Exclusive Interview with Nick Watney
Dr. Morris Pickens and Lynn Northrup
The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines is where many of my players start their season. This gives us an opportunity to interview them and document their thoughts about their off season preparation. I started working with Nick Watney in June 2010. After the end of the 2010 season, I met with Nick, Butch Harmon (swing coach), and Chad Reynolds (caddie) to set goals for the 2011 season.
We reviewed the stats for 2010 and determined that if Nick wanted to become a world class player he needed to improve his scrambling and putting. Nick’s scrambling rating for 2010 was 146th and he was 87th in putting. A structured practice schedule was developed using specific short game and putting drills. Nick has moved up to 5th in scrambling and 8th in putting for the 2011 season. Here is what Nick had to say about the new practice schedule together with comments about transitioning from college to the PGA tour.
Lynn – What was it like transitioning from Fresno State to the Nationwide Tour?
NW – I was totally unprepared to make the jump from college to professional golf. I guess it’s a lot like baseball when you go from the minors to the big leagues. Everything is at a much higher level.
Lynn – What would you tell kids that want to turn pro on how to prepare for it?
NW– First, you get out of it what you put into it. There is no short cut or quick way. Play as much as you can because competition is where you learn about your weaknesses. For me it was the short game. If that is truly what you want to do, then you have to chase your dream. In my case, I didn’t have a backup plan and just kept after it.
Lynn – What were you practicing in college and how did you set it up?
NW– When I was in college I just tried to make a score. Some days I hit it great and some days I didn’t. My short game was better in college than when I turned pro. As a pro, I focused a lot on ball striking and it improved. I started hitting the ball real well and I started making scores in different ways. My short game slipped because I didn’t spend an equal amount of time working on it and that’s where I became different.
Lynn – You have made the transition to Butch and to Mo. How is that going?
NW – Well I feel like things are really on track. The putting and short game drills Mo provided are really helping me pull it together. Butch is great at what he does and he has helped me a lot from the physical standpoint of my long game.
Mo – He turned you into one of the top ball strikers in the game.
NW– As far as Mo, we have been working not yet a year, but I’m beginning to understand, not master it, regarding why I played well in the past and why I didn’t. I did not have structure in my routines or with the mental process. This is something I am just beginning to understand and develop. You can only get so good at hitting the ball and golf is so much more than just hitting it. I am now beginning to develop in the other areas of the game.
Lynn – So now you practice and work on your routine?
NW – Yes, Mo and I worked on it yesterday for an hour and a half. This also helps my mechanics. Without a routine you’re lost, especially under pressure.
Mo – Up until last year Nick got by primarily with a good attitude and being positive and upbeat in addition to good physical skills, but without much process as to how to go about it.
NW – Now I know how I go through the entire process, my mental routine, and decide what to do with each shot.
Lynn – Versus selecting a target, crossing the line, setting up, and then letting it go?
Mo – He was all feel and good enough to get away with it.
NW – I would agree with that.
Lynn – Are you doing all the drills?
NW – I am doing all the drills believe it or not. I really like structure. It’s my personality, so I feel like I am really working toward something. If I have a drill and I complete it, I feel like I have had a productive practice session. Mo provided the structure for practice so I now have a plan every day when I go to the golf course. There is a structured schedule for each day of the week in terms of the drills I work on and for how long. They include short game, putting, wedge drills, and on course practice.
Mo – You have a love hate relationship with the Z drill.
Lynn – You don’t like the Z drill?
NW – It sometimes takes me an hour to complete that drill.
Lynn – What about shafts, do you like that drill?
NW – I do like shafts. The shafts drill is way easier than the Z drill. But like I told Mo, I think I pick harder holes than Zach (Johnson) does.
Lynn – What about the Combo Drill?
NW – This is the drill with 27 balls using three different wedges. The goal is to get is to get 21 out of 27 within two club lengths. My best is 24. I sank some which counts for two shots. I really like this drill. Its funny when you are a foot outside of two club lengths, you think “what’s one foot?” But you’re only cheating yourself. Again, that’s structured practice that I love because it’s accomplishing something as opposed to just chipping.
Mo – Once you get it done you feel better about leaving. It represents better time management because you’re getting more out of your practice.
Lynn – Are you doing the string drill with forty foot putts or longer?
NW – I think I got up to eleven in a row.
Lynn – How do you practice driving and long game shots?
NW – Butch (Harmon) likes to go out on the course. We’ll work on the range in the morning and then in the afternoon we’ll go out on the golf course and see if it holds up. We think this is much more effective than just hitting balls on the range because you have realistic targets and situations.
Mo and Lynn – Nick thanks for your time and sharing the things necessary to become a world class golfer. Structured practice and time management are critical to success.
NW – You are welcome and you’re absolutely right on target with structured practice techniques.
Stewart Cink Exclusive Interview
Interviewed by C. Lynn Northrup
Being a very successful PGA tour player, what would you tell collegiate and junior golfers who aspire to play professional golf?
The main thing that kids that age need to learn is how to manage their time properly. College teaches that in a way but once you turn professional and it’s your job then it seems like you have a lot of free time because you don’t have the responsibilities of commuting to the office. I feel kids carry on their life like they did when they were in college and ending up wasting a lot of time.
Using this extra time effectively is what really helps to develop you. Once you start getting into tournaments the volume of your competition increases dramatically. You have to adjust for it. You have to be physically and mentally ready. Most kids who are good enough to turn pro have a pretty good idea what to work on regarding their golf game but it’s usually time management that trips them up.
What advice would you offer to college players considering turning pro?
It’s hard to give just one piece of advice because every kid is different. This is difficult at that age because they are still maturing and developing. They have different needs so it’s really hard to advise just one thing. As far as your golf game goes, on the course, you have to realize that the most important part of the game is scoring. Where pros excel is with wedges inside 120 yards and with putting. Almost every player has an attribute that sticks with them. They might be a real long hitter, a great putter, or accurate and very precise. But the one common denominator is that all of them have is a good wedge game, a good short game and they practice effectively in those areas.
What percentage of your practice time is devoted to putting and the short game as a pro versus when you were in college?
It’s probably at least doubled since I’ve been a pro and it increases more every year. I’ve been out there fourteen years and I keep learning more each year as to the importance of this area of the game. Back in college I used to practice a little less than half of my time on my short game and even less on my putting. Then when I turned pro I just continued those same practice methods or techniques. That was my regimen. But now I would say about 75 percent of my time is devoted to wedge play from 50 to 120 yards, short game around the green, and putting. As far as the full game, I practice driving quite a bit but spend very little time on my iron play compared to my college days.
Question:How do you use Dr. Mo’s drills in your practice regimen?
I do use Dr. Mo’s drills. In fact they are pretty much my entire practice regimen. Mo has developed the drills over time for putting and the short game and I haven’t changed them. These drills are the foundation of what we do when we get together to work on my game. The good thing about Mo’s drills is that they all have a specific purpose. The putting drills are heavily concentrated on ingraining your routine and making it the focus of your putting. Not much time is devoted to practicing mechanics, perhaps a little but not a lot. We primarily work on getting my mind in the right place relative to trying to achieve a goal on the greens. Mo’s drills help ingrain your routine or challenge you so that it really forces you to put yourself in what I call manual override. This is when you have to pull yourself back into your routine. It is similar to what happens when you are in contention in a golf tournament. Being in contention tends to pulls you out of what you normally do to compete. The goal with the practice drills is to put yourself in a situation where you have to manually override getting out of your routine and then get back into it.
From the perspective of a college player and a college coach these drills are something they could ingrain into their practice regimen in order to compete more effectively. Would you agree?
I would say not only for college players, but that every level of golfer would benefit from these drills. The good thing about Mo’s drills is that they have a score attached to them so you can track your scores and monitor them over a period of time. I wouldn’t measure them for just a week, but over the period of a year so you can look at your scores and see a trend. If your scores are moving in a good direction, that’s a great sign relative to your progress.
So do you do the 24 drill, the 3 – 6 – 9 foot putts around the hole?
Definitely, that’s a great drill and it’s crucial for your golf game because it focuses on making the critical putts required for scoring.
What in college prepared you for the PGA tour?
My background in college was a little different than most kids. One of the main things that distinguished my life from other kids is that I got married in college and had my first child in college. That was a real crossroads for me and golf. In college, I didn’t know for sure what was going to be my future or if I was going to be a professional golfer. I knew I want to give it a shot but didn’t know if it was going to work. I had to really prepare myself in case it didn’t work but I was ready to go. I wanted to graduate and that was my number one goal. Graduating and getting that degree was a priority. My time just evaporated when my first son Connor was born. I had no time so I learned how to get a lot out of very little windows of practice time. So I really got down to business and became serious about it. If I’m going to do golf, I’m going to do it right, do it well, and I’m going to do my very best. The trajectory of my golf game really took off at this point. I improved in dramatic fashion just because I was forced to use my time better and became more focused on the future.
What are the biggest strengths or weaknesses you see in rookies who are out on tour for one or two years?
The strengths are that the rookies are more seasoned from competition compared to when I came out on tour. This is due to the fact that there are more tournaments for them to play in. The AJGA has grown like crazy and college golf has gotten bigger and better. There are a lot more opportunities for kids to get heated competition earlier. Also, instruction, equipment, and everything else are just a lot better.
I see two negatives in young players based on using a standard of what is needed to win on the PGA tour. First, they don’t always handle themselves that well mentally. On the course they think about where they are in the tournament or how much money they might be making. This tends to get them out of their rhythm resulting in a couple of bogies or a couple of bad shots or in making bad decisions. Second, younger players are inconsistent in their wedge play when they first get on tour. It is critical to control the distance on those 50 to 120 yard wedge shots. Many of the rookies just haven’t gotten there when they arrive on tour. They learn fast because they only have one year to learn it or they’re gone. It’s hard to overcome mistakes under 120 yards because that’s the scoring area.
What do see in the difference between medal and match play? You have done well in the Accenture Match Play Championship and this is your fourth time on the Ryder Cup.
It’s just a little different mentality. Match play format tends to put you in do or die situations so it’s perform or pick up. Many times you will have to make a putt to tie the hole. If your opponent knocks it up there close for birdie and you have a 25 footer, you treat that putt a little differently than you would in stroke play because the next putt doesn’t matter. So mentally it’s easier to free yourself up in that situation. That essentially represents the difference in the two formats. However, in a format like the Ryder Cup or the President’s Cup where you’ve got team play, whoever executes the shot best will win. It’s the same thing in stroke play, the best execution wins.
What are your strengths in match play?
One of my strengths in match play is that I relish situations where my back is against the wall and I have to perform. It’s a situation where now is the time to do or die. I don’t think a lot of players care to be in that situation. My reaction to these situations seems to be part of my DNA and I really like that part of match play.
What did you work on with Mo, Butch, and Chris (trainer) to get ready for the Ryder Cup this year?
We’re in the middle of that right now. I have worked with Butch Harmon for a long time, almost eight years. We almost always work on the same stuff. With Mo it’s kind of similar, I just started working with him last year so it’s pretty new with him but we work on ingraining the routine, situational differences and trying to down play the meaning of putts, like a putt is to win or a putt is to tie. We try to treat each putt as if it has the same level of importance. In addition to putting, we work on areas of preparation with the short game. With Chris, I think cardio. Working cardio is a big deal before the Ryder Cup because it is a 36 hole day, and its 36 holes of stress starting on the first tee. It takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally. I sleep better at the Ryder Cup or the President’s Cup. If you play two matches in a day and both go down to the wire and it’s at the end then I’m asleep on the bus on the way back to the room. It’s exhausting.
So Butch pretty much knows your game. Frank (caddy) said Butch has you do tempo drills with your driver.
That’s something we do. Mechanically when my swing breaks down it reverts back to old habits from many years ago. I just try to do a lot of drills that promote not breaking down into those similar mechanical situations. Most golfers have one or two little things they trend back to and they are just trying to avoid these tendencies. No one is going to be perfect so you’re just trying to increase your chances of striking the ball with a square club face and being able to control which way the ball curves. Most players like to curve it both ways and the only way to do that is maintain a square club face.
Do you do any game planning before going to the Ryder Cup?
No, we just develop our game plan after we get there and once we see the course. However, I have the schedule mapped out in my head on what days I go to the gym, what days I go to the media center, and also allow time for putting drills. There are about 15 hours worth of stuff to do every day and only 10 hours in each day to do it. The Ryder Cup is busy with stuff you don’t normally have going on. There are photos, press conferences, meeting the bus at a certain time, dinners, and other stuff that just crowds the picture compared to normal tournaments. Therefore, you really need to plan ahead to allow time for everything.
Is there anything you would like to convey to college coaches and players as well as junior players relative to our discussion?
I think they should read Dr. Mo’s books, they are really good. I don’t know how much detail you guys go into when you talk about Mo’s drills and the reasons behind them, but they are perfect for college teams. The coach can have these drills on a hard card and distribute them to every player on the team and say this is what you practice; this is how we do at our school. These drills are great. I think it is really important to be organized and not hit a bunch of balls on the range, but hold organized practice sessions where team members compete against each other. As a junior golfer that was what drove me the most. I just tried to get better and to beat the guy that I was playing against every day. We would play 36 holes and I would just try to beat my friend. When he got better, I got better and vice versa. Kids in college are the essentially the same age so they should fight it out and every practice drill should be a competition.
Do you think our third book on practice and preparation will be essential for college coaches and players?
Yes, if they are serious about their golf game they really have to have this stuff. This is the real battle ground for advanced golfers. It is essential to fortify your mental game around the practice green and your wedge shots. To some extent you need to practice hitting tee balls in certain situations. What happens when you get into an area where you have an uncomfortable tee shot? Kids probably get scared and just hit the shot and then reload and hit a provisional. But you have to have a way to deal with it when it is important to you. This is where the practice and the drills really help.
Thank you very much for the interview and good luck at the Ryder Cup.
You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.
Congratulations to Nick Watney for being July’s player of the month. T7-AT&T National and T7-British Open.