Bobby Clampett’s Pure Championship Experience

Bobby Clampett’s thoughts from Playing the Pure Championship

I received a phone call from the Tournament Director of the Pure Championship on Friday, September 16th this year. “Bobby, you’re in the field”. I took a big gulp as a shot of adrenalin ran through my body; excited and apprehensive at the same time. It had been nearly 8 years since I last competed in an official PGA Tour Champions event.

I was apprehensive on several accounts. What’s the state of my game, my body, my mind? I had emersed myself in the teaching world since leaving the Champions Tour in 2014 and have been busy building Impact Zone Golf, opening three academies in Southwest Florida, writing books centered on my “Impact-Based® Instruction”, and training instructors while creating 5 levels of teacher certification, running golf schools, and teaching my students. Fortunately, I had my wife Marianna helping me, as I could never have embarked on such a journey myself.

I had been conducting my experiment on my own game, not allowing myself to practice for 3 ½ years. When I started, my handicap lowered from +1.6 to +4.6 but had seen a decline in the past two years back to +2.6. Not bad for a 62-year-old. I had shot some lower scores mostly while giving playing lessons to my students. There was the day I was 9 under through 11 holes on a course in Colorado where my friend and fellow Impact Zone instructor was the Head Professional. Ken Venturi, the hall of Famer who I worked with at CBS Sports on the announce team for over 15 years, once shared with me, “never break the course record on a course where the head pro has it.” That record is too important to him. Thus, I called my friend who answered, 64 and he had the record. I didn’t finish the round.

My junior star student, Ellie Bushnell, once shared with me that she would like to caddy for me in a big tournament. Knowing that she would be competing at Pebble Beach next year in the Carmel Cup, as a member of the Oklahoma State’s Women’s Golf Team and possibly in the US Women’s Open, I quickly gave her a call. “I’ll be there”, she exclaimed with excitement. I explained that we would be playing two courses, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, my home courses from my high school days at nearby Robert Louis Stevenson School. Pebble Beach had seen some major renovations to the greens in the past several years, I hadn’t played a round in 8 years. Spyglass had also received many changes, and I had only played it once in a pro-am, and even more, renovations had been completed since. No longer would I have the same local knowledge of the 500 rounds or more I estimate I’ve played on these courses, but I would still have the same love for both courses.

I was heading for dinner when the call came on that Friday afternoon, and my weekend was already booked with an Equestrian Program I was committed to attending with my wife. I’ve adopted her love of horses and we often ride and do programs together now. I even have my horse, Callie, who I found in Stephenville, Texas last May when we were passing through on our twice-annual trek across the country between our homes in Naples, Florida, and Carmel, California. How appropriate that her name was Callie and we were on our way to Cali! She’s been a great horse and I love riding her.

Back to golf. During the weekend, I began to plan my strategy for practice, while still maintaining my commitment to no-range practice, which I finally did give up on the days of the tournament. How would I train? What did I need to work on? What can my body handle? As part of receiving a sponsor’s exemption, I was asked by the tournament committee to participate in a Pro-Am at Spanish Bay on Wednesday. That was a small ask based on many of the many other exemptions I had received while competing for 5 years on the PGA Tour Champions.

Practice rounds were to be done after 12n on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Since two of the tournament rounds were to be played at Pebble Beach, and it’s so difficult to get a practice round time, I called the tournament office immediately and booked my practice rounds for 12n on Tuesday and 7 am on Thursday at Pebble Beach. I figured I could get in nine holes a Spyglass on Wednesday afternoon. Monday, since neither course was available, I would head to The Preserve where I was a member, and go play the course.

One of my many projects since leaving the tour and entering the teaching world, was my development of the Impact-Zone Digital Academy, comprising 10 modules, 240 Clampett’s Corner Video Answers to Student’s Questions, Library of Impact-Based Teaching Drills, and more. Module 10 was developed for the tournament player, how to prepare for a tournament and play practice rounds. With two courses to prepare and so little time, I was putting all my principles to the test. Since I knew both course’s strategies, from tee to green, I could skip step one, and go directly to preparing to know the course, the conditions, reading the greens, and knowing how to play around the greens and from the bunkers. I learned much of this strategy in playing so many practice rounds with many top touring pros but probably learned the most from playing many practice rounds over the years with my good friend Bernhard Langer, who was having to skip the tournament this year. He had stayed with me in the past for this event. Like Bernhard, I would rarely hit a second drive or approach shot, but I would focus on short game and putting.

Monday’s practice at the Preserve was very scheduled and directed, something I had come to apply on the PGA Tour Champions after receiving a personal invitation from the Hall of Fame UNC Basketball Coach, Roy Williams to attend a closed-door practice. It was in the “Dean Dome” where I was hit over the head with a two-by-four, awakened to how much time I usually wasted in my practicing golf. Roy’s official practices were 90 minutes, carefully scripted in 3-7 minute intervals, encompassing every aspect of a player’s game, from conditioning, shooting, passing, defense zone reviews, offensive sets, and drills. Coaches were positioned on the sideline with stopwatches, monitoring the times of each practice interval. Not a moment went to waste. Though I couldn’t be that efficient, I could make some major improvements. Monday’s practice would be a complete game training day, last 4 hours and not a minute more. I didn’t want to over-abuse my shape body.

Monday’s practice began after giving my last online lesson of the week. I started with a complete body warm-up and Super Speed conditioning. I was able to go to a local Yoga Class that lasted 75 minutes. That proved helpful for getting my body ready. My first move to practice was to the putting green. Since my days in Dean Dome, I had devised a new practice putting routing, which divided my practice into three segments: Line Control, Speed Control, and Green Reading (putting it all together). Line control practice comprised of variable length straight putts, from 3’ to 50’. The principal length I practice most was 8 feet, knowing that the PGA Tour average is 50%. I made 8/10, so I felt good going to the next length of 15 ‘, then progressively up to 50’. I would use markers in the middle of the putt to determine distance offline. When satisfied, that is, I was rarely missing my 15’ marker by more than two inches, which meant my line was .5 degrees of deviation. I don’t require perfection, only reasonable deviations.

To practice my speed putts, I would only use one ball, looking for the biggest breaking putts I could find. Most of the putts on the practice green at the Preserve have a little break, so I saved some of this practice for the course. I then hit a few putts, putting it all together, also knowing I would do more of this on the course.

Knowing that my clubhead speed had dropped about 3 mph in the past 8 years, I wanted to see if some “Overspeed” training with my Superspeed Sticks, could help me recoup a little of that. Knowing that it usually takes 45 days of training to gain 5 mph, how much would I get in 4 days of training? I was hoping for even a one mph increase. That’s 3 yards off the tee, every little bit would help. After 20 minutes of Overspeed training, I headed to the first tee. My goal was to play a variety of shots, see what was good and what needed work, finetuning my distance control with my approach shots, tune the shorter wedge shots, and work on putting. I played 18 holes in about three hours since the course was empty. Occasionally, I would drop a second ball on an approach shot and play a different shot, and club to the same distance. I would track each approach, estimating ahead of time the exact distance it flew, then measuring when repairing the ball mark on the green. This is a practice I’ve developed for improving distance control on approach shots. I wanted to make sure that my driver was set best for me, so twice during the round, I hit 7-10 tee shots with the help of my Foresight Quad, carefully analyzing my launch and spin rates. Since I have a stock drive and a longer drive, I looked at optimum spin at 10 degrees of launch, then again at 14 degrees. I found that the 14-degree launch needed to draw about 7 yards, not an easy shot to hit, but one I would need several times during the round, especially on Pebble Beach’s 3rd, 9th, and 18th holes. I made a note to work on that more before the tournament.

I also was fine-tuning my setup, making sure my setup complimented the intended path of my swing. I found my path a little to the left on longer fairway shots and the driver, so the adjustments began.

I was tired after the 4-hour practice on Monday but looking forward to applying it all at Pebble Beach the next day. I did my pre-round warm-up at home, yoga on the deck, and Superspeed club swinging both at home and in the parking lot at Pebble Beach. When I arrived on the first tee at Pebble Beach, after having hit 5 minutes of practice putts to feel the speed of the practice green, I was greeted by Jim Furyk and his caddie Fluff, who had also booked the same time to join me. Furyk is one of my heroes, a poster child for my Impact-Based® teaching which contrasts “Style-Based” Teaching methodologies. Jim is 10 years younger than me and wasn’t on the Champion’s Tour when I was playing. But we developed a nice friendship during my 29 years of broadcasting golf on television with CBS. So, I knew the comradery would be great, though sad that Ellie wasn’t in town yet to be a part of this. What I didn’t realize is that I was about to witness the best 9-hole ball-striking exhibitions I had ever seen. None of Furyk’s shots ever left the flag or the target. No shot was more than 10 feet offline, and every shot was solidly struck with a perfect 4-inch in-front divot with the irons! His drives were also beautifully flighted, center-cut, and I would estimate launching at 12 degrees with around 2200 rpm of spin rate. That’s as close to perfection as it gets. Not known for his driving distance, his drives were often 15 yards past mine. He had told me he had recently been working with several different drivers and finally had fine-tuned it. I realized, my driving needed some fine tuning like that, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work with different equipment and hadn’t changed drivers in three years anyway. I was going to play with what I had. After playing a few holes alone, which I used to often do at Pebble Beach late in the afternoon, I joined the group in front, of my old CBS broadcasting teammate Amanda Balionis Renner and her husband. I birdied the last three holes, so I felt good leaving the course.

Wednesday started with another warmup on my yoga deck at home, another Superspeed training session, then driving out to Spanish Bay for the pro-am. I enjoy pro-ams, so it was a fun day. I wasn’t happy with my ball striking as I miss hit numerous shots low and, in the heel, and felt my path was slightly left of what I thought was my aim. But I had committed to my junior partner, Tanvi Samayam, a rising junior star from New Jersey to meet for nine holes at Spyglass Hill for a practice round. I found my attention working more towards helping her and getting distracted with my own game.

After playing nine holes with Tanvi, I had the rare opportunity to again use my launch monitor and made my way to the 9th hole at Spyglass to work on what was bothering me the most, long irons and drivers. Realizing my path was about 2.5 degrees off, I made another setup adjustment and hit some beautiful long iron shots to end the day. I like leaving on a high note. I was ready for my early morning gig at Pebble Beach the next day.

7 am Thursday arrived quickly. I met Ellie in the parking lot, did another superspeed warm-up while talking to her, and I was ready, without hitting balls, to strike my first tee shot, a 3 wood, down the right center of the fairway. That’s typical for me, workhorse is still a little slow, so a good early morning swing sees the ball leak to the right. I was joined by Cliff Kresge, Kent Jones, and Ken Tanigawa. Most of the round was spent working on putting to what I thought would be tournament locations. About half of Pebble Beach’s greens have been redesigned, so the breaks are different than in the past. Too little time, but I made the best of it, to learn the new greens. After going home after the round to catch up on some work, I returned to Pebble Beach to speak at the Volunteer Party, my last obligation as a sponsor’s exemption. It was great to thank them in person, for without them, we couldn’t have a tournament. Volunteers are essential to both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.

I arrived at the Putting green at Spyglass Hill a good two hours before my 1 pm tee time. I wanted to get some good putting practice. Looking back, I should have used that time to practice some chipping, which I had neglected in my practice round. That would be partially the reason I would go 0/7 in getting the ball up and down from around the greens. After practice putting, I drove back to the Pebble Beach driving range to get some practice. I used my Quad and recorded data, looking specifically at my path, and measuring distance carries to refine my yardage with my irons. That was my first practice in 3 and ½ years, but it went well. I kept the practice hitting shots as if I were on the course. This is a principle I teach my students, to keep their practice like their play.

I was a bit more nervous than usual, approaching the first tee. But I’ve been very nervous playing golf before. Learning to breathe and developing breathing techniques help me reduce nerves, so I started several light breathing rituals while waiting for the group ahead to clear the fairway. I striped my first tee shot, feeding my self-talk with “trust your swing and your training”, before making the swing. Good self-talk is another principle I teach my students. Ben Doyle always taught me, “Good thoughts make good shots!”

The round was highlighted with several well-executed long iron shots, including four in a row at holes 5, 6, 7, and 8, that all landed 2 yards short of my expected land. My inability to let go with my swing during the round accounted for 1 mph less clubhead speed, which I now had to adjust. I made my lone birdie at the difficult 6th hole after my 5-iron approach left me 8 feet below the hole. After that, I would proceed to 2 putt the next 21 straight holes, a record that I’m not too proud of. I was consistently hitting my lines on my putts; thus, I was making all putts inside 6 ‘, but my speed was off, and most often came up short. I later attributed that to “confidence”, which can only come through playing in competition.

I missed greens at holes 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, and 16 and bogied each. At the par 5 11th, I hit two nice shots over the green but failed to get up and down. Thus, I went 0 for 7, which is miserable, shooting 5 over 77.

Feeling good about my long game, I headed for the Pebble Beach Academy’s short game area before round 2. A 3-hour fog delay gave me extra practice time, which may have been my body’s undoing later in the day when my back seized during the round, and I had to power back to 80% swings to finish. Highlights of the round came at 18, where I hit two great shots and nearly made my 25-footer for an eagle. I later birdied hole 6 with a nice wedge and an 8-foot putt. My 4 bogies came at 11, 16, 3, and 5, after missing the greens and again failing to get up and down. I did save pars at 1 and 9 with nice up and downs, resulting in a two-over-par 74.

I wasn’t aware that the Pure Championship had started a cut but was relieved to know I had missed the cut since I don’t believe my back would have allowed me to play the next day. I need to get more in golf shape and strengthen my abs the most, to give my back the extra support it needs.

I’ll be working on getting some new irons, a new driver, and 3 wood, this off-season in Florida in hopes of returning to play some more competition in 2023.

Highlights of the week included reconnecting with many locals and people in the golf world, time with Ellie, and meeting Tanvi and her family. It was also great reconnecting with many of my peers on the PGA Tour Champions. I was very touched by how many of them genuinely gave me hugs as a welcome back. I’m still a proud PGA Tour member and will always support it!

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