A Lesson Learned: Becoming an elite player

Mike Small
Montana Pritchard, The PGA of America
PGA Professional Mike Small has excelled at many levels of golf.
Mike Small, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, September 18, 2011 | 7:20 p.m.

This past Monday, I played at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Illinois - the venue for the BMW Championship and second-to-last event of the FedExCup Playoffs on the PGA Tour. I then came to CordeValle to represent my country and my association in competing in my fourth PGA Cup.

So what did I learn this past week and how can it help you?

I learned two things: one that will help me and one that should help all players who want to play at a higher level.

First of all, in a match play format like this, I get to compete in a format that my players (at the Univ. of Illinois) have to compete in. And anytime I play in this type of format, I learn so much about strategy, decision making, patience and game-management. So I benefitted greatly as a coach as well as a player.

For other players, I learned that to play great golf, you have to have all the shots. If you are looking to be a great player, an elite player, you have to have the total package.

What I mean by that is, I see so many good players who tailor their games to a particular type of shot. They refer to it as their "stock shot." Maybe it's a high fade off the tee. Maybe it's a high flop near the green. That's fine and good. But is it enough to get you to the next level? Can that game travel to some of the more demanding, and varied, layouts in the country? I don't think so.

When I look for players for my team, or I want to compete at the highest levels of golf, I know that I have to have all facets of my game working. I want to have a variety of shots, of pitches, of chips, to be able to read and putt on different types of greens, under different types of conditions - whatever the situation and the course itself may call for.

So when I look back on this week, I'll think of my time at the BMW Open Championship and seeing the world's top players there. And then coming here to CordeValle and playing among the world's top PGA Club Professionals. I know the amount of work and effort and practice all these guys put into their game. And it's paid off well for them.

If you're looking to take your game to elite levels, practice knowing that excelling at one course or mastering one type of shot may propel you to great golf heights locally, but won't at a larger, perhaps national level. You're going to need the total package. And if you know that up front, you'll be a better golfer for it immediately. Good luck!

Mike Small is the Head Coach of the University of Illinois Men's Golf Team. Small has taken the Fighting Illini to national prominence and three consecutive Big Ten titles. Small also has a storied playing career winning nine Illinois PGA Championships, four Illinois Opens, played in ten major championships including 7 PGA Championships and has won three PGA Professional National Championships (tied for the most with Larry Gilbert).

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