PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — PGA Tour pros and their caddies have been in enough pro-ams to know just where all of us mortals continually go wrong. They offer some kindly advice, which basically boils down to: line it up, take enough club and take it easy.
Most problems for recreational golfers begin before we even start our swings, according to experts here for The Players, one of the biggest events of the golf year.
Former champion Mark McCumber, working for PGA Tour Radio, said he always has noticed that the average amateur does not have a pre-shot routine. We would be much better off if we did what pros do, in stepping behind the ball, looking at the shot and aiming properly.
“That goes for a 20 handicapper, too,” he said, adding that most righthanded golfers aim right without realizing it. “A guy will hit the ball 270 yards into the right woods and ask, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I’ll tell them, ‘That ball went right where it was supposed to. That’s where you were aiming.’ ”
Overwhelmingly, the experts agreed that amateurs never choose to use enough club. “They think that a 9-iron can go 190 yards and they think they can hit it like Dustin Johnson, when really, they hit it more like me, where a 9-iron goes 130 yards,” said Austin Cook, winner of the RSM Classic in this, his rookie PGA Tour season.
Jimmy Johnson, caddie for PGA champion Justin Thomas, said to a representative of the amateur class, “You play for a perfect shot and you never hit a perfect shot.”
Duane Bock of East Hampton, caddie for multiple tournament winner Kevin Kisner, said, “Everybody thinks they hit it farther than they do. To be honest, Kevin teases with them. Now they have TrackMan (launch monitors) on a couple of tee boxes. Without looking, Kevin will ask them, ‘How far did you carry that?’ They’ll say, ‘Oh man, I hit that good. Probably 250.’ He’ll tell them, ‘You hit it 224.’”
Kevin Tway, a second generation tour pro, said his caddie occasionally deliberately tells an amateur partner that his shot is longer than it really is just so they will use enough club. And the rare times that amateurs do use heavier lumber is when they shouldn’t.
“Honestly, I see a lot of woods being hit out of the rough. It never works out for them,” Tway said. “We’ll be playing at Torrey Pines, for instance, where the rough is really high. They’ll try to smash a 3-wood to the green. I’m like, ‘You should just take an iron out, put it back in play, hit a wedge on the green.’ I try to give them a little course management thing, something that I would do. I’m not even hitting wood out of the rough. I’m with my caddie, going, ‘There he is with the 3-wood again. It didn’t work last time, but he’s feeling confident this time.’ ”
The pros point out they are not belittling recreational golfers. To the contrary, they know how much pro-ams mean to their sport and they want the amateurs to enjoy it as much as they possibly can.
“Enjoy” might be their most vital word of instruction. Said Xander Schauffele, reigning Tour Championship winner: “I didn’t realize how nervous the ‘ams’ are. When I talk to them they seem really relaxed, but then they tense up. When professionals tense up, we hit terrible shots as well.”