Alabamian sizes up his Year 1 performance and what lies ahead
ATHENS – After a short vacation, Lee Hodges is back at work this week on the PGA Tour where he’s teeing it up in the Fortinet Championship beginning Thursday in Napa, California.
Hodges hasn’t played competitively since mid-August when he finished 13th in the St. Jude Classic. After the short break, Hodges said he is ready to begin his second year on tour.
Lee Hodges’ final numbers for his first year on Tour were solid. He banked a little more than $1.3 million, made 18 of 29 cuts and finished with a 70.889 scoring average. He finished 76th on the FedEx Cup points list, and that high finish has allowed him the comfort of being able to plan out a schedule for his second season on Tour.
His first year was a’perseverance year’
Reflecting on his first year, Hodges, who grew up in nearby Ardmore and now owns a home in the Canebrake community, said there were plenty of highs mixed in with some lows.
He termed it as a perseverance year.
“I got off to a pretty good start and kind of hit a lull in the middle and then had a pretty strong finish,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself and my game, and that I can definitely play out there for a long time. I grew a lot as a player and a person and I am looking forward to this coming year.”
Hodges found himself in contention early. In just his eighth start, Hodges notched a third-place finish in the American Express event with rounds of 62-72-64-70. He also notched a ninth-place finish in the Honda Classic.
While navigating the Tour for the first time, Hodges said his goal wasn’t just to ease his way in by focusing on making cuts. Instead, it was simply to play his best golf and see where he was at the end of each event.
“I was never been one to focus on making the cut because when you focus on making the cut you always end up around the cut,” Lee Hodges said. “Anytime you think about just making the cut, you end up with three holes left fighting to make the cut.”
He said it was just about playing good, consistent golf.
Not worrying about making cuts is key
“I just tried to play my best golf and I felt like it was easier in the beginning of the year,” he said. “As the year goes on you might get to a course you have never seen before and it might not fit your eye and you don’t play great. Or you get kind of worn down after a few weeks and you start missing some cuts. It definitely gets a lot harder when you start thinking about your job.”
Some of the internal pressure, he said, comes from experiencing Tour life after grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“It’s honestly harder on PGA Tour – the Korn Ferry Tour is awesome and gets everybody ready to go to the next level – but it’s nothing compared to the PGA Tour compared to the way you are treated and all the amenities you get,” he said. “You almost get to thinking that you don’t want to go back, so it gets a little harder.”
Hodges hit a lull in the middle of the season. During an eight-tournament stretch, he missed 6 out of 8 cuts, with only a 51st-place finish at Mexico Open and a 70th place finish at The Players Championship.
“The middle of the year I might have focused a little too much on keeping my job instead of doing all I could do on the golf course because at the end of the day that will take care of itself,” he said.
Lee Hodges: Top players are ‘special kinds of talents’
Lee Hodges said there was no ‘ah-ha’ moment upon his arrival on the PGA Tour, but he noted that the top players do play at a different level.
“Korn Ferry Tour players are great players and they are right there on the cusp of playing on the PGA Tour, but it is 100 percent a different game,” said Hodges, who played collegiately at UAB and the University of Alabama. “I didn’t really know that at the time, I thought that we as Korn Ferry Tour players could play with anybody in the world. That’s just simply not true. When you crack the top 50 players, they are something else, to be honest. They are special kinds of talents.”
Playing and practicing alongside those players provides a roadmap for up-and-coming players like Hodges.
“It is pretty special to get to play with them, and you are like, this is a different kind of level I have to get to,” he said, “And I think that is good. It’s fun to see that every day on the range and in the practice area. Seeing what they are doing helps me to see what I need to do to get better.”
Focusing on getting better from 100 yards in
Hodges said there is not one specific area in which the elite players are abundantly better. Instead, it’s more a cumulative and across the spectrum.
“It just seems like they are a tad bit better at everything,” he said. “They will miss one less fairway than you or make one more putt than you. They will hit one more chip shot closer than you. That’s the difference right there. There’s not a glaring difference. It’s amazing watching them.”
Over the course of the year, Hodges improved his putting after working with coach Marcus Potter. He estimates that during the latter part of the year he gained strokes putting per round “80 to 85 percent” of the time.
“It’s nice to feel like you kind of figured out a part of the game that you have always been average at. It’s cool to see that turn into a strength,” he said.
He also had similar improvement with his scoring clubs and short game.
I don’t know what my strokes gained around greens and distance from 100 yards in was, but I know it was progressively better later in the year,” he said. “It was fun to see my game kind of grow. I still have a long way to go, but we are working on it every day.”
While working extensively on putting and his game from 100 yards and in, Hodges said he hasn’t made any tweaks to his overall swing.
“To be honest, not many people hit it better than me tee to green in the world, and I don’t mean that in a cocky way,” he said. “I just have been out there long enough now and on the PGA tour for a whole year, and I wouldn’t take anybody’s ball striking over me. It’s just the scoring clubs I need to get better at and around the greens. We have come a long way in the last six months and we still have a way to go to get to the top 50 and top 10 – where we want to be.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
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Featured image by Gregg Dewalt