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There is no place like home

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On Sunday, John Merrick became the first Los Angeles native to win the Northern Trust Open since its inception in 1926. With the victory he secured a trip to the Masters as well as a much-welcomed two-year exemption.

Merrick’s name may not be the most well known nationally but in the Southern California golf community, this victory has been long awaited. Merrick grew up roaming the fairways of Recreation Park Municipal in Long Beach, Calif., and although the course is not grand in stature, it is a great testing ground for a young player to develop his game physically and mentally. “Rec Park” as the locals call it, is only 6,400 yards but the greens are well regarded as some of the toughest in the city. It’s a place that you can’t really overpower, you have to think your way around. As we were all witness to Sunday, it wasn’t his physical play that got him through the final holes and the playoff, it was his head.

That’s the kind of player Merrick is growing into, he has always had more than enough skill to succeed on the PGA Tour and in tracking his career, he has steadily moved up the chain as each year passes. People forget that he won the highly competitive 2001 Southern California Golf Association Amateur Championship as a 19 year old, becoming the youngest player to ever win, beating Tiger Woods’ previous record. He followed that up by leading his UCLA Bruins to the 2003 Pac-10 Conference championship, their first title in 18 years (Merrick was medalist).

As we learn more about Merrick in the coming days, there is one name that you will see pop up quite a bit hopefully, Jamie Mulligan. Very much like Merrick, Mulligan’s name is one you probably haven’t heard of  but the Virginia Country Club director of instruction is the man behind the games of Merrick, Patrick Cantlay, John Mallinger and Peter Tomasulo. All the names mentioned have been under his tutelage since their teens. And it’s only fitting that Merrick won his first tournament on the very course that he and the UCLA Bruins practiced on numerous times.

“As a kid, you dream about playing the tournament one day,” Merrick said, “but to win it, you know, I never factored in winning.”

The victory did come a little unexpected for Merrick, his previous starts in 2013 wouldn’t give you any indication that a victory was around the corner. His best finish in four starts was 16th at the At&t Pebble Beach Pro Am.

It will be interesting to watch where this victory takes Merrick. He has experienced success at every level and perhaps this will give him that last piece of confidence that will break him out of the middle of the pack. There isn’t anything in his game tee to green holding him back, he’s consistently in the upper tier in the All-Around stats and it’s apparent that he deals with adversity quite well as we were witness to on Sunday. For Merrick, it’s all going to be about having the trust that his game is good enough to win at any time.

I’m excited to see what happens the players under the eye of Mulligan. The golf community that he has built at Virginia Country Club has some very promising stars in the making and perhaps with Merrick’s success this week at Riviera the others in the pack will get a twinge of inspiration and bring some more hardware back to Long Beach. We will just have to wait and see.

Here are the clubs Merrick trusted in his victory at the Northern Trust Open

RIVER: Titleist 913 D2 8.5 degree, with Aldila NV 75 X-flex shaft

FAIRWAY WOOD: Titleist 913f, 13.5 degree, with Aldila NV 85 X-flex shaft

HYBRID: Titleist 913H, 19 degree, with Aldila NV 105 X-flex shaft

IRONS: Titleist MB, 3-PW, with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

WEDGES: Titleist Vokey Design SM4, 54 and 60 degrees, with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

PUTTER: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport SS Tour

BALL: Titleist Pro V1x (2013)

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John Wunder was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. He moved to Southern California when he had the rare opportunity of working in the Anaheim Angels clubhouse and has been living in Cali. ever since. He has a severe passion/addiction for the game and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2005. He now works as the Director of Development and Production for The Coalition Group in Los Angeles, Calif.

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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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