ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Crown Plaza Invitational

(This article has been updated to reflect late changes to Danica's Indy finish after Marco Andretti got bumped up to 3rd.)

Winner: Zach Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Tom Lehman got his first Champions Tour victory at the 71st Senior PGA Championship, winning a playoff against Fred Couples and David Frost; Mi-Jeong Jeon won the Yonex Ladies Golf Tournament on the JLPGA; Luke Donald finally got off the schnide with a victory at the ET's Madrid Masters; Maria Hernandez Munoz won the LET's Allianz Ladies Slovak Open (Laura Davies came in 3rd, 2 shots back); and Meaghan Francella beat Mariajo Uribe in a 6-hole playoff at the LPGA's HSBC Brasil Cup. (Figures they wouldn't televise it, doesn't it?) My South Carolina girl Kristy McPherson came in 4th!

BTW, in case you were completely out-of-touch this weekend, Dario Franchitti became the first man to win both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500 in the same year, Danica Patrick took 6th at the Indy, and the NBA Playoffs will be a rematch of the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers.

So many great stories were in the air at Colonial. Lightning tried to disrupt things several times, but in the end it was experience that came through.

Zach Johnson ended up setting a new tournament record of 21-under, 2 lower than the record held (twice) by Kenny Perry. Several players made runs at Zach, but he shot the lowest round of the day -- tied only by Geoff Ogilvy, who was a bit too far back to contend.

Of course, if you shoot back-to-back 64s on the weekend, you make it hard for anybody to contend.

It looks like Brian Davis (who, for the 2nd time this year, snagged a 2nd), Jeff Overton, and Bryce Molder are all very close to getting their first wins; they've been playing pretty well for a while now. Ben Crane and Ricky Barnes are beginning to look like the real deal. And Corey Pavin showed that he can still cut it on a par-70, 7204-yard course where shotmaking counts. (He might have run away with the Senior PGA Championship if he'd chosen to play there!)

Statwise, Zach did what I expect winners to do: 69.6% Driving Accuracy (T10) and 84.7% GIR (1). He putted well, but most everybody did; and his drives averaged 13 yards longer than normal (expected on a hard Texas course) but still nothing spectacular. His best finish this year was a T12 back at the Sony... but it looks like he's back on track for some good play leading up to the Ryder Cup. That's good -- with a new kid on the way, he's gonna need the money.

It was just another boring day in the life of Zach Johnson -- a casual round of golf alongside his buddy Ben Crane, where he scorched the field, set a new scoring record, and, oh yeah, took a few moments to chalk up another win, thank God for the opportunity, and pocket another huge check before heading home to Cedar Rapids where his happy family is expecting a new member soon. (Iowa -- where else would he live?) Yawn. Life as usual. In that spirit I offer him this limerick:
The fairways were harder than tarmac
So Zach turned them into a racetrack.
Though golf’s not as trendy
As winning at Indy…
I bet he chugs milk when he kicks back.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hot Dogs Abound at Colonial

Seems like everybody wants to show off at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. It's hot enough there for a cookout, and the hot dogs were out in force for the 3rd round.

Bryce Molder got it underway by one-putting the first 9 holes of his round. And if you didn't see it, he hit the one of the coolest shots I've seen in some time -- a hard flop shot to a shortside pin from about 2 feet off the green! I tried to find video of the shot, but had no luck. It was just plain cool! He's in the top 6 in Driving Accuracy, Putts per Round, and GIR.

And yet Brian Davis is #1 in putting for the week -- both Putts per Round and Putts per GIR -- and 1st in Sand Saves. He hasn't had a bogey in 42 holes... and he only had one before that. That was good enough to get him the co-leader position with Molder at 16-under.

Zach Johnson is one back. After struggling most of the year, he seems to have found his groove again. (Apparently his groove was made by the same grill affecting the other players!) Zach is #1 in GIR and #2 in Driving Accuracy.

Three guys are tied at 14-under. With one win already this year, are we going to have to start talking about Ben Crane as a favorite now? With 3 eagles this week (#1 in the field), he's also 1st in Putts per Round, 3rd in Putts per GIR, and 5th in Driving Accuracy.

Jason Bohn, also with a win this year, is in that group. He's 3rd in Driving Accuracy and 4th in GIR.

And then there's Jeff Overton. He hasn't won yet, and his stats are the worst of the leaders. His best stat is 4th in Driving Distance this week. Still, he's hanging in there, but it's going to be an uphill climb for him. (If you know how flat Texas is, you'll get the joke there. ;-)

Some good stories are lurking close by, although I don't know that they're close enough to win. Kris Blanks is one of those stories. He's T7 at 13-under; his only really good stats are 1st in Sand Saves and 3rd in GIR... but he's only got 1 bogey. If his putter gets hot, he could make a run.

A few months ago Blanks despaired of getting his Tour card. He had won the Bank of America Open back in 2008, but hadn't done much since then. Ready to pack it in after a bad day at Q-School, A.J. Eathorne -- a former LPGA player he asked to come caddy for him -- pulled him aside, gave him some encouragement, and he finished T12. You can read her blog entry about the whole episode here.

Ironically, she hasn't blogged since. Seems Kris asked her to keep looping for him and, after missing his first 3 cuts, they appear to have found something. He got a solo 2nd at the Puerto Rico Open and a T5 at the Horizon Heritage; now he's only one more good finish away from locking up his Tour card for next year. I first found out about them teaming up after the 2nd-place finish, and he said then that he didn't know if he'd have been this successful this year if it hadn't been for A.J. It's a great story for both of them.

Corey Pavin at T10 (12-under) is another good story... but not because of this tournament. As you know if you follow GolfGal's blog, amateur Peggy Ference won the US Open Challenge Contest that Golf Digest sponsors. She'll be the first woman to play in the Challenge... and Pavin called her, not just to congratulate her, but to offer his services as caddy! He's never been a long driver -- he's only averaging 255 yards this week on those baked-out fairways -- and that should make it much easier for him to give her good advice. That's a nice gesture by the Ryder Cup captain.

Well, that's how it shapes up for the final round, so you've got some idea who to watch for... assuming anybody breaks away from their cookouts long enough to watch, that is. ;-D

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to Keep Up with Golf Scores While Cooking Out

Since this is a holiday weekend -- Monday being Memorial Day in the USA -- I've got a list of the live scoring pages for several of the golf events you might otherwise miss while traveling to different parties and celebrations. You can check in between hot dogs and hamburgers and see how your favorite golfers are doing!

The LPGA is playing the HSBC Brasil Cup this weekend, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. According to HoundDog's preview, it's a 36-hole invitational event (not an official event) with only 27 players. No, it won't be televised even if you're at home, so you'll have to click here for the HSBC Brasil Cup live scoring page if you want to keep up. (And yes, the scoring page is in Spanish, but you can figure out what "Resultados Online - Profissionais" means, can't you?)

The Champions Tour is playing a major this week, the Senior PGA Championship. (Shouldn't that be the Champions PGA Championship...? ;-) Fred Couples is favored to win his first senior major this week, and he's leading after two rounds. The live scoring board is here.

The Nationwide Tour is slacking off this week, probably bummed out because last week's tournament got rain-shortened. I don't blame them, and more than that, if you're gonna take a week off, by golly, take one off where you can count on a party! You go, guys!

The PGA Tour is playing the Crowne Plaza Invitational (aka the Colonial) down Texas-way, in Fort Worth. Not many big names playing -- and of them, not many staying; Phil Mickelson has already slammed the trunk and sashayed down the road with a 4-over. SPOILER ALERT: Phil will NOT be taking the #1 spot in the world rankings this week. You can keep up with the scores at the PGA live scoring site which, if you didn't know, is the same url each week. So if you save this site, you can keep check on whatever PGA tournament is being played.

I'm sure that bit of knowledge has greatly enriched your life. Don't thank me -- I'm just glad I can help. ;-)

And let me take a minute to give a big shout-out to John Daly, who is sitting at 5-under after two rounds and is leading the field in total driving! Shane Bacon did a post at Devil Ball this week that kinda summarizes John's year; maybe we're finally seeing his efforts pay off for him. I really hope so; whether you love him or hate him, John is a "needle-mover" for the Tour.

The European Tour is playing the Madrid Masters, and you can check the leading scores here. This is an easy-to-read page with links to live scoring, if you want to see the full field or just more details on the leaders. Sergio, like Phil, has already bid adiós to the field, but Luke Donald is in the running again this week, leading after two rounds.

Likewise, the Challenge Tour (the Euro version of the Nationwide) posts their scores here, with the same sort of live scoring links.

Ok, now I'm getting into unfamiliar territory... but some of you might be interested in the JLPGA tourney this weekend. If Google translated the page correctly, that would be the Yonex Ladies Golf Tournament, which is apparently a full field event played Friday through Sunday. LPGA players Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda, JLPGA star Yuri Fudoh (#26 in the world rankings and moving up fast), and legend Akiko Fukushima are playing in this event. The live scoring page (in English!) is right here.

The KLPGA appears to be off this week (thanks to the Constructivist for that info), but the Ladies European Tour is playing the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open, where Laura Davies looks to be playing well. Their scoring page is here.

Like the Nationwide, the Duramed Futures Tour isn't playing this weekend either. Maybe they can all get together for a cookout and fireworks.

Now, I'm positive I've missed something that some of you will be interested in. But I found this page that seems to have a link to most every tour's homepage. If there's a tour you were interested in that I didn't mention, you might want to check it out.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Conscious Hand Action

Part of the Route 67 series

In yesterday's post I included a quote from Ben Hogan that said:
The main thing for the novice or the average golfer is to keep any conscious hand action out of his swing. The correct swing is founded on chain action, and if you use the hands when you shouldn't, you prevent this chain action.
The key word here is conscious, and it's probably one of the least-understood aspects of the golf swing -- not just for the full swing, but all the shots you play during a round of golf. (If you've ever heard Dave Pelz talk about making a "dead hands" swing, it's the same concept.) Now, there are some shots where hand action is desirable -- some examples: In one of his comments Court mentioned Gary Player's description of some sand shots as "striking a match," I mentioned hand use with the "swoosh" move when making a drive, and Phil Mickelson recommends a lot of hand action during flop shots. However, these are exceptions, not the rule.

Most of the time, unconscious hand action is what you want. In fact, most of the basic setup guidelines you hear assume that you won't actively use your hands!

Why do you suppose almost every teacher wants you to use the lightest grip pressure possible? Light grip pressure makes it harder to consciously use your hands. The idea is that the swinging of your arms, which you consciously control, provides the power for your swing; and your hands and wrists act as an unpowered hinge connecting the club to your arms. Some teachers use the image of a whip to describe a golf swing because you can't muscle a whip; it's way too flimsy for that. You use the motion of your arms to get the weight of the whip itself to behave the way you want. It's the same concept with a club.

An easy way to feel this is to take your putter -- which is short, so you won't break anything in the house! -- and hold it with a very light grip. And I do mean light; I want you to feel as if your wrists are limp noodles. No, you couldn't do that if you were trying to hit a ball because you want to keep your wrists moving in a single plane, but that's not a problem for our little exercise here.

Now, using this light grip, I just want you to swing the club back and forth. When you start, if you're holding it lightly enough, your hands will start back before the head of the club does. (You may recall some of the older teaching texts actually advised starting your swing this way. It's because they wanted you to grip the club as lightly as possible.) Let your wrists bend as you swing back and forth; if you were to follow Hogan's technique of keeping your forearms as close together as possible during the swing, this would create a reasonably consistent wrist cock. Are you with me so far?

This will create a fairly rhythmic swing. However, you can change both the rhythm (and therefore the clubhead speed) and the amount of pressure you feel at the change of direction by simply moving your arms more quickly or more slowly, or by changing the direction of your arm movement abruptly. In fact, if you have a smooth rhythm going and make an abrupt change in direction with your arms (remember, your wrists are just limp noodles!), first you'll feel more pressure in your wrists, and then it will feel as if the club speeds up to "catch up" with your arms. That comes from a combination of wrist cock and increased load on the shaft.
  • Shaft loading, if you don't know, is a result of the head trying to continue on its current path while the grip end starts moving in the other direction. Shaft load is visible as a curve in the shaft; the amount of this curve, and how much force it takes to cause this curve, is determined by the shaft's flex rating. Depending on the shaft, that rating may be a number, like 5.0 or 5.5, or a letter like R or S. Just for comparison, a regular shaft is an R or 5.0, and a stiff is an S or 6.0.
Now this is a fairly simple thing to control on short swings up to the length of a pitch shot, which is why most players can learn the short game so much more easily than the full swing. In addition, we generally strive for a slower, more rhythmic swing in the short game; since it's not a power swing, it doesn't require any special timing to get a good stroke. All you need is a light grip -- firm enough to prevent the club from wobbling around in your hands, but not so tight that your wrists and forearms tense up.

With this swing, you can use a mid-iron (like a 4- or 5-iron), make about a half-swing (a backswing with your hands at waist height or just above), and hit a controlled shot up to around 150 yards. (That yardage is based on my experience; I'm between 5'9" and 5'10" tall.) All you need to do is let your wrists get fully cocked on the way back and, when it feels almost as if your hands and arms have coasted to a stop and you feel wrist pressure similar to what you felt with the putter swing earlier, you make a rhythmic swing to your finish and just let your wrists fully uncock. The beauty is that it doesn't require much practice at all to keep this short game shot in shape.

Furthermore, you can make a full swing this way. You'll swing just a little faster, but not enough to throw off your balance. It won't be a powerhouse swing by any stretch of the imagination, but it may very well be a more powerful swing than you have now, especially if your old swing consciously uses wrist action. Based on my personal experience, I'd say you could hit a driver between 230 and 250 yards with this smooth, rhythmic swing. That may seem like a long way for such an relaxed sort of swing, but it will create a decent version of the swoosh move -- that extra wrist cock down near the ball that gives you extra distance. (Check the "Route 67" page for links to those posts.) If you look back at the video I posted of Sun Young Yoo's swing, her practice swing is only a little slower than a full swing using this technique.

But what about bombing it? How do you get a powerful full swing out of this? What if you want to get everything you can out of your drive?

That's what I call the REAL secret move in golf, and it's one reason why there are so many different approaches to swinging a golf club. We'll look at some of them next week.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ben Hogan on Leg Drive

Part of the Route 67 series

I quoted Manuel de la Torre as an authority on arm swing; it only makes sense to turn to Ben Hogan for thoughts on leg drive. The following few quotes come from Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, considered by some to be the bible of modern golf technique. Again, I don't like quoting long passages much in my blog, but it's best to let the experts say it in their own words. I'll keep it short. (For you lefties out there... just remember that Hogan is right-handed.)
The downswing is initiated by turning the hips to the left. The shoulders, arms and hands -- in that order -- then release their power. The great speed developed in this chain reaction carries the golfer all the way around to the finish of his follow-through (p85).
Here we are, with the hips and legs driving the swing.
The main thing for the novice or the average golfer is to keep any conscious hand action out of his swing. The correct swing is founded on chain action, and if you use the hands when you shouldn't, you prevent this chain action.

What do the hands do? The answer is that they do nothing active until after the arms have moved on the downswing to a position just above the level of the hips. The arms don't propel this motion themselves. They are carried down by the movement of the hips. To understand just how the hands and arms get this "free ride," pick up a club, swing it back, and hold your position at the top of the backswing. Now, forgetting about your hands and arms entirely, start to move your hips back to the left, in comparative slow motion. Now look where your hands are. This movement of the hips has automatically carried them down from the top -- quite a good ways down, in fact, so that they are just about at hip level. In this position, tied in as they are with the body's ever-building speed and power, the arms and hands should feel absolutely loaded with power (p93).
That's pretty straightforward, right? This position is easy to duplicate using Hogan's explanation, and it may help you understand some of the reasons Tiger went to Hank Haney. (One quick note: The quiet hands Hogan talks about are also part of de la Torre's teaching -- the difference is how they get the hands down to this position.)
After you have initiated the downswing with the hips, you want to think of only one thing: hitting the ball (p96).
Again, pretty straightforward. Hogan had you do the move slowly to see how it worked, but with this line he's talking about doing it at full speed. It happens so fast that after you drive your legs and hips, you don't have much time to do anything but hit the ball. From this position you aren't going to go across the target line before you hit the ball -- in fact, there's a good chance you'll go across the line after you hit the ball. This is what Hogan was after -- an inside-to-out swing, with the ball headed out to the right. If you have squared up the clubface, the ball is going to draw gently back to your target line.

As with the arm-powered swing, the feel of the swing almost creates the technique.

I hope this helps you understand what makes a leg-powered swing so distinctive. And again, neither swing -- arm-powered nor leg-powered -- is intrinsically better than the other. It's just a matter of which is easiest for you to perform consistently. Both share a lot of the same techniques, but they feel different.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Leg-Powered Swings

Part of the Route 67 series

Leg-powered swings, although they've been around for a long time, are still newer than arm-powered swings. Bobby Jones is probably the first player to be widely publicized as using a leg-powered swing, although I'm sure he wasn't the original. For example, over at World Golf Emporium, David Wakeman did a post on J. Douglas Edgar, another golfer who developed a leg-powered swing... and with whom Bobby Jones was quite familiar. (You can read his book, The Gate to Golf, at Google Books.)

Like the term "arm-powered swing," referring to a leg-powered swing can be a bit misleading. It's not that the hands and arms don't contribute to a leg-powered swing, only that you feel the swing primarily through the legs. It feels more like you drive the legs, which pulls the arms around. It works extremely well for athletic players, especially if they're good baseball or hockey players.

In a leg-powered swing, proper hip and leg movement is vital. For all the power you can create, it also increases your chances of getting tilted and out-of-position during the swing. You know all that talk about Tiger and other players "getting stuck" on the downswing? That doesn't with an arm-powered swing -- only with a leg-powered one.

A major teaching for this swing is "starting the downswing with the lower body." Now, just to be clear, it is physiologically impossible to start your downswing any other way, even in an arm-powered swing. "Coming over the top" doesn't mean you start the downswing with your upper body; it just means you straighten your arms and uncock your wrists too early in the swing. Your lower body still starts the swing; if it didn't, your hands and arms would uncock inside the target line, not across it. However, focusing on using your lower body to start the downswing aids in feeling the leg-powered swing properly.

One drill that gets used a lot with this swing is "moving behind the ball," where players are encouraged to let the upper body move away from the target during the backswing. The idea is twofold: First, to promote a weight shift to the right side (left side for lefties), which helps you make a proper weight shift toward the target on the downswing. And second, to help you get a good shoulder turn by getting the left shoulder (right shoulder for lefties) behind the ball.

A common fault for players who use a leg-powered swing? The notorious "reverse weight shift," where the weight doesn't transfer onto the foot nearest the target on the downswing. This causes players to "fire and fall back" -- instead of finishing in a balanced pose, they fall backward, away from the target as they contact the ball.

While different teachers have different preferences, neither leg-powered nor arm-powered swings are better or worse than the other. Some players are better with one than another, either because of mobility issues, relative muscle strength between the upper and lower bodies, or just because one move feels more natural to them. Other players find they can do either one equally well.

Personally, I think it's worth the effort to try it both ways. Although you'll almost certainly discover that one is better for you than the other, each focuses on certain moves. An increased understanding of how both swings work will improve your swing, no matter which one you use. Besides, if your ball ends up in trouble, you may find that knowing both swings increases your options.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sun Young Yoo's Golf Swing

I've been looking for some footage of Sun Young Yoo, winner of the Sybase this weekend, hitting her driver. The best I've been able to find is this short clip of her hitting what looks like a hybrid during practice before the 3rd round of the 2009 HSBC Women's Champions Tournament. The clip's only 9 seconds long and you may need to run it several times to get a smooth viewing, but it's worth it. Bear in mind that this is a practice swing (and over a year old, at that) and not nearly as fast as her drive was over the weekend, but it should give you a good idea of how well she swings.

I really wish I could find a clip of her hitting her driver; she was both steady and powerful during the Sybase. I remarked in the Limerick Summary post that her driver had that "solid" sound that many of the best male players have. Angela Stanford's stats have her outdriving Yoo by about 10 yards, but they were pretty much even in the finals and you could tell a distinct difference between the sound of Angela's driver and hers.

What I want you to pay attention to is her rhythm and balance. She isn't lurching toward the ball, and her upper body isn't "waving" back and forth trying over the ball. If you remember my post about microsquats (I did one post for righties and one for lefties), you'll see that she's doing something similar -- that is, when she turns into her backswing, her knees "squat" ever-so-slightly. (Watch her right knee; it's more obvious there.) It isn't a big move; it just takes some of the pressure off her back muscles, which lets her turn more freely without making a big sideways move over the ball.

If she keeps swinging the way she did this weekend, you may see her win another tournament or two this year. And if you copy her rhythm and balance, you should make more solid and consistent contact with the ball.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship

Winner: Jason Day

Around the wider world of golf: Simon Khan won the ET's BMW PGA Championship (they call it the "flagship" event of the Tour, so I guess that's like THE PLAYERS in America); Sun Young Yoo won 3&1 over Angela Stanford at the Sybase Match Play Championship; and John Riegger won the Nationwide's Rex Hospital Open, just a couple of hours from where I live.

Before moving on to the PGA event and limerick, I'd like to make a quick observation about the Sybase, which I (along with Stephanie Wei, The Constructivist, and HoundDog) updated all weekend. (Bill Jempty also has a wrap-up.) While I'm a little disappointed that we still don't have an American winner on the LPGA this year (Morgan Pressel did win the first JLPGA major, as you'll recall), if you didn't get to watch Sun Young Yoo's play this weekend, you missed seeing an incredible swing. She has amazing balance, and the sound of the ball coming off her driver is as solid as most of the big hitters among the men. You really need to see that girl hit some shots!

And at the Byron Nelson, the big story wasn't Jason Day's win so much as 16-year-old amateur Jordan Spieth's coming-out party. Despite a tough final day, Jordan posted a T16 against the pros with rounds of 68-69-67-72 on a par-70 course. He'll be playing at the St. Jude in a few weeks so if you missed him this week, you'll have another chance. You can be sure he'll draw a lot of TV coverage.

As for Jason Day... well, after beginning the week so sick he considered withdrawing, he fought the course, the wind, and his own nerves to win his first PGA tournament. Day entered the final round with the lead, and before the round ever started admitted he was nervous. In many ways, Jason's success is a Rocky story -- a kid from a tough background who made good. It's a win that's going to be popular with many people... and I believe both CBS and TGC said it's the 9th win by an under-30 player this year. It may not have been a pretty win... but a win is a win.

So here's the Limerick Summary, complete with obligatory "what a Day!" jokes:
A new Day was dawning in Irving,
Though his sleepwalking play was unnerving.
A rough up-and-down Day
Turned night-on-the-town Day—
A night of which Day is deserving.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Sybase Finals Are Set

Another midday update, this time for the semifinals.

Angela Stanford continues to win at the form of golf she says she doesn't like. She beat Amy Yang in 19 holes to get to the finals. In the quarters, Angela struggled early; not so today. Amy made two bogeys early -- on holes 2 and 4 -- and spent the rest of the match chasing. A Stanford bogey on the 18th sent it one extra hole, which Angela birdied.

The shocker is that Sun Young Yoo beat Jiyai Shin 2&1! I'm not so shocked because Jiyai lost -- this is match play, stuff like that happens -- but because it was clearly decided on the par-3s. Yoo birdied 2 of the par-3s, Shin only 1. I would have expected Shin to be the most accurate. (The scoreboard at doesn't tell how they putted. I suppose Yoo could have putted lights-out from farther away.)

So we go to a Stanford-Yoo final. (Isn't that where Michelle Wie goes to college? ;-) Although it means very little in match play, the two have similar stats. In fact, although Angela has a slight edge in most of the stats, they're pretty much even except that Angela is about 10 yards longer than Sun Young.

To get to the finals, Stanford beat:
  • Amy Hung 4&3, Pat Hurst 4&2, Amanda Blumenherst 20 holes, Catriona Matthew 5&3, and Amy Yang 19 holes
and Yoo beat:
  • Karen Stupples 3&2, Cristie Kerr 4&2, Song Hee Kim 1-up, Yani Tseng 2&1, and Jiyai Shin 2&1
I've picked Stanford to win and I'm sticking with that choice, but who has the most impressive record? Yoo took out the most big names, but Stanford took out the hottest players. In addition, Amy Yang took out some big names on her own before Stanford took her out.

This could end up being a really tough final.

The Sybase Final Four

Well, it wasn't what we expected, was it?

Here's what we ended up with. The ones in italics are the ones I didn't pick:
  • Wright Bracket: Angela Stanford
  • Sorenstam Bracket: Amy Yang
  • Whitworth Bracket: Jiyai Shin
  • Berg Bracket: Sun Young Yoo
The big shocker here was Yani Tseng losing 2&1 to Sun Young Yoo. I never would have predicted that one, given how she played all week (especially Saturday morning).

Amy Yang also squeaked by with a 1-up finish over Haeji Kang. So much for this week's Cinderella story.

A lot of people may have been surprised that Shin beat Wie 2&1. I expected Wie to have more trouble with the Pelz system than she did -- that's not a criticism of Dave Pelz, just an acknowledgment that he teaches a system and that it takes more than a few days to develop consistency with it. Ironically, it was Michelle's iron play that killed her; when your opponent puts 7-wood shots inside your 7-irons, you're just doomed.

As for my picks: Since Angela Stanford did end up crushing Catriona Matthew 5&3 (maybe neither's play wasn't crushing, but the score was) and Yani didn't make it through, I'm now picking Angela Stanford to win. Since the semis look to be Stanford v Yang and Shin v Yoo, I expect a Stanford v Shin final.

How bizarre will the last day be? I'm not sure the golf gods themselves know anymore!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Sybase Madness Continues

A midday update on the Sybase morning matches...

As usual, I cursed a player by picking them to win. Morgan Pressel, who's gone at least 19 holes each of the first two days, had a short day today. She lost 4&3 to Amy Yang -- an upset in terms of rankings, though I'm not so sure it's an upset in terms of play; Yang has played pretty well so far, and had played reasonably well going into this tournament. She's now my favorite to win the Sorenstam bracket.

In my mind, the biggest upset today was Angela Stanford beating Amanda Blumenherst in 20 holes. Understand, I'm not surprised at Angela's play -- she won her first two matches pretty handily, and Blumenherst was (with Yang) arguably the hottest player Friday. I'm shocked because Angela has made no secret that she doesn't really like match play! That wouldn't usually cause me to believe a player should be favored, and it figured heavily into not picking her; I think she has to be the favorite in the Wright bracket now.

A couple of years ago, Angela Stanford got her game into such shape that she was contending pretty much every week... then her mother had a bout with cancer. You can guess what happened. Apparently she's finally back on an even keel, and if this week's play is an indication that she's nearly back, she could make a big move up in the world rankings over the next few months.

At this point, I still think Shin will take out Wie, so my updated "Final Four" looks like this:
  • Wright Bracket: Angela Stanford
  • Sorenstam Bracket: Amy Yang
  • Whitworth Bracket: Jiyai Shin
  • Berg Bracket: Yani Tseng
As you can tell, I still think my original picks were the players to beat, so... if you beat them, you make the semis. And since my final would now pit Yang against Tseng, I still think the winner will come from that twosome. (I nearly put that in my last post, but I thought it sounded like I was wimping out on my choices. Since my choices have proven to be so bad, I figure wimpiness is the least of my problems now. ;-)

Still, I think the LPGA's decision to let the top players draw for opponents rather than just making a straight seeded tournament has been both a success and a failure:
  • a success, because we've had some really incredible matches early on BUT
  • a failure, because it totally destroyed the play-your-way-into-contention beauty of match play.
By that, I mean that #61 Haeji Kang played #11 In-Kyung Kim in the first round, rather than #4 Yani Tseng. No offense to Kim, but she was an easier opponent than Tseng would have been; Kang might have lost in the first round. Or #15 Catriona Matthew played #64 Grace Park; that match might have turned out differently for both players. (Yes, I think Grace would have had a better chance against #1 Jiyai Shin -- she'd be 30 yards longer on a course that doesn't penalize wayward drivers, which should have improved her GIR... and they're both good putters.)

When you're picking brackets, match play is tricky enough without pitting Juli Inkster against Suzann Pettersen the first day out. And now two top players are gone before the weekend even started. The LPGA may want to reconsider this seeding arrangement for next year's tournament.

As things stand, if Angela Stanford crushes Catriona Matthew in the semis this afternoon, I'm picking her to win it all. Otherwise, I pick Yani Tseng.

A Psychotic Day at Sybase

Wow. I don't even know how to start. I mean, we all know match play gets crazy... but this! This is just psychotic!

Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb both got drubbed 7&6 by Amy Yang and Amanda Blumenherst, respectively. It's not the beating that shocks me, as neither seemed to be quite on their games yesterday (despite Webb's 4&3 victory). No, it's the degree of the beating -- only 12 holes played in either match!

Also out: Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Maria Hjorth, Kristy McPherson (who I picked as a good bet yesterday), Sophie Gustafson, and Sandra Gal. These are all players with Solheim Cup experience. So who's left?

Well, surprisingly, given a wide open course that Angela Stanford (still alive) said pretty much eliminated big scores, Morgan Pressel has taken out Jimin Kang (perhaps not a huge surprise) and Sophie Gustafson, who outdrives her by nearly 20 yards and was hitting 'em close Friday. I think Morgan's putting is what's keeping her alive -- she made some big ones the first two days -- so she's become one of my favorites to make the finals.

Amanda Blumenherst and Michelle Wie are both still in it. as are Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng. Unlike HoundDog, the Constructivist, and Stephanie Wei, who picked every round's winners, I'm just going to pick my "Final Four" based on Friday's results (cheating a bit, perhaps, but it's my blog!):
  • Wright Bracket: Amanda Blumenherst
  • Sorenstam Bracket: Morgan Pressel
  • Whitworth Bracket: Jiyai Shin
  • Berg Bracket: Yani Tseng
Barring any implosions, I think the Sorenstam and Berg brackets pretty much belong to Pressel and Tseng. I'm picking Blumentherst over both Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew in the Wright bracket; she just seems to be the most "on" right now. And I'm picking Shin over Michelle Wie in the Whitworth bracket simply because I'm not sure Wie's new Dave Pelz putting stroke will hold up when the pressure cranks up Saturday afternoon. I do think Karine Icher could be a wild card in this bracket though; if she beats Wie Saturday morning, she could gain a slight edge over Shin in the quarters.

If I understand the brackets correctly, this will pit Blumenherst against Shin, and Pressel against Tseng. So, given the psycho nature of this tournament so far, I expect a Blumenherst v Pressel final... with Morgan Pressel taking it all.

I know... call me crazy. It's been that kind of week.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Watch Out for the Big Breakers!

There are several big tournaments going on this week -- the PGA's HP Byron Nelson, the LPGA's new Sybase Match Play, and the ET's BMW PGA Championship. There are a couple of players I'd like to make sure you notice.

They're both alumni from TGC's Big Break show. They're two of the players who've "made good," and they're both doing well so far this week. Ironically, neither made it through the whole show!

James Nitties is one of them. He's only a couple of shots off the lead at the Nelson, and he seems to feel right at home in Texas... although it's a long way from Australia. I suspect Michael down at Aussie Golfer is glad to see him doing well also. Nitties is one of the guys who seems to understand just how lucky he is to be on Tour; I'm beginning to suspect that's one of the side effects of going through the Big Break. He's missed a lot of cuts this year, but seems to have things straightened out the last couple of weeks, so I'm hopeful. (He did have a T3 in Puerto Rico back in March.)

The other is Kristy McPherson, a SC girl who made it through the first round at the Sybase. (I have to keep track of her -- she's almost a hometown girl, since I'm from NC.) Kristy beat Meena Lee 3&2 in the first round. Admittedly, Lee hasn't been playing particularly well lately -- her best finish is a T29 at the HSBC in February. Still, don't write Kristy off yet; she came in ranked 18 in the field, and she not only has Solheim Cup experience, but that Big Break experience as well. Her last two tournaments were Top 20 finishes; I'm looking for her to do pretty well this week.

If you've never seen the show, what you should know is that players inevitably end up going through some high-pressure playoffs that are basically two- or three-hole match play. If you can handle that pressure, you should have a good chance of handling the pressures of match play or just playing the Tours.

Still, match play continues to drive us crazy, doesn't it? I really expected Se Ri Pak to play well this week, but she's already gone. Probably the biggest shock today was Brittany Lincicome's loss, followed by Juli Inkster's victory over Suzann Pettersen in 21 holes. (Not a surprise in some ways, given her experience, but Jules hasn't been playing particularly well lately.) Still, most of the big names survived, so it looks like it could be a good tournament.

Keep an eye out for the Big Breakers this week. It could get interesting!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Manuel de la Torre on Arm Swing

Part of the Route 67 series

As I noted in the comments yesterday, one of the major teachers of the arm-powered golf swing is Manuel de la Torre, who works with LPGA golfer Sherri Steinhauer, among others, and has worked with players like legend Carol Mann. His father, Angel de la Torre, was (as I understand it) the first golf professional from Spain as well as a student of Ernest Jones, a teacher who has been commended by players as varied as Bobby Jones and Gary McCord.

Ernest Jones was an English golf professional who lost his right leg in World War I and set about learning how to play well without it. His book Swing the Clubhead is still available and considered a classic of golf teaching.

Manuel de la Torre is the current master when it comes to the Ernest Jones method. I don't like to quote extended passages from any book, but this introductory section from his book Understanding the Golf Swing is a brief explanation of the arm-powered golf swing that's probably better than anything I can do in a single post. Hopefully this will give you a clearer picture of what current arm swing teachers focus on; it's slightly different from the arm swing used by players like Harry Vardon, but only because the guy who developed it was missing a leg. It's from pages 8 and 9 of the book:
The swinging concept maintains that if you produce a swinging motion with the golf club:
  1. The left arm will be extended (not straight) by the centrifugal force produced by the swinging motion. It simply has to be responsive.
  2. The head will remain down sufficiently long through the instinctive human reaction of looking at whatever is going to be struck.
  3. The weight will transfer to the left foot (right foot for left-handed players) after the club strikes the ball by having the body respond to the centrifugal force created by the swinging motion.
  4. The body turn that takes place on the forward swing as the body responds to the club's swinging motion will produce a definite closeness of the body and the right elbow. It is not the elbow that gets close to the body.
  5. By using the arms in the forward swing, the club will start correctly from the beginning of the forward swing without trying to use a pulling action with the left hand (right hand for left-handed players) to start it.
  6. Wrist action will be an involuntary reaction to the coiling action (backswing) and the uncoiling action (forward swing) of the club. It is caused by the circular motion needed to swing the club over the right shoulder (left shoulder for left-handed players). In the forward swing it is caused by the centrifugal force created through the swinging motion.
The problem with trying to do any of these things consciously is that we overdo them, and, furthermore, whatever we try to do will be at the wrong time.

To repeat, the emphasis in our presentation is that, having set the club on a true swinging motion the golfer must then allow the body to respond to the motion of the swing itself.
Obviously, in #4, the right elbow would be the left elbow if you're a leftie, and what it means is that you don't consciously pull the elbow to your side; it just "ends up there" if you swing correctly. And yes, that awkward phrasing in #2 is copied correctly. Read it a few times and it will make sense.

The big difference here between this swing and a leg-powered swing is that the latter requires you to consciously perform actions in a certain order, while the arm-powered swing de la Torre is talking about focuses on swinging the arms and just letting everything else happen as a reaction to the arm swing.

It may sound bizarre when you read his intro here, but it's actually an amazing swing. I can swing both ways -- arm swing and leg swing -- and the two feel distinctly different. I can also tell you for sure that this arm-powered swing takes less energy than a comparable leg-powered swing, but it develops a lot of clubhead speed. It truly is a swing where feel means as much (or more) than technique, because the feel of the swing almost creates the technique.

Anyway, I hope this intro from de la Torre's book helps explain the arm-powered concept a little better. His book is one of the few I've seen that devotes a lot of time to using the swing to create different types of shots.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arm-Powered Swings

Part of the Route 67 series

Finally! We get to discuss power sources in the golf swing. Let me start by reminding you of a foundational truth of the golf swing: Although you're going to get power from both your legs and your arms, you tend to feel that one of the two is the dominant power source. If you don't know which one "feels" right, then you'll have trouble repeating your swing AND you'll find yourself confused by teachings that change your swing feel when you use them.

An arm-powered swing is the "traditional" way of playing the game. It probably developed because hickory shafts are so flexible; most people have weaker upper bodies, so an arm swing put the least stress on the shaft. Plus, in an era where most people were laborers, I suspect people were more used to arm-based tasks -- like swinging an axe -- than more athletic, leg-oriented actions. Teachers like Jim Flick and Manuel de la Torre are good examples of arm-power teachers.

Arm-powered swings focus on the actions of the arms and hands during the swing. (Duh!) The hips and legs are treated as a platform for the movement of the upper body; the legs and hips move and they put power into the swing, but you don't drive them in an effort to move the club faster. Because of this, the legs and hips move laterally much less than in a leg-powered swing; it's much more of a rotary swing.

A popular teaching for this kind of swing is the "bump and turn." In this method of starting the downswing, you first push your hips toward the target, then turn them out of the way to strike the ball. If you see this in a teaching method, it's probably arm-powered. One notable exception is the Hogan swing, which utilized this method with leg-drive to create a "hook-proof" swing. If the swing isn't done properly, the hips get too far ahead and the player leans backward -- the notorious "getting stuck" problem Tiger fights so much. In an arm-powered swing, this generally isn't a problem because the hips and legs don't move that much anyway.

There are a couple of drills that are commonly-used when teaching an arm-powered swing. One involves swinging a weight on the end of a string (I borrowed this to teach distance control in my putting book), and the other is often called "swinging in a barrel." You can see why these became popular -- the string drill from swinging hickory shafts, the barrel drill from the limited lower body movement.

The traditional swing was a backhand (or pulling) swing -- a right-hander controlling the swing with his left hand, or a left-hander controlling the swing with his right hand. Forehand swings have become more popular these days, which changes the teaching methods somewhat. Forehand golf swings resemble forearm tennis strokes in a lot of ways, so tennis players can be really attracted to this way of swinging. I would put Fred Couples in this category of arm-powered swings, since he doesn't drive hard with his legs. Fred demonstrates that this is still a very potent way to play the game!

Who should consider an arm-powered swing? People with strong upper bodies, especially if their lower bodies are less mobile. The idea is to make use of your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, and having a powerful upper body is a good reason to consider an arm-powered swing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Quick Sand Tip

Today I'm just posting a quick tip I heard over the weekend that might help you if you're having trouble getting out of the sand.

If you're playing out of hard sand, you need to swing easier. The club won't skim under the surface as easily if you swing hard; in all likelihood, you'll just bounce off the surface and blade the ball over the green.

If you're playing out of soft sand, you need to swing faster. This is just the opposite of hard sand -- your wedge is going to slide under the sand easily, so you're going to end up moving a lot of sand. Swinging too slow will prevent you from generating enough clubhead speed to get out.

And one more thing if you're playing after a rain: You can have both kinds of sand in the same bunker -- wet sand plays harder, dry sand plays softer. Adjust your swing accordingly.

Hope this helps.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Valero Texas Open

Winner: Adam Scott

Around the very busy and very soggy world of golf: Laura Davies won the LET's UniCredit Ladies German Open and Sakura Yokomine won the JLPGA's Fundokin Ladies (thanks to the Constructivist for those updates), Peter Hanson won the ET's Iberdrola Open Cala Millor Mallorca, Justin Hicks won the Nationwide's BMW Charity Pro-Am, Dan Forsman blitzed the Champions Tour at the Regions Charity Classic, and Se Ri Pak won a 3-hole playoff at the rain-shortened Bell Micro LPGA Classic. (You can get a full recap of that event here at HoundDog's place.) I think that covers most of the bigger tours.

Adam Scott's nerves apparently got the better of him in San Antonio. After nearly flawless play all day, he pulled a par putt to bogey his final hole. I'm not going to judge him too harshly for that, given that he shot 66-67 in a marathon 36-hole day on a long rain-soaked course. That's still about as good a day as anybody could expect.

However, it did open the door for a few players to catch him -- primarily FreddieYac (Fredrik Jacobson), who played as well as I can remember in quite a while. Still, he came up one short, leaving Adam with his first win in a couple of years... and maybe an indication that he's finally found whatever it was he lost a few years ago. Except for that last hole, he played as rock-solid as ever. He'll bear watching the rest of the year, to see if he can back it up with some more good finishes.

So here's this week's waterlogged limerick:
He conquered the rain and the lightning
But yipped as his throat started tightening!
In spite of the blunder,
The man from down under
Showed signs that his future is brightening.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dramatic Weather Requires a Dramatic Cartoon

For the Valero Texas Open guys (and maybe the Bell Micro LPGA Classic gals) stuck fighting the weather this week...

Hope they have better luck today!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Forehand Control

Part of the Route 67 series

Yesterday we looked at the characteristics shared by backhand swings; today we look at forehand swings. Remember, a forehand swing is:
  • A swing that a right-hander controls with his or her right hand, or
  • A swing that a left-hander controls with his or her left hand.
Forehand swings are not new to golf -- there's good reason to believe players like Walter Hagen used one. However, it's a fairly new phenomenon in teaching; probably the first "official" teacher of the swing was Jimmy Ballard, back in the 80s. Here is an incomplete list of things that characterize a forehand swing.
  • Stiffer shafts: This is an equipment difference. The forehand swing loads the shaft in a way the backhand swing can’t. If you’re a strong person with strong forearms, you can really blast the ball with this stroke.
  • Pulling the club back: The shoulder of a forehand player is positioned behind the club before it starts the backswing, so the player pulls the club away from the ball. This is a much stronger position, both in terms of muscle power expended and in the wrist position.
  • Weaker grip: Think about this one for a moment. Unlike a backhand stroke, which is not how we normally hit things, the forehand stroke allows you to think in terms of hitting your target with the palm of your hand. As a result, strengthening the grip (turning the hand on the grip in the direction of the backswing) is less desirable. The typical grip would have the “V’s” formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand pointed toward the support shoulder, but a neutral grip with the “V’s” pointing at the chin (think of praying hands with the fingertips pointed at the ball) is a very popular grip with this kind of swing.
  • Bent lead arm: The “straight left arm” of right-handed golf teaching isn’t really necessary if you use a forehand swing. The backhand at the end of the shaft isn’t controlling the club; it’s merely adding stability. The forehand is both controlling the club and handling most of the club’s weight. In many ways, all the backhand really needs to do is make sure it coordinates with the forehand.
  • Flat swing plane: Another matter of simple mechanics. Bending the elbow on your forehand side is the strongest position you can have at the top of your backswing, and a lower hand position (shoulder height or lower) feels more normal than a more upright position.
  • Starting the downswing by pulling the club around: With a flatter swing plane, the club doesn’t need to go downward as much to keep it inside the target line on the downswing. In fact, the body is squarely in the way because the lower hand position puts it more behind the body. To get the club going, your arm needs to go out and around, not down.
  • Dragging the club around: The bent wrist of your forehand drags the club toward the ball. It may feel like you’re pushing the club past you.
  • Lower lead shoulder at contact: The club is lower at the start of the downswing, and your body is pulling your arm and club around and past it. Again, simple mechanics: Your shoulders are going to remain more level with the ground as your hips and shoulders pull the club around.
  • Belly and spine in a straighter line: Because your shoulders' plane of rotation is more horizontal than vertical, your midsection doesn’t have to “swing” like a pendulum to help get the club around. You rotate around your spine, so your spine remains straighter.
  • Head remains stationary or moves slightly forward: Since your spine remains more vertical, your head doesn’t have to move backward in reaction to your midsection. Some teachers encourage your head (indeed, your entire upper body) to move toward the target, in an effort to get your weight transferred to your target side and prevent a reverse pivot.
  • Straight finish: It should come as no surprise that your head, spine, hips, and target foot all end up in a fairly vertical line at the finish.
While these two lists may convince you that the two strokes are entirely different, that's just not true. In fact, it can be difficult to look at a player and tell exactly which one they're using. These control methods share far more in common than most teachers would lead you to believe, but differences like the ones I've listed cause them to feel very different.

Knowing which way you feel your swing is a big part of both becoming consistent in your play and in knowing which teachers are most likely to help you improve.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Backhand Control

Part of the Route 67 series

Ok, let's start by looking at the characteristics shared by backhand swings. Remember, a backhand swing is:
  • A swing that a right-hander controls with his or her left hand, or
  • A swing that a left-hander controls with his or her right hand.
A backhand swing is the classic way of controlling a golf swing. Most of the older instructional books automatically assume you're swinging this way. Some of the new ones will as well, but it's often not clear. Here is an incomplete list of things that characterize a backhand swing.
  • Softer shafts: This is an equipment difference. Since the backhand swing doesn’t load the shaft the way a forehand swing does, you use shafts that are more flexible. This can actually make you hit the ball farther, even if you aren’t a particularly strong person.
  • Pushing the club back: Obviously, the backswing moves away from the control side of the body, which meant the player had to push the club away from the ball.
  • Stronger grip: This may be a little less obvious, but pushing the club away puts more stress on the wrist of the pushing hand. As a result, strengthening the grip (turning the hand on the grip in the direction of the backswing) made the club feel lighter to the player, and therefore easier to swing. The typical grip would have the “V’s” formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand pointed toward the support shoulder, but a very strong grip with the back of the hand almost on top of the grip wasn’t unusual.
  • Straight control arm: The “straight left arm” is a standard of right-handed golf teaching that has been argued quite a bit, but it’s a necessity in the backhanded swing. After all, if you’re going to push the club away and try to make as big an arc with it as possible, it only makes sense that you would keep the pushing arm straight. In fact, it’s hard not to keep it straight with a backhand swing.
  • Upright swing plane: Again, this is simple mechanics. You’re pushing the club away from you, you’ve got a strong grip, and the weight of the club is out at the very end of your arm. Your arm is turned so that your elbow points almost straight down toward the ground. The natural thing to do is lift the club; however, you’re turning your body as you do it, so it doesn’t go exactly straight up. However, it’s still going to be a steeper plane.
  • Starting the downswing by pulling the club down: “Tolling the bell” is a phrase I’ve seen used for this move. If your arm is straight and holding the club in a high, upright position, you’re in a perfect position to spin your body and fling that club “over the top” when your hips start to turn. As a result, many backhand teachers teach their students to pull the club down to start the downswing. This also causes the loopy “two-plane” swing that you’ve heard about. There’s nothing wrong with a loopy swing – Jim Furyk plays very well with one – but just recognize that it’s generally the result of a backhand swing, not a forehand one.
  • Pulling the club around: The arm that holds the club is stretched straight out; that’s not exactly a strong position. The most natural way to get that club back down is to pull that club around with your control shoulder.
  • High control shoulder at contact: The club is high in the air, and your control shoulder is pulling your arm around. Again, simple mechanics: That shoulder is going to have to move up as your hips and shoulders pull the club through.
  • Belly moves toward target: Hips are moving toward the target and the shoulder is moving up and even back a little to resist the momentum of the club. Of course the area between is going to flex toward the target!
  • Head moves slightly backward: As the hips and shoulders swing around and the belly arches out, the head moves back a bit to help overcome all the momentum threatening to make you fall toward the target.
  • Reverse-C finish: There are some other things that effect just how much of a “C” you get, but the combination of the last few tendencies mean you’re going to end up with your belly closer to the target than your head and feet.
When you see these things, there's a good chance you're looking at a backhand swing.

Tomorrow I'll give you a similar list on forehand swings, and you'll be able to see some important differences.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Mystery of Handedness

Part of the Route 67 series

No, I'm not talking about what side of the ball you play from. In the grand scheme of golf technique, it doesn't really make a difference whether you play from the right side of the ball or the left side.

However, it DOES make a difference which hand controls the club -- and, consequently, your swing. It makes a huge difference in how your swing feels to you, how you decide which teachers to listen to, and even how you choose which swing thoughts to use.

Are you curious yet? This is what I call, for lack of a better term, handedness. And it really doesn't get talked about very much these days, which is part of the reason so many players struggle with their games.

Control in Other Sports
Most of us have played baseball, basketball, tennis, or some other sport growing up. We may not have been very good, but even after several years where we didn't play at all, we can still usually pick up the sport again and swing a bat, catch a ball, shoot a basket, or make a forehand stroke without much difficulty. In fact, after about 5 minutes, most of us can make those moves well enough to have an impromptu game with friends... and enjoy it.

Why is golf so different? It's because, unlike those other sports motions, we don't really understand what we're trying to do in our golf swing. And we compound that by not really knowing how that swing should feel to us. So many of those other sports motions are made with a single hand, or have to be started by moving a single foot, and those actions cause weight shifts and balance changes that require a certain response just to remain upright. Some of the moves can only be made from one position.

Enter golf. Everybody seems to do it differently... but they all look pretty much the same. The differences may be intangible, but they are very real once you try to duplicate the move. How can you even hope to sort those differences out?

Control Hands & Power Sources
Here's where handedness comes in. I've already mentioned that there are two main power sources available to us (yes, we're finally going to talk about them!), and that most pros try to use both at once -- that's why they have so many timing problems. As a weekend player, you want to focus primarily on only one power source. If you do, the other source will automatically work with it and add its power to the mix; it's just that you'll feel all that power coming primarily through only one source.

Handedness is part of that feel; you might think of it as the missing piece of the puzzle. To talk about this with a minimum of confusion -- and without having to write these posts two different ways, one for right-handers and one for left-handers -- I'm going to refer to your "control side" in two different ways.

To refer to the side that controls your swing, I'm going to borrow a couple of tennis terms: forehand and backhand. To make this more clear:
  • If you play golf right-handed, your left hand controls a backhand swing and your right hand controls a forehand swing.
  • If you play golf left-handed, your right hand controls a backhand swing and your left hand controls a forehand swing.
That's simple enough, isn't it?

To refer to the actions of your individual hands, I'll use the terms control and support. Your control hand does most of the work -- it's the hand you feel the swing with -- and your other hand is your support hand. If you have a forehand swing, your control hand is your forehand hand (doesn't that sound weird); if you have a backhand swing, your control hand is your backhand hand.

What it comes down to is this: There are basically FOUR ways to feel your swing, four feels from which teachers and players tend to describe what they're doing. I've listed them here.
  1. The leg-powered forehand swing: You feel your legs providing most of the power, and you feel that your forehand side controls the swing.
  2. The leg-powered backhand swing: You feel your legs providing most of the power, and you feel that your backhand side controls the swing.
  3. The arm-powered forehand swing: You feel your arms providing most of the power, and you feel that your forehand side controls the swing.
  4. The arm-powered backhand swing: You feel your arms providing most of the power, and you feel that your backhand side controls the swing.
Pretty simple, eh? And since all of these are matters of feel, perhaps you can see why so many people struggle with their games.

Let's say you have four swing thoughts in your head. One came from a teacher who teaches the first swing, one comes from a player who uses the second, another came from a teacher who teaches the third, and you read the last one in a magazine article that was based on the fourth. You swing thinking about the first one, but the ball doesn't go where you planned... but the fourth thought seems to address it, so you swing again and use the fourth swing thought. There is no way the swing can feel the same to you, even if you perform your swing thought perfectly, because you keep changing your reference point. No wonder we struggle with the game!

Starting tomorrow, I'll teach you how to recognize which swing is yours and how to recognize which teachings will mesh with your approach.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let Me Pick Tiger's Next Teacher

Tomorrow I'll get back to the instructional posts, but today I thought I'd chip in with my two cents about "the split." I'd like to think I can offer a different perspective, although I certainly don't claim to know what's going on in the Tiger camp.

First, if you didn't see TGC Monday night, they talked with a spinal specialist who said (given the small amount of info we have) that Tiger could very well have a herniated disk and that it might indeed have been just a nagging pain that became worse with use until it suddenly became unbearable this past weekend. The doctor said Tiger might have thought it was something he could play through until that happened.

From what I heard of Tiger's presser on Monday, two thing jumped out at me. One was the word "spasms." We all know that golfers tend to play through pain. I can see how Tiger might have thought this was just some nagging pain that came from several months of layoff, and that it would pass in a few weeks. However, he clearly said that Sunday he could no longer make a swing without spasms. A pain with full motion is definitely different from shooting pains that restrict movement, so I'm willing to give Tiger the benefit of the doubt here. He never tells us when he's in pain (for better or for worse), so I'm not surprised he didn't tell us about what might just be rust.

The other thing that stood out was his remark about having friends who had dealt with this, and that it could be serious. If you didn't immediately think about his friendship with Annika and the several months she spent in a neck brace after similar problems, this probably didn't mean anything to you. But after several months of rehab from knee surgery, I imagine the possibility of several more weeks in a neck brace would put some fear in you too. We keep talking about this whole idea of seeking some escape on the golf course; that would pretty much put an end to it, and I suspect it's a scarier prospect for Tiger than it would be for us.

After all, there's nowhere else left for him to go, is there?

As for Haney quitting, I tend to believe Haney when he says he called Tiger and quit, rather than Tiger firing him. Have there been stresses between them? I don't know. Could it have been a mutual decision? I'd be surprised if it wasn't; I don't think Hank would just walk out, nor do I think Tiger would just fire him. (Look, if Tiger hasn't cleaned house after that nightmare he's been through, he certainly wouldn't get rid of the one guy who helped him be successful on the one stage he's looking to for refuge.)

That said, I think (unlike so many others) that this is actually good timing for a split.
  • Tiger says he can't make the moves. And it's unlikely he's going to be able to make them anytime soon, especially if he does have a herniated disk. If he intends to keep playing, he's going to have to rebuild his swing yet again.
  • The Hogan swing is unforgiving. You can't half do it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Hogan swing's strength is that it's designed so that, if you don't do it right, you "get stuck." Tiger continues to get stuck because even he has trouble doing it perfectly. With his neck problems, you can kiss any hope of perfection goodbye.
  • The constant Haney-bashing is a distraction for them both. If they split, the rumors stop. Haney will have to do a few interviews about the split, then they'll ask him to critique Tiger's new swing--just like they keep asking Butch to critique the Haney swing.
One last thought on the Hogan swing: Do you understand why Tiger didn't get the same results as Hogan? The Hogan swing was designed to eliminate snap hooks--what Hogan called "the terror of the fieldmice"--and you have to use his complete swing setup to make it work. That means you have to use a weak grip. The only person who ever used the Hogan swing with as much success as Hogan was Johnny Miller--and he used the weak grip also. You use it all or you don't gain the benefits. (Just for the record, Miller and Hogan also shared the yips with the putter. I think that's a side effect of the weak grip and the constant forearm twisting during the swing.)

So the big question becomes: Who will Tiger's next teacher be? I'm sure this will be a big subject of debate for the next few weeks, especially if Tiger gets sidelined for a while in rehab.

* * * * * * *

Tiger, if you're listening, I have one word for you...


Look, she's got a teaching academy not too far away. You're both already friends. She's dealt with the neck problems, and she was the dominant player on her tour, so she's the perfect person to understand what you're dealing with. And since you helped her with her short game, I figure she owes you. ;-)

But best of all, imagine what you could do with that machinelike swing of hers! Imagine never getting stuck again. Imagine piping the ball 315, right down the center of the fairway. Imagine what kind of scores you could post if you were playing all your approach shots from the short grass!

Just think about it, Tiger.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Update on the Women's Game

There's been a lot happening with the ladies lately, and since I haven't done more than touch on the LPGA for about a month (at the Kraft Nabisco, their first major), I thought I should get everybody caught up. Thanks to Mostly Harmless, HoundDog LPGA, and Waggle Room for some of the info in this post.

First off, I guess most of you have heard about Erica Blasberg's death by now. She was only 25 and, while she hadn't exactly set the Tour on fire yet, she was one of the more visible members over the last few years. (At the risk of sounding insensitive, that's something the Tour is going to miss.) No details on her death have been released yet because the investigation is still going on; to me, the most disturbing part of this is that the investigators still haven't ruled out "foul play." Hopefully the details will be out soon. In the meantime, my condolences go out to her family and friends -- which includes Shane Bacon, who posted this while I was writing this post.

In less depressing news, The Constructivist posted the latest Rolex world rankings among the ladies, which no longer contain Lorena Ochoa's name. The list now looks like this:
  1. Jiyai Shin (9.29)
  2. Ai Miyazato (9.17)
  3. Yani Tseng (8.82)
  4. Suzann Pettersen (8.41)
  5. Cristie Kerr (7.60)
  6. Anna Nordqvist (6.88)
  7. Karrie Webb (6.57)
  8. Michelle Wie (6.52)
  9. Na Yeon Choi (5.70)
  10. In-Kyung Kim (5.64)
  11. Angela Stanford (5.61)
  12. Paula Creamer (5.50)
  13. Song-Hee Kim (5.39)
  14. Sakura Yokomine (4.78)
  15. Inbee Park (4.69)
  16. Chie Arimura (4.40)
  17. Morgan Pressel (4.30)
  18. Catriona Matthew (4.17)
  19. Hee Kyung Seo (4.15)
  20. Shinobu Moromizato (3.76)
Let me add that Kristy McPherson is #24 on that list, with a 3.46 ranking. She's from South Carolina, just a few hours south of me.

The official rankings site is here.

Of particular note is the mere .12 points separating Shin and Miyazato. There's been some debate going on at the other blogs as to how important the JLPGA really is, what with Morgan Pressel winning their first major this past weekend and moving up 8 spots in the rankings. I'll just point out that 4 of the Top 20 players in the world rankings are from Japan... and one of those (Miyazato) is poised to take over the #1 spot. Korea holds 6 spots, the USA 5, and 1 each for Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, Australia, and Scotland.

Sounds pretty significant to me.

With the smaller LPGA schedule this year, several of the women are maintaining dual membership on the LET, JLPGA, and KLPGA Tours this year. With that much jetting around, I'm amazed the women are playing as well as they are.

And finally, we get another American LPGA tournament this week. The Bell Micro LPGA Classic, held in Alabama, gets underway Thursday (a 4-day event) and will be televised by TGC. The one weird thing about this tournament is that the Friday coverage is from noon till 2PM, not during prime time like the Thursday broadcast. Go figure. Anyway, Angela Stanford is the defending champion. The Top 11 from the world rankings are scheduled to play, as are Kim, Park, and Pressel, and McPherson. You can check out the full field listing here to see if your faves are playing.

Also scheduled to play is Mariajo Uribe, who didn't do so well at the Tres Marias but who I expect to make some noise on the Tour soon. For those of you who don't remember her, her full name is Maria José Uribe Durán, from Colombia (Camilo country!) and she beat Amanda Blumenthal in the 2007 U.S. Women's Amateur. As I understand it, she went to Mariajo because she had too many problems with the LPGA keeping her name straight. Keep your eye on her.

Trust me. I'm the guy who picked Tim Clark to win THE PLAYERS. I know about these things. ;-)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 THE PLAYERS Championship

Winner: Tim Clark

(I thought Tim had 9 second-place finishes; apparently it was only 8. I've updated this post to reflect that. Sorry!)

Around the greater world of golf: Fredrik Andersson Hed got his first Euro Tour win at the BMW Italian Open, and Morgan Pressel picked up her first win of the year at the JLPGA's first major, the World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup.

It was a very eventful day in the world of golf. We found out that Tiger may have a bulging disk in his neck, which may or may not explain his struggles since he came back and which might take him out of both Opens. We saw Phil try too hard to make a run and fall short. (I'll be interested to see what his world ranking ends up being, especially after Tiger's WD.) We had a really exciting THE PLAYERS (that just sounds weird to say it that way). But perhaps most importantly, I picked the winning player for maybe the first time this year. (I snagged this photo from Click the image for their wrap-up.)

Tim Clark with THE PLAYERS trophy

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty darn smug right now.

Clark shot a bogey-free 67 to win. There's just not much you can say about that; it's an amazing score, given that the course was playing about 3 strokes harder Sunday than it did Saturday. Lee Westwood may have some problems swallowing this loss, but at least he can call Phil and find out how he dealt with this monkey when it was on his back.

As for Robert Allenby... I'm not sure how he's going to take this one. He made a really solid run at this championship and, although he fell short, Tim Clark is a good friend of his who hadn't won on U.S. soil at all. That may make this loss easier to deal with.

This was actually a very tough limerick to write, because the theme obviously had to be "seconds." Not only has Clark been second 8 times on the PGA Tour, but he had one of the only two under-70 rounds of the day (Davis Love had the other, a 4-under 68), and I think they said his 66-67 weekend was the second-lowest weekend in THE PLAYERS history (Fred Couples being the leader in that category). Do you have any idea how few words rhyme with "second"? Besides "reckoned" and "beckoned," you're pretty much out of luck.

Of course, there are more words that rhyme with "players"... and most of them are pretty useless for limerick-writing. But I gave it a shot; hopefully it doesn't splash like Lee at 17.
With Tim Clark’s first win at THE PLAYERS,
Perhaps he can quiet naysayers
Who may not have reckoned
That eight times at second
Were just his career’s bottom layers.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Down Under to the Top

Michael Green down under at Aussie Golfer must be dancing right now! After noting how little chance the bookies were giving the Aussies of winning, who but Robert Allenby should pop up the leaderboard after Lee Westwood slowed down on Saturday at THE PLAYERS. Only one stroke behind, he's in position to steal this thing.

Robert's usually branded as a struggling putter, but that wasn't the case today. He took a mere 25 putts in the round -- probably because he hit more greens than usual. His Putts per GIR stat was 1.429; on the 14 greens he hit, he used only 20 putts. He only missed 4 greens, and he used a mere 5 putts on those greens, so he also got up-and-down well. The irony here is that, based on his PpGIR number, he would have actually taken 26 putts if he had hit all his greens! I guess it's not always bad to miss, huh?

But the one thing that all of the Top 10 on the leaderboard (and Mickelson) have in common is that they are well over 70% in GIR. Their total number of putts is roughly the same -- right around 28 putts apiece. Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood (my two "watch these guys" picks from yesterday) were hurt by their putting. In fact, of the Top 5, only Allenby has improved his putting each day.

Mickelson suddenly started scoring Saturday; he also has improved his putting each day.

So who am I thinking will win?

Unless Mickelson goes crazy low -- we're talking 8- or 9-under -- I think he's too far back to win; the leaders may stumble, but there are too many people ahead of him. I think the winner will come from these four -- Westwood, Allenby, Molinari, or Slocum. Westwood and Allenby have something to prove Sunday. Molinari's only won once on the Euro Tour, but he and his brother won the 2009 World Cup and he's played well in his last three majors. Slocum won the Barclays last year with a great final round, so he's been in this situation before.

Yes, I think the winner will probably come from those four... but I'm picking Tim Clark to win, because I feel he's way overdue and this is a good course for him. Absolutely nothing stands out in his stats to tell me that he's ready to break out; in fact, his stats have been pretty steady all week except for his GIR on Friday. That was his worst scoring day. If Tim can have another great GIR day and stay out of the bunkers -- and the others falter -- I think he can finally get the monkey off his back in a big way.

I just hope I haven't jinxed him...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Number 4 at #1

After Phil Mickelson beat Lee Westwood at the Masters, he said he told Lee, "There's nothing I can say -- it sucks. But you're playing too good not to win soon."

Perhaps Lee decided sooner was better than later. After a 7-under round on Friday, he's leading THE PLAYERS. (Yes, I've been informed that if I don't put it in ALL CAPS, they'll put my name on one of those handicap parking spaces, like Stephanie Wei says they did to Sergio Garcia.) TGC did a listener poll Friday night, asking simply whether Westwood would win or not, and only 35% believe he will. (Although, as was pointed out, that's a pretty large number when you're picking one player against the field.)

I can't tell you whether he will or not, but I can give you a quick look at some of his stats for the last couple of days from (these are the averages for the two days):
  • Driving Distance: 284.8 yards
  • Driving Accuracy (DA): 71.4%
  • GIR: 80.6%
  • Putts per Round: 27.5
  • Putts per GIR: 1.586
And here are the extra stats I created a few days ago:
  • Missed Greens (MG): 3.5
  • Difference Putts (DP): 4.5
  • Scramble Putting (SP): 2.286
My extra stats are important here simply because of one generally-accepted fact: Lee Westwood's weakest skill is probably chipping. How well he handles it could have a big effect on how he scores. A perfect Scramble Putting score of 0.0 means he took only one putt per missed green -- i.e., he got "up and down" on every hole. For comparison purposes, an SP between 2 and 3 is about the best you can get without being perfect.

My 67 rule says that you need to do better than 67% on your DA and GIR stats to have a good shot. Watching these stats this year has proven that GIR is the most important if you are a long hitter; Lee is pretty average at around 285 yards. However, his DA is over 71% and his GIR is over 80% -- both are pretty incredible, and perhaps an indication that the course is indeed playing much easier than normal.

But even more incredible are the MG and SP figures. He's not missing many greens, but he's getting up and down almost every time. If he keeps this up, I'm not sure anybody can catch him...

Well, after spot-checking a few figures, I think there is one guy who has a legitimate chance, and Golf Girl Patricia Hannigan is gonna love it. That man is Italian player Francesco Molinari; he's only one stroke behind, is matching Lee pretty much drive-for-drive, is hitting more greens... and is nearly perfect (0.0) at the fine art of getting up and down.

I'm viewing this as my first test of my stats. I realize that past performance is no indication of what may happen over the next two days, but I'd keep my eye on Westwood and Molinari.

Friday, May 7, 2010

He Found Something...

Everybody has been soooo worried about poor Tiger. Last week he had pretty much the worst round of his career, and everybody wrote him off. Good ol' Johnny Miller (who I still enjoy hearing sometimes) stuck his foot in his mouth by telling the world that Tiger needed to go back to his 2000-2001 swing, Brandel Chamblee complained that Hank Haney had him "laying off" the club too much, and basically everybody has said -- in one form or another -- that Tiger really needs to rebuild his swing if he wants to play good golf again.

I told my friends that hey, Tiger's been here before, he'll figure something out.

The word is that Tiger told Pat Perez a couple of days ago that "he found something" on the range. Granted, he didn't blister the course Thursday, but he tied the best first round he's ever had at TPC Sawgrass. He's never shot better than 70 in the first round, and he's never had a bogey-free round at all there... but had it not been for a bad hop on the 18th, which put his drive in the water, he would have had a bogey-free 69, the best of his career. Not only that, but he scored as well as Phil... and both are only 4 shots off the lead.

Do I expect Tiger to win this week? No. But this should remind us of a very basic truth about golf:

Even the best players have bad days. Tiger, as he and several others have pointed out, has only played 6 rounds in 6 months -- certainly not the best way to get in shape for big tournaments. And have Johnny and the other guys forgotten that Tiger has won with 3 or 4 different golf swings during his relatively short career? The guy can figure out how to play with virtually any old swing he finds laying around the course.

You're gonna have bad days, folks. And unless your game has absolutely sucked up until that time, you should ignore everybody who tells you that your swing needs rebuilding. If history teaches us anything, it's that almost any swing will work if you practice hard enough. I try to teach you swings that don't take a lot of practice, but guys like Tiger and Phil have hours and hours of spare time to do their job. I wouldn't worry about them.

As for your game, I'll be trying to teach you how to tell what kind of swing you have and what kind the teachers you hear on TV are teaching, so you can tell who can help you and who'll just mess you up.

In the meantime, take heart. Tiger found something. The world won't end...

At least, not until the end of 2012. Don't even get me started on that one...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

One Eye on the Game

For obvious reasons, Vince's death has caused me to postpone any more instructional posts until next week; I'm just not in the mood right now. But there was one thing I really wanted to do, so here it is.

Most of you know I have a poetry site called
Will Shakespeare for Hire where I write as Will Shakespeare. Well, Will is going to post a sort of eulogy to Vince in his regular Friday post... but I decided to post it here today, since I doubt most of the golf community would see it on Will's site.

I've never tried anything like this, and it was harder than I thought because... well, most of the poetry styles I could think of would draw too much attention to themselves, which left what I call "greeting card verse." Most of us are so used to it that it doesn't get in the way, but it tends to sound trite. Hopefully I avoided that with this poem. I hope you all think Vince would have liked it.

Clichés abound at a time like this
'Cause we don't know what to say
When a friend like Vince has come and gone
And the ache won't go away.

But to frame our thoughts with the images
Of the game he loved so much
Seems appropriate now, since golf will feel
The loss of his special touch.

In a day when heroes stumble
And abuses glare so bright,
Ol’ Vince kept one eye on the game
While never losing sight

Of the people; his friends and family
Will never be ashamed.
In many ways, he’ll always be
The spirit of the game.

So now that his score is posted
And he’s played his final round,
He can rest with the other champions
And with both eyes see his crown.

We’ll miss you, Vince.