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Sunday, May 27, 2018

More from Harry Vardon on "Simple Putts"

I waited a while to continue the putting advice from Harry Vardon that I began in a couple of posts a couple of weeks back. This section, quoted from his 1905 book The Complete Golfer, is LONG and I could find no way to chop it up without ruining his logic.

Yes, this is only two paragraphs from the book, which is in the public domain here in the US. I'll try to pull out the best ideas at the end of this post, but there's considerable value in wading through Vardon's somewhat longwinded prose. Here is his advice on how to set up for a typical putt and how to think about the stroke itself.
For the proper playing of the other strokes in golf, I have told my readers to the best of my ability how they should stand and where they should put their feet. But except for the playing of particular strokes, which come within the category of those called "fancy," I have no similar instruction to offer in the matter of putting. There is no rule, and there is no best way. Sometimes you see a player bend down and hold the putter right out in front of him with both wrists behind the shaft. This is an eccentricity, but if the player in question believes that he can putt better in this way than in any other, he is quite justified in adopting it, and I would be the last to tell him that he is wrong. The fact is that there is more individuality in putting than in any other department of golf, and it is absolutely imperative that this individuality should be allowed to have its way. I believe seriously that every man has had a particular kind of putting method awarded to him by Nature, and when he putts exactly in this way he will do well, and when he departs from his natural system he will miss the long ones and the short ones too. First of all, he has to find out this particular method which Nature has assigned for his use. There ought not to be much difficulty about this, for it will come unconsciously to his aid when he is not thinking of anybody's advice or of anything that he has ever read in any book on golf. That day the hole will seem as big as the mouth of a coal mine, and putting the easiest thing in the world. When he stands to his ball and makes his little swing, he feels as easy and comfortable and confident as any man can ever do. Yet it is probable that, so far as he knows, he is not doing anything special. It may happen that the very next day, when he thinks he is standing and holding his club and hitting the ball in exactly the same way, he nevertheless feels distinctly uncomfortable and full of nervous hesitation as he makes his stroke, and then the long putts are all either too short, or too long, or wide, and the little ones are missed.

I don't think that the liver or a passing variation in temperament is altogether the cause of this. I believe it is because the man has departed even by a trifle from his own natural stance. A change of the position of the feet by even a couple of inches one way or the other may alter the stance altogether, and knock the player clean off his putting. In this new position he will wriggle about and feel uncomfortable. Everything is wrong. His coat is in the way, his pockets seem too full of old balls, the feel of his stockings on his legs irritates him, and he is conscious that there is a nail coming up on the inside of the sole of his boot. It is all because he is just that inch or two removed from the stance which Nature allotted to him for putting purposes, but he does not know that, and consequently everything in the world except the true cause is blamed for the extraordinary things he does. A fair sample of many others was the clergyman who, having missed a short putt when playing in a match over a Glasgow links, espied in the distance on an eminence fully a quarter of a mile away from the green, an innocent tourist, who was apparently doing nothing more injurious to golf than serenely admiring the view. But the clerical golfer, being a man of quick temper, poured forth a torrent of abuse, exclaiming, "How could I hole the ball with that blockhead over there working his umbrella as if it were the pendulum of an eight-day clock!" When this is the kind of thing that is happening, I advise the golfer to try variations in his stance for putting, effecting the least possible amount of change at a time. There is a chance that at last he will drop into his natural stance, or something very near it, and even if he does not there is some likelihood that he will gain a trifle in confidence by the change, and that will count for much. And anyhow there is ample justification for any amount of manœuvring of the body and the feet when one is off one's putting, for at the best, to make use of something like an Irishism, the state of things is then hopelessly bad, and every future tendency must be in the way of improvement. There is one other suggestion to make to those golfers who believe what I say about the natural stance, and by this time it will have become more or less obvious to them. It is that when they are fairly on their putting, and are apparently doing all that Nature intended them to do, and are feeling contented in body and mind accordingly, they should take a sly but very careful look at their feet and body and everything else just after they have made a successful long putt, having felt certain all the time that they would make it. This examination ought not to be premeditated, because that would probably spoil the whole thing; and it usually happens that when one of these long ones has been successfully negotiated, the golfer is too much carried away by his emotions of delight to bring himself immediately to a sober and acute analysis of how it was done. But sometime he may remember to look into the matter, and then he should note the position of everything down to the smallest detail and the fraction of an inch, and make a most careful note of them for future reference. It will be invaluable. So, as I hold that putting is a matter of Nature and instinct, I make an exception this time to my rule in the matter of illustrations, and offer to my readers no diagram with stance measurements. From the two photographs of myself putting in what I had every reason to believe at the time was my own perfectly natural stance, they may take any hints that they may discover.
Then Vardon includes these two photos. Unusual stance, huh?

Vardon's putting stroke, as seen from his left

As you can see, he used a very short putter. And here's another view:

Vardon's putting stroke, as seen from his rightt

Vardon's refusal to give any measurements or diagrams regarding his stance is significant. Throughout his book, he is almost neurotic in his attention to detail when it comes to describing what he does and how he executes the various shots he plays. To simply say that 'putting is an individual matter and you'll just have to find what feels natural to you' is an amazing concession on his part!

His advice on how to find this natural stroke is also amazing, since it shows considerable insight. Think about this, folks: We often talk about how children putt better than most adults, and they get worse as they get older and develop 'scar tissue' from missed putts. Vardon's logic here is simple: Children putt better because their minds aren't full of other people's advice! They just putt the way that seems most logical to them. And Vardon says that's how you have to find your natural stroke:
...he has to find out this particular method which Nature has assigned for his use. There ought not to be much difficulty about this, for it will come unconsciously to his aid when he is not thinking of anybody's advice or of anything that he has ever read in any book on golf. That day the hole will seem as big as the mouth of a coal mine, and putting the easiest thing in the world.
Unconscious putting -- a simple concept that goes against most modern instruction. Too much practice inhibits unconscious technique. And make no mistake about it, your 'natural stroke' is a technique; it's just not based on "I need to hold the club like this and stroke on this path and keep my wrists in this position at impact."

Instead of thinking about how to putt, you should be thinking only about getting the ball in the hole, period. And notice that, later in the piece, he specifically says that you can't consciously try to standardize your stroke based on the days you putt well: it's all about comfort. And that makes sense, because you're human and your body feels a bit different each day, so if you could get in the exact same position each day, some days you'd putt well and some days you wouldn't because you still wouldn't feel right all the time.

Sounds like mysticism, doesn't it? That's why Vardon's method is not taught these days, but quantifiable technique is. Note that Vardon DOES say that, when your putting goes bad, it's probably because of a change in your stance. That's because your stance is your only connection to the ground and such a change would affect your balance, how you reach for the ball, the tension in your muscles, and so on.

And if you read on in that second paragraph, Vardon goes to far as to suggest that players get distracted by every little thing around them when they putt simply because they aren't comfortable over the ball that day.
Which means that Vardon's guiding principle for putting is that you should feel comfortable when you stand over the ball, no matter what your technique looks like when you do. Because he says that is probably your natural way of putting, and therefore it's the method that will likely give you the most success.
I'll stop there. There is so much about the mindset of putting that can be gleaned from these two lengthy paragraphs! Even sports psychologists could find some useful material here. So I'll leave it to you, to search for clues that might help you improve your own putting.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ged Walters on Hitting a Draw (Video)

Golf Monthly's Ged Walters did this cool video on hitting a draw. Why is it so cool? Because he's hitting irons off the fairway, not drivers off the tee! And to make it even better, he's hitting from a hanging lie, which makes the shot even tougher.

The fundamental things he teaches here are not new or unique, but his presentation is one of the simplest I've seen. Let me point out a couple of things he says.

First of all, I like how he distinguishes between a draw and a hook. It's not about how big the curve is, but about whether the ball is getting closer to the target or farther away at the end. A draw curves out and and finishes "on target" -- that means it's still moving toward the target when it stops. A hook curves around too much, so that it moves past the target and keeps moving away from it. A hook is out of control. That's a good way to think about it.

He likens the way you strike the ball with the club to the way a footballer kicks the ball. (For my American readers, we'd call it soccer.) The kicker strikes the ball with the inside of his foot; the inside of his foot is facing the target while his foot is moving out to the right (you lefties would be moving to the left).

And playing off a hanging lie? You just exaggerate this action. A very simple explanation.

If there's one key technical thought I'd like you to remember, it's that you position the ball just slightly back of center in your stance. You want to come at the ball slightly from the inside with your swing -- that's the footballer analogy again -- and moving the ball back slightly encourages that, without having to make a huge change to your swing. You might even want to stand slightly farther from the ball, simply because that will help you hit from the inside more easily, without a lot of conscious thought.

Walters has -- in my opinion -- done a real service to weekend players with this explanation of how to play a draw off the turf with an iron. So spend a little time with this video. It'll be well worth your time.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Martin Hall's "Buckle Before Buttons" Drill (Video)

This is one of Martin Hall's Home School videos, and it is a deceptively simple way to learn what a proper weight shift feels like.

Martin doesn't say this, but you can see it if you watch closely. When you set up next to the wall, you want your lead foot only an inch or two from it -- and when I tested it, I think just an inch worked best.

And note this little tip which you can see but Martin doesn't mention: When you touch your belt buckle to the wall and keep your chest from touching the wall, your spine is pretty much vertical. (There's a very slight arch but that is caused by clasping your hands behind your back, which pulls your shoulders back slightly. That's a naturally balanced position, similar to a soldier standing "at ease.") This drill teaches you to make a straight finish that takes pressure off your back.

Beyond that, it's all pretty simple. In order to (a) touch your belt buckle to the wall while (b) keeping your chest from touching the wall, you have to shift your weight onto your lead foot during your "downswing." If you hang back on your trailing foot, you will not be able to do this drill!

What this drill does is give you a "visual" feel for your finish -- and by visuaI I mean that you can actually see and measure what the desired finish position is like, if you want or need to. You can feel your buckle touching the wall, you can see that your chest doesn't touch, and you can use a mirror to see how close to vertical your back is when you do those two things. That way, you can guarantee that you get in the same position each time you do this drill, and that means you'll get the desired result much more easily and learn to repeat it more quickly. That's what makes a great drill!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The All Day Golf Schedule

Today is just a reminder that GC is showing solid golf from morning till night. All times are ET
  • 5am: European Tour
    BMW PGA Championship
  • 1pm: Champions Tour
    KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship
  • 4pm: PGA Tour
    Fort Worth Invitational
  • 7pm: LPGA
    LPGA Volvik Championship
Golf Central is listed for 9pm. And that should keep you from missing your favorite tour today. Happy viewing!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Kristin Sunderhaft on Ball Position (Video)

Kristin Sunderhaft, an LPGA teaching pro in Las Vegas, did this video some time back on ball position. It's helpful because you can actually see how she's positioning the ball, so have a look:

Kristin teaches three ball positions for your full swing, depending on what club you're using. That may sound different from what I teach -- I position the ball under my hands -- but bear in mind that, as the clubs get longer, my arms have to reach out a bit and that straightens my trailing elbow. And as that happens, my hands move a bit more toward the target as the clubs get longer.

So Kristen's method isn't really that much different from mine, but many of you may find it easier to understand what's happening when you see her in the video. So here are the three ball positions:
  • Wedges: Ball in the center of your stance.
  • Driver: Ball just off your lead heel or lead instep.
  • All other clubs: Ball is slightly left of the center position.
And she shows these positions using a couple of golf clubs to mark your aimline and your ball position. This is a good tactic to use during your own practice, to help you visualize how the actual ball position looks when you're standing over it and not looking at it from the front, as you are when you watch this video.

One last thought: You may think this setup with the two clubs is a reasonably recent invention, perhaps since Hogan really started focusing on mechanics. But here's a photo I posted in a past post about Harry Vardon's method for playing a draw. See anything familiar?

Vardon's setup for a draw

That line drawing in the upper right-hand corner -- and the chalk lines drawn on the ground -- are doing the exact same thing as Kristin's clubs. This is a time-honored method of visualizing ball position, and you should make use of it too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My "5 to Watch" at the Senior PGA

The Champions Tour is playing two majors in a row, so this week they tee it up at the KitchenAid Senior PGA. And the picks aren't as simple as they may first appear.


One reason is that the defending champion, Bernhard Langer, isn't teeing it up this week. Another reason is the strange rotation pattern of the courses -- this week's course, the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Michigan, has been the track for the last four events in even years (2012, 2014, 2016 and this year) while last year the event was in Virginia, Indiana in 2015 and Missouri in 2013.

What we can learn from this is that Harbor Shores seems to favor low scores -- 13-under in 2012 and 2014, 10-under in 2016. I guess you'd call Rocco Mediate the defending champ at this course, with Colin Montgomerie having won the time before. But after so much time, does that really help us?

Weather could have an noticeable effect on this week's play, as it's expected to change dramatically. It's in the high 50s today, going up about 10 degrees each day to the low 80s Friday and Saturday, then starting to drop again. Who will adapt best?

About all I can do is look at recent form and compare it to past performance at this course. So here's my best guess at who might contend. (At least I've done pretty good picking contenders lately. Just no winners!)
  • Having won last week, Miguel Angel Jimenez has to be considered a favorite. With no break between events, he should carry last week's form over to this week. Assuming the weather change from Alabama doesn't throw him off too much, that is.
  • Although Stricker isn't there this week, his buddy Jerry Kelly is. And Kelly's dedication to the Champions Tour has paid off, as he picked up a win earlier this year and is in contention almost every week. Last week he finished T8... and for a Wisconsin boy, this event is almost like playing at home.
  • Joe Durant has been playing well all year, posting lots of Top10s, including a T2 at last week's major. Again, current form counts for a lot in my rankings this week, and Durant is knocking at the door.
  • Scott McCarron won four times last season but has yet to enter the winner's circle this year. His scoring has been erratic but he's had three Top10s in his last six events, with a T5 at the Tradition last week. Maybe the majors have his attention now.
  • And my flier is... Jeff Maggert. He isn't someone who immediately comes to mind but he's been playing much better as of late, posting T10, T2 and T5 (last week) in his last three starts. Maggert hasn't won since 2015, but this could be his week.
So my choice this week is Jerry Kelly. To be honest, I'm picking him because he's in decent form and this is almost a home game for him. He nearly got it done last week; perhaps this will be the week he gets his first major.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Limerick Summary: 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson

Winner: Aaron Wise

Around the wider world of golf: Ariya Jutanugarn won the Kingsmill Championship on the LPGA; Jenny Haglund won the Symetra Classic on the Symetra Tour; Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Regions Tradition on the Champions Tour; Michael Arnaud won the BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Tour; Andrés Gallegos won the Puerto Plata DR Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Adrian Otaegui won the inaugural Belgian Knockout on the ET; Ryuko Tokimatsu won the Kansai Open Golf Championship on the Japan Golf Tour; John Catlin won the Asia-Pacific Classic on the Asian Tour; and Hee-kyung Bae won the Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open on the Japan LPGA Tour.

Aaron Wise with AT&T Byron Nelson trophy

It was way past dark at my house before the PGA Tour closed shop for the night. Fortunately for the guys playing in the AT&T Byron Nelson, they had almost one more hour of daylight in Texas than we did here in North Carolina.

Almost. It looked pretty dark to me, even with the TV cameras' added light. But it wasn't like Aaron Wise needed any more light. After he striped his final drive and hit the green with a three-shot lead, nobody had much of a chance to catch him anyway.

Much has been made of how good Wise is and how much he learned at Quail Hollow just a couple of weeks back, when he posted a T2 finish. But that was just talk.

What Wise did on Sunday proved that we may have underestimated his potential. He never seemed to lose focus on what he was doing -- striding calmly around the course, making good strategic choices that put him 5-under on the front nine while giving him mostly easy pars on the back nine as he cruised to his first PGA Tour win. And those shots were made with confidence -- there was no sign that he felt any pressure until cameras caught him taking a deep breath before that striped drive on 18.

If his performance Sunday was any indication of what's coming, I'd better start looking for more words that rhyme with Wise. I'll be needing them for all the Limerick Summaries he's going to claim!
Though thunderclouds darkened the skies,
Young Aaron did not take his eyes
Off his goal. From the start
His mind and his heart
Were proved, by his play, truly Wise.
The photo came from this page at the Republican American site.