Players Championship Review
Coming here from Charlotte I was wasn’t really expecting much, the reason for this is that I knew that I still had quite a bit of work to do on my swing. I spent the weekend in Quail Hollow working on my swing trying to bed down the changes that I have been making. While it certainly got better I knew coming here that I was still a couple of weeks away from being fully comfortable with it. The Players Championship is the biggest event on the PGA Tour; it is the flagship event and one that attracts one of the best field in golf. Over the years I have had mixed success at this event, I have twice finished second but I have also missed the cut a couple of times.
This year I made the cut on the mark - twice! I know it seems odd to say it but on the PGA Tour there is a second cut on the Saturday when more than 78 players make the weekend cut. I shot level par for the first two rounds to make it on the mark and then on Saturday I shot two over par to make the cut on the mark again. The funny thing about both cuts was that I had to hole good putts both times to make it to the next day. On Friday I was finishing on the 9th and I decided to play it safe and lay up; I hit my third shot to 25 feet which should have been a straight forward two putt but not for me. I hit my first putt four and half feet by to leave me with a tricky left to right putt to get into the weekend. On Saturday I was two over par playing the last hole which had me in a tie for 66th; I hit my three wood from the tee and pushed it right into the trees. I was lucky enough to have a gap to get it through to the green, I didn’t quite get it on the green but far enough up that I was able to putt it. I left my first putt about six feet short; I was standing over my second putt knowing that I had to hole it to make it into Sunday. Thankfully I did as I would have been very disappointed to not to be playing on Sunday. On Sunday I made more birdies than in any other round but again made too many mistakes, I finished up shooting level par for the round which left me in the mid forties. There is no doubt that it is disappointing to finish so far down the field and not to get into contention at all but on the plus side for me I made some good progress on my swing and also when I had to hole putts under the pressure of making the cut I did.
I knew coming here that it would be a struggle as far as getting into the tournament with the work that I have been doing on my swing. I would say that this week has been one of my hardest working weeks on the range in a long time. I probably spent at least fours hours after my rounds on Friday and Saturday on the range hitting balls. It has been a long time since I have hit balls at a tournament like this; I could really feel the affects in the mornings as I was tired all week. I definitely wore myself out on the range in the high temperatures, it is not something that I would want to revert back to full time; when I think back to my early career I can’t figure out how I did this all the time. However I definitely felt that by the end of the week that I was making good progress.
The big story of the week as far I am concerned is the mini intervention that I had with some of my team. It started with Caroline over the phone and then Bob Rotella and Ronan; they were all basically saying the same thing to me. This was that I need to forget about the technical practise that I am doing and get back into the frame of mind that allows me to play golf. I can see that I have gotten a bit obsessive about my swing in the last couple of months but it is only as a result of finding the answer to something that has plagued me for quite a while. I am fully convinced that I am on the right road and that I am nearing the end. As I said to the journalist at the end of my round on Sunday, every time I have moved up to another level in my career I have looked at my game and figured out what I need to improve. This time is no different; I have to accept that I needed to take a step backwards so as to allow me to go forward a couple of steps. However, having said that I am fully aware that I have probably gotten a little side tracked by it all and that it is now time to try and forget about it and concentrate on golf. I feel that in about another week or two that I will have gotten comfortable with what I am trying to do in my swing and that from there on I will be totally focused on playing golf.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t leave me in a great position for the Irish Open; I won’t have it fully ironed into my swing for Thursday so I will probably have to play with a swing thought again. This is not ideal but there is nothing else that I can do, that said it doesn’t mean that I won’t be trying hard to get into contention so as to give myself a chance to win.
So as far as this week goes it is a case of a lot done but more to do. I will be working hard on it for the next few weeks so that I am ready for the US Open.
Players Championship Preview
In previous years the TPC was in March but now it has fully settled into its new date in May. Coming in off a missed cut is not exactly the best preparation but there is nothing I can do about it. After missing the cut last week I stayed around in Charlotte and did some practice so I am feeling a little more comfortable with my swing. I am still not totally at ease with the new move and so I have been working on it quite a bit so far this week.
On Monday I only played six holes as I spent most of the day on the range working on my swing. Even tough it is beginning to feel better I know that there is a good bit of work to be done before it has fully settled down. After a long day hitting balls I played the 10th, 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th, it was late when I teed off so I decided to skip a few on the back nine. I was keen to play the last three holes as these holes are always hugely important in this tournament. Tuesday was a very similar day to Monday in terms of what I got up too; I practiced pretty much most of the day and then late in the evening I went out and played from the fourth to the ninth. As I have played here for a number of years now I don’t feel under any pressure to play the course. In between my practice on Tuesday I spent a bit of time with Bob Rotella discussing what I am changing and going through how best to do this and also get my mental work done. As ever Bob always has some good insights and helps to make things clearer for me.
Wednesday of most tournaments means that it is pro-am day but this week there isn’t one, so I practiced for a couple of hours and then played the back nine with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Wednesday is a big day at the Players Championship as it is the caddy shot on the 17th and there is a great buzz around the course because of it. There was a lot of banter in our three ball as a result of this, last year Ronan shanked it into the water which meant that I got to remind him of it for the year. This year he hit a very good shot right over the pin to twenty feet; unfortunately it wasn’t good enough to win as Robert Karlsson’s caddy was leading with a shot to 6 feet when we went through. After the nine holes I went on and played six holes on the front nine on my own. My practice went quite well so I am happy enough with how everything is going.
When I was in my press conference on Tuesday I was asked about my form and the swing changes that I am making. I explained that I was working towards improving my swing so as to make me a better player and that this can often mean having to take a step backwards in the short term. My results haven’t been great but I am not worrying about them as I know that I am moving in the right direction and that once it comes together it will make a big difference.
The course is in fantastic conditions this year; it has been closed for play for the last three weeks. When I played it first on Monday I was almost afraid to take a divot because the fairways were perfect. This is one of the most famous courses in the world but even though the course is well known it is the last three holes that are well known. I think every golfer knows the last three holes here: The 16th is a 527 yards par 5 that doglegs right to left and has water from half way down and all around the green. It is easily reachable in two. It is not about length off the tee here as the second shot can be treacherous as the green gets very firm and the pins are nearly always close to the water. To be able to get to the green you have to hit the fairway and even if you do it is a tough second shot. The biggest problem on this hole is the lay up if you can’t reach the green as there is a tree over-hanging the green which makes the pitch very difficult. It is a hole that you feel you should birdie but in trying to force one you can easily have a disaster.
The 17th is one of the most famous holes in golf. It is short par 3, at only 140 yards, but it is one of the most terrifying golf holes you can play. It is an island green and the wind swirls around the teeing area and the green. I always try to play a shot to this hole as it helps in controlling the distance and also in eliminating the wind effect. You are never happy until you see your ball on dry land. Four pars is a great return on this hole!
The 18th is 464 yards with water all up the left. The extra length on this hole makes the drive easier as you don’t try and cut the corner; it is now the second shot that is harder. Anything missing the green left is in the water and anything missing it right is a near impossible up and down. You really feel that you have to hit a good shot in here; it puts you under a lot of pressure! Anyone who plays this hole in level par will make up shots on the field.
The course that we play nowadays is very different to the one that I have had success on; the course that I played well on had different grass on the greens and very heavy rough. Since the tournament moved to its new date in May the course has been changed considerably. It used to have heavy rough, somewhat like a US Open, but now it has light rough, which is very hard to control the ball from the ball tends to fly from it. It does make the course play easier in one sense as there is not so much pressure on you to hit the fairways but it definitely puts more emphasis on your short game.
Like last week I will be playing with a swing thought for the week, however different to last week, I have spent a good bit of time practicing my short game. I am still a little unsure as to what to expect due to all the work I have been doing on my swing but I am certainly a lot more confident with my short game.
Talk to you soon, Padraig