Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Sakura Yokomine Swings

If you were watching the International Crown this past weekend and you had never seen Sakura Yokomine from Japan before, you may have done a doubletake when you saw her swing. Terry Gannon and Judy Rankin compared her super-long backswing to both John Daly and Jamie Sadlowski. Here's the clip from GC (the comparison to Daly and Sadlowski isn't included in this clip):

However, they only showed her swing from down-the-line once -- and that at regular speed. There's something very important that they don't get quite right but you can only see it from that angle. I found a Japanese video that shows her swing DTL in slo-mo, but embedding has been disabled so I've just included the link and captured this key position at the extreme of her backswing.

Sakura at end of backswing

See where her club shaft is pointing? Her shaft is pointed at the ball or even above it, not down at the ground as Terry and Judy implied. (I believe Terry said it almost disappears when it's parallel to her body. It does look that way from the front view but not from DTL.)

I think this is a critical reason why Sakura has been able to make this swing work despite being only 5'1" tall. (Sadlowski is 5'10" and Daly is 5'11".) Being so much shorter than the other two, her swing plane is much flatter. If she didn't keep the club on plane so well, she'd have to reroute the club quite a bit to hit the ball solidly.

As it is, she was reaching some of the par-5s in two, as she did on #12 in the GC video above.

If you're determined to get more distance by overswinging, make sure you keep your club on plane the way Sakura Yokomine does. I can't guarantee you'll be a great ballstriker if you copy her swing, but I'm pretty sure you'll struggle if you don't.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 RBC Canadian Open

Winner: Tim Clark

Around the wider world of golf: Team Spain won the inaugural International Crown on the LGPA (the Constructivist has blow-by-blow details and a summary); Bernhard Langer crushed the field by 13 strokes (13 STROKES, PEOPLE!) at the Senior Open Championship on the Champions Tour; Julie Greciet won the Sberbank Golf Masters on the LET; Sadena Parks got her first Symetra Tour win at the SEFCU Championship; David Horsey won the M2M Russian Open on the ET; Zach Sucher won the Midwest Classic on the Web.com Tour; and Bo-Mee Lee won the Century 21 Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details on this one, too).

Tim Clark with Canadian Open trophy

In many ways Jim Furyk and Tim Clark are opposites. For example, Jim is 6'2" tall while Tim is only 5'7". Both have slightly unusual swings -- Jim because of that unusual looping motion, Tim because of physical limitations in his forearms.

And yet both Jim Furyk and Tim Clark are very similar as well. Both have had rough patches over the last 3 or 4 years -- Jim with close calls and Tim with injuries. Both have played well (and won) in Canada in the past. And both are playing well now... but only one could win.

It was going to be tough either way, since both were likeable guys struggling to get their first win in a while.

The good news is that neither played badly, although Jim probably isn't happy with that 1-under round he shot. (He's pretty much locked up a Ryder Cup berth though, so he'll be happy about that.) But Tim somehow found a hot putter and rode it all the way to the winner's circle, shooting a 5-under round that centered around a 30 on his back 9.

That's some big shooting from a short knocker! (Tim only averages around 270 yards off the tee.) I guess length is a little overrated...

But what isn't overrated is the whole experience of winning. After all, if you don't win, how can you even hope to receive the coveted Limerick Summary?
In Quebec, the golf season’s too short.
And some say Tim’s too short. His retort
Is “I played the back nine
In just 30. This time
It’s MY trophy, I’m proud to report!”
The photo came from this page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

After the Shockwaves Subside

You could hear the surprise in the broadcast crew's voices. Japan was the top point winner in pool play! The top seeds coming in, the USA and the Republic of Korea, were going to the wildcard match! The #1 seed was out of the tournament!

Inbee Park

They sent Juli Inkster down to interview the US team after they failed to qualify for the final day. (Remember, Jules is the US captain at the next Ryder Cup. She was probably the only person with a mic they would have talked to.) Even before she got there, the camera and sound crew caught Cristie Kerr telling Lexi Thompson that the problem was their play on the first day. (Clearly Lexi felt she had lost it for the team when she didn't make a birdie on the first playoff hole.) And Cristie reiterated that to Juli during the interview -- which basically was just Juli and Cristie since the rest of the team seemed to be in shock.

I'll come back to that interview in a moment. First, here are the 10 singles matches for today's final round:

Match 1 | Day 4 | 11:30 a.m.
Match 2 | Day 4 | 11:40 a.m.
Match 3 | Day 4 | 11:50 a.m.
Match 4 | Day 4 | 12:00 p.m.
Match 5 | Day 4 | 12:10 p.m.
Match 6 | Day 4 | 12:20 p.m.
Match 7 | Day 4 | 12:30 p.m.
Match 8 | Day 4 | 12:40 p.m.
Match 9 | Day 4 | 12:50 p.m.
Match 10 | Day 4 | 1:00 p.m.

Cristie had some thoughts about the format that I found interesting and wanted to comment on.

She noted that the format of the first three days was extremely hard. I'm sure that came as a shock to most of the ladies. On the surface, pool play appears to be easier since the whole "one and done" aspect of match play is mitigated somewhat. Most players hate the idea of coming to the first day of a tournament and getting bounced the same day. (As do the TV networks.) With pool play -- especially team pool play -- I think most players believe that they can beat the odds and make things work.

Of course, no matter what the players believe, on Saturday night only 5 of the 8 teams survive. Three teams will be gone, regardless of how well they play; that's the rules. And with 4-player teams, you can't "hide" a player (or players) the way you can during a Solheim or Ryder Cup. In addition, the choice to use only 4-ball matches virtually guaranteed that scores would be low. (Remember the Korea-Sweden match on Friday where the losing team shot 62?)

I think that was a rude awakening for all of the teams, not just the USA. The format was designed for drama... and it delivered.

Cristie also mentioned that they might want to change the playoff format to a 3-hole aggregate. The GC crew noted afterward that daylight might become a problem if they did, but I think that was just Cristie's disappointment talking. Team USA didn't expect to be in a playoff in the first place, and players always believe that if they just had a little more opportunity...

Here are the big lessons from the first International Crown, folks: You can't expect to go scoreless in any round and still make the finals. There are 4 points available each day; if you only average 2 points a day, don't expect better than a chance in the wildcard playoff. Every single point counts. Eight teams walk in; only five walk out. Seeding means nothing.

To put it bluntly, YOU CAN'T HIDE IN THIS FORMAT.

I don't know how the final day matches will play out. I suspect the Japan-Korea rivalry will again be a driving force, even though only one match -- Yokomine VS Ryu -- is a direct confrontation. Still, I have no doubt that Japan's 2-point lead over Korea will be a big deal to both teams as they compete today. And that passion may make it tougher for the other three teams -- Thailand, Spain, and Sweden -- to make up enough ground to catch Japan. Until the final putt is sunk, I can't say how well this last round format works.

But overall, I think the first three rounds of the International Crown have proven to be everything the LPGA hoped. The World Cup format created one of the toughest competitions on any tour, male or female, and the "both balls count" playoff format kept the pressure on. This is a fun tournament for fans to watch.

And with a little luck, the rest of the tours -- and the Olympic committee -- are paying attention.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Putt Whisperer Paperback Is Finally Out!

Putt Whisperer coverYes, it seemingly took forever but I finally got The Putt Whisperer out in paperback. (For some unexplained reason I had problems getting the cover and interior files to upload properly to the printer. We finally worked out an alternative method but it took us nearly a week longer than expected.) At this point it's only at Amazon but it should get out to the other online bookstores in the next few weeks.

Here's the link to its page at Amazon. It retails for $8.99 but Amazon's discounting it to $8.54.

The Mystery of Payback

And I'm not just talking about the USA team's play on Friday.

The Jutanugarn sisters

Sometimes it's difficult to understand how things can change so quickly in match play. Although the USA got no points on Thursday, the team from Thailand didn't do much better, getting only one point. All that changed on Friday -- the can't-be-beat teams of Spain (3 points) and Chinese Taipei (4 points) found themselves shut out by the USA and Thailand. Pool 1 now looks entirely different after 2 rounds.

Perhaps the USA hadn't taken Yani and Friends seriously enough -- GC played an interview from Tuesday where Stacy Lewis had said the Friday matches against Spain were the most important. Perhaps it was Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps shaking hands with Creamer and Lewis at the 8th green -- they won 2 of the next 3 holes. It's hard to tell what might shift the momentum of matches.

In Pool 2, it seems that being underestimated is all the Japan team needs. After grabbing 3 points Thursday, they repeated the feat Friday to take the lead in their pool. And just to rub salt into the wound, Ai Miyazato and Sakura Yokomine came from 6 down to steal a point from Sweden. Even Ai seems shocked by their good play.

I think it's time we reevaluated who the powerhouse teams are. In Pool 2 Japan hasn't done anything spectacular -- one win and one tie each day -- but they're the only undefeated team. And in Pool 1 Thailand is next best with only one loss, although their play has been more erratic. While no one has locked a place in the finals yet, things are far more fragile than anyone expected as we enter the third round today.

First of all, here are the pairings from the LPGA.com pairings page:

Match 1 | Day 3
Match 2 | Day 3
Match 3 | Day 3
Match 4 | Day 3
Match 5 | Day 3
Match 6 | Day 3
Match 7 | Day 3

Match 8 | Day 3

Tom Abbott inaccurately said that the Sweden/Australia matches today would be for the wild card spot. No one seems to be taking the Japan/Korea rivalry seriously, although it's a longstanding one -- there will be some juice in those matches! Should Japan hold Korea scoreless today -- certainly within the realm of possibility -- and Sweden and Australia split their matches, Korea will be dead last in the pool without any hope of making the wild card match. And should Sweden or Australia sweep their matches and Korea win no more than 2 points, they still aren't guaranteed the wild card spot.

Pool 1 has so many possible outcomes that I can't even list them all here. Any team there can lock a spot with 2 wins today.

Every team playing today has a reason to want some payback, whether it's a lack of respect or just an embarrassing reversal of fortunes. I wouldn't count anybody out yet!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Smell of Goose Eggs in the Morning

It is the nature of match play that unexpected things happen. And when they do, it's the nature of the media to focus on the upsettEE as opposed to the upsettER.

Such is the case with the first round of the International Crown. While obviously I'm a fan of the American team, I can't help but be shocked that the Chinese Taipei team is getting so little attention after they kicked our asses all over the Caves Valley Golf Club course. We were the favorites; don't they get ANY credit for shutting us out?

Just look at Yani Tseng's face in the photo below. When was the last time you saw Yani look this involved with the game?

Yani Tseng

In a way I'm not surprised that the American team stumbled coming out of the gate. As the unqualified favorites, and coming off that embarrassing loss at the Solheim Cup last year, is it any surprise that 4 players normally labeled as "grinders" played as if they had the entire USA on their shoulders? And it's probably no surprise that they're the only team to change their pairings for today's round.

By comparison, Yani and Friends were the lowest-ranked team and, quite frankly, weren't given enough credit for having qualified for the event. Despite the supposed advantage that Solheim Cup experience gave the US and Euro teams, only 3 such teams qualified -- the US, Sweden, and Spain. And of those teams, only Spain really stepped up.

And they were the 5th ranked team. We may have our hands full today.

It certainly appears that the lack of experience was overrated. Japan came in 2nd with 3 points (I know the Constructivist was thrilled about that) and are in a great position to make the Sunday rounds. Remember, points from the first 3 days carry over to the final day so these upsets are a big deal!

You can read some of the after-round interviews on this page at LPGA.com. They talked to a large number of the players. In the meantime, here are the pairings for today's play from LPGA.com:

If for some reason they aren't showing up, you can see them on this page.

The USA is playing Spain today. Unless they can stop grinding and start having some fun, I'm afraid the USA is going to be on the outside looking in.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Now THIS Is the International Crown!

It's finally here! The first playing of the International Crown starts today! The main purpose of this post is to link you to the appropriate pages where you can keep up with everything.

First, here's the short version of how the format works: There are 2 pools with 4 teams in each pool. The pool play lasts 3 days, with each team playing all three other teams in their pool. Wins are worth 2 points, halves are worth 1. On Saturday afternoon the Top2 teams in each pool get to the final day, as well as the best team of the other 4. (If that means a playoff, so be it!) And on Sunday, those 5 teams will play singles matches. The team with the most points overall wins the International Crown trophy, which also includes 4 individual crowns. How cool is that?

Here's the main scoring page. I think this is one of the coolest leaderboards ever posted by any of the tours. Everything is easily readable -- each day's individual matches are posted in LARGE PRINT on the right side of the page, and the scores of the teams in each pool are posted on the left side. I know most bloggers won't make a big deal of this but, given how much graphic design my projects require, this scoreboard is an amazing accomplishment.

the Jutanagurns

This News Hub page provides a variety of links focused on each team. There are newspaper links, a link to a team video, and of course a stat page for each team.

The photo came from this page about Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, the sisters who will be playing together on Team Thailand. We haven't seen Ariya much on the LPGA because she's been recovering from a shoulder injury she got about a year ago at the LPGA Championship.

Of course, my fellow bloggers have been doing posts as well. Tony Jesselli posted an International Crown preview that also includes info on the Priority List shuffle that was done yesterday before the tournament. And the Constructivist has done two posts -- one on the Pool A competitors and one on the Pool B competitors. TC says Pool B is the "Pool of Death" but I don't know if that's because the teams are tough or just because the Japanese team is in it. (Ai Miyazato is one of his faves on tour.)

I should also add that LPGA.com has their own breakdown of the teams, including some interviews.

Finally, here's the TV schedule from LPGA.com. Of course, GC will be carrying all four days.

Thursday, July 24 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET (Live)
Friday, July 25 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET (Live)
Saturday, July 26 3-7 p.m. ET (Live)
Sunday, July 27 3-7 p.m. ET (Live)

Please note that all four days are LIVE coverage.

This should definitely be a great tournament. In many ways this will be a test run for the Olympic event, except that this is match play rather than stroke play, as well as for next year's revamped Match Play WGC on the PGA Tour. We've never seen a golf tournament run this way before -- I CAN'T WAIT!