Learning from the pros

Ivan Morris

Rory McIlroy, Brian O'Driscoll, Mike Tindell and Tiger Woods (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Ivan Morris

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My alter egos, Mutt and Jeff, are martyrs for being glued to the box when there is golf on TV. Keeping to the social distancing rules, I joined them for a discussion on the lessons, if any, they might have discovered from attending pro tournaments?

Ivan: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from watching a professional golf tournament?

Jeff: Not as much as you’d expect apart from the day I followed Gary Player for 18-holes around Portmarnock in the Irish Open and saw him shoot 1-under par 71 while hitting only one green in regulation – the par 5, 13th, which he was on the green in two blows and then three-putted!

Mutt: You must have learned a lot about bunker play watching Gary. His ball striking was often poor, but he knew how to score.

Ivan: That’s what most of us cannot do – gouge out a score. I couldn’t tell you the last time one of us walked off a course feeling as if we hadn’t wasted a few shots.

Jeff: That’s the difference all right. We have often watched a pro and felt: “I’m as good as him!” But, we’re not!

Mutt: One thing that we could apply to our advantage is pros don’t bother with practice swings. I suppose they consider them to be a waste of energy.

Ivan: Not true on short shots around the greens. Sometimes, you’d think that they will never hit the ball for all the practice swinging they do.

Jeff: What about this lining the ball up business on the greens?

Mutt: It’s about half-in-half! About half of them use a line drawn on the ball to help them aim their drives and putts and half of them don’t. I have no idea about the success rate. Mind you, I’ve tried it but find it distracting. It takes my focus away from the target and onto the ball, which I think is a mistake. The target is where the ball goes not the ball itself.

Jeff: Another thing I notice is how rhythmically and ‘easily’ the pros swing. Everything is unhurried and done slowly even on the practice ground; often taking several minutes between shots. They warm up with short shots, work through the bag and then come back to square one; ending with some smooth, unhurried wedges.

Mutt: A good amateur player told me once that he wasn’t impressed by the shots the pros hit and felt that he could hit the same shots. While, pros are all impressive on the range, they are not quite the same on the course. They hit the ball into the rough and trees far more than you’d think. It’s surprising how many greens the pros can miss in regulation even when making solid contact.

Ivan: That’s why golf is so tantalising. Anyone can hit an occasional shot as well as the best player in the world. The problem is with our bad shots and our inability to recover. Pros, by and large, are fantastic at recovering from all sorts of lies and situations.

Jeff: And, they don’t go all out on their wedge shots, which they all seem to hit very low. Their drives fly high, but their wedges fly low!

Ivan: Pros are creatures of habit. They are married to routine. I saw Stuart Appleby doing a drill in 2009 and he was still doing that same drill in 2014. You could say the same about Miguel Angel Jimenez. It’s worth the price of admission just to see MAJ warm up. Meanwhile, every time I see Padraig Harrington practicing, he is doing something different and slightly weird.

Mutt: The progression from being a great amateur player to being on one of the mini tours and ultimately the European Tour or PGA Tour is never about perfect ball striking. All the pros have sound methods that they can repeat ad nauseum. It’s more about the inches between the ears and how much they believe in themselves to be able to do what needs to be done and when they need to do it. The ability to hit great shots is not the separator. It’s how bad are your bad shots?

Jeff: Knowing how to get there (i.e. onto the Tour) and then into contention is the hardest part of being a pro. Holding onto a lead or chasing down a leader is only for the exceptional few.

Mutt: Pros think differently to amateurs. Watching the pros in action reminds me that many top amateurs can hit the ball as well as them but posting a low a score is another matter.

Ivan: It’s not one thing. It’s a lot of things that must be meshed together. Enjoying the ‘circus travelling-lifestyle’ is another overlooked part.

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