Friday, August 22, 2014

A Shortcut for Closer Greenside Bunker Shots

I love little tips like this! I call them "rules of thumb" -- they won't necessarily give you a perfect result, but they're close enough that you get a result you can use.

This video at golf.com is by Golf Magazine Top100 Teacher Fred Griffin. It's a shortcut to help you get your ball closer to the hole from greenside bunkers:



It's super simple: A typical greenside bunker shot travels roughly 1/3 of the distance that a shot with the same length swing would travel from the grass. In other words, as Fred demonstrates here, for a 20-yard greenside bunker shot you want to swing like you're hitting a normal 60-yard wedge shot.

Since Fred says this particular bunker "feels" like 3:1 sand -- and it looks to be of fairly average depth -- I'm guessing that a shot from softer sand doesn't travel as far. Likewise, if the bunker doesn't have much sand, I'm guessing the ball goes farther. You'll need to practice a bit to see what kind of results you get from the bunkers where you commonly play.

Is this going to be accurate all the time? No, it won't. But it will be correct a lot of the time, and even when it's not it should still get you pretty close to the pin.

Did I mention how much I love little tips like these? ;-)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Kobra Goes for a Three-Peat

While the big news this week is the start of the FedExCup Playoffs, we can't ignore history in the making, can we? Lydia Ko's bid for a third straight win at the Canadian Pacific Women's Open -- her first as a pro, ironically -- certainly classifies.

Lydia Ko with Women's Canadian Open trophy

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Women's Canadian Open, it was a major from 1979 to 2000. Back then it was the du Maurier Classic; however, du Maurier was a tobacco company and, because of the Tobacco Products Control Act, a ban on tobacco company sponsorship nearly killed the event.  (In 2001 the Women's British Open became the new fourth major.)

After going back-to-back as an amateur in 2012 and 2013, this year is going to be a new experience for Lydia -- not just because she's a pro this time but because (as is common with national Opens) the venue has changed yet again. After wins at both Vancouver Golf Club (2012) and Royal Mayfair Golf Club (2013), Lydia will now have to master the London Hunt and Country Club if she hopes to become the youngest three-peater in history.

The new venue also comes with a new sponsor, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (the fourth since du Maurier's sponsorship ended). Canadian Pacific replaced the Canadian National Railway Company, the "CN" of the former CN Canadian Women's Open that Lydia won twice.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia from LPGA.com concerning something you'll probably notice during the TV coverage:
Lydia Ko entered the media center Wednesday with tape on her trademark glasses. Turns out her mother, who travels with her to every event, was to blame.
“I actually asked my mom could you please clean my glasses, but in that sense I never knew that she would break them,” Ko said, laughing. “I actually got them in Korea, and I actually got sent four new pairs but they’re all a little different to what I have. So for now I’m surviving on tape and super glue. I mean, it’s been okay. We’ve been trying to tape it up again. But I mean it shows, but I’ve already been on TV the last two weeks with it on, so what is the big difference?”
Oh, those crazy moms. You gotta love 'em!

GC will broadcast some of Lydia's attempt to defend her defense (?) at noon ET today and tomorrow. And as usual, Tony Jesselli has posted a preview as well as some photos in other posts since he's attending this event.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Relaxed Rules Golf

There's been a lot of effort put forth lately to try and make golf more accessible to beginners, and I guess most of you have heard about GC's latest contribution to the efforts. It's called "Relaxed Rules Golf" and it's stirred up a wide range of emotions. Tweets to GC have ranged from praise to accusations of "you're teaching people to cheat." And to kick off their efforts, GC sponsored a "Relaxed Rules" Tournament on Tuesday, to get some feedback directly from the golfers involved.

Geoff Shackelford posted his own take on the concept last Friday. He has mixed emotions on the subject as well, although he clearly falls on the side of simplifying things. For those of you who may have missed it, here are the 7 rules that make up "Relaxed Rules Golf":
  1. Maximum score is double par
  2. Penalties are all 1 stroke
  3. Limit ball search to 2 minutes
  4. Improve unfortunate lies
  5. Conceded putts allowed
  6. No equipment restrictions
  7. Use common sense
The idea is to speed up play and eliminate confusion for beginners. It uses ideas from the pros' practice rounds and from the common practices of weekend players. GC compares the concept to how weekend athletes (and even pros) typically play other sports.

Personally, I think each side of the debate has some merit. Today I thought I'd look at "Relaxed Rules Golf" (hereafter called RRG) and some of the issues raised by the concept. There are both pluses and minuses that have to be taken into account.

As much as I hate to do it, I have to begin by pointing out how blind we golfers tend to be to the shortcomings of our sport. Golf has traditionally been one of the last holdouts when it comes to discrimination, whether it's been race- or gender-oriented. We are so proud of how our game depends on the character of the individuals involved to call penalties on themselves on the course, but we completely ignore how we demean players who aren't "like us," which is just as much a matter of character but isn't legislated by the Rules.

I hear a lot of this in this rules debate. We hang on to the "letter of the law" (or "letter of the Rules," if you please) while ignoring the greater purpose of golf, which is to have fun competing with friends. We need rules for sure -- rules are how we define a level playing field for all participants -- but do they need to be as complex as they have become? This is the issue.

When weekend athletes play sports, unless they are playing in a tournament -- and this is an important aspect of these RRG rules -- they rarely play strictly by the official rules. You won't see a 3-on-3 basketball game where a "free path" foul gets called. (With all apologies to golfers who think they are the only athletes to call fouls on themselves, that is only true in tournaments. Most weekend athletes in other sports call their own fouls as well; it's just that they play by relaxed rules that ignore nitpicky fouls.)

The Rules of Golf recognize that there is more than one way to play golf. For example, they recognize stroke play, match play, and Stableford scoring systems. Stroke play counts every stroke; match play counts only holes won or lost (which allows it to use Rule 5 of RRG), and Stableford awards points (which allows it to use a rule similar to Rule #1 of RRG). So the Rules of Golf themselves set a precedent: In some forms of golf we don't need to count every single stroke, even though rules are provided that could be used to regulate those strokes.

Why shouldn't we have a form of golf with extremely simplified rules for recreational play? The word recreational is extremely important here. While GC's tournament on Tuesday may be useful for gaining feedback about RRG, ultimately a GGC tournament is a contradiction of terms. By definition, each foursome is playing by a slightly different set of rules, so there can be no legitimate comparison of their scores! Rules exist for the purpose of creating a level playing ground for all the participants, and RRG rules are simply not robust enough to support tournament play. For an individual foursome, RRG might be a sensible compromise... especially since most weekend foursomes play similar rules already.

HOWEVER, there is one aspect of RRG which I haven't heard discussed very much yet, but it needs to be. (In fairness, Charlie Rymer, one of GC's most vocal supporters of RRG, mentioned this briefly Tuesday morning but I doubt that it registered on most listeners.) This one aspect of golf is different from almost any other sport and it can affect even individual recreational play.

Namely, how does RRG affect a player's handicap?

To be blunt, if you plan to turn in a score that will affect your handicap, you simply can't do it under RRG rules. If you do, you are artificially lowering your handicap. It may look good when you brag to your friends, but it'll bite you in the butt when you enter a tournament! Your handicap will be much lower under RRG rules than it would be under the official Rules of Golf, and you'll be robbing yourself of strokes that you're entitled to claim. The better your game is, the less RRG will affect your handicap -- after all, most of the RRG rules affect bad shots -- but it will adversely affect your handicap all the same.

Although most golfers don't think about it like this, your handicap is the way the official Rules compensate for your poor and penalty shots. For you skeptics out there, RRG does the same thing. The difference is that RRG compensates only in this round, with this foursome, in informal play; your handicap compensates in EVERY round, in EVERY foursome, in competition as well as informal play. If you want to build a handicap, RRG is NOT YOUR FRIEND.

But for casual rounds, practice rounds, beginners learning how to hit the ball, and better players trying to learn new shots on the course, RRG makes a lot of sense. It allows you move along at a good pace which, when you're focused on getting better and not on winning something, can be better for your attitude and help you get better sooner.

I agree with Geoff Shackelford. I'd like to see "when possible, play it as it lies" retained as the primary rule in RRG because that's the basic concept in the game. But simplifying the penalties and such so that even new players could walk up to a ball in a hazard and go "Oh, I know what to do" would be a huge boost to the game for us all.

[UPDATE: Wednesday we learned that GC gave out prizes at their tournament... but they weren't based on score. Instead, they gave prizes for the best suggestions to improve RRG. It's clear they understand the limitations of what they're proposing. You have to give them high marks for that!]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Basics of Green-Reading, AimPoint Express Style

Adam Scott reading a puttHere's a link to a golf.com article that explains the basics of AimPoint Express, the simplified green-reading system being used by Adam Scott, Stacy Lewis, and other players.

Here's a general tip I found in the article that should help you make better putts even without using the AimPoint Express system (I added the emphasis in the second paragraph):
Here's a test of your green-reading savvy: Imagine a clock face on a typical back-to-front-sloping green, with the hole at the center, and the 12 o'clock position representing a straight downhill putt. Which putt will break the most: A sidehiller from the three o'clock position? A downhill, sidehill putt from two o'clock? Or an uphill sidehill putt from four o'clock? (Assume that each putt is hit with excellent speed, so that it would roll 1.5 feet beyond the hole if it missed.) If you said that the sidehill putt (three o'clock) would break the most, you're in the majority—but you're wrong. The downhill putt from two o'clock will break the most and the uphill putt from four o'clock the least.
Why? A putt breaks because it is falling due to gravity. Since the putt from two o'clock is slightly downhill, it's hit more softly than the three o'clock putt, so it takes more time to reach the hole. Since gravity has a longer time to act, the ball breaks more.
Even if you don't try the AimPoint Express technique, that tip alone should save you some strokes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Wyndham Championship

Winner: Camilo Villegas

Around the wider world of golf: Inbee Park defended her title at the final Wegmans LPGA Championship, the LPGA's 4th major of the year; Martin Piller won the News Sentinel Open on the Web.com Tour; Bernhard Langer picked up another trophy at the Champions Tour's Dick's Sporting Goods Open; Marissa Steen won the Eagle Classic on the Symetra Tour; Marc Warren won the ET's new Made in Denmark event (is that a cool name or what?); and Bo-Mee Lee won the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details).

Camilo looks at reflection in trophy

A friend from Brazil is here in the States for a visit and he wanted me to take him to Carowinds. Carowinds is an amusement park on the border of North and South Carolina, and he wanted to ride roller coasters. There are quite a few at the park, including 6 rated as "aggressive thrill rides." We went down Saturday and rode all 6 of them.

While I'm sure there are coasters in other parts of the country (and the world) that are bigger and faster, these 6 coasters let you experience just about every kind of coaster you can ride: High coasters, hanging coasters, ridiculously fast coasters, and even coasters that change direction and run backwards. My favorite is the NightHawk; here are a few photos of it in action.

NightHawk in curve
NightHawk in curve 2
NightHawk in dive

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. Riders spend most of this ride hanging not only under the track but under the cars as well. There's nothing quite like diving straight down, head first, when there's nothing between you and the ground. They tell you to empty your pockets before you ride, but some people just won't do it. While we waited in line, we saw all kinds of things flying out of the riders' pockets as they zipped around. Understand? That's why this is an "aggressive thrill ride."

About 2 hours northeast of Carowinds, a number of very aggressive golfers were creating a thrill ride of their own. They didn't run nearly as fast as the NightHawk -- and they certainly didn't do that wild series of barrelrolls we did just before we re-entered the station -- but they were playing with their livelihoods. Who would make it into the FedExCup Playoffs next week? Who would keep their cards next year?

In an unexpected move, Camilo Villegas -- largely MIA for the last 3.5 seasons -- zipped to the top of the leaderboard with a bogey-free 63. Meanwhile, third-round leader Nick Watney -- also missing in action for a quite a while -- simply couldn't find the bottom of the cup. The leaderboard filled up with former PGA Tour winners who had been off their games for a while but suddenly found themselves in this last-ditch effort to make the playoffs and save their cards.

Of course, only Camilo pulled it off. But what did you expect? Mere mortals are no match for Spiderman! The next question is... will Spiderman retain his powers into the foreseeable future or was this just a one-time heroic effort?

Either way, in addition to an all-expenses paid ticket that will probably get him at least to the 3rd playoff event, Camilo gets his first Limerick Summary in a very long time. Can he get another one? Only time will tell...
By winning the end of the season
Camilo insured he’ll be breezin’
Through most of the playoffs
Without any layoffs.
Let’s hope that he’s back, not just teasin’.
The photos came from PGATOUR.com, themeparkreview.com, carowinds.com, and coasterimage.com, in that order. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

59 -- It's Not Just a Champion's Age Anymore

Several players on the PGA Tour have shot 59, as have a few Web.com Tour players. The LPGA only has one -- Annika shot that -- but that still makes her a member of the club.

And now the Champions Tour has its first member to the 59 club, Kevin Sutherland.

Kevin Sutherland

And just like Jim Furyk last year, he had one bogey on the round -- a 3-putt on 18. Coulda been a 58 otherwise!

The reason I'm fascinated by Kevin's accomplishment is his mindset. Most players say they try to think about ANYTHING except shooting 59. But here's what Kevin told PGATOUR.com:
Sutherland, playing in only his third Champions Tour event since turning 50 in June, recalls asking some of the players at the start of the week if anyone had ever shot 59 on the senior circuit and was surprised it had not been done.
He would not have seemed a likely candidate. Sutherland's career-low round on the PGA TOUR was a 62 in the 2010 Canadian Open. Even at home in Sacramento, California, he never seriously came close to golf's magic number.
On Saturday at En-Joie Golf Club, he couldn't miss.
Sutherland opened with four straight birdies -- two of them longer than 30 feet -- and hit hybrid into 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He ran off three more birdies, including a bunker shot he holed on No. 7 that hit the pin instead of rolling 10 feet away.
Sure enough, after thinking about a 59, he made par on No. 9 to go out in 27.
"When I was 9 under after eight I was like, `That goes beyond being a good start,'" Sutherland said. "At that point I started thinking, `What do you have to do to shoot 59.' I started thinking maybe earlier than you should be, but it worked out all right."
Not only did the gallery begin to grow, Sutherland said the players ahead would watch him hit into the green. He made a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 11 for his second straight birdie, and then settled down for three straight pars.
"It got to the point where I didn't want to disappoint them," Sutherland said. "I had a 10-footer on 13 and missed it, and you would have thought I stole their young. They were really into it."
He drove onto the par-4 16th hole for a two-putt birdie to reach 13 under, and then he stuffed his approach to tap-in distance on the 17th, leaving him a par away from 58.
"I wasn't nervous all day, but I was nervous on 18," he said. "You don't get that chance very often."
Think about what Kevin said for a moment. "At that point [9 under after eight] I started thinking, `What do you have to do to shoot 59?'" And he had asked about 59s earlier in the week. This is a player who is consciously thinking about shooting 59. He's not worried about whether he can do it or not. He's not worried about what barriers might be in the way. He just played his game and let it happen. And he says he plans to play today without comparing today's score to yesterday's.

To quote Yoda, "There is do or do not. There is no try."

Look, I'm not going to tell you this is a magic mental talisman that will make you move mountains of strokes off your scorecard. But I think there IS some magic in being free enough to simply go out and see what you can do. Don't worry about the odds against it or how you've played in the past. Think instead about how you can shave a stroke off your score on this hole or that hole, then see if you can do it.

This is a game. Why not try just playing it for a change?

It got Kevin Sutherland into the history books. Who knows what it might do for you?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hey, How Did Brittany Lincicome Get in the Lead?

Yeah, I know. All the analysts said that a bomber had the advantage at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Monroe Golf Club has wide fairways that just begged for a big hitter to take over.

But they all said that big hitter would be Lexi Thompson, not the LPGA's most notorious fisherwoman.

Brittany Lincicome

Granted, Lexi is tied for second place. (As is Inbee Park, so maybe that "big hitter" thing wasn't such a big deal after all.) But both Lexi and Inbee are 3 shots back. And notoriously short hitters like Jane Park, Meena Lee, and Lydia Ko are 4 shots back. Brittany simply shouldn't be there.

It's not that Brittany's a bad player. Far from it. She's got 5 LPGA titles including one major, the 2009 Kraft Nabisco. (Remember her eagle on the 18th?) But even the writer of the LPGA's 2nd round notes sounds a bit surprised by her play:
She hasn’t held a second round lead since 2009 but Brittany Lincicome now holds the 36-hole lead at a major championship for the first time in her 10-year career.
According to the article, Brittany sounds like a number of other players on various tours:
"I haven’t been here in a while so it’s pretty exciting anytime you can shoot under par especially at a major.  It feels really nice.  I feel like all year I’ve been doing a lot of good things, hitting well, putting well, chipping well, they just don’t seem to all come together on the same day.  So it was nice to play the last two days and just kind of seeing like I was out there doing my thing and there was not too much stress involved."
In other words, she's been playing better than her score would lead you to believe. I went back over her finishes this year and she's only had one Top10; the vast majority of her finishes have been outside the Top25. Some have accused her of being, shall we say, less than dedicated to her golf when there's a fishing pole nearby. (Or possibly a poker table -- she's into Texas Hold'Em as well.) I don't know what happened, but she certainly hasn't been much of a factor since 2011 when she won twice.

But while she wouldn't be the first fun-loving player to find her game derailed by the opportunities available to a Tour player, few seem determined to have as much fun as Brittany. Have you ever read any of Brittany's bio at LPGA.com? The first thing listed under the "things you should know about Brittany" is:
Top three things on Brittany's bucket list? Get married/have kids, go fishing for sailfish and catch Moby Dick, and go on an Alaskan cruise.
Sounds to me like she may have a bit of trouble pulling all three of those off at once -- I just can't see Captainess Ahab's kids helping her man the harpoon in the Arctic North -- but that's part of what makes Brittany one of the more interesting players on the LPGA.

Regardless of how she got here, she's here now. And after a few years of just floating through the season, she may be on the verge of finally getting that big white winless whale off her back. I just hope for her sake that she doesn't get so distracted by the damn thing that her pursuers catch her.