Every cloud has a silver lining. The Magical Kenya Open 2021 and the inaugural Savanah Classic were held under strict health protocols as the organizers did all they could to keep the coronavirus in check.
For the first time in the event’s 50 year history, all players and caddies were forced to operate from prescribed addresses meaning that we had more time to interact with the visiting pros and also to observe their approach to the game.
Thanks to the “lockdown” I had the opportunity to interact closely with Jose-Filipe Lima and Jazz Janewattananond who shared lots of invaluable insights. Besides the interactions, the two tournaments accorded me an opportunity to observe a lot of things, basic and complex, that distinguish us from the visiting pros:
Every player must have a rigorous routine and follow it religiously
The foreign pros have a long-term view of the game. They have a routine which determines the frequency and intensity of their training. They have a systematic approach to daily training sessions with a clear timetable of activities i.e. jogging, stretching, range sessions, course practice etc. And this routine is followed consistently with the highest level of discipline. The output of these daily practice sessions is what informs the interventions that need to be put in place by the backroom staff i.e. Swing Coach, Physiotherapists, Dieticians etc.
You must have a course management plan
Prior to the commencement of the competition, the visiting pros spend as much time as possible analyzing the course. This involves both practice sessions and walk-about rounds just to obtain critical insights pertaining to the course layout and the traps e.g. bunkers, obstacles, shape and size of the green etc. During these sessions, in conjunction with the caddy, they make comprehensive notes that will be used to determine club selection, whether to play aggressively or conservatively on specific holes, which spots to avoid etc. The notes are so precise that the players hardly make wrong choices on the match day even when faced by varied conditions like a sudden change in wind direction and speed. Though Kenyan pros are familiar with the Karen course, the set-up of the course changes drastically when transformed to European Tour standards. The greens conditions are totally alien to us- hard and fast- a stark contrast to what we are used to in Safari Tour. This is one area of our game that costs us a lot and we should start managing through good planning.
What do you want to achieve on the practice range?
In the process of analyzing the course, the most important thing the foreign pros do is to determine whether the course is playing long or if it can be concurred through mastery of the short game. This is what determines what the bulk of the practice range sessions will comprise. If the course is playing short and has too many bunkers and water features to make it difficult, the bulk of the tournament practice time will be spent on the short game. Putting practice takes the lion’s share of the time spent on the range. You can easily discern a certain pattern in their sessions on the practice range.
Do not fear to make mistakes
The foreign pros are not scared of making mistakes because they have the mental strength to get over and therefore see every golf game as a fun moment. One bad shot should not trigger negative energy but should be seen as an opportunity for improvement. The mistakes made in one round are used as a key learning in the run-up to the next event. That explains why Daniel Van Tonder and Janewattananond, winner and runner up at Savannah Classic had a great game despite missing the cut the previous week at Magical Kenya open. Local pros are always under so much pressure during Kenya Open that we fear making mistakes. We play conservatively since we only get one opportunity annually to play at this level. For example, though we can drive several par 4s at Karen, most of us preferred to lay-up yet the visitors were going for it! The confidence brought about by the knowledge that you have limitless opportunities ahead makes you manage your game in a better way.
Always conduct a postmortem after every round and tournament
After every round, the visiting pros, caddies and their support teams perform an in-depth analysis highlighting the ‘hits and misses’. Very detailed notes are prepared that will inform the approach for the next round. The postmortem reviews every single shot and is designed to make you stronger as it dwells much on the positive aspects of your game. Most of the European Tour pros have stuck with their caddies for a long time. The caddies understand their game very well. They make most decisions and are so dedicated to their work. They are very instrumental in taking the pressure off the players by managing them throughout the round. In fact during the practice rounds, it’s the caddies who take the notes that will be used to formulate the game plan.
I know these observations sound quite obvious but what I can assure you is that I really gained a lot of technical knowledge from playing with the top talent at the two events.
Armed with this information, so what am I going to do differently? I am going to double my training time to work on my fitness and flexibility. Secondly, I will change my approach to practice sessions and have specific targets e.g. to play at the top level you should always endeavour to birdie all the par fives while ensuring you do not drop a shot on the par threes.
These are just but a few of the things within my control but in the long term what can help me and my colleagues is exposure. Relying on local events alone will not improve our competitiveness. We must test ourselves against the best in events far away from home. With the support of sponsors, I believe, we can match the pros on the European Tour.