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The 6 Deadly Sins of Playing in Golf Tournament Qualifiers

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The time is here: longer days, practicing after work, playing an extra nine late, and for competitive golfers, summer tournaments. As you probably know, the more prestigious the tournament, the more difficult it is to get a spot in the field. And because of this, we have the dreaded qualifying rounds… you know, the one-day, typically one-round qualifiers to get into that big junior golf tournament or your State Amateur or State Open. Personally, the sting of these qualifications hits close to home.

When I was in high school, they were holding my State Open at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was the closest thing to Augusta I was ever going to play. So I signed up for the qualifying event. The qualifier was at my home course, which was also home to a Tour event and the longest course on the PGA Tour at the time at 7,600+ yards (at sea-level). It was going to be a great test of my game. I would make the turn at 1-under par, but by the time I got to No. 17 I had shot about 500 on the water-filled back nine. I was not going to Chattanooga.

Sadly, this memory would persist every time I teed it up in a qualifier going forward. Sometimes I performed OK, but other times I did not. So today I’d like to help you not make the same mistakes I did back in the day with my round of 35-500.

Not Picking The Right Course For Your Game

The most important thing to ensure (if you have options) is to pick the course that best fits your game. It may sound obvious, but golfers make this mistake all the time. If you don’t hit your driver straight, don’t go to the tree-lined place down the street. You must always play to your strengths and work around your weaknesses, because under pressure your weaknesses will be exacerbated.

Traveling Too Far

Just because there’s a qualifier in Hawaii does not mean you should fly there! Unless you are planning a longer stay than an in-and-out trip, I would not suggest flying somewhere to qualify. Travel is a grind, not to mention expensive, and the time crunch necessary to get in practice, a practice round, and the event itself is often too much to expect a top performance. Stay close to home where you will be fresh, comfortable, and more likely to qualify.

Changing Equipment

Just because Felix Clubworks fit you with a new super-hot driver last week does not mean you’re ready to try it out under the gun. Yes, you do need equipment that works for your game, but you also need ample time to test it and see how it reacts under pressure and in different conditions. Personally, I know what my tendencies with my old equipment are, and sometimes that is good enough to get me past the qualifier until I really have time to hone in that new driver.

Thinking You Have To Go Low

People think you need to shoot 68 in every qualifier to make it, when in fact that’s rarely the case at the local/regional level. Qualifying usually only takes a steady round. You don’t need to play lights out; hit the fairways, aim for the center of the green and don’t be a hero around the greens. A hot putter is a bonus, but qualifying is more about making the putts you’re supposed to make and not three-putting than rolling it like Jordan Spieth.

Remember, in many cases, the lights-out golfers already have exemptions into the big tournament, so you’re not competing against the absolute best. Think about being Nick Faldo when you qualify: steady and calm. Par is a good score and a bogey is not the end of the world.

Changing Your Method

Now that you have a tee time for your qualifier, don’t go changing your pre-round routine. If you usually show up 45 minutes before your tee time and hit a few balls, it’s no smart to show up 2 hours before and hit a huge bucket of range balls. Changing your routine will only add stress and get you out of your comfort zone. Simply do whatever you normally do and go from there. Also, if you’re hitting a cut on the range when you normally play a draw, don’t try to make a quick swing change before the round. Dance with the girl you brought; that’s to say, it might be best to play the cut instead of fighting it all day.

Giving Up Too Soon

Too often I see players “quit” after making a double on hole No. 3, feeling like they have blown their chance to qualify. Remember, a 2-over round of 74 has a pretty good chance locally, so don’t fret. You never know how the other players on the course are playing, and there’s no reason to assume the worst. Just keep playing your game.

When things begin going poorly, also try to remember that you’re playing golf! Enjoy not being at work and learning more about what you can improve in your game.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. The Dude

    May 16, 2017 at 9:16 am

    most play the qualifiers because the course is really good……. they know they have zero chance of “qualifying”…..there are soooo many pretenders @ qualifiers it’s scary…

  2. Dave R

    May 15, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Hey Jim that’s what you get for having to qualify a whole bunch of us hackers, if not for for the hacks your tour would not exist so get a life buddy.

  3. Joey

    May 15, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Thank you to whoever posted this i saw it right on time because this weekend I have a Qualifier and this really helps.

  4. Nick

    May 15, 2017 at 9:49 am

    7) Being terrible.

    I caddied for one of my clients (Web.com Tour player) in the US Open local last week where the guy shot 127. He was in the group behind us. We had a lost ball and a ruling in our group on the first three holes and still couldn’t see them behind us by the time we got to the 4th green. That’s not fair on the guys you’re playing with.

  5. Bert

    May 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Great advice, seen these mistakes made many times.

    One additional thought is to stay away from meaningless conversations before play. Such wasteful time talking and perhaps upsetting yourself should be guarded against. Stay focused on why you’re there, not what Joe Blow had to say.

  6. BIG STU

    May 13, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Pretty solid advice especially 3. 5 and 6

  7. C.S. Anderson

    May 13, 2017 at 10:12 am

    I agree with what Tom is saying. Good info. To nit pick: Who edits these articles? The old theory that after you write the article it should be printed as a hard copy and read by one or two people besides the writer would have served the credibility of this article. The way this article looks right now is “AMETURISH”.

  8. Alex

    May 13, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Great article. I you play tournament golf you’ve been through them all. Sound advice, especially 4, 5 and 6.

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Instruction

A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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