You can still get really good without access to a golf course

If you had to draw up the perfect scenario necessary to create a great golfer, one of the first things you’d probably mention would be access to a range and a golf course. Sung Hyun Park, former World No. 1 and defending champion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, wasn’t so lucky. In her first few years playing golf, she barely set foot on the golf course.

“I first started playing when I was nine years old, and I only practiced indoors,” Park said through a translator in her pre-tournament press conference at the KPMG. “It was like a three-meter distance, and I used to hit my shots over there. And playing like that for three years, I probably went on the golf course around four or five times only, which probably means like once a year. And so I always looked forward to going out on to the course and to play.”

If you’re someone who loves golf, but don’t have easy access to a course, there’s hope for you. Park is proof that you can get good—sometimes really, really, good—even if you can’t get on-course as much as you’d like.

We talked to Jason Guss, one of Golf Digest’s best teachers in the state of Michigan, about how you can make a range-centric golf existence work.

“If you’re a good visual person you can create holes on the driving range,” says Guss. Doing something as simple as picking two targets and visualizing a fairway between them can help you create a golf hole in your mind.

“You can get into golf course mode, you can visualize and you can get pretty close to the real thing,” said Guss. Creativity is the key. “You have to be really good at using the boundaries of the driving range.”

While there’s a school of thought that says you should spend more time on the golf course than the driving range to become a better player and course manager, there are benefits to logging big hours on the range.

“I had a lot of complaints back then, not being able to play on the course, and I always wanted to play on the course,” said Park. “But looking back, I think that time on the range definitely helped me . . . sort of establish my swing and my shots.”

Guss agrees there’s a hidden upside.

“You’re working more on technique than feel and playing when you’re on on the range,” said Guss. “So if you’re working on it the right way, you’re going to have a technical advantage.”

Moreover, Guss points out that you can be more efficient with your practice when you’re on the range compared to when you’re on the course from a time perspective. You can hit a lot more golf balls spending an hour on the range than you would if you spent that same hour on the course.

There are also golfers out there who have the opposite problem Park did, with access to a golf course but no range.

“If you only get to be on course, which is how I grew up playing,” says Guss, “you have to make time for technique. You have to say, ‘Today I need to work on my technique all throughout the golf course.’ You have to turn the golf course into the driving range. Go out and say, ‘I don’t care what we shoot today, we’re going to work on our swings on the course.'”

Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to have access to both a range and golf course, but if you’re stuck in a lop-sided situation, learn from Park and be willing to make whatever situation, no matter how imperfect, perfect for your development.

“It’s great to have the advantage of being able to play whenever you want and hit balls whenever you want,” says Guss, “but if you’re one who’s stuck on one side of the equation, you have to learn how to create on-course scenarios on the range or make the range atmosphere as close as you can on the golf course.”

SOURCE:  GolfDigest

Phil Mickelson’s quest to end US Open nightmare is on its last legs

Phil Mickelson will turn 49 Sunday, the day of the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

What are the chances that he’ll be standing on the first tee at Pebble on the final round with a chance to win on that day?

Regardless of his age, because of who he is, how he embraces the big moments, how motivated he remains and what he’s done, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he is in the mix to win the U.S. Open on Sunday.

If he is in the hunt, this is what Mickelson will face: Completing the career Grand Slam as a winner of all four major championships.

It’s a feat that’s been accomplished by only five players in the history of the game — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and most recently Tiger Woods.

Since Mickelson won the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, this week will mark his sixth attempt at completing the Slam.

Mickelson has finished runner-up a record six times in the U.S. Open, the most recent his second-place finish in 2013 at Merion.

A U.S. Open is something Mickelson desperately wants to win for a couple of reasons. The Slam, of course. But it always has been his most coveted major championship title, even before he won his first major, the Masters in 2004.

His realistic window of opportunity, of course, is closing before his eyes.

What if it never happens after all of those close calls?

“No matter what, he’s going to be one of the greatest players that’s ever played this game,’’ Tiger Woods said. “How he’s viewed and whether he wins the career Grand Slam or not, I still think he’s one of the best players to ever pick up a golf club.

“There’s only five guys that have done it, so that’s the hard part,’’ Woods went on. “It’s just one of those fickle things. You’ve had some of the greatest champions of all time that have been missing one leg of the Grand Slam [Arnold Palmer, for example, never won a PGA Championship].

“So, for a person [Mickelson] who we all know hasn’t driven the ball as straight as he would probably like, he’s had six seconds in the U.S. Open. That’s incredible to be there that many times. He’s figured out a way to play well in the U.S. Open. It just happens to be one of those things where he hasn’t won, but he’s been there. And wouldn’t surprise me if he’s there again.’’

There is some mojo going for Mickelson, too, at Pebble Beach, where he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He’s won the AT&T four times and the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble, he finished tied for fourth in 2010.

Overall, this will be Mickelson’s 27th U.S. Open in a professional career that has included 44 victories and five major championships.

“There’s not much I could do right now that would do anything to redefine my career, but there’s one thing I could do, and that would be to win a U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “So if I were to do that, it would change the way I view my career because there are only, what, five guys that have ever won all the majors. And you have to look at those guys differently.”

“The difficulty is not the age,’’ he said. “The difficulty is that when you’re in your 20s you feel like you have multiple chances’. And when you’re turning 49, you’re like ‘I’ve got two more chances, this year and maybe [in 2020 at] Winged Foot [where he finished runner-up in 2006] and that’s about it. With that being the only one in the four that I haven’t won, and what it would offer me and how I look at my career, I put more pressure on it. That’s the difficult thing.

“It would be pretty special to be part of the elite players that have won all four. To me that’s the sign of a complete game. It would redefine my career.’’

“I don’t think about [the Grand Slam] a lot,’’ he insisted, but added, “I do think about what I have to do to win a U.S. Open. And it’s getting increasingly difficult.’’

Paul Azinger, the former player who is now an analyst for NBC, wonders whether Mickelson’s burning desire to finally win a U.S. Open will increase the degree of difficulty. But he, too, believes this week is set up well for Mickelson.

“Of course he wants it too much,’’ Azinger said. “[But] he’s going to a place that he knows like the back of his hand. There’s not a better scenario for Phil Mickelson to get a U.S. Open. Expectations will by sky high … off the charts. He’s already trying to deflect — saying his winning there [in February] has no bearing whatsoever [on the U.S. Open]. He’s an artist at redirecting pressure. The redirect is a great gift.

“But I can’t tell Phil how to think; he can’t teach me how to think,’’ Azinger went on. “He knows how to think. Phil is disciplined enough and he knows what he’s doing. Phil has proven he can play in the elements and he knows the greens. You’ve got to know how the ball is going to bounce and react on those poa annua grass. A lot of guys are going to misjudge that first hop. But Phil won’t. He’s been there for most of his life.’’

Mickelson’s grandfather, Al Santos, was one of the first caddies at Pebble Beach. Mickelson said his grandfather carried a 1900 silver dollar in his pocket while he worked, and passed it down to Mickelson, who uses it as a ball marker whenever he plays there.

“What an American dream,’’ CBS golf commentator Jim Nantz said. “Instead of what his grandfather was making, 25 cents a bag, now he’s going to close out the career Grand Slam on the sacred sod of Pebble Beach, what a story that would be. The story is too good and his record is too good there for me to overlook it.”

Said Azinger: “I think six seconds should equal one win. I’d lobby for that.’’

Of course, golf doesn’t work that way.

“I have such great memories here,” Mickelson said. “I would love to add to it.”

SOURCE:  NYPost

 

Brooks Koepka, coming off 15-day break, has no concerns heading into Canadian Open

Brooks Koepka didn’t touch a golf club for 15 days after he successfully defended his title in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island.

Yet he isn’t the least bit worried about the state of his game in his return to the PGA Tour this week at the RBC Canadian Open.

“It was nice to kind of recharge mentally and kind of try to soak it in a little bit,” Koepka said of his break from the game after winning his fourth major championship in his last eight starts. “I’ll be fine. I’ve taken longer breaks before and come out and played well. I’m not too concerned with it.”

Why should he be?

He has won the past two editions of the U.S. Open and the past two playings of the PGA Championship. In his last three starts, he finished in a tie for second in the Masters, was fourth in the AT&T Byron Nelson and held off Dustin Johnson by two shots to win the Wanamaker Trophy again.

And he’s the No. 1 player in the world.

Whatever his blueprint is, it’s working. Thus, he showed up at Hamilton Golf & Country Club in Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday and hit balls for the first time since he left Long Island. Wednesday he played nine holes in the pro-am.

Seemed pretty good,” Koepka said of his form.

So, too, has been the formula he has followed to peak for the majors. He played the week before winning each of his four major championships. It’s a week he uses to build on his rhythm and sharpen his putting stroke.

“It’s a good golf course. It’s definitely going to be a good test,” said Koepka, 29, who is seeking his seventh PGA Tour title. “You’ve got to hit the fairways, and these greens are quite slopey. So you’ve really got to control your spin. I think it’s actually a perfect setup for next week.”

Ahh, yes, next week. That would be the playing of the 119th U.S. Open, where Koepka will try to become the second player to three-peat in the tournament.

“Yeah, that name has come up in the last year,” Koepka said when he was asked if he had heard of Willie Anderson, the Scot who won the U.S. Open in 1901 and then became the only player to win three in a row starting in 1903.

“I know what I’m chasing,” Koepka said. “But it’s just another golf tournament. You can put some outside pressure on. It’s a major championship. I’ll be up for it, I know that. I enjoy a tough test of golf, and that’s what you’re going to get at a U.S. Open. You know that going in. I enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s fun to me to get on those big stages and try to win a golf tournament.

“I know that the odds are against me to win it. There’s a lot of people that can win that golf tournament. You just need to go out and take care of business, and if you don’t, hey, I gave it my all.”

SOURCE:  USAToday

While golf participation is stable, Tiger effect gives industry a boost

As golf industry leaders gathered in the nation’s capital Wednesday, there were likely self-congratulatory messages, obligatory selfies and a celebration by those who see further proof that they continue to grow the game.

But there should also be a moment of thanks to the man who has the biggest impact on the game worldwide just by showing up and, even more significantly, by winning the most coveted major championship in golf.

Tiger Woods wasn’t in Washington for National Golf Day, but there was plenty of talk about the impact his fifth Masters victory has on the industry. According to the latest Golf Industry Report released by the National Golf Foundation, 74 million people watched or read about golf without playing in 2018, an increase of about 12 percent year over year. Part of the growth is “attributable to Woods,” the NGF says.

“When you go beyond the hard-core golf enthusiast and you’re trying to capture the casual masses, it is Tiger. It is only Tiger,” says Patrick Rishe, director of the Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis, when asked about the impact of Woods’ latest win at Augusta National.

It’s no secret that golf faces tough challenges – as demonstrated in the continued trend of course closures in the U.S. (198.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed last year while 12.5 of the same type of courses opened) and the competition the sport faces in trying to attract busy adults and teens who don’t have free time or the resources to play.

But a Tiger resurgence changes the conversation around the state of the game, sports economists say.

“Even if you’re not a fan of his, you can at least appreciate the moment, if you’re being unbiased. You can appreciate the sense of history, and it adds that cool factor back to the sport when he’s playing as well as he’s playing,” Rishe says.

Even if Woods, 43, doesn’t add to his 15 major championships, the industry benefits just from having him compete on Tour.

“It’s going to be great for golf to potentially ride a second wave of Tiger Woods even if all he’s doing is contending; he doesn’t have to win by 15 shots,” says Todd McFall, an assistant teaching professor in economics at Wake Forest. “As long as he’s contending, it’s going to be really great for golf for as long as it happens.

“If you called me in a year and Tiger Woods won another tournament and contended in three or four, golf’s going to be in a lot better place than it would be otherwise.”

Outside of the Tiger effect, the National Golf Foundation provides a fairly positive outlook for the industry, not surprisingly, reporting that the sport’s participation base remains stable. It says about 24.2 million people played golf on a course in 2018, which was up from 23.8 million the previous year. The NGF counts anyone over age 6 in that participation figure.

The report says another 9.3 million exclusively played an off-course form of the game at facilities such as Topgolf or Drive Shack. The game’s overall participant pool was 33.5 million, up 4 percent over last year.

Steve Mona, executive director of We Are Golf, describes the industry as stable and evolving. “Golf used to mean an 8 a.m. tee time wearing khaki slacks, a golf shirt, a visor on forward and metal spikes, playing with a regular group you’ve been playing with for 10 years,” Mona says.

“But now it can mean 8 p.m. wearing cargo shorts and flip flops, an untucked shirt and a hat on backwards at a Topgolf or a Drive Shack. Just like almost any other form of recreation has evolved, so has golf. What we need to do as an industry, in my judgment, is to be open to the fact that people are going to come into the game in different ways.”

Mona acknowledges that not every person who hit balls at Topgolf will go on to play 18 holes on a course. But he’s optimistic that quite a few Topgolfers will get hooked. “We definitely think that that’s complementary to the on-course experience.”

SOURCE:  Golfweek

This might go against your instinct when you’re in a bunker with a high lip, but the last thing you want to do is try to help the ball over the lip. When you try to force it up and over, it almost always comes out lower and slams into the face. Instead, do what I do.
First, try this drill. The biggest difference between hitting out of a normal bunker and one with a high lip is the amount of sand you need to take. To get the ball up quickly, your club should strike a lot more sand, and this drill will help teach you how much. Draw a circle in the bunker about four inches in diameter around your ball. Now get in your address position, playing the ball off your front foot. Before swinging, pick the ball up so all that’s left is the circle. We’ll get back to that, but first, two more things about address: Dig your feet in so you have a solid base, and open the face of your wedge before gripping the club. I know opening the face can freak out some amateurs, but don’t be scared. In a bunker, your wedge is designed to work when it’s open like this. In fact, you should keep the face open throughout the shot.
“DON’T BE SHY: TAKE PLENTY OF SAND TO GET OVER A HIGH LIP.”
Now here’s a key thought: When you swing, think about putting your hands into your left pocket as you come through. You can see me swinging toward my left pocket here. This forces the club to exit low, left and open, and cutting across the ball like this helps get it up quickly.
Back to the goal of the drill. I want you to make the circle disappear. To do that, you’re going to have to hit the sand a few inches behind where the ball would be, and swing through it with some effort. That’s the feeling you want moving through the sand in a high-lip situation. Practice the circle drill with my swing thought of getting into that left pocket, and you’ll make this shot a lot easier than it looks. — with Keely Levins
Stacy Lewis is a 12-time winner on the LPGA Tour, including two majors.
SOURCE:  Golfdigest

Masters 2019: The eight most underrated shots at Augusta National

Bob Jones once said of Augusta National, “We want to make bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies—except on par 5s—dearly bought.” And over the years Masters fans, both in person and via television have come to recognize some of the more obvious places where that holds true. The tee shot at the par-3 12th or anywhere on the No. 11 through No. 13 stretch known as Amen Corner, for that matter. The second shot on the par-5 15th is another visible example. However speaking with more than 15 past champions for the hole-by-hole course tour section of the Masters Journal—including multiple champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo—has led to an appreciation for the more subtle but no less demanding shots one needs to pay close attention to if they’re to play well at Augusta National. Here are eight shots players face that might not capture our eye immediately, but surely command players’ attention.

The second shot on the par-5 second hole
Whether going for the green in two or playing for position short of the putting surface, what many think of as simply another fairway wood or long iron play is actually a precision play. The plan for how to approach this shot completely depends on where the pin is located. If the pin is back left, the second shot must be to the middle or right. In fact, well right of the green is never bad because the pitch shot is uphill. Conversely, missing left leaves a downhill shot that is tough to stop. Most Masters competitors will tell you the sand is a better place to be than left or long. As for going for it in two blows, that’s an awfully tough shot as it is off a downhill lie and you’re trying to hit it high and soft. That’s difficult for even the most skilled players. The par 5s at Augusta National are more about where you place the ball on your second shot than anything else and perhaps there is no better example than No. 2.

Second shot on the par-4 third hole
The shortest par 4 on the golf course at 350 yards also presents one of the approach shots Masters participants fear most. Although a mere pitch of only some 50 yards for those hitting driver off the tee, the elevated green (only some 35 feet in depth on the left side) can turn what appears to be a very simple situation to a trying one in short order. The shot, although short, must be exact. Come up the slightest bit short and the ball will embarrassingly roll back almost to where it was struck from. Take too much caution not to do that and the ball might end up over the green, leaving a nervy chip. Rarely has such a short shot provided so much consternation for players.

The putt from the top right of the green on the par-3 fourth hole
Usually hitting the green on the 240-yard, par-3 fourth hole would be a satisfying play. However, if the pin is located on the front left and the tee shot is equal or past the hole on the right, an argument can be made that the player is facing one of the most difficult putts on the entire golf course. From there the slope is falling away from you with a fairly big swing to the left and the odds of a two-putt drop dramatically. Tiger Woods had a chip shot from the right-hand side of the green in the final round of 2002 and said it might have been easier than Retief Goosen’s putt from the top right. Woods made par and Goosen made bogey, so apparently so.

The tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole
Although the tee shot on this hole in prior years wasn’t a gimme, it wasn’t exactly a cause for angst, either, as players had the ability to carry the fairway bunkers on the left or comfortably play out to the right side with a 3-wood. That’s changed in 2019 as the tee has been moved back some 40 yards and to the right, making it play straighter. The bunkers also have been moved (although, in true Augusta National fashion they look the same as ever to the eye), now requiring a 310-yard-plus carry to clear them. With that being a non-starter for most players, the choice is to lay up short of them, leaving an uphill approach of some 200 yards or try to thread it in the fairway to the right of the bunkers with a driver. Regardless, what once was benign has now become beastly.

Tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole
Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo once called Augusta National, “the most nerve-wracking course in the world.” A microcosm of that is the tee shot on the par-3 sixth, particularly when the pin is located on the back right shelf. In that instance, the generous-sized green shrinks significantly in usable size. “I’ve always regarded the tee shot here to the back right-hand pin as my barometer for the week,” Faldo told the Masters Journal in 2006. “During practice rounds I aim for that spot and if I keep putting it up there, then it means my iron game is accurate. To fly a ball from 180 yards down a hill in a breeze to an area about the size of two dining room tables, well, you know your game is spot on.”

Second shot on the par-4 14th
The 14th has the distinction of being the only hole at Augusta National without a bunker. It doesn’t need one. While it lacks the glamour of the water holes on the second nine, 14 is a good, solid par 4 and one reason is the approach to a green that took some imagination to design. Although there are some pin positions that are accessible, there are others where the margin for error is slight. The green has a large swale in front and shoots off in several directions. That’s why approach shots—even ones struck just a few feet off line—can roll away from the hole some 30 or 40 feet or more.

The lay-up shot on the par-5 15th
We know, we know. We don’t want to be talking about no stinking lay-up on one of the most exciting holes on the golf course. But the saying about a man knowing his limitations comes to mind here. Masters competitors often face two decisions here. Whether to go for it in two is one. When golfers decide the prudent play is to lay up short of the water, then it’s where to lay up. Although most everyday players view a lay-up shot as simply slapping it down the fairway short of the penalty area, the pros know a lay-up shot is like a shot in billiards where the current shot is played to best set up the next. At 15, almost without exception, it’s about 80 to 90 yards from the pin and on the left side of the fairway. That, players say, leaves a flatter lie than on the right-hand side and offers a better opportunity to spin the ball off the flatter lie.

Putt from left side of the green on the par-4 17th
With all the dramatic looks on Augusta National’s second nine, the 17th hole appears to be a bit nondescript, especially since the Eisenhower Tree came down in an ice storm in 2014. The green, however, requires a player’s full attention as it is a deceiving putting surface that rolls off in several directions, with the slopes seemingly never bringing the ball towards the hole, but rather work it away from it. Raymond Floyd fell victim to the hole in 1990, when he appeared to have the Masters won. Holding a one-shot lead playing the 17th, Floyd got a little careless with his approach and it trickled to the left side of the green, with the pin on the opposite side. Now having to putt up and over the ridge, Floyd misjudged the speed and three-putted, eventually losing to Nick Faldo in a playoff.

Gary Player once said of Augusta National that “every shot is within a fraction of disaster. That’s what makes it so great.” The above shots would appear to further solidify Player’s claim.

SOURCE:  Golfdigest

How to handle a downhill lie and hit the green

If you play a lot of hilly courses, you’re already familiar with uneven lies, including those of the downhill variety. This tricky position—in which your leading foot is below your back foot at address—can be very challenging, especially from short fairway grass. To ensure solid contact and a pin-seeking approach shot from a downhill lie, you’ll need to make the following three basic setup changes.
SET SHOULDERS PARALLEL
Your normal iron setup won’t work for this lie—the clubhead will bottom out too soon and you’ll make contact with the ground behind the ball. Instead, hold your club across your shoulders and tilt your spine toward the target until the shaft matches the slope of the hill. Once your shoulders are parallel to the slope, move on to step 2.
Learn how to conquer any downhill lie.
MOVE YOUR WEIGHT TO YOUR DOWNHILL FOOT
It’s critical to make ball-first contact from this lie, so play the ball in the middle of your stance (or at least slightly farther back than normal) and shift about 75 percent of your weight to your front, or downhill, foot. This will encourage your body to move in the direction of the slope, rather than hang back.
TRACE THE SLOPE
Last, extend your arms through impact so that the clubhead travels as low to the slope as possible. By swinging on the same plane as the hill, you’ll ensure ball-first contact and a smooth, full finish— and maybe even a birdie opportunity.
SOURCE:  Golf.com

Stoneybrook Golf Course will be Closed for necessary course maintenance on the following days…

Mon. March 25th – Tue. March 26th –  Wed. March 27th

*Wednesday (partial day)

Why we Aerify?

Aerification is the mechanical process of creating air space in the soil that promotes a healthy rooting system for natural turf.  Healthy rooting systems are an integral part of a successful golf course and athletic field management programs.

Turfgrass on Golf and Athletic Fields sustain a significant amount of stress and constant pounding due to athletic play, foot traffic, and maintenance equipment. By removing cores from the compacted  soil, an infusion of air, water, and nutrients enhance the turf by bringing a resurgence of growth, and keeping the turf durable during stressful conditions.

Aerification should be a part of every Turfgrass maintenance program because it is absolutely necessary for maintaining healthy and durable Turfgrass. Failure to perform this simple maintenance can result in poorly drained soil, thin Turfgrass stands, and continued problems with disease.

When is Aerification beneficial?

  • When the ground is not frozen, Aerification, can be beneficial at any time of the year.
  • March is a great month to use a quality solid tine on golf course fairways. The solid tine will help remove moisture from the surface and assist in the drying out process from a long wet winter
  • Deep tining is common in the months of April, May, and June. Turf roots are very active during these months and will benefit from added oxygen and water that deep tining provides
  • The most popular time for Aerfication, however, are in the fall months. Turf roots are preparing for the winter. In addition, less play on golf courses and some athletic fields during this time make the turf easily accessible for Aerification

Akshay Bhatia, 17, full of swagger and set for PGA Tour debut at Valspar

At the Walker Cup practice session in December, U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby left junior golfer Akshay Bhatia with one final piece of advice ahead of the Jones Cup Invitational in late January.

“He said, ‘You better be in the final group on Sunday so I don’t have to chase you around,’ ” Bhatia recalled.

Bhatia, 17, did better than that. He defeated Georgia sophomore Davis Thompson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at Ocean Forest Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga., after the final round was canceled due to rain.

“I’m just sorry he ended up driving five hours to watch me play one hole,” Bhatia said of Crosby’s trip.

The victory at one of amateur golf’s most prestigious invitationals should shoot Bhatia, Golfweek’s No. 1-ranked junior and the reigning AJGA player of the year, even higher on Crosby’s “watch list” for the Walker Cup, which will be played Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

“Oh my gosh, it would be a dream come true,” Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C., said of a chance to represent the 10-man U.S. side. “You just don’t get that opportunity too many times. Just to be part of the practice session was unreal.”

But Bhatia was even more overcome by the fact that joining a prestigious list of Jones Cup champions – including Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas and Beau Hossler – also earned him a berth in the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic this fall.

“I’ve worked so hard, and that’s one of my dreams to play a PGA Tour event while still in high school,” Bhatia said.

Bhatia won’t have to wait much longer to fulfill his dream of playing in a PGA Tour event. Bhatia tells Golfweek he has accepted a sponsorship exemption into the Valspar Championship on March 21-24 at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Bhatia has played in Thursday and Monday PGA Tour Qualifiers, further confirmation that he intends to skip college and turn professional in January when he turns 18.

“It’s made me stronger mentally,” Bhatia said of trying to earn one of four available spots at qualifying. “Once I get through one, I think I’ll make a bunch more. I’m just lacking experience.”

He showed he’s more than capable of holding his own against the game’s top amateurs. Beating a field consisting of top collegians at the Jones Cup in his first start back after nursing a back injury suffered in late November during the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions helps validate Bhatia’s decision to forgo college.

As much as Bhatia would like to make the Walker Cup team – and he plans to play the European and British Amateurs this summer in preparation for links golf – he sees it merely as a stop along his journey to making the PGA Tour. He has tunnel vision, his eyes locked in on a pro golf career.

George Gankas, one of his team of instructors, described Bhatia as mature beyond his years and noted a surge in his confidence and self-belief. Gankas recounted a telling conversation he had with Bhatia at the U.S. Amateur in August.

“He said, ‘I guess I have to start acting like ‘The Man’ because I’m pretty much ‘The Man’ among the juniors,’ ” Gankas said. “Since that point, his walk is different, the way he talks is different and the way he carries himself is different. It’s not in a cocky way; he’s just a more confident player.

“He’ll win a tournament and ask, ‘What needs to be better?’ How many kids his age do that? He’s trying to figure a way to get better to win by more.”

Bhatia, who crushed the field at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic by 10 strokes in June, has a home putting studio and a TrackMan, and practices at TPC Wakefield playing two-ball, best-ball and from the front tees to ingrain shooting low scores and two-ball, worst ball and dropping a ball behind trouble (such as a patch of trees) from a par-3 distance away and trying to make no worse than par as games to improve his scrambling skills. He is a lanky lefty weighing only 129 pounds, but he has the flexibility of Gumby.

“Every time I put him on my Instagram everyone goes, ‘Eat a cheeseburger, dude!’” Gankas said. “He says he’s trying to get fat, but he can’t do it.”

Bhatia may be thin as a rail, but pound-for-pound he’s maximizing his swing speed, averaging 119 mph, and recently sent Gankas a video where he hit 124.8 mph.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” said Bhatia, who credits the gain in velocity to his workouts and is striving for his swing speed and weight to equal the same figure.

As for his upcoming PGA Tour debut, he already arranged to play a practice round with Spaniard Jon Rahm and has his sights set on meeting Australian Jason Day, another of his heroes. And Bhatia’s not shy about how he might do. When asked if he thought he could win, he said, “I don’t see why not. As long as I can treat it like it’s just another event. It’s all about mindset, really.”

SOURCE:  Golfweek

STRATEGY FOR DOGLEGS

About to turn a corner? First, give that dogleg some thought

You say you can drive it 300 yards, but the last time you did it the hole was downhill, downwind and the ball caromed off the cartpath. You say you shoot in the low 80s, but you haven’t carded an 85 or better without two mulligans and a few generous gimme putts in about four years. When the question about what tees to play is asked, you’re already walking back to the blues or blacks. See where this is going? When it comes to this game, many golfers aren’t exactly honest about their current abilities—especially when assessing their next shot.

A common mental block is how best to play a dogleg hole with real trouble on either side of the fairway, says instructor Sean Foley.

“The ball tails off to the right for most of the golfers I see, so does it make any sense for them to stand on the tee box of a dogleg-left hole and try to curve their drive in that direction? No, but a lot of times they still try,” says Foley, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher. “What they should be doing is thinking of how to play the hole to the best of their abilities. In many cases, that means taking a shorter club, one that doesn’t peel off to the right as much, and just getting something out in the fairway.

“The reality is, sometimes the best you can do is give yourself a chance at a one-putt par. You have to accept that your game isn’t designed for certain holes, so your planning should change from How do I get home in regulation? to How do I avoid making double bogey?

That’s good advice, says sport psychologist Bob Rotella. Too often a visually intimidating hole, one that looks like it necessitates a specific type of drive, can cause golfers to divert from their strengths. Bad move.

“Mentally, you’ve got to stick with your game. Don’t let the shape of a hole solely dictate your strategy,” he says. “I wouldn’t try to hit a shot I didn’t know or usually play. If a driver doesn’t fit the hole, hit a 3-wood. If a 3-wood doesn’t fit, hit a hybrid, and so on. Do whatever it takes to put the ball in play. But be clear and commit to whatever shot you decide.”

If you can’t curve the ball to match the hole’s shape, another option is to use driver, but play for the “best miss,” says Hall of Fame golfer Tom Watson. If you analyze a hole carefully, that miss should be evident.

“When curving the ball away from the dogleg, the fairway becomes a smaller target,” Watson says. “The golfer must then think about where it’s best to miss the fairway, and this involves a lot of criteria such as length of the rough, where the flagstick is located, etc. For example, shortening the hole by missing in the interior rough sometimes can be a good option when planning your tee shot, but not on Pine Valley’s par-4 sixth, the hole you see here.”

If you’re skilled enough to be able to shape your tee shot with the dogleg, then consider how much of it you want to take on, Watson says. An accurate distance measurement to the part of the fairway you want to hit is key, but so is that whole thing about being honest with yourself.

“Knowing how far you have to carry the ball to clear a dogleg’s interior rough or interior bunker is not usually thought about by most golfers, but it’s critical,” Watson says. “That being said, most golfers don’t know how far they carry the ball with a driver, which is important in deciding the line to take when cutting the corner on a dogleg.”

That’s why it’s best to be generous with your target line, Foley says.

“If it’s a 200-yard carry and your best drives carry about 210 yards, you probably want to take a less risky route,” Foley says. “Better to be farther back in the fairway than trying to recover from being too aggressive with your line. The penalty for not making it on a dogleg is usually pretty severe.”

SOURCE:  Golfdigest