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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can "Stack and Tilt" Teach Us Anything?

Ask most of the folks "in the know" and they'll tell you the "Stack and Tilt" swing is a fad that's run its course and now lingers only as the butt of jokes, as illustrated by Shane Bacon's post on Devil Ball.

This is the stack in Stack and TiltBut there's still some interest in the "fad." One of the articles I did recently for Golfsmith was about Stack and Tilt, plus the fact remains that several Stack and Tilters have won tournaments... and several of those players still use the swing with some degree of success. Some of you reading this post may even be curious about the swing yourselves, and wonder if it could help you.

So consider this my attempt to clear up some questions. Today I'll give you a basic breakdown of the swing, which will hopefully let all of you curious sorts decide if the Stack and Tilt is something you want to check out, and also provide some groundwork for a discussion of what the rest of us might learn from Stack and Tilt.

Now what would make me think some of you might want to check out Stack and Tilt when this blog focuses on low-maintenance swings that don't require a lot of practice? Well, for some of you, Stack and Tilt may really be a low-maintenance swing because it fits your natural tendencies. It's sorta like Jim Furyk's swing -- it may seem terribly complicated to some folks, but it's completely natural to Jim.

So remember this is just a quick overview of the swing. You should get the DVDs or the book if you really want to pursue this; but if you're just curious, Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, the swing creators, have written a considerable amount about the swing in Golf Digest, and many of those articles are online. You can find one of the major ones here, and it has links to four other articles (in the "Related Links" box). You can also go the search box on that page, type in "stack and tilt" (you don't need the quotes), and you'll get nine pages of articles if you want even more. Personally, I think this one called 6 Steps to Stack and Tilt is one of the best summary articles, but today's pics come from another article that featured Aaron Baddeley (who, incidentally, no longer uses the swing). If your experiments with what you learn from these articles seem promising to you, then by all means get the book and/or DVDs to make sure you do it right.

This is the tilt in Stack and TiltThe most basic aspects of the swing are shown in these three pictures. The top pic shows the "stack," the second pic shows the "tilt," and the last shows the finish.

Imagine the stack this way: A point midway between your shoulders (your spine at the base of your neck) and a point midway between your hips (call it your belly button) are "stacked" vertically over the ball. There may be some variation in ball position (Aaron has the ball slightly ahead of center in this picture, for example), but this centered position seems to be pretty consistent. Also, flaring both feet outward is part of the setup.

As for the tilt... You can see from the second picture just how much you tilt in order to stay stacked over the ball. Aaron's right leg is straight at the top of his backswing, not flexed as most teachers recommend. This also means the shoulder really dips during the backswing, though Aaron isn't dipping as much as most players in the photos I've seen. The arms do exactly the opposite of what I recommended Dexter do to get rid of his over-the-top swing -- the elbow tucks into the golfer's side and the hands move toward his back, resulting in a hand position that is below the back shoulder -- but the backswing is really steep because the front shoulder dips so much. In essence, you get a swing that is upright and flat at the same time!

As weird as this sounds, there is some logic at work here. What Plummer and Bennett have done is create a swing that uses extremes to create the swing plane. Imagine you're standing in a large open area and you swing one of your arms. You can move it in any direction, can't you? Now if you stand next to a wall with your shoulder touching it, you've severely limited its range of motion... but you can swing your arm in a perfectly vertical arc by dragging your arm against the wall. You've traded mobility in order to enforce a specific motion. That's basically what Stack and Tilt does; it creates an exaggerated position that almost forces you to swing on a certain path.

This is the finish in Stack and TiltAnd then you reach the finish. Without going into a detailed description, you end up swinging your hips forward to power your way to the finish position.

Now, this is a very rotary swing that can create a lot of power... and, some say, a lot of back problems as well. That's probably had more to do with the faddish nature of this swing than anything else. My own personal experimentation has been that this isn't a particularly difficult swing to learn, but it really does feel weird. And I can see how players -- especially power players -- could develop back problems if they practice a lot.

But the fact remains that this is a fairly successful swing. Several pros adopted it and won with it fairly quickly. A swing like that must be doing something right, so tomorrow I'll take a look at what I think the rest of us might learn from Stack and Tilt.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 The Barclays

Winner: Matt Kuchar

Around the greater world of golf: Edoardo Molinari won the Johnnie Walker Championship for his second win this year on the ET; Michelle Wie got her second professional win at the LPGA's CN Canadian Women's Open; Chris Kirk won the Knoxville News Sentinel Open on the Nationwide Tour; Bernhard Langer nailed his fifth win of the year at the Boeing Classic on the Champions Tour; Nobuko Kiwaza won the JLPGA's Nitori Ladies (details at Mostly Harmless); and Peter Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur 4&3 over Patrick Cantlay. Also, Colin Montgomery named Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Edoardo Molinari as his Captain's choices to the Ryder Cup, and said that Sergio Garcia will be serving as a co-captain; and there's a possible cheating scandal involving two Korean LPGA players (info available at several sites, but here's a link to OTB Sports).

The FedExCup Playoffs got underway with a bang this week. Tiger let everybody know that the newly-divorced man intended to get his game back on track, posting a repectable T12 bookended by two of his best rounds this year, plus a round of par and +1. He even looked like he might be a factor at one point early on. I'm sure this is good news for Corey Pavin, who knows Tiger has a month to find some consistency.

Kuchar pic from ABC NewsBy Sunday, all bets were off and the scramble was on. Rory Sabbatini got things going when he posted -9 early on; then it looked for a while as if Martin Laird and Dustin Johnson were the guys to beat; and then Steve Stricker took the clubhouse lead at -10. But it was the quiet stalking of Matt Kuchar who caused the real terror in this jungle. Playing several groups ahead of the leaders but coming seemingly from nowhere, the 6'4" man with the 5'1" swing suddenly grabbed everyone's attention with birdies on 16 and 17 before posting his own -12.

Laird had putted light's-out all day but his putter finally let him down on 18, which he bogeyed and ended up in a one-hole playoff against the "Flat Cat." Kuchar's clutch birdie sealed his first victory of the year... and his #1 spot in the FedExCup playoffs. The scary thing for the rest of the field is simply this: The FedExCup may be designed to increase volatility, but Kuchar's win is no fluke. With 4 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s, and 16 Top-25s already this year, this Tour "nice guy" has to be considered a very real field destroyer. He could take it all if the field doesn't watch out! (The pic is from this ABC News story.)

Kuchar's been the second-best FedExCup player without a win this year (behind Jeff Overton), but now he's lost that label. And, as this week's Limerick makes clear, he's proven himself a force to be reckoned with:
We once thought of Kuchar as “mild Matt,”
The nice guy who swings his club real flat.
His swing may be stranger
Than most, but there’s danger:
It's morphed mild Matt into a wildcat!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Long Does a Swing Change Take?

To listen to some of the TV commentators, you would think Tiger is light-years from playing well... if he ever does play well again. Yes, on Saturday Tiger was still struggling some with his swing.

Really. Imagine that. Did anybody really think nearly a year of problems would go away just like that and never return? At least he's making progress.

But it got me thinking... just how long does it take to make any kind of lasting change? I told Dexter I thought it would take him a month to get fairly comfortable with his new takeaway, and Dex said he heard Tiger say (I heard it too) that his past swing rebuilds took between 18 and 24 months to "take." Is there any real guideline to tell us how long change takes?

Well, yes and no. I did some searching and here's what I came up with: Change takes longer for some people than others. The difficulty of the change matters also. Here's what some of the experts say:

One article in the Washington Business Journal from 2006 called Too busy? Trick is habit (re)forming said that experts put the time at 21 days and that the key was how you went about creating the new habit.

An early 2009 post at PsychCentral called How Long Does Change Take? At Least 6 Months said a new study put the time at -- you guessed it -- 6 months.

And a late 2009 blog post at the Psychology Today Magazine's website called Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days referred to a study which had concluded that the average time was actually 66 days. This post led me to two other blog posts at PsyBlog and Guardian.co.uk, both with more details on the study (and they're short posts, so reading them is worth your time). One thought from the PsyBlog post really stood out here:
"Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days in the habits examined in this study. As you'd imagine, drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication..."
Now that just makes sense, doesn't it? Complex or just difficult changes took longer than simple or easy changes. For example, it shouldn't take Dexter nearly as long to make a single takeaway change as it takes Tiger to rebuild his entire golf swing.

A second thought that's important comes from the Guardian's post. It concerns why we have trouble making changes in the first place:
"The way round this, says Newby-Clark and others, is to see that habits are responses to needs. This sounds obvious, but countless efforts at habit change ignore its implications. If you eat badly, you might resolve to start eating well, but if you're eating burgers and ice-cream to feel comforted, relaxed and happy, trying to replace them with broccoli and carrot juice is like dealing with a leaky bathroom tap by repainting the kitchen. What's required isn't a better diet, but an alternative way to feel comforted and relaxed."
I actually said this somewhat more simply in the post series I did for Dexter -- namely, we have trouble making changes because we attack the symptoms rather than the problems. The more complex the problem, the more likely it is that we aren't attacking the problem's source... and that makes it harder to make a lasting change.

Again, I'd recommend you read those short posts at PsyBlog and Guardian.co.uk -- not just for swing changes, but to help you make any kind of change in your life. It might save you some frustration.

So I guess Dexter's swing change is more likely to take 66 days than 30. Sorry if I misled you there, Dex.

Still, 2 months ain't bad... ;-)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ups and Downs

Forrest Gump on benchForrest Gump, had he been a golfer (and who's to say he wasn't? he did just about everything else), would have said, "Golf is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

And this week, he would have been absolutely correct. We've barely made the weekend and already things are topsy-turvy. First there was Carol Mann's Facebook rant about the "Ground Zero Mosque," as it has come to be called. And while I have an opinion about almost everything ;-), this baby's gone so far that I'm not sure reason will ever be restored... so I'm staying out of it and focusing on how to swing a golf club. Both Stephanie Wei and Jay Busbee have posts about the bruhaha, so I'll just link you to them.

Next we had Tiger Woods shooting -6 to lead the Barclays on Thursday... and shooting +2 Friday to fall back to T14. Still not bad after all his problems, mind you, but it's just more fodder for the media. Especially that 92.9% Driving Accuracy stat. (Are you sure we've got the right Tiger here? Sounds more like Fred Funk to me.) Oh yeah, Phil Mickelson missed the cut completely. Up and down, up and down...

John Daly finished Thursday with a -5 (T2) at the Knoxville News Sentinel Open on the Nationwide, only to post +1 and drop to T32 on Friday.

And Michelle Wie shot -7 (including a hole-in-one) Thursday to snag the lead at the CN Women's Canadian Open... only to move up another 3 shots to -10 on Friday! Surprise, surprise! Her closest competitors are Jiyai Shin at -7 (no big surprise there, huh?) and Morgan Pressel and Suzann Pettersen (the defending champion) at -6.

The U.S. Amateur is being played at the Chambers Bay golf course in Washington State. PGA.com lists its length from the teal tees (yes, teal) as 7585 yards; I thought I heard them say over 7700 yards on TV. At any rate, this is for amateur competition! Where will it all end?

Strap yourself in, boys and girls. It looks like this weekend may be a bumpy ride... 

BTW Forrest... you got any dark chocolates in that box?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interesting Notes from the Barclay

Tiger Woods pic from LA Times article
Click here to read the LA Times article that included this picture.

Alright, I have to mention this. After Tiger laid down his best driving performance in 72 rounds (according to TGC), they showed one of his drives in slow motion and I immediately focused on his right heel. You'll recall that I did an entire post wondering if his tendency to lift his right heel early in his downswing -- something he seemed to have gotten away from this year -- had something to do with his poor driving.

Lo and behold, his heel popped off the ground pretty quickly! Even Nick Faldo remarked that his feet were awfully active. I don't know if that was indeed a major cause of his problems, but I think it's interesting that it returned at the same time his game improved.

Of course, the big question is whether his game has returned. Again, I don't know but here are some of his Thursday stats from PGATour.com:
  • Driving Distance: 255.5 yards (I think he used his 3-wood most of the day, although I heard he striped his driver the few times he used it)
  • Driving Accuracy: 92.9% (only 1 missed fairway, and he barely missed that one)
  • GIR: 83.3% (only 3 missed greens)
  • Total Putts: 27
  • Score: 65 (-6, tied for the lead) -- 7 birdies, 10 pars, 1 bogey
The course is a par-71, in case you didn't know, and it was a bit soft. Still, this is Tiger's best showing of the year. Tiger said the morning guys definitely got the best of it Thursday, as the greens were getting a little rough even while he was on the back 9 (there's poa in them there greens, so they grow a bit unevenly). We'll see how Tiger's game holds up this afternoon.

Stephanie Wei mentioned Joe Ogilvie's tweet about the rule that got Jim Furyk DQed, saying that he was on the policy board when it was passed and that he now considered it a mistake. I'm sure that's only going to add more fuel to the fire Furyk's DQ has sparked.

Anthony Kim posted a 73 (+2), but that's an improvement. He's still about 20 yards behind his driving average, but it looks like GIR is his real problem right now. He hit only half his greens Thursday, which probably means it still hurts him to "go down after" the ball. I'll be surprised if he makes the Ryder Cup team this time; I just don't think he's healthy yet.

And I want to mention Adam Scott. His move up the leaderboard Thursday was pretty impressive. He's been inconsistent this year, but I did a little comparison of his stats to his Valero win earlier this year and it looks as if they are generally trending upward. Perhaps we're on the verge of seeing Adam return to form.

And a couple more interesting notes: Brian Gay is at -5, one off the lead, and David Duval is at -3.

This tournament looks to be wide open. Let's hope an interesting first day turns into an interesting tournament. (And Anthony... get it going, bud. I'm pulling for you!)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rethinking the Rules

When Dustin Johnson made that monumental goof at the PGA that may have cost him his first major, I simply suggested we play all sand as bunkers unless we know different... and then I moved on.

Then Neil over at The Armchair Golf Blog did a post about Juli Inkster's DQ for using a weight on a club to help her stretch out during a 30-minute delay at the Safeway last weekend. I made a comment... and thought no more about it.

Jim Furyk pic from LA Times article
Click here to read the LA Times article that included this picture.

But with Jim Furyk's DQ this week from the Barclays because he was late to a pro-am, I feel the need to rant a bit about the state of the Rules of Golf and the Rules of the PGA Tour. This makes three rules-related gaffs that have gotten publicity outside the golf community... and now it's just getting silly.

Before the traditionalists jump all over me, I don't have a problem with the rules per se. Rules are made for a purpose, specifically to make sure everyone plays on a level playing field, and I certainly don't think we can just make wholesale changes. But life changes... and the rules don't seem to be keeping up.

I don't really have a problem with the Dustin Johnson ruling; he should have read the rules sheet. What I do have a problem with is a local rule that wasn't as clear as it should have been. The local rule began this way: "All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers whether or not they have been raked... (my italics)." When you pay attention to what is said here, you realize that Dustin could have a valid argument. Are the players now supposed to divine the intent of the course designers? How about a simpler local rule that said "All sandy areas should be played as regular bunkers"?

Is it really that hard to to write a short, clear, direct rule that leaves no question in the player's mind?

In Juli Inkster's case, my problem is one of intent... and I understand that "intent" is a word that could lead us down the path to vague rulings. I don't want that, but in some cases intent is not a nebulous concept at all. Many people have pointed out that Juli could have done the exact same stretch by simply swinging two clubs. Then why isn't swinging two clubs at once illegal? Here's my point: The rule is intended to prevent a player from using an extraneous device to gain an advantage during a round. If there is a perfectly legal way to perform the same action, then said device does not provide an advantage and shouldn't be illegal... and certainly shouldn't result in a DQ. If the weight is illegal, then swinging two clubs together should be illegal also. This is a rule that should be amended.

And then there's the PGA rule that Furyk broke. While I don't agree with Mickelson's contention that the rule only targets a select number of pros -- assuming that any pro could be in a given week's pro-am (you aren't going to have 156 pro-am groups!) -- the DQ rule does materially change the competitive level of the field. I understand the purpose of the rule, as I understand some players have been known to skip the pro-ams... but Jim Furyk was not trying to skip. As one commentator I heard today said, this was akin to catching a first-time traffic offender who got a parking ticket and lost his license as a result. The punishment simply doesn't fit the crime -- he was 5 minutes late because his phone alarm didn't work, an argument backed up by the fact that no one had been able to contact him by phone.

I must say I like John Hawkins's suggestion that, rather than a DQ, players who missed their pro-am be required to show up at a tournament of the Tour's choosing to boost an otherwise weak field. But I think even that would be too much in Furyk's case; this was not a player trying to bow out of his duties. The field has been weakened, and both the sponsors and fans have been gypped.

Something needs to be done. Somebody needs to bring a breath of sanity to this crazy state of affairs. We keep saying to want to grow the game, but anybody who thinks the world at large hears about these things and says, "Boy, that's a game I want to follow because they believe in the sanctity of rules!" is fooling themselves. A little time spent listening to ESPN over the last couple of weeks would have quickly dispelled those illusions.

All I'm saying is that, if we truly want to grow this game, we need to make sure our rules make sense and are viewed as fair, not merely penal. We already struggle with the image of golf as a rich white man's game -- we don't need to be viewed as half-witted masochists as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Coming Down

Ok, consider this a "bonus" post for you over-the-toppers like Dexter who used my one-piece takeaway drill to stop your looping and now, having gotten to the top of your backswing, wonder how complicated it is to get that clubhead back down to the ball. But this post should help all of you weekend players, because we really make the golf swing much harder than it is.

First, although this is by no means a rule, I think you'll be much more consistent if you feel as if you are starting the downswing with your upper and lower bodies together, rather than trying to get "lag" between them. Here's a brief explanation of why: It is physiologically impossible to start the downswing with your upper body. Now, here's the more technical explanation; skip it if you feel no need for it:
Newton's Third Law of Motion says that for any action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In other words, if you try to turn your upper body to the left, your lower body tries to turn to the right the same amount. You can experience this by simply trying to make a golf swing on wet ground; when your foot slips, it slips in the opposite direction of your swing, which rapidly loses speed and doesn't get to the ball, resulting in a fat or topped shot. You need FRICTION to get your upper body moving, friction between your feet and the ground. Your feet have to resist moving (which is why your foot goes backward when it slips), which means your lower body has to start resisting before your upper body can go anywhere. Therefore, your lower body HAS to start the downswing.
Now that we've got that out of the way, we can look at the actual downswing.

Ideally, you swing down the same way you swing up. Now, that doesn't automatically mean that your backswing and downswing planes are the same. You could swing up to the top, then your swing plane drops a little before you start down. What I mean is that the two planes look similar. You former over-the-toppers know what I mean -- your backswing goes back and then almost straight up, then your downswing goes out and over before it finally comes back toward you. Those two "planes" have nothing in common!

In a good swing, you swing in a relatively straight line from the ball to the top, then maybe the club drops a bit before swinging in a relatively straight line from the top down to the ball. A simple swing with no real surprises -- that's what you want.

If you watch some of the slo-mo swing videos on YouTube, you'll see that the arms don't seem to be changing their relative positions much at all on the way down... and you'd be exactly right. Once your arms have reached the top of your backswing, with one arm straight and the other elbow bent, these positions don't really change until halfway down. In other words, your arms just drop straight down from the top, pivoting at the shoulders, without changing the angle in the bent elbow. I remarked in yesterday's post that:
"...the combination of one arm straight and one arm bending, combined with the upward momentum of the club, is what causes your wrists to cock. That's why you want to keep your forearms relaxed during the swing -- so you won't interfere with this very natural process."
Those of you trying to "hold" your wrist cock on the way down are trying to do something that happens naturally. When you change direction at the top and start down, the same club momentum that helped cock your wrists continues to keep them cocked until the downward movement of the hands becomes great enough to overcome it; then the club starts "flinging" outward and uncocking the wrists. If you don't change your arm position on the way down -- if you just let them fall downward -- you don't push outward on the shaft. (You can see these things in the swing video at the end of the post.)

Now, some people (Ben Hogan is a classic example) try to pull their bent elbow in closer to their side on the way down. The idea is that they actually increase their wrist cock during their downswing. There's nothing wrong with this except that it can be very tricky to do consistently; it's just one more thing to think about during your swing; and if you don't do it correctly, you can end up changing your downswing plane and hitting the ball somewhere you didn't mean to. My recommendation, unless you plan to spend lots of time practicing and have a very high tolerance for frustration, is to forget about manipulating your arms this way. I'm not using the word "fall" by accident; that's really what it feels like. It's not a long fall -- if you measured it, it would probably only be something like 8 to 10 inches of vertical drop. It's almost like you took a deep breath, then exhaled and just relaxed your shoulders.

That'll get you about halfway down. Now you're essentially in your waist high one-piece takeaway position... but your wrists are still cocked. That means your elbow is still bent, which means you are coming at the ball from the inside, not outside the way you were when you went over-the-top. This is a powerful position, folks. The club is "in front of you," as teachers are fond of saying lately, and you cannot get "stuck" from here. Your arms are in a good position to just swing past your hips as your shoulders unwind -- and remember, since you're basically in your one-piece takeaway position, that means your shoulders still have most of their coil. You have a lot of shoulder coil and a lot of wrist cock just begging to be unleased on that little white ball.

All you have to do from here is straighten your elbow and square up your shoulders. Can you say "high clubhead speed"? 'Cause that's what you're going to get -- just let 'er rip! To demonstrate, I present to you none other than "the Bashful Prince," Ryo Ishikawa:



You can see the momentum of the club actually increase his wrist cock as he changes direction; no real change in his arm position until they get halfway down (note that some of the "fall" comes from his move to his left side on the downswing); his arms swinging past his hips at the bottom of the swing; and his bent elbow straightening as it reaches the ball.

And remember: This is a relaxed motion. You don't want to tense up when you swing. Martial artists know that relaxed muscles move faster than tight ones.

So that's a quick look at the downswing. I hope it helps you all to stop working against yourself so much. The downswing is actually a pretty natural move that you would perform just fine if you didn't call it a "golf swing."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Press Release from FullForesome.com

Since I just received this press release, I thought I'd pop it up for those of you interested in this sort of thing.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Jim Dauer
Co-Founder & CEO
FullForesome
jim@fullforesome.com
(913) 568-6286

New website makes rounding up a full foursome a piece of cake

KANSAS CITY, Aug. 24, 2010 -- Full Foresome LLC today announced the launch of a website that makes it incredibly easy for people to coordinate golf plans with friends and other compatible golfers. The free service, which has been in private beta for several weeks, is now available to the general public at www.fullforesome.com.

What it is
FullForesome.com serves a very specific purpose: To make the process of rounding up a full foursome simple and easy. To do this, elements of websites such as eVite, Plancast and eHarmony, have been incorporated into the design of FullForesome.com.
  • eVite: FullForesome allows users to exchange invitations with close friends as well as track RSVPs for upcoming tee times.
  • Plancast: FullForesome allows users to broadcast vacancies in their tee times to selected members of their network without sending direct invitations. This feature is ideally suited for sharing golf plans with acquaintances whom users cannot send direct invitations to on a regular basis without becoming a nuisance. Acquaintances will learn of these openings only when they visit FullForesome.com and specifically search for a group to join.
  • eHarmony: FullForesome allows users to easily pair-up with compatible playing partners outside their network of friends. Compatibility is based on criteria set by users such as handicap, age, preferred courses, gender and pace of play.

What it’s not
  • A tee time reservation system.
  • A bulletin board where visitors can hold golf-related discussions.
  • A place for golfers to share photos and minute details about their daily lives
  • A golf news website.
According to Co-Founder & CEO, Jim Dauer, FullForesome hopes to make getting paired-up at the course with incompatible playing partners a thing of the past for recreational golfers.

“A lot of people don’t like being paired up with complete strangers for a round of golf,” said Dauer. “Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this is to find enough playing partners to fill your tee time before you arrive at the course, which wasn’t always easy to do, until now.”

The company’s founders believe the service will change the way people think about making golf plans.

“In the past, when you got the urge to golf, you had to search for a tee time and then find someone who was available to play,” said Dauer. “Now you can just hop online and it only takes a few seconds to find a friend or another compatible golfer who already has a tee time to join.”

Getting started
New users can set up their personal network of golfing friends on FullForesome.com in just a couple of minutes by auto-searching their Facebook friend list for existing FullForesome users and inviting Facebook friends who haven’t yet signed-up. Friends can also be invited via e-mail.

Mobile apps
Although a release date has not yet been announced, FullForesome will be releasing iPhone and Android applications in the near future.

About FullForesome
FullForesome is a Kansas City-based startup company determined to make finding a full foursome a piece of cake for all.

For a brief, 60-second overview of the company’s service, visit www.fullforesome.com.

Dexter's Coming Over the Top, Part 4

This is the last post in this series. If I can do a video version later on, I'll post that as well, but Dexter's success so far tells me that these posts aren't too difficult to follow.

Yes, if you've been following the comments on these posts, you know Dexter is already making progress. The new takeaway stopped his loopy swing almost immediately, as evidenced by his divots now going straight down his target line. But he has restricted himself to half-swings, which is the bright thing to do when you first start out. A one-piece takeaway isn't hard to do, but it does feel different... and that feel is what you need to get used to. You don't want to be thinking ten different things out on the golf course; ideally, you just want to think "I want the club to go THERE" and swing it to that point.

Today I'm going to assume you've reached that point with your new one-piece takeaway. Now we're gonna stretch that takeaway into a full-blown backswing.

There are essentially two ways to take the club the rest of the way to the top. Well, that's not exactly right -- it might be better to say there are two extremes within which you can take the club to the top. As long as you're somewhere in-between these extremes, your swing should work fine. And how, you may ask, will you know where your own personal "sweet spot" between them is located?

That's simple. When you swing your takeaway from setup to waist high, the momentum of the club will guide you the rest of the way. All you need to know is where those extremes are, so you can be confident that your swing is within them and therefore working properly.

I call these two extremes the "upright" swing and the "neutral" swing. Why not a "flat" swing? How kind of you to ask.

Just as you can define a one-piece takeaway by one primary characteristic (the shoulders turn early) that has several other effects (your arms stay relatively straight, the club stays in front of you, etc.), the rest of the backswing has one primary characteristic as well -- namely, your right elbow (left elbow if you're a lefty) never touches your side during the backswing. If it does, you get a "flat" backswing where your hands drop below your shoulders at the top of the backswing, which can cause other problems. To the best of my knowledge, the only player currently doing well with a flat backswing is Matt Kuchar... and he's 6'4", which makes his backswing "less flat" than yours would probably be!

Now, since your left arm (right arm for lefties) stays relatively straight during the swing, it follows that your right elbow (left for lefties) is the primary determiner of your swing plane. You might want to think about this in terms of how far behind you your hands go. In the "upright" swing your elbow bends less,so your hands go more up than back; and in the "neutral" swing it bends quite a bit, so your hands go more back than up. (This will become very obvious when you actually try the positions later in the post.) And it also means that most of the motion from waist high to the top of the backswing is simply the arms moving up at the shoulder joints. Therefore, we can describe the whole movement this way:

Once your takeaway reaches waist high, you simply:
  • Lift both arms so they pivot at the shoulder joints. This gives you the height of your backswing.
  • Simultaneously, your right elbow (left for lefties) bends to let this movement happen on the plane your takeaway already created.
(For those of you curious about such things, the combination of one arm straight and one arm bending, combined with the upward momentum of the club, is what causes your wrists to cock. That's why you want to keep your forearms relaxed during the swing -- so you won't interfere with this very natural process.)

Pretty simple, huh? Let's see how it works with a midway position.

Ben Hogan three-quarter positionSince both arms are pretty straight at waist high, your hands are still roughly centered between your shoulders, right? Hold your arms out in front of you the way you did in Step 2 of the takeaway drill from Sunday's post -- as if you were holding the club at waist level. Now raise your hands to shoulder level and bend your right (left) elbow so your hands move over in front of your right (left) shoulder or just outside of it, and then raise them a little higher until your hands are about level with your ears. This is what some teachers call a "three-quarter" position, and it's about where Ben Hogan would have stopped his backswing.

From this point, showing you the extremes is pretty easy.

Ai Miyazato upright positionFor the "upright" swing, just pivot your arms so your hands are up higher than your head but still just outside your shoulder. You'll notice that your right (left) elbow gets a bit closer to a 90-degree angle. Ai Miyazato or Bubba Watson are good examples. (In the picture, Ai has just started down. There was no slo-mo on her video, and I couldn't catch it exactly at the top.)

Justin Leonard neutral positionIf you move your hands back down to that three-quarter position at about ear height, then move your hands as far to the right (left) as you can while still keeping your hands at ear height, this is the "neutral" extreme. Justin Leonard is a good example; note how his hands are much lower than Ai's, although the basic position is the same. One difference that you may not notice at first is how much more angle there is in Justin's elbow; Justin's elbow forms an angle much less than 90 degrees, while Ai's elbow angle is a little over. But also notice that Justin's elbow is NOT touching his side; your elbow never touches your side during the backswing.

These are the two extremes. Your position may be a little different, but it should still fall within these three guidelines (three-quarter, upright, and neutral). I know this may seem like a strange way to think of your backswing, but remember that your shoulders will be coiling while you do this. I'm purposely describing just the arm motion minus the shoulder rotation because it's easier to understand. If you spend a little time watching some of the YouTube videos of these (and other) players, it won't take you long to understand how it works.

And of course, there is no substitute for trying it yourself. Let me repeat a few key points here:
  • Your takeaway will determine the plane of your swing. Tall people automatically swing more upright and short people automatically swing flatter. Likewise, people who "reach for the sky" like Jack Nicklaus automatically swing more upright and people who "reach behind them" like Ben Hogan automatically swing flatter. But since your one-piece takeaway gets your hands in a good position at waist high, you won't be coming over the top unless you try to... and why would you want to do that?
  • Your right elbow (left elbow if you're a lefty) never touches your side during the backswing. Your takeaway moves your elbow away from your side and your backswing keeps it there. What you do on the way down is your own business. ;-)
  • Basically, while you finish turning your shoulders, your arms just pivot up at the shoulder joints to give you the height of your backswing while your right elbow (left for lefties) bends to let this movement happen on the plane your takeaway already created. This isn't something that takes a lot of thought or effort. In fact, I think you'll find it simplifies your backswing a lot. As I said earlier, after a little practice you should be able to just think "I want to swing to THERE," where THERE is your hand position at the top of your backswing, and put them there time after time.
And once you can do that, golf becomes a much simpler game.

Like I said, this is the last post in this series. But despite the "what you do on the way down is your own business" comment, it has occurred to me that some of you may be wondering how this new backswing action affects your downswing. Tomorrow I'll take a quick look at that, just so you can see how much a good backswing simplifies things.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Wyndham Championship

Winner: Arjun Atwal

Around the greater world of golf: Peter Hanson won the ET's Czech Open in a playoff against Gary Boyd and Peter Lawrie; Ai Miyazato won the LPGA's Safeway Classic, retaking the #1 spot on the women's world rankings; Fred Funk won the JELD-WEN Tradition, the fourth major on the Champions Tour; Virginie Lagoutte-Clement won the Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open on the LET; and Akiko Fukushima won the CAT Ladies event on the JLPGA. You can read about the ladies JLPGA event over at Mostly Harmless.

You know, we always rag TGC when they make mistakes so I want to give them a shout-out this week for some choices they made. The LPGA was on the West Coast, so they were able to broadcast it live and they actually stayed late Saturday and Sunday to cover the end of Ai Miyazato's rounds. (They didn't stay for the last few groups Saturday, but they did see the leader into the house.) And Sunday they did some hopping back-and-forth to give a little coverage of the Wyndham and still broadcast the Czech Open playoff. The coverage wasn't always smooth, but they made the effort and I think that deserves a little applause.

The play at the Wyndham wasn't always smooth either. Players would shoot lights out for nine holes, then struggle the other nine... like Lucas Glover, who posted a 29 on the front side (six birdies, five of those in a row), only to go three-over (with no birdies) on the back nine.

Arjun Atwal with Wyndham trophy
The picture comes from this article at Golf365.com.

Arjun Atwal was the guy to beat. Arjun's troubles over the past few years are well-documented, but the big news this week was that even winning wouldn't get him into the FedEx Cup. Seems that he lost his card after his medical exemption for shoulder problems ran out earlier this year, and non-members of the Tour aren't eligible. He Monday-qualified for the Wyndham, and went into the final round with a three-shot lead.

In the end, the only guy to challenge him was David Toms. Dealing with shoulder problems himself, Toms posted a six-under 64 (par was 70) to reach -19. But Arjun was up to the task, posting three-under to reach -20 and take the tournament in regulation.

Some of you young-uns might not know it, but the Wyndham is a tournament with a long history. It may be best remembered as the Greater Greensboro Open (aka the GGO), first played back in 1938. This is where Sam Snead set the PGA records for most wins at a single tournament (8) and oldest winner of an official event (just short of 53 years old in 1965). Arjun also made history with his win, becoming the first Indian-born player to win on the PGA Tour, and he'll be playing at the Masters next year regardless of the FedEx Cup snub. He's the first Monday-qualifier to win in about three decades, and he nabbed himself a two-year exemption on the Tour. And if I've read things properly, last week Arjun was #450 in the world; this week he should jump to #230... and he did it all in my backyard! After a long dark period, things look to be improving for Arjun Atwal.

Here's a salutatory limerick for the newest first-time winner on Tour:
Congrats to our champion Arjun!
He’s India’s first, and enlargin’
His stature on Tour.
His card now secure,
It’s up the world rankings he’s chargin’.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Had to Make a Title Change...

I just realized today that the posts about Dexter's over-the-top problem weren't going to show up properly in the search engines. They look for the phrase "coming over the top" instead of "going over the top." (Yes, I know I do dumb things sometimes. Don't rub it in.)

So, to make sure people can find them when they search, I'm changing the titles from "Dexter's Going Over the Top" to "Dexter's Coming Over the Top," and that means that any of you who linked to those posts will need to change your links.

Sorry about the mix-up. Brain fart acknowledged and duly noted. ;-)

Dexter's Coming Over the Top, Part 3

Ok, we’ve gotten all the “theory” out of the way:
  • You know what makes an over-the-top swing different from our desired swing: Instead of swinging along the plane, the hands get in a bad position which causes them to go straight up and “crashing through” the plane, resulting in a loop.
  • You know the hands get in this position because you bent your right elbow (or left elbow, for you lefties out there) too early in the swing.
  • You know you bent your elbow too early because you didn’t start coiling your shoulders early enough in the backswing, a move also called a “one-piece takeaway.”
So now you only need to know two more things:
  • How to make a proper one-piece takeaway.
  • How to know when you’re making a proper one-piece takeaway.
Don’t underestimate that second one. Golfers really get tripped up trying to do the right thing but not knowing whether they did it or not. While golf is a game of feel, unless we know what the proper movements feel like to us, we often find out that what feels right isn’t right at all. (Come to think of it, a lot of life is that way. But I digress…)

Because of this, I’m going to break the backswing into two parts:
  • the one-piece takeaway, which carries the hands from the address position to about waist high; and
  • the rest of the backswing, from waist high to the top.
Why am I including that second part? Well, if we’ve been bending our elbows too early, then we’re used to bending them incorrectly. We need to learn what they’re supposed to do after we get that one-piece takeaway working smoothly. Simple, right?

So today we'll start with the one-piece takeaway. It’s actually the easiest part of the whole swing! Here’s the first “feel drill” for learning the correct takeaway; all it does is teach you the proper position and let you learn how it feels to you. You can do this drill with or without a club; with a club is pretty obvious, but doing it without a club may be less so. Here’s how to create an “instant club” so you can do this anywhere you have room:
  1. Hold your left hand out in front of you, as if you were going to shake hands. (You lefties out there will need to use your right hand.)
  2. Make a fist and stick your thumb straight up as if you were giving somebody a “thumbs-up.” Your thumb is the “shaft” of your club.
  3. Take your normal golf grip by placing your free hand on the “shaft.” You’ll be surprised how much this feels like your normal grip; at any rate, it will give you a solid way to position your hands.
Simple, huh? Now let’s try the drill:
  1. Take your normal address position. On the outside chance you need to work on your setup, let me give you a couple of checkpoints:
    • Your knees should be slightly flexed and your spine tilted forward from your hips.
    • Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart, and your weight should be on the balls of your feet and pretty evenly distributed between them.
    • Your upper arms rest lightly against the outside muscles of your chest. I know not everybody stands as close to or far from the ball, but just avoid the extremes—don’t glue your elbows against your chest, and don’t stick your arms out so straight that the upper parts of your arms don’t touch your chest muscles at all.
    • And of course, your forearms and grip should be relaxed. You don’t need tense arms to do a one-piece takeaway. No locking those elbows, ok?
  2. From this address position, with your knees still bent, straighten your spine so it’s vertical again. Don’t move your arms; let them just stay in the relaxed position they were in before. Did you know that your hands should be about waist high when you straighten your spine? Surprise!
  3. Now, without moving your lower body, turn your upper body (yes, that’s your shoulders! Turn at your waist) so your arms, still relaxed and fairly straight, are pointing to the side. Did I hear you ask “how much should I turn?” Here are a couple of guidelines; use the one that suits you best.
    • Turn until your club shaft points straight out to your right (left for you lefties) or angles up slightly. You might also think of the shaft being parallel to your toe line.
    • Turn until your hands are just outside your right foot (left foot for you lefties).
    Using these two guides, you should be able to get things about right. You can also check the pic of Paula Creamer below. I would guess this is about a 60- to 75-degree shoulder turn from her setup position. Note that her arms are still in the same position relative to her spine that they were at address; they haven't changed. Paula's club shaft angles up slightly; if you usually have your wrists completely cocked at this point, that's ok too. Letting the shaft "droop" just makes it easier to keep your arms relaxed during this drill.
  4. Tilt your upper body back into your setup position. Let me point out that you did not poke your right hip (left hip, lefties!) out to the side when you did this, so don't start poking it out when you try to make the actual takeaway. Note how your lower body feels when you do this drill, and duplicate that feel when you actually swing!
Picture of Paula Creamer's takeaway
Although you’re pretty much in the proper position, there’s one last thing you need to do. I’m making a big deal of it because it makes a big difference in the feel. Your left arm (right arm, lefties!) isn’t quite correct because your elbow is closer to your side than it should be. The reason is that we kept your elbows near your side, in the same position as they were at address… but at this point in the takeaway, your elbow should be pointing straight down at the ground. (When you actually make your takeaway from your setup position, you'll make this adjustment naturally.) If you just relax your arm, you’ll feel your shoulder joint pivot just a bit as your elbow swings away from your side a little. Just firm it up once it’s in position and TA-DAH! This is how a one-piece takeaway feels to you.

It won't take you long to get the hang of it; you'll be able to take your setup position and swing back to waist high with barely a thought. Once you do, you can try using your new takeaway to make short swings with a club, either just swinging in your back yard or actually hitting pitch shots at the driving range. (Yes, this will help both your full shots and your short game. MULTITASKING -- THE ONLY WAY TO PRACTICE!) Focus on keeping your forearms and wrists as relaxed as possible, and it will also help you improve your release.

Tomorrow is the Limerick Summary, so you've got a couple of days to work on this, although I doubt it'll take any of you that long. Just leave any questions you have in the comments. The fourth post will teach you how to turn this improved takeaway into an improved backswing... and how to kiss that over-the-top swing good-bye.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dexter’s Coming Over the Top, Part 2

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. The weather was better Friday and I went out to make a video, only to find that the camera batteries were dead and I couldn’t even make still pictures. I’ll just have to make a video for these posts later on and add the links for that post to this series. At any rate, we shall soldier on.

Today I want to look at the two most common ways players take the club away from the ball, and why one of them works and one doesn’t. We commonly refer to these methods as a “one-piece takeaway” and just “lifting the club.” Ask most people what the difference is and you’ll get an answer like “a one-piece takeaway is where your arms stay straight” and you’ll just get a puzzled look about the second.

The difference between the two is actually very simple. In a one-piece takeaway, the shoulders start coiling very early in the backswing; when you lift the club, the shoulders start coiling very late in the backswing. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a huge difference in where your hands end up. And make a note of this: Although your arms do stay fairly straight in a one-piece takeaway, it’s not because you stiffen up and try to make them stay straight. Your arms are relatively relaxed throughout; they stay straight because your shoulder turn means they don’t have to bend.

Let’s look at those stills I took from Dexter’s video again:



Two stills of Dexter's swing

In the top picture, you’ll see that Dexter’s right elbow has bent very early in the swing. This causes his left arm to be pulled close to and across his chest, as you can see in the bottom pic. Compare this to these pics of Tiger (the 2007 swing) and Bubba, pulled from their slo-mo backswings at about the same position as Dexter’s top pic. (I added the black dots to show where the clubheads are. Bubba’s is a little misleading; unlike Dexter’s closed stance, Bubba’s stance is open so it looks like his right hand has actually twisted under his left. Watch the actual video and you’ll see it’s not as awkward as this pic makes it appear.)



Tiger and Bubba do a one-piece takeaway

Now I know what you’re going to say: It looks like their hands are in about the same position as Dexter’s in that top picture… and you’d be right. However, if you look at their shoulders, you’ll realize that their shoulder position matches Dexter’s bottom picture! Tiger and Bubba coil their shoulders early in the backswing, while Dexter coils his much later.

This has a huge effect on the swing plane. See, Dexter’s hands in the top picture are actually about where they should be… but he hasn’t turned his shoulders yet. So what happens after this point, when he finally does coil his shoulders? He pushes his hands backward (or sideways, if you prefer that term) about 12-18 inches, which puts them below his swing plane. From there he has to push them straight up, causing him to loop over-the-top. While it’s a little difficult to see the upward movement of his hands clearly in this video, you can very clearly see the shaft being whipped around from pointing straight behind him (that’s in the bottom picture) to pointing toward the target… all in about 1 second of video! That’s where he shoves his hands up in an effort to get them up to the correct plane.

You can also see his right elbow, which is against his side through most of the backswing, suddenly move out from his side as he makes that “pushing up” move. Compare that to both Tiger and Bubba’s videos; you’ll see that their elbows are already well away from their sides as their hands move above shoulder height.

How much difference is there between the two takeaways? If you lift your hands, you’ll turn your shoulders maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of their full turn by the time your hands are waist high; but it you use a one-piece takeaway, you’ll turn your shoulders from 2/3 to 3/4 of their full turn by the waist high mark. We’re talking two to three times more coil early in the backswing.

Now, I don’t want you to think that “lifting your hands” is entirely useless as a takeaway. It’s extremely useful in your short game. When you don’t need much power and your hands aren’t going much above waist high anyway, you don’t need to turn your shoulders a lot. In fact, the less you turn them, the more accurate your short game shots will be. That makes “lifting your hands” an extremely useful takeaway for chips and pitches.

But not for a full swing. You need power in a full swing, which means you need that shoulder coil, plus you need accuracy as well. The less you move your hands and arms up and down during the backswing, the easier it is to stay on plane and the more accurately you can strike the ball.

Which begs the question: What does a proper one-piece takeaway look like? That will be the topic of the next post. But before I go, I want to address a comment Dexter made on the first post because it's important for all of you to understand that this isn't rocket science.

Dexter's comment started,
"This is great Mike. I had no idea that I was that shallow on the takeaway. I am no where close to where I need to be huh? I was practicing today and I was trying to figure out how to get a little steeper without getting too steep." 
You should read the whole thing for yourself, because it really helps you understand why the average weekend player has trouble breaking 100. Dexter thinks he's a long way from a good swing simply because he's learned a lot about the golf swing... but very little that helps him solve his problem. You see, Dexter doesn't need to get any steeper -- an over-the-top swing is too steep to begin with!

I can go out, take a tennis lesson or two, and have reasonable expectations that I can go play a decent game this weekend and have a good time. Same deal for softball. But once you utter the word "golf," you are told you will need to spend a fortune on lessons and hours on practice before you can even hope to be a duffer. Sure, there's a lot to learn about golf because you face so many different challenges in the game... but that doesn't mean it's so hard to learn. It's no wonder that golf isn't growing like other sports. Why spend a fortune on equipment, lessons, and greens fees when I can buy a basketball and a goal, have a friend teach me the basics of dribbling, passing, and shooting... and then I can have fun? Where is the simple instruction that would teach golfers how to just go out and hit decent shots?

Here is Dexter's problem in a nutshell:
  • Dexter has an over-the-top swing because he gets his hands in a bad position early on.
  • He gets them in this bad position because he bends his right elbow too soon.
  • He bends his right elbow too soon because he doesn't turn his shoulders early enough in the backswing.
  • If we teach him how to turn his shoulders properly, then his elbow won't bend too soon, which means his hands won't go to that bad position and he'll stop swinging over the top.
Now, is that so hard? It's important for him to understand why he's making this mistake because, if he understands how a good swing works, he'll avoid making a lot of other mistakes. (Read his whole comment and my reply. He developed his problem in part because he didn't understand how his swing worked.) I had this problem plus several others, yet Carl got me straightened out in just one lesson. Contrary to what he believes, Dexter is not far from a good swing at all.

And neither are any of you, no matter what kind of problems you're having with your swing. Hitting a golf ball is pretty simple. The vast majority of players who struggle with an over-the-top swing have exactly the same problem that Dexter has... and most just need a simple fix. Don't give up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dexter’s Coming Over the Top, Part 1

I was going to try making my first video for this post but the weather is not cooperating. (If you saw any of the Wyndham in nearby Greensboro, where they were playing LCP, you know it’s been pretty soggy here.) Since I’ve decided to break this post into more than one part, I may get a chance to make one for the other posts.

This first post focuses on understanding what makes a swing to go “over-the-top.” It’s hard to fix it if you don’t understand what you’re doing.

It’s kind of ironic. Just one week before Dexter made his first post about his over-the-top swing, I did an instructional article for Golfsmith.com about the correct way to make a one-piece takeaway. Not only that, but Michael Breed on The Golf Fix did a segment on how your takeaway affects your plane just a couple of days before Dexter’s post. (I don’t recall if he actually used the term “one-piece takeaway,” but that’s what he was demonstrating.) This is a common problem, and that’s why I want you to understand what’s happening.

First, you need to understand the difference between an over-the-top swing and any other kind of swing. It’s very simple, really:
In most swings, your hands reach the top of your backswing and that's as high as they’re going to go; then they start down. In an over-the-top swing, your hands are going up when they reach the top of your backswing… and then they keep going up.
It’s very easy to say, “Yes, yes, I understand” and totally miss what’s happening here. In a normal swing your hands are traveling toward the top of the backswing at an angle (i.e., your swing plane), stop traveling upward (even though they might still be moving back or down a little), and are then able to start forward and downward again, hopefully on a swing plane somewhat similar to the first one.

But in an over-the-top swing, the hands are traveling almost directly straight up to the top of the backswing. When they get there, they can’t just stop; they have to change direction so they can head forward and downward again. So, just like the poor driver who missed his turn at the last intersection, they make a U-turn at the next opportunity, looping over and forward at the top of the backswing. Voil√°! You’re in the wrong lane, and you’ve got a big pull working.

Dexter posted several videos of his swing, all showing a down-the-line view, in this post. Here’s the one I chose to focus on:



And here are a couple of stills I pulled from it, right around the :21-:22 second mark. I’ve added an X to each pic to show about where his hands ought to be, and a black line to show roughly where the club shaft would point. (They aren’t perfect, but they’ll give you an idea. To help fight his over-the-top swing, Dexter has closed his stance a little, which makes it difficult to get things perfect. I settled on making the marks relative to his chest position.)



Two stills of Dexter's swing

As you can see, Dexter’s hands have traveled much farther around him (i.e., his backswing plane is too low) than they should be at these points in his swing. His hands are still below shoulder height, even though he can’t turn much further from the ball. They should be at or above shoulder height when he has turned this much. And see how the club shaft is pointing straight back, parallel to the ground? He’s swinging around, not up.

But his hands have to go up; they’re still not at the top of his backswing. So what will he do? He’ll lift his hands almost straight up to the top of his backswing (that’s really all he can do from this position). And now he’s got a problem, because his hands need to make a turn much sharper than 90-degrees to get back on plane and start down. So he does the only thing he can do—he makes a U-turn at the top, looping up and over so he can start down again.

In some cases, because a player is literally pushing his or her hands straight up, they’ve got so much momentum working against them that they have to use their hip (the right hip for a right-hander, the left hip for a left-hander) to counteract that momentum. The hip moves up and away from the target (rather than forward and around, as it would in a correct swing) and tilts the spine toward the target. As a result, the shoulder gets pushed up even higher and the hands loop even farther over-the-top.

Sounds like a real mess, doesn’t it?

But the problem isn’t the backswing per se. Rather, it’s the takeaway that starts the backswing... and that’s a much simpler problem to fix. I’ll explain how we do it in the next post.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Stories This Weekend

This week is the last major in our two-month stretch -- the JELD-WEN Tradition on the Champions Tour. However, I admit to being more excited about the Wyndham Championship (which happens to be in my own backyard, just east of me in Greensboro NC) and the Safeway Classic, on the PGA and LPGA Tours respectively.

Here are our main storylines headed in:

On the Champions Tour, the focus this week is Bernhard Langer. Can he make it 3 majors in a row? Freddie has once again elected to skip a Champions major, preferring instead to play at the Wyndham.

On the PGA Tour, the big story is the push to make the FedEx playoffs. Tiger sits at 108, and while the experts say he will probably make it (read the PGATour.com story here), there's still a chance he'll fall short. The article also gives you an idea of who can and can't move into the qualifying 125 -- and what they'll need to do so.

And on the LPGA, it's still about the scramble for #1 in the world rankings. Jiyai Shin has dropped to #3, and a good showing on the JLPGA (4th) for Ai Miyazato wasn't enough to give her the lead! That's how close the race has become -- Cristie Kerr leaps to the top because she has one less tournament counting in her total. The Top 5 now looks like this:
  1. Cristie Kerr: 10.47
  2. Ai Miyazato: 10.33
  3. Jiyai Shin: 10.24
  4. Suzann Pettersen: 10.02
  5. Yani Tseng: 9.85
This race is already very interesting, so should heat things up even more this week since all 5 ladies intend to tee it up.

Oh, and there's one more storyline I should mention... Dexter over at Golf Tips & Quips got some down-the-line footage of his over-the-top swing up in this post, and I in turn am going to do a post that I think will help him fix it pretty quickly. Look for that in the next couple of days. Dexter's problem is a pretty common one, so I suspect it may help a lot of players.

All-in-all, it's gonna be a pretty busy weekend.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If This Is The Problem, Tiger May Never Find It

I wasn't sure what to do for today's post. I seem to have gotten into the habit of doing instructional stuff for two or three days before a tournament, like I did with Bubba's swing yesterday... but today I was stuck. (Ironic, since that's Tiger's problem too.) Anyway, while poking around YouTube, I started looking at some slo-mo footage of Tiger's swing over the years.

There's a lot of guys doing swing analysis now, showing old swing versus new swing, and everybody has a different slant. I found one that showed how Tiger's swing was actually more technically correct now than it was ten years ago, and another that says it's worse. But you know me... I rarely see quite what everybody else sees.

And after looking at a bunch of footage, I noticed something. Maybe it's just one of those little quirks that exists in most everybody's swing, but I found one thing that's different in his new swing that I didn't see in any of the older footage I checked. I thought you all might be interested, because I'm betting nobody will ever suggest this is Tiger's problem.

Believe it or not, I think Tiger's made a technically correct change that could be messing up his swing. Take a look and see what you think.

I've rounded up three clips of Tiger's swing, all of them with the driver, from three different years -- the 2007 U.S. Open (T2 at +6), the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational (a win at -10, if the posted date is correct), and the 2010 U.S. Open (T4 at +3). See if you can find the difference between the first two and the last one.

Here's 2007:



Here's 2008:



And here's 2010:



Can you find a difference? It's tricky because he's bobbing and weaving all over the place. It even looks like his upper and lower body are in synch in all three, although (as you no doubt remember) I originally thought that might be his problem. There isn't much consistency from one clip to the next... but there's one thing that's different in 2010. I'll give you a hint: If you stop the clips at these times:
  • 2007 -- :09 sec
  • 2008 -- :13 sec
  • 2010 -- :11 sec
you'll have a better chance of spotting it. Go ahead, give it a shot.

How did you do? If you still can't see it, take a look at his right heel. In the first two clips (where we all thought he was invincible) that heel gets off the ground really early in the swing. Technically, this is a flaw he ought to correct, right?

But in the last clip, it looks like he has. And yet this is right in the middle of his struggles! Maybe it's throwing off his timing by slowing down his hip turn; I don't know. What I do know is that it looks like his hips haven't turned as much in that last video, even though his arms and club are at about the same position in all three.

I don't know if this is the source of his struggles, but as weekend players you should be aware of this: Everybody has quirks in their swing, things that aren't considered textbook moves but are very natural for you. You repeat them consistently because they're just the way you move. If you try to change one of those things, you could end up messing up your swing.

I actually had a big problem in my swing for a while because I got into a proper position at the top, but moved my right elbow toward the ball on the downswing (a natural move I've had since I was a child) and it caused me to spray the ball all over the place on full swings. I finally had to make a change to my swing so that I used my right arm differently, simply because I couldn't change that elbow move with any consistency.

Most of the great players have had something funky in their swings. Wouldn't it be funny (in an odd sort of way) if Tiger's problems finally got traced to a misbehaving ankle that rebelled against his control? It would mean that golf's biggest control freak would have to learn how to live with a flaw he couldn't change.

I guess that would make him human too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whack It Like Bubba?

I know... you were expecting a look at Martin Kaymer's swing, weren't you? Surprise!

Bubba Watson says he's never had a lesson... and doesn't want one, because that would make this a job and he's having too much fun. (You gotta love Bubba!) For that very reason, I think Bubba's a good example for weekend golfers to study; he's great proof that you don't need a textbook swing to be a scoring machine.

Here's a face-on shot from the 2010 Travelers:



And a down-the-line shot from the 2007 U.S. Open:



I wish I could have found a more recent slo-mo for that last one, but it's good enough for our purposes.

The first thing that jumps out at you is that Bubba breaks a lot of "rules." He sets up more open than the line he launches the ball on; his takeaway looks awfully stiff; his backswing is too upright; he overswings à la John Daly -- too much leg action and club too far past parallel; and he raises his front foot on the backswing, then replants it in a different place on the downswing, and then he's up on his toes during his followthrough, which is really upright too.

I'm not advising you to break all these rules... but Bubba proves that many of the things we obsess over may not be as critical as we think. Let me point out a few things that he does really well but neither Kostis nor Miller mentions. (I should point out that Michael Breed compared Bubba and Dustin Johnson -- whose swing is quite good technically -- and it was amazing how similar many of their positions are. You don't need a perfect swing to make good shots.)

Even with all that movement, Bubba still stays balanced. Look at the first video and watch his left hip during his backswing. It doesn't move backward, not one little bit. Kostis is talking about him getting behind the ball, but he's not moving his body to do it; he's just turning his shoulders so a line drawn across his back would strike the ground behind the ball. (Note: He's hitting a driver. This wouldn't be true with a shorter club.) This is something Ben Hogan taught which applies to almost every player, no matter how they swing. (Another note: Stack & Tilters actually move this hip a bit forward on the backswing. You simply don't want it to move away from the target.)

While it has been pointed out repeatedly that Bubba gets a little steep sometimes, that doesn't mean that the currently popular "neutral" swing -- where the swing plane runs through the shoulders rather than above them -- is automatically the best way to swing. Nicklaus was upright, so it can't be all bad, huh? For many players (I'm one of them, although I'm only 5'10") an upright swing plane allows them to develop more power. I know you've heard that upright swings result in "over the top" swings, but that's only true if you have some major swing fault -- a bad takeaway motion is the most common culprit. (If you read Dexter's blog, you know I think that this is his problem as well. He's trying to make some "down the line" video so we can be sure, and I'll do a post on it once he does.)

Because Bubba gets in a good position at the top, he can just let it all go and still return the club to the ball on-plane... and he gets in that position because he has a solid takeaway motion. Again, I'm not going to go into detail about the proper motion until I hear from Dexter, but the key move (which you can see clearly in Bubba's swing) is that he makes his takeaway with his shoulders. Too many weekend players lift their hands to waist level, THEN they turn their shoulders. This is where you get into trouble, folks! The shoulders, hands, and arms have to move together or you'll screw up your swing -- even if your swing is as flat as Texas.

The last thing I'll mention is that Bubba's upper and lower body stay in sync. Unlike Bernhard Langer, you can clearly see that Bubba's lower body starts before his upper body... but it never gets so far ahead that he ends up tilted backward. This is because of Bubba's "overturn" combined with his extremely upright swing; his lower body simply has to do more work to get his shoulders turning back toward the ball! It takes a lot of flexibility and strength to make this move consistently. The key thing here is that his hips are always centered beneath him -- they don't slide so far forward that the club gets stuck.

There are other good things I could point out in Bubba's swing, but these three -- stable back hip and leg, solid takeaway, and an "in-sync" downswing -- highlight some of the really important things in any swing. And that powerful upright swing he uses, once so popular during the Nicklaus years, is beginning to make a comeback; don't be surprised if it becomes a mainstream teaching again.

Of course, Bubba may never find out when it does. He doesn't plan to take any lessons, you know.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 PGA Championship

Winner: Martin Kaymer

Around the greater world of golf: Hunter Haas won the Nationwide's Price Cutter Charity Championship; Ji-Hee Lee won the NEC Karuizawa 72 on the JLPGA; and Lee-Anne Pace won the LET's S4C Wales Ladies Championship of Europe. You can read about the ladies JLPGA event over at Mostly Harmless, although the Constructivist didn't have anything up on the LET finish yet; you can read about that here. And yes, it was a slow week in golf... except for the PGA Championship.

You know, when the day started I thought I might be writing about "Rory's Best Shot." (Kinda catchy, don't you think?) And Rory didn't play badly; in the end, he just burned the hole with too many putts and missed the playoff by one shot.

Then it was going to be "Redneck Rampage." Nothing against Bubba, it's just that's what you think of when you hear the name "Bubba." I would have been ok with his win too, even though I didn't pick him; in case you guys hadn't heard, Bubba is now living in Lexington NC, about 40 minutes or so south of me. This would count as a hometown win to me! (Plus I had this really cool limerick all ready to use; I'll have to save it for another day now.)

Then there was the "Open Revenge" story, where Dustin Johnson rebounds from his U.S. Open loss and takes the PGA. As we all know, it didn't happen. (Note to readers: NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, GROUND YOUR CLUB ON SANDY GROUND!) But both Dustin and Bubba gain some solace by making the Ryder Cup team.

Martin Kaymer pic from WikipediaIn the end, it became "Eye of the Kaymer." (Also catchy, huh?) Martin Kaymer has been doing quite well for some time now, although it's been mostly in Europe. He has 14 pro wins, 6 of those on the European Tour (the PGA, like all the other majors, counts as an ET event). Last week he was 13th in the World Rankings, but they wasted no time getting the new ones out after the win:
  1. Tiger Woods, 9.57
  2. Phil Mickelson, 9.08
  3. Lee Westwood, 8.87
  4. Steve Stricker, 7.37
  5. Martin Kaymer, 6.70
Everyone ahead of him lost a little ground this week -- no surprise there -- but it will be interesting to see what happens from here on. Kaymer will now have a chance to join the PGA Tour -- will he? And just how high can he climb in the rankings?

Just a side note: Germany now has two major winners, Bernhard Langer and Martin Kaymer. Pretty heady company, if you ask me!

I didn't use the "Eye of the Kaymer" motif, but as usual I did give the 25-year-old his very own Limerick Summary:
Remember the name Martin Kaymer:
Although he’s not yet an old-timer,
That fine Wanamaker
Comes with his tiebreaker
Win— now he’s a World Rankings climber.
UPDATE: I can't believe I actually forgot to include Danielle Kang's 2&1 victory over Jessica Korda at the 2010 U.S. Women's Open... and it was held right here in my backyard almost, in Charlotte NC. Please forgive me, ladies!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

WTF (Watney's the Favorite)

Of course, Nick Watney was probably thinking about the other meaning of WTF after his second shot on 18 found that deep hazard winding through the center of the hole. Nevertheless, his clutch recovery shot and resultant bogey put him at -13, three shots ahead of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. (My pick! Do you see that? My pick is still in contention!)

Nick Watney pic from golf.com gallery
Click the pic to see Golf.com's photo gallery of the PGA from Saturday.

In fourth (-9) we have Wen-Chong Liang (now the course record holder with a 64 -- isn't this his best showing in a major?), Jason Day, and Martin Kaymer. Did anybody anticipate this threesome?

And in seventh (-8) we have Steve Elkington, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, and Jim Furyk (another of my picks, but who must be stinging after his own bogey at 18).

Among the big boys... Tiger probably isn't happy, but -3 (T31) is way better than he did last week, and Phil's -1 (T48) still gives him a chance to move up. It's unlikely that either will win... but then, we didn't expect that this week, did we? Barring a major breakdown (excuse the pun), Tiger will remain #1 in the World Rankings for another week.

All of my picks made the cut except Anthony Kim, and two of them are in the Top 10 after three rounds, so I didn't do too badly this time. I expect a pretty good showdown between Watney, Johnson, and McIlroy on Sunday. All have played well this year, and all have recovered from big disappointments. While one or two could have a bad day, I doubt that all three will.

Look for the next PGA Champion out of these three. And when it happens, it won't be one of those other WTF moments at all!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

He's Our Hoochie-Kuchar Man

If the name sounds familiar but you can't place the title, "Hoochie-Coochie Man" is a classic blues song written by Willie Dixon and originally performed by the immortal Muddy Waters back in 1954. And while the song was intended to be humorous, there was nothing funny about Matt Kuchar's performance on Friday. (I didn't care for any of the Muddy Waters videos at YouTube. Instead, try this recent version by Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy on for size.)



All Kuchar did was post 67-69 in some of the worst weather this major has seen so far. His swing is a bit odd -- it's extremely flat for a 6'4" player -- but it worked well in this poor weather. (I originally did this post about his swing late last year.) With 8 Top-10s this year, his play this week can't really be considered a surprise. But can he hold on to win? That remains to be seen.

Among my picks, Rory McIlroy is three back and tied for 3rd. (I'm still feeling real good about picking him to win.) Also, Jim Furyk is five back at T13, with nine holes left in his 2nd round and perhaps some good scoring conditions Saturday morning.

In the "less to brag about" category, Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott are +1 and T62, but both are finished and should make the cut. My last pick, Anthony Kim, is at +2 (which would miss the cut) but has 11 holes left in his second round, so maybe all 5 of my picks will make the cut. That would be worth celebrating!

Since we still don't know for sure who will and won't make the cut, it's a little premature to make any predictions. At any rate, you can catch Matt Kuchar's song-and-dance act late Saturday afternoon. Hopefully we can see how this major's shaking out Sunday morning.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Is Tiger in the Tank? Just Add Gasoline...

And maybe he'll light it up. Back in 2004, when his game was top notch, he shot a 75 in his first round at Whistling Straits, struggled to make the cut, and finally finished up at T24.

Thursday, hot off his worst tournament this century, he got it to 3-under before finishing at 1-under 71. I guess you could say he picked up where he left off -- although the first round isn't finished as I write this, he's currently T24.

Given the circumstances, I'll call that "lighting up the course."

While it remains to be seen how he'll finish, this may be the most encouraging start of the year for him -- both in terms of play and attitude. You go, Tiger!

Bubba Watson and Francesco Molinari got into the clubhouse with rounds of 68, and are the best of the finished rounds so far. Bubba was an absolute genius around the greens.

Here's a quick look at my picks so far:
  • Jim Furyk: Finished at -2
  • Anthony Kim: Finished at +2
  • Adam Scott: E after 13 holes
  • Hunter Mahan: +1 after 10 holes
  • Rory McIlroy: -1 after 13 holes (after going +3 in his first four holes!)
There's not much I can say until they get some rounds finished, so I'll let it go at this for now. Let's see what we get at the cut!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

And Then He Said He Didn’t Say…

Thunderstorms interrupted my internet service for quite a while Wednesday night, so I was unable to do a normal post. Fortunately, there wasn’t much to report beyond the brewing catfight between Jim Gray and Corey Pavin. Of course, Corey’s already had some controversy earlier this year over Twitter, and a little Ryder Cup intrigue as the competition nears isn’t anything new. (Plus Gray had already found himself in a little controversy over the whole LeBron “announcement,” so this is just more fuel for the fire.) But as one TGC anchor noted, it’s almost funny how Monty might be in the midst of a possible sex scandal and yet Corey got all the attention! It will be interesting to see how this finally shakes out, since this is just another strange happening in a year of golf that has been nothing but strange from the beginning.

But the real irony of it all is that none of it means much where this major is concerned. So enjoy the PGA broadcasts today, and maybe something interesting ABOUT THE MAJOR will come up for tomorrow’s post. Maybe Tiger will light it up… now that would be fun to talk about!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My PGA Championship Preview

"Glory's Last Shot." That's what they call the PGA Championship. Some call it the poor stepchild of the other majors, but the first PGA was played back in 1916. It was a match play tourney until 1958, and has been stroke play since. Even the trophy is one of the best-known in the game: The Wanamaker Trophy. Say what you want, this is a tournament with a long history. It also has some dominating winners -- Walter Hagen (the match player extraordinaire) and Jack Nicklaus have won it 5 times each, and Tiger 4 times. Equally notorious is the fact that neither Tom Watson nor Arnold Palmer ever managed to snag the Wanamaker... not even once.

2010 PGA Championship logo from Wikipedia articleThis year's course, Whistling Straits, has hosted the PGA once before -- in 2004, when Vijay Singh won. It played as a real bear that year, and it looks like it could do so again since it's over 7500 yards long. The last four holes could be one of the hardest finishing stretches in golf. Holes 15 and 18 are both extremely-long par-4s, and that massive X-shaped green (remember Dave Pelz sinking a 200-foot putt on that thing back in 2004?) makes it possible to hit the green and still not even have a putt.

The pre-tournament press conferences have already started a buzz, especially the Tiger and Phil conferences:
  • Tiger seemed more open than he's been in any of the other conferences, even explaining last week's comment that he wasn't surprised at his poor play at the Bridgestone. (He expected to play badly when he first came out, but was unexpectedly able to put some scores together.) He was also asked if he would accept a captain's pick to the Ryder Cup team and gave a blunt "yes" answer. (Later on, Corey Pavin said he was happy to hear that and, yes indeed, Tiger will get a pick if he doesn't qualify on his own.)
  • Phil revealed that he's been under treatment at the Mayo Clinic for psoriatic arthritis. He didn't want to talk about it until he knew what the prognosis was, but apparently it's looking good. He's on medication and has apparently become a vegetarian as part of the treatment. (Bad news for the Five Guys burger chain, since Phil is part owner!)
And now, since Lee Westwood (whom I chose to win this thing back before the U.S. Open) is not in the field due to injury, I have to pick a new winner. I've decided to pick five possibles, although I've picked one in particular to win. Here they are:
  • Jim Furyk: Furyk is my "Top Player" to watch. I think he's playing the best of "the usual suspects" in a major, but I'm afraid holes 15 and 18 could cause him more trouble than some of the longer hitters, especially if the wind comes up.
  • Anthony Kim: Kim is my "Surprise Player" to watch. Remember, Paula Creamer came back from the same surgery and won a major. Anthony probably has reduced expectations after this past week, and that could be just what he needs to play out-of-his-head great golf.
  • Adam Scott: Scott is my "Dark Horse" this week. He's shown signs of getting it all back together, but his play has been uneven. He has the tools to overpower Whistling Straits, and flying under the radar may help him.
  • Hunter Mahan: Mahan is my "Hot Player" coming in to this major. He says he found something last week, and he not only won with it but his scores improved each day... and a huge number of his lowest scores are shot on Sundays. He's a good bet to get his first major.
  • Rory McIlroy: But I'm going with McIlroy as my overall favorite to win this one. This course blends aspects of both Quail Hollow (where he won in record-setting style) and St. Andrews (where he nearly won despite an 80 in the second round). I picked him last week and, though he wasn't spectacular, he still shot four 69s -- not bad for his first time at Firestone Country Club. I think he's the guy to beat this week.
So there you have it. You can keep check on the leaderboard at this site; there's also a hole-by-hole tour of the course if you click on the "Course" button just above the scores. (And a quick nod to Wikipedia's article on the PGA Championship for confirming some of the facts in this post & for the 2010 logo.)