September 22, 2016 - 7:43am
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T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
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As we'll see again next week in the 2016 Ryder Cup, it doesn't get much better than match play. PGA Professional Rob Labritz provided some great tips on how you can find success in the match-play format.

Next week, all eyes will be on Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., for the 2016 Ryder Cup.

It doesn't get any better than match play, does it? It's a completely different animal than stroke play.

PGA Professional Rob Labritz has had his fair share of success in match play. As a member of the American PGA Cup team in 2002, Labritz played to a perfect record of 5-0-0. Earlier this year, he also played his way to victory in the Westchester PGA Championship, another match play event.

With that resume, we reached out to Labritz to get some advice on how to set yourself up for success in match play. Sure, chances are you and me aren't ever going to be teeing it up in a Ryder Cup, but these tips will help you at any level of ability when you find yourself in a match play situation.

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"When you play a stroke-play event, most people will tell you you're playing against the course instead of an opponent," Labritz said. "Match-play is twofold. Yes, you're still playing the course, but you're also keeping a close watch on what your opponent is doing."

Golf is a game for ladies and gentleman. But there are certain things that don't fly in stroke play that are fair game in match play, specifically gamesmanship -- the tasteful kind.

We're not talking about stepping in your opponent's line, standing in his or her line of vision, making noise when they're about to hit, etc. It's nothing like that. Instead, it's a mental game you can play with your opponent.

"What I like to do is concede a few early putts," Labritz said. "I'll give them a couple of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2-footers, no more than that, depending on how the match is going. As the match goes on, they're probably expecting me to give them putts from that length. But instead, I make them putt. It's a little gamesmanship. Suddenly you're making your opponent think about something he or she didn't think they'd have to think about. More experienced players know exactly what you're doing. But it's almost like talking to your opponent without talking to them. That's one of the tricks I like to use."

If you're playing a match on a course you know well, Labritz offered up another way you can inject some gamesmanship into the proceedings.

"Let's say there are certain spots out there where you know it's OK to miss," he said. "Hit it there. You know it's not an issue, but you're opponent thinks you're wounded when you're not. Match play is all about the games you play out there. If you're out there scrambling your butt off, it's going to drive the opponent crazy."

A common misconception about match play is that you can throw caution to the wind and have the pedal to the metal throughout. After all, making a 10 on one hole in match play doesn't matter -- it's just one hole.

Labritz, however, said you still need to pick your spots.

"I've been successful in match play and it's because I'm the type of player who isn't going to make a lot of mistakes," he said. "I'll make a bunch of pars and sprinkle in a few birdies, but I'm not going to make a crazy number. When you're steady like that, it can really wear down the opponent. It's frustrating when you're thinking, 'this guy's not going to make a mistake.'"

The aggressiveness, Labritz said, comes from gauging the temperature of the match.

"Look, if you find yourself down early, that's a tough one," he said. "It's an internal battle for yourself. If they're playing better than you, you need to step it up and probably get a little more aggressive. And if it's a situation where you're playing poorly and they're beating you by playing average golf, then you really need to step it up. It's hard to do that, but that's what makes match play such a great format. It's all about the inner fight in you. It's wanting to compete and wanting to beat somebody."

So what's the best thing you can do to put pressure on your opponent?

It's pretty elementary, Labritz told us: "If you're hitting first, the best thing you can do to put a little heat on your opponent is to get your tee shot in play."

At the end of the day, match play simply comes down to this, Labritz told us, "Make your opponent make mistakes. If you're not making mistakes, it's going to force them to try and make something happen -- that's what leads to mistakes."  

Golf tips: How to succeed in match play
August 24, 2016 - 1:23pm
Posted by:
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.

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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 - 8:26am
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.

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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 - 2:10pm
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