Invest heavily in your short game just like the pros do at Augusta
When you think about the Masters (April 8-11), what comes to mind are the flawless deep green fairways, and slick bentgrass greens set against white sand bunkers, towering Georgia pines, azaleas and dogwoods. You think about players slinging drives around the corner on the par-5 13th, or negotiating Eisenhower's Tree on 17.
But this year, I'm going to pay more attention to possibly the most important skill you must have to win at Augusta National – short game and putting. I can't think of too many places where it might be more critical – from reading and executing perfectly paced putts to impeccable sand play. (See above image of Tiger Woods' incredible chip shot at No. 16 en route to winning in 2005.)
And then, of course, there are those Augusta tight lies that would have most average golfers shaking in their FootJoys and pulling out the Texas wedge (putter) around the greens. To execute a perfect pitch shot from five to 15 yards with almost zero margin for error, you need more than feel; you need perfect fundamentals and great rhythm.
Which brings me to this: If you want to impress your friends, forget the long drives; become a wizard around the greens. But to accomplish that, you're going to need more than practice, especially if you’re like 98 percent of the golfing population. Very few of us have anything that resembles what the pros do around the greens, and reading a tip or two in a magazine, or taking one chipping lesson isn't nearly enough.
I recently had the opportunity to go through one of Dave Pelz' three-day Scoring Schools held at Chateau Elan Winery and Resort, just outside of Atlanta, which appropriately is just a couple of hours or so from Augusta.
This isn't just instruction; it's religion. I challenge anyone to go through three days of Pelz' practical, scientific approach and not to come out of it with a new faith. I found myself, for example, in my next round, almost hoping I would miss greens so I could try out my new fundamentals.
Admittedly, the first time out on a golf course – which came at The Landing at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., this week – I still hit a couple of poor pitches as old habits die hard. But the times I executed what I learned was pure euphoria. My chipping, for example, is 100 times better than it used to be. I have every confidence that if I apply the principles and fundamentals I was taught during three intense days of video, drills and close supervision, short game and putting will be strengths, not the biggest part of my handicap.
You should know, of course, that it isn't cheap to attend a three-day school – about $2,400 or so – but think about how much you've probably spent over the years on new drivers and irons, not to mention all the Nassaus you might have lost because you couldn't get it up and down in three, much less two.
Pelz also offers more economical options, such as a two-day short-game school, which doesn't include putting, and there are also one-day clinics held throughout the country and the UK. The full-blown three-day schools, by the way, are also offered in Michigan, California and Florida as well as Ireland. You can go to pelzgolf.com for more information.
Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond
Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.
She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.
Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.
After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.
“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.
Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).
It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.
“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”
Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.
“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”
Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.
It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.
“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”
Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic
CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.
The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.
''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''
She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.
''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''
Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.
''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.
Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.
Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.
Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.
Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.
''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''
She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.
''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''
Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.
DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history
AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.
Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.
“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”
Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.
The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.
It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.
Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi
BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.
Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.
''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''
He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.
''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''
Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida
''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''
Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.
''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''
Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.
Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.
Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.