In cool, wet conditions, Bethpage Black will play tough, long for PGA Championship

When it was announced that the PGA Championship was moving from August to May, some pundits and fans balked at the idea of holding a major championship in the Northeast or upper Midwest because of days like Monday at Bethpage State Park.

After about an inch of rain fell on the Black Course on Sunday, scattered showers and chilly temperatures persisted as a Nor’easter developed off the coast of southern New England, bringing showers and a chilly eastern wind that kept temperatures in the high 40s.

It could have been worse: the same system is expected to bring several inches of snow to higher elevations of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine on Monday.

Bethpage Black’s scorecard yardage is 7,459 yards, but in conditions like Monday’s, it played even longer.

“Hole seven is playing as a par 4 and we played from where the 520 tee is. I hit a really good drive and I still had 255 to 260 yards to the center of the green,” said Billy Horschel, who is currently ranked No. 43 on the Official World Golf Ranking. “And that distance doesn’t even account for the wind and the cold weather, so that shot was probably playing 280 or 290.”

Horschel added that he typically hits his 7-iron 180 yards, but on the second hole on Monday morning, he hit one that only went 150.

The official tournament forecast calls for the rain to subside early Tuesday morning, with clouds and warmer conditions expected on Wednesday. There is a 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday morning, but temperatures are expected to rise into the mid- and high 60s on Saturday and Sunday.

The 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens were contested here on wet golf courses, and it looks like the first PGA Championship that Bethpage Black will host is also going to be played on a soft, long course.

SOURCE: USAtoday

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The State Of Golf For 2019 — An Industry Roundtable

With the golf season getting into full swing in just about all parts of the country, it’s the perfect time to delve into the state of the $84 billion golf industry.

May 1 also just happens to be National Golf Day, a day when hundreds of golf industry leaders visit Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress and celebrate the economic, charitable, environmental, health and societal benefits of one of the nation’s top participation sports.

Even the most casual golf fan surely sensed the excitement generated by the recent Masters Tournament, where Tiger Woods won his first major title in almost 11 years, a victory that transcended sports and became mainstream news. But what is the overall state of the game?

The National Golf Foundation recently released its 2019 Golf Industry Report, an annual research report that consolidates key data points to help assess golf’s health and vitality. More than one-third (36%) of the U.S. population – over 107 million people in total – played, watched or read about golf last year. Traditional participation has stabilized in recent years, with a healthy 24 million on-course golfers, and there are now almost as many who play increasingly popular off-course forms of the game (from Topgolf and Drive Shack to indoor simulators).

In conjunction with National Golf Day, five of golf’s leaders participated in an industry roundtable to share their thoughts about the current state of the game, its continued evolution, as well as the wealth of benefits that it provides for participants of all ages. Taking time to weigh in were:

  • Mike Davis – USGA CEO
  • Greg McLaughlin – World Golf Foundation CEO and President of The First Tee
  • Jay Monahan – PGA TOUR Commissioner
  • Suzy Whaley – PGA of America President
  • Mike Whan – LPGA Commissioner

In your opinion, what is the ‘State of the golf industry’?

Davis: As a whole, it’s strong. You can feel that at any one of the USGA’s 14 national championships and internationally in particular where we’re seeing the game grow at an encouraging rate. Golfers are extremely passionate about their sport which means they’re emotionally invested – and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s inspiring to know that so many share such a deep love for the game as we do at the USGA. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t challenges we need to overcome for the game to be successful long-term. Particularly, we need to help golf courses identify and proactively address issues common in the game such as rising operational costs, the time it takes to play the game and improving the golfer experience at green-grass facilities. It’s also imperative that we continue to invest in research to make golf courses more sustainable both financially and environmentally, and we need to think of more ways to make golf accessible for all.

Golf has been around for more than 600 years and its evolution is ongoing. As the world changes at a rapid pace it’s up to us to make sure that the game maintains that pace. We’re all in this together, united by our love for the game.

McLaughlin: I’m optimistic about the state of the game and excited about how the face of golf is changing. About 20 years ago, one in 12 U.S. juniors were ethnically diverse; today, that number is one in four. Also, two decades ago, one in six U.S. juniors were girls and today it is one in three. The game is evolving and beginning to look more like America looks.

Perceptions about golf are changing too. It’s moving away from the long-held view that it’s a game for only a certain status of our society, and people are perceiving it now as a game for all. We have the facts to back this up: 76% of the golf facilities in the U.S. are open to the public, 80% of the people who play golf in the U.S. do so primarily on facilities open to the public and the average cost of an 18-hole round is $35.

There are several goals that the World Golf Foundation, through its WE ARE GOLF initiative, is working towards achieving and we are doing this by bringing groups together from within the industry to focus on areas such as diversity and inclusion, outreach to millennials and encouraging more women and juniors to participate in the game.

Monahan: I’m very optimistic on where golf is and where it is headed. From a PGA TOUR perspective, we have had a tremendously strong year beyond compelling competition, from increases in fan engagement across all platforms, to our business successes, to the record $190 million generated for charity as we draw closer to $3 billion in all-time giving.

We’ve continued to have success in signing long-term sponsorship agreements, and likewise when an international powerhouse like Discovery enters a multi-billion partnership with the TOUR that includes establishing GOLFTV as a global OTT service, it reflects not only on the strength and future of the TOUR, but our sport as a whole. In addition to GOLFTV, we continue to expand viewing options for fans through other partnerships, including our new relationships with NBC Sports Gold and Amazon to house PGA TOUR LIVE in the U.S. We also see tremendous opportunity to further engage existing and new fans as regulated sports betting becomes a reality.

From an industry-wide viewpoint, there continues to be strong collaboration between organizations on a variety of fronts, particularly in regard to growing interest and participation in the game and furthering the positive impact it has on lives through charitable impact and character development. WE ARE GOLF continues to be a strong unifying force in communicating all the positives of that golf provides, from economic impact to the lasting benefits that programs like The First Tee have on young people who are introduced to the game.

Whaley: I am excited about the future of the golf industry! Golf is an $84 billion economic engine that drives nearly 2 million jobs and contributes more to charity than any other major sports industry. While we face many of the same challenges that every sector of the economy—and every major brand does at a time when consumers have so many choices on how to spend their recreational time and discretionary income—there are many reasons for optimism.

This starts with the fact that our participation numbers are up in key categories—beginners, avid golfers and those who experience the game at off-course options. A record-tying 2.6 million golfers played for the first time in 2018 – matching the all-time high set in 2017, which was the fourth consecutive year that number increased.

These new golfers are more diverse and younger than the overall golf population: 31% are women, 26% are non-Caucasian. There could be more new golfers on the way: 47.4 million say they are “somewhat” or “very” interested in trying golf, an increase of 6%.  The number of women playing golf has grown approximately 7% over the past six years. Of note, 36% of junior golfers are girls, as compared to 23% of all golfers.

Total on-course participation increased to 24.2 million golfers last year. When factoring in off-course participation options, such as Topgolf, total participation climbed to 33.5 million in 2018, up 4% from 32.1 million in 2017.

Combine all of that with Tiger Woods’ historic victory at the Masters, which is driving incredible interest in the PGA Championship’s move to May as the Next Major, and the opportunity we have now is impressive.  This new cadence of majors will only heighten the focus on the programs, services and accomplishments of our nearly 29,000 PGA Professionals and the entire golf industry.

Whan: I know that many people in our industry focus only on rounds played or on the specific number of active golfers each year, but one thing is clear to me – more and more people are watching, caring and becoming engaged in the sport than ever before. In the United States and around the world, we’ve seen consistent increases in TV viewership, hours of coverage and the number of fans that attend tournaments. Around the globe, I’ve witnessed first-hand how the sport has received heightened interest from countries, media and fans who were driven by golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016.

It’s also exciting to see the spread of the female game at grassroots level with girls under the age of 18 representing the fastest growing sector in the U.S. golf population since 2010. Here at the LPGA, the number of girls taking part in the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program has soared from 4,500 per year in 2010 to 80,000 in 2018, a 1,700% growth in participation.

Considering today’s evolving media landscape, how has your organization’s communication with golf fans changed over time? What lies ahead?

Davis: The rapid expansion of digital communication affords us the ability to speak directly to golf fans in a way that wasn’t possible years ago. Golf is uniquely positioned to elicit passionate interest from a wide range of people, and it’s up to us to innovate ways to reach that diverse fanbase in different ways. This year, we are launching an OTT platform, to provide live and on-demand content that shares the entire depth of our USGA Golf Museum’s extensive historic video library, and championship moments.

Earlier this year, in March, we used Facebook Live to live-stream both our fifth Golf Innovation Symposium in Japan and our USGA Annual Meeting. We invested in our own USGA studio at our headquarters so we can produce live discussions on YouTube and Twitter on matters of importance to the game, such as education of golf’s new Rules, and other on-demand programming. And, this year, we’ll also begin a new podcast series to help share our wealth of knowledge in innovation, history, technology and more. Whether it’s through comprehensive visual or editorial storytelling on our digital platforms, we’re proud to serve as a chief facilitator of the game’s greatest stories.

The evolution of digital communication has also opened a two-way dialogue where we’re able to directly interact with fans on issues that are most important to them. We believe we’re at our best when we have the interest and input of golfers from every skill level in mind. Having that all-encompassing perspective is part of what makes the USGA a special organization.

Given what we’ve seen over just the last 5-10 years, I think it’s safe to say that the ways in which we communicate with golf fans will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. We, as well as our peers, will need to continue to be nimble for the benefit of golf fans everywhere.

McLaughlin: Examining the state of the game today in 2019, there are positive signs that a whole new generation is getting excited about the sport, both from a fan and a participation perspective. People are watching exciting professional golfers and are wanting to try the sport. The industry communicates to this group in countless ways, always looking to reach them where they are most comfortable finding their news, therefore we put a heavy focus on sharing industry highlights through our social media channels.

Fan engagement in the game is at an all-time high, due, in part, to the myriad of vehicles in which fans may interact with the sport.

This outreach is showing results. There are more than 24 million “traditional” golfers in the United States, and another 15 million have said they are very interested in playing, which is an all-time high. Last year, 2.6 million people tried golf for the first time. Off-course participation continues to grow at a rapid pace with another 23 million experiencing the game at off-course venues.

Total golf participation in the U.S.

Total golf participation in the U.S.

NATIONAL GOLF FOUNDATION

Monahan: The landscape obviously is ever-changing with the prevalence of social media, growth of digital platforms and seemingly constant introduction of new innovations. For instance, PGA TOUR LIVE, an OTT platform that did not exist in 2015, will distribute more than 900 hours of live PGA TOUR golf in 2019 as well as ancillary programming. In turn, these have become integral avenues for the PGA TOUR and our players to communicate with fans; and the increase in engagement has been dramatic, even within the last year.

In fact, our first new major brand campaign in 20 years that was introduced last year, Live Under Par, invites fans to engage with the TOUR and share their experiences and love for the game via social channels. It’s already proven to be very successful in helping to broaden our fan base by driving double-digit content consumption growth across both core and non-core fan segments. Additionally, we’ve actively worked with our players, providing custom content, to help increase their own social channel content and engagements.

As for the future, we will continue to prioritize a Fans First mentality, but I’m not going to try to speculate on what the next big thing might be – who could have predicted all the changes and innovations we’ve seen over the past decade? Whatever it is, though, we need to be agile enough as an organization to take full advantage.

Whaley: Technology is making a tremendous impact on the golf industry, and social media has been a game changer. The ability to communicate with golfers and fans is instantaneous and impactful.

Delivering better coaching resources to the consumer through technology, including the type of experience today’s consumer is looking for, is in our best interest. This approach gives us the best chance to develop players who will play golf for the rest of their lives.

Today’s consumer understands the value of working with a highly trained PGA Professional, but they want more than the traditional approach. They also want to engage with us via technology, scheduling apps and video. It’s about engaging the consumer, at the right age, during the right time in their golf development.

Whan: With people placing so much focus on social media in today’s world, this has become our main avenue to communicate with our fans. Whether via LPGA Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we have a two-way dialogue with our fans while ensuring they are kept up-to-date with all the latest news from the LPGA as a whole and the LPGA Tour specifically. We also engage with our fans through some of our other platforms, such as the LPGA Women’s Network and the LPGA Amateur Golf Association.

At the LPGA, we know fans follow our players first, and the overall Tour second. Over five years ago, we started adding the players’ Twitter handles to our caddie bibs. We want fans to follow our players, understand their journey and learn their unique and inspiring stories. While others have asked us, ‘Why don’t you put the LPGA’s Twitter handle on all bibs?’, we feel our players are the stars and not the Tour. We know that if fans follow our athletes, they eventually tune into the LPGA telecasts.

In recognition of the 12th annual National Golf Day, what would you say golf’s societal benefits that some Congressional leaders might not be aware of?

Davis: In recent years, our industry has emphasized the economic benefits of golf at the national and local levels. When we consider jobs, revenue for local economies, charitable contributions and the like, we appreciate that golf’s impact is both substantive and significant. Yet there are also intangible benefits of golf that may be as important as, or even more important than, the economic benefits.

If you look to the origins of golf, it has, from a very early point, been woven into the fabric of communities around the world. That carries both emotional and health benefits that you’re hard pressed to find in other activities. Moreover, golf embodies critical human values and elevates important role models that are critical for sustainable communities and healthy societies. By spreading the spirit of golf and making it more accessible to people of all ages and demographics, we can help bring communities together under a shared love of the game.

The environmental benefits of golf courses are also an important component of what makes the game beneficial to our communities. Currently, we are working with the World Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Minnesota and Stanford University on groundbreaking research to quantify the natural capital of a golf facility. For instance, golf courses are green spaces that help communities with stormwater runoff, infiltration, provide natural habitats for wildlife and crucial pollinators, re-introduce native plant materials, and control urban heat islands that otherwise might exist if a golf course were converted to a housing or business development. These are all important services that a golf course provides to its local community that have meaningful economic value.

McLaughlin: The industry comes together annually in our nation’s capital to share the benefit our sport has on American society. National Golf Day gives us the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the game’s interests, but also to make lawmakers aware of these benefits:

  • The game’s economic impact, which was $84.1 billion in 2016
  • Golf generates $3.9 billion annually for charity
  • Health and wellness benefits of the sport
  • The accessibility of the game, which is evidenced by the fact that 76% of golf courses are open to the public and the average cost of a round of golf is just $35
  • And, the environmental benefits that golf courses provide as green spaces, wildlife habitats and as filters for runoff

All of these combined make a pretty compelling case for golf’s importance to society and sharing these facts with Congress is an importance aspect of National Golf Day.

In recognition of the 12th annual National Golf Day, what would you say golf’s societal benefits that some Congressional leaders might not be aware of?

Davis: In recent years, our industry has emphasized the economic benefits of golf at the national and local levels. When we consider jobs, revenue for local economies, charitable contributions and the like, we appreciate that golf’s impact is both substantive and significant. Yet there are also intangible benefits of golf that may be as important as, or even more important than, the economic benefits.

If you look to the origins of golf, it has, from a very early point, been woven into the fabric of communities around the world. That carries both emotional and health benefits that you’re hard pressed to find in other activities. Moreover, golf embodies critical human values and elevates important role models that are critical for sustainable communities and healthy societies. By spreading the spirit of golf and making it more accessible to people of all ages and demographics, we can help bring communities together under a shared love of the game.

The environmental benefits of golf courses are also an important component of what makes the game beneficial to our communities. Currently, we are working with the World Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Minnesota and Stanford University on groundbreaking research to quantify the natural capital of a golf facility. For instance, golf courses are green spaces that help communities with stormwater runoff, infiltration, provide natural habitats for wildlife and crucial pollinators, re-introduce native plant materials, and control urban heat islands that otherwise might exist if a golf course were converted to a housing or business development. These are all important services that a golf course provides to its local community that have meaningful economic value.

McLaughlin: The industry comes together annually in our nation’s capital to share the benefit our sport has on American society. National Golf Day gives us the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the game’s interests, but also to make lawmakers aware of these benefits:

  • The game’s economic impact, which was $84.1 billion in 2016
  • Golf generates $3.9 billion annually for charity
  • Health and wellness benefits of the sport
  • The accessibility of the game, which is evidenced by the fact that 76% of golf courses are open to the public and the average cost of a round of golf is just $35
  • And, the environmental benefits that golf courses provide as green spaces, wildlife habitats and as filters for runoff

All of these combined make a pretty compelling case for golf’s importance to society and sharing these facts with Congress is an importance aspect of National Golf Day.

Whan: There are more than two million jobs impacted by the game and its diverse benefits to our economy and our society. It’s often forgotten that the people working on the courses are the backbone of our sport. We live in a fast-paced, high-energy and high-stress world. A casual round of golf or a family visit to a professional tournament can provide the mind and the soul with a little bit of good. Moreover, all those visits by fans are likely driving increased dollars into local charities.

The contributor of this industry roundtable is also the Editorial Director for the National Golf Foundation.

SOURCE:  Forbes

This might go against your instinct when you’re in a bunker with a high lip, but the last thing you want to do is try to help the ball over the lip. When you try to force it up and over, it almost always comes out lower and slams into the face. Instead, do what I do.
First, try this drill. The biggest difference between hitting out of a normal bunker and one with a high lip is the amount of sand you need to take. To get the ball up quickly, your club should strike a lot more sand, and this drill will help teach you how much. Draw a circle in the bunker about four inches in diameter around your ball. Now get in your address position, playing the ball off your front foot. Before swinging, pick the ball up so all that’s left is the circle. We’ll get back to that, but first, two more things about address: Dig your feet in so you have a solid base, and open the face of your wedge before gripping the club. I know opening the face can freak out some amateurs, but don’t be scared. In a bunker, your wedge is designed to work when it’s open like this. In fact, you should keep the face open throughout the shot.
“DON’T BE SHY: TAKE PLENTY OF SAND TO GET OVER A HIGH LIP.”
Now here’s a key thought: When you swing, think about putting your hands into your left pocket as you come through. You can see me swinging toward my left pocket here. This forces the club to exit low, left and open, and cutting across the ball like this helps get it up quickly.
Back to the goal of the drill. I want you to make the circle disappear. To do that, you’re going to have to hit the sand a few inches behind where the ball would be, and swing through it with some effort. That’s the feeling you want moving through the sand in a high-lip situation. Practice the circle drill with my swing thought of getting into that left pocket, and you’ll make this shot a lot easier than it looks. — with Keely Levins
Stacy Lewis is a 12-time winner on the LPGA Tour, including two majors.
SOURCE:  Golfdigest

Augusta National beefs up No. 5, creates another classic Masters gauntlet

Where’s Herbert Warren Wind when you need him?

It was the Homer of golf writers who in 1958 wrote about the action “down in the Amen Corner where Rae’s Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front end of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.” And just like that, almost off-handedly, this sequence of holes was gifted the last thing it needed to gain renown — a catchy, evocative name. Amen Corner was born.

There is another corner of the course opposite that far reach of Augusta National that is in line for a good nicknaming. Something suggestive of mayhem and exasperation.

It will never happen, mind you, for several reasons. For one, Mr. Wind and his elegant ilk are no longer with us. I certainly can’t come up with anything eternal. For another, holes No. 4-5-6 fall far too early to be a part of the Sunday Masters crescendo. So much happens on that back nine that all else gets kind of washed over.

That’s too bad because, with the recent lengthening of the par-4 5th hole — heretofore the most overlooked hole on the property — this corner just may be the most trying stretch of holes in all the green sausage grinder that is Augusta National.

With the money to reshape the land to any whim, the lords of the Masters decided this year to add another 40 yards to an already toothy fifth. And if that doesn’t suit them, one day they will just buy up a stretch of I-20 and put a tee box in the median.

The result is a now 495-yard par 4 that has grabbed the players’ attention before the first competitive shot is struck.

“Between there and 11, I may even consider No. 5 a more difficult hole now,” Jordan Spieth said. “I would have said 11 is the toughest hole on the course prior to the new No. 5.”

“I’m struggling a little bit right now on how to play the hole, so I’ll have to figure that out over the next couple days.” That’s Jordan Spieth speaking, the guy who rolls out of bed and finishes top-five in this tournament.

Having already let out the par-3 4th hole — to where it can play 240 yards to a roller-coaster green – the guardians of par have created quite a little gauntlet here with the lengthening of No. 5. Throw in the par-3 sixth, with a green that practically requires an escalator to get from one level to the next, and these people have almost succeeded in turning golf into actual, honest work.

Phil Mickelson throws the 450-yard par-4 seventh hole into the mix, too. “I think 4-5-6-7 is a very difficult four‑hole stretch and making a little bit harder I think is a good thing,” he said. “I always like making hard holes harder and I think guys that are playing well will be able to make par (on No. 5) and pick up a quarter or half a stroke on the field that are not able to make par. Ultimately, that’s a good thing.”

During last year’s Masters, Nos. 4-5-6 played as the second-, sixth- and eighth-hardest holes. In contrast, Amen Corner presented both the most difficult (the 505-yard par-4 11th) and least difficult (the 510-yard par-5 13th). No. 12, the famed par 3 over Rae’s Creek was right in the middle, the ninth hardest. So, which stretch is really more deserving a prayerful nickname?

In the redesign of No. 5, they also moved back the complex of large, deep fairway bunkers on the left side, and created a stiffer penalty for finding them.

“I think they are unplayable to get the ball to the green,” Tiger Woods said. “You have to be very lucky and get a situation that you might be able to get to the front edge of the green. But you need to stay out of those bunkers.”

Even a good and true drive leaves no bargain.

“I hit a good drive (Monday), and the course was playing really soft and a bit long. And I hit 5‑iron in,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “A good drive last year – if you could be aggressive with the driver – you might have a wedge or 9‑iron to that middle part of the green. It wasn’t a difficult shot.”

In summarizing the change to No. 5 — a hole due entirely new respect now — two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw was succinct, simply calling it “a monster.”

While the knights of the keyboard may fail to come up with a catchy name for this other critical corner of Augusta National, players undoubtedly will come up with a few of their own. They will not be flowery, or even fit for general consumption.

How to handle a downhill lie and hit the green

If you play a lot of hilly courses, you’re already familiar with uneven lies, including those of the downhill variety. This tricky position—in which your leading foot is below your back foot at address—can be very challenging, especially from short fairway grass. To ensure solid contact and a pin-seeking approach shot from a downhill lie, you’ll need to make the following three basic setup changes.
SET SHOULDERS PARALLEL
Your normal iron setup won’t work for this lie—the clubhead will bottom out too soon and you’ll make contact with the ground behind the ball. Instead, hold your club across your shoulders and tilt your spine toward the target until the shaft matches the slope of the hill. Once your shoulders are parallel to the slope, move on to step 2.
Learn how to conquer any downhill lie.
MOVE YOUR WEIGHT TO YOUR DOWNHILL FOOT
It’s critical to make ball-first contact from this lie, so play the ball in the middle of your stance (or at least slightly farther back than normal) and shift about 75 percent of your weight to your front, or downhill, foot. This will encourage your body to move in the direction of the slope, rather than hang back.
TRACE THE SLOPE
Last, extend your arms through impact so that the clubhead travels as low to the slope as possible. By swinging on the same plane as the hill, you’ll ensure ball-first contact and a smooth, full finish— and maybe even a birdie opportunity.
SOURCE:  Golf.com

Akshay Bhatia, 17, full of swagger and set for PGA Tour debut at Valspar

At the Walker Cup practice session in December, U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby left junior golfer Akshay Bhatia with one final piece of advice ahead of the Jones Cup Invitational in late January.

“He said, ‘You better be in the final group on Sunday so I don’t have to chase you around,’ ” Bhatia recalled.

Bhatia, 17, did better than that. He defeated Georgia sophomore Davis Thompson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at Ocean Forest Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga., after the final round was canceled due to rain.

“I’m just sorry he ended up driving five hours to watch me play one hole,” Bhatia said of Crosby’s trip.

The victory at one of amateur golf’s most prestigious invitationals should shoot Bhatia, Golfweek’s No. 1-ranked junior and the reigning AJGA player of the year, even higher on Crosby’s “watch list” for the Walker Cup, which will be played Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

“Oh my gosh, it would be a dream come true,” Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C., said of a chance to represent the 10-man U.S. side. “You just don’t get that opportunity too many times. Just to be part of the practice session was unreal.”

But Bhatia was even more overcome by the fact that joining a prestigious list of Jones Cup champions – including Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas and Beau Hossler – also earned him a berth in the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic this fall.

“I’ve worked so hard, and that’s one of my dreams to play a PGA Tour event while still in high school,” Bhatia said.

Bhatia won’t have to wait much longer to fulfill his dream of playing in a PGA Tour event. Bhatia tells Golfweek he has accepted a sponsorship exemption into the Valspar Championship on March 21-24 at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Bhatia has played in Thursday and Monday PGA Tour Qualifiers, further confirmation that he intends to skip college and turn professional in January when he turns 18.

“It’s made me stronger mentally,” Bhatia said of trying to earn one of four available spots at qualifying. “Once I get through one, I think I’ll make a bunch more. I’m just lacking experience.”

He showed he’s more than capable of holding his own against the game’s top amateurs. Beating a field consisting of top collegians at the Jones Cup in his first start back after nursing a back injury suffered in late November during the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions helps validate Bhatia’s decision to forgo college.

As much as Bhatia would like to make the Walker Cup team – and he plans to play the European and British Amateurs this summer in preparation for links golf – he sees it merely as a stop along his journey to making the PGA Tour. He has tunnel vision, his eyes locked in on a pro golf career.

George Gankas, one of his team of instructors, described Bhatia as mature beyond his years and noted a surge in his confidence and self-belief. Gankas recounted a telling conversation he had with Bhatia at the U.S. Amateur in August.

“He said, ‘I guess I have to start acting like ‘The Man’ because I’m pretty much ‘The Man’ among the juniors,’ ” Gankas said. “Since that point, his walk is different, the way he talks is different and the way he carries himself is different. It’s not in a cocky way; he’s just a more confident player.

“He’ll win a tournament and ask, ‘What needs to be better?’ How many kids his age do that? He’s trying to figure a way to get better to win by more.”

Bhatia, who crushed the field at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic by 10 strokes in June, has a home putting studio and a TrackMan, and practices at TPC Wakefield playing two-ball, best-ball and from the front tees to ingrain shooting low scores and two-ball, worst ball and dropping a ball behind trouble (such as a patch of trees) from a par-3 distance away and trying to make no worse than par as games to improve his scrambling skills. He is a lanky lefty weighing only 129 pounds, but he has the flexibility of Gumby.

“Every time I put him on my Instagram everyone goes, ‘Eat a cheeseburger, dude!’” Gankas said. “He says he’s trying to get fat, but he can’t do it.”

Bhatia may be thin as a rail, but pound-for-pound he’s maximizing his swing speed, averaging 119 mph, and recently sent Gankas a video where he hit 124.8 mph.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” said Bhatia, who credits the gain in velocity to his workouts and is striving for his swing speed and weight to equal the same figure.

As for his upcoming PGA Tour debut, he already arranged to play a practice round with Spaniard Jon Rahm and has his sights set on meeting Australian Jason Day, another of his heroes. And Bhatia’s not shy about how he might do. When asked if he thought he could win, he said, “I don’t see why not. As long as I can treat it like it’s just another event. It’s all about mindset, really.”

SOURCE:  Golfweek

STRATEGY FOR DOGLEGS

About to turn a corner? First, give that dogleg some thought

You say you can drive it 300 yards, but the last time you did it the hole was downhill, downwind and the ball caromed off the cartpath. You say you shoot in the low 80s, but you haven’t carded an 85 or better without two mulligans and a few generous gimme putts in about four years. When the question about what tees to play is asked, you’re already walking back to the blues or blacks. See where this is going? When it comes to this game, many golfers aren’t exactly honest about their current abilities—especially when assessing their next shot.

A common mental block is how best to play a dogleg hole with real trouble on either side of the fairway, says instructor Sean Foley.

“The ball tails off to the right for most of the golfers I see, so does it make any sense for them to stand on the tee box of a dogleg-left hole and try to curve their drive in that direction? No, but a lot of times they still try,” says Foley, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher. “What they should be doing is thinking of how to play the hole to the best of their abilities. In many cases, that means taking a shorter club, one that doesn’t peel off to the right as much, and just getting something out in the fairway.

“The reality is, sometimes the best you can do is give yourself a chance at a one-putt par. You have to accept that your game isn’t designed for certain holes, so your planning should change from How do I get home in regulation? to How do I avoid making double bogey?

That’s good advice, says sport psychologist Bob Rotella. Too often a visually intimidating hole, one that looks like it necessitates a specific type of drive, can cause golfers to divert from their strengths. Bad move.

“Mentally, you’ve got to stick with your game. Don’t let the shape of a hole solely dictate your strategy,” he says. “I wouldn’t try to hit a shot I didn’t know or usually play. If a driver doesn’t fit the hole, hit a 3-wood. If a 3-wood doesn’t fit, hit a hybrid, and so on. Do whatever it takes to put the ball in play. But be clear and commit to whatever shot you decide.”

If you can’t curve the ball to match the hole’s shape, another option is to use driver, but play for the “best miss,” says Hall of Fame golfer Tom Watson. If you analyze a hole carefully, that miss should be evident.

“When curving the ball away from the dogleg, the fairway becomes a smaller target,” Watson says. “The golfer must then think about where it’s best to miss the fairway, and this involves a lot of criteria such as length of the rough, where the flagstick is located, etc. For example, shortening the hole by missing in the interior rough sometimes can be a good option when planning your tee shot, but not on Pine Valley’s par-4 sixth, the hole you see here.”

If you’re skilled enough to be able to shape your tee shot with the dogleg, then consider how much of it you want to take on, Watson says. An accurate distance measurement to the part of the fairway you want to hit is key, but so is that whole thing about being honest with yourself.

“Knowing how far you have to carry the ball to clear a dogleg’s interior rough or interior bunker is not usually thought about by most golfers, but it’s critical,” Watson says. “That being said, most golfers don’t know how far they carry the ball with a driver, which is important in deciding the line to take when cutting the corner on a dogleg.”

That’s why it’s best to be generous with your target line, Foley says.

“If it’s a 200-yard carry and your best drives carry about 210 yards, you probably want to take a less risky route,” Foley says. “Better to be farther back in the fairway than trying to recover from being too aggressive with your line. The penalty for not making it on a dogleg is usually pretty severe.”

SOURCE:  Golfdigest

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — A year ago, Tiger Woods hit 3-iron, 9-iron into the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass during the final round of the Players Championship. Tuesday morning, it was 3-wood, 3-iron.

He wasn’t the only one to notice a significant difference.

On the 450-yard seventh, Billy Horschel used to attack the par 4 with a driver or 3-wood and a wedge. This year, he’s hitting 5-iron into the green.

It has been more than a decade—2006 to be precise—since the Players Championship has been contested in March. Woods’ club choice on the final hole (as well as area resident Horschel’s) perhaps best sums up the biggest difference between the PGA Tour’s flagship event being played later in the spring versus now.

“The ball doesn’t fly as far and the golf course just plays slower,” said Woods, one of just 24 players in the 144-man field this week to have experienced the tournament in each month, and the only one to have won it in both, too. “The golf course plays so much shorter in May than it does in March. That’s probably the biggest difference. We’re going to have to hit more clubs off the tees, have a little bit longer clubs into the greens, but the difference is the greens are much slower and much more receptive.”

Those aren’t the only differences, however.

For one, the appearance of Pete Dye’s masterpiece is vastly different, with a heavy rye overseed giving the 7,189-yard track a lush, dark green look. It’s more than just an aesthetic. There’s a benefit for a venue that demands target golf.

“It sharpens the course,” said 2004 Players winner Adam Scott. “It suits it better. It gives it more definition for us.”

And about that grass, the rough off the fairway is also only about 2½-inches long. Thick, yes, but with the tightness of a hair brush, meaning there should be far fewer hack-it-out-and-hope second shots and more creativity and playability. Translation: Potential for better scoring opportunities.

On the flip side, wayward tee shots are more likely to run off into the pine straw and scrub rather than getting snagged by deep rough.

Around the green, things are even more telling.

“I’m surprised that even though the rough isn’t the same difficulty level because of the type of grass it still plays just as challenging around greens, where it’s super thick,” Jordan Spieth said. “Hitting into greens from this rough is easier but around the greens it plays different. Typically with overseed we don’t see a lot of rough. But It plays closer to bluegrass than bermuda.”

Then there’s the weather.

In May, temperatures routinely reached into the 90s and in some years the greens were burnt to the extent of being nearly unplayable. The course played firm, fast and bouncy.

This week, the forecast is calling for highs in the mid-70s for the first two rounds, with that number dipping into the mid 60s on the weekend.

Wind will also be a factor—breezes out of the north will make the course play that much longer, something that could be particularly impactful on the final two holes, the par-3 17th over water and the 462-yard 18th that features water up the entire left side.

“The 17th and 18th are dicey now,” Spieth said. “When the weather was warm and with less wind [in May], 17 was a pitching wedge. Now it could be an 8-iron. That’s a big difference.”

“In years past [on 17] the wind was behind you off the right, it was an easy club,” added Horschel. “You just had to worry about hitting it too good or too far. Now, you have to hit it the perfect height. The 18th is the same way. Guys used to be able to hit 3-wood and have a short iron in. Now it’s driver and a mid-iron or a 3-wood and a long iron.”

What will it all mean?

“They’re very different to play,” Scott said of the tournament being held in March instead of May. “I mean, it’s hard.”

SOURCE:  Golfworld

Finish Your Swing Left of the Target

Proper Set-Up And Alignment Leads To ‘Full Circle’ Swing

We have all heard it. When getting information about aim and alignment, we often hear to “finish your swing facing your target.” Don’t do it — you will likely hit a shot that will not end up on line. You need to finish your swing facing LEFT of the target.

Look at all the Tour pros out there, they are clearly facing well left of their target at the finish, and that goes all the way back to proper set-up and address. Here’s how to put it all together:

AIM AND ALIGNMENT

First, place your hands on the grip, keeping the clubface square.

Then, aim the square clubface to the target on the line you established from behind the ball. The leading edge of your golf club will be at a right angle to the target line.

Next, align your body (checking feet, thighs, hips, and shoulders) parallel and left of the target line, addressing the golf ball.

If you feel as if you are really left of your target, you will be aligned correctly. Do not align your body to the target…aim your club at the target and align your body left of the target! (For left-handers — right of the target)

Last, with confidence, trust your aim and alignment and make your best effort to create the shot. Even if you do not hit it perfectly, it will likely be on line, heading towards the intended target—a great miss!

COMPLETE YOUR SWING

This is accurate information: Left is “Right” (correct) at address. However, finishing with your belt buckle facing the target line is stopping short of the full completion of the swing circle.

When you finish a good golf swing, your belt buckle will actually be facing LEFT of your target if you have completed the swing circle. The ball will track towards the target on the line you established in your pre-shot routine, but your body will not finish facing the target. If it does, it could result in a shot that leaks to the right of the intended target.

Think in terms of the two lines at address that might help you understand this critical piece of information relating to the completion of your golf swing motion.

Imagine that the target line is the “ball target” and the parallel line you have lined up your body on is the “body target.” The two lines are parallel at address and remain so during the swing motion, but it is just the golf ball that (hopefully) ends up on the “ball target” line you established.

Ideally, you will end up in a balanced finish position, facing the “body target” line you set at address, clearly left of the ball target line. The swing circle motion has been completed, allowing both the operator and the equipment to hit a shot “on line” to the target!

Understanding this very thing has been instrumental for improved aim, alignment, and result with my students. See if this perception change alters the directional reality of your golf shots.

As my students and I often say about these actions that improve your motion and game, “If you can, you MUST!”

LPGA Master Professional/PGA Honorary Director Deb Vangellow 

SOURCE:  Golftipsmag

The 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational begins on Thursday from Bay Hill Club & Lounge, and many of golf’s elite will be on-hand. Weather won’t be a factor early, with the latest Orlando forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s for the first two rounds. Last year, Rory McIlroy won this tournament by three strokes and, this time out, he won’t have to content with Tiger Woods, who withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational 2019 with a neck strain. Woods hopes to return for the Players Championship next week. In the meantime, McIlroy is the favorite in the latest 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational odds at 8-1, while Justin Rose, who finished third in this tournament last year, is hot on his heels at 12-1. Before you make any 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks or enter any PGA DFS tournaments or cash games on sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, make sure to see the latest PGA predictions from the team at SportsLine.

SportsLine’s prediction model, built by DFS pro Mike McClure, has nailed four of the past eight majors entering the weekend and called Tiger Woods’ deep run in the PGA Championship despite being a 25-1 long shot. The model has been spot-on early in the 2018-19 season. It was high on champion Dustin Johnson at the 2019 WGC-Mexico Championship, projecting him as one of the top two contenders from the start. It also correctly predicted Brooks Koepka’s (9-1) victory at the CJ Cup earlier this season. Additionally, it correctly called Bryson DeChambeau’s (9-1) seven-shot victory at the 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Anyone who has followed the model is up huge.

Now that the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational field is locked, SportsLine simulated the event 10,000 times and the results were surprising. One huge shocker the model is calling for: McIlroy, the defending champion and top Vegas favorite on the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational odds board, makes a strong run but falls short of winning the title.

Thus far in the 2018-19 PGA schedule, McIlroy has already racked up four top-10 finishes. And although he has 14 career PGA Tour victories, he’s only finished on top of the leaderboard once since 2016.

Despite his red-hot start to the new season, McIlroy enters the 2019 Arnold Palmer Classic ranked 171st on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy percentage (57.39), which could cause major trouble at Bay Hill. His inability to keep the ball in the fairway off the tee will leave McIlroy scrambling around Palmer’s famed Championship Course. He’s not a strong pick to win it all and there are far better values in this loaded field than the 8-1 premium he’s commanding.

Another surprise: Tommy Fleetwood, a 33-1 long shot, makes a strong run at the title. He’s a target for anyone looking for a big payday.

Fleetwood is an emerging star who divides his time between the European and PGA Tour. He has yet to win a tournament on the PGA Tour, but has five international victories under his belt, including the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship a year ago. He also turned in back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Turkish Airlines Open and WGC-HSBC Champions in late 2018.

Despite not winning on the PGA Tour, Fleetwood has proven he can play with the top golfers in the world. In fact, he was the runner-up to Brooks Koepka last year at the U.S. Open despite shooting a 78 in his third round. Plus, he earned a top-10 finish at this event in 2017, which bodes well for Fleetwood’s chances this week at Bay Hill. He has an Official World Golf Ranking of 14 and possesses all the skills needed to shoot up the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard in a hurry.

Also, the model says three other golfers with 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational odds of 18-1 or longer make a strong run at the title. Anyone who backs these underdogs could hit it big.

So who wins the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational? And which long shots stun the golfing world?

Rory McIlroy 8-1
Justin Rose 12-1
Brooks Koepka 12-1
Rickie Fowler 14-1
Jason Day 16-1
Bryson DeChambeau 18-1
Hideki Matsuyama 28-1
Marc Leishman
Francesco Molinari 33-1
Tommy Fleetwood 33-1
Patrick Reed 40-1
Phil Mickelson 40-1

SOURCE: CBSsports