Ahead of the first major championship of the year – the US PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco – we asked some of our leading PGA Professionals what goes on behind the scenes when preparing a player for a major championship.
Today Gary Barter shares the challenges of coaching Matt Jones remotely during COVID-19, how the practice regime changes and the one part of Jones’s game that needs most attention prior to Round 1 on Thursday night.
There’s no doubt about it, coaching remotely is not as good as being there. Not even close.
Normally I would go over to the US and spend time with Matt six or eight times a year and we FaceTime on the other weeks but it is definitely not as good.
I spoke to Matt on Monday morning and he said that he was 15th overall in putting last week in Memphis, top-five overall in driving but that his iron play let him down.
Going into Harding Park, if you’re driving it well and putting well and he’s a great chipper of the ball, if we can get his irons going well he should be in good shape.
For players at this level, it can be a little thing like distance control. He said last week that he hit his irons solid out of the clubface but he couldn’t control his distance. He felt that some would go 12-15 feet too far and then if there was some wind he might go down from a 9-iron to a wedge because they were coming out a bit hot.
He said that when he got purchase on the ball the ball would jump a little bit.
Players can get spooked by little things that we wouldn’t think you would even worry about.
As a regular golfer, hitting an 8-iron to the middle of the green seems great but if he’s hitting an 8-iron 30 feet past the hole, that’s not too good.
It wasn’t that he was suddenly missing greens or anything like that, it was more around distance control and trajectory with his irons. That’s what he was concerned with. He just couldn’t hit his numbers. I know what that means.
A golf swing is a bit like a Rubik’s Cube. All the sides can be messed up but if you’re good at it you can solve it pretty quickly, as long as you pick the right way to do it.
With Matt, I’ll probably have four or five things that we’ve worked on in the past – whether that’s five years or four weeks ago – and he’ll grab one or two of those things and be good to go.
Matt has reference points and different feels and cues that he uses. I’d be surprised if by Wednesday I haven’t given him something that helps him feel better about his iron play.
A Major week is a different week, there’s no doubt about it, and you can see why the experienced guys tend to do well.
Matt’s definitely got better at managing the week because it is very tiring. Long practice rounds, more press than they normally do, the anticipation and with course set-ups that are pushed to the limit you have to concentrate on every shot for the whole five hours that you’re out there.
The experienced players are really good at limiting their emotional intensity early in the week. It’s about keeping your arousal level low, doing the work, planning out the course and getting ready to go with as little amount of wasted mental energy as possible.
Course strategy in a Major is a lot more exacting so your ball-striking is under the microscope even more. Your trajectory, your distance control, even working out how the ball is going to jump out of the rough.
Ordinarily, if I sat down for dinner with Matt in preparation for a Major there would be a lot more talking about the golf course than there would be at a normal tour event.
You will still have your normal range work and the normal conversation about how the player is feeling, what they’re happy with, what they’re not happy with but on the golf course there is a lot of conversation around strategy.
You’re also really loading up on your short game for a Major. Chipping, putting, bunker play and all the different types of chip shots they might face.
Majors are won on your capacity to recover and keep yourself in the game so when you do hit the good shots you make the birdies and you don’t throw them away on the next hole.
While they are the best players in the world and they know what they’re doing, they’re still not preparing for perfect golf. They’re preparing for the time when they might slightly miss one or end up in the wrong spot that’s not going to put them in a position where they can’t recover.
That’s the non-tangible that the great players have, the capacity to navigate their way around if things aren’t going correctly.
Some players will come in with their ‘A’ game, some with their ‘B’ game and some with their ‘C’ game and it’s about working out how to get the job done with the game you have that week.
For Matt it’s about getting mentally right to perform. He’s got the game, there’s no doubt about it, and he loves the golf course.
Once we get a little bit of work done early in the week I expect he’ll play well.
Gary Barter is the Director of Teaching at The Australian Golf Club. In addition to two-time Australian Open champion Matt Jones, Gary coaches tour players such as Dimi Papadatos, Jake Higginbottom, Blake Windred and Stephanie Kyriacou.