January 26, 2017 - 12:12pm
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 - 11:58am
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.

MORE TIPS: Game | Game Maintenance | Mind | Nutrition | Equipment

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
August 24, 2016 - 1:23pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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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
August 18, 2016 - 8:26am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rob Labritz offers putting tips
USA Today Sports Images
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