Tips From the Pro: The Key to Consistency

Every golfer who plays any amount of golf often remarks that they have a difficult time being consistent. Not only does this hold true for their scores, but also for their shot making. We’ve all endured the frustration of hitting the ball right at the stick and then on the next shot pulling, pushing, topping , duffing our way into a disastrous situation. While there are a multitude of things that can cause this (grip, stance, over swinging), the most common and problematic is failure to rotate around a steady center. To work on this, let’s break the swing down into its two biggest components–the back swing and down swing.

Back Swing
At address (using a mid iron) check to make sure that your center of gravity (sternum) is slightly BEHIND the ball. As you take the club back, check to see if you are maintaining a consistent spine angle. In other words, make sure that you are not swaying your upper body back with the club. Practicing in front of a mirror or watching your shadow is a great way to check this.  Keep in mind, it’s okay for your head to move back a little on the back swing, but the spine angle should stay consistent all the way to the top of the back swing.

Down Swing
Okay, now for the tough part. When the club starts down it is EXTREMELY important to keep your center of gravity (sternum) behind the ball through the impact area. Again, in the mirror or with a shadow, check to see that you’re not moving towards the ball with your upper body at the start of the downswing.  Many people have a difficult time with the first move downward due to being overly active with the right side. When starting your down swing, make sure to PULL with the left, not PUSH with the right. Ideally, your head (or sternum) will stay behind the ball through the impact position.Remember: Just because you’re staying behind the ball through impact, it doesn’t mean you don’t want a full follow through onto the left foot.

The more unnecessary motion you can eliminate from your swing, the better and more consistent your shots will be!

Scott Lusk is the Head P.G.A. Professional at Stone Ridge Golf Course in Eagle Point, Oregon.  If you’d like to schedule a lesson, or just a “tune-up,” he can be reached in the Pro Shop at 541-830-GOLF (4653)

Casey Martin recalls his 1993 win in Sahalee Players Championship

Before he made national headlines in 1998 and this year as a competitor in U.S. Opens at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Casey Martin made a regional splash in 1993 when he won the second Sahalee Players Championship ever played.

“It was one of those weeks when I played well and had success,” said Martin, who had just completed his redshirt year on the Stanford golf team. Ten months later, Stanford won the NCAA championship and one of Martin’s teammates was Tiger Woods.

Martin is now the head golf coach at the University of Oregon and his main interest in the Sahalee Players Championship is the competition it provides for top college players. Three players off Martin’s 2012 Oregon team are turning pro this summer, but one, senior-to-be Robbie Ziegler, will be in the field for the July 4-6 event at the Sahalee Country Club on the Sammamish Plateau.

“It’s a tough championship to get into,” said Martin of the 66-man, 72-hole event.

In a telephone interview, Martin said the SPC had the feel of an “impressive” tournament back in 1993 and added, “You could feel they were making a big effort to make it a special event.”

Martin described Sahalee’s fairways as “suffocatingly narrow” and said it is critical to land on the correct side of many greens to avoid facing tricky putts over mounds.

Martin, 40, just completed his sixth year as Oregon golf coach in his hometown of Eugene. He has rejuvenated the program. The Ducks have advanced to the NCAA championship tournament three of the past four years and beat Washington in a national quarterfinal match in 2010. This year, the Ducks once again made it to the Final Four in college golf.

Martin was the surprise medalist at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier held at the Emerald Valley Golf Resort in Creswell, outside Eugene. Heading into that qualifier, he hadn’t touched a club for nine days and hadn’t played in a tournament for five years.

“I was just going to play golf,” he said. “And if I got hot, great.”

He got hot and admits, “I was a little surprised.”

“It was fun to beat guys like Daniel (Miernicki) and Chris Williams,” he said.  Miernicki was a standout senior Duck who just turned pro, and Williams is an All-American who will return for his senior year at Washington. Williams also is the defending Sahalee Players Championship winner and hopes to become the event’s first repeat champion.

At the Open, Martin played competitively (74-75) but missed the cut by one stroke.

“I just didn’t make enough putts to get to the weekend,” he said.

Martin rode in a golf cart between shots at this year’s Open, just as he did in 1998, when his cart use was the stuff of worldwide headlines. He tied for 23rd in that Open. He suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a rare circulatory disorder that causes severe pain and makes it virtually impossible for him to walk 18 holes. He successfully sued the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart in all tour events in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the 2001 ruling was 7-2 in his favor. The ruling came after he had lost his PGA Tour card.

Martin is among notable SPC champions such as PGA Tour players Ryan Moore (2004) and Kyle Stanley (2006) plus fellow Hogan Award  (top college golfer) winner Nick Taylor of Washington in 2009.

SPC competitors will play 18 holes on July 4, 36 holes on July 5 and 18 on the final day. Admission is free but spectators must adhere to the Sahalee dress code that requires a collared shirt and prohibits jeans and cell phones.

“It’s a coveted event for sure,” said Martin. “Anyone who gets in is going to play against great competition on a world-class golf course.”

Once again this year, the Sahalee Players Championship is scheduled back-to-back with the PNGA Men’s Amateur as part of the “Western Swing.” The PNGA championship will be held at Wine Valley Golf Club near Walla Walla July 9-14.

Visit www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com and www.thepnga.org for more information.

 

Craig Smith (aka “Sideline Smitty”) is a retired Seattle Times sportswriter and was at the newspaper for 32 years. Golf was among his beats from 1995 until he retired in December 2008. His interest in golf started in the mid-1950s when he caddied at Inglewood Country Club in Kenmore, Wash. After graduating from Bothell High School, he attended the University of Washington where he became editor of the UW Daily and graduated in journalism. After a stint in the domestic Peace Corps (VISTA – Volunteers In Service to America), he worked as a reporter for the Charleston, W. Va. Gazette, Seattle P-I, Associated Press, Fairbanks News-Miner (where he switched from news to sports) and the Seattle Times. He lives in Kirkland, Wash. He and his wife, Julie, have two adult sons and a spoiled Springer spaniel named “Buck.”

 

In winning the Washington State Amateur, Chris Williams on a Roll

In winning the Washington State Amateur, Chris Williams gains momentum as he looks to defend his title at Sahalee Players Championship

Chris Williams had just won the Washington State Amateur minutes earlier at the Eagles Pride Golf Course at Fort Lewis, Wash. and was being interviewed by a reporter.

Asked about his immediate 2012 summer golf plans, Williams said he was headed to Ireland for the Palmer Cup (U.S. collegians vs. European collegians) and then would attempt to defend his title at the Sahalee Players Championship.

           “You realize that no one has ever won the Sahalee event two years in a row?” the reporter said.

Williams perked up.

“Really?” he said. “All right, I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

Williams won the Sahalee Players Championship (SPC) last year by one stroke. The No. 2-ranked amateur in the world sounds eager to get back to the Sammamish, Wash. course whose name translates from Chinook Native American language as “high, heavenly ground.” The 72-hole championship is by invitation only and attracts an international field of elite amateurs. It is being held July 4-6, with July 5 as the two-round day.

“That’s a great course,” said Williams, a Golfweek All-American who will return for his senior season as a Washington Husky in the fall. “They get it in awesome shape. It was fun to win it last year. You have to hit it straight there. You have to hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens. It’s tough to make birdies out there. They set it up almost like a U.S. Open.”

Indeed, two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen once said of Sahalee, “I think the best way to prepare for this course would be to go to a big city, like New York, and play down Fifth Avenue.”

The inaugural Sahalee Players Championship was played in 1992 to showcase Northwest amateur golfers, but as the course’s reputation grew then fully blossomed with the 1998 PGA Championship and later the 2002 NEC Invitational, the tournament’s founders made the SPC a truly national event by extending international invitations. Most of the field consists of elite college players, as the event has become a major stepping stone in the selection of players for the U.S. Walker Cup Team.

The list of past champions now reads like a who’s who of golf. Casey Martin of Eugene, Ore., now the head golf coach at the University of Oregon who recently made headlines by qualifying for the U.S. Open, won the SPC in 1993. Martin would later become famous as the talented handicapped golfer who challenged the USGA and its ban on the use of golf carts in national championships.

In 2004, the SPC was one of five significant events won by Puyallup, Wash. native Ryan Moore in what is considered the greatest year of amateur golf by anyone since 1930 when Bobby Jones won his Grand Slam.  Moore won the NCAA Championship, the U.S. Public Links Championship, the U.S. Amateur, the Western Amateur and the Sahalee Players Championship.

In one of the championship’s wildest finishes, Kyle Stanley won a four-way playoff in 2006 in which an eagle on the first playoff hole wasn’t good enough for victory. Stanley, a native of Gig Harbor, Wash. who captured his first PGA Tour victory earlier this year, and Jon McLean of Texas Christian both eagled the par-5 18th hole to eliminate Dustin Johnson and Derek Berg that served as the first playoff hole. Stanley then eagled the hole again 20 minutes later for victory.

In 2009, Nick Taylor of the University of Washington won the championship in a year that saw him win the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top collegiate player. Past SPC champions Moore, Stanley and Peter Uihlein (2010 winner) also won the Hogan Award. Uihlein won the year the tournament was moved to The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. because the U.S. Senior Open was being held at Sahalee that year. Uihlein would also win the 2010 U.S. Amateur, played later that summer at Chambers Bay.

More than a dozen golfers who have competed in the Sahalee Players Championship have wound up on the PGA Tour.

One of Williams’ top challengers this year will be junior phenom Beau Hossler of Mission Viejo, Calif., who captured the imagination of fans around the world as he led during the second round of the U.S. Open earlier this month. Hossler finished tied for fourth at last year’s SPC. Also competing this year will be Brigham Young University standout Zac Blair of Ogden, Utah, who tied for second last year at the SPC then won the 2011 Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s Amateur. Other notables for this year are reigning Pac-12 champion Andrew Yun of Stanford; Cheng Tsung Pan, the sophomore at the UW who was named First Team All Pac-12 and is currently the 10th ranked amateur in the world; and Lorens Chan, Hawaii State Amateur champion.

Admission is free but spectators must adhere to the Sahalee dress code that requires a collared shirt and prohibits jeans and cell phones.

Once again this year, the Sahalee Players Championship is scheduled back-to-back with the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s Amateur as part of the “Western Swing.” The PNGA championship will be held at Wine Valley Golf Club outside Walla Walla, July 9-14.

For more information on the SPC, go to www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com and for more information on the PNGA Men’s Amateur visit www.thepnga.org.