think about it this way. If I had a playable shot from 150 yards in the rough and my playing partner had 180 yards from the middle of the fairway, who should statistically get closer to the hole? Me, of course, as I am closer to the hole, even though my ball is in the rough. And statistically, the closer I am to the pin, the better the chance I have of hitting it closer.

So whenever someone tells you you’re swinging too fast on the tee box or that you should “club down for control,” you might want to ignore them.

Related: See what clubs Finau used to win. 

Maximize Your Distance

It’s the magic number in golf, 300 yards! How good would it be to consistently hit this marker? To generate this kind of distance, we need at least 110 mph of club speed according to Trackman — and that’s if we’re hitting drives with an upward attack angle of 5 degrees, dead center contact and a driver that’s fitted to our swing.

TrackMan-Page-2

Not everyone is physically capable of swinging a driver at that sort of speed, but we can always add a few more miles per hour of swing speed, which will help us gain much needed yards. But how and what is the most efficient way?

A simple drill would be to ensure the swing is feeling free and fluid, thus giving us the best chance of generating speed without spending hours in the gym. It’s what I call “The Indiana Jones Swing,” or cracking the whip.

Here’s how to train it: Grip your driver shaft at the club-head end, just under the hosel, and set up to an imaginary target while leaving a couple of inches between the butt end of the club and the ground. Then, without any swing thoughts, pretend to hit a drive. You want to create a “whoosh” sound as the grip end of the club comes into the raised impact position. The louder the whoosh at impact, the more speed is generated.

After you’ve done this a few times, grip the club normally, but try to copy the “whoosh” swing. If you can transfer that into the ball (and you should, assuming centered contact), you’ll see more yards (or metres).

Be Aggressive

Finau’s aggressive style of golf has won him fans ever since he turned pro back in 2007 as a fresh-faced, 18-year-old. His stats say it all. He ranks fifth in Going for the Green on the PGA Tour in 2016, a sure sign of an aggressive player and someone who doesn’t back out of a shot.

But what is that I hear you say? “If you get into trouble, you should play safe and take your medicine.” Well yes, to some extent I agree. If you’re up a tree with barely half a swing, you have no choice.

Let me take you back to the 1996 Masters, which is a great case study for reasons to play attacking golf. Some of you might even remember it. Greg Norman was six shots ahead of Nick Faldo with one round to play. On the first three days, Norman played golf off the scale, firing at pins and being aggressive over a sun-drenched Augusta. He shot 63-69-71 for a 13-under total after three rounds. Then Sunday came, and his game plan went out the window. He was defensive, playing to avoid hazards and bogeys, as opposed to his first three days where he was only searching for birdies. And Norman lost by 5 after Faldo’s superb 67.

Be like Tony Finau. Go for birdies, go for eagles, and even if you get into trouble go for pars. I have never understood the reasoning behind pretending a hole is a par-5 when it’s a par-4. It’s almost like pretending there’s a 3-foot circle around the hole.

Isn’t the purpose of golf to shoot the lowest score possible?

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Richard is the Head Golf Instructor at Whittlebury Park Golf and Country Club in Northamptonshire, UK. He's on a journey to discover why he couldn’t achieve success as a Tour Pro at a young age, and is helping golfers understand what they can do to reach their potential. He uses using Trackman and GASP LAB video analysis, and well as his own experience, to help his students discover the "why" in their games.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. 300 Yard Pro

    May 30, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Going for the green is just going to cause your average golfer to put up big numbers.

  2. alexdub

    Mar 30, 2016 at 11:35 am

    As a Utah golfer, it’s great to see a Utahn back in the winner’s circle. Keep it up Tony.

  3. Christopher Holland

    Mar 29, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Not to be too pedantic, but your assertion of “…who should statistically get closer to the hole? Me, of course, as I am closer to the hole, even though my ball is in the rough.” is wrong. At least based on the data. It’s still marginally better to be in the fairway at 180yds (3.08 strokes to get in the hole from there) vs 150yds in the rough (3.19 strokes to get it in the hole). Granted, it’s a very minute difference but the advantage still lies with the fairway player.

    Note: this is based on slightly older shot data so maybe up-to-date data shows different results, though likely not enough to warrant the “of course” stance above.

    • Christopher Holland

      Mar 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      I didn’t back off, just simply stated my source as not being completely current. My data is from last year. And the data is based on data from thousands of actual shots so it represents courses as they are set up, not some theoretical idea. If you want to take your chances from the rough then go for it. I’m not telling anybody how to play a hole, just that the difference wasn’t so cut and dry as he made it out. In fact it was the opposite: a slight advantage in the fairway at the longer distance for TOUR players.

      • Christopher Holland

        Mar 30, 2016 at 5:18 pm

        I’m not sure you understand how statistics work.
        The data is from actual shots of actual TOUR players on actual courses. Sure, there may be 5 guys a week that are playing better than their averages and can both hit it 330 AND get out of the rough better than they normally do. Those are the guys that win that week, it’s no coincidence. But ON AVERAGE (and that’s based on LOTS of data) it’s simply better to be in the fairway for the distances he happened to state in the article.
        Now, if he happened to use 115yds from the pin out of the rough then it would have been better to hit out of the rough, but he didn’t.
        Look, the numbers are very close so it doesn’t really matter. But his assertion that it should be OBVIOUS that you want to hit it longer and end up in the rough is clearly not that obvious based on stats from some of the best players in the world. My guess is that normal people are even worse out of the rough. And god forbid you get into a recovery situation in deeper rough because then the stats get MUCH worse for that second shot (around 0.75 strokes worse on that hole on average).

  4. Grant Norcross

    Mar 29, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Hey Richard, What is your limits of aggression? I know that my 7 iron is a 155yards shot, but I am sure you don’t mean getting my head down and trying to rip it 160yards? Does aggression mean that when I am faced with a shot over the water at a short pin, you would like me to go for it? Or would you like me to hit the middle of the green? Or aggression within the confines of my ability? In which case are their drills to define my ability?

    • Richard Cartwright

      Mar 29, 2016 at 7:10 am

      Hi Grant. Many thanks for your questions.
      My definition of aggression is not necessarily going for every pin and playing out of your comfort zone, it is more committing to every shot. Have you ever had the scenario where you get up to a shot and can visualise only the hazards around? Your chances of committing and being aggressive with that shot diminish greatly, forcing you to be defensive and ‘guide’ or ‘steer’ the ball down towards your target area. Place emphasis in your pre shot routine about what you WANT to do with the shot, not what you DON’T want to do.
      Another word I use for aggression is commitment, committing to the shot you choose to play, enabling you to hit ‘less bad shots’ compared with the defensive nature of a lot of golfers.
      Hope this helps.

  5. Chuck D

    Mar 28, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    We learned that this kid hits it a jillion miles!! Sheesh, fairway? Who needs a fairway when you can blast it that deep? Tremendous short game for such a long bomber. Reminds of an early Long John Daly back at the PGA. This young man has a bright future. Good onya mate! I see a top 5 finish at da Mahztaz!!

    Go Tony!!

  6. JML65

    Mar 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Congrats Tony! What a wonderful representative of the great state of Utah and all the Utah golfers.

  7. snowman

    Mar 28, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I agree with this if you are better than average distance and ball striker already, and I realize everyone on Wrx hits it over 300, but most players have no chance of hitting it that far or reaching many legit par 5’s in two shots. Being more aggressive;might help sometimes but they really need to be more Competent and eliminate penalty strokes, 3 putts, multi-chip holes, and triples and quads. This would drastically the scores improve most ‘average’ players scores without requiring them to hit it longer or become better ball strikers.

    • Stickburn

      Mar 29, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Or Snowman if players have no chance of hitting it that far or reaching many legit par 5’s in two shots, then take Barney Adam’s advice and move up a set or two sets of tees, that will allow players to go for Par 5’s when they hit a good drive.

  8. Progolfer

    Mar 28, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    This is the best article I have ever read on this site. It has useful information for all golfers that’s backed by statistics, examples, and reason. Thank you!

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