Stewart: I saw first hand at Valspar how & why a Pro succeeds

Jeremy McKnight/Icon Sportswire

The PGA Tour continues its Florida swing this week with the Valspar Championship from the Innisbrook Copperhead course in Tampa where South African Retief Goosen is a two-time previous winner. And everyone can learn a lot for their own games by watching a consummate professional such as Goosen during a tournament round.

We all love to sit in front of our televisions and watch the best players in the world take courses apart, splitting fairways with 300-yard drives, firing pin-point irons at flags and then draining birdie putts to the adulation of the crowd. What does that do for the average golfer when he next walks on to the first tee at his home club? He might once a round pull out a shot, or more likely a result, that a top pro would be happy with but the comparison between the two is a world apart.

Retief made the cut at the 2015 Valspar by a shot and was out early on the third day. The two-time US Open champion has long been regarded as one of the most even-keeled and sensible players on the PGA Tour so who better to follow shot by shot round Innisbrook to gain insights ahead of your next competition round?

Here’s what I learned:

The 2nd hole is a 435-yard par 4, right-to-left dog leg with a shot of around 250 yards downhill finding the ideal spot to attack an elevated green. Goosen hit a hybrid off the tee but overdid the draw and found himself amongst trees some 15 yards left of the fairway.

On approaching his ball, he spent some two minutes looking at every option. Going towards the flag either low or high was out of the question so he considered all angles for a pitch back to the fairway. Once he decided going at 90 degrees back was the right option, he then checked the yardage of the shot to the middle of the fairway, then selected the right club before playing the pitch.

What can the average golfer learn here? Don’t just walk into this kind of situation, pull the first club out of the bag and play. Consider the best place you can find for your next shot and then decide on the club and shot that gets you there.

[graphiq id=”gbHIARaARuJ” title=”Retief Goosen Profile” width=”600″ height=”703″ url=”” ]

The 4th hole is a 195-yard par-3 with the hole located in the front left corner of the green. Retief hit a 6-iron left, off the roof on a hospitality pavilion and into an area where he obtained a drop away from the structure. He had a 25-yard pitch from a scruffy lie to a flag located no more than four yards on the putting surface. His lob came up five yards short and remained in the rough. Without showing any emotion or frustration, he changed clubs and proceeded to get up and down for a bogey.

What can the average golfer learn here? How often would you bang your club on the ground and get annoyed? And then leave the next shot in the rough or skull it through the green? Accept the bad shot has happened and stay mentally in the moment of getting up and down from where you now are.

The 14th hole is a 590-yard par-5 that was out of range in two. The ideal lay-up shot was to some 70-80 yards short of the green to the left of the lake that guards the right side of the approach. Having hit a perfect drive, Retief’s fairway wood second shot landed in the ideal spot but kicked a few extra yards and rolled just into three-inch rough through the fairway. A really tough break from an almost perfect shot. For once he did show a little frustration when he saw the lie he had, but quickly re-grouped, considered his options and played a lovely pitch to within four feet.

What can the average golfer learn here? Bad breaks happen. Just as every golfer enjoys the bounce off a bank on to the green or the kick out of the trees back to the fairway, what goes around comes around. Indeed it can be said that the better the player, the more bad bounces they will get as they are more likely to be on target in the first place.

The 8th hole is a 235-yard slightly downhill par-3 that was playing straight into the wind. Facing a tough front hole location, Goosen nailed a 4-iron to 18 feet. This was a chance to turn the round around with his first birdie of the day. “Yes it definitely was a chance and I did see it that way” Retief reflected after the round. “I made a good putt”.

So is there a difference between missing a putt and a putt not going in? “Definitely. I really thought I had made that one”.

What can the average golfer learn here? Every round will see opportunities to pick up a shot, make a birdie, score a three or even four pointer in Stableford scoring. They can be turning points in any round. In addition, there are times when a player will make a good putt but it will simply not drop. You have to accept you have done your best and move on to the next chance.

The 6th hole at Innisbrook is a 465-yard par-4 that dog-legs left to right and drops quite dramatically from the tee to the landing area. Retief hit a superb drive that landed in a perfect position with 115 yards left to the middle of the green. He hit the wedge fat and it came up short of the green leading to a bogey.

What can the average golfer learn here? The pros are human too! Retief did not get up and down and made a bogey five but accepted the situation and moved on. He showed a little emotion at the bad second shot but did not allow it to carry on to future shots. His playing partner Mark Wilson duffed a 40-yard pitch shot into the par-5 14th just proving that whilst the average player dreams of playing like a tour professional, the latter can emulate the rest of us just as well.


So what can the average golfer learn from a two-time major winner? “Isn’t it the other way round after that score?” Retief said with a wry smile afterwards trying to put a positive spin on what was obviously a very disappointing day for him. “Yes I admit I gave up during today. I knew I was out of this tournament so it was a chance for me to see what I can take going forwards to the next one. I started trying some things out to improve my ball striking and saw some good results.”

But being able to stay in control during a bad round is important? “For sure. It was easier today because we were in two-balls so the speed of play was pretty quick and constant.”

What can the average golfer learn here? There will be times in a competition round when you realise you are not going to win but also increase your handicap. These are not the times to just give up completely but to turn them into opportunities to try out new shots or ways of playing a hole whilst still in competition play. It may be going for an aggressive drive on a short par-4 or deliberately laying up on a longer one, to see if this tactic can be put into play during a more successful round in the future.

(Many thanks to Valspar Championship Media Director Rick Odioso, who made my opportunity to follow Goosen closely, a reality)

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