Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wie, Wie, Wie All the Way Home

Yes, Michelle Wie got her first win since the 2010 CN Canadian Women's Open (starting this year, it's now known as the Canadian Pacific Women's Open). And before you criticize my humor, consider the truth of it.

Wie with trophy

First of all, Michelle WAS home. She grew up in Kapolei, on Oahu. She grew up playing at the Ko Olina Golf Club, where they have a statue in her honor. In fact, she knew a huge number of the people who came to watch her final round... and Mark Rolfing said it may have been the largest crowd he'd ever seen at an LPGA event.

Second, this was Michelle's first-ever LPGA win on American soil. She had won the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the afore-mentioned Canadian Open in -- where else? -- Canada. (Her win at the 2003 US Women's Amateur Public Links wasn't a professional win, of course.)

But perhaps most importantly, the story really was all Wie, all the way to the clubhouse. Angela Stanford entered the final round with a 4-stroke lead and the wind blowing, which in and of itself had been a huge benefit to Angela in the third round where she posted a 67 to follow up Thursday's 64. (Michelle had posted 67-70 in those two rounds.) And Michelle has had trouble closing out final rounds.

The operative word is had. It was a different Michelle on the course Saturday. She was 3-under after 6 holes -- 3 birdies, no bogeys -- while Angela could manage only 1 birdie before bogeying the 6th. Suddenly Angela was only one stroke ahead... a stroke she lost on the 8th. After 9 holes Angela was +1 while Michelle was a bogey-free -3. The two were tied and the wind was increasing.

Michelle continued playing bogey-free golf. She birdied 12 and 13, then Angela birdied 15 to get within one. But Michelle's birdie on 16 put her two up with two to play... and then she did the Bubba, busting her drive across the 17th's dogleg into the wind, leaving herself a mere pitch to the 350-yard hole's green. Angela was forced to try for a birdie but could do no better than bogey, leaving Michelle 3 ahead with only the par-4 18th left.

Michelle bogeyed that hole, but it didn't matter. Her 5-under 67 was enough for a two-shot victory.

Will this be the catalyst to get Michelle on a run of victories? I don't know. And to be honest, Michelle didn't really seem to care. She told Jerry Foltz that she suspected it would help her confidence going forward, but was so excited that she was clearly dumbfounded when he asked her about getting her first win in the States. It hadn't registered yet!

Whatever the ultimate impact is, this can only be good for the LPGA -- just witness the turnout to see Michelle play. It will be interesting to hear what the ratings were for the final round broadcast and to see how it affects the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic next week in San Francisco, where Michelle is also in the field. But now Michelle has proven to herself that her new approach to the game can get the job done...

And that could make things very interesting for the rest of the ladies. Game on, Lexi?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Most Interesting Debut in Golf

In case you didn't hear, after setting a scoring record for 50-year-olds at the Masters, Miguel Angel Jimenez decided to squeeze in one more tournament before he took some time off for marriage and such. (He really did. He's getting married May 3rd.) He decided to make his debut on the Champions Tour.

I'm afraid most of the other players wish he hadn't. He has a 3-stroke lead after the first round.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

Vartan Kupelian posted an interesting article about the Mechanic's first senior moments on the Champions Tour at PGATOUR.com. You can click the link to read it, but I wanted to show you something Miguel said about his game. Kupelian wrote that when Miguel has questions about his swing, he usually looks to his brother Juan. However:
When Jimenez does consult with a swing guru, it’s “never to go into big things."
“I don’t let anyone come into big things,” he said. “Just only the feeling, the contour (shape) of the ball is not working properly, the ball is starting too far right, then what happened? Maybe the ball too far back, maybe too far forward, see the flight of the ball, tell you everything and you have to work with that.”
In other words, it’s about seeing and feeling what he does with the golf swing. It’s not overhauling the engine. It’s about fine-tuning it.
Are we seeing a pattern lately among the players who are starting to assert themselves on Tour? Guys like Miguel and Bubba focus more on feel and "small things" rather than trying to overhaul their swings to get them "just right." Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have been making progress working with Butch Harmon, but the changes seem to focus on tightening things up a bit rather than doing something new. Even Lee Westwood seems to be returning to his old form now that he's gone back to the basic principles he's played by most of his career.

This is about mindset, folks. This is about sticking with what you know works and keeping it in shape, only "fixing" things when there's really something that needs fixing. Don't keep looking for the next new thing, the next silver bullet, the next hot swing key. Focus on fundamentals. Usually when something goes wrong it's something simple, like alignment or posture or, as Miguel mentions in the quote, ball position. Take a tip from Miguel -- he clearly knows what he's doing.

Oh, and don't worry about his wife-to-be getting angry about some extra golf. It's amazing how those winner's checks can smooth over the little things!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Angela Stanford Blew Away the Field Then the Wind Finished the Job

It's not the full force gales that hit the PGA Tour in 2013 -- remember Dustin Johnson winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in a mere 3 rounds? -- but the LPGA LOTTE Championship is seeing some pretty strong winds.

Michelle Wie

I'm sure you wonder why you see Michelle Wie's picture instead of Angela Stanford's. It's simple -- the LPGA hasn't posted any photos from the 2nd round yet! Michelle is in 2nd place, one shot back, so I posted her pic because I found one. (If you wonder why it's hard to find pics of the other leaders, it's partly because Kapolei is her home so she gets even more attention than usual this week. But it doesn't help that the leaderboard basically flip-flopped since Wednesday either.) As I'm writing this, the LPGA hasn't even posted a 2nd round report yet. There should be something up by the time you read this.

It's a shame that it's taking so long though. Angela's 8-under 64 was far and away the best round of the day. The wind has been blowing pretty hard since before the first round and, although Michelle told GC that the wind wasn't quite as bad as Wednesday, it picked up again during the later part of the round. The morning groups had the best of the draw.

Nevertheless, only Angela's 64, Cristie Kerr's 66, and Michelle's 67 stood out during the pre-broadcast rounds. (Haru Nomura had the best round of the late times; she also posted a 67 and is in the Top10 on the leaderboard.)

The damage from the first round was terminal for many of the big names. The cut came at +4 and a number of favorites simply couldn't recover, Anna Nordqvist being the most obvious. (She shot 76-77 to miss the cut by 5.) Paula Creamer barely kept her cut streak alive, making the cut by one (+3).

I need to mention a couple of really great rounds that were played in the afternoon wave. Amateur So Young Lee posted a 70 to reach -4 at the halfway point -- she's not even as old as Lydia Ko (who is only at -1 after 2 rounds). And rookie Jaye Marie Green shot an 80 in the first round and somehow managed a 68 in the wind to make the cut right on the number!

So here's the Top11 on the leaderboard at the halfway point:
  • -8: Angela Stanford
  • -7: Michelle Wie
  • -6: Cristie Kerr, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim
  • -5: Ha Na Jang, Se Ri Pak
  • -4: Haru Nomura, Katie Burnett, So Young Lee
The weather report for the last two rounds calls for the wind to change direction slightly (NE to ENE) but to stay around 15mph both days. Should be fun... for us viewers!

If you want to see it, remember that GC is showing 4 hours of live golf starting at 6:30pm ET tonight.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bang It Out There Like the King

Did any of you see the 3-part series GC did on Arnold Palmer? It was pretty interesting, wasn't it? Many of you may not have realized just how much of a power hitter Arnie was in his heyday until you saw some of the old footage.

I'm sure many of you have also been wondering how to hit it "Bubba long." The fact is, Bubba has a big start on most of us since he's 6'3" tall. But Arnie was only 5'10" -- fairly average among men. Perhaps we might learn more by looking at the King's swing.

Here's a video from the Somax Performance Institute that analyzes Arnie's downswing when he was at the height of his powers. I'll admit upfront that while I find the analysis interesting and I suspect many of you will learn useful things from it... I'm not really using any of it. But this video provided a photo of the King at the top of his backswing, and that's what I needed for this post. So enjoy the video, then read on!



As I said, I'm focusing on the moment Arnie reaches the top of his backswing because I want you to see where many, maybe most of you are losing a whole lot of power. I want you to see a fundamental that should be part of every golf swing. In the next photo I've drawn a bright yellow line through Arnie's trailing knee at the top of his backswing:

position of Arnie's knee at top of backswing

Do you see where Arnie's trailing knee is? That line shows that his knee is still inside his trailing foot, not over it. And do you see where his trailing hip is? It's even more inside his trailing foot! Let me repeat that: Arnie's trailing hip is not OVER his trailing foot, nor is it OUTSIDE his trailing foot. It is well INSIDE his trailing foot!

Why is this? It's because he has braced his trailing knee so it doesn't move away from the target as he makes his backswing. And if you watch his swing in the video, you'll see that his knee never moves more toward his trailing foot than it is in this photo. This stability not only keeps him driving toward the target during his downswing, thus creating more power, but it stabilizes his swing plane so more of that power is applied accurately to the ball.

Now, in case you're curious, here's a photo of Bubba at the top of his backswing from a 2012 Golf Digest swing sequence. (This is photo #4, in case you want to know.) I've also drawn a bright yellow line through his trailing knee:

position of Bubba's knee at top of backswing

Why is Bubba's trailing knee OVER his trailing foot? There are two reasons:
  • Bubba's trailing knee is bent while Arnie's is straight. Although most instructors (and me too!) generally like for you to keep a little flex in your knees throughout your swing, that almost-straight trailing knee is pretty common in classic swings. (You can see it in Tommy Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf All of the Time, for example, and that was considered THE instructional guide before Hogan wrote Five Lessons.)
  • Bubba has turned his upper body -- and therefore his hips -- considerably more than Arnie has. Arnie looks like he has maybe 95-100 degrees of shoulder turn while Bubba easily has 110 degrees or more.
But notice that even with his body twisted so much that his trailing knee has moved over his foot, Bubba's trailing hip is STILL inside his trailing foot. Most of us mere humans won't get that much turn; if we get as much as Arnie, we'll be doing good!

This trailing knee position is a fundamental you should have in your golf swing. At worst, your trailing hip has to stay "between your feet" and not slide out over or past your trailing foot. If you want power, you've got to get in this powerful position.

If it helped Arnold Palmer drive the green on the 346-yard par-4 first hole in the final round of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills with a balata ball and a persimmon driver, it's got to help you get more distance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ladies Are Early. (Is It Sexist to Say That?)

Yes, the LPGA's LOTTE Championship starts today instead of Thursday, giving the ladies a jump on the PGA Tour and any other man thinking about tournament golf this week. Best of all, it's live prime time coverage!

Ko Olina Golf Club

The LOTTE is played in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei. It's one of the newer tournaments born from Mike Whan's efforts, a mere two years old. Ai Miyazato won in 2012 and Suzann Pettersen last year... but Ai isn't playing well yet this year and Suzann is still sitting out due to injury.

Tony Jesselli has a preview up at his blog, complete with a list of the main players not in the field this week. Of this year's winners only Paula Creamer and Anna Nordqvist are playing, potentially opening the door for someone new to join the ranks.

For the record, I like Michelle Wie's chances this week. (Tony and I agree on this one.) She's coming off a runner-up finish at the KNC and has finished no worse than T16 in any of her 6 events this year. I think she's due. And although she hasn't played well here either of the last two years, the shorter Ko Olina course may play into the more "conservative" strategy she's been using in 2014.

The first round of the LOTTE Championship broadcasts tonight on GC from 6:30pm-10:30pm ET.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is Jordan Spieth the Next Sergio?

It's one of the more interesting discussions engendered by the Masters: Is Jordan Spieth the "next big thing" or will he struggle the way Sergio has?

Jordan Spieth

I thought it was a bit strange that Jordan took so much flack for his emotional outbursts during the final round Sunday. Some people were apparently very offended because Jordan had a few minor "displays" when everything went wrong for him. I couldn't help but wonder why other players (Tiger comes to mind) don't get the same treatment when they drop the F-bomb -- very loudly -- because they had a bad lie in a bunker. And as I recall, Henrik Stenson's little tantrum during the FedExCup Playoffs last year was actually considered comical. Remember this one?



Or how about Rory's less violent but equally destructive wedge bending in 2013? "Grownups" do this all the time, but for some reason Jordan's rather restrained tantrum is unacceptable. Sounds like a double standard to me...

But perhaps this is part of what originally spawned the question. I first heard it when Frank Nobilo brought it up on GC's aftergame show.

And I suppose it's a fair question, given the expectations being heaped on Spieth so early in his career. You can certainly draw parallels between Jordan's performance at the Masters with Sergio's 1999 PGA performance at Medinah. The comparisons are equally glowing, as you can tell from this golf.com article reprinted from the Aug. 23, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated. Sergio could do no wrong back then.

The question is, what happens if Jordan suffers Sergio's fate and that first major doesn't come quickly? Isn't it possible -- even likely -- that Jordan's rosy future may get derailed?

Yes, it's possible... but I do think there's one major difference that's not being taken into account here. It's the very reason for this debate. Let's call it "the Tiger Effect."

At the time of his PGA win, the Tiger legend was still in its infancy. He had won a lot but the PGA was only his 2nd major and he hadn't even won his first WGC yet. (That happened a month and a half later.) The PGA was his 11th win in roughly 4 years, and he was just halfway through the first of those years with 8+ wins. As spectacular as he had been, we still hadn't seen Tiger in full flight.

And certainly 19-year-old Sergio had never seen, perhaps even imagined how a player could be so dominant. The full Tiger Effect demoralized most Tour veterans and destroyed a few more, let alone an impressionable young player trying to copy his idol Seve.

But now, 15 years later, youngsters like Jordan Spieth have grown up with the Tiger Effect. They've grown up with weight training and sports psychologists and media advisors... and million dollar winner's checks and multimillion dollar endorsement deals.

Consider this: Tiger's 12-tournament maiden season of 1996 (which included 2 wins and 4 other Top5s, plus an extra Skins Game appearance) netted him a mere $790,594. By comparison Tom Lehman, that year's money list winner, played 25 events (plus 3 unofficial) and won 2 tournaments including the Open Championship plus 7 Top5s. He took home $1,780,159.

My point is that young Jordan's world is much different from that of young Sergio. Jordan's expectations have been shaped by the superhuman performances of one Eldrick Tiger Woods. He knows what is possible... and, by extension, how devastating failure can be. He's been preparing for both. It seems a little naïve to assume that Jordan is likely to react the same way to adversity as Sergio did.

The "brave new world," the "paradigm shift" that Sergio faced is just the "way things are" for Jordan. So while I suppose Jordan's career could end up being a bust... I sure wouldn't bet on it.

By the way, this year's Open Championship will be at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where Tiger won in 2006. He only used about 4 drivers all week; he just strategized his way around. Jordan's pretty good with strategy. Just a head's-up...

The photo came from CBSsports.com.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Masters

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: The golf world always seems to come to a halt when it's Masters Week. Carlos Ortiz won the El Bosque Mexico Championship on the Web.com Tour; Min Young Lee won the KLPGA's Lotte Mart Women's Open; and Esther Lee won the JLPGA's Studio Alice Ladies. (The Constructivist has details -- just click the links.)

Adam slips the coat on Bubba

Sunday afternoon, 2014 April 13: Bubba Golf enters a new era as Bubba Watson proves he can control his emotions and still play with exquisite control... while simultaneously pounding his competition into little greasy spots.

Remember that date. We may be adding more major Sundays to it before long.

And it's not as if everybody else played so bad. We had players making history with their play during this Masters... and yet, it just wasn't good enough. Even Jordan Spieth -- who made more than a little history himself as Bubba's chief competition Sunday -- said he would never forget Bubba's tee shot on 13. All it did was fly 360 yards after clipping some trees. Bubba hit a wedge for his second shot on the par-5.

Then there was that shot from the trees on 15. Bubba had a three shot lead and only needed to chip out. Instead he curved it over the lake, nearly getting himself an eagle chance.

And this time he got to share it with his wife and son. Last time Caleb was too young for them to make the trip and see Daddy get his first Green Jacket.

The number of great performances will be remembered for a long time, with Jordan Spieth and Miguel Angel Jimenez leading the pack. But Sunday belonged to Bubba in a way that no one can deny.

Or maybe even believe.

Yes, Bubba Golf definitely proved itself Sunday. We don't know yet how he'll fare against a healthy Tiger Woods, but it's sure gonna be fun finding out! Until then, we'll have this Limerick Summary to tide us over:
Now Bubba’s gone two out of three
Just by busting it off of the tee,
Threading trees, crossing water…
At this rate he oughta
Win several majors like these!
The photo comes from the tournament page at PGATOUR.com.