Just How Good Are Professional Golfers?

steve stricker

Have you ever heard the PGA Tour’s slogan “These guys are good” ? Well, they are. And not just good, they’re really, really good. It’s difficult to grasp just how good because they make the game look so effortless on TV but if you’ve ever played a round of golf, you know it’s anything but easy.

It’s been said that the difference in terms of skill between a professional golfer and a scratch golfer (0 handicap) is the same as that between a scratch golfer and a 12 handicap. Now if you aren’t really familiar with the handicap system, that is pretty astounding, because scratch golfers are pretty darn good. In fact, out of the 27 or so million amateur golfers in the U.S., only a few thousand of them are truly scratch.

Hall of Fame MLB pitcher John Smoltz has always been recognized as one of the best non-PGA Tour professional athlete golfers in the country (he’s better than a scratch). In April of 2011, he decided that he wanted to play in the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic (the Nationwide Tour is equivalent to the minor league of the PGA Tour). Smoltz, who was probably used to going out and shooting anywhere from 70 to 75 on his home course, went out and shot 84, 87. He missed the cut by 27 strokes and he wasn’t even playing against full-fledged professionals.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice is another very notable amateur golfer (around a 1 handicap). Simliar to Smoltz, Rice thought he might be good enough to play an event on the Nationwide Tour, and like Smoltz he found out the hard way that he may have been a little out of his league. Rice had a tough day to say the least. He went out and shot 81, 82 to finish dead last in the tournament, 8 shots behind then next closest competitor.

The other aspect of professional golf that is tough to grasp is just how hard the courses are that are being played on, and if you’ve never played a championship style golf course, the conditions difficult to describe. Most people focus on the length of the golf course but what they don’t understand is just how little of a margin for error there is throughout the course of an 18-hole round.  The rough is high, fairways are narrow and the greens are likely twice as fast as anything you’ve ever played on in your life.

Think about the hardest golf hole you’ve ever played in your life. Now imagine having to play that hole 18 times in a row. Think you’d score well? Probably not.

The greens in particular are the place where pros typically excel. For instance, in 2013, Steve Stricker made over 97 percent of his putts inside 5 feet. 97 PERCENT! Just think about how many putts you miss inside 5 feet every round. Probably a few. Stricker made 481 out of the 485 that he attempted all of last year and if that statistic doesn’t impress you, I’m not sure what will.

Bottom line, professional golfers are better than you realize. Don’t be fooled by how easy the game looks on television. If you’re ever lucky enough to get the chance to attend an actual tournament in person, don’t pass it up. And if you really want to see just how good these guys are, go to the driving range and watch them hit balls. You’ll be absolutely amazed!

 

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2013 Open Championship Preview

The Open ChampionshipThe Open Championship starts Thursday, and for the 16th time in the 142 year history of the tournament, Muirfield will play host to the best golfers in the world. Of the previous 15 winners at Muirfield, 13 are already in the World Golf Hall of Fame and come Sunday, this storied venue may be adding a 14th to the list.

Designed by old Tom Morris in 1891, Muirfield’s layout is unlike most British Open venues. Most links courses are aligned with two 9-hole sections (usually along the coastline), each facing opposite directions. Murifield on the other hand, is made up of two 9-hole loops, each of which feature holes that face different directions, and with July winds whipping around Scotland this weekend, the players that can best control their ball flight will be the ones in the mix come Sunday.

Favorites:

Tiger Woods – Though he’s been sidelined with an elbow injury for the past month, Tiger Woods has publicly stated that he is ready to go this week. He’s always loved the British Open and with the laundry list of HOF golfers that have already won at Muirfield, there’s no reason to think that he can’t be next on the list.

Phil Mickelson – No one has ever won the Scottish Open and the British Open in the same year but Phil might be the first. Coming off his victory last weekend at Castle Stuart, Phil proved he has the game to battle the type of conditions he’ll see come Thursday, and let’s not forget how bad he wants to make up for his heartbreaking loss at Merion last month.

Ernie Els – Not only is Ernie Els the defending champion, but he’s also the last player to win the British Open at Muirfield when it was held there in 2002.

Adam Scott – He gave away the tournament last year with four straight bogeys to finish but with his win at The Masters this past April, he knows that he’s capable of winning another major.

Dark Horses:

Dustin Johnson – He’s the only player to finish in the top-15 in the Open Championship the last three years. No other player has even done it twice in that timeframe.

Rory Mcilroy– Rory Mcilroy is use to this type of golf. Raised in Ireland, he first burst onto the scene in the 2007 British Open and while he is in a bit of a slump, he’s due for something big.

Justin Rose – Fresh off his win at Merion, Justin’s game is looking pretty good. Like Mcilroy, Rose said “Hello” to the golf world over 15 years ago when he finished with a T4 in the Open Championship as a skinny 17-year old. He certainly can play this style of golf and could be near the top come Sunday.

 

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Exclusive Interview with World Renowned Golf Fitness Professional Mr. Randy Myers

Randy Myers is the Director of Golf Fitness for the Sea Island Golf Learning Center. He also serves as the Director of Nike Golf Performance Worldwide and has over 20 years of experience as a trainer on the PGA Tour. His students have combined for over 100 wins worldwide and include the likes of Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson, Jonas Blixt, Kyle Stanley, David Toms, Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson, among many others. This past week we talked to Randy and he shed a little bit of light on the current state of fitness in professional golf. 

Randy Myers

How did you get into the golf fitness profession?

I actually got pretty lucky. I wrote my masters thesis on golf fitness in 1990. I kind of fell in love with biomechanics and 3-dimensional training. I originally planned on getting into strength and conditioning for football but I realized at the time that no one had really published any kind of fitness related literature for golfers so it kind of dawned on me to try my hand in the sport, and as it turned out, doing my postgraduate work at Penn State turned out to be kind of a blessing.

So you’re kind of a pioneer in the field?

Well I’ve been called “The Grandfather” of golf fitness and I’m only 49 but right now I feel a lot older.

Who was the first professional (or big name) golfer you worked with?

Well I got fortunate again right there actually. Gary Player was my very first client. It’s funny, when I got the call from Gary asking me to help him out I thought it was one of my college buddies pulling a prank on me but sure enough it was Player and we gelled immediately. He’s a great role model.

After that I was fortunate enough to work with guys like Trevino and Hale Irwin and some of the other greats. Then Jack Nicklaus actually came to me and wanted to start a tour for developmental players which is now the Golden Bear Tour and that’s when we started working with younger players.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of top tour pros including Dustin Johnson, Davis Love, Zack Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. In your opinion, what is the biggest difference in terms of fitness between a professional golfer and a very good amateur golfer?

Well I would say that there are two things.  First and foremost, all of the best players in the world have been assessed as having “excellent” flexibility or above. We give 15 different assessments and almost all of these guys are well above average in over half of them. Things like shoulder flexibility and hip rotation are extremely important. You can be a very good golfer and have marginal fitness but for the most part, all of the best players in the world score in certain areas very very well.

The other thing that’s important is to be symmetrically flexible. A guy like Boo Weekly is a perfect example. He’s not super flexible but both sides of his body are perfectly aligned. Kind of like when you gauge the pressure of your tires and all four have the exact same reading. Everything in their body measures exactly equal.

Twenty or thirty years ago strength training wasn’t a part of golf at all. Are there still a lot of guys on tour who have that attitude? Come in to the clubhouse have a few beers, eat whatever they want, no exercise and then go out and play the next day, or would you say most have adopted some type of routine?

It’s not even close anymore. Way more players are leaning toward the side of fitness. I was at Merion last week in a hotel gym working with a lot of players during the tournament. Justin Rose went through a two hour workout before he went out and played his final round on Sunday. You have to realize that these guys are playing for money and for majors and they know that everyday that they train, they’re gaining an edge on their competitors.

As a fitness professional, in what part of the body do you see the most golf injuries occur and why do you think they occur there?

Well you know historically back injuries have been common in golf but you don’t even see that as prominently anymore. I’d say that today there’s a lot more impact on the neck, particularly with the speed that these guys are swinging at. They’re trying to keep their head still while they rotate their spine and it puts a lot of stress on the vertebrae. Then you also get into nagging injuries, kind of like the elbow injury that Tiger Woods is dealing with now but for the most part, injuries occur from rotation of the big muscles.

Speaking of Tiger Woods, what do you make of some of the injuries he’s had in recent years?

I see Tiger a lot and I know he’s got a good workout regimen going. He swings at such a high velocity and over time that would put a lot of stress on anyone’s body. He knows his body better than anybody and he’s done a good job of staying in shape. It’s truly shocking what he’s been able to accomplish throughout his career. It’s because of guys like him and Gary Player and Greg Norman that fitness has become commonplace in the game of golf.

Do you ever have someone come to you that’s simply too young to get started on a strength training routine? What age would you recommend that someone wait until they begin one?

That’s never really been an issue. The improvements in technology have been so good that now you can use a wide variety of tools to help young players with their fitness. Things like medicine balls, elastic bands and weighted clubs have all helped. It’s better for women to get started at a younger age because they develop faster than men. For boys it’s safe to start body weight training at around 13 or 14 years old. We keep a very close eye on that type of thing and we know when a player needs to get stronger to become a better golfer and also how to go about getting them stronger.

In terms of exercising and working out for golf, what do you think the biggest misconceptions people have or the biggest mistakes they make when lifting weights?

I think there’s two main things. The first is that young players don’t realize how individualized a workout program has to be for golf.  Some players need to do one exercise to every three stretches and others need to do one stretch to every three exercises, it all depends. You get these people that say “Well, I need to get in shape for golf” but they have no idea what to do, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you’re probably hurting yourself more than your helping.

The second thing I don’t think most people understand is the concept of periodization. If you’re going to play three straight tournaments, you’re not going to lift that much weight. You might do a lot of stretches and cardio exercises but you need to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it in order to peak for certain events. Pro players have very strict regiments. For them it’s both a mental and physical process and it’s very methodical.

Last Question. There’s been some talk about this in the news over the past few months, especially with Vijay Singh, but do you think that it’s even necessary for the PGA Tour to test players for the use of performance enhancing drugs, and if so, in what way could they help someone’s game?

I honestly don’t believe that PED usage is an issue on the PGA Tour. In 25 years of working with professional golfers, I’ve never had someone that I even remotely suspected was using any kind of performance enhancing drug. A lot of guys don’t know the difference between a snickers bar and a protein bar. They rely on us tremendously to monitor their diets and help them understand what’s best for them.

The best players in the world assemble teams of caddies, trainers and agents that they know can help them succeed. I just don’t think it would be possible for these guys to do something that violates their integrity without someone else on their team finding out about it. There’s too many guys involved in the process. There may very well have been players in the past that have tried it but for the most part the PGA Tour is extremely clean.

To answer the second part of your question, you never know if there’s a benefit to using them, there might be. You see guys in other sports break down after they go off of PEDs but I don’t think that golf, being a long duration sport, would be as affected as other more physical sports by these drugs. These players know what they need to do to get their body in shape to play and it doesn’t involve illegal substances. I don’t think there’s an issue with PEDs in golf at all.

To contact Randy or the Sea Island Golf Learning Center you can visit the website (http://www.seaislandglc.com/) or call them at 1-888-Sea-Island.

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18-Year Old Gavin Hall Playing in U.S. Open at Merion

Gavin Hall

Gavin Hall is no stranger to success.

At only 18-years old, his golf resume is already riddled with more achievements than most amateur golfers of his caliber can expect to accomplish in an entire lifetime. And on Monday in Purchase, NY, that resume just got a little more impressive as he punched his ticket to the 113th US Open next week at Merion in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Although Hall will be playing in his first U.S. Open, it will not be his first professional tournament.

After a 2nd place finish at the 2010 Porter Cup (one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the country), Gavin received an exemption into the Turning Stone Resort Championship, a PGA Tour event held every year in Syracuse, NY.

The following year on his 17th birthday, he won the Junior Players Tournament at TPC Sawgrass and received a special invite to the Nationwide Tour’s Winn Dixie Jacksonville Open, and while both events will serve as valuable experience for what he can expect to encounter in the coming years, nothing can prepare him for what he will experience this week at Merion.

Hall made his way into the field of this year’s U.S. Open by winning his local qualifier at his home course in Rochester, NY and then by finishing in a tie for 1st at the sectional qualifier two weeks later in Purchase, NY, and in rather dramatic fashion.

With only four spots available in the field, Gavin started off rather shaky by bogeying five of his opening ten holes. He battled back and in his final round with only four holes left to play he stood at even par. With the leaders in at 4-under, he’d have to birdie at least three of the remaining holes to even give himself a chance.

Under a great deal of pressure, Hall closed out his day with birdies on the remaining four holes to secure his ticket to Merion and add to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

On Wednesday Gavin played in a Pro-Am at the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Locust Hill CC in Rochester, NY and before he makes his way to Ardmore, PA on Sunday he will continue to hone his game at a local invitational not far from his hometown of Pittsford, NY.

When asked about being part of the field at the U.S. Open Hall said, “I really have no expectations, I think if I go in there and play my game and have a game plan and stick to it, it’ll be great, just play well soak it all up and enjoy it.”

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Exclusive Interview with World Renowned Golf Instructor Gary Gilchrist

Gary Gilchrist is the founder and head coach of the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy just outside Orlando, Florida. Throughout his tenure as a teaching professional, he’s coached a number of top-ranked amateurs and professionals. Notable students (past and present) include teenage phonem Michelle Wie, former No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour Yani Tseng, Peter Hanson and D.A. Points (a recent winner at the Shell Houston Open two weeks ago). He’s received a number of teaching awards from various golf organizations over the years and in 2012 he was named to GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers in America. Our interview with Gary can be seen below.

You’ve worked with a number of both male and female golfers including former No.1 ranked Yani Tseng, Michelle Wie, D.A. Points and Peter Hanson. In your professional opinion, do you think a female will ever be able to play and consistently compete on the PGA Tour?

I don’t think females will ever be able to consistently compete on the PGA Tour. I think now and again you might get one or two women that will try to qualify for an event like the U.S. Open but I think what happened with Michelle Wie was very very unique. Someone like that isn’t going to come around too often. She grew up in Hawaii and played off the men’s tees so she gained quite a bit of confidence. She was 14 years old when she came on to the scene and she really had nothing to lose. Ten years ago courses didn’t play so long and now that they are it’s making it much more difficult for players that don’t hit the ball a long ways. 

On average, how many hours per day do your students (professional students) spend on golf related activities (range work, putting, weight training, ect.)?

In the offseason when they aren’t traveling from tournament to tournament, I would say a professional probably practices 3 to 4 hours a day and that’s not including any actual rounds of golf, plus they do an hour to an hour and a half of fitness three to four times a week. When I start training someone I give them a structured program with drills that they need to do everyday. Sometimes the drills are for their putting or for their full swing and it probably takes at least 3 hours to complete.

I’ve heard that the difference in skill-set between a professional golfer and a scratch golfer is about the same as the difference between a scratch golfer and a 15-handicap. Do you think there is any truth to this comparison?

That comparison is probably a bit off. I think a scratch golfer is much closer to a professional golfer than a 15-handicap is to scratch golfer. For one, scratch golfers play competitively a lot more and have a much more developed skill set. I don’t really think that comparison is even close.

You use a lot of advanced techniques to help your students (2D and 3D swing analysis) improve their game. Do you think technology has made coaching/instructing more effective than it was say 20 or 30 years ago?

I think today most coaches use a lot more video than they do 3D imaging but when the technology is more advanced, the analysis of the swing becomes much more technical. A lot of coaches used to teach based on instinct and feel. The old way of instructing was to take what the student had and make it better, which I like a lot. I don’t think completely changing someones swing like what Tiger’s been doing in recent years is a good approach. I thought that Tiger in 2000 had a much more natural swing, a lot more speed. I don’t really think he fully appreciated the way he was swinging back then. He thought he could do much better but I think if he looked at his swing now and then looked at his swing back in 2000, he probably would say “What was I thinking, that was really good”. Butch gave him a swing that was much more natural in terms of the tools he had when he was a kid growing up.

 Let’s stay with Tiger.  Do you think he will break Jack’s record of 18 majors and if so, do you think he’ll ever return to the dominance we saw earlier in his career?

Mentally, I think he knows that he can do it but I also think his mind is in a different place today than it was a few years ago. In order to win you have to get into a flow and Tiger can do that, but I think he’s still fighting things from within. Sean Foley is in a tough position because Tiger demands so much, but winning golf tournaments is about playing the game of golf. I think in recent years Tiger has struggled driving the golf ball. He’s gotten much better because he’s fading it more but he’s still having trouble drawing it. Back in 2000 he was able to overpower a golf course and just let his short game take care of itself. He’s still an amazing player but I don’t think he’ll reach that level of dominance ever again. Then again, you can never count Tiger out.

Your former student and PGA Tour pro, Peter Hanson, has said on numerous occasions that he can only visualize his ball going dead straight. Did this make your job easier or harder when working with him?

It didn’t make my job easier but it didn’t make it harder either. I think his ability to only visualize a straight ball flight came from a limited belief of being able to work the ball in both directions, but once we started working together I think he started to gain confidence and it made him a much better player. He’s an amazing golfer, very very talented, big strong guy, real good putter. In the past, I think his chipping has held him back the most but he’s really gotten better at that and as a result he’s become a much more complete player.  

 What’s your take on the proposed anchoring-ban? Do you agree or disagree with it and why?

I’ve always been against letting the putter touch your body in two places. It doesn’t even have to be anchored. The problem is that the people in charge waited way too long to address it and it’s caused a lot of controversy. So many people are using them now and it’s not good for the game of golf that they’re going to ban it. I think they should have banned it 15 years ago.

You grew up in South Africa. Was Gary Player a big influence to you as a golfer growing up?

Gary Player is a legend and he was always a huge influence but the person I admired most throughout my career has always been Seve Ballesteros. 

Now that you have so many high-profile students and run a full-time golf academy, do you ever get any time to go out and play for yourself and if so, do you have a favorite golf course in the Orlando area?

I still love to play and I always try to get out and do it. I play on the weekends. I hit balls after work. There are so many great golf courses in the Orlando area but I would have to say that my favorite course is probably Isleworth.

You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to but what’s your typical scoring average for an 18-hole round?

It really depends on what tees I play from. From the far back tees with courses being so long nowadays it’s tough, but from the next set up I can generally shoot 1 or 2 over par. I was best when I was around 22 years old. I played on the South African Tour for 5 years and kept my card. Then I came to America to work on my game with David Leadbetter and I got an opportunity to work at IMG Academy as a Golf Director. A few years later I left and got a chance to work with Hank Haney and then I opened my full time academy and have been working there ever since.

 For more information on Gary and his approach to the game of golf you can visit his website at the link below.

http://www.ggga.com/index.php

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