- Rickie Fowler’s big win in Palm Beach is a lesson in how to go deep, beat grain and close out with a big lead.
Every Monday, we tap three of GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America for their insights on what went down between the ropes over the weekend on the major Tours, and more important, how you can use this information to improve your own game. Call it trickle-down tips -- learn from the best to play your best.
1. Fowler went with a driver shaft that was an inch shorter than his standard model, supposedly to improve on his 58.8 driving-accuracy percentage. It worked. Fowler hit 67.8 percent of his fairways while suffering only a six-yard loss in distance. The question begs, is shorter better?
Tony Ruggiero, Country Club of Mobile (@dewsweepergolf): The fact that Rickie used a shorter driver yet barely missed a beat off the tee tells you just how important center contact is. It doesn't matter how much speed you can generate or what shaft you use -- find the sweet spot and, like it did for Fowler, the ball will go far.
John Dunigan, White Manor C.C., Malvern, Pa. (@JohnDuniganGolf): I’m hoping Fowler’s switch fuels a trend. In my opinion, off-the-rack driver shafts are too long for most recreational players. As Tony mentioned, the longer the shaft, the more difficult it is to consistently hit the sweet spot. Try this: If your driver and 3-wood come from the same manufacturer and are adjustable, put the 3-wood shaft in your driver. I can almost guarantee you’ll hit it farther -- and straighter.
2. If you caught Sunday’s round on TV, you saw a lot of putts come up short down the stretch by the would-be chasers. It seemed like Fowler was the only player who consistently got the ball to the hole. Are the greens at PGA National that nasty?
Joe Plecker, Elkridge Club, Baltimore, Md. (@JoePleckerPGA): Not nasty; they're grainy! Did you notice how some portions of the greens looked dark while others looked shiny? That’s what the camera projects depending on which way the grass is growing, otherwise known as "grain." Slope and speed are critical, but if you don’t take grain into account, you’ll come up short or slide way past.
Simple tip: If the grass looks dark when you’re standing behind the ball, you’re putting down-grain. Read the putt as shorter than the actual distance. If the grass looks shiny, you’re putting into the grain. Add force by increasing your stroke length, or visualizing the hole as farther away than it really is.
3. On Sunday, Fowler did what he needed to do -- maintain his sizable lead. When you’re cruising, is it wiser to play it safe or, pardon the phrase, "step on your opponent’s neck?"
Ruggiero: What Rickie did today is a great lesson for any golfer of any skill level. It shows you that you don't have to play perfect to win a tournament or a match. If Rickie entered the round with the notion of "putting them away early," he may have crumbled after missing four straight drives on the front nine. Instead, he reacted to what the course and his swing gave him, relishing the challenge to win with the other parts of his game. If weekend golfers spent less time worrying about piping drives and more about saving par around the greens, they’d win more of their matches.
Dunigan: When you get up in a match or a tournament, don’t change a thing. The golfer who plays to avoid mistakes is the golfer that makes them. With a lead, treat everything like normal.
Plecker: John is right. Getting out to an early lead is good, but there are 18 holes in a round. Rickie did an awesome job of staying present, focused and consistent in his routine. It starts with managing your emotions. It’s okay to get mad, but then let it go. Worry about the fix the next time you hit the practice range.
Pressure? It’s on your opponents, not you. With a lead, simply keep the ball in play. Eventually, your opponent will have no option but to play aggressive shots. That’s when you have it in the bag.