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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at the ANA Inspiration

Ah yes, the major season has finally arrived and the ladies are up first. That means that it's time for me to make the first of several futile attempts to pick the likely winners!

This week is the ANA Inspiration, formerly known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which is held in lovely Rancho Mirage CA.

the course at Rancho Mirage

Please understand that I am NOT saying that the players I haven't chosen are incapable of winning this event... but I only have 5 choices. Don't be upset when I leave out some of your favorites.

And believe me, I've left out a LOT of favorites.

To begin with, I've left out defending champion Lexi Thompson, runner-up Michelle Wie, and 3rd place Stacy Lewis from last year. Lexi's game just seems to be a bit flat to me right now, Michelle is recovering from a string of illnesses (strep and sinus infections among them) so I don't think she's quite ready to contend, and Stacy is so determined to get a win that she's getting in her own way.

Likewise, I don't think Lydia Ko will win. Maybe it's just me, but she seems to be tired right now -- mentally tired, that is. She's been showing more irritation with her game than usual and I'm not so sure that this chance to win a major at 17 won't prove to be a distraction to her. She's certainly aware of the expectations. And Azahara Munoz is listed in the field, but I think that her recent hand surgery will be a problem if she does tee it up.

So who are my choices? I'm glad you asked:
  • Cristie Kerr is my favorite to win. She finished T4 last year and is coming off a win at the Kia. But more importantly, Cristie seems to have turned a corner in her game. Last week Judy Rankin noted that her swing changes seem to have finally taken hold (I saw her hit a couple of 300-yard drives last week) and, most imporantly, her putting seems to have come around. I really like her chances.
  • Hyo Joo Kim has played in only one major so far... and she won it, the 2014 Evian. In addition, she won the JTBC Founders Cup just a couple of weeks ago. This girl has a steady game and I have no doubt she can navigate her way around the Dinah Shore Tournament Course without any problems at all.
  • Inbee Park hasn't been putting quite as well as I'm used to seeing, yet she continues to post high finishes week after week. It's not like she's putting badly, however, and I won't be surprised if she gets the flat stick running well again this week.
  • Alison Lee is one of my fliers. Although this is her rookie year, she finally seems to be getting her footing. She finished solo 4th at the Kia, so why not stay on a roll at the major?
  • And my other flier is Se Ri Pak. She's finally healthy again and posted a Top10 at the Kia. Last year she was T4 with Cristie at this major and she's won it a couple of times already, so this is a place she feels comfortable.
And there you have it, my infallible list of favorites for the season's first major. Let's see what the ladies have in store for us!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Valero Texas Open

Winner: Jimmy Walker

Around the world of golf: Cristie Kerr won the Kia Classic on the LPGA; David Frost won the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on the Champions Tour; Tommy Cocha won the Mazatlan Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Kelly Kraft won the Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Web.com Tour; Richie Ramsay won the Trophee Hassan II on the ET; and Gwladys Nocera won the Lalla Meryem Cup on the LET.

Jimmy Walker puts his boots on

The curse has been broken. A 54-hole leader has finally hung on and finished the job.

Ironically, no one has noticed that this amazing feat was accomplished by the last player to win from a 54-hole lead before the curse began.

Yes, Jimmy Walker had lost with the 54-hole lead at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (Patrick Reed took that one) and then bounced back the very next week to win the Sony Open from a 54-hole lead. He ripped off a 63 at Sony just to make the point that he could finish off a tournament when he started in the last pairing.

And if you had any doubts that he could do it again... well, he did it again. Despite Jordan Spieth's best efforts to become the season's first two-time winner, Walker matched him almost shot for shot. He did it by sinking sizable clutch putts down the stretch, sucking all the air from Jordan's balloon and becoming this season's first two-time winner himself.

So now Jimmy Walker heads to Augusta with a full head of steam and more than a few analysts proclaiming him as a possible favorite to get his first major. For now, I'll just proclaim him the actual favorite to get this week's Limerick Summary:
No gimmes for Jimmy, it seemed…
But this 54-hole leader beamed
As he ended the curse.
We expected no worse—
His last win was the last lead redeemed!
The photo came from the tournament upshot page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Did You Catch This Putting Tip on NBC Saturday?

During their broadcast of the Valero Texas Open on Saturday, NBC very casually tossed out some putting information that may help many of you who have trouble getting your putts on line.

While showing Zach Johnson having some trouble making putts, the announcers mentioned that Zach was trying out a new putter in which he said he was gaining confidence... but NBC showed him missing crucial putts on three successive holes. And Notah Begay III mentioned that Zach's new putter was an offset putter and that hitting putts to the left was a common problem when switching from a straight putter.

Odyssey Works Versa #1 Putter The first thing you need to understand is the difference between a straight and an offset putter. To the right you'll see a photo of an Odyssey Works Versa #1 Putter, which is an offset putter. See the angle in the hosel, that makes the shaft point at the ground in front of the putter face? That's the offset.

And, obviously, a straight putter has a shaft that goes directly into the putter head without any angles.

Notah was speaking about righthanders, so let me rephrase what he said so it applies to anybody:
  • If you switch from a straight putter to an offset putter, it's not unusual to start pulling your putts.
  • And, by the same logic, if you switch from an offset putter to a straight putter, it's not unusual to start pushing your putts.
Or, as an article on putter fitting at PGA.com puts it:
The final two factors, loft and offset, are interrelated. The loft being the angle of pitch on the face of the club and offset being the amount the face of the putter is set back from the shaft of the club. The loft and offset affect the roll of the golf ball and, most importantly, how the player aims the face of the putter...
The combination of loft and offset's effect on aim has to do with how an individual's eyes function. The way a person's eyes work together influence how he sees the face of the putter relative to the target line at address. If a person tends to aim left he should have a putter with less loft and or offset. A putter with more loft and offset will help a person whose tendency is to aim too much to the right.
While the offset of a preexisting putter cannot typically be changed, the loft of the putter is normally very easy to change using a loft and lie machine.
That's some important information to know. If you're having trouble getting your putts on line, it may not be your mechanics that are at fault. Rather, the offset (or lack of) on your putter may be affecting the way you aim and you don't even know it!

As the article states, there's not much you can do about offset; it's not usually adjustable. Short of buying a new putter, you might want to try changing your address position a bit. If you have an offset putter and you're pulling your putts, you might try moving the ball back slightly in your stance.

Likewise, if you have a straight putter and you're pushing your putts, you might try moving the ball slightly forward in your stance.

You might also try one of Martin Hall's putter alignment tricks: Put a yardstick down on the ground, pointing it toward the "hole" (which might just be a target if you're practicing indoors). Use the flat end of the yardstick which is farthest from your target as the "ball," and practice addressing it so that the face of the putter is flat against the end of the yardstick. If you're having this problem, you'll find out very quickly.

The important thing to learn here is that putting problems aren't automatically caused by poor putting mechanics. You may simply have a putter that's hard for you to aim... and that's one of the rare times when you can actually buy an improvement in your game.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lucy Li Is Back in the News

And so is Kathleen Scavo, the teenager that Li beat out for a spot at the 2014 US Women's Open. According to Golfweek, the two have teamed up and qualified for the USGA's inaugural US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball next month. How cool is that?

Lucy Li and Kathleen Scavo

The article says the two former competitors medaled at Pasatiempo Golf Club on March 26, making them one of four teams to advance from that site. There will be 64 teams total, to be finalized this coming Monday.

When the article calls this "a delightful boost" to the event, I have to agree. This new USGA tournament has been somewhat under the radar up to this point, but Li should bring a certain amount of recognition to the event after charming the media at last year's Open.

And the teammates' ages -- 12 and 17 -- will also be somewhat newsworthy to media outlets outside of golf, although they aren't the youngest team to qualify so far. That honor belongs to a couple of 13-year-olds. (Read the article if you want the details!)

I just hope the USGA makes sure there's plenty of ice cream at the event. We all know how Lucy likes her ice cream!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Martin Hall's Gravity Drill

If you've read this blog for any length of time or read any of my books, you know I make a big deal out of what I call "the gravity swing." I think it's a vital concept for any golfer who wants to get better because it makes many of the basic swing fundamentals happen almost automatically.

Well, Martin Hall has finally posted a drill video that focuses on using gravity in your swing. It's one of his Night School videos -- which means it wasn't shown on the TV show -- and it specifically focuses on your downswing (my gravity drills usually focus on the entire swing motion). It's very simple... and you've got to love drills that reference both Fred Flintstone and the Karate Kid!



Martin calls this a "gravity drop" and it helps you incorporate the feeling of your arms falling into your downswing move. It's very simple and I recommend you try it.

One thing I'd like to point out: Although Martin makes a big deal out of the lower body shift when you actually incorporate this into your swing -- and I do think Martin (like many instructors) exaggerates that hip slide to the point that it will cause back pain -- pay close attention to how Sara Brown swings using the move. She does NOT make a huge hip slide yet makes a very good swing.

One extra note: Those of you who watch School of Golf will know that Sara has a problem with pull-hooking. Please note that she hits the ball almost straight by using this move, even though it is likely the first time Martin had her try it. (Martin has often said that she is doing things for the first time on the show.) It will help you straighten a slice as well because, by relaxing your arms, you won't stop the natural tendency of your hands to square up the club face as your body rotates. It's worth a little of your practice time!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Ladies Tune Up for Their First Major

Next week, just ahead of the Masters, the ladies will play their first major -- formerly the Kraft-Nabisco Championship, now called the ANA Inspiration. Their tune-up this week is the Kia Classic, which has been pretty competitive since its inception but looks to be even more interesting this time around.

First of all, according to Tony Jesselli's preview of the event, 97 of the Top98 players on the LPGA Priority List will be teeing it up. (The one exception is Azahara Munoz, who's still recovering from hand surgery. In case you didn't hear, the lump turned out to be a harmless -- albeit painful -- cyst.) If getting on form for the Inspiration wasn't enough to get their juices flowing, this event also has a fairly large purse and 500 Race to the CME Globe points up for grabs.

Player hitting out of sand

A number of players who have yet to qualify for the LPGA's first major of the year are also in the field. (Just like the men playing the two Texas events trying to get in the Masters.)

And then we have the ever-present battle between Ko, Park and Lewis. Here are the scenarios for a potential shift in the World #1, as projected at LPGA.com. (We have these almost every week now, don't we?)
Ko retains No. 1 if:
  • She finishes in a three-way tie for second or better even if Park wins.
  • Park finishes in a tie for second or worse regardless of what Lydia does
Park can go to No. 1 if:
  • Park wins AND Ko finishes in a four-way tie for second or worse.
  • Ko misses the cut AND Park finishes in solo second or better.
No. 3 Stacy Lewis cannot go to No. 1 regardless of what happens this week but she can move up to No. 2 if she wins and Park finishes in third or worse.
So a number of things are in play this week, all of which promise to make the Kia Classic worth watching. GC will carrying LIVE coverage of every round starting at 6pm ET beginning tonight. Prime time women's golf -- you gotta love it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Vote Now for the Ultimate Golf Excuse

I just discovered this Tuesday over at Golf Digest and it looks like fun so I'm passing it on.

Since we here in the States are in the midst of March Madness, the annual college basketball playoffs, Golf Digest decided to have a playoff for the Ultimate Golf Excuse. The competition is currently in the second round and you can go to this link at their website to place your votes.

Ultimate Golf Excuse bracket

You get to vote for 8 match-ups right now -- 2 each in the Physical, Distraction, Equipment and Golf Course "regions." The ballots are below the full-size version of the bracket you see above.

Have fun!