Friday, October 24, 2014

The LPGA Prepares for a Rankings Shake-Up

While the LPGA's second round at the Blue Bay LPGA was delayed a couple of hours by heavy rains, there was no delay when the news come out...

Stacy Lewis is about to lose her #1 position in the Rolex Rankings to Inbee Park. Again.

The irony is that neither player even teed it up this week!

Inbee Park

We've seen this sort of thing happen before, of course. Adam Scott reached #1 in the OWGR on one of his off weeks. And it's not hard to understand why -- as each new week ticks by, an old week falls off the back end of the rankings period and the points average changes.

According to LPGA.com, the two players were in a statistical dead heat coming into this week. Check this out: Stacy's official average was 11.0444 and Inbee’s was 11.0382, both of which get rounded to 11.04. This week the two are separated by barely more than 5/1000 of a point! The tipping point is apparently that Inbee played last week while Stacy didn't. (You can find a more exact explanation here at golfweek.com.)

Next week Inbee will have a slight advantage that gives her the lead (don't ask me how much of a lead 'cause I've got no idea... but it can't be much!). However, both players are scheduled to play next week's Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship. Their finishes there could flip things around yet again.

The only thing I know for sure is that Lydia Ko has been left out of the fun. She can't take the #1 spot this week even if she wins at Blue Bay. But by the end of the year...?

Get ready for a wild ride, folks. The battle lines are being drawn!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Martin Hall's "Key in the Keyhole" Technique for Hitting a Draw

Sometimes the solution to a problem comes when you change the way you think about it. That's why I cover much of the same material over and over but with a slightly different approach each time. And since weekend golfers typically struggle to hit draws, I make an extra effort to find new ways of approaching that problem.

Here is a recent School of Golf clip where Martin Hall attempts to teach Sara Brown how to hit a draw instead of the pull hook she often gets:



Note that Martin is using the "new ball laws" where you leave the face slightly open to create a draw -- something that seems counterproductive to most of us. And combined with the idea of hitting the ball from the inside -- that is, starting the club path out to the right for a right-hander -- the whole method may sound doomed from the start.

But please note that Martin is also recommending an unusual image to help you square up the face. He says to think of your trailing thumb as a key and your lead shoulder as a keyhole... and he wants you to try and stick the key into the keyhole as you make your swing. Let's think about this for a moment.

With the club face slightly open at address --and the hands leaning the shaft slightly ahead of the ball, which also helps square the club face as you swing through -- this "key in the keyhole" image should help you square up the club face at impact, not close it down for a hook. The ball's path is not going straight and then curving; it's starting out on a curve (caused by the slightly open face and more open path) and then straightening out as it lands.

Note that Martin says the ball should NOT cross the aim line where Sara is lined up. An almost square club face hitting the ball slightly from inside will cause the ball to draw back toward the aim line. Martin's image will NOT cause the club face to go past square at impact because the image of sticking your thumb into your shoulder at the top of your finish should put you on plane. If you twist your forearms, your trailing thumb will point straight out behind you. That's bad!

This "key in the keyhole" image can be a very useful one to help you square up the club at impact. You might want to try it if you're leaving the club face open and hitting too many slices.

And in case the video didn't embed in this post, here's the link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

19 Wild Practice Aids You May Already Own

Golf Digest has an interesting article on their website. If you like using training aids, they have a slide show -- actually, it's a short film clip show -- of common household objects you can use to help you improve your swing.

For example, this is a screen grab from the clip on slide 9. They call this a Swiss ball but it looks a lot like a balance ball to me. (Okay, maybe that's not a 'common' household object but I have one so it can't be that uncommon.)

Using a balance ball to train your downswing

There are some standard suggestions like slide 18 showing Vijay using a water bottle, or slides 6 (a towel) and 7 (a head cover) which show how to use those items to help with connection.

There are several really neat ones, like slide 13's suggestion that you putt with a tennis ball, which is larger than a regular golf ball, or slide 3's use of a CD to check your eye position over putts. (Be sure to use an old one!)

Some seem a bit useless to me. For example, the toothpaste drill on slide 16 seems a bit expensive -- and way too messy -- for my taste.

My favorite is probably slide 4, which teaches you how to use a cookie to help control tension in your swing. Of course, that may just be me looking for an excuse to eat more cookies.

Anyway, you might find something useful in the article so it's worth a look. I admit I would have never thought about using a balance ball to help with my downswing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Michael Whan Is Still Making Plans

On Monday Morning Drive did a phone interview with LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan, who's in China for the inaugural Blue Bay LPGA event. (You can get a preview of it here at Tony Jesselli's blog.) Whan talked at length about the plans he still has on the table for the LPGA. I've embedded the video of the call below (here's the link in case you don't see it) but I'll sum up the basics of what he said.



In addition to talking about the new Blue Bay event, Whan announced a new sponsor for the International Crown event -- UL, a large company headquartered in Chicago IL -- and that the 2018 event will be held in South Korea. (The 2016 event will be in Chicago again, but Whan said that was because he wanted more control over the first two events while they worked out the bugs.) But that's only the beginning of what he talked about.

Although we've known for a while that the LPGA will begin the 2015 season in Florida at the new Coates Golf Championship, we didn't know for sure exactly how many more events Whan hoped to create. He told us on Monday -- maybe one more. Here's his logic:
  • Unlike the PGA Tour, he tries to schedule events to have a week off after every three or four tournaments.
  • He wants to avoid conflicts with the men's majors.
  • And also unlike the PGA Tour, he wants roughly a two-month off-season because he believes that's important for the ladies.
When you do the math, that results in about 33 or 34 events per year. The new Coates event will be #33, so he figures on adding just one more.

Beyond that, he has three goals in mind:
  1. Something still has to be done about the long-term health of the Kraft-Nabisco Championship. Just as the LPGA Championship has been morphed into the Women's PGA Championship, Whan wants to establish the KNC so it will continue uninterrupted for a number of decades.
  2. He'd like to see a pro-am event on the LPGA, something like the AT&T on the PGA Tour. Given how much the LPGA works with their sponsors, that's almost a no-brainer.
  3. And since the LPGA no longer has a yearly match play event, he'd like to get a new one on the schedule.
Given that Whan says there's only one slot left open on the LPGA schedule, clearly at least one of the existing tournaments will have to be changed to create the match play or pro-am event. That's something we'll have to watch for.

All-in-all, it appears that the LPGA is in even better shape than we thought.

You know, I remember when Michael Whan's "crazy ideas" drew criticism for being too impractical. His critics should be very glad that he doesn't hold a grudge.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

Winner: Ben Martin

Around the wider world of golf: Mikko Ilonen won the Volvo World Match Play Championship on the ET; Scott Hend won the Hong Kong Open, co-sponsored by the Asian Tour and the ET; Kyu Jung Baek won the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship on the LPGA; Lee-Anne Pace won the Cell C South African Women’s Open on the LET; Jay Haas won the Greater Hickory Kia Classic on the Champions Tour; and Sun-Ju Ahn won the Fujitsu Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details).

Ben Martin holds trophy in Vegas

Ben Martin hopes that what happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas. He’d like to take it to a number of tournaments going forward.

Of course, it's hard to duplicate what happens at TPC Summerlin. That course is designed for low scores, and players come to Vegas knowing they'll need to gamble a bit if they hope to hit the big one. But after a third-round 62 that gave him the overnight lead, Ben had to wonder if Lady Luck had kissed him good-bye and thrown her lot in with some of the other high rollers. No matter what he did, it seemed he just couldn't get it under par on Sunday.

And those high rollers were certainly hitting their numbers, Kevin Streelman being the man with the hottest hand. He had won his first tournament by making birdies on the last 7 holes... and Sunday in Vegas, he made 5 in the last 7 holes, narrowly missing a 6th at 18.

But Lady Luck is one of the more fickle women in Vegas. As easily as she left him, Martin found her back at his side when a thinned drive at the par-4 15th took a fortuitous hop onto the green. That 2-putt birdie, followed by an eagle on the par-5 16th, jumped him past Streelman and put him in the lead for good. A final unexpected birdie on the tricky 18th gave him a 2-stroke win.

The fallout from this win won't be limited to Vegas either. Martin's first win will keep him on Tour through the 2017 season and send him to the Masters, among other things. And of course, it wins him the coveted Limerick Summary. But don't worry, Ben -- I won't tell if you don't:
On a course where the pros drove it far,
Martin struggled to get under par
But he DID find a way.
If he keeps up this play,
He might end up a bonafide star.
The photo came from the tournament's daily wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Butch Harmon on Pitching Uphill

A short one today. Butch Harmon has a new article and video at golfdigest.com on how to play a pitch shot off a severely uphill lie. First, here's the video:


And here's a photo taken just after the moment of truth:

Butch just after the moment of truth

Of course, you know the key thing is to set your shoulders to match the slope. You want to be swinging UP the slope, not INTO it. You know this because you hear it over and over on TV, right?

Butch also suggests that you move the ball a bit forward in your stance and use a less-lofted iron, like a 9-iron instead of a sand (or lob) wedge. He also reminds you not to quit on the shot. Since the ball is going to go almost straight up in the air, you've got to make a longer followthrough to create enough speed to get the ball to fly far enough.

I want to add one thing to this, something that you can see in the video that will make it easier to get all of this right. Compare the incorrect setup around the :09 mark with the correct setup around the :29 mark. See how his head is over the ball in the first setup but behind the ball in the second setup? If you get your head just behind the ball at setup, you'll automatically put the ball slightly forward in your stance.

Butch always makes things so clear. Watch the video as many times as necessary to make sure you understand what he's doing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

As For My "Three to Watch" This Week

Earlier in the week I did a post naming three players -- each on a different tour -- worth watching this week, as each was making their first appearance in a while. The results have been all over the place!

Billy Horschel, for example, missed the cut by 3 shots at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. However, given that Billy has been a new father for less than a month and missed the cut at an event where that cut is usually under par (cut was -2, Billy shot +1), I'm willing to give him a pass this week.

Michelle Wie during second round in South Korea

Michelle Wie is faring much better at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. Coming back from an injury that's kept her out of the game for several months, she got off to a slow start with a first round 76 (+4). Not that she played that badly; the wind was up the first 2 days, and Paula Creamer shot an 81 that first round -- her worst round ever in competition.

But Michelle came back with a 70 (-2) in the second round and a 67 (-5) in the third round -- she just finished as I'm writing this -- to post at -3 for the tournament. That's only 3 shots back of current leaders Yoon Kyung Heo and Beatriz Recari. Not bad for her first event back!

Patrick Reed at the Volvo World Match Play

And then there's Patrick Reed, playing in the Volvo World Match Play Championship in England. Perhaps the biggest surprise to some fans, Patrick made it out of the round robin play by winning 2 of his 3 matches. He now moves on to today's quarterfinals, where the matches look like this:
  • George Coetzee VS Patrick Reed
  • Victor Dubuisson VS Mikko Ilonen
  • Joost Luiten VS Pablo Larrazábal
  • Henrik Stenson VS Jonas Blixt
And yes, as hard as it may be to believe, defending champion Graeme McDowell is already eliminated. At this point the man to beat appears to be Joost Luiten, who is the only undefeated player in the matches.

One quick note for those interested in the Ryder Cup "rematches" at the Match Play (5 Euros versus Reed)... Only Dubuisson and Stenson are still around for the Euros. Reed dispatched Donaldson on Friday to make the quarters, which europeantour.com noted might be considered a bit of payback for the USA:
Patrick Reed gained a small measure of revenge for last month's Ryder Cup defeat by knocking European hero Jamie Donaldson out of the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
In any case, great things are still very much possible for two of my three choices. It could be a very interesting weekend!