In what's become somewhat of a tradition for me, I am writing "A Lesson Learned" for the Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua. And though this year's event isn't the traditional "Kick off" for the season as past tournaments have been, it certainly had the same excitement and drama that we've come to expect from such a great championship.
Also familiar is seeing Zach Johnson accept the championship trophy. The last event of 2013 had him doing the same thing at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge here in California - when he holed out from the fairway to force a playoff (which he won) with Tiger Woods. Yes, Mr. Johnson is certainly on a roll.
And the beauty of Zach's game is that it is a great way for us all to become better players. He's not a big bomber and that obviously doesn't bother him in the least. He conquered the Plantation course (-19!) the same way he took down the competition at Augusta National when he captured the green jacket - by meticulously working around the course based on his game and his strengths.
I teach a number of students who I have to remind often that they don't have to get caught up in how others are playing. It's nice to be the longest hitter in the group, but that certainly doesn't automatically mean lower scores. What Zach Johnson did this past week was chip, pitch and putt better than anyone else. The end result was his 11th career PGA Tour victory.
So what can you take away from Zach's win for your game? Short game, short game, short game.
I consider the short game 40-50 yards and in. And that includes pitch shots, chips, bunker play and putting. How much of your practice do you devote to them? My recommendation is: 2/3 of your practice time should be from 50 yards and in. And your weekly or monthly round doesn't count as practice. You only get one golf ball there. Set aside time to really work on your game as often as you can and work near the green. That's where you'll improve the most and the fastest. As Zach Johnson showed - if you can control that aspect of your game...you can score as well as anyone.
Ben Alexander is a PGA Teaching Professional at Bayonet Blackhorse Golf Course on the Monterey Peninsula. Alexander was the 2004 Northern California PGA Teacher of the Year and the 2013 Northern California Teacher of the Year for the Monterey Bay chapter. You can contact Ben at benalexandergolf.com