Thoughts From the 2011 PGA Championship

It was a wild and busy week for me at this year’s PGA. Besides being on-air for 28 hours on Direct TV over the four days with my “In Depth” partner, Grant Boone, I found some time to workout and practice.

I’ll get into more with my thoughts from the 2011 PGA Championship in a bit.  This week I will be competing in the final Champions Tour major of the year, the Senior Player’s Championship at Westchester Country Club in Rye, NY. I have qualified for the Championship based on money earned on the Champions Tour over the last 12 months.

In my last article, I discussed a change in practice regimen that I took away from my experience in Europe and then applied at the 3M Championship. My objective has been to hit fewer range balls and do more effective practice on the course. I’ve been playing more rounds of golf and it’s been paying off. I scored three straight rounds in the 60’s at the 3M finishing 10-under par for the week and in a tie for 17th. I had an unfortunate one-stroke penalty in the second round when the wind blew my ball on the putting green after I had addressed the ball. Still, I finished just one stroke out of the top 10.

I had to get very creative with my schedule this week at the PGA and found the opportunity to practice every day on the River Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club in the early morning hours before the telecast. Though the greens weren’t mowed at that hour, I was able to get some effective approach shot practice, picking a different green to hit to every day. I would randomly hit balls from various angles and distances, rarely hitting the same shot twice. I found that my distance control got better with every practice. Though I was hitting off that new Diamond Zoysia grass, I still think the practice will help me this week. Additionally, I was able to do some effective driving practice on several tight driving holes on the River Course. Undoubtedly, the West Course at Westchester Country Club will require some accurate drives on those tree-lined fairways.

On Wednesday, I was at the back of the range testing a new Nike driver when John Daly showed up. His wife Anna took this picture of us. We had a good time reminiscing about the 1991 PGA, his great win, and my first telecast with CBS. I marveled at John’s ability to compress the golf ball to this day. I was surprised to see him miss the cut.

I was not overly impressed with the design work at Atlanta Athletic Club. The front nine was quite mundane and repetitive. Bunkers were down the right side on every tee shot. Trees lined every fairway and were not used to create a variety of different “looks”. The width of the landing areas though was quite good, a nice balance between distance and accuracy. It was nice to see the shorter hitters contending with the longer ones. The green complexes were quite good and I loved the new Champion Bermuda grass greens. Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America did a fantastic job in setting up the course. I especially liked how he moved the tees forward on #13 on Saturday and #6 on Sunday, to give the players a chance to drive the green. Many did just that.

In broadcasting the tournament, I was able to witness first-hand what many of the players were doing. Here were some of my thoughts, most of which I was able to share on the air:

1. Adam Scott’s swing style hasn’t changed over the past few years, but he is beginning to compress the ball better at impact. I actually saw Adam take some pretty good-sized divots with a long iron. I firmly believe this has contributed to his recent success. He won the previous week in Akron and finished in the top 10 at the PGA.

2. Mark Wilson, winner of two PGA tour events early this season, works with Doc Jim Suttie who also coaches Chip Beck and Loren Roberts. I hadn’t watched Mark practice in a long time, but did on Sunday and interviewed him on the range (this was my role on the weekend for the first 2 and ½ hours of the show). Mark has a beautiful golf swing, creates a lot of lag (quantity) in his transition and sustains it well through impact. This is precisely why he hits a fairly long ball for being such a small-framed person.

3. Phil Mickelson heard his share of talk about the decision he made a few years ago to change swing coaches. Phil left Rick Smith and began working with Butch Harmon but I can hardly tell any difference in Phil’s swing today. I know he shortened his swing under Butch for a while, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. The set-up, backswing, and downswing all look the same to me. He still has great lag and compression.

4. Keegan Bradley, the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, looked awesome in Swing Vision. He has been working with Jim McLean and certainly creates a lot of lag on the downswing that he sustains beautifully through the ball. It’s the best-looking swing I’ve seen in a while. After seeing it under Swing Vision on Saturday, I turned to my partner Grant Boone and said that he would win the Championship.

5. Jason Dufner works with my old friend Chuck Cook who teaches in Austin, Texas. Chuck was Payne Stewart’s long-time coach. Duf is not a long hitter but creates as much forward shaft lean at impact with the driver as Hogan and almost as much as Trevino. It was no surprise to see that he led for the week in greens in regulation. I was taken by his “laissez-faire” personality. However, his whole countenance really changed however after he bogeyed the 16th on Sunday. I could tell his self-talk was turning negative. Like all of us, he could use some good sports psychologist coaching to protect him from any bad thoughts and especially during those crucial times where the pressure is mounting.

6. Brendan Steele was tied for the lead going into the final round. He had driven the ball very well in the first three rounds and putted even better. I could tell on Saturday, he was in the zone. He birdied seven of his first 14 holes. Swing Vision revealed to me that Brendan was not creating much forward shaft lean at impact but had great control of the clubface. His swing looked more timing-dependent to me than did those of Bradley and Dufner.

7. Davis Love’s swing style hasn’t changed at all. While he is one of the great players of his generation, it’s my humble opinion that if he were to create more shaft lean at impact and quit picking the ball, he’d get back to his winning ways. He’s such a talent. He was in contention on day one but ended up at the bottom after shooting a 79 on Sunday.

I just want to say many thanks to my producer Ken Mack who gave me so many Swing Vision tapes to use during the telecast and the opportunity to go to the driving range on the weekend to spend time with the players. It was good to see many of my good friends at CBS again. It’s nice to know they are watching me on the Champion’s Tour. Now, back to work!

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