Lesson plan: The more you watch golf, the more you learn

Every time I watch the pros tee it up, I learn new things and relearn old things. It is like a clinic. The third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was no different.

Frankly, it is one of the many reasons I watch.

I watch because, well, it’s just so enjoyable. If I’m not playing for hours, I can watch golf for hours. I turned it on today when the final group was on the third hole and watched it all the way to the finish. Enthralling.

I watch because it is so beautiful. Pebble Beach is one of those places where I could see it every day and I still would be amazed by its wonders. Nothing better. And I’m not stuck in the dead of winter like most of the country.

I watch because it is so relaxing. The announcers aren’t yelling at you; it’s closer to a whisper. Non-golfers make fun of that, but they just don’t get it. It’s why I can stay tuned in most of the day.

And I watch because, every single time, I get lessons about our great game that I can apply to my next round – which I always hope will be sooner after I come down from the high that is a pro golf tournament.

Today’s lessons:

You’re not always going to have your best stuff, but you just have to hit a shot or two to stay on track.  

Jordan Spieth wasn’t having a good day. He committed the unpardonable sin of making a 6 on the easy par-5 second hole. As he kept scrambling to save par, I found myself saying, “Hit a green for a change, will ya?” And he’s one of my favorite players.

Then he hits an absolutely adorable hook on No. 16 that does indeed hit the green, takes a left turn and trickles into the hole for an eagle. It was the shot of the day … and the second time in the tournament he did that.

Just like that, he was tied for the lead. Just like that, his day was changed. We can do the same thing.

Above all else, we have to keep the ball in play.

Daniel Berger stood on the 18th tee tied with Spieth and promptly blocked one out of bounds, leaving Spieth all alone at the top. It was another example of why No. 18 at Pebble is one of the toughest driving holes in the world – two other leaders, Nate Lashley and Paul Casey, hooked their drives into the rocks on the beach.

Unfortunately, we often do the same thing. Only in our case, we’re trying to swing out of our shoes and ruin a round with a completely avoidable mistake.

The only way to play a hole like the 18th is to pick the shot shape you most trust and bank on it. Me, I aim at the bunkers and take a “must hook” swing. If I over-cook it into the beach, I’d rather be there than out of bounds. But I trust my hook more than my cut, and I’ve got a lot of room to play with there.

I’ve played that hole several times and have never had a penalty shot. That doesn’t mean I’ve ever parred it – I don’t think I have. But at least I played it correctly.

Don’t get greedy.

I almost leaped off the sofa when Spieth had a wood in his hands as he surveyed his second shot on No. 18 – even though his caddie, Michael Greller, was telling him to lay up.

Berger was OB. All Spieth had to do was make a boring par, and he probably goes into the final round leading by two shots. Fortunately, Greller prevailed, and Spieth made that par.

We’re not pros. Those shots we think we can hit … we can’t hit them. Over and over, I have found that when I lay up and just take what the golf course gives me, I score much better.

The USGA will do something with the sixth hole at Pebble Beach before the 2027 U.S. Open.

Bank on it. As pro after pro kept hitting way left off the tee to be at a higher elevation, giving them a better look at the green up on the hill, the CBS announcers were appalled. It’s a sacred hole, No. 6, and this was desecration.

The United States Golf Association doesn’t take that sort of thing lightly. You’ll see something punitive over there, maybe even OB stakes, in six years. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the PGA Tour takes action before the next Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Those were today’s lessons. There will be others tomorrow. That’s golf. That is what makes it so fascinating to watch.

Leave a Reply