The main difference I noted while down at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was the accuracy of their long irons/hybrids/woods. Granted all of these guys are great putters and have wonderful short games, but I have played with a number of people who are just as adept around the greens and had a solid driver game, but still couldn’t sniff the PGA Tour because of the lacking accuracy from 190-250 yards.
I remember reading in Strokes Gained some time ago that this long iron game was where the best of the best gained the most strokes over the field, but it wasn’t until seeing them in action that that concept fully materialized.
Watching both Charlie Beljan and Jason Day not only just stick a blind green from 230 yards away but both having a short eagle putt was incredible. Then Day had a buried downhill lie on the 9th hole in deep rough to a short sided pin from 200 out and stuck it to five feet. It was truly amazing.
Unfortunately, this is not a strength in my game, yet. If I have 200-240 yards to a green I would say I hit the green about 20 percent of the time. I can get an up and down if it’s close, but often that next chip or pitch is in a tough spot and can lead to bogeys or worse.
Since I have been back I have thought a lot about ways to improve this aspect of my game and what I realized was that I need a few things. First off is to focus on this part of the game as it is a current weakness and deliberate practice is all about improving weaknesses. Next is to find solid reliable instruction via a coach or world-class expert. The third thing is to work on swing speed in order to better spin the ball and gain distance.
That last one is something that has been a bit of a worry in the back of my head for some time. I chat a lot about swing speed with different people who are either experts in the field or working on their own. One guy, Bill, up at my home course has been trying to increase his swing speed with drills and the swing fan for some time and says that he is seeing some results on the range but it is not translating to the course. I brought out the FlightScope to measure my current swing speed as well as work on hitting more up on the ball with the driver to optimize distance and we got Bill on it and after a couple months of working to improve his speed he was basically exactly where he was beforehand, which is a bit daunting.
There are a lot of resources out there, though, and I have been starting to read Kelvin Miyahira’s writing about this subject: http://www.aroundhawaii.com/speed_training.html
I am going to reach out to him soon as there is a chance I may be in Hawaii in late April or early May and if I can make it out there I would most definitely visit Kelvin to see what he has to suggest about my own progress with speed.
Another reason this is on my mind is that I have been playing with some very long hitters lately and it makes such a difference to be able to carry the ball 280+ yards. They can take lines on par 4s and 5s that are impossible at my current distance and then they have mid-irons to the shorter par 5s and can still reach the longer ones. Plus, having a gap-wedge into par 4s is a lot different than having a 7 or 6 iron in. Changes the game.
This is what I have been thinking about and reading about lately. My swing speed has remained pretty consistent at between 104-108mph over the past two years, just depending on how fresh the body is. But, when I got FlightScope out to measure my driver I also noticed that I am currently hitting about 4 degrees down on the ball. For some reason the last time I “changed” my swing I gained a lot of consistency but lost about 20 yards of distance and I think it is because of how much more down I am at impact. So, improving speed while also getting more neutral to up on the ball at impact should be a great way to gain 20-30 yards.
That is where my headspace has been these past couple of weeks.