March 27, 2017 - 8:43am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
PGA Professional Rob Labritz provided some great tips on how you can find success in the match-play format.

Dustin Johnson won his third consecutive start this season at the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship over the weekend, besting Spain's Jon Rahm in the final.

Match play is a completely different animal than medal/stroke play.

So how can the average player succeed in match play? We reached out to PGA Professional Rob Labritz for some helpful tips.

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 asked Labritz for 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 World Golf Championships Match Play event, 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
February 2, 2017 - 1:27pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
In the third installment of our six-part series on "Becoming a complete golfer," PGA Professional Rob Labritz discusses the importance of game maintenance.

Editor's note: This is the third installment 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.

When you have the opportunity to head out to the driving range and work on your game, do you go out there with a plan?

Or, do you just go out and beat golf balls?

In much the same way you approach a shot and a golf hole during a round with a plan, you should be doing the same with your practice, or "game maintenance," if you will.

PGA Professional Rob Labritz has a perfect plan for you to follow and its main point is this: "When you go out and practice, don't hit balls... hit shots."

BECOMING A COMPLETE GOLFER: Part 1, Body | Part 2, Game | Find an instructor

Do you understand the difference? Don't just drag a golf ball with whichever iron and hit it, or pound driver after driver. Instead, have a plan for the kind of shot you want to hit, the target you want to hit it to and use the same routine to approach every one of those shots as you would on the golf course.

Labritz believes the best way to work on this is to spend 1-1 1/2 hours per day working on each facet of your game, while dedicating an extra 10-15 minutes to the part of your game that may be deficient.

Here's how it would breakdown:

Day 1: Putting

"Start close to the hole and work back," Labritz said. "Cover short, long and mid-range putts. Do 15-20 minutes for each of those starting first at inside 5 feet and covering all four sides of the hole for breaking situations. Then do the same thing, backing up to 10-15 feet. Once you're done that, hit longer putts from all four sides from outside 20 feet. This is where you're really dialing in the speed. Everything is speed-related. You're going to want to make the short putts and a lot of the mid-range putts, but for the long putts it's just important to be finishing the ball close to the hole and getting the speed down."

Just as important as in the putting drills and the drills that follow, Labritz said, is taking 5-minute breaks in between distances to relax and refocus.

Day 2: Chipping

"Same as putting," Labritz said. "Start close to the hole. I like to see students chip from the same spot to different distances. Start by hitting chips to a hole location on the practice green or in the chipping area -- from the fringe -- that's 5-6 yards away with a sandwedge. Pay attention to how the ball is reacting. Then hit chips from the same spot to a location that's 4 yards further away. I like moving in 4-yard increments and changing clubs. If you use the same chipping motion and, let's assume the greens are running at 10 on the stimp, you're going to see about 4 yards of difference between clubs.

"For example, I start with my 58-degree wedge. That rolls out 4 yards. My 52-degree wedge will roll out 8 yards. My pitching wedge will roll out 12 yards, 16 yards for the 9-iron and so on. You want to go all the way to your 4-iron, assuming that's the longest iron in your bag. Hit five balls, per club, per distance. That should take you about an hour. Keep in mind, these increments are for a perfectly flat chip. You'll need to adjust for uphill or downhill."

Day 3: Pitching

"Start at 20 yards and work out to 60 yards," Labritz said. "Hit 10 shots per yardage. in 10-yard increments and focus on what I like to call your 'adjustment skills.' What I mean by that don't hit the same shot twice. Work on different trajectories and focus on how the ball reacts. Remember, these are 'scoring distances,' so it's one of the most important areas to dedicate time. It's where you're either going to save or lose strokes during a round."

Day 4: Bunker play

"Get yourself in a bunker and work on shots from distances of 5, 10, 15 and 20 yards. Hit 10 shots from each spot, so a total of 40 shots in one hour. Once you get outside of 20 yards on bunker shots, it isn't so much that 'blasting out' type around the green."

Day 5: Specialty shots around the green

"Here, we're talking about hitting shots from the fringe, rough and fairway from a variety of lies with a hybrid, fairway woods, toe of the putter, etc. See how the ball reacts. This is all about self-discovery so -- if you find yourself in a precarious spot on the course -- it isn't a mystery as to how your ball will react with one of these types of shots. There's no right or wrong answer here. Try it all. If you're using a hybrid or fairway wood, just be mindful that it's going to roll out a lot more. You'll want to choke down all the way to the shaft for more control over the head."

Day 6: Short irons

"This is going to be 8-iron, 9-iron and pitching wedge. Hit full shots to see how far the ball is traveling. Generally speaking, the average golfer has about 10-yard gaps between clubs. So, hypothetically, if you're hitting a pitching wedge 100 yards, you should be hitting the 9-iron 110 yards and the 8-iron 120. Those are the clubs to work on aiming right at the flag. These aren't the clubs you want to be using to play to the fats of the greens. Go right at the hole. Make these scoring clubs. Hit 20 shots per club -- 60 shots in one hour, one shot a minute. Take your time and apply your focus to every shot. Go through your routine and then get into the shot."

Day 7: Mid irons

"This is 7-iron, 6-iron and 5-iron. Twenty balls per club. Mix this up and hit to a variety of targets. Maybe four different targets, five shots each. Unless I'm working on something specific, I like to mix it up with targets so it doesn't get boring or robotic."

Day 8: Long irons

"This isn't rocket science. Hit 30 balls each with your 3 and 4 irons and pay special attention to your ball position. The ball should move up ever so slightly in your stance the longer the club. If you carry a 2-iron, include that into the session and hit 20 balls with each."

Day 9: Hybrids

"If you carry three hybrids, hit 20 balls per club (30 if you only carry two hybrids). Mix up the shots you're hitting -- high, low, straight, draw, fade -- and mix up the targets."

Day 10: Fairway woods

"Generally, most people carry two of these -- a 3 and a 5. Practice hitting shots both off the ground and off a tee and see how you can work the shot."

Day 11: Driver

"Driver is an interesting one," Labritz said. "This is the most powerful club and requires the biggest motion. I'll generally hit 25-50 when really working on it. The routine is key, because you're going to do the same thing on the golf course. Try to envision the shape of the drives you'll be hitting on the course."

Final tips: "For all of these practice drills, make sure you lay down an alignment stick for every shot. Always, always, always use an aid. I also like to lay down a club perpendicular to the alignment aid for ball position. You want everything to be consistent. And most importantly -- again -- don't hit balls. Hit shots."

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 3, Game maintenance
February 1, 2017 - 5:46pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Matt Ryan, Tom Brady
YouTube
PGA Professional takes a look at the golf swings of Super Bowl 51 quarterbacks Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will square off against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 on Sunday night.

You may not have known this, but both quarterbacks are pretty darned good at golf too.

We tracked down our resident expert, PGA Professional Rob Labritz, to break down the golf swings of each of the NFL's best gunslingers.

For his part, Brady -- a four-time Super Bowl champion -- carries an 8 handicap. That's solid.

His counterpart Ryan, however, is an exceptional golfer with an enviable handicap of +1.2.

Here's a look at Brady's swing:

 

 

Labritz's analysis: "Tom's driver swing... It looks to me like he doesn't make a full move with his body all the way through the ball. It's almost a 3/4 move through the ball with his body. His body is secondary in the golf swing. He uses his hands and arms a lot, which is probably natural for a guy who plays his position. You're at the mercy of the clubface when you do that. If you're too quick, you're going to pull it. Not quick enough? You're leaving it out to the right. You're depending too much on timing. I'd like to see a fuller move to the ball and a full finish for Brady to get to scratch. His arms and hands do most of the driving. As a QB he might be sore sometimes and that could inhibit range of motion in the golf swing."

Here's a look at Ryan's golf swing:

 

 

Labritz's analysis: "Matt Ryan's got a pretty good move. He's a little handsy at the ball and creates a lot of speed there. That's probably where he gets his power. If his timing is off, he might hit it a little awry. I'd like to see him use his hands a little less. He creates a lot of speed there. The body looks great, but less hand action would serve him well because that closes the clubface down. Like Brady, that probably feels natural to Ryan being a quarterback. Overall though, he's got a nice, athletic swing. Have him call me for anything he needs!"

The verdict: "Ryan definitely has a better move through the ball and that's likely why he's a better player."

 

 

Analyzing the golf swings of Super Bowl quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan
January 26, 2017 - 1:12pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
Pritchard/PGA of America
In this week's installment of "Becoming a complete golfer," PGA Professional Rob Labritz focuses on your game preparation before a round of golf.

Editor's note: This is the second installment 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.

There are a number of variables involved in becoming the best golfer you can be.

After focusing on your body and fitness in part one of this six-part series last week, we now turn our attention to your game -- specifically how you go about practicing before a round of golf.

Our resident expert Rob Labritz, the low club pro at the 2010 PGA Championship and a man who was recently named 2017 Pro's Pro by Global Golf Post, has a full-bag tune-up you'll want to execute before heading out to play.

"I like to get to the course an hour and 15 minutes before my tee time," Labritz said. "That's enough to get through the entire bag and get the blood flowing before starting a round. I do want to stress, however, you don't want to knock yourself out hitting golf balls before going out to play."

RELATED: Become a complete golfer: Part 1, Body

Just like he envisions playing a hole on the course, Labritz approaches his warm-up session by going backwards from green to tee.

"After I've stretched out, I head right to the practice green," he said. "I start with 4-foot putts. I put my Eyeline Putting Mirror training aid down to make sure my set up is correct. It's a great training tool. When you're set up properly and you see balls going in the hole, your confidence is going to build."

Labritz estimates he hits 5-10 putts from that range, before backing into the 10-15 foot range with golf balls scattered on all four sides of the hole. That way, you're facing putts of every kind -- uphill, downhill, right-to-left and left-to-right.

"The key here," Labritz said, "Is to focus on speed. Don't worry about missing putts. Make sure your speed is right and they're finishing right next to the hole. That's going to give you a good idea of green speed."

From there, Labritz backs up to the fringe to hit chip shots -- 10-15 of them from a 5-yard to 25-yard range (all from the fringe, so hitting chips to hole locations further away on the green).

"Again, with this you're working on getting a feel for the speed of the greens, how those chips are going to roll out and, also, how that club is bottoming out in the fringe. How is the ball reacting when it hits the green?" Labritz said.

Now it's time to back up and work on those pitch shots.

"Personally speaking, I like to find the tightest lies that i can in the pitching area or on the range," Labritz said. "You like to hit pitch shots starting at 25 yards and work out to 100 yards. Hit about two balls from each distance -- 25-50-75-100. That's generally with your wedges, two with a 60-degree, two with 56, two with pitching, etc."

Following the pitch-shot routine, hop in a bunker.

"I like to hit 8-10 bunker shots from 10-20 yards to see the consistency of the sand," Labritz told us.

Once you've reached this part of your routine, you'll be warmed up and ready to move into the full swing.

"At this point, I like to hit one or two balls with every club in the bag," Labritz said. "Loosening your body up is most important -- hit two balls with 9-iron, 7-iron, 5-iron and 3-iron -- short to mid to long irons. That's another eight balls. You're at about 30 shots for warming up and starting to get to get to the maximum you'll want to reach before your tee time."

Lastly, Labritz hits a couple of balls with each fairway wood and hybrid, before finishing up with 3-5 driver shots.

"I can't stress enough -- don't wear yourself out," he said. "Between 20-30 shots is a good warm up and you've worked through your entire bag. Take it right to the course. I prefer ending with club that I am going to use on the opening hole."

Next week, we'll take a closer look at your game maintenance.

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 2, Game
January 19, 2017 - 12:58pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
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 - 11:50am
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