Keegan Bradley: Better Practice Your Short Game

Interesting reading in the transcripts tonight from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Last year’s winner of the PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley, was talking about how he ended up in that event:

Q.  Keegan, can you just go through the steps in your career that got you to the PGA Championship, what were the key elements of getting there?

You know, it started out, it started at St. John’s [University] and I kind of got passed over a little bit.  I’ve always been playing with a chip on my shoulder.

I was able to luckily play a year on the Hooters Tour where at one point I was down to $1,200 in my bank account.  I ended up winning that week and I think that that was the start of the PGA Championship.

I kind of from then – from there forward I’ve really been improving and playing better and I’m work with Jim McLean [Director of Instruction at Doral] and [prominent sports psychologist, Bob] Rotella and people that help me, too.

Being down to just $1,200 in your bank account might seem to be a nice problem to have, but not if you’re a tour pro trying to stretch your weekly travel expenses. Between the airfare, the car, the hotel, the food, the caddie, etc., $1,200 can be gone in the blink of an eye. Plus, while you’re incurring new expenses, payments on the old ones on the credit cards are due each month.

It’s not a good place to be when you’re trying to learn how to play professional golf and your mind has to be clear. On the other hand, looking back, it makes for a hell of a story. Don’t we all just love these rags-to-riches stories?

Q.  Working with Rotella, I mean I kind of know what he tells me, but what is the most important things he’s told you?

You know, just the fact of not try too hard out on the golf course.  You know, try less and just be more relaxed.

I think, you know, a lot of rookies, lot of guys first come out, they try to force playing well than to just relax and let it happen and that’s been kind of our goal, me and Rotella, to do that more than go out there and try to press it.

This kind of goes to the posts I’ve written in the past about “Force of Will.” There is a fierce competitor in each of us somewhere that wants to win. But until we learn that that can be no more than a benign ignition source, it will more often than not crowd out the calm, relaxed state of mind required to play at the highest levels of our games.

Q.  Been very consistent this year, no missed cuts, T-27th your worse.  What’s behind the consistency of the play?

I think that it has a lot to do with it being my second year on Tour, knowing the courses and the cities but also me and Jim McLean took a hard look at my stats and decided the short game will be much better, especially my bunker play and my chipping, and we focused on that in the off-season. And I turned those two areas into one of my strengths which is the reason why I think I’ve been contending every – almost every week.

Ah, the short game. Everybody knows how important it is, but so many merely pay lip service to it.

Our sixth course here at Desert Mountain is a cunning Jack Nicklaus-designed gem. Neatly folded into a much smaller piece of property than the first five courses, Outlaw offers a links-like experience in the desert. Many of the greens are elevated and require an approach shot that carries onto the green surface. But it has to be away from the edges; get too close to the edges and the ball rolls down into a swale, frequently a deep one.

In the beginning, when we were all learning how to play the course, a tee shirt surfaced in the pro shop displays that said, “I Survived Outlaw.”

You could do better than survive if you had a decent short game, but some of our members were a little like Keegan Bradley; they knew the basics of the short game, they just didn’t want to practice it.

And it’s too bad because they are depriving themselves of a rambling, scrambling, fun golf experience on a very tidy course. Some of them have just stopped playing it.

If they could just learn the basic chip shot, that could make a huge difference because everything stems from that: bunt the ball in a low trajectory onto a spot just on the green that will cause the ball to roll the rest of way to the hole like a putt.

Once you can master that simple little shot, you can begin to experiment with higher trajectories to carry the ball over small bumps or ridges. And in time, working up to a high pitch shot that carries all the trouble and much of the green and comes to rest near the pin.

That’s it conceptually, the rest is all getting the reps so that you can trust it.

At least that’s what Keegan Bradley did.

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