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 signing autographs on the putting...

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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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13 Responses

  1. Orlando Golf says:

    Bubba Watson is very impressive. I’m surprised he played so well! This was a remarkable feet and I hope we can see more competitive players enter the PGA.

    – Lightman

  2. Jim Merwin says:

    Thank you for clarifying Push-off vs. Plant. That make good sense.

    In your explanation you mentioned that when you are in “the zone” you feel a connection between the back of your left shoulder and the target and that it feels like you start the downswing with your left shoulder. That observation fascinated me so I tried starting my downswing by pushing my left shoulder troward the target and I was stunned by the results. I hit the ball significantly further and straighter than I have in years. When I hit it flush the ball seemed to pick up speed about 100 yards out like it was shifting gears and simply ignored the wind. Wow.

    This exhilerating experience leads me to three related questions. First, do you use the “Push left shoulder at the target” image or thought to trigger your downswing or is it just a sensation that accompanies your best swings?

    Second, is there any disadvantage to using that image as a swing thought? I note it is a thought about target so it is the type of swing thought you do not discourage.

    And, finally, if you do not use this thought what do you think about when you start your downswing?

    Thanks again for your unique insights.


  3. Michael Carrigg says:

    eric, great comments on bubba’s swing and great insight on his planning and feeling of a certain shot. I noticed that he almost always has a distinct shape to is shot. It is never a straight shot, rather a pronounced draw or fade. I’ve been consistently working on approaching the ball with a certain shot in mind and then taking a practice swing that creates the feeling of that shot. For example:anyone who has played baseball knows what it feels like to try to hit a home run to left filed vs. a ground ball to second base. It is intuitive and easy to feel the difference between those two swings. The same concepts apply perfectly to golf. Now instead of just trying to hit the ball somewhere straight into the fairway, I’ll look out at the course and pick either a fade or draw depending on what the course looks like. Then I’ll think, ok, start it at that tree, then draw it back to that mound in the fairway. Then take a practice swing that matches the feeling of what I need to do. Once I get the feel for that swing, I stand over the ball and duplicate it without paying much attention to the ball. I watch the ball, but my brain is only focused on executing the feel that I had in that practice swing.

  4. Peter O'Riordan says:

    Thanks Eric. My shot pattern is not as you describe. In general I hit the ball pretty straight; I probably hit 10 or 11 fairways during a normal round. My bad shot tends to be a strong hook (not quite a snap hook but close) which I think is caused by getting too quick and starting the downswing before finishing the backswing.

    My reason for emailing you is that I’m trying to increase distance off the tee (I probably hit it about 220-230) and am wondering if the reverse-C is a big impediment to more distance. I don’t know if you have an option for me to upload a video but I’d be happy to do that.

  5. Jim Merwin says:

    I am amazed you could find something other than sheer distance to praise about Bubba’s swing. But you found a jewel in there. I had never thought of your “Seeing and Feeling” the shot before you hit it as evidence you are “in the zone”. But, as I think of the very few times I have experienced “the zone”, I think you are right! Great insight from someone who has obviously been “in the zone” a lot!

    I have a question related to the downswing. In The Five Keys To Distance you discuss the necessary weight shift at least twice but because the descriptions seem to conflict, they have left me wondering exactly what moves I need to make to effectively get from the top of my backswing through contact. Specifically, when discussing the slant board drill at pages 60-63, you describe the “push-off” move and how it initiates the weight transfer to the left side without any reference to “planting” your left foot. But when you discuss the Sole Plant drill you say to transfer your weight from the right side to the left side by “forcefully planting you left heel on the ground and allowing the force of the heel plant to pivot your hips toward the target … as quickly as possible…” (page 91) without any mention of the “push-off” move.

    It seems logical to me to start the weight shift with the “Push-off” move followed by the “Plant” move but they happen so quickly it is difficult to think of both in time to execute them. Help!!

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Jim,
      Appreciate your reaction to the importance of feel, and being in the Zone. I’ll be writing a lot more about what I call Zone Skills, and how they can be developed. It’s going to be a game-changer!
      As for your question regarding the downswing and the weight shift from left to right. The answer is that the same thing happens in both cases. I learned early in my teaching career while working with juniors that I had to have multiple ways to describe the same thing in order for everybody to understand. In this case some people will intuitively understand the “push” from the right leg, while others will connect more with the heel plant. In both cases the same sequence happens.
      Let me give you another example. When I am in the “zone” I often feel a physical connection to my target with the back of my left shoulder. If you were to ask me, at the top of my backswing, where the target is, that’s where I would “feel” where it is. When I start my downswing, everything feels like it flows toward the target, beginning with my left shoulder. To me, that’s what it “feels” like starts the downswing. My left shoulder. But time and again when I watch video, my downswing always starts with my left knee moving to the target. Not my shoulder. But it feels like my shoulder is moving first. What I’ve come to realize is that it doesn’t matter so much what is actually happening as what you feel is happening. When you feel where the target is, and then feel your swing flowing toward the target on the downswing, you are going to hit good shots.
      So which one “feels” right to you? The right-foot push, or the left-foot plant? If you do both enough times you’ll realize that in order to plant the left foot you have to push from the right first. But that’s the mechanics. What matters when you play is feeling yourself flow toward the target. Great question!

  6. Peter O'Riordan says:

    Eric – I bought your package some months ago and am enjoying practicing the drills. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I am struggling with a big reverse-C on my follow through. From what I can tell from looking at videos, I think this is caused by my hips sliding to the left in addition to turning during the downswing and follow through. You mention the importance of avoiding the reverse-C in your course but I haven’t found any drills that specifically address this. Do you have any suggestions for what I can try? I am thinking along the lines of sticking an old driver shaft into the ground in front of my left hip and working to not bump it on the follow through. But I haven’t quite figure out the location or angle of the shaft.

    Would appreciate any suggestions on how to turn more “in the barrel” with flat hips and less sliding. Any other thoughts you have on the source of a reverse-C would be appreciated.

    Thanks for any help.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your question regarding the “reverse C” on the follow through. You haven’t described what it is doing to your shots, but I would guess that it is causing you to hit high-right and/or slice. If you post a reply, please describe your shot pattern and we’ll sharpen the diagnosis.
      In any case, whenever your hips slide out from under your shoulders your swing becomes “disconnected” and timing becomes critical. And since timing is so hard to maintain under pressure, a more connected swing will result in a more reliable swing and more consistent results.
      My favorite drill for learning about staying connected is the towel drill. I put a towel under both arm pits, as high up as I can get it. I maintain consistent pressure on the towel and make a half-swing or at most a 3/4 swing. I keep the pressure consistent all the way to the finish of the swing. I don’t let my upper arms slide around my body, and that forces me to stay connected to my hips. You can also try a variation on this drill by placing a towel under just your left arm. In this case I put the towel on top of my chest so that my left arm is in the same position it would be in at impact. I make a 3/4 swing and maintain consistent pressure on the towel. That forces my upper body to come through with my hips.
      Lastly, take a look at what your left hip is doing on the back swing. Does it dip noticeably down? If so, then it is almost impossible not to reverse hip position on the down swing, where the right hip dips down toward the ball. Try keeping your belt level in the backswing instead. I describe this when I talked about Annika’s swing, which I think is one of the best. If you keep your belt level on the back swing, you can keep it level on the downswing. Your swing plane won’t be subject to as much change, and your spine angle will remain more consistent. You may have to allow your left heel to come up off the ground on the back swing, so this is worth some experimentation.
      Thanks for your question!

  7. Rathan Kumar says:

    I have read many books and articles on golf, let alone watched DVD’s, but i must comment that this is the best book I’ve read, for, it feels as if you are standing right beside me and explaining to me the way i want to hear and can understand than the way you want to say… I just bought this book while here in Dallas and haven’t had time to go to the range or practice, but I will when I return to Bangalore this weekend. Hope it works and thanks for a great book. Cheers

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Rathan, Appreciate your comments and glad you like the 5 Keys and videos. Please keep me posted on your progress, and feel free to ask questions here any time. Eric

  8. Dave Green says:

    Eric Hi,
    I don’t know if this is the right site to contact you on. I want to ask your advice. I have purchased your program and after just doing the balance drills my son-in-law commented that I was hitting the ball longer.
    I have just gone on to the Leverage concepts but cannot load my right side and my swing is not rythymical. I am almost 70 years of age and am not able to extend my left and keep it straight through the swing. I genuinely want to improve and yet I don’t seem to be able to do the basics right. Can you help please.
    P.S. I have tried learning with Don Trahan but that did not work, and am currently studying C.J’s methods but am still not able to increase my swing speed when I try I hit too hard and the ball goes all over the place.
    I love your concept and would love to be able to whack the ball straight and true, but the truth is even my 14 years old Grandson out drives me with a five wood. I am 6′ 3″ tall and over 200 lbs but I play like a kitten not a lion.
    Can you help please?!
    Thanks for a great program,
    Dave Green

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Dave, Thanks for picking up The 5 Keys to Distance and posting your comments. Please feel free to post questions or thoughts on the TargetCenteredGolf blog any time.
      Glad to hear that the balance drills are already helping with your distance! Great start. I understand the challenge with the Leverage concept. It’s probably the most difficult of the 5 Keys to master. But I promise it will pay off if you stick with it.
      From your description of your results I have a couple of suggestions. First, stop trying to hit the ball “harder.” That only increases tension, which slows the swing down and ruins accuracy. Instead, think about swinging “faster.” To that end the first thing I recommend you do is get really good at the Baseball Rip swing. The idea here is to learn to swing faster AND stay in balance, but without a ball. Learn to swing fast first, then incorporate it into hitting a ball. Practice the Baseball Rip swing every day for 5 to 7 minutes. You don’t even have to be at a range. Your body just needs to learn how to move faster while in balance. The better you get at this drill the faster you will swing the club. You can also do the Whoosh drill, trying to move the whoosh as far forward in your swing toward the target as possible. That will help with maintaining lag.
      When you move on to the Leverage drills, try to use a range bucket or old shaft or anything else that will give you feedback when you lose your leverage or when your right knee floats over your foot or even outside. The key thing is having something that will give you feedback. Once you have something that can tell you when you are doing it right or wrong, you can begin to experiment to find the best way to incorporate it into your unique swing. Don’t worry about perfection at first. Focus on awareness. Once you can tell the difference between what you want and don’t want, then you can begin to change.

  1. 2012/04/09

    […] swing that will produce that shot. I wrote about the importance of linking feel with imagery when Watson won at Torrey Pines. It’s the same kind of link that arises when we get “in the Zone” and play our […]