Shot commitment crucial on PGA TOUR

Akron, OH— May 6, 2012 in Charlotte N.C. offered seasonal late afternoon conditions, but Rickie Fowler and his caddie Joe Skovron were still grinding on the golf course in a playoff with Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points debating over a crucial second shot.

Fowler was searching for his first PGA TOUR win and after a fairway drive, had to choose between a pitching wedge or a gap wedge when approaching the green.

Skovron who has caddied for Fowler since the latter joined the TOUR in 2009, recommended the gap wedge which was a riskier golf shot. Fowler landed the shot just below the hole in close proximity to the hole.

Fowler would make his birdie putt to win the playoff as Skovron still fondly remembers in intimate detail, describing his call and the return commitment with a smile on his face.

“He believed in it and he hit the shot,” Skovron said. “He had to get all of it, it was the club that was going to get it close but it brought the most trouble in. He went and pulled off the shot. It turned out perfect.”

When it comes to assessing the game of golf, driving and putting the golf ball are both major aspects, but shot commitment is just as if not more important when determining success.

This can be a process for players including Francesco Molinari, who weeks ago captured his first major, the Open Championship and admitted that earlier in his career, he was much more one-dimensional in his thought process.

Tyrrell Hatton kept his secret behind committing to a shot fairly concise but provided an opinion which is universally shared on TOUR.

“I think it starts off as a conversation you have with your caddie,” Tyrrell Hatton said. “If you’re both feeling confident with the club you picked then it’s pretty easy to go in and make the best swing possible. If you haven’t discussed it through enough, at least I find that can lead to poor shots.”

In this season’s PLAYERS Championship, Simpson stood on the infamous par-3 17th tee box at TPC Sawgrass and admitted he could have thought about the tournament being over if he reached the green but instead went to his caddie Paul Tesori.

Simpson would par the hole and offered a small fist pump, only then displaying what that putt meant.

“I really got wrapped up in my number, where I was trying to hit it, what I was trying to do, the flight, everything,” he said. “That’s an example of me of committing there. It is the same as committing on the second hole of a golf tournament. Just because the circumstance changes does not mean the task changes.”

Communication is key

Prior to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Justin Thomas sat his team down for a group meeting in order to effectively communicate what was needed to make sure everyone was doing their best “to help the team win.”

Thomas stumbled during his second-round play in the event on the par-5 16th hole, hitting an approach into the water hazard and making a putt just outside of 10 feet for his bogey.

After asking his caddie Jimmy Johnson to step in more, Thomas had a 242-yard shot on the par-5 second hole and brought Johnson in to assist with the shot.

Thomas asked Johnson if 5-wood was the play and the response was immediate.

“I never thought anything else,” Johnson said.

Thomas would birdie the hole and ultimately won the Bridgestone Invitational by four shots over Kyle Stanley.

“He’s been great this week,” said Thomas. “I told him that on 18 that he did a great job today (Saturday).”

Golf can be a lonely sport at times, but on the course, it is a caddie who is tasked with helping select a shot shape, club and provide any necessary encouragement.

“It’s probably the biggest part of our job that there are comfortable hitting the shot they’re hitting,” Skovron said. “You talk it out and you give him your opinion and maybe he likes a different club. Once you get to that you’ve got to make sure he is comfortable hitting whatever club that is. I just try to give him as much information as I can or if he’s already comfortable with it, give him as little information, get out of the way and go.”

One big advantage Fowler has with Skovron on the bag is familiarity and that alone can help out when a player is under the gun on a Friday trying to make the cut or Sunday attempting to win a golf tournament.

“I’ve learned what he wants to hear,” said Skovron. “I’m sure he also knows what way I’m going to tend and some of my tendencies. With us, we’ve just fine tuned over time and know what we need to do when pressure is at its highest.”

There is the other side of the coin which comes when players change caddies either due to a partnership not working or the desire for a different voice.

Hatton went to a new caddie in Mark Crane, for the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship towards the end of May after splitting with good friend Jonathan Bell.

With a new caddie comes a new relationship and both sides feeling the other out, finding a voice and trust level.

“You get used to working in a certain way,” he said. “My caddie and I have been working together since Wentworth, so we are still pretty new working relationship. I think we’ve done pretty well since we’ve started. I think we worked things out pretty well it just boils down to how I perform.”

There are many longer-term relationships between players and caddies with Fowler and Skovron being one of the higher profile ones, an understanding is paramount and expected for how to handle a player day-to-day.

“Some days you just get out of his way like when he won at the Bahamas in December at Tiger’s event,” said Skovron. “I made sure he had the basics and went. There are other times where he’ll lean on me more. We talked a lot about things at Augusta this year and that worked out well on the weekend. We’ve had success both ways and I think that’s part of it.”

Keeping it basic

At times it can be hard to fathom how much concentration it takes to fire a low score and PGA TOUR players are no different, realizing it takes full commitment to an average of 70 shots in a round.

Simply put, golf is hard and one Webb Simpson is quick to call imperfect.

“It’s easy to get caught up in what you are going to shoot or how you’re playing, but my school of thought is that the next shot is all that I need to worry about,” he said. “I have to take care of my business from there.”

Coming on TOUR, Xander Schauffele understood how hard it was to find a routine commitment and that there are seemingly an infinite amount of variables which can throw off his process.

Whether it is rain, wind, a mental block or even a contrast in thought with a caddie,

“The British was a little bit slower because it was a different situation for me and it was a lot of pressure so I didn’t want to rush and make a mistake,” said Schauffele. “If you are in the middle of the fairway you can pull the trigger faster because there’s not so many variables. You can tell who is playing well but those variables are how you make your decisions. At a certain point, everything becomes natural. As any golfer gets older you see more things so situations aren’t very new to you, so it is easier to process data.”

Regardless many of the golfers in last week’s Bridgestone Invitational were playing their first event since the Open Championship, which is an adjustment in itself, but the event also had no cut given the smaller-sized field which allowed for opportunity to prepare a routine for the PGA Championship.

For such an easy thought, keeping a present mind, there is more to it than ever before with Trackman and outside influences even more present than ever before.

More is known now by golfers and not all of it is great to process on the golf course but at the same token, there is more known currently, which when properly used could be used as an advantage.

“For me, each shot, chip and putt has its own challenges to stay committed,” said Simpson. “Once you pick the club or shot, the challenge is to stay fully committed. It’s hard to know the right answer and sometimes you just have to take an educated guess.”

Photo credit: Cobra Golf Twitter

Author: Zac Weiss