March 12, 2019 - 9:01am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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tpc sawgrass
USA Today Sports Images
There are few holes in golf as intimidating as the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass. But with the right training and mindset, you can make holes like that play a lot easier than they look.

As with any Players Championship week, much of the talk is centered around one specific hole at TPC Sawgrass — the iconic, par-3 17th.

The hole measures no more than 130 yards when it's playing its longest — a pitching wedge for most guys.

But, when you factor in the wind and the fact that you're hitting the ball to a small, island green, that's where it can get extra intimidating.

MORE: Tee times, pairings for The Players | How to watch

Designer Pete Dye is known for that kind of thing. He's an evil genius. He designs his courses so that even the best players in the world are never comfortable.

So how do you conquer a hole as intimidating as 17 at Sawgrass so not to ruin an otherwise great round?

PGA Professional Rob Labritz, Director of Golf at GlenArbor in Bedford Hills, N.Y. has the answer.

"When you look at a hole like No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass, the average golfer sees the trouble," Labritz said. "The pro is focused on where he or she wants to land the ball. It's a mindset and all about how you train yourself. As you get more control over the ball, you can pinpoint it like a sniper. On a hole like that, you want to be thinking 'aim small, miss small.'"

Being able to apply that philosophy is a trained skill, Labritz said.

"It's not as easy as just going out there and doing it," he told "It's about reps and training your mind to trick your brain. It's about commitment -- standing up to the shot, picking a target, having done your due diligence on the yardage and outside factors like wind, and then forgetting about everything else and hitting your target."

Thankfully for most of us, playing a tee shot from the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass isn't going to be the same as it is in the final round of a Players Championship with the pressure of contending and all the crowds.

MORE: These are the craziest things that have happened on TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole

And that's a good thing, Labritz said, because it's much easier to train yourself when there isn't a ton of pressure to start out.

If you're like a lot of golfers, an intimidating hole on a golf course you're playing might be something you start thinking about before even arriving at the course.

For stronger players, Labritz said, you don't think about what's going on in the future -- just the task at hand, the one in the present.

"Don't let your brain drift there," he said. "Stay with the hole you're on and the shot you're on. Totally stay in the present. It's a skill you've got to learn. You can't all of the sudden say, 'I'm only going to focus on the shot I'm on.' You have to trick your brain. It takes time and effort, just like learning how to hit a high draw."

As is the case with anything in life, confidence goes a long way.

"If you're thinking about water, you're probably going to hit it there," Labritz said. "If you're thinking solely about a spot on the green you want to hit it to, chances are you're going to hit it there. Have a 'sniper mentality.' Aim small, miss small." 

Golf tips: Train your brain to tackle an intimidating hole
January 5, 2018 - 5:46pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Matt Ryan, Tom Brady
PGA Professional takes a look at the golf swings of quarterbacks Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, along with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons make their return to the NFL playoffs this weekend.

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 five-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
August 20, 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.

Sunday was match-play filled day in the world of golf.

The best players from the U.S. and Europe in women's golf battled for the Solheim Cup in Iowa, with the U.S. prevailing behind dominant performances from Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson.

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
Phil Mickelson
@PGATOUR on Twitter
Phil Mickelson pulled off an incredible flop shot from a greenside bunker on Sunday. We chatted with PGA Professional Jeff Martin about when -- and if -- you should attempt such a shot.

In Sunday's final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point, Phil Mickelson did what he's done his entire career and absolutely dazzled us with an amazing shot from a greenside bunker at the par-4 seventh hole.

Just 321 yards in length, Mickelson nearly drove the green, but ended up just left in the bunker.

Faced with a 46-yard bunker shot, that's where Mickelson got extra creative.

RELATED: Final results from Wells Fargo Championship | John Daly pays tribute to Arnie

Rather than play what Johnny Miller might describe as a "chunk and run" from that position, Mickelson went way up high with a massive flop shot that he hit into a bank well past and well right of the hole, but as soon as the ball hit the green, it spun back to within inches of the cup.

And, just like that, he made a birdie.

Here's the shot:

We tracked down PGA Professional Jeff Martin, the head professional at Norton Country Club in Norton, Mass., to find out when you should play a flop shot from a bunker, if you should play such a shot and how you can pull it off.

"First off, as incredible as that shot was -- and it was amazing -- Phil had some factors going for him," Martin told "We never got to see his lie in the bunker, but based on the trajectory of the shot, it's safe to assume it was either on a slope, or in a flat spot. Because of the rain they had last week, the sand was probably compacted. The greens were soft. So, to get it there, he had to fly it all the way. It was a last resort kind of shot. He also had a nice back shelf to hit it into... but he still had to pull it off."

And that's exactly what he did. Expertly.

"Nothing Phil does should surprise us anymore. He's that good," Martin said. "John Q amateur probably shouldn't try that shot though. There's just too much going on that can go wrong. Why take less club and swing that hard when you can take more club and swing like a normal bunker shot? Hit a gap-wedge or sand-wedge easy from that spot instead of trying to dial up a perfect lob shot. Don't force it."

Martin said it's important to study your lie first and foremost. If the bunker is compacted, the shot is going to come out quicker, whereas if you find yourself in some fluffy stuff, it's going to be slower.

"On those longer shots like Phil hit, I would suggest taking a little more club, set up the same as you would for a normal bunker shot -- open stance, open clubface, use the bounce of the club and splash it out," Martin said. "You need to read that lie too since it's going to determine what you can do."

The biggest issue with bunker shots that Martin sees with most amateurs has to do with trust.

They're afraid, he said, to open the clubface, trust the bounce and let the club slide through the sand.

"Instead, people dig that leading edge into the sand and there's no follow through," Martin said. "When that happens, guess what? You're back to square one because the ball is staying in that bunker. Use the bounce of the club. That's why it's there. Get the ball forward in your stance -- more toward your left heel than center. Trust your swing and, just like every shot, face your target when you're done. Too many people stop and stuff the club into the ground and the ball stays right there."

Golf tips: When and if you should hit a bunker flop-shot like Phil Mickelson
February 2, 2017 - 1:27pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
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 and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz.  

Become a complete golfer: Part 3, Game maintenance