Armchair Golf Pro: Bubba Watson Crushes It At Torrey Pines
The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events each week. Like you he is watching from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also pulling lessons and observations you can use to your advantage on the golf course to help you play better golf
Bubba Watson absolutely annihilated the ball in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He was the first player in a long time to win a PGA Tour event while leading in total driving distance, averaging 314 yards off the tee (and yes, that includes drives with his 3-wood!). Oh .. by the way, he also led the field in greens in regulation at a remarkable 80% (almost 15 out of 18 greens per round). He finished at -16 under par to beat Phil Mickleson by one shot.
Bubba is a free-swinger. His club goes up and outside on the take-away and crosses over the line at the top, his arms fly all over the place, his front foot spins out when he really goes after it, and he gets at least 3 inches of vertical clearance on both heels at impact.
As he stood at address on the 12th tee, a 477-yard par 4 dogleg left, Bubba was aimed so far off the fairway it looked like he was playing a different course. And then he killed it: slapping a 330-yard bullet slice right into the middle of a 20-yard wide fairway. He did the same thing on the par-5 13th hole.
The TV analysts (David Feherty and Gary McCord) were dumbfounded and had no idea what to make of his swing (by the way, Nick, the heels coming off the ground is related to balance, not torque!). The one thing they made a big deal of was how fast his hips turned to the target, and for those of you who’ve read The 5 Keys to Distance you will understand why I refer to hip speed as the engine of the swing and one of the keys to distance.
Bubba’s swing has so many moving parts going in so many directions that if he consciously tried to control any part of his swing nothing would work. But here’s what I like about it: When Bubba is playing well there’s virtually no interference from his thinking brain. It’s all feel. And that’s the Armchair Golf Pro’s lesson for today – the importance of feeling what you see in your mind’s eye.
We talk a lot about “visualizing” the shot before you hit it. Jack Nicklaus is quoted as saying that he never hit a shot without first “seeing” how the ball would fly, bounce, and come to rest near the target.
But visualizing is not enough. There is another step that comes after visualizing: translating what you imagine in your mind into a feeling of the swing. That’s where the magic happens, and that’s what it feels like when you are “in the zone.” Being able to feel what you see is what I call a “zone skill”, and it is a skill you can purposefully practice and develop. I spend a lot more time now on the range teaching these zone skills, and we’ll be talking a lot more about them in future posts.
Do you know why you take a practice swing? When I ask this question of students the usual answer is either “out of habit” or “to get loose.” But the real purpose of the practice swing should be to feel the shot you are imagining. That’s what the TV analysts missed.
Bubba can hit those shots because when he is in the “zone” there is a direct connection between what he sees and what he feels. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he did it in reverse: “feeling” a shot before he “sees” it – allowing the terrain and circumstances to bubble up an answer or “feel” for what will work in that situation, which his mind of imagination then solidifies with pictures. That’s ok. The important thing is to get to the feel of the shot so your thinking brain can get out of the way.
The analysts watching Bubba tee off on the 12th and 13th holes couldn’t fathom his outrageous alignment. But that’s because they don’t have a feel for how that shot could be executed.
Remember this: feeling a shot is actually the ultimate objective of imagining it first. We play our best when what we “see” and what we “feel” are in sync. So the next time I play my plan is to pay attention to how well I sync up the shot I imagine with the feel of the swing I need and see what it does for my scores.
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