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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Quick Digression about Big Break

I generally don't say much about Golf Channel's show Big Break (other than following some of the good players who come from the show) but this version looks pretty interesting. It's a reunion show, with some of the players who didn't win and, quite frankly, often came off very badly.

Big Break: Dominican Republic logoHere's the twist: For Big Break: Dominican Republic, instead of eliminating a player each week, they brought in 6 men and 6 women to form teams... and no one gets eliminated. Each team is playing for $100,000 with half of that (and the customary tour exemption, shopping spree, sponsorship contract, etc.) going to one player on the team who finishes as the team's MVP.

If the first show is the pattern, there will be 2 team competitions and a one-on-one competition each week. Whichever team wins the first competition gets a point bonus (which give them an advantage going into the second competition). After the second competition, each member on the winning team gets a certain number of MVP points -- and the team gets a bonus toward the one-on-one competition. This week, each team member got 5 points and there was a 1-stroke bonus.

The winning team now gets to pick one player to represent them, and they get to call out one player from the other team to challenge. On the first show, the challenge was two holes of stroke play... and the winning team's player began with that 1-stroke advantage. The winner of this challenge gets some individual MVP points (in the first show, another 5 points) and the losing player gets "benched" and can't play on the next show. If a player gets benched twice, they're still on the team but barred from further play. Theoretically, if a player made enough individual MVP points before they got benched the second time, they could continue to get team points after they got benched and finish as the MVP! A nice twist, eh?

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. It's a very different approach from past Big Break shows, and the fact that they aren't eliminating a player each week could leave some very unbalanced teams. (And yes, I mean "unbalanced" in more than just number!)

Here are a couple of links you might be interested in:
I think this show could be fun... in a really nasty sort of way. ;-)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Few Ryder Cup Notes

Today I'd just like to sum up a few of the things that were said in the Tuesday press conferences at the Ryder Cup, in case you didn't hear much of them.

The rookies on both sides seem pretty loose. Monty remarked about the Euro Team during his conference, and the players on both sides seemed relaxed during their practice rounds. Phil even took a bet that he could hit one of the TV cranes... and did it, which the gallery seemed to enjoy a lot.

In fact, everybody seems relaxed. Luke Donald's comment was typical: He said reports that he flew over with the US Team were wrong -- they offered to bring him over, but that he'd have to ride in the toilet. He flew British Airways instead.

Padraig Harrington is probably going to play alright. Monty remarked that Paddy made 3 eagles on his own during the practice round, though his partner Luke Donald said the third one actually lipped out. Ian Poulter noted that he and partner Ross Fisher got soundly trounced by the pair.

The Euros may be expecting a Tiger bounceback this week. Shane Bacon has already said he expects a big week from Tiger, but Rory McIlroy's qualification of his post-Bridgestone comment that he "fancied" his chances against Tiger during his presser may indicate some second thoughts. Tiger, when asked about Rory's earlier comments, simply smiled and said "Me too."

As an aside... I know a lot of people think Tiger is just in denial about his play, but I disagree. Some people talk about confidence and belief in oneself, but what Tiger feels is better described with the word "knowledge." To Tiger, his ability to play well is as much a fact as the sun coming up tomorrow, even if he's struggling right now. He was clearly depressed after Bridgestone, but I think his work with Sean Foley has renewed that sense of knowledge. In Tiger's mind, his former level of play will return any day now... and match play is the perfect scenario for that, since a bad hole is just one hole lost. I wouldn't bet against him this week.

At least for the Euros, "tweeting" is not forbidden. According to Monty, it's more about "when" and "what." Poulter's apparently already tweeting, so we'll have to see what happens with the US Team.

The captains are still playing it close to the vest. While we can guess at some likely pairings (Woods/Stricker, Mickelson/D. Johnson, McIlroy/McDowell, the Molinari brothers) nobody on either side is wiling to admit anything yet. This is pretty much standard Ryder Cup posturing, of course.

And Sergio asked to be an assistant captain. I think this may have been the most surprising bit of news we learned... and it's good news. However depressed Sergio may be about his ability to play right now, he apparently hasn't lost his excitement for the game. In fact, Monty said quite a bit about Sergio's enthusiasm in the team room. As long as he hasn't lost that, there's still hope for his game to rebound.

Those are the things that jumped out to me from Tuesday's pressers. Did anybody out there hear anything important that I missed?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Swing of Luke Donald

I wanted to take a quick look at Luke Donald's swing today because of a little conversation Court and I had via some of the comments in the weekend posts. It had to do with a remark Brandel Chamblee made about Donald's swing, which basically came down to "his swing is so good that anything can go wrong with it." It sounds silly on the surface, but it makes sense once you understand what Brandel meant.

I'm putting this up because I want all of you to understand that having "the perfect swing" isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it can be quite a headache! The swing videos I chose were made during 2009, and basically show just how good Donald's swing is.

This first is part of a EuroTour broadcast during the Alfred Dunhill Cup, and shows Donald down-the-line:



I believe that's Julian Tutt who remarks, "Well, that's pretty much textbook." And it is... but if Donald's swing is so good, why is he ranked 80th in the All-Around stat? All-Around is based on 8 stats, including his 21st position in Putting Average, 6th in Scoring Average, and 2nd in Sand Saves. How can a guy who's so textbook be 112th in Driving Average and 129th in GIR? It makes no sense, does it?

It will in a minute; hang on.

The other video is from a tournament in Munich, and shows both face-on and a view from down-the-line but slightly behind him:



The angle is a little weird, but it shows just how steady and on-plane Donald is. It really is a beautiful swing.

So what's the big problem? Why doesn't Luke Donald have more than 2 wins on the PGA Tour? Why isn't he tearing fields to shreds on a weekly basis?

You have to understand that "textbook" swings are designed to be the perfect balance of power and accuracy. Somebody (don't ask me who) decided that swinging on a certain swing plane gives a player the most versatility in his or her swing. Donald has what is called a "single-plane" swing -- that is, his club goes back and comes down on essentially the same plane -- and many consider this to be the most accurate way to swing. So why does it seem to give Donald problems?

I've talked before about how extremes in a swing can make it more predictable. Matt Kuchar, for example, has a single-plane swing but it is very flat. Because of this, his right elbow stays very close to his side during the swing and, if he makes a mistake, it's most likely to be an "inside-out" swing, which means he'll push the ball to the right. So Matt knows his ball is most likely going straight or right... and virtually never left. He can allow for that.

Likewise, a mess-up during an upright swing is most likely to create an "outside-in" path, which means the ball will start out to the left. If you know the ball is going straight or left, you can allow for that.

(A quick digression here: An outside-in swing is NOT the same as an over-the-top swing, although they both go to the left for a right-handed golfer. The main difference between the two is that an over-the-top swing goes UP and forward at the top of the swing, while an outside-in swing goes DOWN and forward at the top of the swing. An outside-in swing is very playable, but an over-the-top swing is not. Don't confuse the two; go back over the "Dexter's Coming Over The Top" post series listed on the Some Useful Post Series page if you don't understand why the two are different.)

But for Luke Donald, his swing isn't "most likely" to do either. It's on what you might call a "neutral" plane, where he can make it do anything he wants at any time. This makes it very versatile but also very sensitive to his tempo, which can get a little wonky when he's under pressure. Basically, it works like this: If he gets a little "quick" and turns his lower body a little faster than normal, he tilts a little backward and ends up hitting an inside-out shot to the right. However, if he tightens up a bit and turns his lower body slower than normal, he tilts a bit forward and pulls the club to the left (an outside-in shot). Under pressure, he doesn't have a single miss; he can miss it both ways, depending on whether he gets quick or tight.

Missing both ways is a big problem when you've got to miss trouble spots.

Now, this isn't to say that there's anything wrong with Luke Donald's swing. But I want you to understand that a "perfect swing" like his takes a lot more practice in order to make it do what you want. A less-than-perfect swing that has a consistent miss is going to be much easier to play with, even when you haven't practiced much, simply because it's predictable. Just to give you a couple of examples, Kenny Perry has won 14 times on the PGA Tour by using a swing that always gives him a little hook, and Craig Stadler won 13 times on the PGA Tour (including the 1982 Masters) with an outside-in swing that gave him a consistent little fade.

If you've been trying to develop the perfect swing, maybe you'd be better served working to get a predictable one. I can promise you one thing -- that's what Luke Donald is looking for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Tour Championship

Winner: Jim Furyk

Around the greater world of golf: John Parry won the Euro Tour's Vivendi Cup; Russ Cochran snagged his second Champions Tour victory at the SAS Championship; Nate Smith won the WNB Golf Classic on the Nationwide Tour; and Korean player Eun-A Lim won the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has a summary here).

Picture from TucsonCitizen.com of Jim Furyk with mediaBecause of a "Top 10" special Golf Channel did about unorthodox swings, David Feherty's description of Jim Furyk's swing as "an octopus falling out of a tree" has become a running joke. If the truth be told, I suspect most of the players at the Tour Championship would have paid good money for eight hands, just so they could keep a decent grip on their clubs.

The decision to tape-delay final round coverage turned out to be a good one, avoiding two hours of dead time and perhaps making sure the audience was still around when live coverage could resume. The sub-air systems on the greens at East Lake kept them firm and playable... but you were on your own out in the fairways. (Or maybe I should say the rough -- that seemed to be the most popular spot to play from this week.)

In the end, all those players who "controlled their own destinies" coming in controlled nothing at all, and we found ourselves watching a handful of golfers play for $11million and change. There was some outside excitement, of course -- Nick Watney's incredible run up the leaderboard had everybody on the edge of their seats. After shooting 30 on the back nine Saturday and 28 on the front nine early Sunday (that's right, folks -- an unofficial 58 during a big tournament), the rain took the wind out of his sails and he shot a two-over 37 on the way in. Still, his weekend score of 63-67 was easily the best of the tournament. Nick said it best when he agreed that the rain had "stolen his mojo" but that he would gladly take the score. He finished T4 at -5 with Paul Casey.

It finally came down to Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, and Retief Goosen. Donald finished first, posting at -7 courtesy of a long chip-in on the 17th. At that point both Goosen and Furyk were playing the 16th; Goosen was tied with him and Furyk was at -10. Goosen stumbled with a bogey on 17, finishing at -6 in solo third.

Furyk bogeyed both 16 and 17, and arrived at the par-3 18th leading by a single shot... and promptly dumped it in the greenside bunker. They say Furyk's biggest weakness is bunker play, but he got up-and-down 9 out of 9 times this week... including that one on the 18th, giving him a one-shot victory over Donald. It's the first time in Jim's career that he's won 3 times in one year.

Oh yeah... it gave him the FedExCup as well. ;-)

With 3 victories and the FedExCup, I have trouble believing that Jim Furyk won't win Player of the Year. Still, some people (like Brandel Chamblee) believe Dustin Johnson has a chance as well because of his performance in the majors. (My money's on Jim Furyk.) I suspect any chance Steve Stricker had is gone, as he slipped into a tie for 25th spot with Matt Kuchar, probably giving Kuchar the Vardon Trophy. PGATOUR.com shows Kuchar's average score as 69.59 and Stricker's as 69.61. (In case you're curious, Furyk came in 5th in scoring, a mere .19 strokes back at 69.78.)

After watching so many player's hack their way around East Lake this week, I couldn't help but think about how "at home" an aquatic animal like an octopus would have felt there. And that's the inspiration for this week's limerick:
I’ve heard he resembles a ceph’lopod
Who fell from a tree. Sure, his swing is odd…
But I’m not cynical
To say Jim’s tentacles
Hit great shots when his rivals just dig up sod.
Next week... THE RYDER CUP!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nothing's Set in Stone Yet But...

There may be a couple of things we can be pretty sure of in the final round, tape-delayed though it will be.

Devil Ball posted a list of "scenarios" about who can win the FedExCup depending on how other players finish. Now, whatever you may think of them, one thing becomes very clear after a quick glance-over: Luke Donald is the key player (read that as "spoiler") here. If he wins, Donald has a very short path to the Cup -- only Kuchar or Johnson can stop him from taking it all, and neither is anywhere near being in position to do so. Likewise, a Donald win means that neither Hoffman, Stricker, nor Casey can win the FedExCup.

Furyk and Goosen can also lock up the Cup if they win, but they'll need help. Casey and Hoffman are both close enough to keep them from taking the Cup, even without a win.

The Vardon Trophy (for low scoring average) is mere inches from Steve Stricker's fingertips. You may remember that Kuchar was leading Stricker by just 0.01 of a stroke coming into the week. Stricker is currently 4 shots clear of Kuchar (even par vs. 4-over). At this point, my figuring shows Kuchar at 69.63 and Stricker at 69.60. That figure depends on how the Tour adjusts each player's stroke average after this week; currently, they are adding 14.577 strokes to Kuchar's stroke total and subtracting 7.374 strokes from Stricker's. (Don't ask me why; that's just what it says on their stat pages.)

At any rate, if Stricker can remain 4 or more strokes ahead of Kuchar, I think Stricker will get the Vardon Trophy. This could play into the Player of the Year race.

See, if Donald wins the tournament we don't have a 3-time winner, just several double winners -- one of which is Stricker. With 2 wins and the Vardon Trophy, Stricker should be on the short list of likely candidates... even if POY is just a popularity contest. Steve's a pretty popular guy.

Of course, a Furyk win gives him 3 wins and would put him on the POY short list as well.

I suspect Kuchar will get the money title unless he totally collapses but, with only one win, I don't think that's enough to get him POY.

So I think the big names to watch in the final round are Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, and Steve Stricker:
  • Furyk has the most control over his destiny (man, I hate using that phrase) since a win could possibly give him both the FedExCup and POY.
  • A Donald win likely gives Stricker POY... assuming Stricker can win the Vardon Trophy. Stricker has to play well Sunday, whether he wins or not, if he wants to be POY.
And, of course, it's unlikely we'll see any change in the way the points are done next year. I suspect the Tour and sponsors got exactly what they wanted... even if we won't get to see it live.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maybe the Golf Channel Guys Have a Point...

Before Friday's round Paul Casey remarked that his real motivation to play well wasn't Monty's Ryder Cup snub, that there were enough other things to motivate him.

Maybe he should have just gone with the revenge theme and "rode the rage" in the second round. Instead, he stumbled in with a 1-over round that dropped him into a tie for 5th place.

So perhaps Jim Furyk has something to prove after that DQ at the Barclays? He posted the lowest score of the week Friday, a 5-under 65 that made him the co-leader (with Luke Donald, who I suppose doesn't have to prove anything but would just really like to win) at the halfway point in the Tour Championship.

The reason this interests me so is that, until Donald pulled up even with him, Golf Channel's constant projections of the final FedExCup standings "if the tournament ended right now" -- a song I expect we'll be hearing from NBC all weekend -- were saying Furyk would win the FedExCup if he won the tournament.

Furyk began the week at #11. It's not supposed to be that easy for him. There is supposed to be this complicated series of events that have to happen for him to win it all. And he told Steve Sands he didn't even want to know where he stood! He apparently doesn't want to be distracted from just trying to win the tournament.

I must admit, I'm beginning to like John Feinstein's idea that the playoffs should simply start with everybody equal and let the cumulative scores determine the winner. Perhaps we could mix that with John Hawkins's idea (which a lot of other people have suggested as well) that the Tour Championship should be a match play tournament.

Players would build points all year long to determine the Top 100 -- down from the current 120 -- then the points would all be wiped out and we would have four tournaments with no cut until the end:
  • We'd play four rounds at the Barclay and cut to the Top 70 based on score -- like a regular event but no ties. We'd playoff if necessary to cut it to 70 -- roughly a 30% reduction in the field.
  • We'd play four rounds at the Deutsche Bank and cut to the Top 45 -- like a regular event but no ties. We'd playoff if necessary to cut it to 45 -- roughly a 30% reduction in the field.
  • We'd play four rounds at the BMW and cut to the Top 32 -- like a regular event but no ties. We'd playoff if necessary to cut it to 32 -- roughly a 30% reduction in the field.
  • Then we'd have a  match play Tour Championship. You win the Tour Championship, you win the FedExCup.
I wonder how the playoffs would have looked then. I know it would be a hell of lot easier to know who was winning, and there wouldn't be any arguments that somebody got in who didn't belong there. Playoff time would be "put up or shut up" time, and only the guys playing the best would make it that far.

And I bet Jim Furyk would still be in the discussion. Some things wouldn't change...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Paul Makes His Case

As Court noted in his comments to yesterday's post, East Lake is holding its own very well. Only 9 players are under par, and another 3 are at par. The leaders are at -4, and just a little wind could do away with that lead quickly.

Still, Paul Casey seems determined to teach Monty a thing or two about leaving him off the Ryder Cup team. Sitting in that tie for the lead, he's the only one of them who can claim the FedExCup with a win regardless of what the others do. Take that, Monty!

None of the other 4 "controllers" sits at better than +1 right now, although it should be noted that Phil Mickelson shot +3 in his first round last year before dropping the hammer and winning the tournament. And this year Mickelson sits at -1, only 3 off the lead.

Because it's so early in the tournament, I'm not going to speculate much about Thursday but I am curious about something. Did it seem to any of you who watched the coverage that Phil is swinging slower this week than he normally does? Personally I think that could be a good thing, but I found myself wondering if it might have something to do with his arthritis...

And one other thing: For those of you who might be interested, Ryan Ballengee over at Waggle Room posted this link to a PDF that tells you what has to happen for each and every player in the field to win the FedExCup. If you're pulling for a specific player who's not in the top third of the field, you can get the bad news about their chances right from the comfort of your own computer chair. Thanks, Ryan!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Entering the Tiger-Free Zone

So here we are at last. It's the final "big" tournament of the season, and the striped cat is nowhere in sight. (Yeah, I know the Fall Finish is big to those players still trying to secure their cards. Don't be so literal; just go with me here for a while.) This is uncharted territory, and there are many without a star to steer by.

Tiger Constellation picture by ~paliden42

The sponsors and TV networks are probably drinking themselves silly right now, trying to ignore all the lost revenues from lost viewers.

The players are mostly licking their chops, knowing that even if Tiger suddenly gets it together this week, it won't matter. They get the entire pie this year.

The fans are split between those who feel Tiger got what he deserved and those who don't watch golf unless they watch Tiger. Most of those (in both groups) will probably be watching football.

And Tiger? I suspect he's more concerned about getting his game together for the Ryder Cup next week and those appearances he'll be making around the world later this year. Actually, he's probably glad just to know what he's going to be doing from one day to the next, and what he's needs to work on to get his game back.

Is any of this a big deal? It depends on who you ask, I guess. 2010 has certainly been a strange year for golf. While the LPGA Tour has struggled through one of the toughest years in its history, the PGA Tour has discovered the meaning of parity... and to be honest, I'm not sure they liked it all that much. Their obsessive focus on Tiger and Phil, to the relative exclusion of the other players, finally left them high and dry when the stars stopped shining for a while. Not that Tiger and Phil are the problem -- the Tour needs stars. But the night sky would be pretty boring if you only had two stars shining in it, don't you think?

This year has been the first real chance for the rank-and-file to shine without the big names in the way... and more than a few of them have done so. Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson have both positioned themselves to become better-known and command a little of the spotlight, even after Tiger and Phil return to form. Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, and Jim Furyk have given the "old guys" a presence missing since Vijay started struggling, and several of the "young guns" (like Jason Day and Hunter Mahan) stepped up to the plate as well. And some established names recovering from injuries they experienced over the last couple of years (Paul Casey and Luke Donald come to mind), as well as some who have been in their own recent funks (Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, and Camilo Villegas, to name a few), are also back in the picture.

And all of those guys made it to the Tour Championship. If they all put on the show they are capable of, this could be one of the best tournaments we've seen in years.

So I'm looking forward to this tournament. I know there's been a lot of talk about "the changing of the guard" but, unlike past Tiger-free zones when only a few players briefly made a little noise, we've got a fairly large group of players who seem eager to strut their stuff.

Perhaps this week will be their launching pad -- not for just a few stars, but several entire constellations!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The FedExCup Storylines

FedExCup logoWe're right on the cusp of the Tour Championship, so it's a good time to see just what the storylines are for this tournament. First, we begin with a list of the 30 players in the field. In addition to their reset point totals, I've added an asterisk for each win a player has (Mickelson gets a *M for his single major win):
  1. * Matt Kuchar -- 2,500
  2. ** Dustin Johnson -- 2,250
  3. * Charley Hoffman -- 2,000
  4. ** Steve Stricker -- 1,800
  5. Paul Casey -- 1,600
  6. * Jason Day -- 1,400
  7. Luke Donald -- 1,200
  8. ** Ernie Els -- 1,000
  9. Martin Laird -- 800
  10. *M Phil Mickelson -- 600
  11. ** Jim Furyk -- 480
  12. * Geoff Ogilvy -- 460
  13. ** Justin Rose -- 440
  14. * Adam Scott -- 420
  15. ** Hunter Mahan -- 400
  16. * Ryan Palmer -- 380
  17. Retief Goosen -- 360
  18. * Bubba Watson -- 340
  19. * Zach Johnson -- 320
  20. Kevin Na -- 310
  21. * Tim Clark -- 300
  22. * Ben Crane -- 290
  23. K.J. Choi -- 280
  24. Jeff Overton -- 270
  25. * Camilo Villegas -- 260
  26. Ryan Moore -- 250
  27. Robert Allenby -- 240
  28. Nick Watney -- 230
  29. Kevin Streelman -- 220
  30. Bo Van Pelt -- 210
In case you've been living in a cave somewhere, I'll remind you that the top 5 players on this list "hold their own destinies in their hands" because if they win the Tour Championship, they automatically win the FedExCup (and the $10 million dollars that goes with it). Some other players can also win the big money if they win the tournament, but they'll need some help to do it. I suppose that means that Bo Van Pelt can win the whole thing if the players finish in the exact opposite order that they are in now. (Good luck on that one, Bo.)

But the Cup is hardly the only story we're watching this week, oh no. The Player of the Year competition (aka the Jack Nicklaus Trophy) is wide open at this point, and the Tour Championship could determine the winner. Let's quickly examine the most obvious possibles and how this tournament could affect the outcome (here's the link to the PGATOUR.com stat page for quick reference):
  • Two-time winners: Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, and Hunter Mahan could all become three-time winners this week. With no other clear POY candidate, that could be enough.
  • One-time winners: Matt Kuchar, Charlie Hoffman, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Ryan Palmer, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Tim Clark, Ben Crane, and Camilo Villegas could all join the "two-timer" club with a win, thereby tossing their names into the hat for POY.
  • Phil Mickelson: Mickelson is in a category by himself here. Since his one win is a major, adding the Tour Championship would give him two huge wins; as the only player with a major, that Masters win would certainly make him stand out among the double winners. But since a win for him would also probably make him #1 in the world rankings, winning would almost certainly make him the POY.
  • Money Title (aka the Arnold Palmer Trophy): Of course, the winner's check for $1,350,000 could give several players this title. But winning this trophy could also give you an extra reason to be considered for POY. Note that Phil is 5th on this list, and far enough behind Kuchar that he could win and still not get this title.
  • Scoring Title (aka the Vardon Trophy and the Byron Nelson Award): Yes, there are two of these -- the Vardon is presented by the PGA, and the Nelson by the PGA Tour. The Vardon has a 60-round minimum and the Nelson has a 50-round minimum. At this point, Matt Kuchar leads Steve Stricker by one-hundredth of a stroke! Yes, you read that right -- Kuchar stands at 69.57 after 89 rounds, while Stricker's at 69.58 after 69 rounds. Getting the Scoring Title could certainly affect the POY race; if Kuchar wins, he has 2 wins and the trophy, while Stricker could get the trophy (even if he doesn't win) just by beating Kuchar.
  • Matt Kuchar: Just as Mickelson is in a category by himself, so is Kuch. Winning would only give him two wins, but he would also lock up the money and scoring titles, as well as several other statistical categories. If Kuch could pull it off this week, he could upset everybody's apple cart and walk off with the POY Trophy.
If neither Phil nor Kuchar wins, any of the two-time winners has a decent shot at POY if they play well. Dustin Johnson, Ernie Els, and Steve Stricker in particular have decent shots at the money title, as less than $700,000 separates #1 Kuchar from #4 Stricker... and I already mentioned Stricker's chance at the scoring title. (Els, at #5 on the scoring list, has the next best chance to use scoring as a "chip" in the POY race... but he's .30 behind Stricker. That's a lot to make up in one tournament.)

So, who's the most likely to turn a Tour Championship win into a POY Trophy? Here's my list, in no particular order, with what they would most likely have:
  • Phil Mickelson: Two wins (including the Masters), #1 in the world rankings.
  • Matt Kuchar: Two wins, Scoring Trophy, Money Title.
  • Steve Stricker: Three wins, Scoring Trophy, possibly Money Title.
  • Ernie Els: Three wins, maybe Money Title, long shot at Scoring Trophy.
  • Dustin Johnson: Three wins, and most likely Money Title.
So now it's time to watch these storylines play out and see who lives happily ever after.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Swing of Mr. September

He's #4 in the world and #4 in FedExCup points. He earned the nickname "Mr. September" because of how well he plays in the playoffs -- even when paired with Tiger. In fact, it's no secret that he's Tiger's partner of choice in team events. And he's one of those "nice guys" on Tour who just doesn't believe in finishing last.

Steve Stricker is one of my favorite comeback stories. He was one of those "can't miss" kids who lost his game but didn't give up, and now he's one of the game's elite players. Not only that, he did it without being a big hitter; Stricker averages just over 282 yards off the tee, 4 yards under the Tour average... and this is a guy who's 6' tall. Where he kills everybody is consistency -- he's a classic example of my Rule of 67. For those of you who've forgotten it, my Rule of 67 says that if you can hit 67% of your fairways, 67% of your greens, and get up-and-down (scramble) 67% of the time, you're better than the average Tour player. Here are Stricker's stats:
  • Driving Accuracy: 69.69%
  • GIR: 68.14%
  • Scrambling: 64.62% (ok, he's a couple of percent short, but he's still 7% ahead of the Tour average)
Stricker's definitely better than the average Tour player. The funny thing to me is, he's only slightly better in any individual category... but he's better in all of them, and that makes him a dominator on the course. Best of all, he did it with a swing that anybody can learn.

Ironically, despite the number of videos I found, there's aren't many recent ones that really capture what Stricker does... and the only SwingMotion video I found was from 3 years ago, and not very complimentary. But we'll try to make do. Here's a face-on view from the 2010 U.S. Open:



Here's something very unorthodox about Stricker's swing: He has a fairly flat backswing but an upright finish. Compare his hand position at :26 (the top of his backswing) with his position at :37 (about the same position in his finish). You'll be able to see this better in some of the down-the-line videos, but it's evident even here.

I have a short series about Stricker's "deadhand" approach shot listed on the "Some Useful Post Series" page, but you can see here that he doesn't even use a power technique with his driver. The club basically coasts to a stop at the top of his backswing. You can't see his wrists cocking any extra as they start down, the way some of the power players do it; a motion like that would indicate that he started his downswing before the backswing completely stopped. (If you check out some of the other players featured in this blog's "pro swings" category, like Ryo Ishikawa, you can see that action as they start the downswing.) Add that to a swing that stops short of parallel at the top, and it's no wonder that he doesn't blast his tee shots. But he's playing from the fairway most of the time -- giving up 10 yards to be in the fairway isn't a bad trade-off at this level. You can't win the tournament with your driver, but you can sure lose it!

Here's a slightly odd angle from the front with Johnny Miller's commentary. Johnny hit it right with this one:



Although he doesn't call it a one-piece takeaway, that's exactly what Johnny describes: Quiet hands with a good shoulder turn early in the swing. "Not a lot of moving parts" is Dan Hickman's assessment, and it's a good one as well; look at how quiet Stricker is all the way through the swing! There's not a lot of wasted motion, and because of that Stricker makes consistently solid contact.

Another video, this one a down-the-line from the 2009 Masters:



Compare this video to any other pro from this angle and you will be shocked by how much most players move in comparison to Steve Stricker. The club simply comes back, then goes down and through -- no ducking, lurching, twisting, getting stuck, or any other extraneous moves. Stricker simply steps up and hits the ball. Look at that ball fly straight where he aimed it!

And one last video, this one from the 2009 Open Championship:



This is another odd angle, but I'm including it because it really emphasizes just how quiet his body is when he swings.

The real beauty of Steve Stricker's swing is how simple it is. On a personal note, I feel it backs up my contention that you should build your full game swing from your putting stroke; Stricker's always been considered a great putter (he's nearly a full stroke below the Tour average), and his putting technique isn't really that different from the rest of his game now. He's eliminated the excess movement and come up with a swing that's as easy to repeat as his putting stroke.

I think Johnny Miller's right. The smart players will be copying Steve Stricker's swing... and maybe for more than the next 30 years.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Albertsons Boise Open

Winner: Hunter Haas

Around the greater world of golf: José Manuel Lara won the Austrian GolfOpen, his first victory on the European Tour; Mi-Jeong Jeon won the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic on the JLPGA; Jiyai Shin won the KLPGA Championship; and the eternally-young Laura Davies won yet another one at the LET's Open de España Femenino (the Women's Spanish Open). The Constructivist has info on the JLPGA, and I suspect both he and Hound Dog will have more info on the ladies events in the next day or so.

There may not have been a PGA event this week, but I decided that would not deter my efforts to limericize (is that even a word?) an event this week. I chose the Nationwide's Albertsons Boise Open, which is one of the four oldest events on that tour. And it turned out to be a pretty interesting one, even if you didn't include Golf Channel's "Announcer Lite" experiment on Saturday's broadcast. (I have to say, I missed the announcers at times although I liked hearing more from the players. Perhaps the best answer is something in-between.)

In the end, it came down to a duel between Daniel Summerhays (the only person ever to have won on the Nationwide as an amateur) and Hunter Haas, who won just three weeks ago at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. Haas shot -7 to catch Summerhays (who shot -3) in the last couple of holes and eke out a one-stroke victory. The win moved Haas to #4 on the money list, pretty much locking up a Tour card for him. We'll soon be seeing how well he does out among the sharks on the PGA. (And before you cry too much for Summerhays, he moved up to #8 -- which puts him in pretty good shape with only 6 events left.)

Of course, the coverage wouldn't have been complete without constant reminders that Hunter Haas is not related to Jay Haas or Bill Haas... which played into this week's limerick very well:
Though he’s no kin to Bill or to Jay,
We’ve seen this act on their dossier.
With two wins this year
And a Tour card quite near,
This Hunter will soon be fresh prey!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Charlie Hoffman's Swing

Charlie Hoffman, the #3 guy in the FedExCup race, is a real puzzle. He is, depending on who you listen to, the best argument "for" or "against" the current point system. He's had a few decent finishes this year, yet most of his play has been forgettable. Then again, there's that dominating 62 he shot at the Deutsche Bank to obliterate the field. Does he deserve to be #3 or not? That question will be debated for some time.

Most of the commentators I've heard are confused by his seeming inability to break away from the pack and become a dominant player on Tour. And if you pop over to Charlie's stat page at PGATOUR.com and take a look at his "standard stats" listed at the top, you might be confused as well.

To be honest, they look pretty good overall. It's easy to see why Charlie should be a factor in almost every event where he tees it up.

It's hard to find footage of Charlie's swing. I found this SwingVision analysis from Peter Kostis, but YouTube won't allow me to embed it; you'll have to click the link to go see it. Kostis credits Charlie's driving to a stable head position; I wouldn't argue that but, if you get too caught up trying to keep your head still, you can create other problems in your swing. I would focus more on the fact that Charlie's entire upper body stays relatively stable, which Kostis does allude to when he mentions that "his spine angle has stayed in perfect position."

If you view that video, I'd also like you to notice that Charlie has the one-piece takeaway I've been harping on so much lately, because that means Charlie is coiling his shoulders early in the backswing. This develops a lot of power and makes it less likely that he'll make errors later during the swing. If you do things right when you start the swing, you're much more likely to finish it well.

Besides the Kostis video, the best I could find was this one by instructor Wayne DeFrancesco (his website is here):



DeFrancesco points out some comparisons between Hoffman and the Hogan drill I included at the end of yesterday's post, as well as pointing out that Charlie's head does move as he strikes the ball. (While Peter Kostis doesn't teach a rigidly-still head during the swing, many players seem to miss that; I was glad to see it pointed out here.) Personally, I think DeFrancesco's analysis may be overkill for most weekend players, but I like the amount of slo-mo footage he included. Again, Charlie's stability is the biggest thing I'd like you take away from this.

Just for the record, I suspect Charlie's problems can be traced to a few harmful stats:
  • His scoring average after the cut is about one stroke higher than his scoring before the cut; that may get you a weekly payday (which isn't a small thing by any stretch of the imagination!) but it isn't going to get you in contention very often.
  • His scrambling percentage from outside 30 yards is only 24.49% -- less than 1 in 4. That's NOT good.
  • And his putting, despite being ranked 14th overall, is suspect. He makes only 54.84% of his putts between 5 and 10 feet, and only 30.16% between 10 and 15 feet. In other words, on putts between 5 and 15 feet, he could probably score better if he just flipped a coin -- heads he makes it, tails he doesn't. That's bad for a Tour player.
These are the kind of things that keep a guy off the Ryder Cup team. But he's still an explosive player, capable of winning on any week when the stars align. I don't expect him to win the Tour Championship... but I didn't expect him to win the Deutsche Bank either!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dustin Johnson's Swing

It occurred to me, while thinking about next week's Tour Championship, that it might be interesting to look at swing footage of the Top 5 -- the guys who can win the FedExCup if they win the tournament. I've done posts about #1 Matt Kuchar and #5 Paul Casey, but not the others.

Today we'll take a quick look at #2 Dustin Johnson. According to the YouTube blurb, this is "Driver 14th hole Pebble Beach 2010 US during Wednesday Practice round":



Actually, I find that front view more interesting than a down-the-line shot, but here's one of those from the same week:



I want to point out a few things, primarily in the front view.

One thing that quickly becomes noticeable when you slow his swing down (in both views) is how much Dustin "dips" during his downswing -- a move that's common with players like Tiger, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, and Morgan Pressel. Dustin stays very steady all the way to the top of his backswing, where he gets an absolutely HUGE shoulder turn, and then he moves downward toward the ball. When he does that, it's no surprise at how much his lower body moves toward the target -- it has to get out of the way if it's going to turn while he squats like that -- but notice that he still does a pretty good job keeping his spine perpendicular to the ground. Even though he is very tall and gets down very low, he still manages to keep from going into a big "reverse-C" finish -- even with his driver. That's pretty impressive, but Dustin is much more athletic than the average player; I don't think it's something the average player can do with any consistency.

But what I really want you to notice is how close his elbows stay together throughout the swing. This is something Ben Hogan was really big on; the picture below is from golfwrx.com, and it shows an illustration from page 49 of Hogan's book "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf" together with a photo of Hogan's actual position.

Pictures of Hogan's elbows, taken from his book

Click here to see the Hogan pic above on the golfwrx.com site; there's also a video of Hogan demonstrating this "elbow tuck" thing. Hogan believed this position helped players keep their arms better "connected" to their chests; it's what players are working on when you see them tuck a glove between their chest and left forearm during practice.

I think Dustin makes the most exaggerated version of this move I've ever seen. Does it help him keep those long arms of his (he's 6'4" tall, you know) from swinging way out from his body when he whips that club down from the top? I don't know, but it seems to work for him; he's awfully accurate, considering how far he hits the ball.

If you've been struggling with your arms separating from your body on your follow-through -- and especially if you've tried that "glove in the armpit" drill and it hasn't helped -- you might want to try Dustin's move. While I don't think I'd carry it quite to the extreme Dustin does, you might want to try the drill Hogan demonstrates in that video at the golfwrx site. In case that link gets changed, here's the video:

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Articles on Golfsmith Have Gone Live!

Golfsmith Golf Tips logoYou may have noticed in my profile that it says I've done some writing for Golfsmith but, if you went there to look for me, you couldn't find anything. That's because the site I was writing for hadn't gone live yet.

Well, it has now. If you pop over to Golf Tips at Golfsmith, you'll find a huge variety of instructional articles... of which I wrote about 40. My articles "How to Maximize Your Golf Swing Speed" and "Correct Loft for a Golf Driver" were both articles featured on the front page when I checked, although I imagine they'll change those pretty frequently. In case any of you wonder how I ended up writing for a big site like Golfsmith...

If you see any of my articles, you'll note the words "Demand Media" after my name. Demand provides content for a number of websites like LIVESTRONG.com, eHow, Answerbag, etc., and I do some writing for them. Companies needing new web content (including some of the newspaper sites) often arrange for Demand to fill special needs, and Golfsmith decided they wanted to build an instructional site. I had previously done a few golf articles for eHow through them, and when I came back from Disney in July I received an email from Demand saying I had been chosen to help with this project.

Demand articles have to fit certain requirements, so if it seems that the vast majority of articles on the site (regardless of who wrote them) are about the same length and format... they are. The articles are mostly around 500 words long, for example. In addition, Golfsmith provided the titles for the articles they wanted written, so that pretty much defines how the subject is approached. It's a bit tricky to write on some of the topics given all the restrictions, but they've been ok'ed by PGA Professionals (at least, I know a few of the editors I worked with were certified, and several of the writers are as well), so you can be sure you're getting good info there.

And it also makes me feel good, since it's sort of a "seal of approval" for me. I wrote those articles based around the same methodologies that I base this blog on, which means that regardless of how unusual some of my suggestions may sound, the pros didn't think they were too strange!

So you might want to pop over to Golfsmith and take a look at the new Golf Tips section. It covers a wide variety of material -- everything from how to hit certain types of shots to what you should look for in new equipment. And don't forget to look for a few of my articles -- I'm pretty proud of what I did!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Next, the Seniors

Champions Tour logoThe Champions Tour may lack a bit of the excitement that the ladies generate lately -- the battle for #1 on this tour has become a bit one-sided as the season wears on -- but it's been anything but boring this year.

When Fred Couples joined the Tour in January, things got off to a rolling start as Freddie came in 2nd (behind Tom Watson) in his first event, then rattled off 3 straight victories to nab first place in the Charles Schwab Cup race. But Freddie cooled off after his great showing at the Masters, and the player to beat became Bernhard Langer. Langer has 5 wins, including the absolutely amazing feat of winning back-to-back majors (Senior British Open and U.S. Senior Open) in consecutive weeks; that's one of the quirks of the Champions Tour schedule.

Here are the current standings in the Schwab Cup competition. Points are awarded for wins and Top 10s, so this shows the player, his points, wins (in bold italics), and Top 10s:
  1. Bernhard Langer, 2,791, 5, 10
  2. Fred Couples, 2,216, 3, 10
  3. Fred Funk, 1,513, 1, 6
  4. Tom Lehman, 1,420, 1, 7
  5. Nick Price, 1,246, 2, 10
  6. John Cook, 1,240, 0, 9
  7. Russ Cochran, 1,037, 1, 8
  8. Tommy Armour III, 943, 0, 9
  9. David Frost, 870, 1, 7
    Chien Soon Lu, 870, 0, 6
Note that Funk and Lehman only have one win each, yet are ranked ahead of Price with 2 wins. That's because their wins are majors -- Funk won the JELD-WEN Tradition and Lehman the Senior PGA Championship. You have to remember that the Champions Tour has 5 majors. (The fifth major, the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, is played the second week in October.)

The money list looks a little different once you get past Langer and Couples:
  1. Bernhard Langer $2,083,575
  2. Fred Couples $1,830,292
  3. Nick Price $1,261,312
  4. Russ Cochran $1,170,061
  5. Fred Funk $1,167,880
  6. John Cook $1,149,795
  7. Tom Lehman $1,019,470
  8. Dan Forsman $965,637
  9. Tommy Armour III $963,001
  10. Loren Roberts $929,016
Cochran is ranked #4 because he won the new event in Korea last week, and that has the biggest purse on Tour.

There are only 5 events left on the schedule, so Freddie will have to work really hard if he wants to catch Bernhard. That's really the biggest question left to be settled this year. If Freddie could manage to win the Constellation next month and play well in the other 4, he just might do it. But with those two majors to his credit, Bernhard still looks like a shoe-in for Player of the Year.

The drama on the Champions Tour isn't done yet. The next month should be plenty exciting, whether you've been keeping up with it so far this year or not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

First Up, the Ladies

LPGA logoA war is raging on the LPGA, perhaps the best battle on any of the tours. After September's only sanctioned event last week, the only change was Yani Tseng (the winner) leapfrogging over Suzann Pettersen. This is the closest to #1 Yani has been all year, despite having won two majors. Note that we now have five players with more than ten points -- I think that's a record.

Here are the Top 10 in the Rolex Rankings, with names and average points. The numbers in parentheses represent movement up or down in position:
  1. Ai Miyazato, 11.17
  2. Cristie Kerr, 10.67
  3. Jiyai Shin, 10.56
  4. Yani Tseng, 10.46 (+1)
  5. Suzann Pettersen, 10.39 (-1)
  6. Na Yeon Choi, 9.14
  7. Michelle Wie, 8.70
  8. In Kyung Kim, 7.58
  9. Song-Hee Kim, 7.42
  10. Paula Creamer, 7.30
With no LPGA events until October -- at which point we'll see six weeks straight -- players will have to jockey for position by playing JLPGA or LET events, none of which are televised here in the States. I expect Miyazato and Shin will play some for sure, as both are fairly low on the JLPGA money lists and possibly in danger of losing their tour cards there.

The Rolex Player of the Year is specific to the LPGA -- finishes on other tours don't count -- and that list looks slightly different:
  1. Yani Tseng, 176.00
  2. Ai Miyazato, 174.00
  3. Cristie Kerr, 148.00
  4. Jiyai Shin, 128.00
  5. Na Yeon Choi, 125.00
  6. Suzann Pettersen, 115.00
  7. Song-Hee Kim, 93.00
  8. In-Kyung Kim, 83.00
  9. Paula Creamer, 64.00
  10. Michelle Wie, 62.00
POY is important because it gives a player points toward entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame. You can see that, since Tseng has 3 victories (2 of those majors) and Miyazato has 5 victories (no majors), a major is worth 2 regular wins in this race. Kerr has 2 victories (1 major), while Shin and Choi have 1 victory each (no majors). Pettersen is the most interesting, as she has no wins but 5 seconds!

Both of these races are extremely volatile and we should see some interesting competition right down to the wire. The only race with no real excitement is for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, which Azahara Munoz from Spain has pretty much locked up. She has well over double the points of second-place Amanda Blumenherst.

That should get you up-to-date on the ladies' scene. We won't get to see any real golf from them until October, but it will be worth the wait!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Slow Week in Golf

Yawning hippo from free Microsoft clipartThe PGA Tour has a bye week before the Tour Championship.

The Champions Tour has a bye week while the players wing their way back from Korea.

The LPGA has a bye month. Enough said.

So just what is going on this week?

The European Tour is playing the Austrian GolfOpen Presented by Botarin in, of all places, Austria. This marks the introduction of a new course for the event. You can read about the Diamond Country Club course's debut here at europeantour.com. This is probably the marquee event of the week.

The Nationwide Tour is also playing this week, at the Albertsons Boise Open Presented by Kraft. (The names for these events just get longer and longer, don't they?) Here's the home page for the event, complete with links to course info and player rankings. It's probably safe to say the Albertsons is one of the bigger events on the Nationwide Tour... plus you've probably heard about the experimental broadcast they're going to do on Saturday without "traditional broadcasters," which could be kinda fun to watch.

Both of those will be televised by Golf Channel, and will probably be all the live golf you can watch this week. The Ladies European Tour will be playing the Open de España Femenino (that's the Women's Spanish Open, which has perhaps the coolest tournament name on any schedule) and the JLPGA will be playing the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic... but we won't get to see either of them.

In the category of not-so-live golf, Golf Channel will be broadcasting a highlight show from the 2010 CVS Caremark Charity Classic tonight at 8pm ET. You can read a little more about that tournament here.

For the most part, we'll spend this week talking about what's coming up next week and beyond. I'll try to keep things from getting too boring.

In the meantime, I'm gonna catch 40 winks today. Gotta get ready for this strenuous week of golf... ;-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 BMW Championship

Winner: Dustin Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Martin Kaymer won the KLM Dutch Open, becoming the 2nd Euro Tour player to win three times this year; Saiki Fujita won the Konica Minolta Cup, the JLPGA's 2nd major of the year (the Constructivist has a wrapup of the event); Russ Cochran got his first Champions Tour victory at the Posco E&C Songdo Championship, that tour's maiden voyage to Korea; Michael Putnam won the Nationwide Tour's Utah Championship; and Yani Tseng won the LPGA's P&G NW Arkansas Championship (to go with her two majors this year).

There was a traffic jam at the top of the leaderboard at the BMW Championship most of the weekend, but especially on the back nine Sunday. As the drivers jockeyed for position -- and for the most part, it was driving that determined the winner -- no one seemed able to keep the lead for more than a hole or two.

The pre-race entertainment (Phil and Tiger) drew huge crowds with Phil winning this head-to-head match race. Tiger will not be going to the Tour Championship this year, while Phil managed to put together a good final round -- an encouraging sign for him as he makes the Top 30. Encouraging for Tiger too, as he finished strong by getting it back under par after a rough start.

Picture from the Sean Foley article at Golf Digest
Picture from LA Times article on BMW Championship

And then the real race started. Ryan Moore, Charlie Wi, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Matt Kuchar, even Kevin Na surged in and out of the lead pack. But it was Dustin Johnson who finally pulled away down the final stretch. While everyone else struggled with bogeys, doubles, and even triples, Johnson held it together and avoided the big numbers even as he tore the course apart with his ridiculously skillful high-speed driving. He carded only one bogey early in the round, making great recoveries when it seemed all of his approach shots went slightly long or short. (Perhaps a bit too much nitrous in the tank!) But Dustin finally stuffed it tight for a birdie on 17, then parred the 18th with a deftly-played curling downhill putt for his second win of the year. (It's easy to forget he won at Pebble back in February.)

Most of the commentators I heard agreed that Dustin's win would be a popular one, especially given how he handled those two tragic showings at the U.S. Open and PGA this year. He has definitely proven to be a tough competitor, as even one such disaster would have destroyed the confidence of many players. This week's limerick acknowledges how appropriate it is that he should win this particular tournament:
His short game was short of pristine
But Dustin’s so long, it’s obscene!
Though more work is vital,
He now holds the title
Of “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sean Foley on Reducing Back Pain

Some of you may have heard rumors that Sean Foley is a proponent of the "Stack and Tilt" swing; Charlie Wi indicated as much in some of his comments this week, while others have said he has merely been influenced by a wide variety of different teachers. (I'm sure Foley would at least agree with that last statement, since you can learn something from almost everybody.) Perhaps this post will give you some idea how this debate got started.

I found this article by Sean Foley on reducing back pain that was posted on the Golf Digest web site back in March, and it may be the basis for some of the "Stack and Tilt" rumors. I think the article has some really good thoughts about reducing back pain caused by your golf swing, and I advise you to take a few moments to check it out. But I wanted to point out a couple of things he recommends to reduce back pain that might just as easily be taken as "Stack and Tilt" positions.

Picture from the Sean Foley article at Golf Digest

The position labeled "1" clearly shows the left shoulder being rotated downward instead of level during the backswing. Foley says this focuses the rotation in the upper back, which is better designed for rotation, rather than the lower back. This is one of the moves that "Stack and Tilt" recommends to keep the shoulders centered over the ball. Foley also points out that the back knee should remain slightly bent, which is NOT what "Stack and Tilt" has traditionally taught. (You can use this article on key "Stack and Tilt" teachings for reference. It's possible Bennett and Plummer have changed this, as Charlie Wi does flex his knees on the backswing. See the video later in this post.)

The position labeled "2" is a squat move that looks somewhat similar to the forward weight position of the "Stack and Tilt" downswing. (Compare it to the #5 position in the "Stack and Tilt" article.) Foley is definitely trying to maintain a more vertical spine during the downswing and is also recommending a great deal more knee flex than the "Stack and Tilt" article does. Again, I should point out that Charlie Wi does flex his knees more on the downswing, as this video shows:



You can see from these pictures why some believe Foley is a "Stack and Tilt" man. I can't say one way or the other, although it may also indicate that Bennett and Plummer have made some changes to "Stack and Tilt" in order to combat some of the accusations that the swing caused back problems.

But I think it does indicate one very clear fact: Good swings don't have to cause back problems. It appears both Wi and Foley are using some of the same methods to prevent back problems, so it might not hurt for you to consider them as well. Again, take some time and check out the Foley article I linked to earlier; and if you're interested in the "Stack and Tilt" swing, make sure you incorporate these changes into it (as Charlie Wi apparently has).

Golf should be fun, not painful.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What "Getting Stuck" Looks Like

I stumbled across this old footage of Morgan Pressel from 2008, with Judy Rankin doing a swing breakdown. Morgan has made some changes since then, picking up about 15 yards, so this footage isn't really an accurate assessment of her current swing.

What caught my attention actually comes at the end of the video, where Rankin does a side-by-side comparison of Pressel and Julieta Granada. We talk a lot about players "getting stuck" and, while the descriptions may make sense and most of us think we understand the concept, it can be hard to picture exactly what a "stuck swing" looks like. I think this video makes it very clear.



Morgan is just dead perfect to the top of her swing; the problems start after that. The key positions I want you to look at are at :32 and :47 seconds in the tape.

In the first, Morgan is leaning backwards -- something I have advised you to avoid. Despite Rankin's remark that this is a characteristic of "old-style" swings, this is also a part of Hogan's swing and his is considered very modern. Leaning backwards is a problem that many players face, regardless of what approach they take to the game. As Judy points out, Morgan's lower body is moving so fast that her arms and shoulders can't keep up. The result? Her shoulders have tilted severely away from the target, so much so that she can't even straighten her right arm. (I'll come back to that in a minute.)

If you look at the :47 mark, you'll see just how much her head has had to move to get to her finish position from that :32 frame. If you position your mouse pointer right over her head and run the video, you'll see just how much she moves. That movement steals a lot of clubhead speed from her swing.

Now look at the view down-the-line, especially at the 1:05 mark; this will show you a different view of the :32 position. Look at that massive gap between her arms! Not only is she leaning backwards, but her shoulders are aimed out to the right. This not only steals clubhead speed, but means she has to compensate to get the ball started on target. In the next few seconds of video you'll see her fling her right arm up and over her left to get the club squared up; bear in mind that her head is moving forward a lot during this move, as you saw in the segment from :32 to :47. If she doesn't pull it off, the ball gets pushed to the right; if she pulls it off but her timing isn't perfect, she'll hit a big hook.

Sound familiar, Tiger fans?

Then Rankin shows Granada, someone she says "doesn't hit the ball a whole lot farther but has more of the modern look." Personally, I think she loses distance because she moves off the ball on her backswing, then even more on her downswing. (Try the mouse pointer trick over her head as well. My back hurts just watching it!) This also causes her shoulders to tilt, just like Morgan's. You would expect the same problem.

But Julieta manages to unwind her shoulders along with her hips, and that makes a huge difference. Look at where each player's hands are! It may not look like much until you compare their elbows -- Morgan's left elbow is in the middle of her chest; Julieta's is over her hip. Morgan's right elbow is still bent and her forearm points away from the ball; Julieta's elbow is straight and her forearm is pointed almost toward the ball. What this means is that Julieta's shoulders are "square" (aimed at the target) while Morgan's are "closed" (aimed right). Julieta won't have to make all the compensations Morgan will.

The side-by-side comparison should make the difference between "getting stuck" and "keeping the club in front of you" much clearer... and there's an easy way to help you feel the proper position:

Remember the one-piece takeaway drill I gave Dexter? Take that position and then, using only your lower body, "swing" your arms back to their setup position. Your belly button will point toward the target, but the triangle formed by your hands, arms, and shoulders will point toward the ball. This is roughly the position you want to be in when you hit the ball. It will also help you identify if you're sliding your hips too much toward the target on your downswing.

Another way of thinking of this is that your elbows point down at your feet when you hit the ball. (You may have to make slow swings; if you have this problem, it's going to feel really different.) Don't get anal about it, though -- it's ok if you're not perfect. It's the feeling of having your arms and shoulders return to their address position as you hit the ball that you're after; if you're anywhere close, it should help you improve your ball-striking considerably.

This little drill can also help if you have trouble with "chicken-winging" on your finish. If your elbow points down to the ground, it can't very well point toward the target at the same time. This drill encourages your elbow to fold and stay close to your side during your finish.

Hopefully this will help you understand why "getting stuck" is such a big deal. Although I haven't found any footage of Morgan's recent swing changes, I heard her say in an interview that she was specifically trying to get her upper and lower body in sync. And her driving stats at LPGA.com show she's picked up about 15 yards in the process.

Which just goes to show that nobody has to stick with a swing that "gets stuck."

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Busy Golf Weekend

Although it's late in the season, it's amazing how much significant golf takes place this weekend. Here's a quick overview of what we have to look forward to:

Clip art of popcornThe Champions Tour is playing its first ever event in Korea. Of note here -- Fred Couples isn't playing, which is almost like giving up any hope of catching Bernhard Langer (who is there) in the Charles Schwab Cup race. Nevertheless, this is a huge move for the Champions Tour and it's being staged at a new Nicklaus golf course which is supposed to be really tough.

The LPGA has only one event this month, and it's this weekend. The Top 5 in the world rankings are all there, even though I believe Miyazato and Shin are in danger of losing their JLPGA Tour cards because they haven't played as well over there... and this week is a major on the JLPGA. That should let you know how important things have gotten to the ladies on the LPGA; remember, Player of the Year is also up for grabs, and that gets you points toward the World Golf Hall of Fame.

And on the PGA, we have a no-cut tournament that gets you into the Tour Championship... or not, depending on your finish. And Tiger needs a Top 5 to get to that final tournament. I am personally interested in who makes it simply because there are a lot of "funky" swings in the running -- swings that aren't considered great or even desirable swings by the general golf public -- and I'm really enjoying this unpublicized competition. I'm hoping to take a look next week at how many of these "unheraled" swings on Tour make it to the FedExCup finals.

So grab some popcorn and plop down in front of the TV -- this is shaping up to be a fun weekend. And we're only three weeks from the Ryder Cup, folks!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Another Feed for Ruthless Golf

Of course every blog has RSS feeds. I have both Atom and Feedburner links here where you can sign up.

But now I have a third RSS feed from Feeds4all.com -- they just picked up my site. I believe this is only the second golf site they've included! At any rate the feed link is:
Ruthless Golf feed at Feeds4all.com
I'm going to try to get a banner up (next to the other feed icons) before long, but I wanted to let you all know it exists.

The Brit Left Behind

Ok, I know Colin Montgomery left two Brits behind... but I'm looking at Paul Casey's swing today.

Here's a slo-mo breakdown by Paul's teacher, Peter Kostis, during the Match Play that Paul lost to Ian Poulter earlier this year:



Kostis says this is an "old-school" swing, which simply means that Paul turns his hips more during the backswing. (The "modern" method, a la Hogan, limits hip turn as much as possible to create more torque... and perhaps more back pain!) You can also see that he has a one-piece takeaway; I'm pointing this out a lot lately because I want you to see how many of the top pros use it. It really simplifies a player's swing.

But what I'd really like you to notice is that, even though Paul is considered a power player, he never gets the club shaft parallel to the ground. I know you keep hearing how important that is, but you don't hit the ball with your backswing. Paul increases his wrist cock on the way down -- that's not clear from this angle, but you'll be able to see it clearly in the next video. Clubhead speed depends in part on how much of that wrist cock angle you "carry" down to the ball; if you learn how to do that (I've done several posts on it, and will do more), you can get plenty of distance even if you aren't flexible enough to get that club to the "full swing" position at the top.

And this video shows several of Paul's swings (both regular speed and slo-mo) at Wentworth back in May this year:



You can see how Paul stops far short of parallel, even with a driver (that's the second shot on this video), and you can see his wrist cock increase as he starts down. It's not a huge move but it's clearly visible, especially in the slo-mo of the first swing.

Also, notice how his hips move slightly to the right when he starts his backswing. Some teachers would call this a slide and say it's bad, but it's not a huge move. Why does he do it? I think it's a rhythm thing -- he uses it to start his backswing, the way some people like to do a forward press with their hands. That's not unusual in an "old-school" swing -- it's part of that extra hip turn -- and for some of you it might be very useful because, again, it makes up for some limited flexibility. The key here is to keep it small and repeatable. It can help you keep from "freezing" over the ball, and also keep you more relaxed during the swing.

So here are two tips you can gain from Paul Casey, and both are especially useful if you aren't as flexible as you'd like to be.:
  • Don't worry about getting the club shaft to parallel. Just get the best shoulder turn you can.
  • It's ok if your hips turn a little extra and move away from the target just a bit, to help you swing more smoothly and with more relaxation.
If Paul keeps playing the way he does now -- he's currently #9 in the world and #21 in the FedExCup race -- he won't get left behind again. (Monty may end up regretting it this time!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's Not Over Till the Flat Man Swings

Yes, I admit that I'm overly pleased by that clever little title.

But I'm probably not as pleased as Matt Kuchar is by his performance this year. The #1 guy on the FedExCup points list has been a model of consistency this year... and some recent slo-mo video of his swing has finally made it to YouTube. These videos are from the 2010 PGA Championship -- a mere three weeks ago!

First, a down-the-line shot showing that notoriously flat swing plane:



You can see from this angle that the top of his left forearm is just barely below the top of his right shoulder at the top of the backswing. You can also see how he uses a one-piece takeaway. But did you notice that little forward move his shoulder makes at the start of his downswing? It's barely visible in slo-mo.

It's much clearer in this video:



See how he comes slightly "over-the-top" to start his downswing? Again, it's only noticeable in slo-mo. His swing is so flat that his shoulder actually has to move forward just a bit to start his downswing. Technically it's an "over-the-top" swing, but from a practical standpoint it makes no difference; his hands are still far enough below what most teachers would consider a proper swing plane that he's still on line when he hits the ball. This isn't too different from Bobby Jones, who had an actual up-and-over loop in his backswing that never got high enough to result in a pull. I'm pointing this out for only one reason: If you have a flat swing, this shoulder movement is normal. If you get your swing videoed and this move shows up, it's not a flaw in the swing.

While I would never tell somebody to swing this flat, I don't think it's a problem if this is a natural move for you. Kuchar's swing allows him to create a lot of clubhead speed; if you stop the video at :25, you'll see how much flex he's created in the shaft. At the :27 mark, you can see how the shaft has snapped forward to unleash that stored-up energy against the ball.

So that's Matt Kuchar's super-consistent but extremely flat swing. And now that we've seen the flat man swing at least twice, I guess this post is over. ;-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship

Winner: Charley Hoffman

Around the wider world of golf: Ted Schultz got his first Champions Tour win at the Home Care & Hospice First Tee Open; Kevin Kisner got his first Nationwide Tour win at the Mylan Classic; Miguel Angel Jiménez won his third tournament this year at the Omega European Masters on the European Tour; Ryo Ishikawa won the Fujisankei Classic on the Japan Tour; Cindy LaCrosse won the Price Chopper Tour Championship on the Future's Tour, their final event -- Cindy LaCrosse, Jennifer Song, Christine Song, Jenny Shin and Gerina Mendoza got their LPGA Tour cards -- congrats, ladies! (you can get more info at Mostly Harmless and HoundDogLPGA); and Akane Iijima won the Golf5 Ladies on the JLPGA (also at Mostly Harmless). Wow, I thought Labor Day was a holiday weekend!)

Ok, first things first... Tiger Woods continued improving. He finished at -10, a T11 finish, with his best score other than his -11 at the Masters. In fact, since his poor showing at Bridgestone, he has improved each week since. He now sits at 51 in the FedEx race, so he gets to play next week.

And second things second... Tiger Woods is still ranked #1 and Phil Mickelson is still ranked #2. Tiger managed to beat Phil by 3 strokes this week to hold on to his position.

Charley Hoffman photoNow, those were pretty big stories, but Charley Hoffman managed to steal their thunder. His finishing round 62, complete with 11 birdies, 2 bogeys, and remarkable saves from all over the place, absolutely blew the field away as he cruised to a 5-stroke win. The guy with the Jeff Spicoli hair (remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High?) rode a wave of confidence that even he said he didn't see coming! But his scores as of late haven't been that bad, and apparently he found something he's been missing most of the year.

It's just a guess, but I bet it's the fairways and greens he hit this week. He was around 15 percentage points better in both, and when you putt the way Charley does (13th on Tour) and you make birdies the way he does (4th on Tour) when you don't hit the fairways or greens... well, this wasn't as big a surprise as it might seem. (The pic comes from this blog post at ESPN.go.com.)

And while he's pretty far down the Ryder Cup list of possibles, there was some discussion after the event that he might have caught Corey Pavin's eye. One thing's for sure: Charley made it clear that he wants to play on the team and believes he can help. I don't expect him to get the call, but he certainly made things interesting!

Only Geoff Ogilvy and Tom Gillis managed to put on a final round run, but what can you do against a -9 when the guy was ahead of you at the start?

So yesterday the California boy got his second Tour win... and today he gets his very own limerick. And just for the record... a parley is a conference or discussion.
“That was awesome, dude!” “Man, that was gnarly!”
Surfers rarely shoot curls the way Charley
Did. He said “Earl has blown—
I’ll make waves of my own!”
Might this win cause a Ryder Cup parley?

Monday, September 6, 2010

About Playing in the Wind

Since the Limerick Summary is delayed a day for the tournament's Monday finish, I thought I'd do a quick instructional post.

Sunday, during NBC's broadcast of the Deutsche Bank, Hank Haney did a brief piece on how to play shots into the wind. It was pretty straightforward, but it occurred to me that many of you may not have understood why one of his tips works. Since one of the goals of this blog is helping you understand what makes your swing tick, I thought I'd use this post to explain it.

Ok, Haney said that the key to playing into the wind is to lower the trajectory of your ball. I'm sure all of you understand the reasoning behind that -- the wind is often less of a factor closer to the ground, because trees and hills can deflect some of it. In addition, since lower shots take off on a lower launch angle, gravity offsets some of the aerodynamic lift that causes the ball to "balloon" in the wind. So far, so good.

He also gave three tips for playing a shot into the wind. They were:
  1. take a longer club
  2. make a shorter swing
  3. shorten your follow-through
The first two are pretty simple to understand. The longer clubs have less loft, so they launch the ball at a lower angle, and they have longer shafts, so they offset the shorter swing which causes the ball to spin less and therefore create less lift. Together, they give you a lower ball flight without having to adjust your setup or swing path.

But the third one may be more of a puzzle. How can shortening your follow-through make the ball fly lower since the ball is already gone when you make that follow-through?

Here's the best example I could think of: When you want to stop your car, you have to hit the brake pedal before the car actually stops. But there's also a delay we call "reaction time" -- that's the time between the moment your brain screams "Stop the car!" and your muscles actually get the message to stomp on the brake. And of course, depending on how fast you're going, it takes a few more seconds for the car to actually stop after you hit the brake.

It's the same way with this third tip. In a normal follow-through your wrists recock after they hit the ball, which allows them to move freely and create a little more speed (and loft) at impact, so the ball launches a bit higher; then the recocking motion itself allows you to slow the club down without hurting your wrists.

When you try to shorten your follow-through, which basically means you try to keep your wrists from recocking after impact, the process begins before the club ever gets to the ball. Your mind says "Cut the follow-through short" before the clubface makes contact; because of the momentary lag, the muscles get the message and impede the normal wrist motion during contact; and then the club finally stops moving after the ball is gone. This means the club is actually slowing down during impact rather than accelerating. In addition, this action also keeps you from flipping the clubhead at impact, so you hit the shot straighter.

The result is a slightly awkward straight-wrist follow-through that launches the ball lower.

And just so you know, this shot is also called a "knockdown shot." Any time you need to keep the ball "under the wind," this is the shot to use. Here's another video showing how the shot works:



Note that Joe Beck says to use your "normal" backswing, but that's with an iron. If you were using a longer club like a wood, you would use a swing of the same length, sometimes called a "three-quarter" swing. Also note that he says you "drag the clubhead through impact," but the result is the same as Hank Haney showed on NBC; it's just a different way to describe the same move.

And Joe adds that you want to position the ball in the middle of your stance. This is a good rule of thumb, since placing it farther back will make it harder to hit the shot. Remember: The idea here is to hit the ball lower with the fewest possible changes to your swing.

Just to be thorough, some people call this a "punch shot," but the two are slightly different. Here's Justin Rose demonstrating a punch shot:



The primary difference here is weight distribution. It feels more like a short game shot.

Hope this helps next time you play in the wind... or maybe just need to get out from under some tree branches!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tiger Makes the Cut, Paddy Goes Home to Practice

And Jason had his Day. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.) But the scoring is so tight it's ridiculous. I mean, there are 18 players in the top 8 -- what's up with that?

Jason Day did indeed have his day, remaining tied for the lead -- this time with Brandt Snedecker. Last week's winner Matt Kuchar is just one behind, as is Charlie Hoffman. (Who's been MIA until the last few weeks -- good time to get it together, Charlie!)

Kris Blanks, sitting in that massive T8 group, is one of the feelgood stories of the year. I wrote about him in this post from earlier in the year -- it's nice to see him make it this far into the playoffs.

Of course, the Ryder Cup is still big news. Justin Rose and Paddy Harrington missed the cut, while Paul Casey and Luke Donald made it. (And Donald could win this week, which might make Monty look like a genius... if you ignore Paddy's play, that is.)

Tiger on the fourth hole at Deutsche Bank
Photo from AFP via Google News.

Both Tiger and Phil showed up Saturday, no doubt making life much easier for Corey Pavin. With no cuts in the last two playoff events, Phil will get two more weeks of competitive play and Tiger at least one (probably). And Tiger's improved so much in the last three weeks that Corey probably won't take too much flack for burning a pick on him. I think it does make a difference that the Ryder Cup is match play, not stroke play; a little bit of erratic play can be covered when a double or triple only puts you one-down.

Ironically, this could be Tiger's best Ryder Cup showing, just because he has so much to prove. (How many players have said the team might actually be better without him?) He usually focuses well under pressure, and if he has some confidence going in...

In addition, I'm not so sure it's fair to think of the "rookies" as a liability. For example, does anybody really think Matt Kuchar will crumble at the Ryder Cup? Or Dustin Johnson? The only rookie I'd have any concern about is Jeff Overton because he can get really emotional... but team him with a veteran and I think he'll be fine. And I think next week Corey will find himself with an abundance of good choices available.

If I were captain? I'd pick Tiger (who I wouldn't have chosen three weeks ago), Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes, and Rickie Fowler. That adds 3 veterans -- one a  bomber -- and another strong rookie with experience on a winning Walker Cup team.

Overall, I'm coming around to John Hawkins's belief that the American team isn't quite the underdog we once thought.

Paddy better practice hard... if determination can carry a team, the US could turn out to be a juggernaut.