Chad Nelson

Lessons from the 2018 Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is clearly unlike anything else in sports. It brings together 24 of the best golfers in Europe and America. Emotions, passions, and pressure push past the red line for three straight days as the players compete as a team purely for tradition, pride, and legacy. It’s often mentioned that the players aren’t paid to play, yet it means more than most other golf events to the golfers, captains, and fans. The unique setting of this biennial spectacle puts players to the ultimate test and leaves some incredible golf lessons behind every go-around. Here are some simple lessons from the 2018 Ryder Cup that you can use to improve your golf game.

Fight Through a Slow Start

The Europeans got off to a slow start with three losses and one win in the morning matches on Friday. It would be easy for any player to let a poor start like that impact them into the following rounds. Instead, the European players responded by winning all four matches in the afternoon to take a commanding two-point lead into day two. This quick and resounding bounce back apparently caught the US team off guard and, minus a short-lived run on Sunday, they never recovered.

Playing consistent golf requires this patience and optimism to fight through the endless challenges and inevitable bad holes, tough rounds, and devasting tournament losses. This is true for single rounds with your friends and major championships in front of millions of viewers. Great champions possess the ability to let a golf round or tournament develop. They grind out pars, while they figure out what shots they can count on and allow great runs with birdies and eagles to happen naturally.

Ben Hogan always said that he preferred hitting bad shots early in a round because he knew they were out of the way and he’d play great from there. That firm belief in his own game was the result of a lifetime of practice and hard work. That mentality is why he could quickly turn a bad day on the golf course around and let his hard work and skill show up. He realized he would typically only hit so many bad shots per round so he might as well get them out of the way early. Every great golfer must have that same unshakeable belief that bad shots will happen and they will find a way to fight through them.

Work on a SHORT GAME!!!

It might be a shock to find out that a short game is what separates great players from champions. There were 24 great players at the Ryder Cup. People will debate all the details of this Ryder Cup, just like past events, but it boils down to one simple truth. The European team took the Cup home because they put the lights out this week. If you get nothing else from the Ryder Cup, give yourself a simple reminder that you can put more time into your short game. I know you’ve heard it many times, but it is worth repeating until you’ll completely understand the importance to become a champion golfer. Spend more time on putting green. Put it in your living room, bedroom, dorm room, or office if that’s what it takes. Work on more types of chips and pitches. Dial in every part of your wedge game. Play more games against your friends and teammates on all things short games. Run tests and track every part of your short game until you know how to consistently play every shot you’ll need and hole those crucial putts late in a round.

Short games will be the glue that keeps good rounds going and usually represents the turning point in great golf matches. Matchplay tournaments and rounds are typically won with a few key putts. Whether it’s a birdie or a par save, major matches usually come down to the ability to hole a putt when it’s needed. Those putts don’t roll in by accident. The players arrive at those events with a lifetime of hard work and the mindset to peak when it’s needed most.

Stay Connected for Better Iron Play

Tommy Fleetwood and Francisco Molinari made an incredible team at the 2018 Ryder Cup. They arrived as under the radar as a team can with the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year and the guy that finished second in the US Open. There are many things you can learn from watching Fleetwood and Molinari play golf. They have tons of talent and always play passionately and aggressively. Both players hit lots of solid and straight shots. This is mainly the result of simple and connected golf swings. They keep their backswings short and connected. Their arms stay synced to their body turn throughout the entire swing. All golfers can benefit from drills that sync their arm and body swing. Here are two of my favorite practice drills to help:

  • Flat Right Foot Drill

One of my favorite drills to improve how well my arms and body work together on my golf swing is to hit shots while keeping your back foot flat on the ground. This would be your right foot if you are right-handed. John Kostis was the first instructor that shared how powerful this simple drill can be for me. It forces you to sync up your arms and body. You will notice that you slow down your hips and let your arms catch up and swing through. I’ve always hit it so solid and straight when I work on this drill that I will bring it to the course occasionally.

  • Headcover Under Left Armpit/Towel Under Both Arms Drill

This is a classic practice drill that you’ll find in many golf books and magazines. Even if you’ve heard of it many times before, you should remember to break it out on the range the next time you’re out practicing. Put a headcover under your left armpit if you’re right-handed and hit shots while keeping it tucked in. Your left arm will have to stay connected to your body. It will limit your backswing and you’ll probably only be able to hit punch shots. You should notice that it forces you to improve your tempo, swing within yourself, and stay down with every shot. There is a slight variation of this drill that was popular with Ben Hogan and Nick Faldo (so it probably works) where you put a towel under both armpits and across your chest. Take some practice swings with the towel drill every day to feel your arms and body staying connected throughout the swing.

Curious Case of Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup

After Ian Poulter wrapped up the victory in his singles match in the Ryder Cup, Johnny Miller declared that Poulter was one of the top five Ryder Cup players of all time. That is an amazing statement when you go through the history of the players that have competed in this legendary tournament. It’s hard to argue though when you look at the stats and think through all the amazing shots and clutch putts Poulter has delivered. Ian Poulter has made a dramatic impact on many European teams’ wins now and certainly is one of the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time.

His career on tour is not without highlights and wins, but he would not be mentioned among the top five players on the PGA or European tours. Poulter is clearly a different player when he shows up for the Ryder Cup. He relishes the excitement and pressure. He even seems to enjoy the merciless away crowds on US soil. Poulter stares down the best players in the world in the most pressure-packed golf tournament in the world and usually comes out on top.

One of the main lessons from the way that Poulter rises to meet the Ryder Cup challenge time after time is that some players would be better served to show their emotions on the golf course. Poulter clearly lets the energy and emotion of the event push his game to a new level. This doesn’t mean that you need to be thumping your chest after every putt. And you should not let negative emotions overwhelm you at any point if you want to play great golf. It does mean that some players, especially those used to team sports with more displays of emotion, should bring positive emotions and energy to the golf course. I see a lot of players that try to become a robot during tournaments even though they are normally animated and energetic. They would be much better served by letting themselves be more excited and energetic on the golf course. Let some positive energy flow and enjoy yourself out there. We’re supposed to be having fun out there.

Plan to Peak a Few Times Per Year

Francisco Molinari shared a great insight into his lackluster performance after the Open Championship win earlier this summer. He admitted he went through an emotional lull after the major win and hadn’t been extremely sharp. Molinari allowed himself a mental break on his performance expectations. The Ryder Cup was his final priority for the year. Clearly, he played in many tournaments the rest of the summer and he was certainly trying to play well. He just realized that he completed a major goal and would probably need time to get back his focus and drive. The goal to show up with his best game for the Ryder Cup and take home the cup kept him motivated and optimistic as he had some struggles on the course.

Downturns and slumps are an inevitable part of golf. You must allow yourself to go through these stretches and stay positive that you will play better golf if you keep working to improve your game. This is much easier if you pick times and set clear goals to bring your best game to certain tournaments and at certain times of the year. You can plan your practice and playing schedule around these tournaments and times of the year. You can also give yourself times that you plan to take a mental break from the grind. Downtime and recovery are essential parts of any routine to get better. Make sure they work with your schedule for your biggest tournaments so you are ready to deliver as Francisco Molinari did for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

Chad Nelson

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