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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Kristin Sunderhaft on Ball Position (Video)

Kristin Sunderhaft, an LPGA teaching pro in Las Vegas, did this video some time back on ball position. It's helpful because you can actually see how she's positioning the ball, so have a look:

Kristin teaches three ball positions for your full swing, depending on what club you're using. That may sound different from what I teach -- I position the ball under my hands -- but bear in mind that, as the clubs get longer, my arms have to reach out a bit and that straightens my trailing elbow. And as that happens, my hands move a bit more toward the target as the clubs get longer.

So Kristen's method isn't really that much different from mine, but many of you may find it easier to understand what's happening when you see her in the video. So here are the three ball positions:
  • Wedges: Ball in the center of your stance.
  • Driver: Ball just off your lead heel or lead instep.
  • All other clubs: Ball is slightly left of the center position.
And she shows these positions using a couple of golf clubs to mark your aimline and your ball position. This is a good tactic to use during your own practice, to help you visualize how the actual ball position looks when you're standing over it and not looking at it from the front, as you are when you watch this video.

One last thought: You may think this setup with the two clubs is a reasonably recent invention, perhaps since Hogan really started focusing on mechanics. But here's a photo I posted in a past post about Harry Vardon's method for playing a draw. See anything familiar?

Vardon's setup for a draw

That line drawing in the upper right-hand corner -- and the chalk lines drawn on the ground -- are doing the exact same thing as Kristin's clubs. This is a time-honored method of visualizing ball position, and you should make use of it too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My "5 to Watch" at the Senior PGA

The Champions Tour is playing two majors in a row, so this week they tee it up at the KitchenAid Senior PGA. And the picks aren't as simple as they may first appear.


One reason is that the defending champion, Bernhard Langer, isn't teeing it up this week. Another reason is the strange rotation pattern of the courses -- this week's course, the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Michigan, has been the track for the last four events in even years (2012, 2014, 2016 and this year) while last year the event was in Virginia, Indiana in 2015 and Missouri in 2013.

What we can learn from this is that Harbor Shores seems to favor low scores -- 13-under in 2012 and 2014, 10-under in 2016. I guess you'd call Rocco Mediate the defending champ at this course, with Colin Montgomerie having won the time before. But after so much time, does that really help us?

Weather could have an noticeable effect on this week's play, as it's expected to change dramatically. It's in the high 50s today, going up about 10 degrees each day to the low 80s Friday and Saturday, then starting to drop again. Who will adapt best?

About all I can do is look at recent form and compare it to past performance at this course. So here's my best guess at who might contend. (At least I've done pretty good picking contenders lately. Just no winners!)
  • Having won last week, Miguel Angel Jimenez has to be considered a favorite. With no break between events, he should carry last week's form over to this week. Assuming the weather change from Alabama doesn't throw him off too much, that is.
  • Although Stricker isn't there this week, his buddy Jerry Kelly is. And Kelly's dedication to the Champions Tour has paid off, as he picked up a win earlier this year and is in contention almost every week. Last week he finished T8... and for a Wisconsin boy, this event is almost like playing at home.
  • Joe Durant has been playing well all year, posting lots of Top10s, including a T2 at last week's major. Again, current form counts for a lot in my rankings this week, and Durant is knocking at the door.
  • Scott McCarron won four times last season but has yet to enter the winner's circle this year. His scoring has been erratic but he's had three Top10s in his last six events, with a T5 at the Tradition last week. Maybe the majors have his attention now.
  • And my flier is... Jeff Maggert. He isn't someone who immediately comes to mind but he's been playing much better as of late, posting T10, T2 and T5 (last week) in his last three starts. Maggert hasn't won since 2015, but this could be his week.
So my choice this week is Jerry Kelly. To be honest, I'm picking him because he's in decent form and this is almost a home game for him. He nearly got it done last week; perhaps this will be the week he gets his first major.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Limerick Summary: 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson

Winner: Aaron Wise

Around the wider world of golf: Ariya Jutanugarn won the Kingsmill Championship on the LPGA; Jenny Haglund won the Symetra Classic on the Symetra Tour; Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Regions Tradition on the Champions Tour; Michael Arnaud won the BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Tour; Andrés Gallegos won the Puerto Plata DR Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Adrian Otaegui won the inaugural Belgian Knockout on the ET; Ryuko Tokimatsu won the Kansai Open Golf Championship on the Japan Golf Tour; John Catlin won the Asia-Pacific Classic on the Asian Tour; and Hee-kyung Bae won the Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open on the Japan LPGA Tour.

Aaron Wise with AT&T Byron Nelson trophy

It was way past dark at my house before the PGA Tour closed shop for the night. Fortunately for the guys playing in the AT&T Byron Nelson, they had almost one more hour of daylight in Texas than we did here in North Carolina.

Almost. It looked pretty dark to me, even with the TV cameras' added light. But it wasn't like Aaron Wise needed any more light. After he striped his final drive and hit the green with a three-shot lead, nobody had much of a chance to catch him anyway.

Much has been made of how good Wise is and how much he learned at Quail Hollow just a couple of weeks back, when he posted a T2 finish. But that was just talk.

What Wise did on Sunday proved that we may have underestimated his potential. He never seemed to lose focus on what he was doing -- striding calmly around the course, making good strategic choices that put him 5-under on the front nine while giving him mostly easy pars on the back nine as he cruised to his first PGA Tour win. And those shots were made with confidence -- there was no sign that he felt any pressure until cameras caught him taking a deep breath before that striped drive on 18.

If his performance Sunday was any indication of what's coming, I'd better start looking for more words that rhyme with Wise. I'll be needing them for all the Limerick Summaries he's going to claim!
Though thunderclouds darkened the skies,
Young Aaron did not take his eyes
Off his goal. From the start
His mind and his heart
Were proved, by his play, truly Wise.
The photo came from this page at the Republican American site.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Kathy Hart Wood on Chipping with a Hybrid (Video)

This video from LPGA teaching pro Kathy Hart Wood focuses on chipping with a hybrid but -- at least to me -- this video seems to take a different tack than others on the topic. Here, take a look:

There are two important things for you to note here.
  • First, playing a hybrid well is mostly a matter of setup. She devotes most of this video to proper setup, so you want to pay attention to that.
  • Second -- and I want to stress this, since this stood out to me in her presentation -- this is NOT a shot that you want to use out of the rough. Many times "hybrid chipping" is offered as a generic alternative for dealing with chipping problems, but it's not. Kathy stresses using this method from the short grass and, as you can see, she can use it from quite a distance from the hole!
The setup is basically the same as some of the chipping techniques with an iron, where you stand the iron up on its toe so the shaft is straight with your forearms. Your putter shaft should be in line with your forearms as well, if you want to get consistency in your stroke.

You stand closer to the ball as a result, so you might have to bend your elbows outward a bit, and you want the ball just ahead of the center of your stance. She says your eyes will be over the ball; that means your weight is slightly on your lead foot. Nothing complicated here, just standard short game technique but using your putting stroke.

As for chipping from the fairway with your hybrid -- and again, note that she is using a 4- or 5-hybrid -- this is a strategy play, something you use as a conscious decision and not just because "I always chip with my hybrid." She is using this technique when she's got some ground to cover with the chip.

Very basic info here but, as we have seen with Jordan Spieth's putting struggles lately, basic stuff is usually what goes wrong when our games get out of whack. You won't find a much simpler explanation of hybrid chipping than in this Wood video.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Long Irons VS Hybrids VS Driving Irons (Video)

Well, the video covers part of today's post. The video is a GOLFTEC lesson from GC that explains the difference between long irons and hybrids, as well as why you might want to sub one for the other. The stats about pros in the video are fascinating.

Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this video is that, even though they have the swing speed to get away with it, a large number of pros carry nothing longer than a 4-iron and that many -- perhaps most -- amateurs are better off with nothing longer than a 5-iron.

And how do you know if you're carrying a long iron that's "too long" for you? Just check the gaps between your clubs. When the gaps become too small, that's where you should probably consider replacing long irons with hybrids.

But this video doesn't address driving irons, which are getting a lot of attention during TV broadcasts lately. For that I went to this post at the GOLFTEC site. It's an older post but it gives us the basics.

Driving irons fit between long irons and hybrids -- more forgiving than the former but not as much as the latter. The driving iron creates a lower trajectory than a hybrid for shots in the wind -- or, as many of the pros are using them for, hitting stinger shots when they can't control their drivers -- while still being easier to hit than those pesky long irons.

Unless you have a high clubhead speed, your best bet for low shots into the wind or for stinger shots is to take a longer, higher-lofted club -- a hybrid or a fairway wood -- and use a three-quarter swing. This will give you the best combination of distance and forgiveness.

Of course, if you have a 120mph swing, you can hit any kind of club you want. But unless you do, hybrids are probably the way to go.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Couple More Putting Thoughts from Harry Vardon

Yesterday I posted a long quote from Harry Vardon about putting and, while I intend to explore some of the other things he wrote about putting soon, there are a couple of other things in that long quote that are worth looking at as well. I didn't cover them yesterday because the quote was so long!

Harry VardonOne of those things has to do with practice, and this might surprise you. You see, Vardon wasn't a big fan of putting practice:
While I am not prepared to endorse the opinion that is commonly expressed, that a golfer is born and not made, I am convinced that no amount of teaching will make a golfer hole out long putts with any frequency, nor will it even make him at all certain of getting the short ones down. But it will certainly put him in the right way of hitting the ball, which after all will be a considerable gain.
"I am convinced that NO AMOUNT of teaching will make a golfer hole out long putts with any frequency, nor will it even make him at all certain of getting the short ones down." Vardon does write about the things he believes WILL help you putt better at a later point in the chapter this quote came from, and we'll get to that in another post.

But Vardon does seem to contradict himself, doesn't he? He starts by expressing his disbelief in that old "golfers are born, not made" saying, yet he doesn't believe a lot of practice will help you get better either -- although he says learning proper technique won't hurt.

As you'll see -- in that future post that won't be long in coming -- Vardon is a big believer that every player putts best when they putt in their own way, the way that feels most natural to them. Putting is different from the other strokes in golf, where certain techniques are necessary in order to get the ball to fly a specified distance or bounce in a specified way. If you're putting properly, the ball isn't going to fly or bounce! It takes no special skill to simply hit the ball so it rolls on the ground, and that's all a putt should do.

So I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how simple Vardon's putting advice is when I post it. It's more about how to fix problems that prevent you from hitting the ball smoothly rather than learning techniques about how to hit the ball.

The other thing I want to point out from yesterday's quote concerns experience. Bear in mind that when Vardon wrote the book this quote came from, he had already won five majors:
Experience counts for very much, and it will convert a man who was originally a bad putter into one who will generally hold his own on the greens, or even be superior to the majority of his fellows. Even experience, however, counts for less in putting than in any other department of the game, and there are many days in every player's life when he realises only too sadly that it seems to count for nothing at all.
Again, we're looking at some apparent doubletalk. Experience can make you a better putter... but it won't help as much as you might hope. It's right after this part of the quote that he starts talking about new players who run putts in from everywhere while you, the experienced player, can't seem to find the hole at all. He also says that fear -- which I focused on in yesterday's post -- is a major reason that experience doesn't always help.

Why doesn't experience help us all the time when we putt?

The simple fact is that we don't control as much when we putt as we would like to believe. Blades of grass are as individual as fingerprints. Here, take a look at a single grass plant in this diagram from the Lawn Institute:

Basic illustration of a grass plant

That's a pretty complex organism you're looking at there! Add the variables of grass type, moisture, length, growth direction (they grow toward the sun, you know -- that's called grain), the fact that no piece of ground is perfectly smooth, etc., and you'll soon realize that you can't predict the exact path of the ball with any certainty. All the experience in the world won't make you able to predict the path with the accuracy you'd like to expect.

Now perhaps you can understand why Vardon says that fear is a bigger problem than technique. A confident stroke is more likely to track along the path you choose than a hesitant stroke, as grain has the most effect on your ball as it loses speed. And the inexperienced player, who doesn't realize how many variables can affect his putt, simply steps up and hits the ball firmly -- often too firmly -- and as a result the ball tracks along much better and gives him a better chance that the ball will drop.

Assuming the new player made a decent stroke on a reasonable line, that is. As Vardon says, nothing is certain in putting.

So hopefully the extended quote from Vardon in yesterday's post makes a bit more sense now. And when I put up the next post containing his advice -- probably early next week -- this may help you get the most good from it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Harry Vardon on the Simple Putt... and Why It's Not So Simple

Harry Vardon's first golf book, The Complete Golfer, was published in 1905 and is in the public domain here in the US. It's a mixture of instruction, memoir and opinion that takes some time to work through. But Vardon set records that still stand today and, in his time, was known as the Greyhound because once he got in the lead he was rarely caught.

This somewhat long quote is from Chapter XIII, Simple Putting, and I haven't even quoted the entire paragraph! But Vardon makes a point here that few players ever seem to realize, and I think it's worth pointing it out.
Putting in golf is a game within another game. While I am not prepared to endorse the opinion that is commonly expressed, that a golfer is born and not made, I am convinced that no amount of teaching will make a golfer hole out long putts with any frequency, nor will it even make him at all certain of getting the short ones down. But it will certainly put him in the right way of hitting the ball, which after all will be a considerable gain. Experience counts for very much, and it will convert a man who was originally a bad putter into one who will generally hold his own on the greens, or even be superior to the majority of his fellows. Even experience, however, counts for less in putting than in any other department of the game, and there are many days in every player's life when he realises only too sadly that it seems to count for nothing at all. Do we not from time to time see beginners who have been on the links but a single month, or even less than that, laying their long putts as dead as anybody could wish almost every time, and getting an amazing percentage of them into the tin itself? Often enough they seem to do these things simply because, as we should say, they know nothing at all about putting, which is perhaps another way of saying that their minds are never embarrassed by an oppressive knowledge of all the difficulties which the ball will meet with in its passage from the club to the hole, and of the necessity of taking steps to counteract them all. They are not afraid of the hole. The fact is that putting is to a far greater extent than most of us suspect purely a matter of confidence. When a man feels that he can putt he putts, and when he has a doubt about it he almost invariably makes a poor show upon the greens. Do I not know to my cost what it is to feel that I cannot putt, and on those occasions to miss the most absurdly little ones that ever wait to be popped into the hole without a moment's thought or hesitation? It is surely the strangest of the many strange things in golf, that the old player, hero of many senior medal days, victor in matches over a hundred links, will at times, when the fortunes of an important game depend upon his action, miss a little putt that his ten-year-old daughter would get down nine times out of ten. She, dear little thing, does not yet know the terrors of the short putt. Sometimes it is the most nerve-breaking thing to be found on the hundred acres of a golf course. The heart that does not quail when a yawning bunker lies far ahead of the tee just at the distance of a good drive, beats in trouble when there are but thirty inches of smooth even turf to be run over before the play of the hole is ended.
Let me call your attention to a couple of sentences in the middle of this quote, where Vardon mentions inexperienced players who make putts that the "more expert" among us don't. Of those inexperienced players he simply says:
They are not afraid of the hole. The fact is that putting is to a far greater extent than most of us suspect purely a matter of confidence.
They are not afraid of the hole. As much as we hate to admit it, this is the simple truth. The shorter the putt, the more afraid we become.

We are expected to make the short putts, but we know that they won't all go in... and we're afraid that this putt is one of them. We may be afraid that we won't score as we expect, or that we won't score as others expect, or that some other unnamed expectation won't be met, but it all comes down to FEAR.

If we want to become better putters, a major stumbling block is overcoming this fear. But how do you do that?

Vardon has some interesting ideas on how one becomes a better putter later in that chapter, and I'll post some of them soon. But for now I will just mention that your PERSPECTIVE on the game is a major weapon in this battle.

To put it simply, if you are "afraid of the hole," something about the game means too much to you -- that is, you don't see it as a game but as a part of your self-worth. If you want to putt better, THAT HAS TO CHANGE. You have to find a way to put golf back in its place; you have to draw your self-image from something more dependable than golf.

It's as simple -- and as difficult -- as that. But what did you expect? It's golf, after all!