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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rocco Mediate and Jim Ferree on Swinging Lower (Video)

I know this clip from Champions Tour Learning Center is funny, but I'm posting it here because the drill is so simple and yet so helpful. Take a look:



When Rocco says that you need to swing lower if you're topping the ball, he's talking about a whole lot of things -- footwork, weight shift, balance and so on. Most players think they're lifting their heads and don't realize that you can only lift your head if you straighten your legs too early! And so Rocco and former player/teacher Jim Ferree recommend this simple drill.

Start with a chipping motion. Just hit short chip shots, then gradually lengthen the chip shots until they are full swings. If you do this, you'll learn to hold your posture, your spine angle and your knee flex throughout your swing. Your lead knee should remain slightly flexed until you hit the ball. Your lead knee straightens at that point because body rotation forces it to. Just let it happen!

As Rocco says, this game is a lot simpler than we make it. This drill can help you clear your mind of the over-complications and learn to swing more naturally.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Leaning the Shaft for Different Lies

Shaft lean from the fairwayThere's a short slide show over at Golf Digest called Basics: Get a Handle on Your Short Game that shows how to position your grip (club handle) for four different short game shots. Essentially, it's a photo guide to leaning the club shaft. I'll summarize them here, but seeing the photos will really help you lock them in your memory.

The photo at the side here shows the standard position for a short game shot from the fairway. The shaft is vertical. You want to use the bounce here.

With buried lies -- either in rough or sand -- the shaft leans forward. You want to use the leading edge to get down in there and dig that baby out! The deeper the ball is buried, the more you want to lean the shaft.

And with a fluffy lie -- where the ball is sitting up on top of the grass -- the shaft leans backward. The ball is teed up, if you will, so you want to hit up on it. Otherwise you'll just slide completely under the ball.

Simple guidance that's easy to remember. Just take a look at the pictures and read the captions; it'll really help you remember how to address the ball in each case.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Here's How Lexi Accidently Mismarked Her Ball (Video & Pics)

After listening to Lexi's presser Wednesday -- and recreating the mismarking incident myself -- I think I can finally explain how Lexi could mismark her ball so badly by accident. And since Lexi seemed genuinely confused by the event when asked at the presser, perhaps it will help her as well.

First, here's the now-notorious video of the event, currently posted on this page at the Golf Channel website. (In the photos below, please forgive the ever-present "arrow" -- it appeared every time I paused the video for a screen capture.) The footage I'm using is in the first 32 seconds of the video:



There are actually two things you need to know in order to understand this video, and Lexi told us both of them at her presser. You can find the quotes I'm using in this Golfweek post.

The first is her mental focus at the time. She had just missed a short putt on the last hole and, as she walked up to tap this putt in, she said she could hear her dad's voice telling her to slow down:
Thompson began by explaining how upset she was about her birdie effort from 20 feet in the third round. Terrible stroke, she said.
She initially thought about tapping it in, but because her father, Scott, has fussed about the number of short putts she has missed over the years by moving too hastily – “I’ve stubbed a few” – Thompson decided to mark the ball.
She walked along the line of the original putt to tap in the putt, then decided at the last second to mark it. You can see the momentary indecision in the video. That indecision is why she marked it from the side.

The second is how she marks her ball:
“The way I mark my ball, I mark my ball with a dot, and that’s where I focus my eyes on where I want to make contact,” she said. “So when I went to mark it, I just rotated my ball to line up my dot to where my putter would make contact.”
She uses a dot on the back of the ball, not a line on top, so she's looking at a tiny dot when she marks.

Now we're ready to go through the incident as it happened in the video.

Lexi has just made that "terrible stroke" and walks toward the ball, intending to just tap it in. But she thinks better of it -- her father's voice, if you will -- and decides instead to mark it. Perhaps because she's still frustrated by the miss on the previous hole and the bad stroke she just made, perhaps because she just didn't think things through because it's a spur-of-the-moment decision, perhaps because it's such a short putt, she doesn't walk around and mark the ball as she might for a longer putt. Instead, she marks it from the side. This is the mistake that sets the whole debacle in motion.

You see, Lexi may have thought about her dad's words, but she's still "moving too hastily." Her mindset hasn't changed from "this is just a tap-in." She's more concerned about the dot than the putt.

As we all know, it's very easy to miss the obvious when your mind is on something else. (How often have we heard an announcer say, "He fell in love with the line and forgot to hit the ball?" Same thing.) But because we don't want to be disturbed when we're trying to putt, we're advised to choose a very small target -- like a single dimple on the ball, or a dot -- and focus on that. Lexi's focusing pretty hard on that dot at this point, and not much else.

My first thought was that perhaps when Lexi tried to line up that dot, she tilted her head somehow and changed the way she saw the line. But as you can see from this comparison showing just after she put the coin down to reach for the ball and then just after she set the ball down to reach for the coin, her head is in the same position:

Comparison of Lexi before and after moving her ball

At this point I realized that I needed to try and recreate what she did. Often we watch things over and over without really seeing what's there, and we don't really "see" until we try it ourselves. And that's what happened to me.

Because when I tried to mark the ball just like Lexi did, I suddenly discovered that I COULDN'T SEE THE BALL MARKER AT ALL AFTER I PUT IT DOWN. MY PALM WAS IN THE WAY.

Look, here are four stills from the close-up in the video. I've added a small yellow dot just below the position of the marker. The stills show:
  1. Lexi just after placing the marker
  2. Lexi rotating the ball
  3. Lexi placing the ball
  4. Lexi reaching to pick up the marker
The ball marker is under her palm -- hidden from view -- in all four stills. In fact, I found that rotating the ball as Lexi did actually made the marker even harder to see -- my fingers got in the way.

Sequence of Lexi marking her ball

Why didn't Lexi notice this? Because her attention was on the small dot she was trying to line up with the hole. And from her point of view, her hand never moved from its original position, so no alarms went off in her head.

Go back and watch the incident again at full speed. It's obvious, once you know what to look for.

Look, this doesn't mean that Lexi didn't break a rule, not even when you take the new "naked-eye" and "reasonable judgment" standards into account. The movement is clearly visible when viewed at full speed from the original broadcast footage. But this should put to rest any rumors that Lexi did it on purpose.

However, we should note the cause of this whole sad sequence of events. Once Lexi decided to mark the ball, if she had been thinking about making a normal putt instead of a tap-in, and had lined up the ball as if it were a longer putt, her hand would have been to the side of the marker, not covering it while she marked the ball. She would have had a clearer view and would likely have noticed if she positioned the ball incorrectly.

As much as I hate to say this -- given the current fuss about slow play -- Lexi simply didn't take enough time to gather herself. She probably should have put down her coin, picked up her ball and walked away. She should have taken a few deep breaths, a few practice strokes, and taken time to clear her mind of the bad putt she had just hit. And then she should have taken the time to line up her putt like normal.

In short, Lexi didn't treat this like an important putt. But it was.

There's no such thing as a tap-in at a major. I.K. Kim can tell you that. And now, so can Lexi. Hopefully she'll move past this sooner rather than later.

Of course, we'll get to watch her first tournament back starting today at noon ET when GC broadcasts the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. You can get a quick overview of the event over at Tony Jesselli's blog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Introducing... the Nordqvist Rule!

Yes, everybody was expecting a Lexi Rule. But what we got wasn't bad at all, in my opinion.

Lexi at the ANA

Decision 34-3/10 institutes two new criteria for judging rule breaches. They are the "naked eye" standard and the "reasonable judgment" standard.

In addition, a new "working group" has been created to examine the best way to deal with video and viewer-submitted evidence when enforcing the rules. That working group includes folks from the USGA, R&A and the major tours.

Personally, I was thrilled to see the "naked eye" test included. If you follow my blog, you know I've been arguing this for a while, as I did in my Why Armchair Officials Are Unneeded post right after the Lexi debacle, where I wrote:
I think that any "infraction of the rules" that can't be seen with the naked eye from a few feet away ISN'T an infraction. That's how the rules were enforced when The Rules of Golf were originally written.
And that's why I call this new rule the Nordqvist Rule -- because it specifically mentions the Nordqvist ruling at the US Women's Open last year:
...there are two situations in which the use of video evidence is limited: When a player unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in a backswing with a club in making a stroke from a bunker... In such situations, if the Committee concludes that such facts could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of a potential breach of the Rules, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise.
The second example they quote happened several years ago. (I forget the name of the player, although GC mentioned him during their broadcast.) The point is that the USGA and the R&A agree that the rules need to evolve along with technology. That's a HUGE step forward, and the fact that they've decided to put it into effect immediately is also very promising. (Kendra Graham told GC that evolving the rules along with the technology is a guiding principle of the new rule revisions and, since it's so basic to the revision, they saw no reason not to put it into effect right now.)

Ironically, neither of the new standards would have actually helped Lexi. According to the video evidence that was used originally, you can see that the ball was moved perhaps two inches from its original position -- no closer to the hole, just sideways. But based on the standards, that's an amount that's observable by the naked eye of a competitor.

The "help" will be left up to the working group. They will work to decide what evidence will be allowed in the enforcement of the rules. And I suspect this will be somewhat messy for a while, as different methods are tried at different events in different circumstances.  Ironically, Kendra said she was all for eliminating video evidence entirely -- but noted that doing so would also eliminate using video to help players, as when it's used to determine where a ball entered a hazard.

MAKE NO MISTAKE -- THERE WILL BE SOME MISTAKES MADE DURING THIS PROCESS. As Kendra noted, there are going to be unforeseen consequences with any decision the group makes, and we'll just have to put up with them during the process.

But I think that's okay. The rules will be worked out in the crucible of the game itself, not in some remote office where only the carpets are green. The actual effects of proposed changes -- the often unexpected repercussions -- will be seen in the real world, not just in some theoretical debate.

In the end, there is no substitute for experience. As critical as I have been of the ruling bodies for some of their decisions, I think this is a necessary step if they really want to make the Rules of Golf work under actual circumstances. I'm applauding them for what they did Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zurich Becomes the First of the Alternate Format Events

This is the week we finally get to see the retooled Zurich Classic, the singles-turned-team event that has captured everyone's imagination.

Stenson and Rose, together again

The new format is pretty simple: Start with 80 teams. Each plays a round of alternate shot and a round of best ball. Cut to 35 teams. Play another round of alternate shot and a round of best ball. Declare a winner.

I am a bit disappointed that the winners don't get a Masters invite. After all, the event isn't an alternate event, and part of the idea here is to create an event that will appeal to more people, which I think should count as a "grow the game initiative" and therefore get Augusta's support since they're really into that lately.

But at least each of the winners gets all the rest of the normal swag, created by combining normal winning positions (the winning team splits the normal first and second place winnings, the runner-ups split third and fourth, etc.):
  • 400 FedExCup points (800 divided by two)
  • Half of the combined money for first and second place
I'm curious how this will affect Ian Poulter, should he and Geoff Ogilvy place high. Poults only needed around $30k last week to keep his card but now that his major medical exemption ran out, I don't know how much he'd need to regain his card. (Assuming they don't win, of course. I bet that's what he's got his eye on now.)

Plus each player on the winning team gets:
  • Two-year Tour exemption
  • Invite to the invitational events like the Tournament of Champions and THE PLAYERS Championship
  • Invite to the PGA Championship
  • Credit for an official Tour win
So when you combine all that with the ability to pick your own teammate and spend the week in New Orleans, it's not hard to see why this event looks to be even more popular than the Zurich folks ever dreamed.

TV coverage is supposed to start Thursday afternoon at 3:30pm ET on GC. And here's a list of the teams that have signed up, although Jimmy Walker had to back out to begin treatment. Sean O'Hair's new partner wasn't listed.

One final note: I originally had a different title for this post, one that I felt summed up the unexpected popularity of this format change. I don't know for sure yet if this is really true, although the initial response suggests it is. Nevertheless, I guess I should issue a Juvenile Humor Alert before I say:

At the Zurich Classic, Two Balls Are Better Than One.

Snicker at your own risk.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Limerick Summary: 2017 Valero Texas Open

Winner: Kevin Chappell

Around the wider world of golf: Carlos Franco and Vijay Singh set a course record when they won the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf on the Champions Tour (Allen Doyle and Hubert Green won the Legends Division); Bernd Wiesberger won the Shenzhen International on the ET; Florentyna Parker won the Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open on the LET; Hannah Green won the Sara Bay Classic on the Symetra Tour; Kenichi Kuboya won the Panasonic Open on the Japan Golf Tour; D.H. Lee won the United Leasing & Finance Championship on the Web.com Tour; and Nelson Ledesma won the Abierto OSDE del Centro on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica.

Kevin Chappell is mildly excited by his win at the Valero

Yee-haw! Kevin Chappell finally broke the bronc that's been throwing him at the end of tournaments for the last few years. That critter pitched and bucked, but ole Kev wasn't having none of it this time. No sirree, that feller pulled out his six-shooter and shot that monkey right off his back and...

Okay, enough of the bad cowboy jokes. But you'd sure think Kevin had just survived the notorious shootout at the OK Corral. Take a good look at that photo! And that was nothing compared to the whole celebration.

But he deserved it. He's been so close so many times, so many runner-ups in the last couple of years, that it just seems appropriate to frame it as a classic western showdown. Even Brookes Koepka, his closest pursuer at the end, seemed genuinely happy for Kevin to finally get that big old monkey off his back.

And how did Kevin do it? By doing the one thing that he hadn't been able to do any previous time -- he hit one close on 18 and drained the putt for birdie to win. In and of itself, that one fact would have been enough to warrant the celebration. But Kevin played solid all the way down the stretch, making smart decision after smart decision. Even his reasoning for the "putt-not-chip" decision on 16 made sense for a guy who hadn't won before.

So this week Kevin Chappell get his first-ever Limerick Summary. It won't shine like his new cowboy boots, and it won't "jingle, jangle, jingle" like spurs, but you can't buy one of these in a store, either!
The long years of waiting are done
Since Kevin at last made the one
Big putt that he needed…
And Koepka conceded.
The boots simply made it more fun!
The photo came from the tournament upshot page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

This Drill May Have an Important Side Effect! (Video)

This is one of the Night School videos from School of Golf. Martin and Blair demonstrated a drill Martin got from the late Mo Norman... but it may help you in a way Martin didn't mention!



Here's the deal: Martin says it should help your balance, and that's true.

He also says it should help your swing plane. I'll admit I'm not as interested about that, except as it helps your balance. After all, if you take the club back properly (one-piece takeaway, anyone?) then you should come down properly.

But what caught my attention was the stance. Usually this kind of drill is done with the weight on the lead foot, and the trailing foot is drawn back and "unweighted." But this drill is the exact opposite! Your weight is on your trailing foot, and the lead foot is drawn back.

To be honest, my first thought was... won't this teach you a reverse pivot?

Instead -- and perhaps this is because my balance is already pretty good -- I found myself making a swing with no reverse motion at all. But I discovered something else as well.

Martin focuses on how this might help you fight an over-the-top move. But it will also help stop an in-to-out move, which may help a lot of you square up the clubface at impact!

Here's the reason: Both moves are caused because your elbows get too far away from your body -- your trailing arm in the downswing (that exaggerates the over-the-top move) and your lead elbow in the followthrough (that makes many players leave the clubface open). If you keep your lead elbow close to your side until the ball has been hit, the rolling of your lead shoulder will cause the clubface to square up.

Be aware -- and Martin didn't mention this -- if you have a problem with hooking the ball, this drill could exaggerate that problem. So if hooking is a problem for you, you might be better served to make swings with both feet together. Gets the same result for improving your balance without encouraging a hook.

But if you're having trouble squaring the face at impact, you might want to give this drill a try.