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No-Swing Practice

Padraig Harrington injuring his wrist before the 2008 Open at Birkdale was remarkably similar to something that happened to me at a Birkdale Open (except unlike Padraig, I didn’t go on to win the tournament).

It was 1998, the year Mark O’Meara won. A few days before play began, I did some damage to a tendon in my right elbow. I was hitting balls on the range, made a swing and knew something was wrong. It wasn’t terribly painful; it was just a complete loss of strength. Before I knew it the doctors had my arm in a cast—but they promised it would heal quickly.

So there it was, time to play practice rounds and I wasn’t allowed to swing a club. I went out on the links anyway, bringing my caddie, my putter and a few balls. I would walk up to each tee, look the hole over and visualize how I wanted to hit my drive. Then I’d walk down the fairway, visualizing shots from various locations. When I got around the green, I would visualize recovery shots. Then I would hold the putter with one hand and roll putts all around the green.

It was an odd experience, for two reasons. One is that I had just as big a gallery following me as I would expect for a normal practice round. I actually felt a little bad about it. Watching someone visualize shots instead of hitting them has to be pretty dull. “Sorry, I’m just looking,” I would say when I got up to the tee, like you would say in an antiques shop.

The other reason it was odd is that it provided a very thorough preparation. After a while I didn’t mind not being able to swing the club. Walking, visualizing and rolling putts is sometimes all you need. Padraig may have discovered that for himself at Birkdale.


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