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Be a Feel Player
Sergio Garcia

Good touch comes from instinct and practice.

It's flattering to be known for having great feel. People think I play with a certain artistry, hit an entertaining variety of shots and make the game fun to watch. It's the kind of player I want to be.

I was very lucky to grow up on a golf course, and one where my father, Victor, is the pro and my mother, Consuelo, runs the golf shop. The course is Club de Campo Mediterraneo (where these photos were taken). From age five I'd roam the course with a club in my hand and spend the afternoon trying every shot I could find. Or I'd take on members for Cokes in chipping games around the practice green.

Two of my countrymen who are also known for their feel, Seve Ballesteros and lose Maria Olazabal, had similar childhood experiences. I'm proud of my 'Spanish hands' and put a lot of trust in the tips of my fingers. But I'm not unique. Feel is something we all have. The way to bring it out is through practice and reacting like an athlete.

I really like sports, both watching and playing. To me, feel in action is a tennis player sizing up a passing shot and in a split-second choosing either to break off a sharp topspin angler or completely fool his opponent with a soft, carefully placed lob. In football, it's an attacker seeing a momentary path through defenders and shaping the perfect shot past the goalie and into the back of the net.

Golf's similar - you just have more time. Feel, especially inside 50 yards, comes from a familiarity with how a golf ball reacts when struck in different ways from different lies to different target areas. That might sound complicated, but it's amazing how much your brain can process if you let your imagination do its job. If you lay the groundwork by ingraining good technique with lots of repetition, you can develop the comfort and confidence to focus on the target and let your athletic instincts take over. That's when your touch will be most sensitive and when you will truly be playing with the greatest of feel.

For me, feel begins with the eyes. I want to take in everything: the wind, the grass, the lay of the land, the bunkers, the firmness and contours of the green. As process all of this, I can feel my body, and especially my hands and fingers, reacting with increased sensitivity. That's when I let what feels most comfortable determine what shot I will hit.

I like to hit a lot of different shots, which means I often have multiple options. That can be a problem if I hesitate and think too much. But if I trust my instincts, I'll almost always choose the right one.

Once I settle on the shot, I take a couple of practice swings looking along the target line. This helps me judge how hard I have to hit the ball. Most amateurs I see spend too much time looking down on their practice swings. No wonder they struggle with getting the distance right.

Over the ball, I like to stay in motion, by waggling and gently rocking from foot to foot. This keeps me loose and connects me to my target better, so that my whole body gets into the rhythm and tempo of the motion I'm going to use.

Emotion: Another side of feel

I have been Sergio's teacher since he started playing. Even as a little boy he played with tremendous feeling and emotion. I've always encouraged it because, first, it is who he is. But second, it is the way he most enjoys the game. I know that the more he enjoys the game, the better it will be for him as a player.

Sergio's emotions all come from a central desire to excel. His drive, combined with his talent, is why he has been able to accomplish so many exceptional things at a young age. The occasions when his emotional drive is at its highest - perhaps most notably during the Ryder Cup - is usually when he plays his best.

Sergio understands that emotion is a powerful force. Both the excitement from a good shot and the anger from a poor one have to be channeled into a sharper focus on the next shot. That's not always easy for a young man to do in a game that can be as frustrating as golf, and there have been times when impatience has hurt his performance. But Sergio is brave by nature, and he gets better every week at dealing with adversity.

That doesn't mean Sergio is going to be less demonstrative. He shows his feelings not to get attention or to bother other players, but because they are natural expressions. As a regular member of his gallery, I know that's a big reason people love to watch him.

 

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