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Friday, July 29, 2016

Luke Donald on Making a Good Backswing (Video)

I'm posting this video from Golf Digest and Luke Donald about the backswing simply because you may have heard conflicting advice on this subject. There are two very different approaches to cocking your wrists during the backswing, and I want you to understand how to know which one may be best for you.

Now, Luke is recommending an early wrist set in the backswing. There are a lot of instructors who teach this method, and there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, when Carl Rabito taught me the fundamentals, he taught me to make a similar move because I had problems with my takeaway.

By comparison, I now use a late wrist cock, and you'll hear a number of instructors recommend the same approach. The question becomes, how do you know which one is best for you? It may sound very confusing.

In practice, it isn't confusing at all. The key is in the length of your backswing.
  • If you have a shorter, more powerful backswing, then an early wrist set will probably work very well for you. You'll need to create the wrist cock sooner because your backswing is a bit faster. If you delay the cocking action with a shorter backswing, the amount of force on your wrists when you change direction at the top can be painful. In additon, cocking your wrists sooner can help you square the clubface better at impact.
  • But if you have a longer and more "leisurely" backswing, a late wrist set can help with your swing rhythm. Since your backswing changes direction more slowly, it won't hurt your wrists when you change direction at the top. But it will also help you keep that wrist cock -- or "lag," if you prefer -- for a longer time during your downswing.
As you can see, the idea is to match the timing of your wrist cock to the overall shape of your swing -- an early wrist cock for a faster, more compact swing and a late wrist cock for a longer, less violent one. The reason I changed from early to late is because I now make a much longer backswing than I did back then.

Are there exceptions? Of course, because there's an exception to almost everything in golf! But more times than not, this simple guideline will work well for you. Try it and see.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the PGA

Well, it's nearly a day late because of our internet failure, but here are my picks for the PGA Championship. Jason Day is, of course, the defending champion.

Although the tournament is already underway, I haven't changed my picks from who I would have chosen yesterday. So we already have some idea how my picks may fare!

First off, I didn't choose Jason Day, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. While I believe they're all very capable of winning this week, I also believe the accumulated stress of high-level play for a year or more may be taking its toll on them. As a result, I expect a mixed bag of good and bad rounds from them, which may not be enough to beat the other players who aren't as tired.

And now, here are my "5 to Watch":
  • I agree with David Duval -- it's going to be hard to leave Dustin Johnson off one of these lists for the foreseeable future. It's not just about his improved short game; it's not about his amazing driving; it's not even about his obvious self-confidence. It's simply because he doesn't seem to stress out at all. As I write this, he's at +5 after seven holes so I may be completely off-base with this one. But given how he came back from a slow start last week -- and the knowledge that the winning score will likely be in single figures -- you've got to like his chances to make a run.
  • Sergio Garcia is way under the radar, given that he's had five Top5s in his last six events, including the last two majors. Baltusrol is a shotmaker's course, and that's Sergio's strength. All he needs is a decent week putting and he could chalk up his first major.
  • I also like Zach Johnson because of his straight hitting and his scrambling ability. For some reason this season, his good play hasn't resulted in the scores I'd expect to see. But I can see him getting done this week.
And I have two flier picks... and I think you'll understand why when you see them.
  • The first is Phil Mickelson. It's hard enough to follow up a great round; how do you follow up a performance that would have won 141 of 144 OPENS but didn't win this one? Phil is unpredictable under the best of conditions; I won't even try to guess what he might do this week.
  • And the other, obviously, is Henrik Stenson. Look, I know that Henrik has a proven ability to capitalize on great performances. But this wasn't a Tour Championship, the final official event of the season -- this was THE OPEN, in the midst of a very crowded schedule with the Olympics and FedExCup Playoffs just days away! I'm not sure even Henrik has the endurance to do it again so soon... but he makes my list because, like Phil, he's very capable and very unpredictable.
So who is my favorite to win this week? This is exactly what I planned to write last night: DJ is probably the best choice (not looking like that right now, of course) but I think Sergio just might get it done this time. His game is as good as it's been in a long time, his "head" seems to be in as good a place as it ever has at a major, and I think Henrik's success may have been the extra little push he needs to believe in himself. If he keeps hitting the ball as he has lately, he doesn't need a great week of putting -- just a good one. And I think he's going to have it.

I know -- awfully optimistic for a guy who lost the internet for a day. But I'm like that. ;-)

My Internet Is Finally Back On!!!

We had a lot of thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon and evening. Around 7pm ET we lost internet, TV and phone. (Apparently the cable company took a hit. We didn't even get a power blip here.)

At any rate, things just started coming back up a little after 3pm ET today, so hopefully I can get my PGA "5 to Watch" post up in the next hour or so and we'll be back on schedule. I'm still trying to find out all the golf scores!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the RICOH

We have two majors underway this week -- the men are playing their final major of 2016, the PGA Championship, and the women are playing their fourth major, the RICOH Women's British Open. Today I'll cover the RICOH, tomorrow the PGA.

The girls are already getting into the spirit. I love this photo of Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson having tea at a party hosted by Charley Hull during the Pro-Am!

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson have tea at a party hosted by Charley Hull during the Pro-Am

This year's Open is being held at Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes, England. While this is the first time it hosts the Open as a major, Woburn has hosted the non-major version of the Open (pre-2001) a whopping NINE times! So perhaps this will favor Dame Laura Davies, who was given a special invite to the event, or Karrie Webb, who won here in 1995.

The Woburn Tea Party

If you somehow missed the news, Inbee Park won't be defending her title because she's still resting her hand, hoping her thumb injury will heal in time for the Olympics.

That means we'll have a new Open champ for sure this year. Here are my "5 to Watch" this week. Don't be surprised if some of my International Crown 'winners' from yesterday's post are among them:
  • Mel Reid's performance last week very likely jumpstarted the rest of her year. The work she's done on her swing over the last few months 'clicked' last week, and that may be all she needs to contend at Woburn. And let's not forget, Mel is from England. This is a home game for her.
  • Gerina Pillar hasn't played all that well in the Open. In five attempts she has two T36s and three MCs. But this year's Gerina is a different player and, while she may not win, I look for her to play much better.
  • Although she hasn't done particularly well in the Open lately, and she hasn't had the best of years so far, I simply can't leave Catriona Matthew off this list. She won the Open in 2009, and she's only missed four cuts since 2001. Ignore the Scot at your own risk!
  • And while Karrie Webb hasn't had a great year, I chalk it up to trying too hard to make the Olympics. Now that she knows that won't happen, and after a poor showing at the Crown, I think she may freed up at Woburn. And bear in mind that she's won the Open three times since 1995 and came in second when Catriona Matthew won in 2009, so it would be no surprise if she found her game here once again.
  • My flier this week is Candie Kung, who went undefeated last week in match play. While she's been inconsistent this year, Candie has also had moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, Candie hasn't had much luck at the Open in recent years. But I'm thinking her performance at the Crown may help her overcome that lack of success.
Now, I'm not crazy. I know the money's on players like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson, and I wouldn't be surprised if Stacy Lewis found her game at Woburn. (You may remember that she won the Open in 2013.) And it would probably be smart to take one of those players.

But I'm going with Mel Reid to win it this year. While Mel hasn't played all that well at the Open, she finished T9 last year about two months after getting her first win since 2012, the year of her mom's tragic death. I think her play at the Crown last week may have the same sort of effect this time around -- especially if the weather is good, and the extended forecast indicates that it might be.

Of course, given how unpredictable this season has been so far, it might be worth betting a few quid on the Dame as well. It's a home game for her too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Who Won Big at the UL International Crown?

That may sound like a silly question -- the USA team won, of course -- but I'm not talking about the overall winner of the event. Rather, I'm talking about individual players.

There are 12 events left on the LPGA schedule this season, counting the RICOH Women's British Open this week. Which players walk away with the most confidence?

The victorious USA team with the trophy

I've put together a short list of players who I think may up their games over the rest of the 2016 season as a result of their play at the Crown.
  • Cristie Kerr: Cristie didn't make the Olympic team but her leadership on the USA team here was massive. It seems that all she needed to get her game in shape was a little match play with a patriotic flair! With two majors left in the season, this win may put her back in the discussion.
  • Stacy Lewis: Stacy's wedding is only a few weeks away, and she's got a major this week followed by the Olympics, so things aren't going to calm down for her anytime soon. She needs to calm her mind and stop trying so hard in the meantime; she's been getting in her own way. But her win in Sunday singles could be a turning point for her, simply because she finally closed out a win.
  • Gerina Piller: It's no secret that Gerina has struggled with belief in her own game. But alongside Kerr, she was the rock that helped keep this team in the matches when they fell so far behind the first day. I still believe she'll win a tournament before the end of the season, and her performance in this tournament could end up being the reason why.
  • Candie Kung: Do you realize that Candie Kung didn't lose a single match this past week? She's had a very uneven year so far -- she did have a T2 at Walmart -- but a performance like this could get her back on an even keel. It certainly has to give her confidence going into the RICOH this week.
  • Ayaka Watanabe: Ayaka isn't an LPGA member; she plays the JLPGA and has three wins there, although it's been eight months or so since her last one. She's not listed in the RICOH field this week but, at #43 in the world, I bet she gets another win soon enough.
  • Mel Reid: What can you say about Mel? If that one-on-two performance on Friday didn't send her confidence soaring, what will? I know she didn't win in singles, but I'm not sure anybody was going to beat Kerr on Sunday. With the RICOH being played at Woburn in England, I think a home game should help her build on last week's success.
  • Sei Young Kim: The last on my list may not seem to need any encouragement. She has two wins this season, and one of them was just over a month ago. But her best finish in a major this season is an 11th, and you know that has to eat at her. However, other than a narrow 1-down loss on Thursday, her other matches were solid wins -- including a big 5&4 win against Charley Hull in singles. She must feel great going into the RICOH this week.
By comparison, I don't think Lexi Thompson, Charley Hull, Ariya Jutanugarn or any of the Australian players carry much from this event. While one tournament doesn't ruin an otherwise good year, I don't think it gives any of them a boost going into this week's major.

I'll do my "5 to Watch" post for the RICOH tomorrow. But these are players I think could be dominant for the rest of the season. It's amazing how big a "bump" players can get from a good match play performance.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Limerick Summary: 2016 RBC Canadian Open

Winner: Jhonattan Vegas

Around the wider world of golf: After finishing the first day in last place, the USA team stormed back to win the UL International Crown on the LPGA; Paul Broadhurst surprised everyone with his come-from-behind win at the Senior OPEN Championship on the Champions Tour; Ryuko Tokimatsu won the Dunlop SRIXON Fukushima Open Golf Tournament on the Japan Tour; Isabelle Boineau won the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open on the LET; Nicholas Lindheim won the Utah Championship on the Tour; Laura Gonzalez Escallon won the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship on the Symetra Tour; Mark Mulder successfully defended his title at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament; and Sun-Ju Ahn won the Century 21 Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Jhonattan Vegas with RBC Canadian Open trophy

Let's face it, folks -- this isn't the end we expected at the Canadian Open. We figured Dustin Johnson would probably put the hammer down and come out on top. Or maybe Brandt Snedeker would putt like there's no tomorrow and make good on his third round lead. Or maybe John Rahm would get his first PGA Tour victory, since he's been playing so well. Or maybe, just maybe -- a long shot I know, but still possible -- amateur Jared du Toit would play the round of his life and break the decades-old drought of Canadian winners at his national championship.

But we should have suspected something might happen when Geoff Ogilvy posted a 63 to tie the lead before the leaders even teed off. Or perhaps when Ricky Barnes surged to the top of the leaderboard. Or Martin Laird, or Steve Wheatcroft, or Alex Cejka, or... well, you get the picture. Year after year, that final stretch of three holes, with two par-5s and the potential for two eagles, makes predicting the outcome almost impossible.

And yet, while there was no way that anyone watching would fall asleep, the fact remains that after Jhonattan Vegas posted a 64 a full hour before the leaders hit the home stretch -- and did it in style by posting three straight birdies to finish his round -- no one else could get the job done. Player after player reached the 16th with his 12-under score within reach, only to find the task undoable:
  • Rahm went -2 on the final stretch but started the day too far back.
  • DJ went -3... but that was his score for the whole round.
  • Laird and Sneds went -1 but it was too little, too late.
  • And du Toit never factored after a slow start to his round.
And Vegas wasn't really a surprise. He shot a 60 last Friday at the Barbasol but an even par weekend kept him from the win. He talked Saturday about the problems of learning to trust his swing after a rash of injuries... and the joys of having a new 4-month-old son and qualifying for the Olympics.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

But whether we saw it or not, it's here. And so is Jhonattan's first Limerick Summary in around five years.
A charge with a strong 64
Gave Jhonny a 12-under score.
He was chillin’ in first
While the leaders seemed cursed—
But the finish let nobody snore!
The photo came from this page at the Albany Herald website.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Lesson from George Knudson (Video)

Actually, I have two videos. I found these on YouTube, from an old teaching DVD by George Knudson called The Swing Motion. Since Knudson is one of Canada's legends and this is RBC Canadian Open week, I thought you all might like to hear some of Knudson's beliefs about the golf swing.

The first video is on this YouTube page, and the second video is on this YouTube page. (Just in case the videos don't show up in this post for some reason.) They're both very short.

Although Knudson was a Hogan fan and most teachers compare his swing to Ben Hogan's, I think Knudson's approach was much simpler than Hogan's. I actually think it's closer to Bobby Jones than Hogan. He approached the swing more like the old hickory shaft players, in that he focused on centrifugal force rather than power to create clubhead speed.

You've got to love this: He says he divides the swing motion into two general categories -- voluntary actions you have to learn, and involuntary actions which happen naturally. (That's something Jones talked about as well. I quoted him saying almost the same thing in this post.)

And here's something you don't often hear nowadays: If you watch the slo-mo part of the first video closely, you'll see that he lowers his head and shoulders slightly during his backswing, then stays down in that position until the ball is struck. It's easiest to see in the "down-the-line from the front" view against the black & white grid. (Most modern players lower themselves during the downswing.) This helped him hit the ball solidly, because he wasn't changing height and trying to create clubhead speed at the same time.

You can also see how flat his swing is; his lead arm is actually slightly below his trailing shoulder at the top of his backswing. This makes his swing appear very short, and makes it feel a bit like swinging a very light baseball bat. (He actually takes the club back more to the inside to start his backswing, rather than a one-piece takeaway. Then he moves upward slightly, above his backswing plane, when he changes direction at the top. Those are more reasons his swing reminds me of Jones.) It's a very rotary action, and he creates it by bracing his trailing leg during the backswing. You can see that clearly in the face-on view against the black & white grid.

And here are a couple more points that are keys in his swing:
  • There is no talk about keeping the head down. He says the head does nothing during the swing except rotate around with the body.
  • And he divides the swing into two simple motions, back and through. He rolls his ankles on the backswing and downswing (that's the bit about the ankles being pivot points). This is probably why he also lowers his upper body during the backswing.
There is absolutely no talk about driving the lower body. HE DOESN'T NEED TO! If you brace your trailing leg during your backswing the way Knudson does, there's no way to avoid a forward weight shift during your downswing.

All-in-all, it's a very simple approach to the golf swing.

For those of you who want to see it, here's the Amazon link to Knudson's book The Natural Golf Swing. The DVD is out of print, although you can find it through the used book channels.