August 24, 2016 - 2:23pm
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T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
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Even though it's a world-class golf course that hosts world-class events, the beauty of Bethpage Black is that it remains accessible to the public. If you ever get a crack at this great course, PGA Professional Rob Labritz has advice on how to succeed.

The greatest aspect of this week's Barclays -- aside from being the opening event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup and aside from being the last event to collect Ryder Cup USA points -- is the venue its being contested on.

That venue? Bethpage Black, which is arguably the greatest public course there is. The Black has hosted the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens and will host the 2019 PGA Championship, as well as the 2024 Ryder Cup.

Is there anything better than a world-class course that hosts world-class events, yet is accessible to the public?

Since you can play Bethpage Black, we decided to chat with PGA Professional Rob Labritz this week about what you need to do to score well there.

And Labritz knows a thing or two (or three) about that, having won the 2008, 2011 and 2016 New York State Opens on the Black Course.

RELATED: How to break 100 | 90 | 80 | 70 | Escaping thick rough | Coping w/ nerves

The most intimidating thing about Bethpage Black -- you know, aside from the sign just behind the first tee that reads "WARNING: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers" -- is its length.

From the back tees, this A.W. Tillinghast design that opened in 1936 plays at a massive 7,468 yards from the back tees with a par of 71. If Bethpage Black were a ski slope (and, heck, some of the hills out there could be mistaken for ski slopes), it would be a triple-black diamond.

That's why the single most important part of having any kind of success at Bethpage Black hinges on what you do off the tee.

"You've got to drive it well," Labritz said. "It's an absolute must. Length certainly helps, but the main thing is you need to be in the fairway off the tee. It's crucial. There's so much trouble off the fairways between bunkers and thick, gnarly rough. The course is a beast. Your second shot on most holes is going to be a long one in. You need to be in the fairway so you can get as much club on that shot as possible to get close to the green. If you're in the junk, you're pitching it out and making the hole even longer than it already is."

If you drive it well and get your approach shots close to or on the green, Labritz has a shocking admission: "It's not that difficult once you're on the greens."

"Be in position off the tees," he said. "That's the moral of the story without a doubt. Then you have control over your next shot on a longer approach shot."

Outside of a few holes -- notably Nos. 3, 8 and 15 -- the slope in the greens isn't all that severe, Labritz said.

"You can make quick adjustments on Bethpage's greens," he said. "If you're seeing break and the ball just isn't breaking, hit them straight and I'm telling you, you're going to see putts drop."

When Labritz won the New York State Open toward the end of July, the rough was getting thick on the Black course. Chances are, that's a trend that continued into this week for the Barclays and one that any one of us could experience on a trip to play.

"That's the thing," Labritz said. "The turf quality is so good that they can do whatever they want with it whenever they want. That's why it's a great test. Condition-wise, it's not a stretch at all to say that most private clubs probably wish they could be like Bethpage Black."

So, what's it like to win at a track as special as Bethpage Black?

"It's awesome for a couple of reasons," Labritz said. "First and foremost, it's a public course, which is the kind of course I grew up on. It's also one of the most challenging courses tee to green that you'll step on. I've always prided myself on being a good ball striker. I work on the short game to be a more complete player. And, obviously, my work on the long game has paid off at Bethpage Black. It's a special, special place."

Labritz is 45 years old now, but often times finds himself thinking ahead to 2019 when he'll be 48 years old and hopes to be playing in the PGA Championship at Bethpage.

"That would be a good one to qualify for," said Labritz, who has already played in five PGA Championships. "It's always in the back of my mind and I'm always trying to prepare myself for those opportunities."

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz

Golf tips: How to conquer Bethpage Black
August 18, 2016 - 9:26am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz offers putting tips
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PGA Professional Rob Labritz explains the most effective way to read greens in order to give you a chance to make more putts.

We've all been there. You hit a great shot into the green, you're feeling good about yourself, but then you see the break your putt is going to take and you freak out a little bit.

It's OK. "Reading greens is a little bit of an art form," PGA Professional Rob Labritz told us. But, it's not an art form that you can't master by following some simple steps.

Labritz says one question he's often asked is: "How the heck do you read greens?"

Fair question -- one that Labritz has a rather simple and logical answer for: If you can see hills and slope, you can read a green. Reading the green, Labritz explained, happens before you even reach the dance floor.

RELATED: Advice for breaking 100 | Short-game instruction videos | Putting videos

Generally, people are riding golf carts on the course," he said. "This isn't going to do anything to help you read greens. If you're on a cart, you're going to pull up to the sides of the greens. You're not getting a good look at the green, straight on, from the front. I'd say you should start reading the green when you're 20 yards out. That's where you can really start to see the slope."

Once you're 20 yards out, Labritz encourages you to start looking at the green from left to right and front to back. If you do that, the idea is that by the time you reach you're ball you already have a good idea of how the putt is going to move. If you've done your homework on the walk up to the green, you'll already know that it's pitched a certain way."

"Reading greens is just seeing slopes," Labritz said. "You see it all the time -- people looking at the break from every direction and a lot of them don't really know what it is they're looking for exactly. That's why you need to read the green from the front and really pay attention on the walk up."

But what if you find yourself in a low area?

"Get yourself to the lowest spot you can either on the green, or just before the green in the fairway," Labritz said. "This is going to give you an almost high-def look at the slope. If you're right over the top of the ball, you're not going to see the slope or the subtleties. Think about it. It's like being in a plane, flying over the midwest. Everything looks flat as a pancake. But, if you were down there on the ground, you'd quickly notice it isn't nearly as flat as it looked from the sky. It's the same with putts. If you're reading from right on top of the ball, you're not going to see what you would if you were further away."

If you're interested in getting a little more sophisticated with your green reading, it might be worth it to check out AimPoint -- a system you've seen the likes of Adam Scott utilize on the PGA Tour where the player feels the slope with his or her feet and then uses his or her arm and fingers to determine where to aim.

"AimPoint is a nice way of getting used to slope in the green," Labritz said. "It's a system that works. You need to learn it, but it's a tool that'll help you read greens."

Are you someone who takes a caddie? If you do or have, surely you've been in that situation where he or she says, "hit the ball to this spot and you're golden."

Labritz warns you to be cautious with taking such advice.

"I'm not discounting caddies at all, but when you have one they usually point at a line and say hit it here," he said. "I appreciate them saying it'll be the line. But it's all about your speed. There are lots of lines for every putt. It's nice to get the general direction down, but it's all about speed. If you hit a putt hard, it's going to take less break. The softer you hit it, the more break it'll take."

While there are probably loads of thoughts dancing through your head as you prepare to stroke your putt, there's really only one you need to remember, Labritz said. Don't overthink it.

"The best putters are the ones who have studied the green before they get to the ball," Labritz said. "Once they address the putt, the mind goes blank, they think about nothing and just stroke the ball."

There are only two ways to miss a putt, Labritz said:

1. You mishit it.
2. You misread it.

"That should simplify it a lot," he said. "Those are the only two ways to miss. Do your due diligence on the way to your ball, pick your line and let your speed knock it in. Speed and line are the two most important aspects in place when it comes to putting and I can tell you that speed is way more important than line. People get far too concerned with the line when they should be focused on speed."

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz

Putting tips: How to read greens and make more putts
August 10, 2016 - 3:10pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
PGA Professional Rob Labritz explained how the use of yardage measuring devices can help shave strokes off your golf game.

Are you one of those golfers who really wants to get better but have been reluctant to spend a few hundred dollars on a yardage measuring device?

It's an investment to be sure, but it's also an investment in your game, which -- ultimately -- is an investment in lower scores.

While the yardage markers and sprinkler heads on golf courses and the marked targets on driving ranges are nice, how accurate are they? The on-course markers (think red for 100 yards, white for 150 yards and blue for 200 yards) and sprinkler heads only measure to the middle of the green. What if you have a front or back pin position?

When it comes to the range, the teeing area isn't always in the same spot. They're always moving forward and backward so that grass can grow in.

RELATED: Stay calm in pressure situation | Tips for getting out of deep rough

Despite what you may have thought, measuring devices in golf are for everybody.

"The technology is huge," said PGA Professional Rob Labritz, who competed in his fifth PGA Championship two weeks ago at Baltusrol. "The GPS watch is probably the easiest and best to use for most golfers because it's right there on your wrist. Along with being incredibly helpful, the measuring devices also speed up play because you're not having to walk-off yardages."

GPS watches, in case you aren't familiar with them, come in a wide variety of sophistication. Most come preloaded with 10s of thousands of golf courses. You simply turn it on when you get to your course, it finds the GPS signal and you're ready to go.

Some will just give you the basic front, middle and back yardages. Others will also provide a overhead graphic of the hole, yardages to hazards, a digital scorecard, heart-rate tracking and more. Paired with a smartphone app, you can also keep track of all your stats online.

That's one reason Labritz is a big proponent of the Game Golf device (starting at $149). Game Golf provides real-time shot-tracking stats -- where and how far your ball traveled from where you hit it last, fairways hit, greens in regulation, number of putts, etc. -- that you can analyze at home after your round.

"It might seem like a lot of information, but that's the kind of data you want to track," Labritz said. "You'll discover your tendencies and you can work to correct the bad ones. It's one thing to track that information throughout the round in your head, but to see it on your computer screen or phone after a round can really put it in perspective."

For better players looking for more precise yardages, laser rangefinders are invaluable tools. They're typically between $250-$500 with some offering a "slope" option which factors in elevation changes on the course. The rangefinder will give you both the actual yardage and the yardage while factoring slope. For instance, you may have a 145 yard shot, but if it's uphill, the device will factor in a 10-yard elevation change and tell you that the shot is 155 yards. That's a one-club difference.

"If you're really wanting to dial in to the flag," Labritz said, "the laser rangefinder is the route to take. You eliminate any gray area. That's the exact yardage you need to hit it."

It's important to note that the "slope" option is not permitted for tournament play.

The benefits of these measuring devices are pretty obvious -- if you know the exact yardage, chances are even your mishits are going to be closer to the hole. There's no guesswork.

Laser rangefinders and personal launch monitors (check out the SC100 Swing Caddie for around $270. It's about the size of an iPhone and -- while Trackman is excellent -- it sure beats the $30,000+ expense) are also great for practice on the range.

As mentioned earlier, while there are marked targets on the range, they're not always accurate. Hit those targets with the rangefinder -- and anything else on the range, like trees, etc. -- to get the precise yardage.

The SC100 Swing Caddie measures carry distance, swing/ball speed and smash factor.

"If people can get their hands on a personal launch monitor, I recommend taking them out on the course to practice too," Labritz said. "Use it on every shot. People tend to get more tense on the golf course and don't swing as hard as they do on the range where they really unleash it. Compare those numbers and understand what your bag of clubs do for you."

Most of these devices offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you've been skeptical or reluctant about these tools before, isn't that reason enough to give them a try?

"There are so many technological tools at our disposal today and that goes beyond just equipment," Labritz said. "Take advantage of it. It will make you a better player."

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz
 

 

Golf tips: How yardage measuring devices can help your game
July 7, 2016 - 8:32pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
Do you struggle with staying calm when you get a little nervous on the golf course? PGA Professional Rob Labritz has some great advice for keeping those feelings at bay and excelling.

How many of you out there have let a great round slip away because the pressure gets to you at the worst possible moment?

We've all been there. It doesn't matter who you are.

For some of us, the meltdown might be this: You know you're playing great. You're on the verge of breaking 90 for the first time and it's weighing on you. "Wow! I'm finally going to do it."

What happens next? With three holes left, you start to tally up your score and tell yourself, "Man, all I need to do to break 90 is..."

Next thing you know you're hitting it sideways. You left "the moment" and thought too far ahead about your desired outcome.

RELATED: Tips for getting out of deep rough | Breaking 70 | 80 |90 | 100

We caught up with PGA Professional Rob Labritz to find out how the heck we can control those nerves instead of letting those nerves control us.

And Labritz would know a thing or two about that going both ways.

About 10 years ago, Labritz had a five-shot lead in the New York State Open at Bethpage Black with 3-4 holes to go. At around that time, he began thinking about how cool it was going to be to win such a big tournament at such a heralded course.

About an hour later, Labritz putted out on the last hole, signed his card and finished fourth.

"It was a crumble and I didn't know how to handle it," admitted Labritz. "I wasn't prepared for it. I told myself I had I won the tournament before I won the tournament. You can't do that in the moment."

On the other end of the spectrum are the times in recent history when Labritz has embraced the situation and used the nerves -- he prefers to call it "adrenaline" -- to his advantage. And by recent history, we're actually talking about the last week and a half.

In the PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y., last week, Labritz knocked down an incredible 35-foot putt for birdie on the 72nd hole to secure his fifth appearance in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in just a few weeks.

Earlier this week, Labritz joined the likes of Paul Runyon, Claude Harmon, Doug Ford and Ben Hogan as a winner in the Westchester Open. You want to talk about staying calm under pressure? The tournament was played at Labritz's home course -- GlenArbor. It's not easy to win when you've played a course more than anyone in the field, and because of that, are probably expected to do so.

So how did he do it?

"It all starts with your preparation," Labritz said. "I'm not just talking about hitting balls. You have to tell yourself -- and put yourself -- in that situation when practicing. It's 'situational practice.' Grab a club out of the bag, put the ball down, go through your full routine and say, 'I'm on the 18th hole at the club championship and I need to get this in the fairway, on the green and hit two putts for par to move on.'"

If that's the way you practice, Labritz said, it won't be foreign to you when you find yourself in the real situation.

"You need to have logged in a lot of hours," he stressed. "In that moment you've got to almost feel like you have been there in that moment before because of the practice you put in. You have to believe you're in that moment to feel that situational practice. The butterflies, the excitement, the adrenaline -- whatever you want to call that feeling -- and develop it."

For Labritz, that feeling is adrenaline. And that adrenaline rush is the reason he plays the game.

"It's definitely adrenaline for me," he said. "People confuse that with nerves. Whatever that feeling is, you're going to have to embrace it to get your desired outcome. You shake. It happens. When you're scared, the negative thoughts come out. If you embrace it, you heighten your focus. You have to embrace that state and get power from it. The more you go through it, the more you learn how to handle it. It comes with experience. There are times I have gone in and failed -- many times. But that's golf. You learn from it. "

And again, this isn't just for the competitive player. If anything, it's exactly the thing that keeps high handicappers from shooting lower scores.

"High handicappers get all messed up when they're playing well and chasing a score because they worry about crafting shots they haven't hit yet," Labritz said. "They hit a bad shot and it snowballs. Yes, you want to see yourself in the future doing great stuff, shooting lower scores, but you also have to remember you can only hit one shot at a time. Once you're in the moment, you know you're in a heightened state. Embrace it. Stay in the present and focus on the shot at hand."

You know when you hit that bad shot and let it snowball like Labritz mentioned? It's because you've talked yourself into bad things.

Don't do that.

"Talk yourself into what you want to do," Labritz said. "'I want to rip it down the middle.' Do that. And if you don't, do it on the next shot. You can't control the past, but a positive mindset and extreme focus can help you impact your future."

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz

Golf tips: How to stay calm in a pressure situation
June 17, 2016 - 1:45pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
We all know about practicing on the driving range, but what about practicing on the course? PGA Professional Rob Labritz has some fantastic on-course practice methods to help you lower scores.

The definition of golf is to get the ball in the hole in the least number of shots possible. To that end, you have 14 tools (clubs) at your disposal.

This latest bit of advice from PGA Professional Rob Labritz is going to dial you in to each one of those tools and help you understand that each one of your clubs is like an adjustable wrench -- it's not meant for just one type of shot, but multiple shots from a variety of distances with a variety of trajectories.

So, how do you accomplish that? For this practice, Labritz says you'll need to move away from the driving range, chipping area and practice green and over to the course itself.

Have you ever heard a PGA Professional say, "don't hit balls, hit shots?" That's the purpose of this.

RELATED: How to break 100 | 90 | 80 | 70 | Getting out of the rough

"I want you to go out and play a round with just 2-3 clubs, including your putter, and play from the forward tees," Labritz said. "You can use whichever three you'd like, but for those trying this for the first time, I would recommend a mid-to-long iron, a wedge and a putter. You're going to play all 18 holes with just those three clubs. The less clubs you carry, the more creative you'll get forced to be."

The point of this, Labrtiz explained, is to help you learn how to manufacture golf shots.

"It takes away that idea of, 'I have to hit this club from this distance,' and brings in your ball-striking skills and shot-making ability," he said. "Let's say one of your three clubs is an 8-iron, a club you maybe typically hit 140 yards. But, you're 100 yards away. You're going to have to work on how to hit that 8-iron from 100 yards while controlling the distance you want it to travel, the trajectory and the amount of roll out it has once it hits the ground."

Don't get frustrated. When you start out, it's almost a sure thing you're not going to hit it exactly as you'd like. That's why it's called, "practice."

If there is just one thing to focus on with each of these shots, however, Labritz says it's to pay attention to holding your finish. You know when you see your favorite Tour player holding the pose at the end of a gorgeous swing? Yeah, they're not just doing that for the cameras.

"Holding your finish does a couple of things," Labritz said. "One, it provides you a good look at your shot and allows your brain to accept the shot -- good or bad. You're not learning anything when you give up on the finish. Holding that finish teaches you just as much what to do as what not to do. And two, if you're holding that finish it means you're in balance -- in balance at address, at impact and then the finish."

Also with this drill, you're going to teach yourself how far you can hit a shot with a certain club with a 1/4 swings, 1/2 swings and 3/4 swings. Imagine how much easier that will make it for you the next time you play a round with all your clubs.

How nice will it be when you're faced with that 140-yard shot with an 8-iron, but there's a tree branch in the way and then you realize, "hey, I can hit my 6-iron 140 yards and much lower, so that branch won't even be a factor?"

"At that point," Labritz said, "you're dialed in."

Along with creativity, shot-making and ball-striking, there's one more valuable lesson this on-course practice is going to teach you, which is most important of all.

"It makes your brain think more about how to play the golf course than about executing a golf swing," Labritz said. "At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to play the course in the least amount of shots possible."

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008 and 2013, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz.  

Golf tips: How to practice on the golf course