Walking around Pebble Beach is always a wonderful experience. Combine its idyllic collision of earth and sea with a US Open course setup, the best players in the world, and 100,000 people, and the hair on the back of your neck is sure to be standing straight up. I had the fortune of attending the US Open on Friday and Sunday and I learned several things from the world’s best. It occured to me that what it takes to play great golf at any level can be separated into three categories and that to play to our potential, we must be proficient in all three.
The first category is having solid fundamentals. Examples of fundamentals would be our grip, posture, width of stance depending on the shot, alignment, grip pressure, balance. In other words, fundamentals are our technique and focus on what our body or the club is doing. Having great fundamentals is essential however, most average players, in my opinion, overvalue them. There comes a point where seeing your swing on video in pursuit of perfect fundamentals or Adam Scott’s golf swing is no longer the answer! Furthermore, there is a huge difference between having a nice looking swing and understanding your fundamentals. What works for your golfing buddy or Dustin Johnson may not work for you! Great players have a deep understanding of where their fundamentals need to be to have the chance to play well.
Instead, one thing every great player has in common is that they value skills over fundamentals. Whereas fundamentals have to with our body and the club, skills focus on what the ball is doing, which is infinitely more important. Why do we see so many different looking swings? There are many reasons, but in large part, it is because when great players were in developmental stages, their focus was on making the ball do what they wanted. The fundamentals required for a given shot organized themselves around what the ball needed to do. Examples of skills include rolling a ball straight and with the correct speed in putting, hitting your landing spot and the ball rolling the correct distance in chipping, and controlling direction and distance in the full swing.
The last leg of the tripod to great golf has to do with mental makeup. Can you handle a double bogey on the first hole and recover? Can you handle a hot start and not freak out when you’re in uncharted waters? Does slowplay bother you? How does playing with a longer hitter make you feel? How well do you plan each shot? Do you have a formula for preparing for important rounds? Brooks Koepka sure does. There are a million little tests in every round of golf we play and our performance in high-pressure situations depends on our ability to pass those tests.
On Friday at the US Open, I witnessed one player break his wedge over his knee on the 18th hole en route to a double bogey. Although he made the cut, this player also played his way out of contention and had to endure more than his share of abuse. Fast forward to Sunday, Tiger Woods was four over par through the first 6 holes (the easiest stretch of the course). Skip ahead to the 18th hole and Tiger finished his round at two-under for a 69, meaning he played 7-18 (hardest part of the course) in 6 under par. If anyone has earned the right to mail it in when they are out of contention, it’s Tiger Woods, but he never does and that’s why he is who he is.
My question to each of you: how well are you currently doing in each of these categories? Is one stronger than the other two? Is one of them clearly your weakest? If you can accurately assess your game, then you’ve made the first step toward the golf of your dreams. If you need help understanding your golf game better, then please stop by the Clubhouse and we can have a conversation. Till then, keep it in the short grass!