Basketball legend Bill Russell said, “Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” That’s what Rob Labritz, competitor on the PGA Tour Champions and Director of Golf at GlenArbor GC in Bedford, sees as keys to the success of his rookie year on tour.
“Mental exhaustion is like carbon monoxide poisoning,” Labritz says. “You don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. Your body feels fine, but you make dumb mistakes like three-putting from twelve feet or missing a green with a wedge.”
Labritz is in the field for the US Senior Open this week at Saucon Valley CC. Also qualifying for the tournament are Craig Thomas, head pro at Metropolis CC, and Ned Zachar, an amateur and perennial men’s champion at GlenArbor.
Labritz is about a third of the way through his first season on tour and has turned in a solid performance that bodes well for the rest of the year. He’s been on the leaderboards consistently and notched a T5 at the Rapiscan Classic in his best finish so far this year.
“I am still in the honeymoon phase,” he says, “but I’m learning a lot about my game and myself and starting to adapt to the tour life.” Among the things he’s learned about himself, he says is, “I’ll work myself to death without taking a break or a breath.” He’s trying to pace himself now. “I need to stop working myself from sunup to sundown every day. I need to take some rest. That’s foreign to me since I don’t feel mentally tired, but I know now I need to do it.”
He’s learning to pace himself on the course, too. “I found I got mentally into my shots too soon. I’m one of the longer guys out there, so I’m often the last one to hit. I found myself mentally rehearsing for my next shot before the other guys have hit theirs, which is before I need to be in that mindset.”
Labritz is averaging 292 yards off the tee and hitting two-thirds of the fairways and 70% of greens in regulation. He’s averaging 30 putts per round, though, which is why he’s concentrating hard on his short game now.
Among the other adaptations he’s making is switching hats from club pro to tour pro. “I’ve had to learn the difference from being someone in the service industry to someone whose job is to get the ball into the hole in the least amount of strokes.” You have to focus on your own game in almost a selfish way, he says, betraying his inclination to help others with their game in the way he has for decades. He says he finds himself giving a lot of tips during the incessant pro-ams he’s required to play as part of the tour, sometimes to the detriment of his own game. “I probably should spend more time getting acquainted with the golf course we’re playing that week.”
Given that he’s in the very early stages of living a life split between playing on tour and working at the club level, Labritz is adapting well. “I’m not dissatisfied with my performance so far,” he says. “If I didn’t have a lot of people giving me perspective, I might be disappointed. They remind me to give myself some time to adapt to the new life.”
He adds that he’s learned that every tournament is important but it’s not a life-and-death matter. “When you play the PGA Championship once a year,” he explains, “you look on it as your one big chance. When you play a tournament every week, you realize you have many chances to play your best. When I relax and just concentrate on playing well, good things happen.”
Good things happen for Rob Labritz because he is as much a champion as any player on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. His nearly-endless list of tournament wins includes three NY State Opens, two Westchester Opens, four Met PGA Professional Championships, and two PGA Championship Low Club Pro titles, not to mention the 2021 PGA Tour Champions Qualifying tournament.
Labritz is a champion teacher, too, and was named Met PGA Teacher of the Year in 2021.