Bump and Run Laird Small

By David AllenAugust 27, 2009, 4:00 pm
We know it's difficult to find time to practice during the week. When a Saturday or Sunday tee time rolls around, you're hoping to find some spark or productive swing thought that will help you break 100, 90, 80 or whatever your scoring goal may be.
 
With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed toward improving your game. This week it's Laird Small, Director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy.
Laird Small Headshot 60x60LAIRD SMALL
Director, Pebble Beach Golf Academy Pebble Beach, Calif.
 
Accomplishments:
- Golf Digests 50 Greatest Teachers
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers in America
- 2003 PGA National Teacher of the Year

 
Students (past and present):
Kirk Triplett, George Lopez, Tom Sullivan, Oprah Winfrey
 
Web Site:
www.pebblebeach.com
 
Contact: 831-622-8650
As the lead instructor at America's most famous golf course, Small gets as many phone calls about how to get a tee time at Pebble as he does how to deal with first-tee jitters.
 
'We used to get a bunch of calls per week ' I couldn't put a number on it ' because that was the only way to get on Pebble if you didnt stay at the hotel,' said Small, who was head professional at Spyglass Hill for nine years before joining Pebble's staff in 1996. 'A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend would call, trying to get on Pebble, and I was usually the final call after everyone had exhausted all of their resources.'
 
As one of the last means to get on Pebble, Small has received some tempting offers in exchange for a tee time. On one occasion, a prominent company offered him a very expensive watch for a doubleheader on Cypress Point and Pebble.
 
'If people really want to play they have to go through the right channels to get on because its worth the effort,' said Small, who has also caddied and worked the cart barn at Pebble. 'People think there are saved tee times on the golf course; there really arent. But we try and help everybody to get out and play and enjoy the course.'
 
To submit a question to Small ' besides how to get on Pebble ' or one of our teachers, please e-mail bumpandrun@thegolfchannel.com and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
 
You've given lessons to some prominent business people, politicians and celebrities during your time at Pebble, including your boss, Clint Eastwood (part-owner at Pebble) and Oprah Winfrey. How was she to work with?
 
That was a lot of fun. We met on the putting green and I had a short window of time to give her a lesson. She was doing a show with Clint Eastwood, promoting a new movie he was about to release.
 
Were preparing for her to arrive and her handlers say, 'Well, we dont know if shes right-handed or left-handed because she does things both ways.' Then they say, 'Oh, and she has big hands.' So we had four sets of clubs out there and we didnt know which one she was going to use. Then they say, 'Oh, by the way, she had a lesson about three weeks ago. She spent two hours and didnt hit a ball, and shes really frustrated. She cant do the game.'
 
Im thinking, 'How am I going to get this done with all these cameras rolling and my boss, Clint Eastwood, right there?'
 
Funny thing was, just a day earlier I had given my oldest son ' who was eight at the time ' a lesson on the putting green at Spyglass. I was trying to teach him how to putt and he said, Pop, let me show you how I do it. He put the ball down about an inch away from the hole and knocked it in. I said, 'No, youve got to be farther away than that,' and he was like, 'That was fun. Let me do that again.' And he repeated his previous putt from just by the hole.
 
So Im going through this lesson with Oprah, and I get her in the right grip and setup and have her putting the ball. Now it comes time to fish or cut bait, because she wants to now make the putt. Crowds are gathering around because they realize who she is, and now Ive got to have her make putts. I had no clue how to start her because if she misses a putt, it confirms that she cant do it and she looks bad in front of the cameras and everyone else. It immediately flashed on me what my sons lesson was, so I put the ball right next to the hole and had her knock it in. Then I had her move the ball back another inch and she holed it again. I said, 'Oprah, were creating new patterns of success,' and she says, 'I love that.' So I kept stretching the distance back and before I knew it, she had made 12 putts in a row, back to about nine feet. Shes just jumping up and down, spinning, doing the victory dance. It was great.
 
When it came time to play the 18th hole at Pebble Beach [she, Clint and Dina Eastwood played a modified scramble], she grabs me by the arm and tugs me right next to her. Were walking arm and arm. I tried to get away, because I didn't want to get in Clints shot, and the more I tried to get away the more she tugged me in. She had a 25-foot, downhill curling putt on the 18th green and she hit it about a foot away, on her first try, which was just fabulous.
 
Its a lifelong lesson I received from my son about learning from patterns of success. I think sometimes as teachers we make it more complicated than it might actually be.
 
Former President Bill Clinton watches a drive.
Former President Clinton needed Small's help with the shanks.
You once gave President Clinton an on-course lesson, too, correct?
 
Yes, we had the ex-President of Spain and his wife out here for a three-day conference and I gave them golf lessons each day ' a little on the range and also on the course at Spyglass. We've just walked off the first green and theres President Clinton and his group on the fourth green. He and President Clinton were great friends, so the ex-President of Spain says, 'Laird, come on over, you have to meet President Clinton.' So we go over and he says, Bill, this is the guy Ive been talking to you about; hes helped me with my swing and my game, and youve got to let him watch you hit a few golf balls.'
 
So I watched him hit a few balls and it turns out he was having trouble shanking some shots. I gave him a couple of tips on the fifth hole to stop him from shanking and he did better right away.
 
What was the main tip?
 
It turns out he was standing too close to the ball, so I had him stand farther away so he could swing out to the ball. He was shanking it because his swing was coming too much from outside to in.
 
Speaking of the shanks, we have a reader who needs some help. He writes, 'Just about every time I go for a short shot anywhere inside 120 yards I somehow shank the ball straight right. I don't think I could produce the awful shots that result even if I tried. Can you help?'
 
Sure. People shank the ball a lot of different ways, usually from the hosel coming in first. But sometimes you can shank it off the toe, so you need to identify where its coming from, especially on short-game shots.
 
One of the drills you can do for the shanks is take your normal address position and curl your right big toe up off the ground so theres more weight on your right heel. If you have a hard time doing this you can take a golf ball and place it underneath your right foot, toward your toes. That will keep your weight back, so you don't lurch out toward the ball too much and shank it. What happens is your right side will stay a little quieter, making room for your hands and arms to swing. People tend to lunge out at the ball, and what happens is the right hip moves forward and invades the space where the hands and arms are, pushing them further out so the hosel meets the ball.
 
Any advice for the weekend warrior? Something that may help them drop a shot or two during their Saturday or Sunday round?
 
If you don't have time to practice during the week, swing a golf club in your backyard so you get a feel and awareness for your club. If you do have a chance to warm up ' say, you have 30 minutes before you tee off ' spend 20 of those minutes on your short game. Go to the putting green and putt, chip and pitch, THEN go hit some balls. What usually happens is people go right to the driving range and they don't have a chance to practice the short-game shots. These are the ones that the typical 90-shooter is hitting 70 percent of the time.
 
One of the most feared shots at Pebble is the second shot on the par-4 eighth hole, over the ocean. Any advice for the weekend golfer who has a fear of forced carries?
 
Amateurs try and hit shots that their talent level doesnt allow them to do; they overestimate their ability. I would first get a realistic assessment of what the yardage is on the forced carry. Then, ask yourself, 'Can I hit a reasonable shot six times out of 10 that would carry that?' If you can, go ahead and do it; if you cant, play it safe because the golf course usually gives you an alternate route to hit these shots.
 
If, for example, you have a 125-yard carry to the green on No. 8 at Pebble and you don't feel comfortable getting it there, then go to the left. If you want to hit the shot just to hit it, go hit it. If it doesnt come out the way you wanted to thats okay, at least you tried. Dont beat yourself up because it didn't come out the way you expected. Sometimes the game is about taking chances.
 
Laird Small Related Videos
  • Fairway Bunker Freedom
  • Out-to-In Downswing Problem
  • Three Short Game Pointers

  •  
    Getty Images

    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

    Getty Images

    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

    Getty Images

    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

    Getty Images

    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.