Monday, May 24, 2021

Phil Mickelson - The Road to Oldest Major Winner at the 2021 PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson 2008 UPS Open Wikipedia
There was a time in the annals golf history when every fan and media outlet jokingly referred to Phil Mickelson as one of the only top tour players to never have won a major. Lefty has now come full circle and added a title that is one for the record books that may stand for quite some time - the "OLDEST golfer to have won a major" with his victory at the 2021 PGA Championship in my home state of South Carolina.

Mickelson's first major championship win at The Masters 2004 came during his thirteenth year on the PGA Tour and, although he won PGA tournaments like the 1996 Byron Nelson Golf Classic, his eyes were on the elite of championships which has confounded him. Phil's last major win came at the Muirfield 2013 Open and time seems to have stopped since then while Lefty battled with physical maladies. 

The one major tournament which has eluded Mickelson's grasp to date is the U.S. Open. With 29 appearances, the heartbreak is painful for Phil who considered not playing in the 2021 U.S. Open but finally giving it one more college try by recently accepting a special exemption to the event.

“Winning the U.S. Open has been a lifelong and elusive dream, and I’ve come close so many times,” Mickelson said. “You can’t win if you don’t play. I’m honored and appreciative of the USGA for the opportunity and look forward to playing in my hometown on a golf course I grew up on.”

Perhaps Mickelson has found his groove with a combination of diet and exercise changes designed to enhance his mental and physical prowess.

This week, it appears that the former "fun" Phil Mickelson who took wild and crazy chances had been replaced by a safe and strategy-oriented golfer...and the results proved themselves as Lefty wound up lifting the Wanamaker trophy.

As the next chapter of Mickelson's career gains momentum from a rockstar win at the 2021 PGA Championship, Golf for Beginners looks forward to reporting a win for Mickelson at his hometown golf course at the U.S. Open.

Photo: Wikipedia

Monday, April 12, 2021

Top Golf Instructor Gives Masters Tips from Inside-the-Ropes

Almost every golf fan caught at least a glimpse of The Masters this past week and many of us had favorable weather where we could go out and imagine ourselves at Augusta National, fist-pumping as we rolled in birdie putts.

Mike Bender, top-five-ranked PGA teaching professional and director of instruction at The Mike Bender Golf Academy at Magnolia Plantation Golf Club (and Zach Johnson's instructor as well as many other greats of the game) was inside-the-ropes this week at the first major tournament of the year. 

Bender sat down for a Q and A Zoom video with V1 Sports’ Mandy Von See, host of “Tuesday Traces".

Golf for Beginners took a few snippets from the conversation that related to the way the average golfer can improve his or her game. We hope that you take away some lessons for the golf season!

Golf Questions and Answers with Mike Bender

How do you coach your players to deal with the nerves on the opening shot?

I will tell you a funny story. Back in the day, I remember Zach Johnson playing in (The Memorial Tournament) at Muirfield Village and tee times came out and he said he called his wife and he said, "Guess who we're playing with?" and she said "Tiger Woods?" He says, "No, bigger than that." After this long silence, she suddenly realizes it's Jack Nicklaus. Zach was paired with Jack Nicklaus at his own tournament, and they had like a 12 o'clock tee time with 10,000 people around the first tee. So anyway, I called Zach on Thursday night and asked, "How was that opening tee shot?" He said he was so nervous he couldn't swallow a BB. He said, "Well, I knew I couldn't pass. I had to play, so I visualized great shots I've had in the past, and I ran my routine." I striped it right down the middle. Everybody gets nervous but the players, you know, stick to the routine and they're OK. They've hit so many great shots under pressure and so forth and they're off to a great start."

What is the key to hitting irons consistently?

Everything comes down to the proper delivery of the club into the ball. You could say anybody who's very consistent in golf is delivering the club the same way into the ball. Being able to hit down on your shots and compress the ball - which helps to stabilize the clubface - and controlling that clubface is another key component to hitting good iron shots. I try to make sure people come in on the correct plane because that helps them produce more lag. Lag helps to get your hands more forward. That, in turn, helps you get down on the ball, so it's kind of a domino effect. I definitely want to hit down on the ball and control the clubface.

What one drill would you do to get a consistent downswing?

I look at things like one domino falling against the other and they run down the list. So many times, I see people with so much tension in their shoulders and their forearms and they start their downswing more with their upper body, and they start rotating a little early and that's where they can shift the plane and come in and have all kinds of different release habits. If that's the case, I have the drills I get people to do. We work on trying to accelerate and be more relaxed in their arms and get their hands moving toward the golf ball. We do a lot of things when we do a fold-up drill with an impact bag up against the wall that helps get people to do that. We have a handful of drills that we do to work on that particular aspect of the swing because it is such a big deal.

Where do you prefer to see a golfer’s weight in the putting stroke?

I like players that have more weight on their left side (for right-hand golfers). Primarily, it's so there isn't any transfer of weight during the stroke. Favoring the left side and keeping the weight, consistent, you can minimize any lower body motion and you can have a little bit more of a pure stroke with your shoulders, as opposed to having any kind of movement in the lower body.

Although Tiger Woods was noticeably invisible from this year's Masters, this was, as always, a terrific tournament as only Augusta National can offer. Congratulations to Hideki Matsuyama for his brilliant performance!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Golf Etiquette During COVID-19

A certain level of etiquette is expected when playing a sport like golf. But with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at play, an added layer of manners is required. Here’s how you can keep yourself safe and respect the safety of others while playing golf during the pandemic. 

Show up early. Generally, golfers will arrive 15 minutes before their tee-time. But with the coronavirus, each course has its own safety requirements. Depending on wh/ere you’re planning to play, you could be subject to a brief COVID-19 questionnaire or need to have your temperature taken before you hit the green. Arrive 20-30 minutes before your tee time to ensure you don’t delay your game or those scheduled to start after you. 

Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s one thing to take your time practicing when the place is empty. But if you notice the course you’re golfing on appears to be crowded, limit yourself to two or three practice balls. As you’re moving throughout the clubhouse and golf course, maintain a distance of six feet from other golfers. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re respecting the boundaries of others, allowing everyone to enjoy their day on the links.

Avoid crowding on the course. Under normal circumstances, golf can be a fairly social game. With the threat of the coronavirus, socializing with others in a crowd isn’t a good idea. Maintain a distance of six feet from others outside of your golfing party. Walk around other groups if you need to pass them. And when it comes to using golf carts, limit yourself to one rider per car whenever possible. Most courses are mandating this policy unless you’re golfing with someone from your household.

Respect the course. The rules and safety restrictions at the golf course will vary depending on where you golf. Regardless of whether you’re playing at the golf resort in Pinehurst or somewhere in Monterey, it’s essential to follow the rules imposed by the location. Those rules exist to keep guests and the staff safe. Before you arrive, make sure you’re aware of that club’s COVID-19 guidelines as well as the guidelines in that county if you’re traveling out of state. Ultimately, doing your part and following said rules will help stop the spread of the coronavirus so that life can one day go back to normal. 

Get creative with your golf tradition. Typically, when a round of golf concludes, a ceremonial handshake occurs. In COVID-19 times, golfers have had to get creative with how they wrap up their game. Instead of shaking hands and risk transmitting the coronavirus, tap putters or do an air five. Any way you choose to celebrate the conclusion of your time on the course will work — as long as it doesn’t require physical touch.

Stay home if you’re sick. Most importantly, if you don’t feel well, reschedule your tee time until you’ve confirmed you aren’t ill or cancel it. You should also do the same if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus or has been exposed. Golf courses will always be around, and if you have to reschedule to prevent spreading the virus, it’s worth it! 

Golf is one of the few sports people have been able to enjoy during these unprecedented times. To keep that option available, follow these etiquette tips!