One afternoon, one of the better players at the club took notice of my downward spiraling practice effort. This guy was a real "ace!" It was the 80s and I remember him purely striking shot after shot with his forged irons, collar up and cigarette dangling from his mouth. He proceeded to tell me a story about Ben Hogan and how to craft the perfect practice session. He said, back in the day, Hogan and his caddie would go to the practice tee with only a small shag bag full of balls. He'd then proceed to hit no more than 20 shots, directing total focus and commitment to properly executing his specific goal for the day. After 20 balls had been struck, Hogan would sit and enjoy a cigarette, as his caddie would collect the balls. The short break would allow him to mentally refresh, reflect, and consider adjustments for the next series of shots.
Did Hogan "actually" practice this way? I have no idea, but building my practice sessions in this way really helped my game. I didn't take up smoking or have someone shag balls for me. I did, however, begin hitting only 20 shots at a time, followed by a short water break. For me this process had the same effect, and it felt really good to leave the course feeling as if I had accomplished something. Try incorporating this little secret into your next training session and you can count this challenge as complete!
Jeff Ritter is the CEO/Founder of MTT Performance. The program operates out of Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. Follow him on Twitter at @mttgolf
Big Billy, Little Billy and mother Kathy Horschel (Getty Images photo)
Then there's this: In his official PGA Tour bio, he said he would fill out his dream foursome "with the Old Red Eye Rugby group." Not with Jones or Snead or Hogan, but with ruggers.
Horschel's father, also named Billy, was a rugby player who played with the Old Red Eye Rugby Football Club in Palm Bay, Fla. He still does, with the over-50 set.
"We call them Big Billy and Little Billy," Corkey Newman, president of the club, said. I've known his dad since I moved here in 1982, when we were members of the club. He played wing-forward and eight-man for us. He still plays, with the old boys."
On Sunday, Little Billy won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, and Big Billy was there to embrace him by the 18th green. "It's great to see him doing as well as he's done,"; Newman said.
"Every year, starting in about 1989, we started having fund-raising golf tournaments for the rugby club. When [Little Billy] got old enough, in middle school, he started playing in them. He was hitting from the youth tees and outdriving the men. His foursome won several times. Any time he played in it his foursome pretty much won.
"He continues to come back here and hang out with us, makes an effort to see us. He supports St. Joseph Catholic School, as the club does, and donates time and money to that cause. He's one of the members of our Red Eye family."
Red Eye members traveled to Ireland to watch Horschel play in the Walker Cup in 2007, Newman said, and go see him play when the tour comes to Florida. "It was so great to see it," Newman said of his success on Sunday. "He's so deserving of it."
"I wanted to go home and cut that son of a bitch down," Norman said of the sea-grape tree he had been trying to tame with a chainsaw. "You fall off a horse, you get back on it."
Instead, Norman will wisely put the tree-trimming aside for now. On Saturday, after returning from an overseas trip, the 59-year-old Norman set out to cut back some of the branches at his Jupiter Island, Fla., home.
Looking back, Norman said he had a premonition that afternoon "something bad was going to happen," and he was right. When one of the branches broke, Norman's left wrist fell down on the blade of his chain saw. Fortunately, Norman had instinctively taken his finger off the chainsaw trigger, otherwise, doctors told him, he could have lost his hand outright. But even then, the damage was significant.
"It certainly didn't feel good, but then I looked down and blood was squirting," Norman said.
In pain but not panicking, Norman acted quickly: He had his wife, Kiki, meet him in the backyard with a towel and a tourniquet, then called his son Greg to have him take him to the hospital, and lastly he called Jupiter Medical Center to tell them he was on his way. Although he ended up requiring surgery to repair nerve damage, he was assured by doctors he wouldn't suffer long-term damage.
"It was just one of those freak accidents," he said.
Most remarkable about the sequence of events is why a multi-millionaire golfer and executive was out trimming his own trees in the first place. But that, Norman said, is just who he is.
"I'm a do it myself kind of guy," he said. "I enjoy doing it. It's in my DNA. I'm out on the ranch, driving bulldozers and graders, chain sawing 100-foot pine trees. I like it. I grew up that way."
In fact, it is because Norman is so intent on doing much of his own handiwork that explains why he left for Colorado soon after his surgery.
"I didn't want to wake up and look down and see the sea-grape trees still there," he said.
That Ogilvy was even playing at East Lake G.C. was notable considering where he stood on the FedEx Cup points list less than two months ago. After finishing T-34 at the RBC Canadian Open in late July, Ogilvy was No. 151. By his own admission, just making the playoffs looked out of his grasp.
Yet suddenly -- or finally from Ogilvy's perspective -- the effort the former U.S. Open champion had been putting in to revive his sluggish game paid off. A victory at the Barracuda Championship (shown) in Reno, Nev., -- his first on the tour since 2010 -- got him into the playoffs at No. 90. He missed the cut at the Barclays, but advanced to the Deutsche Bank Championship, where a T-2 finish assured him spots in the final two FedEx events.
So how did he get back on track? The ever-insightful Ogilvy explains the process was more complicated than you'd think, and involved some soul searching.
At first my reaction was to practice harder and longer, experiment more with TrackMan, video and other equipment, and increase my work in the gym. It made me feel I was doing it the "correct" way, but it's actually easy to just work hard. Somebody next to you is hitting 500 balls, so you hit 550, and it seems you've gained ground. It's the time-honored sports approach that many simplistically ascribe to Ben Hogan, but I have no doubt even his voluminous practice was more about quality than quantity.
Bottom line, that kind of "more" didn't really work for me. For months, I found myself dragging my clubs to the airport Friday night instead of Monday morning. I finally realized I had fallen prey to a common tour disease: getting analytical, doing a lot of repetition, taking a scientific approach that tempts with possible answers.
In the end, Ogilvy explained that what he needed to jump-start his career is to focus less on practice, or at least the kind of practice that required hours of beating balls, and more on competition.
I got very good at grooving a swing pattern that worked only on the range. It didn't help me once I got to the course. In fact, it actually hurt my score because I had developed a flawed mental mind-set that it didn't matter where the ball was going because "it's only a practice shot."
However, what I've known since I was a kid is that it does matter where the ball goes when you're trying to beat someone. So I began to play more friendly matches -- even for nine holes, and sometimes without a money bet -- that, because of my nature, I still wanted very much to win. And I rediscovered that if I really want the ball to go straight and not into the bushes, I'm better off playing a match than hitting 250 balls on the range.
Interestingly, Ogilvy says it's harder than you think on the tour these days to get a game during practice rounds. The common preference, he says, is for players to hit multiple tee shots, a myriad of chips around greens and endless putt, rather than a "normal" round.
"Today it's as if nobody practices beating people anymore," Ogilvy writes, "and it could be why the current group of extremely talented and technically correct younger players don't seem to win as much as they should. I think it's telling that Phil Mickelson, who has won 42 times, has always enjoyed competing hard in practice rounds, challenging himself to win matches."
By returning to the top 30 on the PGA Tour, Ogilvy automatically qualifies for all four majors in 2015, no small reward considering he missed the Masters the last two years and the British Open in July. Needless to say, he's looking forward to the start of the 2014-15 season.
After winning the Tour Championship, Horschel pointed to a small adjustment he made within the past few weeks with the help of his instructor, Todd Anderson.
"He gave me a little putting tip at Deutsche Bank," Horschel said. "We just sort of made the grip a little bit longer, got both hands on the grip, and my speed became better because I was always hitting my lines [before], my speed was [just] bad. I made two big putts I remember the first round at Deutsche Bank on 17 and 18 from about 15, 20 feet . . . I was like, 'OK, we may have found something here,' and then it was off to the races from there."
Horschel was also off to the bank. He finished T-2 in Boston and then won in Denver and Atlanta to collect a staggering $13.477 million in September.
All parts of the 27-year-old Horschel's game were working in the FedEx Cup Playoffs from his driving distance (up to 302.1 from 289.5 in the regular season) to his ball-striking (his greens- in-regulation percentage of 75.79 led all playoff participants). But that little putting tip is what caused him to make his biggest stride.
Through the regular season, Horschel was ranked No. 110 in strokes gained/putting, losing 0.17 shots to the field on average per round. But in the playoffs, he gained 1.181, placing him second behind Jason Day among players who qualified for the Tour Championship.
Horschel's biggest moment Sunday came when he holed a 31-footer for par on the 16th hole that all but wrapped up the biggest win of his career and the biggest bonus he'll ever claim. He concluded the season finale with 175 straight holes without a three-putt and on a PGA Tour season-best streak of 12 straight rounds in the 60s.
Will Horschel keep his torrid putting going next season? Probably not to this extent, but we also don't expect him to go back to being a poor putter, either. Horschel ranked No. 113 in strokes gained/putting in 2011 and 2012, but climbed to 28th last year. After his recent hot stretch, he's back to No. 53.
The last three weeks may be a small sample size, but they've made Horschel a huge name in golf. And for a player who seems to thrive on confidence, that might wind up being worth just as much as that $10 million prize.
But now, that feat seems even more stunning. On Sunday, McIlroy made 55 consecutive medium-length putts on East Lake's practice green before teeing off in the final round of the Tour Championship. Fortunately, Golf Channel provided the footage to prove it:
Commentators Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo seem to indicate in the clip that McIlroy made the putts from about 10 feet. While the distance looks a bit closer than that, we think we can all agree on how impressive this is. These weren't gimmes.
Then again, it doesn't matter how good you practice if you can't make the putts when it counts. McIlroy was -1.710 in strokes gained/putting during the final round at East Lake, a big reason why he finished T-2 at the Tour Championship and third to winner Billy Horschel for the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy's most costly miss came from inside of three feet on No. 10 -- a power lipout similar to the ones that plagued him at Cherry Hills. Maybe that's the length he should work on a little more. . .
It would be hard to argue that Billy Horschel’s driver switch at the PGA Championship wasn’t a timely one.
When he made the move to the 9-degree club Ping G30 (shown) with the Aldila Rogue shaft, Horschel was averaging 277.0 yards off the tee, ranking him T-103 on tour in driving distance. Since that time the former Florida Gator has upped his season’s average to 291.6 yards, and finished the season ranked T-76. Horschel is averaging more than 300 yards off the tee with the G30 in his bag, and won a pair of FedEx Cup playoff events as well as the overall title.
Horschel also uses an interesting combination of grips. On his woods and irons Horschel uses Golf Pride’s V55 Cord with a rib reminder that helps him position his hands in the same place each time. On his wedges, however, he uses round Golf Pride’s Niion (orange color, of course, for his Gators). Horschel prefers no rib reminder on his wedges because he needs to alter his hand position on his wedges to play a variety of shots.
Here is Horschel's bag in its entirety at East Lake.
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Ping G30 (Aldila Rogue 60x), 9 degrees
3-wood: Ping G25, 15 degrees
5-wood: Ping G25, 18 degrees
Irons (3-,5-PW): Ping S55
Wedges: Ping Tour Gorge SS (50, 56, 60 degrees)
Putter: Ping Karsten TR B60
Steve Williams was introduced as Stevie at his Caddie Hall of Fame induction ceremony recently and bristled. “It’s Steve,” Williams said. “Stevie’s what Tiger used to call me, so that’s what everybody calls me. I hate that name.” Karen Crouse of the New York Times profiles Williams and his intention to begin winding down his career.
Steve Williams and Tiger Woods (Getty Images photo)
“It really is difficult to follow the thinking behind the Irishman’s decision,” John Huggan writes in the Scotsman. The Irishman is European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who has five assistant captains, none of them Scotland’s owns Paul Lawrie. “That a man who lives only 90 minutes from the venue, who played with some distinction on the previous team and who has won on the host course is somehow deemed outside the top-five is strange indeed.”
“Sympathy can be a form of persecution; just ask Jim Furyk. Since being cast in one of the main roles in the Ryder Cup Meltdown at Medinah, the pity for the American has piled up with each agonising individual capitulation,” writes James Corrigan in the Telegraph, this before Furyk bogeyed the last two holes in the Tour Championship on Sunday to tie for second.
Paul Azinger is not a product of country clubs, but rather learned the game at the beleaguered municipal course, Bobby Jones Golf Club, in Sarasota, Fla. Tonight, Azinger will speak to the City of Sarasota Commission “to address the future of the historic municipal course,” Tom Balog of the Herald-Tribune writes.
The LPGA is in Alabama this week, for the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, and it’s an important week for the best women’s player in the history of the University of Alabama. Stephanie Meadow, who finished third in the U.S. Women’s Open in her professional debut, needs a strong finish to secure full exempt status on the LPGA and avoid having to go to Q School, Ian Thompson of the Tuscaloosa News reports.