A Lesson Learned: Major adjustment for approach shots

By Sean Dougherty, PGA
Published on

I've played in so many golf tournaments in my life that it'd be impossible to recount them all. But I can promise you I'll never forget my week in Atlanta and my first major championship - the 93rd PGA Championship. The atmosphere, the galleries, the excitement - it's something you just can't describe unless you're in it. And as a member of The PGA of America - I'm really proud of my association for the way this championship was conducted.

I feel like I was ready for just about everything but the one item that did surprise me a little bit was the firmness of these greens. The course was in incredible shape, absolutely pristine. But with the heat and very little moisture, these champion bermuda greens were not as receptive as most golf venues I am used to.

So what did I learn? I learned to play the way that most amateur players should play. I don't think I hit one approach shot all week that spun back. I hit a few that would hit and stop - but I really don't think I spun one back. I didn't see many from any player zip back on a string.

How many approach shots do you hit that spin like you often see on Tour? I'm guessing not many. But everyday, I see amateurs still playing approach shots like they see Tour players do. Why?

I've always advocated, and this week, had to employ, a different strategy for players who for whatever reason; swing speed, type of ball, course conditions, etc. - can't rely on spinning approach shots to the hole.

Think of your approach like a long putt. That may, or probably, means you're not aiming at the flag. You want to pick a spot that will account for a roll forward and use the slopes and contours of the green to guide your ball towards the pin. It's a pretty simple concept really, but it's actually not as easy to make yourself do. I learned it this week. Your eyes and your brain are inclined to go towards the hole. But if conditions aren't favorable for it, you have to take another route.

Major championship golf is supposed to be the ultimate test. I am proud of my play though I'll rue a few shots I left out there that would have kept me around on the weekend. But it was still one of the great moments of my golf life. And even more, the next time I'm competing in a similar circumstance, I'll be even more prepared. I hope in reading this tip, you'll be a little better prepared for your next round as well.

Sean Dougherty is the PGA Head Professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kansas. Dougherty is also an accomplished player who has won numerous state and regional events and also recently set a course record at the West course at Hershey Country Club during the PGA Professional National Championship.  


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