March 5, 2012

Takeaways From The Only PGA Event In Mexico

When my wife and I booked a 25th anniversary celebration to the Playa del Carmen, I had no idea the Mayakoba Golf Classic, the only PGA event in Mexico would be in town the same time I was.  But I’m glad it was because it got me out of a snorkeling trip to look at turtles, and allowed me to rub shoulders with some of the best up and coming golf players as well as seasoned veterans.

The tournament fell on the same week as the Accenture Match play golf tournament that hosted the world’s top 64 players.  The Mayakoba Golf Classic still had a good field of great golfers including several members who now also play on the Champions tour.  The older players liked the golf course because length was not as important as accuracy on this course.

The tournament was held on a Greg Norman designed golf course, the El Camaleon Golf Club with Greg Norman in attendance though he did not make the cut to play on the weekend.  Other players you may know included David Duval, Fred Funk, Jerry Kelly, Tom Lehman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mike Weir, Rich Beem, Chad Campbell, Charles Howell III, Billy Mayfair, Boo Weekly, Robert Allenby (runner up) and first time winner John Huh.

Walking the Tournament

I attended the final day of the golf tournament and was surprised at what great access there was to the course and the players.  It was a beautiful day, but the course was not overwhelmed with spectators.  In fact I was right next to the players on every hole I viewed.  I found a ball for Billy Mayfair off the fairway on #12, congratulated Skip Kendall on a sand save on #14, and was outside the ropes with three different players as they played their lateral penalty shots.  Also stood right next to the green for multiple players on multiple holes as they made and missed putts all day long.

It was a thrill to see the players up close and personal, hear them strategize with their caddies about a shot or a putt, then see them execute the shot or the putt.  In this whole process I have a number of takeaways to share with you.  Even though they are pros who do this for a living, many of the strategies they employ can help amateurs improve their scores with no additional improvement in their swings.  In other words, by watching the pros play smart golf, you too can play smart and lower your scores.

    1. Work backwards from green to tee.  I started on number 18 tee in the morning and walked the course backwards.  This allowed me to see each of the players as they played into each of the greens.  It allowed me to see the pin placements.  Dick Drager will talk more about this strategy in the Golf Tips Right Now section.
    2. Placement off the tee was much more important to the pros than how far they hit it.  Of course most of them can hit the ball further than any of us, but I saw many of the players teeing off with something other than a driver just so they could have the right distance into the green on their second shot.  On #16 tee, a 485 yard par 4, Chris Riley asked his caddie where the pin was before he even teed off.  He said ”should I hit my hybrid to be a little further back?”
    3. Most of the shots into the greens I saw were deadly from 120 yards and in.  I did not see anyone miss a green at that distance on the players I observed.  Several put it within 10 feet of the hole usually missing on the safe side of the green.  If a pin was up front, they would miss to the side or behind, if the pin was buried left, they would miss right.  They took out the hazards and did not try and get too greedy.
    4. There was a tremendous amount of effort spent reading putts.  On longer putts, several would go half way down the line and pretend to take the putt to see what it would do for the second half of the putt.   The few I watched do this did not seem to miss directionally but they did miss distance wise.  I could tell how well a guy was playing by how well he was putting.
    5. The money is made putting.  On one hole Briny Baird is fifty feet away after his chip while Charles Howell III was 3 or 4 feet.  Baird snakes in a 50 footer for birdie and Howell misses and gets his par.  Those two started the day tied and after the final 18 holes Baird was one shot lower than Howell.  Baird ties for 12th and makes $74,925 while Howell ties for 16 and makes $46,990.  The way I figure it, that missed 3 footer cost Howell almost $28,000.
    6. By and large most players were complimentary of each other’s efforts.  I heard veteran player Tom Lehman who was paired with Seung-Yul Noh from South Korea give encouragement to the younger player to make his putt after Tom had just missed a makeable birdie.  He didn’t dwell on the miss, but rather compliment his playing partner.  Lehman and Noh finished 5 under and 4 under for the round respectively and tied for 16th overall.
    7. In several cases, when the playing partner was scoring well the other player did better than the average of the field (Lehman and Noe example above).  If the playing partner was not scoring well, it sometimes dragged down the other player.
    8. Expectations are different for everyone.  I was standing on the par five #13 about 310 yards from the tee when a player hit it to me about 10 yards off the fairway.  This was into a wind.  These are not really tall roughs and he was able to hit the next shot easily with a wood.   When the player got up to me I said nice drive because outside of being off the fairway slightly it was in great shape.  His response was “Not really” and with that attitude he went ahead and missed the green left.  He was one over for the day and finished tied for 37th. - We've Got Balls

  1. The players really know the rules while many casual spectators were clueless to the uniqueness of the sport.  On #14, both Troy Kelly and John Merrick who were playing together hit it into a lateral water hazards and grove of mango trees that lined the right side.  Running right in bounds is a cart path that is essentially the nearest point of relief within a club length from where the ball went into the hazard.  So they have to drop it twice on the cart path and mark that spot.  Then they get a club length from that spot to get relief from the cart path.  They drop it twice on a sloped hill leading into the cart path and then get to place the ball.  In Kelly’s case his ball landed in a sprinkler head so he had to take another drop.
  2. The players have an arsenal of shots that most of us can only dream of, and they must know which one to play when for best results.  On the signature hole #15, a par three on the water, the prevailing winds can do just about anything with the ball depending how hard it’s blowing.  If you put it too high the wind will stop it or move it out of play.  If you put it over the beach with hopes the wind will bring it back, you run the risk of a gust not showing up and your ball stays on the beach.  Most players chose to hit knockdown shots into the green, but with the pin buried behind a bunker even that was tough to get it close.
  3. There was a lot of discussions between players and caddies about risk versus reward shots that many time amateur players don’t ever consider.  On #12, Billy Mayfair was in the trees with a very narrow opening.  The discussion he and his caddie had was whether to chip out sideways or try and blast through the small opening in the trees back to the fairway.  Since it was a par 5, if he could advance the ball he could still possibly make birdie, but for sure make par.  Playing out sideways basically was wasting a shot.  The caddie’s comment was “advance it and the next shots a lot easier, but only if you feel comfortable you can make the shot”.  He made the shot and advanced it.
  4. By and large these guys are all very fit athletes.  Seeing them in person you can see that they are up to the rigors of walking and playing 18 holes in a blistering Mexican sun.

Bonus Tip:  They all played fast.  It’s easier when they were playing twosomes and not looking for balls all the time.  But they were playing for big money and all finished their rounds in about four hours or less.  If they can do it walking with $3.7 million on the line, most amateurs should be able to get around most courses in four hours, especially with carts.

The tournament was concluded with an 8 hole playoff between Robert Allenby and John Huh who was playing in only his fifth event.  Both men parred 7 holes and with the sun setting an no more holes to play that evening, Huh won it on the 8th playoff hole with a par as Allenby missed a par three tenth green.

It was a great conclusion to a very nice tournament to watch.  My only regret is that the course was closed for the whole week so I couldn’t play.  Maybe next year they’ll invite me to play in the pro-am event that is held the day before.


From the pro shop


The 2013 Senior Open will be held at my golf course, the Omaha Country Club.  The event will be held July 8-14, 2013 in Omaha, Nebraska.  It is a spectacular private golf course that should prove to be a good challenge for the 156 professionals and amateurs expected to compete. A list of notable professionals include Tommy Armour, III, Tom Lehman, Paul Azinger, Larry Mize, Olin Browne, Colin Montgomerie, Mark Calcaveccia, Mark O’Meara, John Cook, Corey Pavin, Fred Couples, Kenny Perry, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Price, Steve Elkington, Loren Roberts, Brad Faxon, Fred Funk, Vijay Singh, Jay Haas, Jeff Sluman, Hale Irwin, Hal Sutton, Peter Jacobsen, Bob Tway, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, and Ian Woosnam.  One notable amateur, Mike Root, will work very hard over the next year to get his game in shape but there’s no guarantee he will be in the field.

This week they have just opened for applications for people who would like to volunteer to work the tournament.  I am in charge of the marshalls on the closing holes 15-18.  So if you ever dreamed about being inside the ropes rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in senior golf, then use this link and sign up on my team.

The Volunteer package is $125 for goodies worth well over $300.  Included is as follows:

  • Two Championship Logo Golf Shirts
  • One Championship Logo Jacket
  • One Championship Hat or Visor
  • One Water Bottle
  • One Limited Edition USGA Volunteer Pin
  • One Volunteer Credential (allows access all 7 days of the championship)
  • One-time Discount in the Merchandise Pavilion
  • Complimentary Admission to the Volunteer Party
  • Food and Beverage (while on shift)

It will be a lot of fun and a great event for those who want to see the really good golfers in action.  To find out more about the 2013 Senior Open please go to

To register as a volunteer and be on my team of marshalls please go to

This article is written by Mike Root, owner of Fitness For Golf



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