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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Don't Forget Lexi at the Shootout

Today is just a reminder that we've got some history going on today. No woman has played in the Franklin Templeton Shootout since Annika played with Fred Couples back in 2006.

Today Lexi Thompson becomes only the second woman to do so.

Greg Norman and Lexi Thompson

Lexi tees off with Bryson DeChambeau, and the two will be the youngest team in the event. Also, while I'm unsure whether Annika played from the men's tees, Lexi will. I'm looking forward to seeing how she does, since that will make it a level playing field.

I'm betting she'll do pretty well, given that she grew up competing with her brothers.

According to GC's TV schedule, there will be a Pre-Game Show at 1:30pm ET with the official coverage beginning at 2pm ET. It should be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Long Drivers May Soon Be "Getting the Shaft"

Please forgive the pun but I couldn't resist. Mike Stachura over at Golf Digest just did a post concerning a potential new limit on shaft length.

Brooke Henderson and her 48-inch driver

Here's the deal: The USGA and the R&A are considering a new limit on the legal length of golf club shafts (not putters), capping the allowable length at 46.5" instead of the current 48". Apparently they informed the manufacturers a couple years back that they were going to study the possibility, and contacted them again less than two months ago that they (the ruling bodies) were going to propose the shorter length.

You can read the whole story at this Golf Digest link. There's more to it than just "we're thinking about lowering the limit" but it would affect a few golfers like Brooke Henderson, who currrently uses a 48" driver. Brooke grips down on the handle, so the effective length of her driver is probably about the standard length. I suppose she could get the same feel with a standard length shaft that's been counterweighted. Still, any change is still an adjustment -- assuming that this rule change actually goes through.

I find this very interesting because Stachura believes it's an attempt to eliminate one possible way for golfers to buy extra distance, even though this option has yet to be used by most golfers. I don't have a problem with that, as I think we put too much emphasis on distance and I also believe that the extra shaft length is generally detrimental to a player's game anyway. (Again, most players don't grip down the way Brooke does.)

But I do wonder how it might affect the yearly long drivers competition, as they generally try to use USGA-legal equipment.

So this is another potential rule change that bears watching. For most players, it's going to be a non-issue, even if they're professionals. (Brooke Henderson is an exception, of course.) But it would be nice if the ruling bodies moved as quickly to de-complicate The Rules of Golf as they do to regulate equipment that most players don't even use.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

(Un)Realistic Expectations

Today I thought I'd post my impressions of Tiger's first event back after all the surgeries. I'll try not to go off on a rant, but I do want to mention a problem I see when it comes to assessing Tiger's progress.

Golfweek has a great illustration of this in an article they posted just hours before I wrote this. (The photo came from this article as well.) Apparently the oddsmakers in Las Vegas now have Tiger at 20-1 odds to win the 2017 Masters... and Henrik Stenson at only 25-1.

Tiger at the Hero World Challenge

Yes, Vegas says Tiger is a better bet to win the Masters than Stenson. It makes no sense, although it's possible Vegas is just trying to make Tiger unappealing as a longshot bet, in case he should make a lot of improvement by April. You wouldn't want gamblers betting on Tiger at, say, 40-1 and then have him start winning a lot in March.

But that's the point. No one would realistically expect Tiger to be a favorite in April for any reason other than "he's Tiger Woods."

GC admitted to the same bias early in Thursday's broadcast. Patrick Reed had hit just as many bad chips as Tiger, but nobody was "worried" about Patrick's chipping simply because he isn't Tiger. And while the players who have been playing with Tiger made it clear that they thought Tiger's performance was nothing short of amazing, Brandel Chamblee & Company were acting like Tiger was playing horrible golf.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh with Brandel because he's been (in my opinion) overly critical of Tiger in the past. But let's just say he seemed less excited about Tiger's performance than the players actually on the course were. For example, given the broadcasts I saw, Tiger's short game was at least as good as the other players at Albany and much better than it was at the 2015 Wyndham. Brandel seemed unwilling to concede even that much.

But I digress. My point is that Tiger is no less human than the rest of us just because he's Tiger Woods. No one believed quarterback Payton Manning would play better than Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers when he came back from neck surgery just because he was Payton Manning. In fact, his own team was unwilling to even give him a chance to prove himself. Payton did in fact lead a different team to a Super Bowl win... but it was three years later.

My own belief is that Tiger played extremely well for a man who, 12 months ago, had trouble walking and who questioned if he would even be able to play again. Let me list the positives I saw.

First off, he finished 72 holes and posted a decent score for someone who hadn't been in competition for 16 months. (I would also say he hadn't had a healthy back for at least 2.5 years.) He clearly had problems with being out of shape both physically and mentally, but he left the course each day walking normally, not fighting back pain. Those are major accomplishments and, despite the critics' continued quoting of Tiger's "I always play to win" comments, they were clearly in line with Tiger's own expectations as well.

Note to critics: "Playing to win" simply means you play your best each day, to try and give yourself your best chance to win. Tiger made it clear that he gave it his best shot each round, but understood from the start that his current best was unlikely to win the event. Remember in the pre-tournament presser when he said he was playing to win but that Bubba's 2015 score "would be a tall order"?

But again, I digress. Back to the positives...

Tiger's short game and putting were much better this week than they were when we last saw him. They still need some work, sure, but they looked pretty good after a 16-month layoff. So did his iron game, despite playing a new ball in windy conditions. There's a reason his best round came on the one day the winds laid down!

As for the driver, I don't think it was fair to say he had a two-way miss. During any given round, his miss was pretty consistent. He missed left on Thursday, didn't really miss on Friday, missed right on Saturday and mostly left on Sunday when he was clearly running out of gas. Given how much he's talked about getting used to his new driver and needing to make adjustments, that (plus his lack of conditioning) was probably the main reason for his misses. I like most of what I saw.

Let me voice one more disagreement with Brandel. He said that Tiger's right (trailing) hip was too high and that it was affecting his timing. I think he has that backwards -- Tiger's timing is off and that made it look as if his trailing hip was too high.

Without getting into a lot of mechanics here, Tiger seems to be going more upright with his new swing -- a sensible move to minimize back strain. An upright swing requires a slightly slower change of direction than the flatter swing Tiger has used since he worked with Haney. Changing direction a bit too soon limits the movement of his trailing hip as he starts down, and that's why it looks to be a bit too high. Tiger's timing was better Friday than the other days, and his hip moved just fine. To quote Tiger, he "just needs more reps."

And that's ultimately what it comes down to -- Tiger simply needs more playing time before we can tell what his final swing will look like. Jordan Spieth said the critics should give Tiger a year before they start criticizing, but I think it could be as much as two years before Tiger's body has a chance to fully recover and his nervous system adjusts to the new "feel" of his swing. After this much time, Tiger isn't returning to his "old" body. His body will now react to things differently, and he seems content to take his time and let nature take its course.

That's why I still believe he's going to beat Jack's record. As long as he gives his body time to heal completely, that amazing golf mind of his will figure out a way to get that new ball in the hole.

I think that's a totally realistic expectation.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Limerick Summary: 2016 Hero World Challenge

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama

Around the wider world of golf: Mukesh Kumar won the Panasonic Open India on the Asian Tour; Sang-Hyun Park won the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup; one of my fellow North Carolina boys, Harold Varner III, won the Australian PGA Championship on the Australasian Tour/ET; Brandon Stone won the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the ET; Nathan Lashley won the Shell Championship (by 10 shots!) on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; and you can get all the info on the LPGA Q-School at this link. Jaye Marie Green was the Medalist (for the second time!), while Sedena Parks, Mariah Stackhouse and Mel Reid all got full cards for 2017, as did Katherine Perry, one of my NC girls. Aditi Ashok and Bronte Law got partial status.



It appears that once some players get a Limerick Summary, they just get greedy! Such is the case with Hideki Matsuyama, who picks up his third LS of 2016.

Of course, the big news this week was the reemergence of Tiger Woods. While the analysts may not agree on how well Tiger is playing -- and I plan to post my own feelings tomorrow -- the players themselves, who should have a good idea of what he did, made it clear that they were impressed.

For our purposes today, what matters is that Tiger didn't win.

Neither did Henrik Stenson, although the Big Swede certainly tried. He made a serious run at Hideki, who entered the final round with a 7-stroke lead. Conditions were tough enough that only Bubba managed to score better than Henrik, by a single shot. But even though Henrik was five shots better than Hideki in the final round... well, seven strokes is more than five.

Hideki had nothing to be embarrassed about, though. I don't think he'd ever had a solo 54-hole lead before, so it's a new strategy to learn. He did well enough to take the trophy, and I suspect he'll be happy with that for now.

In the meantime, he can head back to Japan and spend the holidays with his family, secure in the knowledge that he has moved up to #2 in my RGWR and gotten his 3rd Limerick Summary of the year. Merī Kurisumasu, Hideki!
Though Tiger was causing the stir,
Both he and the field would concur
That Hideki's attack
Left the field so far back
That his grip on the lead was secure.
The photo came from the front page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Anders Mattson on Face Angle (Video)

This is an interesting video from GC's Coach of the Week Anders Mattson on controlling your misses by altering your club's face angle. But it's interesting because of his approach, which might actually simplify this for many of you.



How does he simplify things here? Ironically, it's because he uses the terms left and right to help you aim, rather than open and closed or fade and draw.

Normally, I use open and closed or fade and draw when I post instructional articles. That's because those terms for the shot shapes are the same for both lefties and righties. Using the other terms lets me use the same instructions for both players.

But a leftie's fade goes left while a rightie's fade flies right. Using right won't create a fade shape for both players.

However, Mattson isn't talking about shot shapes here. He's merely talking about which side of the fairway (or the green) you want the ball to miss on... and the right side is always the right side, regardless of whether you're a leftie or a rightie!

So, when you're deciding on a safe shot, realize that you often won't have to think about shot shape at all. Just decide which side you want to miss on, aim the clubface in that direction, and make your normal swing. It may not be pretty, but it may keep you in play... and that's the important thing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How Tiger Prepares for a Round

This tip was posted at Golf Digest's website on Thursday, but GC mentioned Tiger doing this before his second round on Friday. Since it seems to have worked both days, we might as well take a quick look.

Tiger making a driver swing

This is a very simple, very quick tip that makes so much sense. And according to Butch Harmon, he's been using it for a long time:
“He’d practice the drive he wanted to hit off the first tee as his last swing before leaving the range. He did it every single time.”
The post then recommends that you take three balls and go through your entire driver routine with each ball, exactly the way you'll do it when you tee off on the first tee. The idea is to visualize and actually feel the shot you plan to hit, then take it to the course.

However, we can add an extra guideline that isn't in the article. We can add it because Tiger didn't follow that rule Friday and GC's commentators noticed it. You see, Tiger only used one ball for that driver swing on the range, then walked away... and striped his first drive right down the middle.

Apparently the three-ball guideline is only for days when the first ball doesn't feel right.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Visualization Tip from John Toepel Jr.

The late John Toepel Jr. was a former PGA Tour pro and president of Concept Golf, a company in the Raleigh-Durham area of NC. I have a book he wrote called Golf Can't Be This Simple: The Swing (I also have another book by him called GCBTS: Playing the Game) that has some interesting ideas in it.

One of the coolest things in the book is a visualization tip to help players who have trouble getting the ball off the ground, especially with long clubs. The tip is simply this:
If you have trouble getting the ball off the ground, try to hit the ball no higher than knee level for about a hundred yards.
I know that sounds weird, but obviously he isn't talking about hitting the ball so it rolls along the ground. What he wants you to do is hit the ball so it flies at knee level for around a hundred yards or so.

The key here is that Toepel says it won't. Instead, you'll get a solid shot with a proper trajectory.

Doesn't sound very helpful, does it? Yet Toepel says it has helped his students. Why would it?

Think about this for a moment. As Toepel points out, many of the best ball strikers come from windy parts of the world like Texas and Scotland, where they're forced to keep the ball low.

When players try to hit the ball up in the air, they usually try to hit the ball on the upswing, the way you would hit a ball on a tee. But if the ball is sitting on the ground, an upward strike means you hit the ball thin. You want to hit the ball with a slight downward strike... and that's the natural thing to do if you try to hit the ball low.

Toepel suggests that you try to hit every club low, even if you're trying to hit a wedge over a tree. He says to set the clubface and ball position for the shot you want, but hit the ball with the idea that it will fly knee high. The loft will get the ball up, but the attempt to hit a low shot will create the necessary solid contact to get that result.

So if you're having trouble hitting solid shots that get the ball off the ground, try to hit the ball so it flies knee high for a hundred yards or so. You might be surprised how much your ball striking improves.