January 19, 2017 - 11:58am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
Pritchard/PGA of America
This is the first of a six-week, six-part series with PGA Professional Rob Labritz, offering up tips on how you can become a complete golfer.

Editor's note: This is the first of a six-week, six-part series with PGA Professional Rob Labritz, offering up tips on how you can become a complete golfer. Each feature will focus on one of six topics: Body, Game, Game maintenance, Mind, Nutrition and Equipment in an effort to help you become the best golfer you can be.

As you see in the professional ranks, many of the best golfers in the world treat their bodies like a temple.

Along with a practice regimen for time on the range and around the practice green, most top level players dedicate a significant amount of their time to fitness.

So why don't avid amateur golfers do the same? If "time" is the issue -- and understandably -- there are a number of things you can do in the limited time you have that will work wonders to improve your movement and range of motion in the golf swing.

Our resident expert Rob Labritz isn't just a fine player (he was low club pro at the 2010 PGA Championship) and teacher, but he's also a Level 2 Certified TPI Instructor. "TPI" is the "Titleist Performance Institute" and a program dedicated to helping golfer of all ages and abilities get the most out of their respective bodies.

There's a good chance that if you're reading this now, you're someone who has a desk job. Labritz says people in this situation -- for the most part -- have all sorts of limitations.

"Generally, if you're not on a workout regimen and you're stuck sitting at a desk all day, your hips and core are almost unusable in the golf swing. There's no diassociation between the upper and lower body, which is crucial in the golf swing. This results in a lack of power and a lack of proper sequence and transition in the swing."

So how do you fix it? First, Labritz said, you want to learn how to isolate your hip movement from the movement of your upper body.

"You want control over your upper and lower body both independently to be good at golf," he said. "One of the best things I do to get people to test their hips is to tell them to get in front of a mirror and into a golf posture. From there, place a club across your shoulders. From that position, attempt to rotate only your hips, meaning the shoulders and golf club you placed across them shouldn't move. That's a test to see if you can disassociate. If you can do this, you're already ahead of the curve. If you can't, it's also the exercise you'll want to use to work on it."

For a right-handed golfer, the golf swing is all about your mobility from right to left. This requires a strong core, which makes the disassociation of your lower body from your upper body so important. Your lower body stabilizes and supports the swinging motion of your torso, arms and hands.

"Another great exercise is to work on your pelvic strength," Labritz told us. "Similar to the last exercise, you want to get in front of a mirror, get in a golf posture, club across the shoulders. From there, try to focus on moving just your pelvic bone up and down. If you're feeling a shaking sensation in that area, you'll have instant feedback that it's weak and needs to be strengthened."

The two exercises we've already covered can be done in less then 10 minutes with three sets of 5-10 reps. Labritz encourages trying to do these twice a day -- and they're easy enough to do right at your desk.

As you start to see improvement and strength building, there are loads of great exercises you can find online that are more advanced.

If you find yourself on the range, Labritz also has a great drill you can try out to work on that all important disassociation.

"If you're a righty (opposite for a lefty) start your swing with more pressure on the left leg," he said. "That's one way of teaching around having slow hips. With 5-10 percent more pressure on that left leg at set up, you can work on getting the ball first and ground second. Make sure the spine is tilted ever so slightly away from the target so you don't stick club in the ground."

Next week, we'll take a closer look at your game and what you can do to improve in every facet.

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, 2013 and 2016, 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.  

Become a complete golfer: Part 1, Body
January 9, 2017 - 10:50am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Justin Thomas
USA Today Sports Images
Justin Thomas was in total control of the SBS Tournament of Champions on Sunday until he suddenly wasn't because of a double bogey. Thomas bounced back and proved it was nothing more than one bad shot.

"Stay in the moment."

"One shot at a time."

Those two phrases might be two of the most repeated by professional golfers. Average golfers might see them as simple, even cliché. But there's a whole lot to be learned from them. Justin Thomas proved that on his way to victory on Sunday at Kapalua, HI in the SBS Tournament of Champions.

The 23-year-old Thomas had a healthy lead on the back nine Sunday in his quest for PGA Tour victory No. 3. When he reached the short, par-5 15th hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course, Thomas was five shots clear of Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who had four victories in his last five starts.

That hole is where things quickly got dicey for Thomas.

Thomas made double bogey after losing his tee ball. Matsuyama took advantage, holing out for an unlikely eagle. It was a rapid 4-shot swing. Suddenly Thomas's lead was cut to a stroke with two holes to play.

Here's a look at that improbable Matsuyama eagle:

 

 

 

"At that point, it would be easy to get a little nervous," said PGA Professional Rob Labritz, a veteran of four PGA Championships and the reigning PGA Met Section Player of the Year. "It's just one of those things. Justin was playing so well to that point and then just happened to hit a bad shot -- exactly what you're trying not to do in that situation."

What happened next, Labritz explained, was a defining moment in Thomas's young PGA Tour career.

"Big lead and suddenly it's pretty much gone," Labritz said. "What do you do next? You can relate it to a lot of players who are trying to break 80 for the first time. They make a double bogey and think, 'That's it. Not going to happen today.' But that's not it. You could make two birdies."

That brings us back to Thomas on Sunday.

"He just hit one bad shot," Labritz said. "This was not a situation where a guy was leaking oil late."

Following matching pars at the 16th hole, Thomas smashed his drive on the par-4 17th hole right down Main Street. He followed that with one of his best shots of the tournament, stepping on a long-iron from 226 yards out and stuffing it to about 5 feet. He'd brush in the putt for birdie.

Matsuyama, meanwhile, missed a short par putt, tapped in for bogey, and Thomas had a three-shot lead going into the last hole.

Here's that approach at 17 from Thomas:

 

 

"That was an exclamation point," Labritz said.

Another came on the next hole when Thomas finished off the tournament in style with a birdie on the par-5 closer for a 4-under 69 and a three-shot victory over Matsuyama (who also birdied 18).

Thomas's tee shot went 369 yards:

 

 

"That's one of the great things about golf," Labritz said. "You work on all facets so that even when you're not playing your best, you still get it in in the least amount of strokes possible. It's an acquired skill. You manage your game and you grind it out. The more times you're in that situation, the better you get at it. After the hiccup on 15, Justin proved he was still in command with that fantastic approach on 17. He looked at 15 as one bad shot -- which it was -- and he was still in control of the tournament. He didn't get rattled. He lived in the present."

So what can the average golfer glean from Thomas in those final four holes -- whether it's breaking 100, 90 or 80 for the first time?

"Don't ever think about outcomes," Labritz said. "Focus on the task at hand. Whatever has happened is now in the past. Zone in on the present. When we think ahead, we freak out and the adrenaline starts going. If you're going to think ahead, think about positives ...

"... Better yet, just don't think ahead!"

Know when to take your medicine:

 

 

Justin Thomas didn't let a bad shot cost him a win
September 22, 2016 - 7:43am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
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.

RELATED: Playing under pressure | Getting out of nasty rough | Breaking 70 | 80 | 90

"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
tj.auclair's picture
Rob Labritz
Getty Images
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