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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Automatic Euros Are Named to the Ryder Cup Team

The Ryder Cup teams are finally beginning to take shape. The automatic qualifiers for the Euro Team were released on Monday.

Justin Rose at Rio opening ceremonies

Four players made the team via the Ryder Cup European Points List while five more qualified through the Ryder Cup World Points List. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
  1. Rafa Cabrera Bello
  2. Matthew Fitzpatrick
  3. Sergio Garcia
  4. Rory McIlroy
  5. Justin Rose
  6. Henrik Stenson
  7. Andy Sullivan
  8. Danny Willett
  9. Chris Wood
Euro Captain Darren Clarke still gets to name three Captain's Picks next Tuesday (that's August 30). Some question whether he'll pick some more young rookies like Russell Knox, who has two wins this season, or go for more veterans like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, who have been playing well lately.

You can make a good argument for either approach, although I don't think he needs to worry about having too many rookies. Most of his "rookies" are multiple winners, and Willett's the reigning Masters champ. Add THE OPEN champ (Stenson) and the Olympic gold medalist (Rose), and remember that Garcia and McIlroy have both won this season. What's there to worry about?

As for the US Team:
  • They'll finalize their Automatic 8 on Sunday, August 28. At present, only Brooks Koepka would be a rookie.
  • They add three picks on Sunday, September 11, after the BMW Championship. I think US Captain Davis Love really needs to pick some rookies, just to give more players some experience. You don't want your experienced players to drop off all at once in a few years and leave only noobs on the team.
  • And the final pick (aka the Billy-Ho pick) is named on Sunday, September 25, after the Tour Championship.
So Sunday is the next date for team news. But at least we're finally in the home stretch for Ryder Cup action!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Limerick Summary: 2016 Olympic Women’s Golf

Medals: Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Shanshan Feng

Around the wider world of golf: Si Woo Kim got his first PGA Tour win at the Wyndham Championship; Paul Peterson got his first ET win at the D+D REAL Czech Masters; Laura Gonzalez Escallon won the PHC Classic on the Symetra Tour; J.J. Spaun won the News Sentinel Open on the Web.com Tour; Brock Mackenzie won a seven-hole playoff to take the National Capital Open to Support Our Troops on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada; Bo-Mee Lee won the CAT Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details); and Curtis Luck beat Brad Dalke 1up at the 116th US Amateur.

Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng

I don't know if there's much more to say than has already been said. Inbee Park proved the world -- yes, that includes me -- was wrong for not believing she could overcome biting criticism from her country's media, back problems, thumb injuries, and several weeks of over-par rounds, missed cuts and no competitive golf to crush her competition at the Olympics and take the gold medal.

She came in at (by her own estimate) around 80%, unable to hit the ball anywhere near as far as she usually does, uncertain of what to expect from round to round, and simply left the field eating her dust as she cruised to a 5-shot victory. How do you possibly put such a dominant performance into words?

In the end, all you can say is that Inbee Park beat them all with pure strength of will. If that's not the Olympic Spirit, I don't know what is.

The women came into this Olympics in much better form than the men, there's no arguing that. Let's cut the guys a bit of slack for being the first to face this unpredictable pressure, but the gals still staged a much closer battle at the end than the men.

Well, closer except for Inbee. She lapped the field, but you knew that.

I can't help but wonder how many of those little girls who were inspired by Olympic golf will end up copying the slow, upright swing that decimated a field of long hitters. After all, none of the winners' swings fit the mold of textbook swings. Inbee has her swing, silver medalist Lydia Ko uses David Leadbetter's A Swing, and bronze medalist Shanshan Feng has one of the simplest swings you'll ever see -- not terribly long, with no exaggerated hip or leg drive. They were the giant killers, and you have to think their swings will be the goal of the young wannabees.

In the meantime, the female Olympians get their own Limerick Summary. And it's certainly well-deserved!
Inbee Park made it clear with her score
That her thumb is an issue no more!
Once she snagged the gold medal,
Ko and Feng had to settle
For silver and bronze, nothing more.
The photo came from this page at LPGA.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Olympic Golf

I'll do an Olympic Limerick Summary tomorrow. Today I just want to share a few thoughts I had about golf's first time in the Olympics.

Korean fans at the golf venue

When the men's event finished, I wrote that I thought it probably came out better than it would have if the top male players had actually shown up. My reasoning was that the top-ranked players had been somewhat off their form leading up to the Olympics and, had they shown up, they wouldn't have played up to expectations anyway.

By comparison, having the top female players on hand definitely made their event better. The ladies were mostly playing on form, and the results seemed typical of a regular LPGA event. The normally streaky players were streaky, most of the normally consistent players were right there at the end of the final round, and we got a few surprises in the mix as well.

The course initially appeared easy -- wide fairways and big greens -- but it proved that Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott had thought things out thoroughly. The layout of the course allowed the fickle winds to challenge players without being overly penal, while forcing players to think their way around the course in good weather. As a whole, good shots were rewarded while bad shots were punished, and new fans got to see lots of exciting shots, including hole-in-ones. That makes for great TV as well.

And of course, Brazil will now have its first municpal course, and it's one done by a big name architect and a golf legend. Win, win, win all-around.

Overall, I thought both golf events played out very well. And the huge crowds that showed up for both events should have given the Olympic Committee enough reason to keep golf in the Olympics past 2020. Golf's ability to deliver big, even without all of its big guns in attendance, was a tour de force that I'm not sure many other sports could have managed.

We got a really good cross-section of performers. No country was able to dominate the event. Medals went to Great Britain, Sweden, the USA, South Korea, New Zealand and China. An Australian set the men's course record and a Russian set the women's course record. A young Indian made a name for herself, as did players (both male and female) from Belgium and Thailand. The players interacted with the crowds as they always do. And there was a clear camaraderie between the golfers and the other Olympic athletes, as evidenced on social media. Could things have gone better?

As for media coverage, I felt that NBC's ability to use Golf Channel for full round, every round coverage gave the golf events a clear advantage over many of the other sports. And using Terry Gannon -- who, in addition to being a knowledgeable golf commentator, would also be known to non-golf viewers from his career as a basketball player and his coverage of other sports -- as the point man for both events was, in my opinion, a stroke of genius. Gannon is comfortable with everybody from players like Annika to athletes-turned-celebrities like Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

All-in-all, I think we have to declare this experiment a success. The future of Olympic golf could open some very interesting chapters going forward.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Swings Without Takeaways (Videos)

Some of you will find this post a bit strange, and that's okay. But it's about an interesting way to study how your swing behaves, and many of you might find that these drills will help you fix flaws in your full swing -- especially, they can help you make a steadier change of direction from backswing to downswing.

I'm talking about hitting balls with a swing that doesn't include a takeaway. And I have a couple of videos to demonstrate different methods for doing it.

The first is a recent video from GC's website. The instructor is Jason Birnbaum and he's starting his swing with the shaft parallel to the ground, which is where many instructors will have you check your shaft to make sure you're on a good plane.



The second is an old David Leadbetter video that starts the swing from what I call the "baseball position." That's where you have your lead arm parallel to the ground, as if you were standing at home plate and your wrists cocked, as if waiting for a pitch. Although I couldn't find it, I remember Leadbetter doing an article for one of the golf magazines (I believe it was even before this video was made) where he suggested that the "takeaway-less swing" could be the swing of the future.



What both of these drills have in common is the belief that the takeaway is primarily an excuse for getting your club in a bad position at the top. Both men are setting up normally and using your current setup to measure how far you are from the ball. Then you take the club back to the position they recommend, stop, and start your swing from there.

Either of these can be a useful drill to improve your swing. By getting yourself in a good position that will put the club on plane at the top, you can learn what a correct move to the top feels like. The key movement here is the extremely short backswing you make at the top when you restart your swing, which is the same way a baseball player swings at a pitch. (No, you don't have to step forward with your lead foot. That's a different drill entirely.) These drills allow you to feel that change of direction at the top, which can help your balance and rhythm a lot, as well as helping you learn how your legs and hips work when you don't exaggerate your weight shift.

Some of you may also want to try Leadbetter's original idea. Just set up to the ball and measure your distance -- you can see baseball players do this as well -- and then swing your arms most of the way to the top of your backswing, stop, and try hitting balls from there. Note that your lead arm may actually get a bit higher than parallel to the ground -- you may get more of a three-quarter swing. That's okay for this drill.

Remember: The idea with any of these drills is to learn a proper change of direction while staying steadier over the ball. A little practice on the range can really help you make solid contact more frequently.

Plus it's kinda fun. Trying to hit balls "baseball style" can put you in a different mindset that eliminates some of the apprehension you have about your regular golf swing. Just make sure you put the ball on a tee at first. It might be a bit embarrassing otherwise.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Brady Riggs on Consistency with Long Chips (Video)

A couple days back I did a post about how Justin Rose creates consistency with his wedge shots. Today I've got an older video (four years old, in fact) from instructor Brady Riggs that deals specifically with the setup and technique for long chip shots that dovetails very well with Justin's technique.



The reason I'm posting this is because of a question in the comments from Jeffrey. In response I mentioned a couple of things that are typical in a wedge shot setup -- namely, that I figured "[Justin's] stance is slightly open and his weight is slightly more on his lead side."

Since this is a long chip shot as opposed to one of the wedge approach shots that Justin was writing about, Brady recommends an 8-iron instead of a wedge for the shot. But note that he is still using the same basic technique that Justin uses. Anytime that you can use the same technique for a variety of shots, that will improve your consistency with all of them.

As you can see in the video -- and in the "frozen frame" of the video above, before you even start playing it -- Brady doesn't have his weight as much on his lead side as many instructors teach. It really is just "slightly more" on his lead side. And if you run the video up to the 2:16 mark, you can see that his stance is also only "slightly" open. These do seem to match the photos included in Justin's article.

One additional aspect of this video which I really like is that Brady shows how this technique works from an uneven lie, which you will likely see very often. Please note that it works just the same as the technique Justin's photos demonstrated from a level lie.

So don't be afraid to combine these tips from Brady Riggs with the advice from Justin Rose. They are so similar that they should help your short game shots from greenside all the way out to maybe 100 yards. And anytime you can use the same techniques for a variety of shots, you should get better results from less practice time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rickie and Patrick Came Back for This

Of course, I'm talking about the Wyndham Championship, the PGA Tour event happening this week in Greensboro NC -- which happens to be about 30 minutes from where I live.

Rickie Fowler

The Wyndham is important to most players primarily for one reason. It's the last regular event before the FedExCup Playoffs begin, so it's the last chance to make sure you're in the Top125, which means that your Tour card is locked up for another year and you get to play for roughly $16million bucks over the next month.

But Rickie and Patrick already have their cards and their spots in the Playoffs. For them, this is about getting Ryder Cup points. They don't have enough of those.

For Patrick, this is a homecoming of sorts. He got his first Tour win at Sedgefield Country Club back in 2013, and it launched him on a run up the OWGR and into the last Ryder Cup, where you might say he quieted his critics.

Patrick Reed shushes the Ryder Cup crowd

But for Rickie, Sedgefield is a new challenge that he'll need to learn quickly. He's currently 13th on the Ryder Cup points list... and that's just not good enough, unless you're willing to gamble on a Captain's pick. But with so many friends who have been trying to get him to come for years -- especially Captain Davis Love III -- he should have plenty of help learning the course.

Patrick holds the last qualifying spot at 8th, but he'd like a little more breathing room. And the fact that he can get it in Greensboro is just fine with him. As PGATOUR.com told it:
This time last year, Patrick Reed was back home in Texas watching Tiger Woods contend and Davis Love III win the Wyndham Championship on TV.
He had decided to skip the tournament that he won in 2013 to be fresh for the upcoming FedExCup Playoffs. Still, even though his reasoning was sound, Reed was torn.
“(It) was just killing me,” he recalled Wednesday.
So this year, despite a lead-up schedule that included The Olympics, making a return trip to Sedgefield was a no-brainer.
“I was like ‘It doesn’t matter,’” Reed recalled. “I’m coming and playing because this is like home to me, going and getting your first win with my wife on the bag.
“Awesome to be back.”
While it will be fun to see how Patrick and Rickie fare after their quick trip back from Rio, the real drama will be those fighting for their cards. Apparently all but four of the players ranked 120-150 in the FedExCup rankings are in Greensboro, ready to battle it out.

And I can tell you, folks, it WILL be a battle. We're having some serious heat -- high 90s and very muggy -- and lots of thunderstorms this week. These boys are looking at a real test of their endurance. Again, to quote Patrick from the article:
“From 2 to about 4:30 [Tuesday], we’re playing nine holes and it was the hottest I’ve ever seen it,” Reed said. “… Halfway through that nine holes, I was just like ‘Kessler [his caddie], what do we have? Kessler, get the yardage. Kessler, do you want to carry me now?"
Yes, it should be a lot of fun. (At least for us spectators.) And GC's coverage isn't scheduled to conflict with the gals at the Olympics, so we can get the best of both worlds.

I love Wyndham week! So does Patrick, and I bet Rickie will too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Justin Rose's Wedge Tips

Since Justin won the gold medal just a few days back, this new instructional post at Golf Digest seems amazingly appropriate. Here are Justin Rose's keys to improving your wedge game.

Justin's five ball positions

Justin's first tip is to skip the lob wedge and use a 56° wedge. If you don't have a 56, just use something less than a 60° lob wedge. Justin says you'll make better contact.

You'll want to go check out the article because this one has lots of helpful photos, but the ones above and below really stood out to me. Those five golf balls show the five positions he uses for his shots. As the ball moves farther back in your stance, the ball will fly lower and roll farther.

Note also that Justin keeps the shaft pointed at the center of your body. The photos below show the club relative to the front and back ball positions. It appears that he defines "the center of your body" in terms of his trailing hand, as you can see in the photos below. He says the butt of the club should never lean forward or backward of that point.



So far, all of this is entirely different from what Phil Mickelson would tell you. Phil uses his lob wedge for almost everything, says you should play the ball forward or back, never in the middle of your stance, and prefers to keep the shaft leaning forward until after the ball is struck (he calls it "hinge and hold"). Is one way better than the other?

In a word, NO. Each man has a system that works, and it works because he uses the entire system. So DON'T mix Justin's and Phil's advice. If you want to do it Phil's way, grab a copy of Phil's short game book and do what he says -- ALL OF IT. And if you want to copy Justin's way, do what Justin says -- ALL OF IT. Got it? Good.

The article has more advice from Justin concerning how to control your backswing length, which is how he controls the length of the shot (basically the same way I do in my Accurate Iron Play book), rather than by changing how hard he swings. You'll want to read that while you're looking at the photos because he shows how he measures the length of his backswing. Just look for the blue dots on the photos.

Justin's method is pretty simple and, as you may have noticed during the Olympic Men's Golf, pretty dependable as well. You could do a lot worse than copying his technique