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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can Stacy Get It Done This Time?

First, a quick note of congratulation to Omar Uresti for his win at the PGA Professional Championship. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Omar was a PGA Tour player for many years -- he made 351 starts, in fact -- but he never won. That doesn't mean he has never won a pro tournament; he has five other wins -- two on the then-Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour, one on the Sunshine Tour, one on the Canadian Tour, and most recently he won the 2015 Southern Texas PGA Championship as a teaching pro. But he was runner-up in this event a year ago, and now he's got the title. Way to go, Omar!

This week the LPGA tees it up in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, where Lydia Ko is the defending champion.. As usual, Tony Jesselli has a preview of the event, so you can get the necessary numbers and stats from him. I'll just point out the storylines I think are most interesting this week.

Ai Miyazato

First of all, Ai Miyazato fans will want to tune is, as this is Ai's first appearance since she announced her impending retirement. Ai's last LPGA win came at this event in 2012, so it's a place with good memories for her. I'll be interested to see how she does, as she seems to be at peace with her decision and that may free her up to play well here again.

The defending champ is looking for her first win this season. Many of Lydia's stats say she is playing better -- better even than last year, when she won five times around the world. But her best this year has been a T2 at the LOTTE, and that has allowed Ariya Jutanugarn to take over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings. With Ariya out of the picture this year (Tony says she is no longer scheduled to play), perhaps Lydia can finally make up some ground.

But the biggest question is whether Stacy Lewis can finally get back into the win column this week. Stacy went to school in Arkansas, as you all know, and this event has a strange distinction in her career. It was her first pro win -- she won the very first playing of this event back in 2007 as an amateur, but her win doesn't count as an official tournament because it was weather-shortened to 18 holes. And her last win also came at this event, in 2014.

For so many reasons, it would be appropriate if Stacy got her next win at this event, this week.

After a number of four-round tournaments, the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship is only a 54-hole event. The broadcasts start Friday on GC at 6:30pm ET. With so many potential storylines, even beyond the three I've mentioned, it should be a good show.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Raymond Floyd on Understanding Angles

I think that Ray Floyd is one of the most underestimated strategists to have played the game. Here's a short section from his book The Elements of Scoring, where he talks about the importance of understanding angles.
Scorers know the most efficient route to get around a golf course. The key to keeping the ball in play and leaving the easiest possible shot is in understanding angles.

Off the tee, take into account what your shot pattern is, and what side of the fairway it's best to be on. If the trouble is on the left, or you simply want to come into the green from the right, tee up on the left side of the tee. If the situation is the opposite, tee on the right.

Generally, faders and slicers should hit from the right side of the tee, while drawers and hookers should start on the left. The idea is to give your curve the widest sweep possible to get in the fairway.

On par 3s, give yourself the angle that gives you the most landing area on the green. If you're shooting at the pin, in general you should tee the ball up on the side opposite the area of the green where it's cut. The idea is to open up the green, expanding the size of the safe landing area on the putting surface.

Angles are increasingly important the shorter and lower you hit the ball. If you are this kind of player, you can't carry trouble as well and will have to make use of openings between bunkers and hazards to roll up onto the green. Also, because your approach doesn't land as softly and carry as much spin as a player who hits it higher and farther, you need more room to stop the ball. Play your tee shots to create the angle that will give you the most green to shoot to, and try to avoid approaches that force you to carry a bunker to a tightly cut pin. Whenever possible, know where on the green the pin is cut before hitting your tee shot.

The final angles are around the green. Unless you are particularly adept at the quick-stopping lob shot, make an effort to avoid missing the green on the side closest to the pin. This is called "getting shortsided." Favor the wide side, from which the recovery is easier because you have more green to play to. (p52-53)
As you can see, Raymond doesn't mince words; he just lays it out there clearly.

I recommend his book, simply because it's fairly compact and gets right to the point. The paperback is still in print so if you're interested in checking out, here's the link to Ray's book on Amazon. And no, I don't make any money if you order one. I just happen to think it's one of the better strategy books you can get.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Improve Your Chances of Getting Out of the Rough

It figures. Golf Digest did an article on getting out of the rough after the US Open. (I can think of some big names who could have used this earlier...) This article is pretty detailed so you'll want to read it all, but I'll give you the high points. (Rough, high points... get it?)

Phil making some rough calculations

First of all, ignore the yardage and take a club that will actually get the ball out of the rough. Obviously you don't want to hit the ball into a hazard because it didn't travel far enough, but neither do you want to leave it in the rough because it didn't travel at all!

Bill Schmedes III (the instructor featured in this article) also says you need to move the ball back in your stance at address. He specifically says "an inch and a half." It's nice when a teacher gives you a specific number. I suppose he means an inch and a half back of your normal ball position for the club you choose, not just an inch and a half back of center.

Coupled with the ball position change, he says to aim more to the right (for a rightie; more to the left for a leftie) because the rough will likely grab your club and cause a hook.

Finally he says to make sure you hit down on the ball. If you try to help it up, you'll come in too shallow and get too much grass between the ball and clubface. He has a short list of things that might help you do this more easily; you'll want to read the article and see which one will help you the most.

While few of us have to deal with fescue, thick rough is just a fact of life. This article should give you some tools -- and some hope -- for the next time you end up there.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Limerick Summary: 2017 US Open

Winner: Brooks Koepka

Around the wider world of golf: Brooke Henderson won the Meijer LPGA Classic on the LPGA; Aaron Wise won the Air Capital Classic on the Web.com Tour; Robby Shelton won the GolfBC Championship on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada; Jared Wolfe won the BMW Jamaica Classic on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Chorphaka Jaengkit won the Decatur-Forsyth Classic on the Symetra Tour; Nicholas Fung won the Queen’s Cup on the Asian Tour; and Teresa Lu won the Nichirei Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Brooks Koepka hoists US Open trophy

While the announcers kept talking about how Brooks had only one PGA Tour win, Brooks actually had a fairly large number of pro wins before Sunday. He had one on the ET, one on the Japan Tour, four on the Challenge Tour (the ET's version of the Web.com Tour) and, of course, one PGA Tour win. That's a total of SEVEN professional wins from all over the world, in all kinds of conditions.

Add in his 2016 Ryder Cup appearance, and it's pretty clear that Brooks Koepka was much more prepared to win a major than most folks believed.

It's that worldwide experience that gave him the tools he needed on Sunday. Everybody will focus on Brooks's prodigious length off the tee, but it might surprise you to learn that his length wasn't as important as most think. I pulled up the US Open stats for Brooks, runner-up Hideki Matsuyama and third-place finisher Brian Harman for comparison. (In case you don't know, weekly stats are available for all players in PGA Tour events by clicking their names on the leaderboard and choosing the "Full Scorecard" option.)

What I found is eye-opening. While the Driving Distance stat did show Brooks as the longest, it wasn't as great an advantage as you might think. For the week, Brooks averaged 322 yards, Hideki 308 and Brian 296. However, the telling stats are Driving Accuracy and GIR. For the week, it looked like this (the numbers in parentheses are their rankings in the field):
  • Harmon -- DA 80.36% (T22), GIR 77.78% (T7)
  • Hideki -- DA 76.79% (T37) , GIR 66.67% (T40)
  • Brooks -- DA 87.50% (T4), GIR 86.11% (1)
As you can see, it was Brooks's accuracy and not his length that gave him the advantage. And if you look at Sunday's stats in particular, it's easy to see why Brooks won. In GIR, Brooks hit 94.44% while Hideki could only manage 66.67% and Brian 77.78%. And Driving Accuracy was even worse, with Brooks averaging 85.71% while Hideki merely matched him and Brian hit only 57.14% of his fairways.

Brooks Koepka didn't bludgeon Erin Hills into submission as we expected the bombers to do. Rather, he picked and plotted his way around the course -- something the favorites who didn't make the cut failed to do. Such thoughtful execution of his plan deserves at least an equally thoughtful Limerick Summary.

Unfortunately, he'll have to make do with this one!
Wisconsin winds came up at last
And the battle to see who would last
Pushed the boys to extremes…
But then Brooks hit the greens
At a rate that could not be surpassed.
The photo came from the tournament page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the Midwest...

Let's take a break from the rumors of rain and the thunderclap of Justin Thomas's 3-wood to check out the LPGA event. The Meijer LPGA Classic is being held in Michigan -- just on the other side of Lake Michigan from Wisconsin -- and they DID get a lot of rain. The flooding was bad enough that the par-5 fifth had to be converted to a par-3 for the third round!

That didn't seem to dampen Lexi's spirits any. She has moved to the lead after her T2 (playoff loss) at the Manulife last week.

Lexi Thompson

There was a 2-hour delay during Saturday's round, and the soft conditions made the US Open scoring look like a traditional Open. Lexi shot one of the many 64s that were carded, getting her to a 54-hole score of -15. But the four players tied for second (one stroke back) made some noise of their own:
  • Lee-Anne Pace carded a 61
  • Sung Hyun Park carded a 62
  • Jenny Shin carded a 63
  • Brooke Henderson must have felt like a snail after carding only a 67 (she had the lead by two when the day began)
Hyo Joo Kim is alone in sixth at -12 after a 65. And among the players tied for seventh at -11, both Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko shot 64s.

Lydia's score in particular interests me, simply because when Ariya Jutanugarn took over the Rolex #1 spot last week, she only had a .44 lead -- less than half a point. Ariya is only two shots back but, because the leaderboard is so crowded, that puts her all the way back at T18. I don't know exactly how the points get doled out, but it seems to me that Lydia can narrow the gap a lot with a good finish today.

If you decide to catch up on the LPGA before you watch the PGA Tour, GC coverage will begin at 11am ET and run till 3pm ET. That means you'll still have plenty of time to watch the leaders tee off on FOX's US Open coverage, as Stephan Jaeger and Shane Lowry tee off at 11:08am ET... and they're both part of the group at T51.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

How Your Lead Shoulder Affects Your Chipping

I know that sounds like a strange title but bear with me. This post may help you dramatically improve your chipping!

In late May I did a post called Dealing with Conflicting Wedge Advice. Recently Dana left a comment on that post asking about an article he read on "side-saddle chipping" and how it compared to the pop stroke I described in Ruthless Putting. (For those of you who haven't read the book, I devoted a chapter to Bobby Jones's pop putting stroke and noted that Jones also used it for chipping.)

I found the article at golf.com. It's by Stacy Lewis's coach Joe Hallett and it's called The New Way to Chip, and Turn Bogeys into Pars and Birdies. To be honest, I wasn't particularly impressed by it because it just looks like chipping from an extremely open stance. (See the photo below.) I also told Dana I'd do a post this week about using your wrists when you chip.

Side-saddle chipping position

As I prepared to do that post, I realized I needed to talk some about how your lead shoulder works when you chip, and why your chipping problems can be caused by your shoulder. But as I started working on this post, I realized why Hallett's "side-saddle chipping" technique seemed so revolutionary to them. (I don't think they recognized it, because they never mention it in the article, and because some of the advice they gave makes no sense if they did. I'll come back to that later.) So here's what Hallett & Company didn't tell you.

I'll make this anatomy lesson as brief and painless as possible.

The drawing below shows the bone structure of one shoulder. (This is a right shoulder -- a leftie's lead shoulder -- but it works the same way for the left shoulder of a rightie.) Your humerus -- that is, the bone in your upper arm -- is actually a bit L-shaped, with the ball joint extending out past the main bone. In the drawing, I've put a huge black dot over the ball joint and an upside-down L for the upper arm.

When you address the ball for a putt or a chip or even a full swing, your shoulder line extends from the angle in the L of one shoulder, through the ball joint, along the black line to the other shoulder's ball joint and out to the angle of the other shoulder. You can see the lines for the lead shoulder in the small line drawing labeled "At Address" below the drawing. (Yes, that thick black line at the end of the "arm" represents a hand, which is presumably holding a wedge. Stop snickering!)

Shoulder design and movement during chip

But when our intrepid golfer swings the club back to chip the ball, and he reaches the change of direction (in the second drawing), notice what happens at the ball joint. For your arm to cross your chest, the entire L shape of the upper arm rotates outward, so that the small part of the L is no longer in line with the rest of your shoulder girdle. This changes how the club is going to contact the ball when you actually chip the ball, unless you return the shoulder to the original address position.

In fact, this is one reason why some of you have a "chicken wing" finish in your full swing. Your elbow can only move up and down, in line with the bone in your upper arm. When your shoulder rotates to the position shown in the "Change of Direction" diagram, your elbow now points toward the target, not behind you as it did at address. And if you don't take measures to get your shoulder back in line, your elbow will STILL point at the target when you hit the ball. Do you follow me so far?

Although they may not realize it, that's the reason teachers want you to "cover the ball" and "keep your hands/the club in front of you" and all those other phrases they use to describe keeping your elbows closer to your side throughout your swing. In fact, that's the purpose of Ben Hogan's legendary elbow drill, as shown below. Keeping your elbows as close to your side as possible during the lower half of your swing forces your shoulders to rotate back into their original address position at impact. That improves your contact and accuracy.



Which brings me back to the Hallett article. Why does "side-saddle chipping" seem to improve a player's chipping results? Because it changes the lead shoulder's address position to match its "change of direction" position, and keeps it in that same position throughout the entire chip! Once you eliminate the extra movement, you basically lock the lead shoulder into the most extreme position of the chipping motion. Ta-daaa! Fewer compensations in your chipping motion, more consistent ball contact.

Do Hallett and his people understand this? I doubt it, because the article advises:
When you’d like to chip the ball longer distances or even pitch it, adopt a more traditional setup.
The more traditional setup won't lock the lead shoulder in place, and he doesn't tell you that you need to lock it in place. That's because he doesn't realize that's the strength of his side-saddle method.

Rather than using two different methods to chip, I'd rather see you chip using Hogan's drill. You can chip, pitch, even hit knockdown shots using his drill -- a single technique that will benefit you all the way through your game. And you'll automatically use your wrists more effectively because the Hogan drill teaches proper wrist action as well. (Why? Because with your elbows close to your side, your wrists are automatically forced to bend and unbend at the proper time.)

So if you're having trouble with your chipping, you might want to try using Hogan's drill -- now that you know what it's supposed to teach you -- and see if that doesn't improve your chipping.

And Dana, I hope that answers your questions. Just let me know if you run into problems or have more questions.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Some Observations on Erin Hills

No one knew what to expect when the US Open actually got started at Erin Hills. After all, it looked like a bomber's paradise.

Rickie Fowler on the tee at Erin Hills

What we learned in short order is that Mike Davis is as devious as Pete Dye. Erin Hills is a wolfish US Open layout in sheep's clothing. Those wide open fairways aren't as wide as they appear. How can that be? Isn't a 60-foot wide fairway plenty wide for all but the worst hack? Aren't the knee-deep fields of fescue too far off the centerline to cause trouble for the best in the world?

Much has been made of the lay of the land, shaped by receding glaciers 10,000 years ago and barely altered by the architects. But those severe mounds and valleys, coupled with tilted fairways that resemble waves on a stormy green sea, mean that golf balls don't necessarily bounce in predictable ways.

And apparently -- this is why I liken Davis to Dye -- apparently the length of the course and the rolling fairways create an illusion of narrowness, and Davis recognized this when he walked the original routing, even before the course was built. Even the best golfers, all of whom are familiar with the optical illusions Dye creates in his designs, simply can't convince themselves that they have enough room to just "let 'er fly." Instead, they tend to overshape their shots, actually flying the ball deep into the fescue.

With rare exceptions, it was the shorter hitters who posted the best scores on Thursday. Of the Tour's 26 hitters who average over 300 yards, only Brooks Koepka (#5 in the list) and Xander Schauffele (#22) made it into the Top10 on the leaderboard. Kevin Na's tweet that short hitters had a chance because accuracy would be more important than length this week -- and that short hitters are naturally more accurate -- seems to have been prophetic.

Then again, perhaps the shorter hitters just can't reach the fescue. That might have something to do with it as well.

As for the scores, Rickie Fowler's -7 tied the record for lowest opening round score in relation to par. The other holders of the record? Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskop, who both shot -7 (aggregate score: 63) at Baltusrol in 1980. It's worth noting that Jack won the tournament with -8.

Rickie's total on Thursday tells us nothing about what might win this week, but I won't be surprised if we see something similar -- either because the USGA toughens up the course (they probably feel safe doing so now) or because bad weather comes in.

There were also a record number of players under par -- a total of 44. However, only ten scored -4 or better, and another seven posted -3. So while there may have been more scores under par, most of them weren't unrealistically low. I don't think it will mean much for the final result.

Ultimately, I think this US Open will play out much as the others have. The USGA will toughen up the course, and the weather will complicate things (either with dry conditions and wind, or wet conditions and wind). It's possible that we could see a record low score, of course. But except for Tiger's win in 2000 (-12) and Rory's in 2011 (-16) -- both of which were weather-related -- no one has EVER needed a final score of more than -9 to take the title. I don't expect this championship to be any different.

Oh, and one more thing: Yesterday I said I suspected the 6-9pm ET broadcast on Fox would be a recap. I was wrong. I didn't take the time zone into account. The late broadcast on Fox is showing the late groupings, so you'll want to check it out if your favorite player has a late tee time today.