Lietzke’s lessons: Home is not on the range

Bruce Lietzke, 47, is a legend among his peers on the PGA Tour. He has 13 tour victories and more than $6 million in career earnings- and between tournaments he never practices. Never. Here, he explains how he does it and how you can, too.

I grew up on a municipal course in Beaumont, Tex., that had no driving range, so I never really learned to beat balls on the range as a kid. I’m not afraid of the range, but I think you learn the game on the course. When I play my next tournament, I’ll have gone 20 weeks without picking up a club, but I’m confident my swing will still be the same as it was the last time I played.

When my son was born in 1983, I took five months off. I literally did not touch a club from August until January. My second week back, I won the Honda Classic. That’s when I knew I didn’t need to practice to compete on the tour.

I play only about 60 rounds (10 tournaments) a year. Basically, I’m a weekend golfer. I think my theories can be applied by other weekend golfers:

Do the same thing over and over.

I preach the value of muscle memory. You get that by hitting the ball the same way again and again. When you’re first learning the game, you can build your muscle memory by hitting balls on the range. After that, stick with the swing you’ve got. If you want to shoot a good score on Saturday, use the exact swing you used last weekend.

The range is for change. If you want to work on some new theory or your pro wants you to change your swing completely, you’d better be ready to go to the driving range and practice that swing day in and day out. As far as muscle memory goes, you’re starting over.

Have one teacher who knows your swing. The only teacher I’ve ever had is my brother Duane. If my swing ever went bad, I could go to the range and hit a couple thousand balls to work it out-or I could go to Duane, and in two minutes he’ll tell me what’s wrong.

One-dimensional works. When I got through the tour qualifying school in 1975, I happened to be hitting the ball with a fade. After a few tour events, I complained to Duane that I couldn’t hit a hook. He said, “What did you shoot today?” I said, “67.” He said, “So don’t worry about it.” At that point, I pretty much decided that I was content with shooting good scores and being something of a one-dimensional golfer. All I ever hit is a fade.

Chart your rounds. When I first came out on tour, I kept track of all my statistics: fairways hit, greens in regulation and so on. I found that I didn’t score any better if I practiced between tournaments than if I didn’t practice at all. That was a big confidence booster for me-proof I could be competitive without practicing.

Don’t change your club specs. I stayed with the same club manufacturer for 23 years, and when I changed I made sure I got exactly the same club specifications I’d always played. My clubs are the same length, the same shaft flex, the same lie they’ve always been. Again, if I changed them, I’d have to change my swing-and there goes all that muscle memory.

Don’t let the course architect dictate your swing. I’ll come to a 90-degree dogleg left, and I’ll still hit my muscle-memory fade, even if it means I have to hit a 5-iron off the tee and 5-iron to the green, while the other players are hitting 3-wood, wedge. I’ll hang my drive out over a lake if I have to, just so I can hit my fade.

Have a simple pre-round routine. Before a round, I’ll hit 40 to 50 balls, using my pitching wedge, 7-iron, 4-iron and driver-and maybe my 3-wood if I’ll be using it off the tee. I’ll finish with a few flop shots and flip shots with my sand wedge. Then I’ll putt for 25 minutes.

Emphasize the short game. The one area of my game that does suffer when I take long breaks is the short game. So before I play in a tournament I’ll spend a little extra time on the putting green and on my chipping and bunker play.

Accept the bad shot and move on. As a young player on tour, I’d let a bad shot bother me for five or eight minutes. That would carry over into the next shot, and that’s where triple bogeys come from. Now I’ve been able to whittle that mental-recovery time to 10 seconds. Unfortunately, the best way to learn to do that is to get old.

Don’t think of mechanics. I don’t even want to look at the sequences of my swing on the following pages. I won’t read my old friend Jim McLean’s analysis of my swing. I know very little about how the golf swing works. In 1983, I had to ask Duane how to hit a knockdown shot. He said, “Play the ball back in your stance two inches.” I didn’t know that. All I know is, it worked. (That, by the way, is the only lesson I’ve had in the last 24 years.)

I compare it to being a race-car driver. Bobby Rahal doesn’t need to know anything about pistons and rings or the car he’s driving other than what it will do and what it won’t do. That’s all I need to know about my swing: what it will do and what it won’t do. It may not be the best swing, but the fastest car doesn’t always win the race, either. Sometimes it’s just the smartest driver.

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