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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More on the Mental Game

So Tuesday I was checking the blogs in my blog list and came across this little gem from the Constructivist over at Mostly Harmless. As I was reading that post and thinking, "Wow, I need to link to this baby!" I discovered that he had already linked to my Tuesday post on getting out of your own way when you swing.

I ended up terribly flattered... but since I was going to link to TC's post anyway, I'll just say the two posts do seem to complement each other and get on with it.

The post is simply called On Following Mi Hyun Kim, Mina Harigae, and Ai Miyazato. As most of you know, TC was at the Wegmans LPGA Championship last weekend, complete with media pass, and he posted a lot of good stuff that didn't really get much attention elsewhere. But this post particularly stands out because he followed several players around for the first 4 or 5 holes of their rounds; and in this post, as he put it, "what I want to get at is how small the differences are between a bad (Harigae), good (Kim), and great (Miyazato) round and to share some insight I gained into Ai-sama's mental approach to the game."

I don't know that I've ever seen anybody do quite what he did in this post. Essentially, he followed three different groups (six players), then wrote the post as if they were all playing in one big sixsome (try saying that five times fast!) so you can see how they each attacked the hole differently. It's really pretty cool reading -- not so much a post as a magazine feature (over 3600 words, by my reckoning) -- and well worth your time.

If you take what I wrote in my post about how to swing without bogging yourself down with swing thoughts, and then combine it with TC's insights on how to strategize your way around the course, you could conceivably see some serious improvement in your game in a very short time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting Out of Your Own Way

If you watched in awe as Cristie Kerr blew the field away at the Wegmans LPGA Championship this weekend, you aren't the only one. The other players were as amazed as the rest of us. I mentioned in one post that Kerr said she didn't think anybody expected to see a player in double-digits after 2 rounds. The fact is, they didn't expect it in 4 either. I heard an interview with Ai Miyazato Sunday where she was asked if she had come into the championship with a total in mind, and she said that she and her caddy had talked about it... and decided that -5 to -8 was probably the number.

In case you've forgotten, Kerr's number was -10 after 2 rounds... -13 after 3 rounds... and -19 at the end.

How do you go that low? It's a common question. Regardless whether you're a pro shooting for the low 60s, Ray Romano trying to break 80 on TGC, or a noob to the game trying to get out of triple digits, it's basically the same problem. After she won, Cristie broke down, saying "it's all coming out now" and adding "I fought it all day..." No one's exempt from the pressure to go low.

I have a book called Go Low. It's by Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist who studied (and interviewed) several players who have broken through to personal best low scores. In fact, he subtitled the book How to Break Your Individual Golf Scoring Barrier by Thinking Like a Pro.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Ironically, you may be disappointed if you read the book -- not because it's a bad book, but because it probably won't tell you anything you haven't already heard. It's a great compilation of advice... but you won't find some "secret" that will make the game unfold like a magic carpet before you. Play smart golf, keep things in perspective, stop caring about the score... any of these sound familiar? Even Cristie, who works a lot with Dr. Joe Parent (author of Zen Putting), remarked that the things that had helped her golf had helped her life outside golf as well. Care for that old concept of balance, anyone?

I'm going to give you one that you may or may not have heard, although I doubt you've heard it quite this way. I know, because I've been hinting at it in several posts over the last few weeks (no, the Route 67 series isn't done -- I've just taken a bit of a break during this current series of consecutive majors) but haven't been able to put it into a few simple words until recently. It's not the do-all and end-all of getting out of your own way, but I suspect it's a problem for many of you.

Do you have 15 different swing thoughts in your head when you play? It's a particularly rough problem if you're taking lessons, because you're probably changing several things, but it also trips up a lot of players just making a "simple" change.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that really might revolutionize your play. No, it won't suddenly drop your score 15 strokes... but it might free your mind up to concentrate on those other things that guys like Cohn write in their books. Are you ready?

The key is to realize what a swing thought really is. Did you know you can make quite a few changes to your swing and still only have one swing thought? The trick is realizing that a swing thought isn't a bunch of words describing the changes you want to make; rather, it's how your swing feels when you make it properly.

Are you clear on that? A swing thought is NOT a bunch of words; rather, a swing thought is how your swing FEELS when you do it properly. Follow me carefully here, and you should simplify your mind game considerably. Do this during your warm-up and between shots on the course if you need to.

Use as many words as you need to make yourself address the ball properly. Once you do that, you don't have to think about it again during the swing, so make lists or do whatever it takes. Get yourself set up properly, because you can't make a good swing from a bad setup.

Next, make your swing slowly, doing exactly what your teacher told you to do or making whatever change you're currently working on... but focus on how your body feels when you do it. Pay specific attention to the "quarters" -- halfway up the backswing, top of the back swing, halfway down, impact, halfway through after the ball is gone, and at the finish. (When you get it up to speed, you'll probably only pay attention to the extremes of the swing; that's normal and perfectly fine.) Swing slowly and pay attention to how it feels to make a good swing. You want to get into position without looking at it, but being able to identify if it's right or not. The technical term for this is "body awareness" -- and yes, you have it or you wouldn't be able to function during the day!

Then try to make the swing at regular speed, duplicating the feel of the slow swing. You can talk to yourself when you make the swing in slow motion, when you're trying to identify what it feels like (comparing it to something you already know how to do will make learning easier), but don't think any words when you swing at full speed! Don't say "do this" or "don't do that" -- just duplicate the feel.

And -- this is VERY important -- realize that the correct feel may not be what you expect. For example, one of the biggest "feels" Carl taught me was that, when I was in the correct position at that point halfway up in the backswing position, I needed to feel like I was pointing the clubshaft straight up in the air. You might wonder about that, but I was twisting the club too much to the inside when I tried to swing "on plane." When I did it his way, I was always on plane at the top. I could learn that feel and duplicate it without thinking "point the shaft straight up." I just learned that feel and duplicated it.

Unfortunately, I didn't use that technique for my complete swing, so I tended to think about 10 different things and I struggled to swing well. Funny thing was, I always got my club on plane! Why? Because I could duplicate that feel despite the 10 different things going on in my mind.

Here's why it works: We do things by feel all the time. We're comfortable with movements when we can feel them. Learn how the proper mechanics feel, then set up properly and duplicate that feel; the mechanics will be there automatically. This is the biggest "secret" you can learn in any sport or job that depends on motion; you would never try to drive nails with a hammer the way most of you try to drive a ball with a club! "Hold the hammer firmly, with the head perfectly vertical and centered over the head of the nail. Now, lift it up slowly, bending the elbow but not cocking the wrist until you change direction..." By this point, you'd be unable to hit a nail head the size of a frying pan!

Remember: If you want to get out of your own way so you can concentrate on where you want the ball to go, learn how the proper mechanics feel, then set up properly and duplicate that feel; the mechanics will be there automatically.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Travelers Championship

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: Cristie Kerr ripped the field for her 2nd major at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and #1 in the World Rankings (so important I gave her a Limerick Summary of her very own!); Loren Roberts won the Dick's Sporting Goods Open on the Champions Tour; Jamie Lovemark won the Mexico Open Bicentenary on the Nationwide Tour; David Horsey won the BMW International Open on the European Tour; Karen Lunn won her first LET win in 13 years at the Portugal Ladies Open; and Emily Tubert won 3&2 over Lisa McCloskey at the U.S. Women's Public Links. (You can read Rhonda Glenn's summary of the 36-hole final here.)

They say you have to learn how to win. School's been tough on Bubba Watson. First they claimed he was too reckless; then, when he tried laying up on a par-5 earlier this year and still lost, he got blasted for being gutless. The longest guy in the field at Travelers must have been struggling to find a balance that would get the job done. He was 6 strokes back of the leader, Justin Rose, when the day began; but after Rose, who had won his first just a couple of weeks ago and seemed to be a lock for this win also, lost his confidence with the putter over the weekend, Bubba made a run. After a double on 17, he managed a birdie on 18 and suddenly found himself in a playoff...

Bubba Watson
(photo from PGATour.com)

With a couple of short-knockers who knew how to get the job done. Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin, older and perhaps wiser in the ways of victory, were hungry for wins themselves. Ironically, it was two simple pars that gave Bubba the win and moved him to #8 on the FedEx Cup points list. He broke down after the win, dedicating it to his family and especially his dad, who's fighting cancer.

Has Bubba finally learned how to win? I don't know, but Charlie Rymer at TGC was right about one thing: Bubba will go to bed every night for the rest of his life knowing he's a Tour winner. Hopefully this won't be his only win.
When a par-5’s a mere appetizer,
You may find you’re a poor strategizer.
After getting this win,
Can he do it again?
If he does, then it’s made Bubba wiser.

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Wegmans LPGA Championship

Winner: Cristie Kerr

Today there are two Limerick Summaries. I couldn't let this accomplishment go with a mere update in the regular Summary; the women of the LPGA get passed over too much as it is.

Before I wax poetic about Cristie Kerr, let me take a moment to congratulate Azahara Munoz, who didn't have the best of Sundays (she shot +3 to finish T11 at -2) but should take over the lead in the Rookie of the Year race. I think she's the favorite for that award now.

I really think this LPGA major has to go down as a pivotal one. The Rolex Rankings have only been kept for a few years, and most of those were dominated by Annika and Lorena. (You can tell they haven't been around for too long, as Lorena held #1 about 2 1/2 times longer than Annika.) Since they left the game, no one has been able to stay at the top for very long. So why do I consider this a pivotal -- no, a seismic shift in the women's game?

Cristie KerrThe last American to win Player of the Year was Beth Daniel in 1994. She was also the last to win the Vare (scoring) Trophy that year. Betsy King won both of those in 1993, and also became the last American to win the money list that year as well. It is completely fair to say the LPGA hasn't seen a dominant American player since then.

The Constructivist informed me that the only way Cristie Kerr could avoid becoming #1 in the Rolex Rankings was if Ai Miyazato finished solo 2nd. She put up a good run, posting a round of -6 to finish at -5 for the tournament and get a T3... but it wasn't enough. Song-Hee Kim managed to get the solo 2nd at -7. (The photo is from Wikimedia Commons.)

That was a full 12 shots behind Cristie Kerr's -19 total. She matched Miyazato's -6 on Sunday to widen her lead, and she broke Betsy King's previous record in this major of an 11-stroke margin of victory back in 1992. Just think about that for a moment. This is her 2nd win in 3 weeks, and her 2nd major. This takes her to 14 LPGA wins, and she's now 35th on the all-time wins list. She has 16 points toward the LPGA Hall of Fame (she needs 27). She's 2nd on the money list and #1 in stroke average. And if her play this week is any indication, by the end of the year she may grab the POY, Vare, and money title awards all at once. After all, she smashed the field by 12 strokes... and I saw her either lip out or have several putts stop just short of falling in Sunday's round. That can't be good news for the rest of the field, can it?

I've been trumpeting Kerr's 323 weeks in the Rolex Top 10 for a while now, and I've said more than once that I believe she's the best female American player, period. I think this is the start of her proving it. And before you think she's going to rest on her laurels, think about this: Before this win, she remarked that although she had dreamed of being #1 for her whole career, she felt that Annika and Lorena had proven that getting there wasn't enough -- you needed to "hang around" there for a while.

No pressure, right?

We may be witnessing the emergence of the next dominant player. If so, this is going to disappoint a lot of media people who have been making their living by reaming the U.S. women for not stepping up. Yeah, I know she's got to back it up now... but when a player can drive herself to increase her lead when she has such a large one -- and on a stage where she has failed to even hold her ground in the past -- you have to think she just might be able to do it.

So here's a tribute to the new #1 on the LPGA. May you stay there a long time, Cristie!
U.S. critics now have to defer
To the new Number 1, Cristie Kerr.
In the driver’s seat first,
The back 9 she traversed
In a limo—complete with chauffeur!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is It Already Over?

The US Soccer Team (of which I have become a huge fan) exited the World Cup Saturday after Ghana beat them 2-1 for a second time. You could certainly argue that 6 1/2 hours of hard competition in 2 weeks is more than the human body is meant to handle. However -- and the coach and players will tell you this -- you can't keep falling behind early if you want to win; it just takes too much energy to make up lost ground.

Cristie KerrPerhaps the LPGA players at Wegmans this week are learning just how true that is. Of course, you can't help but wonder if they're playing the same course that Cristie Kerr is playing. When the 3rd round was over (and contrary to TGC's intro, they did NOT bring us live coverage -- the full-field scores were up before the broadcast ever began), Cristie Kerr found herself a full 8 shots ahead of the three players in 2nd place. You simply don't want to spot a player like Kerr 5 shots in the first two rounds, even if you can light it up over the weekend. (The photo is from Kerr's bio page at LPGA.com.)

As our soccer team found out, it's just bad strategy.

Coming from behind is hard -- just ask Tiger, who's never won a major coming from behind. Kerr, by comparison, made an interesting remark during an interview this week: She said she liked winning from the front, but she liked winning from behind too -- and she felt confident that she could do it either way.

Unless she falls apart today, I'd think she'll be doing it from the front. She's at -13, and she's done it without any flashy eagles or big mistakes. By round, she's made:
  1. 5 birdies, 1 bogey (68)
  2. 6 birdies, 0 bogeys (66)
  3. 6 birdies, 3 bogeys (69)
No one else is scoring this well, which is as much a testament to her putting (which had fallen off somewhat over the last few months, although she was still better than most players) as to her long hitting. She says she loves her new putter, and she's taken only 84 putts so far (avg. 28 putts per round).

Can she take over the #1 position on the Rolex Rankings if she wins? Only 2 players ahead of her in the rankings are playing well :
  • Jiyai Shin (emergency appendectomy and all) is at -3, which sounds a long way back but is still T5; and
  • Suzann Pettersen has rallied to reach -1 (T13).
At first I didn't think she'd make enough points to leapfrog them all, even with a win, because of the funky way the Rolex Ratings seem to be figured. But I did a little figuring of my own from the charts for the last three weeks, and I think she can probably make it to #2 if the tournament finishes the way it is now. (As things stand, I think Shin might move back to #1. It depends on how many points she gets for a top 10 finish.)

Azahara Munoz is one of the players at -5 (T2), which primes her for more than just her best finish yet in a major. With Rookie of the Year leader Amanda Blumenherst all the way back at +7 (T64) and Munoz only 14 points behind in the ROY race, she'll take a pretty solid lead if she can finish this off.

Finally, it's continuing to rain, making the course play even longer. So it appears that if Kerr and Munoz can just hit some fairways and make some putts today, Kerr will grab her 2nd major and Munoz a stranglehold on ROY. TGC is carrying the final round today at 4p-7p... but I bet you can find the results much sooner at LPGAscoring.com.

Is this major already over, like our World Cup hopes? I think so... but it looks like the Americans are going to win this one.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

LPGAers Race for #1

Well, it looks like the Travelers Championship is pretty well covered (Stephanie Wei is there, among others), so I'm going to stay on the "Major Trail" this week with the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

I heard today that all of the Top 6 players in the Rolex Rankings have a chance to grab the #1 position this week. Now, I don't know all the "if this happens" and "if that happens" scenarios that effect how they could make it to the top, but this certainly makes things a bit more interesting.

First, here are the Top 6 and where they are in this 2nd major of 2010:
  1. Ai Miyazato +3
  2. Jiyai Shin -2
  3. Suzann Pettersen +2
  4. Yani Tseng +2
  5. Cristie Kerr -10 (leading by 5)
  6. Anna Nordqvist +1
The first thing we notice is that Ai Miyazato is cooperating with whatever scenario comes up. I'm sure this is driving her biggest fan, the Constructivist, absolutely crazy... and I confess I'm a bit confused. As I said yesterday, she missed the cut in the year's first major; now today she barely missed the +4 cut (where she was after yesterday's round). That's despite the short length of the course -- 6,506 yards -- although admittedly the course has had quite a bit of rain and I understand the rough is a bear. But Ai rarely misses fairways... except, apparently, at majors.

Cristie Kerr is clearly the favorite this week. Perhaps the week break between wins gave her a chance to refocus, or perhaps she's just not putting so much pressure on herself at this major. (It certainly sounded that way in her interview with Rich Lerner after her round.) At any rate, her rounds of 66-64 have put her in the enviable possession of a 5-stroke lead. Granted, it's still early, but it does look good for her at this point. It's been the back 9 on Sunday that gives Kerr fits, so we'll see what happens then. I think it's important to point out that while Kerr was shooting 66, her two co-leaders after the first round -- Stacy Lewis and Seon Hwa Lee -- could only manage 74s. I suspect Kerr's extra length, which appears to be mostly carry, made the difference because Kerr missed some fairways Friday.

In fact, "Old Man Par" seems to have beaten almost all of the ladies Friday. (Doesn't the LPGA have some rule about men playing in their tournaments? I suspect if "he" was a "she" today, we wouldn't be able to repeat her name in polite society.) There were very few under-par rounds outside the Top 10 (which actually totalled 13 players on Friday), and only 2 of them shot over par -- the afore-mentioned Lewis and Lee. The only really low scores were posted by these players -- Kerr's -6 and four -5s.

Of the other players I mentioned yesterday, rookie Azahara Munoz is at -3 (T6), which could give her an edge in the Rookie of the Year race. She trails Amanda Blumentherst by less than 15 points, and leads Mariajo Uribe by well over 150 points. Uribe and Blumenherst are at +1 and +2, respectively. Laura Davies managed a -3 -- the best round outside the Top 10 -- to get back to even (T18); if she plays well this weekend, she may even have an outside chance. Kerr herself said no one expected a double-digit leader after 2 rounds. If they toughen up the course some more -- or if they get more rain -- the field could come back and Laura's long hitting could give her enough edge to catch up.

Ironically, the only player ahead of Kerr in the rankings who seems capable of giving her a run is Jiyai Shin -- who I still can't believe is playing only 2 weeks after an emergency appendectomy! Her 72-70 (T10) sounds reasonably impressive after that, doesn't it? Paula Creamer, also back from surgery (thumb, not appendix), is at -1 (T14) after rounds of 71-72. I don't know if they'll have the strength to beat this wet course, but I know better than to count them out. Shin especially has surprised me by winning on long slow courses... and she won at Wegmans last year when it wasn't a major.

TGC is carrying the 3rd round today at 4p-7p, and you can get other updates from the Constructivist and HoundDog's blogs. Since Justin Rose looks like he's going to run away with the Travelers, you might want to watch the ladies instead. This looks like it could be a fun weekend!

And, for those of you who are interested, the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship is going on this weekend, and the finals are today. Two 18-year-olds -- Emily Tubert and Lisa McCloskey -- are the finalists. I'll just refer you to Rhonda Glenn's write-up about Friday's play, at USGA.org.

Friday, June 25, 2010

LPGA Championship: The Usual Suspects... AND

The first day of the (now) Wegmans LPGA Championship had no big surprises... except for Ai Miyazato's +4 round. Ai came in as the favorite, having won 4 LPGA tournaments this year. But she's continuing her poor showing in this year's majors -- she missed the cut in the Kraft Nabisco nearly 3 months ago. Perhaps she's just trying too hard, as Locust Hill seems to be a perfect track for her game -- relatively short, with narrow fairways. However, Ai didn't hit many fairways Thursday, and heavy rains made the rough nearly impossible to navigate. She's got her work cut out for her now.

Also a bit of a surprise is Stacy Lewis's -4, which tied her for the lead. She's had 4 Top 20s so far this year, but her only Top 10 is a 2nd at the Tres Marias Championship. Seems girlfriend got herself an EAGLE at the 511-yard par-5 11th! It should say something about course conditions that Stacy's driving distance was about 15 yards shorter than usual.

Seon Hwa Lee, the 2nd of the leading trio, also posted an eagle... on the 261-yard par-4 12th. You go, girl! Neither of these two hit it more than 236 today, so that was really some good play on a wet course.

The 3rd member of the trio, Cristie Kerr, made her -4 the old-fashioned way -- 5 birdies, 1 bogey. She managed to hit it her normal distance -- nearly 260 -- so she must get her distance mostly from carry. (A big advantage in wet conditions, in case you hadn't realized it. If you're shopping for a new driver, you might want to try for one that gives you mostly carry. In dry conditions, almost any well-struck ball will run.) Unlike the other two players, Cristie has played well this year; and having broken the American win drought just a couple of weeks ago, she probably has high hopes. She does have a tendency to get in her own way at majors -- you could argue that she should have 3 by now, not 1 -- but she is clearly the top American player right now. (She's now been in the Top 10 of the Rolex Rankings for 323 straight weeks.)

The next closest of the Top 10 players is -- surprise! -- Jiyai Shin, still hurting from that appendectomy... and she's back at even par, tied for 20th. Paula Creamer and Jeong Jang, both coming back from injuries, are tied at -1. Beware the walking wounded...

Several other players sniffed the lead, including Yani Tseng (who jumped back ahead of Kerr in the rankings last week) and Juli Inkster, but both fell back as the wet rough took its toll. Inkster finished -1 and Tseng fell all the way to +3 -- just 1 behind Suzann Pettersen's +2. This is shaping up to be a rough week for the Top 10.

Just for the record, here are the current Top 10 and their scores:
  1. Ai Miyazato +4
  2. Jiyai Shin E
  3. Suzann Pettersen +2
  4. Yani Tseng +3
  5. Cristie Kerr -4 (currently tied for the lead)
  6. Anna Nordqvist +1
  7. Michelle Wie E
  8. Karrie Webb E
  9. Angela Stanford +2
  10. Na Yeon Choi +1
Granted, it's only the 1st round...

A few other players who might be of interest... Azahara Munoz, the player from Spain who made a bit of a splash doing impromptu commentary for TGC at the Sybase, is at E; Mariajo Uribe, the Colombian who beat Amanda Blumenhurst (+2) at the 2007 U.S. Women's Amateur, is at -1; and Laura Davies, still trying to get those last 2 points for automatic entry into the LPGA Golf Hall of Fame, is at +3.

Remember, you can keep up with the scoring here. Both HoundDog and the Constructivist are posting detailed updates on the tournament. And TGC will be covering the tournament again today from 12:30pm-2:30pm

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Preparation for the Wegmans LPGA Championship

None of this may be news to you but with another major starting today, I wanted to make sure everybody is up to snuff.

I guess by now everybody knows that TGC picked up Terry Gannon, who previously did ESPN's LPGA telecasts. Wednesday night he made his debut on the station with a brief preview of this week's major. Apparently Judy Rankin will continue to work with him, so this bodes well for upcoming LPGA broadcasts.

I believe they said that the Top 15 players in the Rolex Rankings are playing, and 29 of the Top 40. Again, a great field bodes really well for this broadcast.

Several players are still nursing nagging injuries, like Jeong Jang and Suzann Pettersen. But the biggest question marks will be Paula Creamer, who says her hand is still a little weak and sore, and Jiyai Shin, who's coming off an emergency appendectomy just two weeks ago. TGC's Randall Mell reported that she hurts a little during the follow-through, but let's face it -- she just lost the #1 spot and this is a major on a relatively short course that she's won on before. There's no way she was missing this!

As usual, HoundDog LPGA and Mostly Harmless have extensive coverage of the tournament, so I'll refer you to their sites. But I want to call your attention to this HoundDog post with an overview of the tournament. and I HAVE to mention that the Constructivist is actually there as a media member this week. He's posting all kinds of interviews and stuff you'll want to check out, including this overview post that includes all the pairings.

TGC's coverage starts today from 12:30pm-2:30pm.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ai Miyazato's Golf Swing

While it's a bit unusual for me to look at the swings of specific players for two days in a row, I think this stretch of majors we're in makes it worth taking a look at some of the unlikely contenders who are making their marks on the game. I say "unlikely" because most of these players are not the big powerful dominators we expect to see. Gregory Havret earned a look yesterday by virtue of his 2nd at Pebble.

Today we're taking a look at the new world #1 on the LPGA Tour, Ai Miyazato.

The Constructivist over at Mostly Harmless wrote a post called "Pathways to Success" where he divided the women players into 3 groups. TC labels these groups as bombers, straight shooters, and precision players. Ai is a precision player, whom TC categorizes as a player who averages under 255 yards and hits the fairway over 75% of the time. According to the sparse stats posted at LPGA.com, Ai averages just under 244 yards (not bad for a smallish 5'2" powerhouse) with a 77% accuracy rate. (For comparison, former #1 Jiyai Shin is only one inch shorter, but hits it over 10 yards shorter. Ai's pretty long for her size.) The fact that she hits only 60% GIR but is still T9 for Total Birdies (107 in only 9 tournaments / 7 made cuts) tells you just how important her Driving Accuracy is.

As with most things LPGA, good footage of Ai hitting shots is not readily available. We'll have to make do with some paltry pickin's. First, here's a face-on shot from Singapore in 2009:



Ai, like Havret, has a very rhythmic swing. And she doesn't move much from side-to-side or up-and-down during her swing -- again, like Havret. This is a big part of her accuracy and her consistency.

Now here's a much older piece from 2007 (watch fast -- it's short!) showing her shot down-the-line:



What stands out most from this angle is how upright her swing is. Both she and Havret finish high, but Ai is high on the backswing as well. (Say that five times fast!) An upright backswing tends to develop more power because it utilizes the back muscles in the swing, and I'm sure she got that swing from the old "reach for the sky" idea that Nicklaus followed during his heyday.*

When I watch Ai swing, what really impresses me (like most of the swings I post videos of) is how simple it is. Ai's hip movement to start her downswing is a little more violent than, say, Gregory Havret's, but Ai is much smaller and is trying to generate some extra distance. Nevertheless, that little "jump" doesn't upset the smooth rhythm of her swing; she doesn't jerk the club when she starts down, and she doesn't contort her body and tilt her swing plane. There's a lot to be learned here, even if you're a 200-lb guy struggling to hit the fairway. She's won 4 LPGA tournaments in 9 starts this year -- if you're looking for a good model to pattern your swing after, I'd say she's a pretty good one!

*For those of you who don't know the story, after a winless 1979, Jack's teacher Jack Grout noticed that Nicklaus had gotten too upright and lost some of his ability to get that big coil that gave him so much power. Together they flattened his swing considerably, and he won the 1980 PGA Championship as a result. He won only three more times on the PGA Tour after that (the last, of course, being the 1986 Masters), and I think it's because they made his swing a little too flat. When you change your swing that much (that plane change was very visible), you change the feel of your swing... and your consistency tends to leave when you do. That's just my opinion, of course, but that's why I generally don't recommend big swing changes unless your swing is just hopeless.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gregory Havret's Golf Swing

Today we're taking a look at the swing of the runner-up at the U.S. Open. Before he turned pro, Gregory Havret won 3 French Amateur Championships and 1 European Amateur Championship, as well as the Omnium National (also in France). On the ET he has 3 wins -- the Italian Open, The Barclays Scottish Open, and the Johnny Walker -- and he's currently 13th in the Race to Dubai. Some players would consider that a career!

I found a couple of clips showing his swing -- one from the front and one down the line -- that demonstrate just how simple it is. He's just over 6'1" and hits the ball around 284, according to the Euro Tour website, which isn't terribly long for his height. But as this first clip from the 2009 BMW Italian Open shows, this isn't a flaw in his swing; he's simply decided not to swing hard.



As you can see, there's not a lot of side-to-side or up-and-down movement in his swing. That's part of the reason his game held up so well at Pebble. I don't intend to dissect his swing or anything -- the rhythm and simplicity are the big things I'd like you to notice -- but I would like to point out a couple of things in this slow-mo clip taken during the U.S. Open pro-am last Wednesday:



First, I want you to notice how his right elbow swings in front of and past his hip on the downswing, like I mentioned in the Elbow Room post a couple of weeks ago. This lets him swing freely at the ball.

The other thing I want you to look at is where his arms are at the top of the backswing, and then again at the top of the follow-through. His follow-through is more upright than his backswing -- just look at how high that right arm is at the end! (See the space between his shoulder and forearm?) This is not something most teachers are going to tell you to do, but I suspect Havret does it to keep from pulling across the ball at contact and hitting a pull-hook. (In this clip you can see that his feet are lined up straight down the fairway, but he starts the ball to the right and draws it back to the target.) If you have problems with a pull-hook (or even just a pull), you might consider Havret's approach.

After all, this is a very solid swing that just took 2nd at Pebble Beach. You could do lots worse!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 U.S. Open

Winner: Graeme McDowell

Around the wider world of golf: Ai Miyazato won the ShopRite LPGA Classic (her 4th LPGA win this season! -- more info at HoundDog LPGA); Mi-Jeong Jeon won the Nichirei PGM Ladies on the JLPGA Tour (more info at Mostly Harmless); and believe it or not, there was a European Tour event this week -- the Saint-Omer Open -- won by Martin Wiegele.

Graeme McDowell holding U.S. Open trophy at Pebble Beach
Click the pic to read the official U.S. Open summary at majorschampionships.com

Sunday afternoon, Pebble Beach stood up and defended herself against all those who claimed she was too short to host a great U.S. Open. Everybody went backwards -- of the top 11, only Matt Kuchar (T6) posted a score under par. Dustin Johnson will be smarting from his 81 for a while; his par-triple-double-single bogey start brought everybody back into the game.

The only problem was, nobody was moving up to challenge Graeme McDowell, who held his ground through the front 9. Players would surge forward only to fall back, including an early run by Davis Love III. In the end, the only guy who could mount a challenge was Frenchman Gregory Havret, who you may not be familiar with unless you keep up with the European Tour. In the end, the Open first-timer fell one stroke short and McDowell became the one to break Europe's 40-year drought in the U.S. Open. (Tony Jacklin last won it, back in 1970.) McDowell's dad was also there to share it with him. Ah, Father's Day...

Els finished 3rd; Woods and Mickelson tied for 4th. Els was too distraught to talk, but give Woods and Mickelson credit for talking to the press (both on NBC and after the round in the media room). Tiger would never have done this before, and Phil even managed to joke that at least it wasn't a 2nd. It's also a moral victory of sorts for Tiger, who finally managed to tie Phil at an event since "it" happened.

All-in-all, it was an exciting event.

I had to write about four different limericks for this summary. I'd write one for the leader, only to have them crash and burn. Although McDowell was one of the first ones I wrote (along with Johnson), he started coming back to the field on the back 9 and I had to start scrambling. I was struggling to find rhymes for "Havret" when Graeme finally settled down... so here's what truly turned out to be a Major limerick. By the way, in case you don't know, rebutting means "to present opposing evidence or arguments."
Hear the legend of Graeme McDowell:
While Pebble’s greens caused men to growl,
Graeme did his rebutting
By calmly outputting
Them all, till they threw in the towel.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beware the Walking Wounded

It's an old saying, but it rang true Saturday.

First it was Paula Creamer. Still in some pain from thumb surgery, she played early on Saturday, posting at 10-under and remaining the leader at the ShopRite LPGA Classic until M.J. Hur finally managed to post at 11-under.

And then he showed up at Pebble. The first tip-off came when Johnny Miller critiqued one of his swings and had nothing but good things to say about it. (Really, Johnny did that; it was unbelievable.) And then all Tiger did was rip through the back nine with a 5-under 31 to post a 66 and get under par (-1)! He now sits in 3rd place, behind Graeme McDowell (-3) and leader Dustin Johnson (-6). Only 3 players are under par; Els sits at even and Mickelson at 1-over.

It's shaping up to be a great Sunday for golf.

And of course, the U.S. Open always finishes on Father's Day. (Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there!) You can pop over to my poetry site Will Shakespeare for Hire if you want to check out the poem I did in my dad's memory, Dad Reckoning. And if you want a little laugh about the joys of fatherhood, check out this Tiny Toons classic, Minister Golf.



In case you aren't familiar with Tiny Toons, every now and then the "kids" remember their "childhood." When Plucky Duck was little, he had a fascination with flushing things down the toilet -- hence, the "down the hole" joke. It works well here.

Have a great day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is Friday Moving Day?

Before I get to the Open, I just want to make a quick mention about Paula Creamer's return at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. She's at -4 (T9), 3 off the lead, and she played pretty well. She had 6 birdies and 2 bogeys on a fairly short course (a smart choice for her comeback). She is apparently still in pain, but says the doctors tell her that she won't cause any more damage, so she's playing; and she says that she can't hit some of her regular shots yet, but she's just happy she can play. So are we, Paula... so are we. You can get more coverage of the LPGA event over at Mostly Harmless and HoundDog LPGA.

BTW, Annika was at Pebble, taking in the action... and that's where we're going now. And the plot thickens...

Graeme McDowell has posted rounds of 71-68 for the lead at -3. McDowell's for real -- he's played well for a couple of years now -- but this is new territory for him. And Tiger's now at +4 -- not in contention yet, but at T27 and 5 back of the main pack, you can't write him off yet.

Here's my Round 2 assessment of my picks:
  • Mickelson (-1): Like I said Thursday, there were good rounds out there and K.J.'s 6 birdies Thursday proved it. Phil found one today, and now he's 2 back, in second. (Again!)
  • Furyk (+5): Jim may have played himself out of it today. Granted, there are two rounds left, but I think that -1 number may hold up Sunday. 6 strokes is a lot to make up at Pebble, especially with those poa greens.
  • Choi (+1): K.J. lost some ground but is still very much in the mix.
  • Clark (+2): Likewise, Tim hung around the lead. Hard to ask much more in the first two rounds.
  • Johnson (+7): Zach made it right on the cut. He's in the same boat as Furyk.
Some of the other stories:
  • Ian Poulter (+1): This really is a great showing for Ian, especially since this is his first time at Pebble under any circumstances.
  • Ryo Ishikawa (-1): Yet another amazing round by the "Bashful Prince"! With rounds of 70-71 and T2, this is shaping up to be a great story.
  • Ricky Barnes (+6): My alternate did pretty well until he hit that last 5 holes.
  • Dustin Johnson (-1): "Mr. Stupid Long" is showing he really is a threat at the big events.
  • Ernie Els (-1): What a move by the Big Easy! Getting himself to that T2 position not only bodes well for this tournament, but indicates that he really is back. Yay!
It also looks like Tom Watson, Sergio Garcia, and Ty Tryon (among the pack at +7) are going to make the cut as well.

This is shaping up to be a really good weekend. We've got several great storylines in the works, what with Phil, Ryo, Ernie, and Dustin breathing down Graeme's neck. None of these guys are flukes, and they represent a broad cross-section of golf stars from teens to 40-somethings. We've got several recent winners hanging around just within reach, and Tiger could still conceivably put on a show and make it interesting.

Does it get much better than this?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome to Pebble Beach

So the first round of the U.S. Open is in the books. A handful of guys are still on the course, but only Hudson Swafford seems able to change things... so I guess it's safe to make some observations.

Pebble is playing tough. The leaders are at 2-under (that's 69, since Pebble's playing to par-71 this week) and, depending on Swafford, there are only 10 guys under par and another 4 at even. Most of the favorites are sitting between +1 and +4 (that's a HUGE group, around 70 players), and I don't think any of them are out of it yet. Play was kinda slow too.

Els is at +2, Woods and Westwood at +3, and Mickelson at +4. As Chris Berman pointed out several times, this is the first time neither Tiger nor Phil has had a birdie when playing the same round in a major (that may have been the same tournament). Tiger seems to have most of his swing problems straightened out, but his putter left him. (Maybe Elin won custody?)

Here's my assessment of my picks. I haven't done too bad so far!
  • Mickelson (+4): Wild as usual, but not unexpected. His putter and Tiger's apparently watched the first round together from the 19th hole.
  • Furyk (+1): Jim played his typical methodical round. -1 is well in contention, and 3 off the lead is about where I would expect a solid round to have been. First round leaders are rarely the second or third round leaders.
  • Choi (-1): K.J. is the reason I say the +4s are still in it. He went bogey-double to start his round, then made 6 birdies to get to -3 (the lowest anybody got Thursday) before finishing at -1. I said it Wednesday, I'll say it again: Ignore the Tank at your own risk.
  • Clark (+1): Tim made 2 birdies, 3 bogeys, no big mistakes. He's in a good position.
  • Johnson (+1): Zach made 4 birdies, 5 bogeys, no big mistakes. Also in a good position.
Others worth mentioning:
  • Ian Poulter (-1): I like Ian, but I have to admit that this round stunned me. I didn't expect him to play this well at a U.S. Open yet. 3 birdies, 2 bogeys, no big mistakes.
  • Ryo Ishikawa (-1): Another amazing round. Has anybody carded this kid? He didn't play like an 18-year-old. Maybe he's confused this course with the "short" one where he shot 58! 4 birdies, 3 bogeys, no big mistakes.
  • Ricky Barnes (+1): When I made my list, I debated between Barnes and Johnson. 1 eagle, 2 birdies, 5 bogeys, no big mistakes.
  • Dustin Johnson (E): Really good showing from "Mr. Stupid Long." Apparently his two wins at the Pebble Pro-Am do help.
  • Lucas Glover (+2): Lucas doesn't normally do well at Pebble, and Open champs rarely defend, but I thought this was a really good round.
  • Sergio Garcia (+2): Maybe... just maybe...
  • Vijay Singh (+3): Not a bad position for him.
Some others caught my attention (Duval, Compton, and Watson, to name a few) but these are the ones I think bear the most watching.

When today's over and the cut is made, we'll see how things are sorting themselves out. Since the best rounds came late in the day instead of early, there could be some seriously unexpected changes by nightfall.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Very Brief Post...

So we can get down to the very serious business of watching the first round of the U.S. Open, the World Cup match between the USA and Slovenia (a must win, in case you aren't keeping up), AND the final game of the NBA Playoffs between the Lakers and Celtics. How often do you get a day with so many big events happening?

I just want to make a quick observation about the Open that I haven't heard discussed yet. Everybody's talking about how hard (as in both difficulty and macadam!) the course is; how the fairways have been moved closer to the ocean and the cliffs shaved; how some holes have been lengthened; how some of the rough now looks like they imported it from Scotland; how there isn't supposed to be any wind or rain to speak of; and how the conditions should bring all the shorter hitters into the mix AND let Tiger and Phil use their drivers as little as possible.

What I haven't heard discussed is how this is all ultimately going to make Pebble play. See, this is the first time Pebble has been set up with the idea that "the boys are hitting it a little too far." This is a short course with correspondingly smaller, sloping greens -- now, small sloping greens nearing the consistency of pavement. The question becomes... how penal can you make a small course before it becomes unplayable? The talk on Golf Central Wednesday night was how players are already trying to figure out how to play the course without actually landing the ball on the greens.

Understand, I'm not saying they ought to make it easy -- this IS the U.S. Open, after all. But we just changed the grooves to allow fliers from the rough; how far can you push the limits before good shots get no better results than poor shots? The USGA has (in effect) made a lot of changes to the U.S. Open all at once, and we don't know how they're going to work together.

I'm not being an alarmist or anything. But I'm going to be interested to see if the USGA ends up having to make changes for Friday's round after Thursday's done. Depending on how well they juggle the variables, this year's winner could end up being over par... and still just as impressive as Tiger's 15-stroke win 10 years ago.

Enjoy the coverage. I know I will.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who Are Your U.S. Open Picks?

I'm really going out on a limb this week and picking my contenders for the U.S. Open before the tournament actually starts! This is an event of cosmic proportions -- although not predicted by the Mayan calendar -- and I may have some good laughs Sunday night over this post. But these five guys are the ones who, in my bizarre little world, are the favorites, and I've included their odds of winning as posted at OLBG Sports (their odds are from several different bookies in the UK):
  • Phil Mickelson (9:1): I just can't bring myself to bet against Phil this week. He has a good record at Pebble, and I think he learned something at Winged Foot -- namely, that sometimes you have to lay up at the U.S. Open. If he gets off to a good start, I think he's the guy to beat.
  • Jim Furyk (34:1): The quintessential U.S. Open course player. If they have good weather -- and it looks like they will -- his lack of length shouldn't be a problem. With two wins already under his belt this year, he's gotta be licking his chops this week.
  • K.J. Choi (67:1): He's due. Tank has enough power and accuracy -- and patience -- to play Pebble well. Absolutely nobody is talking about him, and I think that's a big mistake.
  • Tim Clark (67:1): I know it's been popular to rip Tim Clark this year. First he had "no guts" because he laid up on a par-5, then he got no love for finally breaking through. But like Choi, ignoring him could be... regrettable; remember, he came close at Augusta a few years ago. As Ben Crenshaw once said, "I got a feeling about this..."
  • Zach Johnson (67:1): Zach has actually been mentioned as a contender... barely. I like his chances if he gets off to a good start.
Obviously I've left off some guys who I think can be there come Sunday, like Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, and Ernie Els, and some who I'd like to see there, like David Duval. But unless I'm limiting myself to 5 players, I might as well just post a list of the whole field; pardon the pun, but this tournament is wide "Open."

And no, before you ask, I don't think Tiger will win. Like Augusta, I'm looking for another Top 10 from him, but I don't think he's got his swing back under control yet. I do think Tiger's going to be a good choice for St. Andrews -- he should be back on form by then -- and I'm already on record at the Armchair Golf Blog as picking Lee Westwood to win the PGA at Whistling Straits.

I'd also like to pick Steve Stricker, but I don't think he's completely back from his injury yet. I'm afraid that's going to take a few months; based on the footage I saw of him on the practice tee Tuesday, it looks to me like he may be hitting it a bit shorter than usual. I'm pretty sure that's because he's taking it easy until he's sure he trusts that muscle again.

So who are your favorites?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Understanding the Women's Rolex Rankings

Obviously I'm elated over having been right for a change -- in this case, about which women stood to gain the most in the world rankings at State Farm this weekend. I updated the Limerick Summary to include Cristie Kerr's win -- the first American win on U.S. soil in over a year, I think -- but it occurred to me that many of you may be as confused as I am about how the rankings actually work. (This is a problem when talking about the men's rankings, as well.)

So I thought I'd take a post to see if I can make some sense of them -- for you and me both! Since I had posted last week's Top 10 on Saturday, it made sense to use them for a comparison. You can check the Rolex site to see the rankings (clicking on "Overview" at the top gives you some cool graphical info about the rankings), but this site at LPGA.com keeps a running list of PDFs for each week's rankings. Forgive me if this post seems to ramble a bit; the things that affect the rankings are complex, and I'm having to guess at some of the details. But I think it'll make some sense by the end of the post, so hang with me for a bit.

Remember that tournaments over the last 13 weeks are given more weight in the rankings; although the LPGA hasn't played a lot of tournaments this year, other tours have. Players playing in those events may have added "more heavily-weighted" points while older events (2 years ago) have dropped off. And of course, the tournament 13 weeks ago drops to 14 (lesser weighting). You can see all those things happening this week as well.

This list shows the new Top 10 in the Rolex World Rankings as of June 14, and it lists the player name, new point average, old point average, how much their position changed (if any), the total points gained (or lost) this week, and how they finished at State Farm:
  1. Jiyai Shin 9.25 (9.24) (-6.72) (didn't play)
  2. Ai Miyazato 8.7735 (9.04) (-5.74) (missed cut)
  3. Suzann Pettersen 8.7725 (8.88) (-4.89) (didn't play)
  4. Cristie Kerr 8.50 (7.43) up 1 position (56.63) (WON)
  5. Yani Tseng 8.45 (8.57) down 1 position (1.9) (T11)
  6. Anna Nordqvist 7.43 (6.62) (28.29) (T2)
  7. Michelle Wie 6.55 (6.58) (-1.13) (T52)
  8. Karrie Webb 6.48 (6.54) (3.81) (T11)
  9. Na Yeon Choi 6.39 (5.87) up 1 position (26.92) (T2)
  10. Angela Stanford 6.29 (6.46) down 1 position (-0.9) (T23)
No new players entered the Top 10; Kerr and Tseng switched places, as did Choi and Stanford. I'm going to make an effort to explain the point changes as I understand them, so you can see what happened. A couple of important notes: Everybody gained one more event in their ranking total this week except Pettersen and Choi, who stayed the same (Pettersen didn't play, Choi lost a 2-year-old event that this week replaced) and Shin, who lost one event by not playing. And only the players who finished in the Top 11 at State Farm gained points; everybody else lost points!

The biggest surprise to me was that Shin actually gained .01 points by not playing. The reason turned out to be a simple one -- last week she was figured on 60 events, this week it's only 59. An old event dropped out, and apparently she hadn't played as well at that one.

Miyazato got hammered for missing the cut, and Pettersen simply lost some of her "weighting" as each of her tournaments got a week older. I showed their rankings to 4 decimal places so you would see why they aren't tied at second place, as the identical 8.77 rankings listed on the Rolex site would lead you to believe.

Kerr did indeed leapfrog to #4, gaining over a full rating point for her win -- more than anyone else in the Top 10. She was helped by Tseng's slight drop. Finishing outside the tournament's Top 10 may have hurt Tseng in the rankings, but I wondered if her first major -- the 2008 McDonalds LPGA Championship -- fell off the back end this week. Ironically, Kerr's Top 10 at McDonalds would have dropped off also, but she wouldn't have lost nearly as many points as Tseng did.

After looking at the rankings for May 31 (two weeks ago), I believe the 2008 McDonalds dropped off then -- the number of tournaments for both players decreased by one week in that week's ranking. So I'm forced to the conclusion that Tseng's victory at the 2010 Women's Australian Open dropped from the heavily-weighted 13-week calculations, and that lowered her points. Kerr's consistency seems to have leveled out her points somewhat, so she's avoided the big swings that cause the drops.

Nordqvist, my other big mover to watch, also moved up a lot with her T2 -- nearly a whole point. If her jump looks outrageously large compared to the others (especially Choi, who also finished T2), bear in mind that her rank was based on fewer tournaments than any other player (32 this week); even Wie has 34. Nordqvist has really played better than anybody else, given how few tournaments she's played.

Wie's T52 didn't hurt her much, perhaps because she had fewer tournaments and mixed results (hence a smaller point average per event). Just for the record, she had a T54 here last year.

Webb's T11 didn't drop her much -- only .06 points -- but it just looks worse, given that Choi moved up over a half point with her T2. Webb has returned to exactly where she was in the rankings 2 weeks ago -- same number of tournaments, total points, and ranking.

Note that, for the same T2 finish, Choi gained .52 points while Nordqvist gained .81 points. As mentioned earlier, that's because Choi is ranked for 51 events vs Nordqvist's 32. (Remember, Choi was ranked for 51 events both weeks.)

Finally, Stanford got hammered for her finish. She has about the same number of tournaments as Webb, but finishing twice as far down (T23 vs T11) cost her 3 times as many points (.06 vs .19). I went back and checked her at 13 weeks and at 2 years to see what tournaments might have dropped off, but didn't find any particularly good tournaments... so I figure the drop must be primarily due to points awarded for this finish.

I hope that helps you understand a little about how the World Rankings seem to work. They're not quite as random as they first appear; the biggest factor seems to be how many tournaments you've played in, followed by your finish relative to the field AND your finish relative to the 13-week-old tournament that loses weighting. (Those last two appear to be closely related, and that weighting period must count for A LOT.)

Looking ahead... the rumor is that Paula Creamer plans to come back at the ShopRite LPGA Classic this week. She may be rusty, but she also has only 39 events on her ranking, NONE of them in the last 13 weeks. If she plays well enough to post two or three good finishes, she could make a big jump from her current #13 in the rankings. (She's also dropping some Top 10s off the 2-year mark; I don't know how much that will affect her.)

Things haven't changed for Kerr or Nordqvist. Both tend to play well in big events, and there are two majors in the next 4 weeks. Of course, the same is true for Shin (questionable after her appendectomy this week), Miyazato, Pettersen, and Tseng. Big players show up for big events, so we may see some big changes in the rankings over the next month.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 St. Jude Classic

Winner: Lee Westwood

Around the greater world of golf: Thomas Björn staged what may be a rebirth of his career with a win at the Euro Tour's Estoril Open de Portugal, his first win in four years; Akane Iijima won her 5th JLPGA tournament at the Suntory Ladies Open (the Constructivist has details here); and we're still waiting for the LPGA to dry out enough to finish the LPGA State Farm Classic. I'm personally thrilled to see Cristie Kerr and Anna Nordqvist tied at the top -- especially after I said they had the most to gain with a win this week! OK, sometimes I get lucky... UPDATE: Cristie Kerr won Monday morning.)

You have to love the St. Jude organizers. We complain about family connections in business, and who do they get as a sponsor? Smith and Nephew! You gotta love that! ;-)

As you may know, St. Jude is not only the patron saint of hospitals, but also of lost causes. At one time, not so many years ago, many would have considered Lee Westwood a member of his congregation. Having been in the top 10 of the World Rankings for over 180 weeks between 1998 and 2001 (thank you, Wikipedia), and ranked as high as #4, he plummeted completely out of the top 250 (I think he ended up between 270 and 280) and considered giving up the game entirely.

Now of course, he's back. He's #3 with a bullet and probably the best player without a major. He's been Top 3 in the last 3 majors, but he just can't seem to get over the hump. So when he decided to play Memphis, what happened? He almost didn't get in... because FedEx didn't want a UPS-sponsored player in the field wearing a UPS logo. (The bad publicity resulted in a "policy change.") And then, after leading two rounds, Lee finished Sunday 3 strokes off the pace of Robert Garrigus, who has never won. Lee didn't see what was going on... all he knew was that he was told he "might want to hang around."

In the end, Garrigus made a triple on 18, putting him and Robert Karlsson into a 3-way playoff with Westwood... and after 3 holes, Westwood had his first PGA Tour win in over a decade. He will certainly go to Pebble Beach as one of the favorites. (Before you feel too bad for Garrigus, remember that this is his best-ever finish on tour, and the money will go a long way toward nailing his tour card for next year. That's not a bad deal either!)

This was such an all-around feel-good weekend that I decided to have some fun with this week's limerick:
The saint known for loving lost causes
Wrote Westwood a few escape clauses.
Though sponsored by “Brown,”
The good saint smiled down
As Lee snatched it from defeat’s jawses.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Welcome to Major Season

The NBA Playoffs are nearly done, and World Cup Soccer is in full flight for the next month. But you may not have realized just how many major golf tournaments are coming up, beginning with the men's U.S. Open this week. Today I just thought I'd let you know what's coming over the next few weeks. Get your DVR ready!
  • June 17 - 20: U.S. Open (PGA)
  • June 24 - 27: Wegmans LPGA Championship (LPGA)
  • July 8 - 11: U.S. Women's Open (LPGA)
  • July 15 - 18: British Open Championship (PGA)
  • July 22 - 25: Evian Masters (LET),
    Senior British Open Championship (CHAMPIONS)
  • July 29 - Aug 1: RICOH Women's British Open (LPGA, LET),
    U.S. Senior Open Championship (CHAMPIONS)
  • Aug 12 - 15: PGA Championship (PGA)
  • Aug 19 - 22: JELD-WEN Tradition (CHAMPIONS)
That's a pretty full schedule! Six straight weeks with eight majors, a week break, and then two more!

And you read that correctly -- there are only two LET majors. I didn't realize until I made this list that the LET only recognizes one of the LPGA majors, just as the LPGA doesn't recognize the Evian Masters as a major (although they do co-sponsor it). The JLPGA has four majors (you may remember that Morgan Pressel won the first one, the Salonpas Cup, back in May) but their major season doesn't get into full swing until September.

Fortunately, the majority of the World Cup games will be over in the next two weeks... ;-)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And the #1 Woman Player Is...?

On the men's tour, the only real question seems to be whether Phil will take over #1 from Tiger or not. However, the women's world rankings have taken a very interesting twist this week. I've listed the Top 10 players on the Rolex Ranking right now, their point standing, and where they stand at the LPGA State Farm Classic this week:
  1. Jiyai Shin 9.24 out with appendectomy
  2. Ai Miyazato 9.04 missed cut
  3. Suzann Pettersen 8.88 out with hip injury
  4. Yani Tseng 8.57 T32 (-5)
  5. Cristie Kerr 7.43 T3 (-10)
  6. Anna Nordqvist 6.62 T7 (-9)
  7. Michelle Wie 6.58 T23 (-6)
  8. Karrie Webb 6.54 T42 (-4))
  9. Angela Stanford 6.46 T61 (-2)
  10. Na Yeon Choi 5.87 T3 (-10)
Interesting, eh? The leader and 2nd at the State Farm are M.J. Hur (-12) and Amy Yang (-11), and the leaderboard is bunched, as you can tell. Yang is #41 (2.73) and Hur #46 (2.44) on the Rolex, so they aren't a threat to the Top 10.

While I don't know the extent of Pettersen's injury (it's been nagging her for a few months now), I suspect it will end up being an on-and-off thing for a while and probably won't affect her ranking much.

Shin's emergency appendectomy this week has thrown the whole thing into chaos, however. The timing couldn't be worse for her, in that this is the beginning of a stretch of 5 LPGA tournaments, the longest so far this year. One of her spokespeople said she hopes to be back in 2 weeks -- in time for the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and the US Women's Open 2 weeks later. That's about the best she can hope for, though; Karen Stupples had the procedure not too long ago and she said it was 6 weeks before she was ready to play.

In that case, Shin would miss 5 tournaments, 2 of them majors. She's played 60 tournaments during the ranking period, but the 2008 tournaments weren't LPGA events, so I don't know if she'll lose any existing points or stay where she is.

Ai Miyazato shocked everyone by missing the cut. Only .2 back, she had the best chance to take the lead; since this tournament will count against her, I'm guessing she'll lose ground in next week's ranking.

So who has the most to gain? Tseng has proven to be explosive; a couple of great rounds this weekend could blast her up in the rankings. The same goes for Cristie Kerr, who's been in the Top 10 for 321 weeks. (I think that's pretty impressive.)

Ironically, Nordqvist and Wie could make big moves also, simply because they haven't played as many tournaments. At 31 and 33 tournaments, respectively, versus Kerr's 45 and Tseng's 54 over the same time period, they could make up ground big time. (Choi has played 51, so the win wouldn't help her as much.) But since Wie is still getting comfortable with her new Pelz-inspired putting routine, I don't look for her to be a big factor yet.

I don't know exactly how many points are up for grabs this week, or whether any of their previous tournaments might drop off. But given some oddball info I found -- and a little guesstimating -- I think Nordqvist has the most to gain with a win. Because of her low tournament count (Rolex counts wins from 5 different tours), I think she could actually leapfrog into the Top 5 with a win, while Kerr could maybe move up to #4 if she wins and Tseng loses ground. That's all a function of how many tournaments they've played. In fact, the next person with a lower tournament total than Nordqvist's 31 is rookie Amanda Blumenherst's 20... all the way down at #82 in the rankings!

Nordqvist is up so high in the rankings because her 31 tournaments have a lot of good finishes, including the 2009 McDonalds LPGA Championship (a major) and the 2009 Rolex LPGA Tour Championship (the last event of the year). She also has a T10 in the first major this year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She tends to play well in the big events; that's why she's ranked so high.

Keep a watch on Yani Tseng. At #4 in the rankings, she could have a rough couple of weeks coming up if she doesn't play well. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship a few weeks ago, giving her two majors that count in her points. Her 1st major, the 2008 McDonalds LPGA Championship drops off when they head there in 2 weeks.

So, look for Anna Nordqvist and Cristie Kerr (in that order) to make the best moves toward the top this week. Although Jiyai Shin will probably still be #1 when the dust settles, the next 5 or 6 spots could look radically different.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Azinger's Pods

This isn't something I would normally be writing about, but I thought it was an interesting aspect of how mindset affects golfers.

Thursday morning I saw Paul Azinger on ESPN2's Mike & Mike in the Morning show. He was on to plug his new book, Cracking the Code, about how the Navy Seals pod system he used helped the Americans win the Ryder Cup. What I found so interesting was how Azinger chose the Ryder Cup team. As you may remember, Azinger asked for (and got) 8 automatic qualifiers and 4 Captain's choices. No big deal there.

Zinger used one of his choices to pick Steve Stricker, then grouped his 9 players into three 3-man groups. (Those are the pods, in case you're a bit slow today.) Again, no big deal.

Here's what I found so interesting: Zinger promised his players that he would not break up their pods when he set up the pairings, then gave them all a list of about 6 guys that he thought were playing pretty well... and let each 3-man pod pick their 4th member without any further input from him.

Isn't that just a radical idea? Zinger says the pods are still playing practice rounds together now, two years after the event, by their own choice.

How did he create the original pods? you might well ask. Apparently he grouped guys he thought would mesh well together. He described a Tiger/Phil pairing as what they called a "red-light" pairing, not meaning that they don't get along but that they both react very differently to pressure. He said he wanted guys who would react similarly, so they would instinctively pull together when the heat was on.

I was impressed because this was a pretty unique way to get the guys personally invested in the outcome. You can't just say the Captain made a poor choice when you not only knew who you were going to play with, but you chose some of the team members yourself. You can be sure that, at some point, those guys told their Captain, "We know you suggested that pairing, but we think this pairing will work better," and you can be pretty sure the Captain said, "Ok, you know your pod's strengths and weaknesses best." Let's face it -- everybody thinks they can be a good captain, so Zinger gave them the chance to prove it.

In effect, he made all of the players into captain's assistants, and gave each responsibilities that directly impacted the success of the team. Pretty smart, don't you think?

What we should probably take from this is how important it is to take responsibility for our own games. You shouldn't be using a swing just because somebody told you to "swing like this"; you should be convinced that this is the best swing you can use right now. Sometimes you have no choice, but when you do, you should play with people you choose to play with.

And you should realize that you have only a limited amount of responsibility for the results of your play. You can only do so much, so don't beat yourself up just because you can't control it all.

After all, even if both sides at the Ryder Cup had used pods, only one could win.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jim Furyk's Elbow

After doing yesterday's post on how your right elbow (left elbow for you lefties) should behave on your downswing, it occurred to me that Jim Furyk might be a good example of how important this is. One thing every commentator points out is how close Jim stands to the ball, and how close his hands come to his body on his downswing. I got to wondering: Where does Jim's elbow go, given how crunched up he is when he gets to the ball? Here's an analysis from Peter Kostis, done at the 2007 Colonial (don't worry, it's extremely short):



Kostis says that Jim's elbow goes into his ribs, but that's not entirely true. If you watch carefully, you'll see that Jim does make the move I advised against -- that is, dropping your elbow to your side so that your upper arm is parallel to your spine. (You can see this in the "down the line" portion of the video.) In fact, if you look really closely, you'll see that his arm is actually angled backward, so his elbow is behind his hip!

So why doesn't Jim get stuck? Part of it, as Peter Kostis points out, is that Furyk really turns his body. If he doesn't, he'll get stuck BIG TIME like I mentioned in yesterday's post. However, there's more to it than this. Kostis says that Jim's elbow "comes right into his rib cage"... but again, that's not quite correct. If you watch the face-on view closely, you'll see that his arm is behind him when it first drops down, as I mentioned in the "down the line" view. (Stop the video at the 55 second mark -- you'll see Jim's upper arm appears to point straight down toward the ground, but his hips are angled maybe 30 degrees toward the target. His arm is clearly behind him.) However, a mere 2 seconds later (don't you love video?) he's turned enough for you to see a very clear GAP between his arm and his side. And another 2 seconds after that, it appears that he has flung his elbow out from his body as his wrists finish uncocking.

Now, you might think this contradicts what I said in yesterday's post. I said that moving your elbow properly is important for accuracy, and Jim is certainly accurate as long as he rotates his body "perfectly," as Peter Kostis puts it in his analysis. But the reason certain golf moves become "standard teaching" is because they represent a good compromise of all the things you want to accomplish in a swing; and any time you get away from those moves, you risk losing in one area what you gain in another.

What does Jim gain here? As long as he turns well, he's extremely accurate and consistent. According to PGATour.com, this year Jim has a Driving Accuracy of just over 71% (6th on Tour) and his GIR is just under my magic 67% (64th on Tour). That GIR average is down because, as you'll remember, he lost his swing for a while earlier this year and missed the cut at the Masters. Even with that, he's won twice this year.

But what does Jim lose? Jim has made it clear he's given up trying to gain distance. His Driving Distance this year is a tad over 271 yards. Jim is 6'2", people -- that's a ridiculously low driving average! Our other two-time winner, Ernie Els, at 1 inch taller, is nearly 18 yards longer -- and he's lost some distance this year!

If you try to duplicate Jim's positions at the bottom of his swing (from the 55-second mark on) you'll see that, in order to make consistent contact with the ball, Jim can't uncock his wrists normally. He doesn't uncock his wrists early in the swing because he uses a rather dramatic two-plane loop to get his cocked wrists down to the hitting area. But because he has to turn his body so rapidly and basically throw his shoulder around (that's why his elbow appears to fling outward at impact), he ends up locking his hand speed to his hip speed. Ironically, it's a twisted version of Tiger's "getting stuck" problem -- Tiger turns his lower body so quickly that his arms can't keep up, so he can't get the club on line. Lots of hand speed, pitiful accuracy.

Jim, on the other hand, keeps his hands so close to his hip that they get to the ball just fine; however, his hips have to turn almost all the way to their finish position before his wrists are in position to hit the ball. As a result, his wrists don't have a chance to uncock until after his hips have nearly stopped, which takes away a lot of his arm speed when he needs it most.

As a result, a 6'2" golfer with loads of skill hits a very accurate 271-yard drive. Bummer.

A club attached to your hip will never develop as much speed as a club swinging at the end of your arms. That's why free arm movement -- and elbow room -- are so important.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Elbow Room

Part of the Route 67 series

It's possible that you've tried some of the different versions of the Secret Move from last week... and immediately "got stuck." No matter what you tried, you just couldn't get that club in front of your body, and you ended up swinging out to the right (or left, for you lefties) -- a push, maybe even a push slice.

That's why we're going to interrupt our look at ways to delay the uncocking of your wrists and take a look at what I think is Ben Hogan's greatest contribution to the weekend player's game -- an understanding of how the elbows (particularly the one you bend) work during the swing.

On page 49 of Five Lessons it says, "Keep the elbows and arms as close together as possible throughout the entire swing," and it is accompanied by a drawing of Hogan's forearms bound together from elbows to wrists. It looks like a triangular mummy wrap! Then on page 98-99, where he compares the downswing motion to a baseball infielder's sidearm throw, Hogan says, "As he swings his arm forward, his right elbow is very close to his right hip. The elbow 'leads' the arm -- it is the part of the arm nearest the target as he begins to make the throw. The forearm and hand catch up with the elbow, and the player's arm is extended relatively straight when he releases the ball."

Here's my pathetic attempt to copy an illustration of Hogan's elbow position on the downswing (from page 98 -- that's the drawing on the left below), along with a comparison to the more typical incorrect position that plagues weekend players:

Hogan's elbow vs the incorrect position

Those gray dots represent the position of the elbow in each downswing. And if you compare the descriptions to the arrows, you might think I screwed up the drawing. What you need to understand is that the arrows show where the upper arm is pointed on the downswing, while the words beside them describe where the elbow finally ends up. The words in the black box describe how the motion feels to most people. Most weekend players never recognize there's a difference, and that's why they get frustrated. If you follow instructions that tell you how to move, but perform them by how they feel to you, you may never figure it out!

It is important to remember that your body is not straight up and down during the swing, the way it is when you stand upright. You are leaning slightly forward, and that's the source of the apparent contradiction. Most of us interpret how these motions feel relative to our body, not relative to the ball.

So, to reach the incorrect position, when we feel that the elbow is dropping straight down, what we actually feel is our elbow moving parallel to our spine from around shoulder level down to our hip. Normally when we stand straight that's down, and our minds continue to equate "down" with "parallel to the spine." However, since we're bent forward, the motion we feel as "down" actually means we're moving slightly backwards away from the ball. Can you see how that happens?

By comparison, Hogan has actually dropped his elbow straight down relative to the ball. If you were standing straight up, swinging your elbow this way would actually feel as if you were moving your elbow forward toward the ball.

Do the arrows and words make sense now? To actually drop your elbow straight down toward the ground on the downswing, you have to feel as if you are moving it forward toward the ball. When you get in the correct position, your upper arm is vertical relative to the ground... which means your elbow will swing past your hip and you won't get stuck. (Take a good look at that drawing. See the vertical upper arm?) It's simple once you know what you're looking for.

Now come the big questions: How do we make this move? What does it feel like? How can I check that I'm doing it right?

This is where Hogan's image of the elbows being tied together, along with his "sidearm throw" description, is so helpful. It's an awfully mechanical way to swing, but studying it a bit shows us what the actual move looks like. Once we know how to do it, we can do it slowly and see how it feels, so we can just duplicate the feel when we play.

The elbow "leads" the arm -- it is the part of the arm nearest the target... Relative to the spine, the elbow is certainly out in front of the rest of the hand. But as the Hogan drawing shows, his upper arm is actually vertical once it gets down close to the front of the hip. (The front of the hip, not the side of the hip! This can make as much as much as 6 inches difference in where the elbow is when you reach the hitting area. Do you think that would make a difference in your swing plane?) But, if you are getting into the position at the top of your swing that most teachers say you should -- with your upper arm parallel to your spine -- then your forearm is leaning toward the ball.

In order to get your elbow to the front of your hip -- where you can swing the club freely down the target line -- you're going to have to let your elbow swing forward under your hands as the club comes down. Think of your hands as a tree branch and your elbow as a swing; let the elbow swing under the hands! This isn't a move that takes a lot of effort; in fact, if you try too hard, you'll jerk your elbow too far ahead. If that happens, your forearm will end up tilted backward and you'll actually make it too hard to square the clubface. (Trust me on this one. It took me forever to track down this problem in my swing!) If you have a two-way miss, this problem can cause it: With the elbow too far forward, you'll push-slice, but if you try to fling your hands to overcome it, you'll pull-hook. The correct position isn't a power move; you shouldn't need a lot of effort to reach it.

Now -- and this is important -- once you get to this position, you don't need to fling your arms toward the ball. All you have to do is straighten your arms! Because of your elbow position, straightening your bent elbow will move your hands (and the club) ahead of your elbow. Try it and you'll see. I've been trying to think of something to which I could liken the motion, something that a lot of you would recognize, but I haven't been able to. Some have likened it to hitting a baseball with a bat; I find it reminds me more of swinging an axe.

Frankly, you may find that either one feels a bit too mechanical for you... and that's fine. Don't use them. Here's the key thought: Your bent elbow swings forward as it comes down, so it can swing past your hip, not bump up against it. It swings close to your hip, perhaps even brushes it as it goes past, but there should be NO substantial contact between them. As long as you follow that guideline, you should be able to get a more controllable swing going.

Watch out for that elbow position on the way down. It's a small thing, but it has a major effect on your ability to get the club on the correct path and to square the clubface.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rickie Fowler Lets It Fly

Since I've been writing about ways of getting to the hitting area of your swing before uncocking your wrists (the notorious "Secret Move"), I thought it might be instructive to see how Rickie Fowler does it. Fowler's swing is admittedly atypical, but it's also very effective. Here's a front-on look in slow motion:



That video is from about 3 months ago. I also found one from Saturday at the Memorial -- interestingly, Jack Nicklaus makes reference to the Peter Kostis commentary from the above video... and disagrees:



I want to call your attention to several aspects of Rickie's swing.
  • I've talked about microsquats (for righties and lefties) before -- a very slight squatting action that allows you to keep your upper body from sliding away from the target because it relieves some of the tension on your back. You can see this in both of the videos. Rickie's hat moves downward slightly as he turns; this is especially important since both his feet stay pretty flat on the ground.
  • Kostis mentions Rickie's weak right hand position. Notice that it's only his right hand. Although it's unusual, you don't have to set both of your hands at the same angle. Rickie's left hand appears to be in a neutral position, which means if you stood in front of him (as in the first video) and he lifted his arms and opened his hands so his fingers pointed toward you, they would form an angle like this: /|. Most people would put them together like this \\ (a strong right-hand grip) or this || (a neutral grip). I'm right-handed and sometimes use a grip like this |\ (a neutral right hand and a slightly strong left hand) when I'm having trouble squaring up at impact.
  • Rickie has a really good upper body coil by the time his left arm is parallel to the ground. That's how it should be, people; although his shoulders continue to turn a little, that halfway point is when your coil is mostly finished. The rest of the swing to the top comes primarily from your elbow bending (in this case, Rickie's right elbow). His hips have turned some, but not as much as his shoulders. This is a move you can practice with pitch shots; it can be a little uncomfortable at first, but this is a low-strain way to learn it.
  • His wrists are about halfway cocked at that halfway point; this is a good compromise between a "one-piece takeaway" (where the club is almost parallel to the ground at this point) and an "early set" (where the wrists are completely cocked). This is an area where teachers disagree; Michael Breed, for instance, likes that early set, as did my teacher Carl Rabito. But there's nothing extreme here. As strange as Rickie's swing may look, for the most part his movements are pretty normal.
  • At the top you can see the "secret move" at work. Rickie has laid the club off, but watch how much the club drops down behind his head, which is that sideways motion I mentioned with the two-plane loop and two-plane tilt posts. His swing is very flat, so he gets this action simply by dropping his right elbow down close to his side. This drop delays the uncocking of his wrists until he's halfway down again -- which means lots of power.
  • The last thing I want to mention is his legs. Jack is right; Peter is wrong. While Rickie's hips and legs do start the downswing (no matter how you swing, they have to -- it's simple mechanics), they stop before they completely unwind. I can say that with certainty because his right leg is straight and his right foot remains flat on the ground through the hitting area. Unless that leg is made of stretchy stuff, those hips have to stop! But that's fine; it helps Rickie be more accurate. After the ball is gone and his upper body has turned on through, it pulls his hips the rest of the way into his finish.
My point is simple. Your swing doesn't have to look like everybody else's in order to be fundamentally sound. Some of Rickie's less orthodox movements are probably where he adapted the swing to fit the way he moves naturally. That's ok. If you understand how the parts of the swing work and how they fit together (which is why I'm writing the Route 67 post series), you can make your swing fit your body and still work well.