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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Playing Lessons from the Match Play

The golf world is still buzzing about the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Jason Day got a big win, Victor Dubuisson got unlimited sponsor invites, and Victor's runner-up finish gave me the best results I've had in a long time when picking this event. ;-)

Day and Dubuisson

But there's more that we can learn from the Final Four in this tournament. Today I thought we'd take a quick look at some easy-to-apply lessons we can all use.

From 4th place Ernie Els we can learn the importance of proper equipment. Ernie has been struggling to regain the putting prowess he used to have, trying almost anything to make putts. However, he finally moved to a shorter, counterweighted putter (I talked about them in detail a couple of days ago) and found a piece of equipment that suits him to a tee. It allows him to rely on the same rhythm that makes his full swing so smooth and dependable. Many of us are using sticks that we just aren't comfortable with, and that's a problem that's easily corrected.

From 3rd place Rickie Fowler we can learn to double-check our fundamentals when we have swing problems. Far too often, our response to a persistent swing problem is to try an entirely different way to swing -- and as a result we just end up with a swing that's a mix of different techniques that don't work together. When Rickie went to Butch Harmon, Butch didn't rebuild his swing, according to Rickie in this Golf Digest article:
"[There are] no major changes, just taking what I have and cleaning it up, making it consistent and more repeatable."
Fowler says the essence of the effort is to get started in the right takeaway position and to shorten his backswing a bit. "My tendency," he says, "is to get a little long and the club gets stuck behind me."
No major changes, just cleaning things up. Note that Rickie specifically mentions working on a proper takeaway position. That's why I keep harping on a properly-done one-piece takeaway; even the pros tend to get into bad habits there. Keep your eyes on your fundamentals.

From runner-up Victor Dubuisson you can learn to trust what you know. A number of people on social media felt that Victor was too careless over those amazing shots he hit to keep the match going. But Victor's nickname is "Golden Hands" and the word is that he doesn't practice as much as the other guys; he prefers to play more. You don't find those kind of lies on the range, but you can end up in all kinds of bad lies out on the course so Victor has a good sense of what he has to do when he hits into something unusual like teddy bear cholla. As a result, he doesn't second guess himself; he decides what he's going to try and then he tries it. And he doesn't beat himself up if it doesn't come off the way he planned -- as he said, "I just played it like I had nothing to lose." Don't overthink your game.

Finally, from winner Jason Day we can learn simple mental toughness. After a couple of miraculous saves by Victor, Jason said he started to wonder if he should just hand over the trophy right then. But as Helen Ross wrote for
After all the shots that left him shaking his head in disbelief like the rest of us on Sunday afternoon, especially Victor Dubuisson's stunning escape from beside that small cholla and the other ball he liberated from the branches of a bush, Jason Day was still focused on one thing.
He wanted to win the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Yes, it was that simple. Jason simply didn't give up. You don't have to, either. Just keep your head in the game, trying to make the best score you can. You might be surprised what you can do.

These aren't complex techniques that let these players triumph over 60 other players. But then, victory usually comes down to just not quitting. And you can do that as well as they can.

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