The Way of an Eagle

by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
Robert Darden




Bob Estes

Bob Estes looks like he still ought to be enrolled in the University of Texas (where he was named the Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus Awards winner as 1988 College Player of the Year), but he sure doesn't play like it. The modest Texan was Tour Rookie of the Year in 1989 and has just gotten better with each year.

In 1994 Estes scored his first PGA Tour victory, easily winning the Texas Open at Oak Hills in San Antonio. That little feat followed a second at the Phoenix Open, a third at the Greater Milwaukee, and a fourth at BellSouth. He finished with a whopping $765,360-good for fourteenth over on the Tour.

He also won the all-around category in the 1994 PGA Tour statistics. The baby-faced Estes was tenth in scoring average, sixth in greens in regulation, sixth in sand saves, and sixth in birdies.

I grew up in the church. Both of my parents are Christians; my brother as well. I've gone to Sunday school and church ever since I can remember. A lot of my friends who went to my church then are still my friends now, so it was a great atmosphere.

I think I was eleven when I made my commitment to Christ. I'd been around the church all the time, and so I felt that that was the right time.

To be honest, it has been up and down since then. In high school, my family always attended church and Sunday school. But when I went away to college, my days were so filled that I got away from going to church and Sunday school. When I was in college I felt like I crammed fifteen years into four. You hate to use that as an excuse, but that's the way it happened. Add to that trying to make the PGA Tour, combine a little bit of social life and, well, something had to give. I was so busy with school and golf that most of the people I really got to know were athletes I lived with or close by.

During my first week at school in Austin, my roommate and I attended a Methodist church, even though I grew up Baptist. We went that one time, and I'm not sure he ever went again-and I know I only went that one time!

I did feel bad that I was not attending church and Sunday school regularly, but it happens. It's not like I didn't want to go, it's just that I felt so much time pressure. Once you get in the habit of going, it's easy to go. And once you get in the habit of not going, it's easy not to go.

There were many times when Sunday morning was the only chance I had to sleep in after a tough six days. Or sometimes we had a tournament to go to. Or we had one coming up soon, so I would get up early and go to the golf course on Sunday morning.

I would go to church when I was back home in Abilene to visit my family but when I was in Austin, I only went that one time the first week of school. That was it.

Once I got on the Tour, I started going to the Bible study right away, probably my first week or two on the Tour. I'd heard about it when I qualified. Not only was that going to be a great way to learn about the Bible, it was going to be a great way to meet other Christian players and wives on the Tour. And that's exactly what happened. I've been going ever since. I will admit that I haven't made every single Bible study. Sometimes when you have a 7:00 A.M. tee-time, you tend to go to bed a little bit earlier than normal!

Larry Moody's Bible study was pretty much my church during my first five years on the Tour. Then in 1993, during the off-season, I knew I needed to find a church home in Austin. I went to four or five Baptist churches in town and ended up at Hyde Park Baptist Church-a block from where I lived during college! I started out going there and finally made it to Sunday school about a year later for the first time, and I quickly made some good friends there-some of whom came to see me when I won the Texas Open in San Antonio shortly thereafter in October 1994.

Meeting guys like Larry Nelson, Morris Hatalsky, Scot Simpson, Tom Lehman, Loren Roberts, Bobby Clampett-so many guys who are just super people-has meant so much to me on the Tour. They've got super wives, great families, and to see them be successful out here and still be such strong Christians really means a lot. And the younger pros, like myself, really look up to those guys for inspiration.

Memorable Moment
As far as golf-related memory, I guess there were two. During my rookie year in 1989, I went into the fall not having made nearly enough money to qualify for the Tour the following year. I missed the cut in Milwaukee. Still, I had two really good days of practice, Saturday and Sunday, before heading into the B.C. Open. Then I really worked hard on my putting Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in particular, because I knew if I was going to score and finish higher up, I was going to have to putt well.

When the B.C. Open came, I got myself in to contention. I had a one-shot lead going into the final round. Mike Hulbert caught me from behind, and we tied for first. That put us into a play-off-which guaranteed me at least second-place money. I didn't win the tournament, but the second-place money got me over the top and exempted me for the following year. And, as everybody knows, once you are bumped from the Tour and have to go back through the Qualifying School, there's no guarantee you'll be back right away or ever. So that was a really big week in my golfing career.

Then I'd say my other favorite memory was my first career Tour victory in San Antonio in October 1994. Not only was it close to home, it was in front of many family and friends. My parents were there, as were my uncle and aunt (my original sponsor) with a friend and his wife, some other friends, a couple other family members, and a lot of people I didn't know but who had gone to the University of Texas-UT fans one and all. There was a lot of cheering just because I'm an old Longhorn! That all made it special.

Actually, before the Texas Open, I hadn't given myself as much time to practice or to prepare the way I had wanted. But I shot a 62 the first round and just kept going. I didn't make quite as many putts as I did on? Thursday, but I made enough to win.

I want to talk about how you practice. It depends on how much time you have. You do need to balance that, of course. But a pretty good little rule of thumb is that you need to spend a least half of your time putting and chipping and hitting other shots around the green.

Amateurs love to get out there and whack at it-especially with the driver. That's part of the game, too, and that's fine. But one of the things I've learned that's really, really important is how to balance your practice, to cover almost every phase of your game everyday, even if, for instance, you may only hit five bunker shots. Go in the bunker and hit those shots. There are plenty of days when that's all I hit. I may only hit three or four or five. You don't have to stand in the bunker and hit bunker shots for thirty minutes or an hour.

When you're playing a round of golf, you're doing a little bit of everything-you're hitting a tee shot, and you're hitting an iron shot, and then you're either putting or trying to recover. So I feel it's best to practice like that too.

There are different ways to do that. I spend a balanced amount of time on all phases of my game. The only thing I might spend more time on in one practice session is hitting full shots or your basic putting stroke. Anything else I do in moderation.

The most important thing in playing great golf and scoring well is to remember that you're going to spend half of your round on the green, so putting is now my primary focus. Whereas when I was younger, I spent most of my time chipping, pitching, hitting bunker shots, and putting. Developing your short game may not be such a bad way to go when you're younger. Hopefully, you'll be able to carry that with you for a long, long time.

Typically, what I'll try to do in a practice session is start out putting. I'll putt for only ten to fifteen minutes, and I'll putt with only one or two balls and from all different lengths. I try to make it as much like it is on the golf course-unless I'm just working on repetition on something mechanical.

When I'm done putting, I'll hit chips for maybe five to ten minutes with various clubs. I may chip with the six iron first, then the wedge, then the eight iron, while moving around the chipping green, playing from different places uphill, downhill, and sidehill. And then I might go to the area where I can hit a few bunker shots or pitch shots. I may only hit five bunker shots and maybe five to ten pitches with my different wedges.

And only then will I go to the driving range. Again, depending on how much time I have and how much I want to accomplish, I may only hit balls for thirty minutes.

So the main thing I'm trying to say is that, don't typically spend an hour or two on any one phase of my game. I keep moving around. Not only is that good for you because that mirrors what you do on the golf course, but your practice doesn't become boring and stale.

It's not like I have a strict time limit on myself either. But I feel like I balance my practice well enough not that I know when it is time to move on to the next phase of the game. You can definitely practice too much.

I finally discovered a couple of years ago that, especially in college and high school, I would spend an hour or two just hitting bunker shots-straight-until I had that down. Well, if I went from there to the driving range and hit full shots, all of a sudden my blade is open, my stance is open, I'm taking the club to the outside, and all I can do is cut the ball. I can't finish my backswing because I'm still setting up and working at the target as if I'm hitting bunker shots!

I didn't really learn how to practice and prepare myself for each following day until I got out on the Tour.

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