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Friday, July 3, 2015

It's Only One Round But...

Tiger's 4-under 66 at the Greenbriar on Thursday seems to have shocked everybody. That much was evident when you listened to the analysts. Tiger's round wasn't shown live -- he was in the morning wave and finished long before the broadcast window -- but we got to see some of the shots in replay as the analysts struggled to sound knowledgeable about what Tiger was doing.

Tiger on the prowl

Let's face it: Tiger continues to surprise us all. And only Tiger himself seems to be surprised by our disbelief. Perhaps my favorite line from his media talks after the round -- other than his assessment of that skulled sand shot that he meant to hit close to the ball and succeeded, that is -- was when he said:
"I felt like I wasn't very far away. I know people think I'm crazy for saying that, but I just felt like I wasn't that far. I just had to make a couple little tweaks, and I felt like I pulled that off."
While the analysts tried to explain the possible reasons why Tiger played so well, I was surprised that no one mentioned the fact that he has NEVER played well at the White Course. Since he's never played well there, he probably had no expectations -- as opposed to, say, Torrey Pines where he has pretty much owned the course over the years.

I've written before about players like Tiger and Phil saying they "aren't far off" when we see them spraying the ball everywhere. But to borrow from yesterday's post about the stages of a golfer, players like Tiger are consciously competent even when they appear to have lost control of their swings. They generally know that THIS is the problem, and they have some idea about how to fix THIS, and it may take them a while to get THIS back in line but there's no question that THIS is what they need to fix. It gives them a confidence that the rest of us lack.

I don't know how Tiger will fare today. He may struggle again because progress is rarely steady; it's always a matter of ups and downs. But he's been doing well on the range for a while -- the media has confirmed that -- and they've been seeing the same things on the course lately, as they did this week during the pro-am. It had to start showing up during the official rounds eventually.

For me, the important thing is that when it showed up this time, it gave him the lowest round he's had in two years. That sort of thing doesn't happen unless you're doing something right. I'm in hopes that we'll be seeing more of that "something right" this week. And we'll all get to watch it if it happens since he's in the afternoon wave.

But I think it's time we faced two facts:
  1. Tiger really does seem to know what he's doing.
  2. And he still has the ability to do things that none of us can wrap our minds around.
That in and of itself should make today very interesting.

The quote came from this page at PGATOUR.com.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Four Stages of Golf Learning

Martin Hall spent most of last night's School of Golf talking about Sam Snead, but his Mental Minute was about "the Four Stages of Golf Learning." I don't know if Snead actually said them -- I've read a couple of Snead books and seen some interview videos but it wasn't in them; Martin's read more -- but they're a good way to figure out where you are in your golf game.
  1. Unconsciously Incompetent: You don't know what you're doing... and you don't know that you don't know!
  2. Consciously Incompetent: You still don't know what you're doing but now you're aware of your ignorance.
  3. Consciously Competent: You know what you're doing but you have to think about it.
  4. Unconsciously Competent: You know what you're doing and you don't have to think about it to do it.
How does knowing these stages help you? These are my views on the subject:
  1. Players in the first stage generally can't be helped. It's hard to teach somebody who thinks they know everything. Just try not to snicker at them... at least, not too much.
  2. Players in the second stage are eager to learn. The biggest thing for them is to avoid conflicting information since they can be, shall we say, somewhat indiscriminate in who they listen to. That's why I recommend you have a FILTER -- that is, one teacher or player whose methods work for you. Since you know this person's methods work for you, anybody you hear whose methods don't immediately mesh well with your filter's should be ignored. You'll avoid a lot of dead ends that way.
  3. Players in the third stage are knowledgeable and often can determine where their problems are. They tend to recognize what will help them and what won't, so they make pretty good progress when they try to improve because they don't waste time on unnecessary changes. (And yes, I know a lot of Tour players who should know better are at this stage and STILL try to make massive overhauls. As my mom used to say, "If everybody else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?")
  4. And players in the fourth stage are generally just tweaking their mechanics -- not making wholesale changes, if they make any changes at all -- and are usually focused more on their mental games. That's because these players are more concerned with scoring than mechanics, with playing better than with developing the perfect swing. (Hint: There's no such thing as a perfect swing!)
If you keep these things in mind, you'll find that you can make more progress with less effort. (Unless you're in that first group. Then you probably won't make any lasting progress at all.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

For You Golf Bag Shoppers Out There

Nothing fancy tonight, just a link to Golf Digest's Golf Bag Hot List. If you're looking for a new golf bag, you might want to breeze through these 22 lightweight golf bags.

Well, many of them are lightweight. Some of them are over 6 lbs. Others, like this $170 Ogio Nimbus, weigh a mere 3.6 lbs.

Ogio Nimbus golf bag

And even though it's that light, it still has 7 pockets.

I confess that I've never spent more than $40 or $50 for a bag. But then again, I didn't have a super lightweight like this bag either.

There are bags from several different companies in the list, so take a look if you're after a new bag for hoofing around the course.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Quick Look at Na Yeon Choi's Swing

Na Yeon Choi is 5'5" tall and averages just over 252 yards off the tee. That's 56th on the LPGA, which is considerably better than average.

She also hits over 73% of her fairways, which puts her 75th. That would be incredible on the PGA Tour but it's just average on the LPGA.

Since she won in Arkansas on Sunday, I thought I'd do a quick post about her swing -- in particular, something that I think is a real strength of hers. This is a short video, only 35 seconds long, but it shows her swing several times and gradually slows it down. It's just a face-on view but it's recent and it shows what I want you to see.



NYC's swing, like that of most of the Korean players, is very simple and mechanically sound. But I want you to notice how balanced, how rhythmic, how smooth it is. Although she's hitting it pretty hard -- and developing quite a bit of swing speed in order to hit the ball as far as she does -- she doesn't appear to be going at it that hard at all.

The reason is that she avoids exaggeration. By that I mean that she doesn't make big dramatic moves when she doesn't need them. She's not moving off the ball on her backswing, she's not lurching forward at impact, and she doesn't squat down dramatically and then jump up off the ground in an effort to create more swing speed.

What she's doing is using her club as a tool. She swings it and lets it do the work of launching the ball. It's entirely proper to say that she NAILS the shot because she uses her club like a hammer. She can do this because, although she's swinging as fast as she can, she's trying to keep her muscles relaxed throughout the swing. Relaxed muscles can move faster than tight muscles, and she doesn't have to lurch back and forth because almost all of the energy is going into the club.

If you've ever swung a tennis racket or thrown a Frisbee™, you know this feeling. There's a sense of... let me call it "gathering yourself" as the top of your backswing. It's not really a pause because you don't stop moving. It's just a moment in your swing when you change direction.

If you exaggerate your lower body movement when you start down, you'll destroy this feeling. I often recommend that you try to feel as if you were falling from the top of your backswing, literally just relaxing your legs so both feet are planted solidly on the ground and your hips automatically move forward a bit. If you don't interfere with the start of your downswing, your lower body WILL start your move into the ball; it's physically impossible to change direction any other way.

Watch Na Yeon Choi's swing a few times, try to imagine what it feels like, and then try to duplicate it. Imitation is one of the easiest ways to learn tempo and speed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Travelers Championship

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: Jeff Maggert got ticked off by my post last Wednesday so he went and won the US Senior Men's Open on the Champions Tour; Na Yeon Choi dropped an eagle-birdie-par finish on the field to take the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on the LPGA; Dani Holmqvist won the Island Resort Championship on the Symetra Tour; Pablo Larrazábal won the BMW International Open on the ET; Jeong Hwa Lee won the Hong Kong Ladies Open on the LAGT; Rob Oppenheim won the Air Capital Classic on the Web.com Tour; Kevin Spooner won the Syncrude Boreal Open on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada; and Bo-Mee Lee won the Earth Mondamin Cup on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Bubba in action

It just seems weird to me. You take a guy like Bubba Watson, a guy who likes to put big bends and curves on a golf ball, and the only places he seems to play well -- other than Augusta National, that is -- are fairly claustrophobic courses with lots of trees and tight fairways. Put him on a wide open links-style course and he seems to be entirely lost.

I just don't get it... but unfortunately for the rest of the field, they've become all too familiar with this weird quirk of being Bubba. And that's doubly true when they play at TPC River Highlands, the home of the Travelers Championship.

I admit that I was pulling for Paul Casey -- not because I didn't want Bubba to win, but just because Paul has had such a long journey back from all the injuries and such that nearly derailed his career. He's been so close this year and once he made the playoff I thought maybe this might be the week.

But it wasn't. Instead, Bubba did his typical magic tricks with the ball and made us all wonder why the hell he can't play a US Open or an Open Championship worth a damn. Perhaps he just needs some glasses that restrict his field of vision so he'll THINK those majors have no room to land a golf ball. I understand most of the other players in the field already have some of those and would probably lend them to him if he just asked...

In the meantime, Bubba receives yet another Limerick Summary to post on his wall... and a plea for him to find some way to play the Open Championship the way we know he can. Bubba, St. Andrews is a PERFECT place for you to win an Open!
Bubba traveled from West Coast to East,
Winning here where he’s always a beast.
Ain’t it strange Bubba thinks
He should struggle on links
While at Travelers he plays the artiste?
The photo came from the tournament upshot page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tom Watson on Chipping with a 5-Iron

Here's a new video from the Golf Digest site. Tom Watson is just one stroke off the lead at the US Senior Open and the Open Championship is just around the corner, so why not learn his simple chipping / putting tip... using a 5-iron? There's a little written material at the link that you'll want to read, but this video gives you the basics.



It's simple. Just:
  • choose your 5-iron,
  • grip down on it with your putting grip -- that means the 5-iron shaft is in line with your forearms (just look at the video),
  • put a bit more weight on your lead foot,
  • lean the shaft a bit forward, and
  • use your putting stroke, which takes your wrists out of the stroke and makes it easier to get clean contact.
Tom is using a 5-iron instead of a hybrid. The 5-iron has a shorter shaft so you may find it easier to use. The 5-iron also has a bit more loft, so it gets the ball up a little quicker over that fringe grass.

The more simple shots like this that you have in your arsenal, the less stressful your short game will be.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Too Much Rain, Too Much Spain, Too Much Watson(s) on Top Again

This post is kind of a mishmash from four tours because I found Friday's rounds at all of them very interesting.

You see, all of them have something or someone dominating the broadcasts.

M.J. Hur

The LPGA event in Arkansas is only three rounds but they didn't even get the first round finished. Rain -- and lightning -- came in during the TV window and there simply wasn't enough time to get it done.

M.J. Hur -- pictured above -- is the current leader by two strokes at -8 even though she still hasn't finished her first round. (She started four hours late and has four holes left.) Anna Nordqvist, Brittany Lincicome and Azahara Munoz all finished and posted -6, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Supposedly the weather will be better this weekend.

However, I seem to remember Stacy Lewis winning the first one when it was rain-shortened to 18 holes so I'm not holding my breath...

Over in Germany at the BMW International Open, Rafael Cabrera-Bello from Spain holds the lead by a single shot after rounds of -7 and -5. The latter included a chip-in birdie after drowning his approach on the par-5 18th. Cabrera-Bello has been playing well most of the year but hasn't been able to close out a tournament in some time. Perhaps this is his week.

Martin Kaymer missed the cut, btw. These last two weeks haven't been very kind to him.

The real fun seems to be at the PGA and Champions Tour events, where both are led by Watsons.

Bubba Watson is leading the Travelers Championship by two shots, which is no surprise since he seems to own the course. GC said he's something like 89-under since 2010, which is 20+ shots lower than the next closest player. Bubba was pretty tactful when he told GC that the greens there were very easy to putt because anything seems easy after a US Open.

Ah yes, Bubba the politician. I never saw it coming, that's for sure. But you could see his good play at the Travelers coming from half a continent away. After all, he ALWAYS plays well there.

And over at the US Senior Open, Tom Watson is tied for the lead at -5 with Peter Fowler -- a pro from Europe -- and Jeff Maggert, who I went out of my way NOT to pick in my "5 to Watch" post a few days back. Jeff, was it something I said?

Watson's 4-under 66 on Thursday was just one shot shy of his age, 65. Like I keep telling you, if you want to play well for a long time then Tom Watson has a good swing to copy!

Of my picks, Colin Montgomerie is one shot back, Bernhard Langer and Kevin Sutherland are two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez is five back at even par. The course is playing very hard -- and very hot, with temps around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 39 degrees Celsius for the rest of you) -- so I'll stick with Monty as my likely winner.

Fred Couples didn't tee it up because of back problems but I did pick him as a flier. I just didn't expect him to fly away before the event even started!

My point is, ALL of the events look to be pretty interesting this week... but you'll have to hunt around for the ones you want to watch. Remember that the LPGA and ET will be on GC, the PGA Tour on GC and CBS, and the Champions Tour on FoxSports1 FOX if you want to watch any of them.