BY DAVID W. KEEN
Gabriel Hjertstedt spent 20 years playing on professional tours all over the world. You might not have known he was the first Swede to win on the PGA Tour. Now, he’s found the same success in his second career — as a short-game specialist to PGA Tour pros — as he did in his first career as a player. Hjertstedt works hard tweaking and fine-tuning the short games of pros like Graham DeLaet and Freddie Jacobsen.
Hjertstedt credits playing all over the world, on all kinds of courses for helping to hone his short-game: “Playing all over the world, you’ve got so many lies and conditions and they’re not always perfect so you have to develop a lot of different skills, whether it’s hard-pan, soft grass, spongy grass or what have you.”
Hjertstedt says that after his playing career was over, it was his natural inclination for getting up and down that made him realize he could carve out a career helping other pros do what came naturally to him. Naturally, and with hours and hours of hard work.
“They used to say I could get up and down from the ball washer,” jokes Hjertstedt, “but it’s the hours, really — I put in more hours than anybody, that’s how I forced myself to get better at it.”
Hjertstedt says that what makes someone good around the greens is no secret, all the top players have approached the short game in a fairly similar way for a while now. What really separates the amateurs from the average pro and the average pro from the best around the greens, is the time and energy put into it.
“It just always comes back to fundamentals,” Hjertstedt says. “The shots change all the time whether it be grass conditions or what have you, but it’s about keeping it simple and getting people into a nice practice routine so they can improve their feel and touch and comfort level.”
While Hjertstedt’s expertise is undeniable, he says that’s no reason to rush into a relationship with a player and start changing everything.
“Everyone at the PGA Tour level is obviously doing something right, there’s no need for me to come in and necessarily change everything. I always take what they already do well and build from there. Maybe they’re struggling with the flop shot or from the bunker and that’s where I come in. I can show them how the shot should be played and that’s an advantage, it gives me some credibility you know?”
We’ve all struggled from time to time with the short game, and it’s no secret these days that around the greens is where a lot of amateurs needlessly throw strokes away. Hjertstedt believes that, with amateur and pro alike, part of the problem lies within your expectation. “You can close to the hole and you start thinking about ‘well, if I can get up and down, I can save par’ instead of really concentrating on the task at hand.
Hjertstedt was born in Sweden, but he actually grew up in the Brisbane region of Australia. It’s where he learned the game and the place that really influenced his life the most.
“Growing up in Australia, obviously you could play all year round, which was a huge benefit, but also the unbelievable junior golf programs. Every weekend we’d run around playing junior events, and there were a lot of good players. We didn’t have to travel very far to play and you played on pretty crappy courses which really forced you to develop you game to all conditions.”
The influence of junior golf programs, and specifically competitive junior golf, is something that’s important to Hjertstedt. He recently co-founded the Competitive Drive Foundation, which aims to build on the efforts of programs like the First Tee Program that introduce kids to golf, by helping junior golfers participate in competitive tournaments.
“Programs like the First Tee are awesome, and the kids get exposed to golf when they probably normally wouldn’t. But then you realize these kids get to practice and practice, but never get the chance to compete.”
Hjertstedt believes the skills the juniors learn from competitive golf translate into habits and focus they use for the rest of their lives and helps kids develop goals.
“Competitive play is really where I learned to play the game and unless these kids get the chance to play competitively, they’re never going to be exposed to colleges and have the opportunities for golf scholarships. Hopefully down the road we could see one of these great kids on tour one day.”