Major Champs’ Winning Traits
Golf experts tell you what you can learn from top 2019 victors
BY TOM MACKIN — Fall 2019
atching the world’s best golfers perform on the biggest stages during a major championship is both awe-inducing and motivational. How do they reach that peak performance? By playing, and thinking, at a higher level than normal while coping with enormous pressure. Here, expert instructors explain specific traits displayed by five major winners this season and how incorporating those qualities into your own game could lead to better scores and perhaps a win or two of your own.
Tiger Woods at the MastersAnalysis by Shawn Cox, director of golf at the Grand Golf Club in San Diego. He was named Southern California PGA’s Golf Professional of the Year in 2018.
“Tiger Woods arrived at the par-3 12th hole during this year’s Masters two strokes behind leader and playing partner Francesco Molinari. He then watched as Molinari’s tee shot rolled into Rae’s Creek after the Italian aimed directly at the pin on the right side of the green. Woods, knowing better than to attack that treacherous hole location, played safely to the center of the green, making a par to tie Molinari, who made a double bogey. Tiger also knew the average score on the 13th and 15th holes was birdie (which he eventually made on each), so he understood there would be other chances to catch up to the leaders. On every course there are green-light holes where you should go for birdie, yellow-light holes — such as the 12th at Augusta National — where caution is needed, and red-light holes where you play as safe as possible. Tiger used that knowledge to make the smarter play and went on to win his 15th major title. It’s the same reason why in team club play, the home team wins 80 percent of the matches. They benefit from a deeper knowledge of where and when to play the correct shots.”
Takeaway: “Keep in mind the big picture of the course you are playing when making specific shot decisions. Understanding the proper time and the right place to go for it is critical to a successful round.”
Getting Back on Track
Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship
Analysis by Todd Anderson, director of instruction at the PGA Tour’s Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He ranks 14th on Golf Digest’s “50 Best Teachers in America” list and is one of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers.”
“By the 10th hole of the final round of this year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., Brooks Koepka had a comfortable five-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson. But four consecutive bogeys shrunk that lead to just one stroke with three holes to play. Koepka didn’t panic, though. On the 16th hole, he hit a power cut — his go-to shot off the tee — to ensure he hit the fairway. It’s almost like a second serve in tennis. When the first serve is going well, you just rip it down the middle. When you’re not getting that first serve in, you need a second serve. When things go astray, rather than trying to fix it during the round, you need to have a go-to shot in your arsenal that can eliminate one side of the golf course and help you put the ball in play. Brooks did that and held on for a two-stroke victory, his fourth major win in the last two years.”
Takeaway: “When things go off the rails during a round, try to stay in the present and focus on where you want to hit the ball, not where you don’t want to hit it. Don’t worry about the outcome and just work on putting the ball in play off the tee. Then make a free and relaxed swing toward your target.”
Accepting the Percentages
Hannah Green at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Cheryl Anderson, director of instruction at Mike Bender Golf Academy in Lake Mary, Fla. She ranked among Golf Digest’s “50 Best Teachers in America” in 2017, and Golf Magazine has recognized her as one of “America’s Top 100 Teachers” since 2013. Analysis by
“No matter what your skill level is or handicap is, you will always have your share of great shots and bad shots each round. Performance coach Rick Jensen of Dr. Rick Jensen’s Performance Center in Parkland, Fla., estimates that approximately 25 percent of all golf shots will be considered great, 25 percent will be poor, and nearly 50 percent will be average. That held true for Hannah Green during the final round of this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. She had her share of poor shots earlier in the round, bogeying three out of four holes, but she didn’t panic, which is what most amateur golfers end up doing. Hannah hung in there and accepted the bogeys, knowing that her better shots would surface. She ended up playing outstanding golf for the final six holes. When you have your poor shots, it’s important to accept them and realize that your good shots and great shots will come out. Everyone has a different quality of shots depending on their skill level, but the percentages are consistent for everyone.”
Takeaway: “Plan for a great shot in your mind, but always be conscious that if it turns out poorly, make sure it won’t end up in a situation where a penalty is involved. Hannah was able to win because she made bogeys rather than double bogeys in her final round.”
Gary Woodland at the U.S. OpenAnalysis by Boyd Summerhays, director of instruction at McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. He competed on the PGA Tour from 2004 to 2006 and now works with top 20 golfer Tony Finau.
“Gary Woodland entered the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with a one-shot advantage over Justin Rose. But he was 0-for-7 when holding a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, and had never finished better than a tie for 23rd in his eight previous U.S. Opens, even missing the cut three times. However, he embraced the pressure this year and captured the title by three strokes. Woodland stayed aggressive and wasn’t afraid to make a mistake, even with the lead. On the par-5 14th, he went for the hole in two and made birdie. On the par-3 17th, he executed a phenomenal chip while on the green for par. Under pressure, most people rush things and are more on edge mentally and emotionally. They also tend to play more tentatively. To win a PGA Tour event or a club tournament, there will be a couple of times in the round where you have to hit a great shot. No one gives it to you. Gary went for it because he learned from his past failings after having a lead but not winning.”
Takeaway: “In golf, and in all sports really, going into the ‘prevent defense’ and trying to just hang on doesn’t exude a lot of confidence, and your body can sense that. Your skills got you into the lead, so believe in yourself and stay aggressive while playing smart.”
Shane Lowry at the Open ChampionshipAnalysis by Mike Adams, director of instruction at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, N.J., and at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., has been listed on every Golf Magazine “Top 100 Teachers in America” and Golf Digest “Best 50 Teachers in America” list ever produced.
“Shane Lowry didn’t think he could win the Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland this year, even with a four-shot lead going into the final round. He actually made that statement. But Tommy Fleetwood (who was in second place) never put a charge on him that Sunday. Any time you’re leading, you want to get off to a good start, stay in your game, and get some momentum going. If you can do that and not lose ground, then you are likely going to win. Lowry never had any pressure because he never faltered, unlike at the 2016 U.S. Open, when he lost a four-shot lead in that final round, enabling Dustin Johnson to win. At this year’s Open Championship, Lowry made pars when other players were making bogeys. The rainy weather in the final round was to his benefit; the worse the conditions became, the worse everyone else was going to play. Therefore, he didn’t have to shoot a low score in the final round. It allowed him to play conservatively. His goal was to hit fairways and greens, and make pars. As long as he did that, the easier winning became for him.”
Takeaway: “It’s all about patience when leading a golf tournament. Amateur golfers go out there and try to force the action. What you want to do is make par on the first hole, then par the second hole, and then par the third hole. Keep doing that. You don’t have to start attacking the golf course until someone behind you starts making birdies. Playing with a lead is easy if you just try and make pars.”
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