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Friday, September 4, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at Deutsche Bank

Yes, here we go again. The fields are slowly getting whittled down as we near the Tour Championship, and this week I only have 100 players to choose from. (Well, technically only 98 as neither Sergio nor new father Francesco Molinari will tee it up.)

Hole #1 at TPC Boston

At this point in the proceedings, anybody could conceivably win this week. Unlike The Barclays or BMW Championship (next week's event), the Deutsche Bank is played at the same venue each year -- TPC Boston -- which means almost everybody is familiar with the course. If a player has planned his strategy well and is on his game... well, these guys are good.

But because we have a history at this course, we can also see how players have done in the past -- "horses for courses," as it were. And that's where I'm going with my picks.
  • Jason Day is certainly on a hot streak lately, winning three of his last four events. And he also has a good streak going at TPC Boston -- he's never won but he had a T2 in 2010, a T3 in 2011 and a T7 last year. You have to think he'll play well this year.
  • Rory McIlroy is a similar story. The winner in 2012, he also finished T5 last year. Having just regained his #1 rankings, I suspect he'll be ready to roll.
  • Henrik Stenson finally seems to have gotten over the effects of his illness back in April. The 2013 winner holds a piece of the tournament scoring records for both aggregate and relative-to-par. This has been something of a lost season for him due to that illness and I think he'll draw on 2013 this week to try and redeem it.
  • Louis Oosthuizen hasn't played here much, largely because of his streaky play over the last few years. However, he was runner-up to Rory in 2012, and the winning score that year was just two strokes off Stenson's record. He's been in good form this year and I expect that to continue.
  • And my flier pick for the week is Paul Casey. Casey is 21 in the FedExCup rankings and has done everything but win this year. How, you may ask, is a player so high in the Cup rankings a flier? Because he has NO history at TPC Boston, at least as far back as 2007, that's why! I like his chances this week to make some history.
And yes, I can hear the shocked gasps all the way here in North Carolina. I have NOT chosen Jordan Spieth as a favorite this week. In my opinion, he's running a bit low on energy and will likely contend but not get over the hump and post a win.

Of course we'll have to wait until Monday to find out who gets it done this week, and I have no doubt the winner will have his work cut out for him. Perhaps that's why they finish on Labor Day!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jason Day on Hitting the Ball Higher

Golf Digest did a short article on how Jason Day hits the ball so high on his approach shots to the green. On the outside chance you don't know, there are two main ways to get the ball to stop quicker when it hits the green:
  • Put a lot of backspin on the ball
  • Hit the ball on a higher trajectory
The second one is actually easier for most of us because we don't have to be as strong to get results -- plus, too much backspin can be even harder to control than too little. By hitting the ball higher, it drops down onto the green at a steeper angle, without as much forward momentum, so it doesn't roll forward nearly as much.

Jason at setup to hit it higher

Jason's article, Shoot for the Sky, gives you a few useful tips on different ways to get a higher trajectory. I'm just choosing to mention one that you don't hear very often.
Picture your hands above the ball's position, not pushed forward, at impact. It can help to set the clubshaft in a vertical position at address—straight up and down. Good players often lean the shaft toward the target to compress iron shots. They can still hit it high because they've got a lot of clubhead speed, but most amateurs need to hit with the shaft more neutral to achieve a higher trajectory.
The beauty of this tip is that it's often just a matter of ball position and a bit of practice. You move the ball slightly forward so you catch it at the bottom of your swing arc, and you practice catching the ball at the bottom and not on the way up, which would result in a thin or "topped" shot. Also, please note that you probably won't take much of a divot (if any) when you do this; you're "picking" the ball off the ground.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bobby Jones on "Playing by Feel"

Periodically I browse through some of my golf books, especially the stuff that was written a long time ago. I'm afraid we're falling into an obsession with mechanics and numbers that blinds us to the simpler aspects of the game, and I re-read these old books with the hope that I won't lose these little gems of knowledge.

One of my favorites is Bobby Jones because he played back in the days of hickory and, although he wasn't adverse to a modern approach (check out my post about his views on using video to improve your swing to see what I mean -- they did have slo-mo film back then, you know), he approaches the game with a less technical view.

With all the debate over players like Tiger and Yani Tseng "losing their swings" -- and just this past week, with Jordan Spieth suddenly losing his while Jason Day has "found something" and now can't seem to miss -- I thought a Jones article called Maintaining the "Feel" from his book Bobby Jones on Golf was appropriate.

Apparently Jones had been asked how great players could inexplicably lose their ability to play when they had been so good before. He was asked, "Is it because he [the player] can't play while he is thinking about his swing?" That's what we hear teachers and analysts on TV say all the time, isn't it? Here are a few of the things Bobby Jones had to say about the matter:
    It seems to me that this question implies that the better player, or expert, is able to play golf without thinking of anything at all except where he wants the ball to go. I know a good many fine young chaps engaged in big-time competition who would be highly pleased if this were so.
    Unquestionably, there are times when first-class players can play the game subconsciously. But the average player should remember that the most accomplished golfer can lose the touch as suddenly and for as little apparent reason as anyone else, and that, although at times he can immediately discover and correct his fault, there are also times when he is entirely at a loss for a remedy.
    This does not mean that the expert does not know how he should swing the club. But golf is a difficult game to play consistently well because the correct swing is not a thing the human body can accomplish entirely naturally. To hit the ball correctly the golfer has always to be under restraint. I have always, in my own mind, likened this restraint to that under which a trotting or a pacing horse must labor in a race when he must hold to an artificial gait although every urge must be for him to run like blazes.
    So any golfer may for a while have the feel so that he may think he can go on playing in that way easily and naturally; but the trouble is that the moment some mental implulse or physical necessity suggests to one of his muscles that it do something else at a particular time, it is likely to yield, because the thing it is doing is not the thing it can do most easily. (p10)
I think his explanation of why this is so is quite interesting. "The golfer has always to be under restraint." When I read that I think about teachers who say we should teach kids to swing as hard as possible and just straighten them out later. Somehow I don't think Jones would have agreed with that philosophy!

Anyway, he then phrases his answer to that original question this way:
    The answer to the question that started all this is, "Not because he can't play while he is thinking of the swing, but because he isn't sure what he ought to think about, and what he ought to try to do. (p10)
He muses that some people might have a great swing concept and still be incapable of performing it properly, but that such a situation doesn't alter the fact that
...the man who has the muscular control and sense of timing cannot play consistently well unless he knows what he is doing.
    But I think the nature of the problem is indicated when we realize that even the man with the control, the sense, and the knowledge finds intervals when his game is off and he can't find the reason. There are so many places to look and so many checks to make -- and sometimes the trouble is found in the simplest and least obvious locations. Golf is a game that must always be uncertain. (p10-11)
"Golf is a game that must always be uncertain." In an age of biomechanics and Trackman, this is a truth that rubs us the wrong way... but truth always has a way of doing that, doesn't it? On some days, some weeks, and even some months, our bodies simply won't repeat our golf swing no matter how hard we try -- and that's true even for the best golfers in the world.

I remember, back when Tiger first hooked up with Haney and he was recovering from knee surgery, he joined NBC's golf team in the booth and Dan Hicks asked him how he managed to get enough practice while his knee was recovering. Tiger's answer stuck with me; he said that the better he understood what he was trying to do, the less practice he seemed to need.

Maybe we've become too obsessed with our games. Maybe we've made the golf swing so complicated that we no longer understand what we're really trying to do. Maybe it's time we spent a little less time focusing on the science of the golf swing and spent more time just learning to have fun swinging the club and hitting the ball. And maybe we should realize that on some days our bodies simply aren't going to cooperate... and that those days are just part of the process.

Maybe we should just accept the fact that we're only human, get over it and try again tomorrow.

It's a thought, anyway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Yani Tseng Is Smiling Again

Nobody is saying she's back -- after all, she had another runner-up finish back in February at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open. But Yani's T2 in Alabama this past weekend seemed different.

She was smiling this time. All week.

Yani at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic

It made news on Thursday when playing partner and friend Stacy Lewis remarked to her that it was good to see the old Yani back. It wasn't just that Stacy said it, but that Yani was touched enough by it to comment on it in interviews.

And on Sunday afternoon, as she tried to run down eventual winner Kris Tamulis and saw the putt that could force a playoff lip out, she was still all smiles. "I feel like I'm finally getting very comfortable on the course and enjoying the golf again."

This is big news from a former World #1 whose fall from the top was a dramatic as Tiger's, although it wasn't publicized quite as much. Yani had reached five career majors faster than anyone in history, male or female  -- age 22 -- and had dominated the Rolex Rankings for 109 weeks. But she says she wasn't ready for the pressure of being #1 and she let it get to her. The game ceased to be fun... and soon the game simply vanished.

But then she started working with instructor Claude Harmon III and sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, and slowly things have started to change. There have been signs during the year -- like that runner-up in February -- but she's missed a lot of cuts too. It has to be frustrating for someone who once made golf look so easy.

On Sunday she was making it look pretty easy again. She blasted her driver around the course as if she didn't care where it went. She told GC that she wasn't afraid to hit her driver or hybrids or any club anymore, and that her short game and putting were still good. And despite coming up short, she was still smiling and talking about how good it felt to be in the mix again.

Yes, it looks like Yani Tseng has finally rediscovered how to have fun playing golf. And if past history is any indication, that could be very bad news for the players at the top of the Rolex Rankings. After all, Yani is still only 26 years old... and the PGA Tour has taught us exactly what 26-year-olds are capable of.

The photo came from an article about Yani's week at ESPN's ESPNW site.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 The Barclays

Winner: Jason Day

Around the wider world of golf: Jeff Maggert got his fourth win of the season at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open on the Champions Tour; Dicky Pride won the WinCo Foods Portland Open (and locked up his PGA Tour card for next year) on the Web.com Tour; Brad Clapp won the Great Waterway Classic on the MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR Canada; Kris Tamulis got her first-ever win at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic on the LPGA; and Bo-Mee Lee won the Nitori Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Jason Day with Barclays trophy

Friday afternoon everybody was wondering what happened to Jordan Spieth. Well, now we know...

He accidently left his game in Jason Day's golf bag, and we got to see what it looked like with Jason's muscles behind it.

The scoring at The Barclays surprised a few people but I doubt anybody expected the show Jason put on Sunday. His 8-under 62 was two shots better than anyone else on the course, and his -19 total was six shots better than his closest competition, Henrik Stenson. He tied the tournament record in the process.

But the numbers just get crazier. Earlier in the week I thought Jordan was more than 200 points ahead of Jason but apparently I read an older chart -- Jason now leads the FedExCup by 290 points over Jordan. And as if that wasn't enough, even though Rory will retake World #1 this week, Jason now has a chance to take that spot if he wins next week. Crazy!

And of course the debate about Player of the Year has already started, as both Jason and Jordan now have four wins. Jordan would likely win right now; he does have one more major and, according to ESPN, Jordan's stroke average is about a half stroke better than Jason's.

So far, that is. There are three tournaments left in the playoffs, after all, and Jason Day has won three of his last four events, the last two in record fashion. Perhaps I should write a few spare Limerick Summaries for Jason Day -- you know, just in case I need them in the next few weeks. It might save me some time...
A dry spell? Well, not anymore!
Since Jason’s gone three out of four
He’s first in the Cup
And his star’s rising up—
Could his Playoffs have more wins in store?
The photo came from this wrap-up at nationalpost.com.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jordan Spieth's Brain Games

Golf Digest has an interesting article about mirror neurons and how Jordan Spieth uses the science behind them to improve his game. It may not appeal to some of you but I'm guessing that a lot of you are just plain curious.

Everybody's brain has neurons, billions of them. At the risk of oversimplifying things, they're responsible for muscle memory. Mirror neurons are a subset of them -- roughly 20% or so -- that allow you to watch someone else do something and feel the action closely enough that you can copy it.

In other words, mirror neurons may help explain why we play better when we play with good players and worse when we play with players who aren't so good... at least, not on the day we play with them.

Yeah, that's dreadfully oversimplified... but it's good enough for our purposes.

Jordan's coach Cameron McCormick says that Jordan realized this relationship early on -- that is, he noticed that relationship between your play and that of the players you watch -- and talked to him about it. McCormick then says that "from then on [Jordan] made a concerted effort to pay keen attention to players who do things well, and to ignore those who didn't."

The article then covers some things you can do to use this information to help you play better. I won't list them here because it's not a long article and I don't want to just copy McCormick's work. But he has three examples of ways to use this info... and several funny ways to avoid watching bad players in your foursome, such as:
  • 2-Fairways-Over Slicer: Embark on an exhaustive search in your bag for that candy bar you ate already
Many of you have probably already figured this out, and you watch players you admire -- for example, you watch videos of Steve Stricker's swing and imagine what it must feel like -- while looking away when your partner starts jerking his putts ten feet off-line. But this article will give you the basic scientific reasons for it and maybe help you find some new ways to copy your golf heroes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Unfortunate But Not Tragic... for Some

Jordan Spieth has been making history all year, and Friday he added another bit to his resumé -- he became the first World #1 NOT to win in his first outing after achieving the feat. And as a result, Rory McIlroy will regain his #1 ranking next week without having to play at all.

It seems somewhat appropriate in a way, since Jordan made up the ground between him and Rory while Rory was out with that ankle injury.

Jordan Spieth

And, as Nick Faldo noted, Jordan will probably be the best #1 to lose it after only one week, having become the youngest two-time major winner on his way to the top.

I found it somewhat ironic that, even as Jordan was missing his first cut in three months or so, that a number of players on the Web.com Tour were also missing the cut with far more dire consequences.

Jordan may have gotten all the press but the real drama was happening in Portland. Unlike The Barclays, where the cut fell at +2, the cut at the Portland Open came at -2 and ended the dreams of several players. If you missed the cut at The Barclays, you've still got your Tour card for next year. That's not guaranteed for some of the players in Portland.

In case you don't know how it works, the Top75 on the Web.com Tour's season money list and numbers 126-200 on the FedExCup points list go to the four-event Web.com Playoffs. And THE 25 -- the Top25 players all season on the Web.com Tour -- will already have their PGA Tour cards for next season; they play in their playoffs largely to see if they can improve their position.

A new twist this year is that THE 25 get to keep their season money totals going into the playoffs, as a reward for their good play all year. (I agree with that choice. It bugged me that some players won a Tour card through a year of hard work but ended up ranked worse than players who played badly all year on both tours.)  Everybody else starts with $0, zilch, nada in the bank, and they're basically playing for the remaining 25 PGA Tour cards that are up for grabs.

Ron Oppenheimer missed the cut and is predicted to drop from 24 to 27. So not only did he miss out on the first 25 Tour cards but he now loses the $160,158 he accrued playing the Web.com Tour all year. He's in the same spot as #200 from the FedExCup money list. (Although at least Ron is guaranteed a full Web.com Tour card next season. That's something.) He's still got a shot at his PGA Tour card but now there are 124 other players from two tours with the same starting position after that same card.

For him, the dream just became a lot harder.

Other players didn't fare even that well. For example, Drew Scott also missed the cut. He was the bubble boy at 75, now he's projected at 79. That means no playoffs and not even a full Web.com Tour card next season. Scott Parel fared just as badly -- 74 before, projected 78 now. For these players, the season is over and the dream of a PGA Tour card is dead until next year.

So while you're feeling bad for Jordan missing the cut and losing his World #1 rank for perhaps only a week, but still teeing it up at Deutsche Bank next week with the #1 spot in the FedExCup rankings, spare a few moments to think about the guys still trying to secure playing privileges ANYWHERE next year.

After all, for every player who lives the dream there are at least a dozen who endure the nightmare.