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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Numbers Never Lie... Or Do They?

We've all heard the saying. It's popular enough that ESPN named one of their shows Numbers Never Lie. But here's the deal: Numbers are little more than trivia, basically meaningless in and of themselves. In sports, they tend to take on meaning only when they become statistics... and statistics are numbers that someone has interpreted to produce that meaning.

And interpretations are... well, a matter of interpretation. Interpretations can lie... and often do.

Most of my friends and I picked potential Masters winners based on stats. Our results were about as good as those of John Antonini at GC's Fantasy Central who, using a number of stats like GIR, number of wins prior to a Masters, and par-5 scoring, chose Phil as his favorite with Sergio and Zach Johnson close seconds. (All missed the cut.) And his choices for a possible first-timer were Harris English, Graham DeLaet, and Jimmy Walker. (Only Walker made the cut and sits at +2, T19.)

Miguel Angel Jimenez

I'm not sure any stats could have predicted today's leaderboard. Just look at the last 4 pairings:
  • (-5) Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth
  • (-4) Jonas Blixt, Matt Kuchar
  • (-3) Rickie Fowler, Miguel Angel Jimenez (pictured above)
  • (-2) Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood
Are there any numbers that might predict the eventual winner? Well, I've heard a few...

Apparently, in the last 27 years the winner has come from the Top12 at the 36-hole point. This year that group had 14 players and looked like this:
  • (1) Watson
  • (2) Senden
  • (T3) Bjorn, Blixt, Scott, Spieth
  • (T7) Couples, Walker, Furyk
  • (T10) Streelman, Gallacher, Henley, Stadler, Donaldson
I've also heard that most of the time the leader comes from one of the final 2 groups, and according to the Augusta Chronicle up until 2010 19 of the last 20 winners came from the final group. However, the last 3 winners have NOT come from the final group so this new trend could foreshadow this year's results.

If all of that's true, Jonas Blixt will win today because Watson and Spieth are in the final group and Kuchar wasn't in the Top12 at the halfway point. In fact, of the last 4 groups only Blixt and Furyk even have a chance despite a mere 3-stroke spread between those groups. Would you like to put money on that???

Let me give you a few facts and figures that won't lie:
  • Bubba would win his 2nd Green Jacket in 3 years.
  • Spieth would become the youngest Masters winner ever.
  • Blixt would become the first male Swedish major winner. (Remember, Annika already has 10 for the ladies.)
  • Kuchar or Westwood would leave the "best player without a major" list.
  • Fowler's following might start to resemble Arnie's Army. (Puma would certainly break out the champagne!)
  • Jimenez would become the oldest major winner ever.
  • Furyk would likely lock up entry into the Hall of Fame.
And that's only the final 4 groups!

If you need proof that numbers don't always tell the truth, just consider this: The TV industry is still waiting to learn what the Masters viewing numbers will be without Tiger in the field, and most assume they'll take a big hit from last year. I suspect they will, because most occasional golf fans only care about how Tiger does.

But if you think those numbers will adequately measure the significance of this year's Masters, think again.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to Stop Flipping, Part 2

Here, as promised, is another post on how to stop flipping your hands through impact. (The first post can be found here.) In case you've forgotten, Stephen left a comment on an earlier post asking for some help with the problem and, since it's a fairly common one, I decided this problem deserves some "blog time."

This time I want to look at some of the things that cause flipping.

Flipping can happen with any club -- many players flip their wrists when they putt, some when they chip, and some at impact during their full swing. Simply put, flipping is when the head of the club passes your hands before you hit the ball. The first post I did includes a video of Martin Hall showing how you want your hands to stay ahead of the club head; it's sometimes called "forward shaft lean."

There are a couple of things that most "flippers" do. One is using incorrect grip pressure; the other is stopping their turn through the ball too soon.

Most of you know that if you grip the club too tightly, you slow down your swing. But you also know you have to keep a good grip on the club so you don't unintentionally throw it! So here's your key thought: You want the tightest part of your grip to be the ring and pinky fingers on your lead hand. (Remember, the lead hand is the one closest to the target at address.) By focusing your grip in those two fingers, you get a firm hold on the club -- after all, those fingers are at the end of the shaft where it's easier to control it -- and it only tightens the muscles on the "bottom edge" of your forearm. It also creates more control with your lead hand while allowing you to really whip that club through impact.

Grip pressure is just a matter of practice, and you can practice while you're sitting in front of the television. Just hold the club and focus on tightening those two fingers while the others stay more relaxed.

The other problem, stopping your turn too early, needs a little more explanation. I'm going to give you a little drill using a one-piece takeaway. (I explained how to do that in this post from way back in 2010. Just use the instructions there to learn how to do one if you don't already know how.)

Got it? Good. Here's the drill:

A one-piece takeaway keeps both arms pretty straight (but not stiff) until your hands reach nearly waist high on your backswing. For this drill, you can swing from there back down through the impact area until your hands are around waist high into your finish. I don't want you to cock and uncock your wrists because that will just make it harder to tell when you make your turn correctly. This isn't a power swing, so don't feel like you have to swing hard. Just make a rhythmic swing.

Now, if you make a waist high backswing, pause slightly, then swing down and through to a waist high finish (your trailing knee will bend, just like in a regular swing), your wrists should stay in the same position all the way through without much effort on your part. The butt end of the shaft should point toward your body (if you want a smaller target, it should point at your belly button) all the way through. You can swing back and forth like a pendulum if you want; many of you will find that helpful in getting the feel of a complete turn.

Michael Breed has a special version of this drill he uses to teach this called the Lucky 7 Drill. Here it is (use the link if you can't get the embedded video to run):



The Breed version doesn't point the butt end of the shaft toward your belly button. Rather, it points it to your side. His version focuses on full swings while my version will help with "putter flipping" as well. Obviously both will help but his will hurt if you do it too badly. (If you need negative reinforcement to learn...!)

Lee Trevino used to use thick rubber bands to teach this same technique in chipping. He would have his student grip down almost to the steel of the shaft, then put a couple of thick rubber bands around their lead wrist to hold the club's handle against it. That way they couldn't flip their wrists at all.

Those are the two biggest causes of wrist flipping. If you work on these drills, you should start learning what a "non-flipping" swing feels like.

And if I find some more drills that I think will help, I'll do another post. ;-)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tiger May Be Glad He's Missing This One

The word is out that Tiger Woods is basically immobilized for a couple of weeks until his back goes through its initial healing phase. We also know that he's watching the Masters on TV.

He may be glad he has an excuse to miss this one. A number of favorites struggled on Thursday.

Bill Haas stripes one

Granted, Bill Haas shot the best round of his career at Augusta, a 68. Granted, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, and Bubba Watson -- two past champions and a "nearly was" -- posted 69s. Granted, a handful of first-timers and seniors managed to shoot 70s and 71s. In all, 19 players finished Round 1 under par.

But they're the exceptions. As Rory (71) noted, "It was a tough setup. I think that they [Augusta] really wanted to do that, they didn't want the scores to get too low."

No worries there, mate. Just to name a few casualties... Keegan Bradley shot 75, Mickelson and Rose shot 76, the Johnson boys (Dustin and Zach) shot 77 and 78 respectively, and Jason Dufner shot 80.

Many players were surprised by the unexpected late afternoon winds. Nick Faldo showed some surprise that a few Sunday pin positions turned up so early in the tournament, and you could almost hear the gasps from the various announcers as the scores went up.

On Thursday. On what is usually the easiest day of the week.

As picks go, mine didn't do so bad. Although Jason Day shot 75 and, as already mentioned, Mickelson shot 76,  my other choices fared better. Scott shot 69 and my first-timers Patrick Reed and Harris English shot an acceptable 73 and 74. Given that the field's average score was nearly 2.5 strokes over par, I'll take it.

We won't really know how things shake out until the end of today's round and we see if either draw got an advantage over the other. But after the first round there are two things I'm reasonably sure of:

(1) The absence of the Eisenhower Tree probably won't lower scores very much.

(2) Tiger will have trouble laying still while he's laughing so hard.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

For All You Shoppers Out There...

For those of you who might be interested, online golf clothing store Function 18 -- who have provided some fashion posts for me in the past as well as a Masters infographic a couple of posts back -- sent me a note that they're having a Masters sale that runs through Sunday.

Since they're located in the UK, the prices are in British pounds. They're offering 10% off all orders over £10 (at the time of this posting, my Google calculator says that's $16.78 in US dollars) and 15% off all orders over £100 ($167.81).

The press release said, "The promotion is available across all major golf brands available online at Function18 including Oscar Jacobson, Nike Golf, Puma Golf, Adidas Golf and Hugo Boss, and will run throughout the Masters tournament until Sunday 13th April."

You can find the sale at www.function18.com. Just click the sale button on the front page. Here's the graphic with the sale codes (GET10 and GET15, in case they don't show up clearly):

Function18 ad