May 5, 2016 - 10:03am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
Trying to beat those milestone scores like 100, 90, 80 and 70? In the third of this four-part series, PGA Professional Rob Labritz offers up some great advice that's sure to make you a better player. For this week, Labritz focuses on those trying to break 80.

In this week’s “best advice” column with PGA Professional Rob Labritz, we’re turning our eyes to the better players out there who are on the cusp of a single-digit handicap – the ones looking to break “80” on a consistent basis.

Even if your game fits into this category, you’re going to want to go back and touch up on the tips for breaking “100” and breaking “90.” After all, Labritz’s entire theory of becoming a better player starts at the green and working your way backwards to the tee.

So, provided you’ve gotten yourself comfortable with the short game inside of 100 yards, this is the piece for you.

How the heck can you break 80?

RELATED: Advice for breaking 100 | Advice for breaking 90 | Instruction videos

Labritz chalks it up to just two things: iron control and driver control.

It may seem simple, but there’s some “charting” that goes into it – and that starts with the irons.

“There are a few things I use,” said Labritz, fresh off a win in the MasterCard Westchester PGA Championship on Thursday. “First, you want to get access to some type of measuring device. If you can use something like Trackman, or another type of launch monitor, or even the Game Golf device, that’s a great place to start. The thing is, you want to learn how far your ball travels with each iron.”

Once you figure that out, Labritz said, it eliminates the guesswork.

“Play a couple of rounds, or spend time on the range just dialing in the distances your irons travel,” Labritz said. “And if you don’t have access to what we’ve already covered, a laser rangefinder will work too. Once you’re hitting consistent iron shots, hit the target where the ball is landing with a laser and see how far it’s flying.”

When you get comfortable with that, it’s time to step back to the tee.

“The key to hitting a tee shot has nothing to do with hitting it as far as you can,” Labritz said. “It’s all about positioning. It’s about playing the hole from the green backwards. When you’re on the tee, imagine you’re looking down the fairway from the green and ask yourself, ‘where do I have to hit this tee shot to give myself the best position to get my iron-shot approach into the area of the flag on this green?’”

Like most, you may be programmed to think that with driver in hand, you should take a mighty lash at the ball from the tee. You’re wrong. Over-swinging leads to problems with balance and that’s the reason for your wayward tee shots.

Labritz has a simple fix for that.

“One driver drill I love is to take a full swing at half speed on the driving range,” he said. “Give yourself a pretend fairway between two targets. Using full motion, only swing half speed. Two things will happen when you do this. First, you’ll get control of your driver face. And two, you’re quickly going to realize that you don’t have to swing so hard with the driver. Over-swinging makes it hard to hit fairways, which – you guessed it – makes it very difficult to break 80.”

To summarize: having control of your driver and control of your irons – specifically the distances they travel – is going to allow you to properly position yourself off the tee, giving you better access to greens and pin positions. Better players hit more greens in regulation.

“The big problem is that people hit the wrong club for the shot,” Labritz said. “That decreases accuracy and increases scores. If you follow the steps we laid out today, you’re going to develop comfort and balance and that’s going to build confidence, which will result in lower scores.”

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

Best advice for breaking 80 from PGA Professional Rob Labritz
April 28, 2016 - 9:26am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rob Labritz
USA Today Sports Images
Trying to beat those milestone scores like 100, 90, 80 and 70? In the second of this four-part series, PGA Professional Rob Labritz offers up some great advice that's sure to make you a better player. For this week, Labritz focuses on those trying to break 90.

It's no secret that if you're going to shoot lower scores on the golf course, it's going to take a commitment to improving your short game.

In last week's "Best advice for breaking 100" piece, PGA Professional Rob Labritz put an emphasis on putting and chip shots.

This week, as we look toward breaking 90, Labritz says we're still going to use that idea of "working from the green backwards to the tee."

"The gist of it is this -- if you're a player struggling to break 90, chances are you're not hitting a lot of greens in regulation," Labritz said. "To make up for that shortcoming, you're going to need to get dialed in from 100 yards and in. If you want to consistently break 90, you need to dedicate time to working on pitch shots from 100 yards and in with all of your wedges -- pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge and lob wedge."

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

With the ball in the middle of your stance, Labritz said to start hitting shots with all your wedges beginning at 30 yards and working yourself up to 100 yards in 10- to 15-yard increments.

"Using all your wedges results in two big positives for your game," he said. "First of all, you're going to develop touch by understanding how long a swing you need to use to reach those distances. Secondly, you're going to give yourself options on these shots."

Those options, Labritz said, relate to two things: trajectory and roll out on the green.

Since a shot with a pitching wedge will have a lower trajectory than one with a lob wedge, it's going to have more roll out on the green.

"You need to tighten up the wedges," Labritz said. "You're going to find out the different trajectories with which you hit each of your wedges and then you're going to see where the ball lands and where it rolls out. You've got to hit these shots from the fairway and the rough since the ball will respond differently from the rough -- it will affect the trajectory. Once you get the hang of all your wedges, you're going to have access to front flags, middle flags and back flags because you'll know how each wedge shot is going to react."

Early in this process of dialing in your wedges, Labritz recommends taking just half swings -- hip-high on the backswing and hip-high on the way through -- from 30, 40 and 50 yards out.

Once that feels comfortable, you can start moving back -- up to 100 yards tops -- and lengthening the swing. This process is designed to also help you build a solid foundation for the full swing, which will come later.

It's also important, Labritz noted, to spend time working on 8- to 10-yard bunker shots.

"Again, it's all about developing feel and getting familiar with how your ball reacts from different types of lies," he said.

The bottom line is this for those of us who want to consistently break 90: get comfortable with your scoring clubs. 

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.

Best advice for breaking 90 from PGA Professional Rob Labritz
Seldom seen and spoken less, the S-H-A-N-K is the scariest shot in golf. A low missile screaming to the right of the target, the dreaded hosel rocket is ugly, unpredictable, inexplicable and known to infect even the best golfers in the world. Just last month, veteran tour player Brian Henninger was playing a fine round in frigid conditions on the opening day of the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Then he reached the par-3 seventh and shanked his tee shot into the water, leaving NBC Sports commentator Gary Koch no choice but to utter the forbidden word.
 
However, Henninger is hardly the first professional to send an iron shot sideways with thousands watching. 
 
 
U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson frequently hits shanks, including on the eighth tee at Medinah Country Club during his singles match in the 2012 Ryder Cup.  Jack Nicklaus was defending champion in the 1964 Masters, yet on the par-3 12th he shanked his tee shot over the heads of Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Going back to the days of the mashie niblick, J.H. Taylor won five Open Championships between 1894 and 1913 but still caught an occasional case of the shanks.  
 
Also known as “socketing,” the first written reference to a shank occurred in 1910, according to United States Golf Association historian Victoria Student, in the USGA Archives. It became part of the lexicon during the 1920s and 1930s, frequently appearing in the popular golf publications of that era, such as American Golfer and Golf Illustrated. Those reports range from educational to instructional to humorous, such as the tale from a practice round at the 1926 U.S. Open at Scioto Country Club in Ohio, where long-hitting Charles Hall of Birmingham, Ala., shanked a shot into a caddie’s mouth, injuring “only the boy’s dignity,” according to Golf Illustrated.
 
Over the years, we've been introduced to “Shankapotamus,” “Shank you very little” and other lighthearted terms and phrases to cast humor on a terrifying result. But it’s the unpredictability that makes the shot so befuddling and detrimental to a golfer’s confidence, as Anders Mattson, director of instruction at Saratoga National Golf Club in New York, explains.
 
“You could be going along just fine, hitting fairways, hitting greens, then suddenly a ball goes 45 degrees to the right and without notice, you suddenly feel like a 30 handicapper,” said Mattson, the 2014 and 2015 NENY PGA Section Teacher of the Year. “And, what’s worse is that you might believe you are a 30 handicapper!”
 
Many golfers misinterpret what causes a shank, Mattson said. Initial feedback leads them to believe the clubface was open when they hit the shot, but but Mattson challenges anyone to head to a driving range and intentionally try to shank a shot with an open clubface. 
 
“It’s nearly impossible and takes a great deal of hand-eye coordination to actually hit the ball poorly,” he said. 
 
Overanalyzing what produced the shot can actually do more harm than good. 
 
“So instead of swing adjustments, plane adjustments, clubface adjustments or path adjustments, we simply need to identify why the player missed the club face and hit the ball too close to the heel,” Mattson said.
 
Exposing the heel of the club to the ball too often can be the result of any number of swing or setup deficiencies. It’s common for a golfer to pull the next shot after a shank. But forgetting the shot – even laughing it off – and not allowing it to sidetrack a round or ruin your day is the best policy. 
 
“Try your best to accept the shot when it happens and treat it as an anomaly,” Mattson said.  “If the shot persists, you may have a pattern that causes you to hit the heel of the club too often, so make sure to check in with your golf coach and come up with a plan to help hit the ball in the middle of the clubface more often.” 
 
Shanks happen: Don't let one bring you down
April 6, 2015 - 8:25am
Michael.Benzie's picture
Golf for juniors
Chance Rinkol from Leawood, KS, reacts after chip his ball into the hole during the 7-9 Boys Division at the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Golf is unique treat that can be enjoyed at any age. Teach a child to play and they’ll have a foundation in place for decades of enjoyment on the course alongside friends and family. This is something we saw last weekend with the second Drive, Chip and Putt Championship held at Augusta National. It was a great reminder of the enjoyment both adults and the youth themselves receive from the game.

PGA Professional Justin Blazer, the director of instruction at Duran Golf Club in Viera, Fla., wants his students to have fun learning and cultivates their interest by drawing inspiration from other athletic pursuits.

MORE: Winners of the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship | Photos | Register for 2016

“Golf has the perception that it’s hard,” Blazer said. “But it’s no different than any other sport. Sometimes we put golf on a pedestal. Hard work, proper practice and good coaching, all elements necessary to being a good athlete in any sport, are the same elements necessary in golf.”

Here are nine tips to keep golf fun and exciting for junior golfers.

1. Find a PGA Professional, give your child room to grow. Research your area and locate an instructor who specializes in junior golf programs, is certified, or at the least has significant experience teaching kids. Then, offer support and encouragement but allow the pro to give the golf advice. Too much information from too many sources can strip the joy from the process of learning how to play golf.

2. Group instruction works best. Blazer played college basketball, so he comes from a team sport background. He reflects on growing up playing little league baseball, when he looked forward to practicing for a couple of hours because it meant a chance to hang out with his buddies. With the time available between shots, golf is the most social game. Instruction should follow this lead. Kids who learn, laugh, improve and struggle together are more likely to return for more.

3. Younger kids need variety. You’re never too young to learn, but the smallest swingers need a mixture of activities to keep clinics and lessons fresh and exciting. For Paul Johnson, head pro at the Links at Lost Plantation in Rincon, Ga., this might include an impromptu game of freeze tag in the midst of a driving range session, an obstacle course session or whacking tennis balls instead of golf balls to build confidence and break monotony. Any activity that emphasizes hand-eye coordination, balance or athletic movement benefits a golfer’s early development. Even if it doesn’t include touching a golf club or ball.

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4. Don’t sweat the details. Solid fundamentals are important, but it’s fine for a beginner to have flaws in their grip or stance as long as they are hitting the ball, having fun and wanting to return to the course. Blazer believes his students’ pleasure is more important than applying undue stress in pursuit of perfection. If the time comes, he likes to turn his pupil into the teacher, have them ask questions about why such a change might be necessary. That keeps the students invested in the decision.

5. Get on course - as soon as possible. Juniors who spend too much time banging balls on the driving range can easily lose interest. Besides, the golf course is where the game really comes alive, remains fun and fresh, poses a unique set of circumstances each day. A golfer understands the reason to spend quality time practicing chipping or bunker play once they’re faced with those challenges on the golf course.

6. Let your child decide, it’s their journey. Not all junior golfers will want to play in tournaments. Some might like to compete, but only in a group setting. And others may enjoy the game just because they can be outside and spend hours sharing good shots and laughter with friends. Parents who push their child down the wrong path may drive their child away from the game. The decision to pursue a tournament title, college scholarship or professional career should always come from the golfer and no one else.

7. Slumps are part of sports. Every golfer reaches a point where scores aren’t improving because putts don’t drop or drives miss their target. Understand that all athletes have stretches where they simply don’t perform their best, sometimes for reasons that defy explanation - if they can be identified at all. Baseball hitters, field goal kickers, 3-point shooters all deal with low periods during a season, Blazer points out. Dwelling on what’s gone wrong can bring any golfer down. To maintain perspective, set reachable intermediate goals and keep the focus on the process of having fun.

8. Parents, don’t rush to spend. It’s tempting to rush out and buy expensive golf clubs and flashy clothes as soon as your son or daughter mentions they’d like to spend an afternoon on the golf course. Hold on to your debit card for a minute, however. Expose your child to the game first. Many instructors have clubs available for kids to use during lessons or clinics. If your child decides they like the game and want to continue playing, then find equipment that fits them. Proper club length and weight are imperative for young beginners. Clubs that are too long or heavy can introduce bad swing habits.

9. Enjoy this game together. Father and son, mother and daughter. Walk nine holes on a warm summer evening. Start a holiday tradition of sharing a round, and observe it whether there’s rain, sleet or wind. Watch the major championships, learn the rich history of the game and discuss your favorite players. Attend a PGA or LPGA Tour event and observe those who play the game best. Find time to play a round on a family vacation. Celebrate the good shots, forget the bad ones, laugh a lot and let each memory soak in.

 

 

 

Nine tips to help junior golfers
March 10, 2015 - 12:39pm
Posted by:
Greg Stephens
Gregory Stephens's picture
Playing golf pregnant
Greg Stephens
Randi Stephens is an avid golfer who loves the game. She and her husband, PGA Professional Greg Stephens, are expecting their first child but that hasn’t stopped Randi from enjoying the game she loves.

By Greg Stephens, PGA; Director of Golf at Victory Ranch; Nike Golf Elite Advisory Staff

My wife Randi is an avid golfer who loves the game. We are expecting our first child but that hasn’t stopped Randi from enjoying the game she loves.

Golf is a great way to enjoy being outside and get good exercise while pregnant. Be sure to consult with your physician before participating in any physical activity when pregnant.

My wife’s doctor loved and endorsed the idea of Randi continuing to play golf throughout her pregnancy. It is a good way to keep your core strong since most core exercises should be put on hold during this time.

What you need to know

The biggest keys we have worked on with Randi’s swing are balance and not over swinging. Be sure to spend some time warming up before you play.

Start with pitch shots and gradually increase the length of your swing. This will help get your core loose before making full swings. It is also a great way to find out where the limit of your swing is that day. 

Randi’s swing has gotten a little bit shorter as her range of motion is slightly limited, with this has come a little bit of distance loss with her irons. Taking one extra club with your irons will solve this issue. Do not try to over swing or hit the ball harder as this will have an effect on your balance.

READ: How throwing your club can actually help your swing

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy may have an effect on how long your swing is. You may go from full swings to three-quarter length swings and possibly even half-swings.

Listen to your body and don’t try to make long swings like you typically would. 

Tempo is extremely important here. Since your swing may be getting shorter you may feel the need to swing faster so be aware of this and swing with a smooth and relaxed tempo. Focusing mainly on balance and tempo will help you make solid contact with your clubs. 

READ: How to use Instagram to market your golf course

Try to hold your finish a little longer than you typically would, this is a great way to ensure good balance and tempo. Again, listen to your body and don’t over-do it. 

Some days you may have the stamina to play all 18 holes, other days maybe 9 holes is enough and some days maybe you skip a hole or two throughout the round.  You don’t have to put golf on hold when you’re pregnant, just being out there continuing to enjoy the game you love is the key.

Playing golf pregnant - Enjoying the game when expecting