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Lessons from the top

By TONY BENNETT [email protected]

Tony Bennett is a PGA Master Professional and Director of Education for The PGA of Europe. He lives in the Algarve and writes this regular golf feature.

News broke that Padraig Harrington, the Open and USPGA champion, has had two non-malignant melanomas removed from around his right eye. Speaking in the first week of February, Harrington who had similar surgery in 2007 said that, “I had them looked at just before Christmas and had them cut out 10 days ago.”

Of course damage from the sun is something of an occupational hazard for tour players that tend to follow the summer seasons. European Tour officials are very aware of the potential problems and have engaged a company who provide screenings for all tour players and their caddies. For those amateurs fortunate enough to play a couple or more times per week it would be wise to check for unusual marks on, or changes to, your skin.

Padraig also revealed his plan for the run up to the Masters which is only a few weeks away. After a slow start to the Buick Invitational (a middle of the field finish), he intends to play three more events and then skip the CA World Championship at Doral in Miami on March 12-15. A short break will follow before he gears up with the Masters being his third tournament in a row. Harrington said: “Usually I peak in my third week, so I look to put the majors the third week. I’d love to play all the best tournaments but you’ve got to schedule these things for what works best to help you peak when you need to.”

Good advice from a man who prepares meticulously and leaves no stone unturned in his quest to become the best player that he can become. For most of us, there is a great lesson to be learned about scheduling time off. For many we have to take the opportunity to play when it comes, fitting in a game or two between work, family and all the other time stealers that interfere with us reaching our golfing goals.

Over the years, I have known of many young aspiring players who take a gap year to work on their game, only to find that their improvement is not what they thought it would be. Likewise, it is very common for the newly retired to devote more time to their game only to find that, as they practice more, their game gets worse.

So how can you avoid this problem? Well, start by setting some realistic goals. What is your objective? If you have played around 18 handicap for the last few years, then it is unlikely that if you practice more of what you have being doing that your score average will come down, however if you take the time to learn some new skills then there is every chance that a few shots can be knocked off your handicap.

Start slowly. If you have been a ‘once at the weekend’ player and then all of a sudden start playing three or four times per week, then even though at first you will most probably enjoy the experience, the novelty will soon wear off. I suggest increasing your number of rounds at first to twice per week and then three and so on. You should also think about doing a little short game practice every week. Putting, chipping and bunker practice will have a great positive impact on your scores. The real key here is to ensure that you are enjoying the game, getting your play and practice in balance and that you are learning new skills that will move you in the direction of your desire. Over golfing is just as bad as not playing enough; we become stale and, as a direct result, lose our edge. It’s a bit like chocolate, as much as I enjoy it, I could not eat it every day. If taking time off is good enough for a three time Major Champion, then it’s good enough for me.  

Tony Bennett can be contacted by emailing [email protected] or by calling (00351) 932 524 253 if you need advice on a specific point or to make a general enquiry. If you would like to visit his website click the link on the right of this page.