US Amateur at Pebble Beach
To help the most people I will go into great detail about the experience this year in a n effort to help people understand some of the things that go into playing this game.
I arrived Sunday AM to help him warm up and get a good practice round in at Pebble Beach. I was lucky to play in the California Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach and Spyglass in 1997 and remembered the course well. Last year I also spent a few days here with another student playing these courses so I felt I had a good grasp of what we needed to do to play well this week. The courses are right in front of you and if you strike the ball well you have plenty of opportunities to score.
On the Putting Green on Sunday before the practice round
Watch him throw down a few balls to warm up and was initially surprised to see the ball cutting off the face pretty badly right away. Noticed this from 30 feet away. Took a closer look and made some adjustments right away to his ball position and how he was releasing the putter. Immediately the ball started to roll better but we needed to work on him seeing the ball start on a slightly different line cause he was use to the way the ball was spinning right off the face even though he didn’t know it. Luckily he is one of the best “Adjusters” I have ever seen and he understood it right away and I felt good about his chances of at least rolling the ball well this week.
Practice Round – Sunday
Starting on hole 1 at Pebble he striped a 3 iron right down the middle about 240 yards leaving just a PW to the back flag. This green is pretty small and very narrow, the ball was below his feet a little and he executed a terrible swing basically slicing the ball into the right bunker. I hadn’t seen him since early summer but my initial thought was we have some work to do and we have to do it now. I decided to just keep watching before saying anything. On hole 2 drive one went left into the left fairway bunker then he hit another one with his cut down the right center. My goal in practice rounds is to SEE good shots so we always play from the best spots to get prepped for how we hope to play while also trying some of the bad locations. Practice rounds are meant to build confidence and we never keep score during them. So his 2nd shot from the fairway from 205 yards with 5 iron sliced about 30 yards right of the green and was one of the worst swings I’ve ever seen him make. On the 3rd tee a big dog leg left lay up hole where our play is to hit 3 wood he hit another slice to the right edge of the fairway leaving 185 yards when you should have 100 yards or less into this hole. Walking to his ball we talked about why the ball is doing that and what he needs to feel now to improve his swing. Basically he was coming out of his posture to start the backswing and picking the club straight up without rotating his spine much. I had him feel or more rounded turn with his chest which felt more inside while staying down. He took 3 practice swings and hit 7 iron to about 10 feet and he knew that’s what he needed to feel. From here on out he struck the ball very well the whole day but had a couple left misses and that was to be expected. After the round at dinner I told him that Monday morning we needed to go hit a small bucket on the range to “Feel” exactly what he needed to feel for his swing for the afternoon start of the US Amateur. I told him I didn’t want to talk about the swing at all during the tournament and that he needed to feel it and own it and let’s go play. On Monday am we met at the range at 10am for our short range session I immediately took him to the large mirror on the left side of the range and we reviewed what we were working on and I had him take several swings to feel the before and what we were working. Then he hit balls and it felt and looked great, now he just needed to trust it and go play. I had him hit a variety of shots (fades, draws, high, low) just to know and execute and he did all of them at a very high level. I was impressed at how quickly he adjusted to this.
Round 1 at Spyglass Hill
Warm up session was great a little side tracked by not being able to find his keys but we found them and all was good. I really like the time leading up to the event to not have any stress or panic or worry so we can have a peaceful day out there and fight for every stroke with a clear mind. It was exciting to be back at the US Amateur and throw on the caddy bib and see all the people out to watch him play. I was hoping for the best but my expectations were low going in which is usually a good mindset anyway and our mantra was to :play one shot at a time and stay in the moment and let the magic happen” The opening tee shot was striped down the left side perfect and caught the slope and rolled down to just 240 yards to a back left flag. We determined it was 3 iron as he hits three iron like a god, it’s really insane how good he hits this club. With a back left flag and starting our day I said anything right of the pin is good… well he aimed left and hit it left and he had a brutal 40 yard pitch short sided from deep rough running away… tough shot and he made a 6 on the par 5. Walking off the green he had a lot of negative comments like “great start” , “that was stupid”. Calmed him down walking to the next tee and said hey buddy one at at time we have 35 holes of fun still to go and that’s just one shot. He played hole 2 perfect and made par then on hole 3 it was 175 downhill but into the breens and the plan was a low flighted 8 iron but he ballooned it up in the air and plugged in front bunker. He made a great bogey from there and again he wasn’t happy. Hole 4 he striped 3 iron and hit a full gap wedge to 10 feet, slight misread but a great putt and made par. Hole 5 he hit one of the best 4 irons i’ve ever seen to 4 feet to a tough pin and made birdie with a tough left to right slider. A solid par on 6 and then sprayed his drive right on 7. We had a long talk on strategy for this shot and he hit punch slice 7 iron back in play. The pin on 7 was cut on the front left and they had shaved the green short so the ball would roll back in the water if short or with too much spin so we played conservatively long right and made a solid par. Hole 8 he missed driver in left rough. This was a cool moment as we had talked at dinner the night before how sometimes when we communicate that I’m really just trying to get him to make a decision, be committed, and then show off and own the shot and decision. So his ball was in thick rough side hill lie, tree in front of us that he had to go under, very elevated green and about 130 yard shot. I had played here last year and was in a similar location and did not hit a good shot. Looking at the lie I thought it would be smart for him to just pitch out to 80 yards and hit a wedge close and try and save par. He said NO and said I can punch a 9 iron under and land it on the green… well he did it and hit it to 15 feet. An amazing shot setting up a good look at birdie but missed the putt. Made the turn at 1 over par and was committed to playing one shot at a time and I liked where we were at and how things were coming together. On hole 10 a tough dogleg left with a tiny green we decided on driver and to just get it all the way down there. He pulled it left and got a great break to end up on some dirt and a perfect lie and only 90 yards to the hole. He hit a beautiful lob wedge to 10 feet and made it for birdie. On hole 11 he hit a strong drive dead center and a 3 iron just short of the green in the rough, pitched it to 3 feet and made another birdie to get to 1 under par for the day. This is where the round gets interesting and got away from him. The walk up to the 12th tee is long and straight up hill. I thought he was a little rushed to get up there and didn’t settle down and take enough practice swings after a long walk to feel his timing better. He chunked his iron shot short of the water. This didn’t phase him at all and he hit a great pitch shot but missed the putt. On to hole 12 a very tough long deg left he again ran up the hill and blew his tee shot into the right rough so two bad shots in a row. Asked him walking down the fairway about it and he said he hooked his tee shot left in the practice round so he bailed out right. This is very important to note as he has been swinging well all day with the driver and this thought still crept in his mind. If you’re going to play one shot a time and be in the moment you need to block out these type of distractions and stick to your routine and your focus on making your best swing in the moment. Hos practice round there was two days ago so he should have been remembering the awesome drive he hit on hole 9 an hour ago. This was the moment the round got away as his frustration really set in and now he was pressing instead of staying in the moment. I tried to calm him down but he was too in his head. His 2nd shot caught the right bunker but had a pretty easy bunker shot that rolled 8 feet past the hole. It was a left edge putt that he had to hit “dead” and “soft and he crushed it by 5 feet and looked at me and said “I pulled it” He then walked up and fanned the 2nd putt right and made double bogey and said “oh now i’m pushing putts” No buddy you hit the first putt too hard so it didn’t break and the second putt was just not committed, rushed, and weakly struck. He made a great par on the par 5 after another couple poor shots then made a solid par on the par 3. He hit a great drive on hole 16 that unfortunately was too long and kicked in the deep rough which led to a miss in the bunker and then a poor bunker shot well past the hole and another 3 putt. A sloppy bogey on 18 and we ended the day at 77. Was very tough and a quiet ride to dinner for sure. Definitely let a good round go but there were so many important lessons to be learned and to be right there with him is a huge bonus for the future. At dinner we had a great talk about mindset and being in the moment and how to better handle the round. He said on 11 that once he got to 1under he was comfortable with his score and this comfort led to being careless with his swing and his emotions. I thought when he birdied 10 and 11 that we were rolling and the plan was to keep going at this pace and this round could easily have been 67 and probably leading the tournament after day 1.
Day 2 Pebble Beach
Early tee time for day 2 at 7:30am start on hole 10 at Pebble Beach. Up at 5:30am and breakfast at 6am sharp then shuttle to the range for warm up. So nice at the US Amateur with all the volunteers and courtesy lexus cars available to get us around easily. The warm up was awesome and he did everything well. We headed to the 10th tee and putted and chipped on the warm up green and all looked great. First tee shot he was a little distracted as usual as he needed to use the restroom and the door was locked. Anyway he striped a high cut drive right down the center and off we went. As he went to the other restroom I walked down to the ball to find out the ball took a bad kick right and rolled into the ocean. Brutal break for sure but any bad break with a great swing requires you to let it go and realize you did your best and get back to work. He was losing his mind in disbelief and almost the feeling like how could this happen to him. He hit an amazing 6 iron that landed within a few feet of the hole but catapulted to the back of the green. Walking up he was still steaming with disbelief and wanted to tell his fans how he got such a bad break. It’s unfortunate but time to move on and have a great day. He two putted for a great bogey and still a good start on such a hard hole and at 7:30am. On hole 11 he hit a good drive down the left and his second shot was right at it but hit the fringe and bounced over the green long and he again lost his mind mentally about the bad break. He calmed down and got up n down which anyone who has played pebble knows how hard it is getting up n down on 11 especially long. He birdied the par 3 12th after another perfect long iron. His long iron game is unreal! Two perfect shots on 13 and a solid par then another good look on 14 and 15 but missed them too. Ball striking now is on point and rolling and we just need some putts to start falling. A good par on 16 and then a perfect 4 iron on 17 to 15 feet and makes the putt for birdie. On 18 at Pebble he hit a huge drive that hit the tree in the middle of fairway and kicked forward and left… a great break making up for the bad break on hole 10. He hit 3 iron in the front bunker and had a n awesome up n down for birdie. He turns at 2 under par and I am loving where we are at and how the energy is flowing another day that could easily be 65 if he just sticks to the process. On hole 1 he hits the worst shot of the week short and in the right rough leaving a brutal second shot from 175 yards when he should have 130-140 in. He hit it in front right bunker and hit best bunker shot of the week to three feet. In the practice round he missed 30 putts on this hole from 3 feet as we waited and basically had a similar putt that he just wasn’t matching the speed with the line and we had worked on this on the practice green. This one he poured in dead center and an awesome par save. On hole 2 they made it a par 5 well over 500 yards and he hit a slice on the grass area above the bunker with the ball 2 feet above him. He lined up like he wanted to hit a 5 iron from a terrible lie from 200 yards. After some convincing I got him to lay up and goal to stuff a wedge and have a good look at par. This was hard for him to not to go for it but a bad swing with that 5 iron could have gone OB either direction, could have been a good shot that just did not travel far enough and end up in the hazard short. He almost holed the wedge shot but it spun back to 15 feet and he missed the putt. Remember the ugly three wood on 3 in the practice round? Well this one was hit amazingly hard draw down the center and left him lob wedge in. Amazing improvement this week with his swing. He hit his wedge a little left to 18 feet and just missed the birdie putt. Hole 4 he hit solid 4 iron up the right and hit his wedge to 5 feet and made the putt for birdie so he is back at 2 under par and rolling! Hole 5 was a tough shot from 200 yards downwind I liked 7 iron left of the bunker and smoke it and he liked choke 6 which he hit perfectly and landed near the hole but rolled off into fringe and 2 putted for par. Hole 6 the par 5 I thought the goal was left of the bunkers with driver up in the dirt but he went at the bunkers and with no cut he hit it in the deep rough just above the bunker. He hit a great shot from there but he was steaming and still had 175 yards in from the rough. This next shot I had to run up to the top of the hill to give him an idea of where he needed to hit it. He hit it right over where i told him to but at the end the ball fell left slightly into the bunker… Then he lost his mind again and was really steaming saying he hit it exactly where I told him too. I had to slow him down and get him to calm down and try and hit a very challenging bunker shot. He hit an amazing shot that still left him about 14 feet for par. Best putt of the week dead center and solid! A huge par although a birdie would have been amazing a solid par was huge here! Then on 7 the signature par 3 hole he hit a solid wedge that unfortunately spun back instead of skipped forward. Looked like would have had tap in birdie but instead had a 20 footer that he blasted by the hole 6 feet and luckily made the comebacker to stay at 2 under par. This was common all week that his speed with his putts on hist 12-25 footers were either slightly short and weak or blasted by. Definitely needs to focus on this in his game way more so he has more chances to hole those putts but more importantly make his game more solid and more stress free. Hole 8 the wind was pushing hard right off the tee and he was hitting his favorite three iron and the ball didn’t cut but he was fortunate to be in the first cut of rough and not the deep stuff. 2nd shot was 200 yards with the wind pushing hard right. I liked 6 iron full as it may come out hot and long is dead, short is fine and left of the pin was a must. He hit it so solid and came up just short of the green. Indecisive on his club choice for his pitch he went with 56 instead of 60 and hit it 10 feet by the hole leaving a brutal putt which he missed completely and an unfortunate bogey. A good drive on hole 9 rolled into the rough and left another 200 yard shot to a tough middle left flag. He executed another brilliant shot that landed close and rolled to the back. Another weak first putt left him a downhill 9 foot slider which he stepped up and made dead center leaving us a chance but probably gonna miss by 1 shot! Heartbreaking really cause we shouldn’t have been on the bubble we could have been in contention and easily into match play. Now we wait….
While we waited all afternoon the leaderboard didn’t change much in our favor however the USGA posted the projected cut at +4 which is where we were at and hoped to sneak in with a playoff chance. We had lunch and putted for a bit and then got a chance to meet the legendary Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara as they were there to watch their son compete. What a treat to meet the Golden Bear! We also got to meet Paul Azinger who Joey’s mom Nicol ran into in the gift shop.
At almost dark with the last groups coming in we need the last 4 on the course to all make bogey to get a chance at a playoff and that’s exactly what happened giving him a 24 man playoff for just one spot. Last year he had a 13 man playoff for 8 spots which he made birdie on 10 at Riviera right out of the gate to secure his spot. For those who don’t know last year Joey lost in the sweet 16 to Doug Ghim who ended up finishing in 2nd and became #1 amateur in the world this year and has recently turned professional.
The goal was simple to go out and hit the best 4 iron he could and make the putt and wait and see if anyone would match him. He was in the first group so it was a good opportunity to just get it done and see what happens. He had hit so many amazing long irons that I really liked our chance. Plus his experience last year stepping up and making birdie should help him in this very challenging situation. The first guy to hit struck it perfectly right at the flag ending up 12 feet left of the hole. Joey stepped up and made a guided non committed swing that end up short right on the green and about 80 feet. He hit best long putt of the week to 6 feet and made it for par! Now we pray! The guy who stuck it ended up blowing first putt well by and missed the second making bogey. The next group all made par but then in group three 2 guys stuck it close and one of them made it so we were out! Match play would have been awesome but it wasn’t in the cards this week but I know he learned a ton and I expect a huge bright future for him because of this experience.
I would also like to congratulate Devon Bling who grew up in the FCG program and played with us his whole junior career. Devon lost in the final match and has now qualified to play in the Masters and US Open next year at just 18 years old!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or comments on this please contact me as I would love to get your feedback. I also hope this helps some of you with your mental game.
Chris Smeal, PGA
Founder of Future Champions Golf
San Diego, CA