Play like the pros is something all golfers, young and old want to do. This article's goal is to motivate all of you who play golf to give serious consideration to learning from the pros, up close and personal. How do you do this? By spending a day at a local golf tournament or a PGA tour event in your part of the world this year. Going to a golf tournament can be as helpful to your golf game as taking a summer's worth of lessons from your local pro or watching a golf instruction video. When I was just learning the game of golf in the latter 1960s and through the 1970s I had the privilege of going to PGA tour events such as the Thunderbird (Upper Montclair Country Club), on three occasions, the US Open (Baltustrol Country Club and Winged Foot Country Club), on two occasions, the PGA (Winged Foot and Baltustrol) and the Westchester Classic (Westchester Country Club) two or three times. I also went to a number of local golf tournaments in New Jersey and watched the pros from our state. As an eighteen year old in 1969 I remember watching Jack Nicklaus on the eighth tee at Upper Montclair hit a golf ball harder than I thought a human being could hit a ball. I watched him reach the 580 yard 18th with two wood shots. Incredible. For a person of any age, spending a day walking around a golf course watching the pros play in a tournament is something every golfer should do and even if you are not an active golfer seeing a tournament live is really a great and unforgetable event. I think the things I remember most about my days watching the pros at these events were as follows:
How smooth most of their swings were,
The exquisite timing of their swings coming into the ball, and
The great distances they hit the ball wherever with a driver or any type of iron, and
How they usually could get them out of trouble and save par.
When you go to a golf tournament you get to see up close how the professionals management their way around the golf course. What does that mean? By watching a pro or many pros you can see the way they prepare to play their round, play their round, manage their way around each hole and the course, and how they stay fit on course. You will also see how they practice courtesy to one another and observe all the rules of golf.
Preparation and Practice
During any round of golf at a PGA tour event, professionals will spend anywhere from an hour to just over an hour warming up with most of their irons and driver, determining what their rhythm is on that particular day and trying to iron out any swing flaws that they or their caddy or teaching instructor notice. Golf professionals can get a sense from their warm up routine if they are moving through the ball well or if something is not quite right. The practice or warm up time is the time the golfer has to get his game in order before he hits the first tee. When visiting a golf course for a professional tournament, plan on getting there two or three hours early to spend a good bit of time on the practice range watching your favorite professional and many others. If you are there on the practice range, you can see close up the following:
How the pro takes the club back at the start of his swing, whether he takes it back on an inside track or an outside track. Notice how fast or slow he brings the club back and how far back he brings the club. Note the trajectory of the shot relative to the manner of backswing the pro makes.
How he examines the path of his club during the back swing, aided by his caddy and perhaps other friends or pros. Watch the way the pro may take a partial back swing to see what is going on and how he uses other clubs to see what kind of plane the backswing is on.
The speed or tempo of his backswing which is critical because if his tempo is off and he starts off the round swinging too fast or rushing his backswing or downswing, he can shoot him out of the round almost before he gets going.
What kind of follow through he has and how far does it go after he hits the ball. Most pros have a very long follow through because they are swinging so hard on their drives, but on iron shots, depending on the type of shot he is practicing, the follow through may be very short.
The position of his head during the back swing, during the downswing and the actual striking of the ball. This is a key element of the golf swing and persons watching the warm up should pay particular attention as to how still the head is during most of the swing and then when it begins to move and in what direction it moves. The head should remain very still during the backswing, downswing, and striking of the ball before the force of the swing and follow through pull the head towards the ball.
The kind of grip he is using, whether it is an overlapping grip, double overlapping, baseball, or interlocking grip. See how your grip matches up with the grip of any one of the pros. Remember during the warm up before the round there will be as many as twenty to thirty pros hitting balls for you to watch.
Is he using a grip to promote or accentuate a draw or hook or fade. Most pros have a slight draw on their drives so if you see a pro drawing his drive see how his grip is positioned. Is his left hand completely over the top of the shaft (ie you can see three, four, or even five knuckles). See if his grip is much different on drives versus iron shots.
The stance, is it narrow, wide, a hook stance or a fade stance. In this regard you can see the positioning of the feet. For example, is the front foot positioned in a way so the toes are pointing sharply towards the hole or are they more or less perpendicular to the path of the club on the downswing. Is the back foot pointed toward twelve o'clock or tilted more towards two o'clock.
Once the pro has finished warm up and is satisfied with how he is striking the ball, he usually moves to the practice putting green or greens and works on his putting stroke as well as practicing some chip shots and sand shots. With regard to putting he will practice putts that are very short (two to four feet), medium range (five feet to maybe fifteen feet) and long range (over fifteen feet). He will sometimes do drills from certain distances to build his confidence. He will practice puts that go right to left and left to right and straight. He will probably try different putters before selecting the one he will use during the round.
Watch how the pro keeps his head steady during the entire stroke, the backstroke and follow through. Pay particular attention to his head position at the time he strikes the ball.
Watch the length of the back stroke and the follow through.
Notice the speed of the putter coming back and then going forward.
Take account of the position of his hands and what kind of grip he is using.
Note the kind of putter being used, whether mallet or blade.
Try to get in your mind the tempo of his putting stroke wherever it seems to be fast or slow, smooth or jerky.
Watch some pros hitting sand shots during this time when they are not under pressure and be sure to watch when they are in the sand during the actual round. See how they play different sand shots, how they open the club face or close the club face, how they handle a buried lie, an uphill lie or a downhill lie.
The Actual Round
After you have decided which foursome to watch or whatever your strategy is going to be, enjoy the excitement of the game as your particular player or players come to the first tee and start their round. Many people will follow their favorites for a while, maybe half the day or so, others will pick a good viewing position and watch how many groups handle a particular hole or holes, or maybe they will watch golfers coming to a particular green. Maybe they will do all of the above. What is important to see as the round progresses are the following:
The tempo of the players will in most cases be calm without the appearance of much emotion except for a few seconds if a great putt is made or a spectacular shot is made. This is important for you the amateur because how you handle your emotions plays a big part on how well you play or how consistently you play.
The pace or speed at which the players and foursomes play. Most of the pros at PGA tour events play at a fairly rapid pace, at least until they get to the green. Note that the older players tend to play at a more rapid pace than many of the younger pros. Slow play is detrimental to the pros and they try to play at a good steady pace accomplishing the round usually pretty close to four hours without it is a major championship.
Pay attention to how the pros play the four fours and how they manage their way around the course. How the pros manage their way around the golf course could be represented by where they tee off from on the tee box on a particular hole, what they do and what kind of club they use when in trouble, whether that trouble is behind a tree or trees, in very deep rough, in or at the edge of a pond, brook, or lake or in a fairway or green side sand trap. You should see how high they tee the ball off the ground when using a driver, and whether they use a tee on a par three. If the hole is particularly problematic with many hazards in or close to the edge of the fairway (such as trees or out of borders or water) and around the green, pay attention to how the pro plays the hole so as to avoid the trouble, and put himself in the best and easiest position for his putting.
Note how the players play according to the rules of golf and do not try to take advantage of the rest of the field by doing something illegal. Professional golfers have a very very high level of ethics and they play according to the rules even if it means a penalty stroke. Many amateurs tend to bend or break many of the rules of golf and that should not be. Amateurs should follow all the rules as they understand them, just like the pros do.
Finally, when you go to a professional golf tournament be it a local golf tournament or a PGA tour event, and you should, you should bring very light clothing (assuming it is summer time), lots of sunscreen, a golf hat, sneakers or something easy to walk many miles in, and a light weight folding chair. Oh yes, bring a bottle or bottles of water. Play like the pros is more than an adage, it is something you can do this golf season if you are willing to watch the pros in person at PGA tour event or a local golf tournament.