Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Eliminating One Side of the Course

A lot of you may already know the stuff in this post, but a lot of weekend players don't. And since this is important to your strategy if you want to lower your score, I figured this was a good time to do a post on it.

If you watch any of the instructional shows on Golf Channel, it won't be long before someone brings up "eliminating one side of the course." Sometimes they specifically mention eliminating the left side of the course; that's because most of the right-handed Tour pros have a problem with hooking the ball when they goof up. It doesn't really matter which side you eliminate... but as a general rule, you want to eliminate the one that gives you the most trouble!

Here's the reason, and it's one I bet you've had some trouble with: You're having trouble hitting the ball in the fairway, but you miss it all over the place. Sometimes it goes in the left rough, sometimes it goes in the right rough... but the trick is that you never know which miss you're going to have THIS time. If you just knew which way the ball was going to go, you could aim so the ball had a better chance of landing somewhere that you could play from.

That's the idea behind "eliminating one side of the course." It's also behind the idea of having a "go-to shot," which simply means that you can hit that shot and know where the ball is going to go, even when you're under a lot of pressure and likely to screw up. A go-to shot may not be very pretty and it may not even fly as far as normal... but at least the player knows he or she will be able to find it and play it.

There are two ways to eliminate one side of the course, and both can work. You can either:
  1. learn to control your bad shot, or
  2. learn a foolproof way to hit the opposite shot.
That second one is what the Tour pros tend to try because they believe it's a more dependable strategy. They have trouble with hooking the ball, so they work hard to develop a foolproof fade. That's why you hear about so many pros working on "swinging left." As long as they can figure out a way to keep the clubface from closing at impact, they know the ball will fade. (And when they swing left but close the clubface unintentionally, they get what they call a "double cross.")

That's also why some players have really unusual swings. For example, Ben Hogan created what we call the "modern swing" because he fought a duck hook so bad he called it "the terror of the field mice." Lee Trevino's swing developed the same way.

The first choice -- learning to control your bad shot -- can be an interesting possibility. If your normal miss is a big slice and you can learn to control it, you may NEVER have to worry about the other side of the course. The trick becomes learning to control it so that it's always a fade and never a banana ball. You need a shot you can count on, one that you know will almost always be in play. If you can figure out how to reduce your current miss to something acceptable, you'll have a dependable go-to shot.

It's not the choice most players make, but I can think of one great player who did: Billy Casper. He won 3 majors (1959 & 1966 US Open, 1970 Masters) and 51 total PGA Tour wins (7th all time) with a big 50-yard hook.

Regardless of which route you decide to take, you have to learn why you hit the shots you hit and then you have to work out a way to get the ball to go the way you want. But the first thing you need to do is make sure you have good fundamentals: 
  • Check your grip. Make sure it's not too strong or too weak because that can cause hooks and slices even if everything else is correct.
  • Make sure you have good alignment at address. The ball tends to go where you aim. And I'd be willing to guess that this is a more common problem than most players believe.
  • Check that your ball position is consistent. Even the pros get careless with that sometimes.
And here's a good thing to try: Try hitting some balls with a full swing but don't try to knock the cover off the ball. (Think practice swing.) If you can hit it where you want it when you swing slower, then you're doing something wrong when you try to create more power. (That means it's not a setup problem. It's a movement problem.) And then maybe you can use your practice swing as a go-to shot!

You may need to spend some time with a teaching pro to learn how to do it. But like I said, eliminating one side of the course is an important part of your scoring strategy. It's worth taking some time to figure out how to do it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Michael Breed on Trajectory

On The Golf Fix Monday night Michael Breed talked about a number of things, including yet another way to control trajectory when you're hitting the ball off the ground rather than a tee. (The photo came from a YouTube video that doesn't really deal with this problem but the photo will be helpful later.)

The reason this caught my attention is because it doesn't involve changing the ball position!

Michael Breed

You may have heard of the "reverse K" setup position -- that is, your trailing shoulder is lower than your lead shoulder. Some instructors advise using the "rev-K" for hitting driver and a more level shoulder position for shots on the fairway. Here's a video of Michael explaining why the "rev-K" happens naturally with all clubs (if the video didn't embed correctly, the link to the original is at the end of the post):



BUT -- and this is what Michael talked about Monday night -- you can switch back and forth between the "rev-K" and the "flat shoulder" positions to control your trajectory!

The "rev-K" setup allows you to hit the ball higher because your lead shoulder turns back on a flatter plane, more level with your trailing shoulder. (If you look at the photo up top, you'll see that position.) This lets the club come in more parallel to the ground when you contact the ball. That sends the ball higher because you're using more of the club's loft, not unlike a driver swing which actually swings up on the ball.

With the "flat shoulder" setup position, that lead shoulder would be lower than your trailing shoulder as you make your backswing. When you do that, you have a steeper downswing and hit down on the ball, which makes it fly lower like a chip shot.

Because the "rev-K" moves your head more behind the ball, it has the same effect as if you moved the ball forward in your stance, which is the more traditional way to create a higher trajectory. On the show, Michael hit the ball 5 degrees higher with the "rev-K" setup than with the "flat shoulder" setup when using the same club. Obviously that could vary with different clubs, but you get the idea.

So now you have yet another technique for varying your trajectory. The more options you have, the more likely it is that you'll find one that works consistently for you.

In case the video didn't embed properly, here's the link to the video at golfchannel.com.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 RBC Heritage

Winner: Matt Kuchar

Around the wider world of golf: Several players returned to the winner's circle this week. Michelle Wie won the LPGA LOTTE Championship; Lee Westwood won the Maybank Malaysian Open on the ET/Asian Tour; Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Greater Gwinnett Championship on the Champions Tour; William Kropp won the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica's 83 Abierto OSDE del Centro; and Minami Katsu won the JLPGA's KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies (the Constructivist has details).

Kuchar holes out!

The streak has ended. Matt Kuchar must be extremely happy.

After 3 weeks -- including the Masters -- where he put himself in position to win and then went flatter than day-old soda, shooting par or worse in the final round, Matt Kuchar blistered the Harbour Town Golf Links with a 64 to lap the field. (And, incidentally, give Luke Donald his 5th Top3 there in 6 years.)

Instead of starting the day with the lead, he started 4 back, he shot a front nine 30 (-5) to take the lead... and then 3-putted the 17th from 4 feet to fall back into a tie with Donald. It looked like he was going to fall prey to "the curse" yet again, especially after he hit his approach to 18 into the front bunker.

Of course, when you hole out from the bunker on 18 to regain the lead, things look a bit different. It meant Donald had to birdie either 17 or 18 to force a playoff and, on those exposed holes and with so much wind, that just wasn't in the cards.

Kuchar now gets a couple of weeks off before heading to THE PLAYERS where he won in 2012. You can bet he's much more eager to get there now!

In the meantime, he can chill out and savor his brand new Limerick Summary:
After three weeks of losing his fizz,
From the bunker Matt played like a whiz.
He popped the ball up,
It dropped in the cup
And now Win Number Seven is his.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

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.