Saturday, November 1, 2014

How Bobby Jones Hit Longer Drives

Bobby Jones distinguished himself, not only as perhaps the greatest amateur to ever play the game, but also as one of golf's most famous teachers. Who hasn't seen some of his How I Play Golf or How to Break 90 films, made in the early 1930s by Warner Brothers? (Many of you may not know that Jones gave up his amateur status when making the films. Otherwise he wouldn't have gotten paid!)

Bobby Jones at finish of swing Jones wrote a tremendous amount of golf instruction for newspapers as well -- author Charles Price estimated that those articles were equal to five average-length novels -- and many of them have been collected and reprinted in book form.

I found this particular driving tip in a book by noted Jones biographer Sidney L. Matthew simply called Bobby Jones Golf Tips. (My copy includes the subtitle Secrets of the Master and was published by Kensington Books, in case you're interested.) This tip comes from pages 48-49, from an article called An Easy Solution to Extra Yards, and I'll just quote a couple of key paragraphs:
If one will take the trouble to observe, he will notice certain things which are characteristic of all true swingers of a golf club. First, that the posture of the body at address is fairly erect and that the location of the ball is near enough so that there is no need to stretch out for it; second, that the feet are not separated so widely that the movement of the hips is restricted and that they are not rooted into the ground. The whole picture will be one of apparent ease and comfort, entirely free from strain of any kind. And this is the beginning of a swing which will get distance and control.

… It is not a good idea to strive for the ultimate length off every tee, but it is a fine thing to be able to produce a few extra yards when they are needed. But this additional can never be had by stretching and slugging. On the contrary, it is obtained more easily by increasing the turn and use of the hips and shoulders.
When Jones wanted a little more distance off the tee -- and he was considered a fairly long driver in his time -- he focused on addressing the ball in a way that let him stay relaxed and flexible. He stood fairly tall with his feet a comfortable distance apart and the ball close enough that he didn't have to reach for it.

The idea was to make it as easy to turn back and through as possible. This allowed him to turn his hips and shoulders freely, thus making it easy to swing the club quickly without trying to "slug" the ball.

That's pretty clear, don't you think? It's a technique that's available to any golfer at any skill level, and you can practice it for free in your backyard (just stick a tee in the ground in place of a ball). I like that kind of tip!

The photo came from the Atlanta History Center website.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Freddie Talks Ryder Cup

One of the more entertaining aspects of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship has been Fred Couples answering all kinds of questions about the Ryder Cup. As you no doubt know, many people believe Freddie should be the next Ryder Cup captain, given his 3-0 record as a Presidents Cup captain.

Freddie's comments made waves all over the media and so, in case you somehow missed them, I've pulled a few thoughts from these articles at ESPN, USAToday, and PGATOUR.com. (The photo came from the latter.) I think Freddie's thoughts will likely anger a lot of people because... well...

To be blunt, Freddie apparently doesn't see what all the fuss is about. Here are a few choice "Freddie-isms." I've added some personal comments in italics.

Fred Couples

On the difficulties of the Captain's job: "I've captained three Presidents Cups teams, which is much easier to do than a Ryder Cup, but it's still 12 players in a room, and I think they all are different in certain ways. No matter who the next captain is or the next one or the next one, you can’t run the ship with a big stern. It's impossible. You've got to let the players get involved.

"I think anyone would love to be the Ryder Cup captain. I particularly don't think it's really that hard to do, I really don't. I keep hearing it's a two-year process. Well, what would I do right now? I don't even know who's going to be on the Presidents Cup team, let alone the Ryder Cup team. So I could go have dinner with Rickie Fowler for two straight years and tell him everything, and then he might not make it. So I think it's all -- it's just a little bit much. We need a little more fun and that comes with winning." [Sounds like Freddie thinks the PGA is over-emphasizing the Ryder Cup a bit!]

On creating a task force: "I don't think anyone should panic. I don't think we need a 'task force,'" Couples said, employing air quotes. "I don't think we need the PGA of America straining about this. What I really think they need is to get players that have been on a lot of these teams to get a feel for what kind of captain they need."

On Phil's comments after the matches: Tom Watson captained the last U.S. Ryder Cup team, and was put under a harsh spotlight after the loss when team member Phil Mickelson said that none of the team's 12 players was consulted on any decisions made during the competition.

Couples is hesitant to throw Watson under the bus, but he also said he had no problem with how Mickelson got his point across. Couples said he thought Watson didn't "cradle his boys enough, and that's what they need." [Is it just me or doesn't this sound as if Freddie is saying you have to treat the team members like children?]

On the one mistake he thinks Tom Watson made: Couples questioned 2014 U.S. captain Tom Watson's decision to sit five-time major winner and Ryder Cup stalwart Phil Mickelson for both Saturday sessions.

"I know one thing, I will play Phil Mickelson on Saturday of the next Ryder Cup if he's on the team. That was the only thing I could see that maybe you could say that Tom, something happened there.

"Because we lost three and a half to a half [in the foursomes session], and I guarantee you it was because Phil wasn't out there playing. I guarantee it."

In another of the articles, he added that Phil was "the best guy on every team I've ever been on."

On the European "template": "I think the easiest part is just really not panicking. You've got to have your teams ready and just get points, and it's not easy to do. They make it look easy because they're winning and their formula, whatever it might be, is not because they're closer and they're friendlier to each other. That's the biggest crazy thing ever.

"Every team I've been on has been phenomenal, and I'm sure every team Europe's ever had has been phenomenal. They just win, so it looks easier."

On what the team members have told him: Couples has had contact with most of the players on this year’s Ryder Cup team. “There are several of them that I text and talk to all the time and I did during that week, too. I mean, some of the texts were disheartening, some were exciting. Some when they got home they said, ‘You need to do this.’”

* * * * *

There's a lot more in the articles (they're well worth the read) but there are a couple of observations in the PGATOUR.com article that I think are important because they give you an idea of what Freddie has been doing with the Presidents Cup teams.

First, there's this little tidbit concerning Freddie's first Presidents Cup:
While Couples frowns on calling it a task force – he prefers “committee” as a euphemism – he likes the idea of selecting Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods to serve on the panel.

In his first term as Presidents Cup captain at TPC Harding Park, Couples said every top level meeting he had included his three-time assistant captain Jay Haas, Woods, Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, the team’s veteran campaigners, and Michael Jordan. It was Couples’ way of empowering team leaders as he applied an age-old sports adage that your best players have to be your best players in order to be successful.

“I think that worked out great,” Couples said. “Phil Mickelson has been on 10 of them, Woods, I don’t know, eight or 10. So those guys should really have a say.”
And finally, there's this observation from vice captain Jay Haas:
Haas, who will captain the 2015 U.S. Presidents Cup team, knows exactly what Couples brings in the role.

“I can only speak to how the players responded to him in the Presidents Cup,” Haas said. “I don’t know what it is. It’s hard to put your finger on it. He just has a knack at relaxing the guys.

“Somebody asked what were some of Freddie’s speeches like. They were zero. In fact, one time somebody said, ‘Fred, give us something.’ He kind of hemmed and hawed and he goes, ‘Jaybird, what do you have to say?’”

But Haas said Couples is “way more into it than he lets on and that we see.

“He knows the details. He’s already figured the scenario out. I think he would be a great choice.”
Once you add in Freddie's reminder that captains don't hit any shots, you realize that perhaps Freddie's biggest key to success as a Presidents Cup captain is that he never forgets that this is just a game. Perhaps that's what makes him so different from most Ryder Cup captains.

And why so many players want him to be one.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Suzann Pettersen Splits from David Leadbetter

According to LPGA.com, Suzann Pettersen has stopped working with David Leadbetter after 6 years.

Suzann Pettersen

The news was buried in the pre-tournament notes for the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship, the first round of which will be over by the time you read this. Here's the brief bit from the notes:
Two-time defending Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship champion Suzann Pettersen recently decided to make a switch and is no longer working with David Leadbetter, a man who she called coach for the past six years.
“I’m no longer working with David,” Pettersen explained. “There’s just a time for everything and the timing was right. I feel great. I’m very happy both on and off the golf course. I guess it’s just the circle of the life of a golfer.
“He’s still a great friend of mine,” Pettersen continued. “I just feel it was time to get some new energy from a new angle. Like I said he’s been a great supporter of me through my entire career and I proud to say I worked with David. He taught me a lot but like I said it’s time to move on.”
I did a little searching on the Web but couldn't find anything else on the news, so this must have caught everybody by surprise. I can't help but wonder if it has anything to do with her not winning this season -- that's often all a pro needs to spark a change.

At the time I'm writing this, Suzann is even after 7 holes of her first round and 5 shots off the lead held by Shanshan Feng. Suzann's the two-time defending champion at this event but this year it's being played at a different venue -- the Miramar Golf Country Club in Taipei, which hosted the TLPGA's Swinging Skirts Invitational on the TLPGA for three years before that event moved to San Francisco. (Lydia Ko won here at last year's Swinging Skirts, and at the San Francisco event earlier this year.)

I wonder if Suzann has decided who she wants to work with yet? I guess we'll just have to keep our ears open.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Good and Bad of Phil's Driver Swing

This is interesting... both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest chose to do articles about Phil Mickelson's swing, focusing on his driver. What makes it really interesting is that each magazine focused on a different section of Phil's swing!

For example, golfdigest.com did a swing sequence slide show but the top part of Phil's swing -- the change of direction and beginning of the downswing -- is conspicuously missing.

The bottom of Phil's swing
They talk about his relaxed setup, wide takeaway, and extension through the ball at impact -- all aspects commonly associated with a classic swing. Phil creates his club head speed with the length of his swing and his relaxed, balanced action.

The top of Phil's swing But over at golf.com Johnny Miller focuses on the problems Phil often faces at the top of his swing. Johnny speaks about two different problems:
  1. His swing sometimes gets too long, with the club shaft pointed down toward the ground.
  2. His hands and the shaft get too close to his shoulder as he changes directions, which creates a lot of wrist cock but makes it harder to square the club face.
Johnny also has a video in the post that talks about Phil's game, as well as how he would fix these problems.

Putting the two together, you end up with a long relaxed driver swing that stops a bit short of parallel at the top and keeps the hands away from the trailing shoulder during the change of direction and start of the downswing. And yes, it's much easier to keep your hands "as far away from your shoulders at the top as practical" if you make a long relaxed swing. It seems that Butch is always trying to get Phil to shorten his swing just a bit... and when he does, he always drives it much better.

These two articles give you a pretty thorough look at both the good and the bad of Phil's driving. If you take a little time to read them and study the photos (and in Johnny's case, watch the video), you just might find something you can use to help improve your own driving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ted Bishop's Side of the Story

Ted Bishop is scheduled to be on Morning Drive today but, in case you miss it or would rather read Bishop's side of the story for yourself, here's the link to Jaime Diaz's article at golfdigest.com.

Ted Bishop

According to Bishop, he was set up to take a fall... and if Bishop is telling Diaz the truth about the chain of events that followed that infamous tweet, it's a reasonable accusation that the PGA will be forced to respond to.

Based on what Diaz has written in this column, I have a feeling that this story isn't going to go away very soon. It's worth taking time to read it, just to be aware of the issues that are going to shape this dispute.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 McGladrey Classic

Winner: Robert Streb

Around the wider world of golf: Lee-Anne Pace won the monsoon-shortened Blue Bay LPGA event; Michael Allen won the AT&T Championship (and Bernhard Langer locked up the Charles Schwab Cup) on the Champions Tour; Emilio Domínguez and Rafael Echenique won the Bridgestone America's Golf Cup on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Antonio Murdaca won the Asia-Pacific Amateur and will get the magic ticket to Augusta National next year; Thorbjørn Olesen won the ISPS HANDA Perth International on the ET; Anirban Lahiri won the Venetian Macau Open on the Asian Tour; and Shiho Oyama won the Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies on the JLPGA.

Robert Streb and wife with trophy

Robert Streb knows what it means to come up just a bit short. He's been a runner-up before and he's missed the FedExCup Playoffs twice by one spot, just for starters. So it probably wasn't a surprise to him when he had to go to a playoff at the McGladrey Classic instead of winning straight out.

Of course, he finished an hour and a half before his competitors in that playoff, so maybe he didn't expect the playoff at all. The commentators certainly didn't expect him to fare well, having had to wait for so long. And he was up against 2 more experienced players -- Brendon de Jonge, who hadn't won before but has been due for some time, and 2-time winner Will MacKenzie, who hadn't won in several years.

But Streb demonstrated why golf keeps us all coming back for more. In this case, that unquenchable dream of winning we all have came true for him -- and he did it with a 63 in the final round, followed by a birdie on the second playoff hole. In return he got a treasure trove of goodies, including a 2-year Tour card (always nice when you've got a baby on the way) and the ever-tempting trip to the Masters next April.

I won't bore you with details you already know; the perks of a Tour win are pretty much common knowledge, as is the potential world-altering commercial opportunities that go with it. Instead, I'll just give Robert his well-deserved Limerick Summary and let him get on with his celebration. Way to go, @therealstrebber!
There’s hope and despair in a playoff;
The win is so close and yet way off.
For Streb, hope’s eternal—
He’s off that infernal
Schneid… plus there’s a life-changing payoff!
The photo came from the tournament upshot page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chew on This Swing Thought from Keegan Bradley

This post focuses on one of the tips from a golfdigest.com article called 6 PGA Tour Swing Thoughts. It is, as you may have guessed, about the swing thoughts commonly used by 6 of the more successful pros on the LPGA and PGA Tours.

The thought I grabbed on to was from Keegan Bradley. It's an incredibly simple swing thought but it can help almost anybody. And what is that swing thought?

Keegan Bradley

"I focus on my facial muscles. When you can get your mouth to relax, your whole body relaxes."

Sounds overly simple, I know. And if you look at the tags I put on this post, you may be a bit confused -- why are there so many? But I'm going to give you a quick explanation of why this tip is so useful.

When people tense up, they automatically grit their teeth. Whether they're trying to lift a heavy weight in the gym or some cowboy is digging a bullet out of them in a western movie, people tend to bite down hard when they tighten their muscles. And for some reason that I don't claim to understand, you can help your body relax if you consciously try to relax your jaw.

Why would you want to relax your muscles during your golf swing? If you tighten your muscles when you swing your club, you reduce your range of motion. That hurts your flexibility, which reduces your body turn, which makes it harder to get a good shoulder coil and makes your change of direction jerky, which reduces your swing speed. All of that causes you to lose distance and accuracy.

If you practice swinging without clenching your jaw -- and you all know how fast Keegan swings -- you can end up with a smoother, more powerful swing. This is also a good excuse to use a cookie as a swing aid; if you crunch the cookie, you clenched your jaw. (And of course, if you successfully swing without crunching the cookie you can eat it anyway -- a win-win situation!) I think that in itself makes this a great swing thought!