An inside look at how players and coaches prep for the U.S. Open
BROOKLINE, Mass. — Moments before each Formula 1 race, the group of cars racing that week will make what’s called a “formation lap.” One final spin around the track, to check the condition of their cars and get their tires up to their temperature.
Wednesdays at golf tournaments offer similar vibes. It’s the last opportunity to fine-tune before the major championship officially begins.
How does a player, and the coaching team around them, spend their final days before the U.S. Open gets underway? That’s the question I posed to GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jeff Smith (who you can follow on Instagram right here) on Wednesday morning, as he was helping his student Davis Riley make final preparations ahead of the 2022 U.S. Open.
It’s not a task left to chance. It’s a structured process, Smith says. Here’s how it breaks down.
Monday: “Technical revision”
Monday is generally the first day players get to the course. While there’s no time for players to make any wholesale changes, Smith says the start of the week marks players’ best opportunity to make final tweaks to their technique.
“Monday will be a technical revision,” Smith says. “We’ll look at video, we’ll look at Trackman numbers; we’ll talk about what it feels like vs. what it looks like; we’ll get into any kind of drill swings we’re going to do.”
For Davis Riley, one of Jeff Smith’s students in the field this week, that means revisiting a few key moves the pair have been practicing since they joined forces about two years ago. Mainly, reducing Riley’s tendency to swing too in-to-out, thereby reducing any severe right-to-left movement on his shots.
“We work on getting a little more depth to his hand path [on the backswing], and getting the club a little more shallow in transition,” Smith says. “His key move is turning his body very level through the shot…a lower left sort of exit.”
Tuesday: “Competitive environment”
With the patient’s final checkup in the books, Tuesday shifts gears away from the light-tough technical work, and more in a competitive direction.
“I try to create more of a competitive environment,” Smith says. “If we do anything on the range, it’ll be Trackman combines, and things of that nature. Trying to dial-in how far the ball is going that week, coupled with playing a practice round.”
His players generally play nine holes per day, Smith goes onto say, and the main focus is on playing. Tuesday, in a nutshell, is the day players get comfortable taking the work they’ve been doing on range into a competitive environment.
Wednesday: “Phasing out”
And then golf’s formation lap day rolls around. Today’s the day players get a firm handle on what they’re working with, and not much else. For players, that’s not always easy to accept, Smith says.
“I’m asking them, ‘What’s your key feel? What are you going with this week?,” Smith says. “Sometimes they’ll want to see how it looks on video and I’ll say: It doesn’t matter what it looks like, we got what we got.”
The subtle technical work at the start of the week has been almost totally “phased out” by this point, he goes onto say. Now the task is putting what they have in play. The Golf Gods will decide whatever happens next.