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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eric Axley on Chipping

I wanted to do a post on Robert Karlsson's swing, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, I found this chipping tips video by tour player Eric Axley. It caught my attention because he shows how to adjust for three different types of chip and flop shots.

The thing to note here is that he has to make multiple adjustments to play different types of chips:
  • Ball position: forward in the stance for flops, back in the stance for low chips
  • Hand position: behind the ball for flops, ahead of the ball for low chips
  • Clubface position: open for flops, square for low chips
  • Length of stroke: long for flops, short for low chips
  • Amount of wrist hinge: lots of movement for flops, keep them firm for low chips
Granted, this is just one player's short game method. But it may give you some idea of just how much you need to adjust to play the chip shots that give you the most trouble.

Oh, and one extra note not mentioned in the video: If you intend to play flops off a tight lie the way Eric does here, you'll need a wedge with very little bounce. Otherwise, the front edge will be too high when you open the clubface and you'll skull your flops. (That even sounds painful.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Dubai World Championship

Winner: Robert Karlsson

Around the greater world of golf: It was a quiet weekend, even if most of the world doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Mainly it was Japanese golf -- Inbee Park won the Ricoh Cup on the JLPGA, her first major and 2nd win of the year; and Michio Matsumura won the Casio World Open on the JGTO (that's the men's tour). One of my favorite Japanese players, Shingo Katayama (he wears the cowboy hats -- remember him?) finished T31.

Karlsson pic from
(Click photo to read what says Karlsson accomplished with this win.)

Robert Karlsson has been quietly having a monster year. After becoming one of the European players to watch in 2008, Robert got knocked out for several months by an eye problem -- fluid behind the retina of his left eye (one report I read called it a water blister) left him unable to see clearly. He also had a "glandular fever," whatever that is, but the two problems were enough to derail a game that had him in most discussions of possible world #1. (He was the European #1 in 2008 before the problems hit.)

This year he's been largely under the radar, but the big Swede (he's 6'5" tall) had already won the Commercialbank Qatar Masters at the end of January, came close at the St. Jude Classic, and posted a second in October at the Portugal Masters.

Sunday looked to be Ian Poulter's second win in a row until Karlsson put on a run. His 67 allowed him to tie Poulter's 70 in regulation, sending the two men to a two-hole playoff. It ended up a battle of wedges -- Karlsson stuck three close, on the 72nd and both playoff holes, while Poulter could only stick two close. While Ian did get a penalty on the last playoff hole by dropping his ball on his marker and causing it to move, it didn't really affect the results. Karlsson drained his birdie putt; even without the penalty, Poulter could do no better than par.

Of course people will be talking about Kaymer winning the Race to Dubai, and McDowell's unsuccessful attempt to dethrone him, and Poulter's lost chances to win three of the last four tournaments of the ET season. But Robert Karlsson will be plenty happy, I think. Next year could take the place of that lost 2009 -- at least, it's a clear possibility.

This week's limerick salutes that rarest of creatures, the ice man who thrives in the desert:
After problems with vision last year,
Karlsson now sees a reborn career.
With two wins this season,
The Swede isn’t teasin’
His fans. Now he’s back—and that’s clear.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ian Poulter on Alignment

Since Ian Poulter has been ripping up the European Tour the last few weeks with some incredibly accurate driving, I thought this little video he made about alignment for Oakley UK (the guys best known for those wrap-around sunglasses) was especially timely. It probably won't tell you anything new, but some things are so fundamental that they need to be repeated over and over and over and over...

Especially when you're striping it like Poults. No matter how you feel about him or his sense of style, he certainly knows how to play the game.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Little Swing Experiment

Over the past few months I've written quite a bit about different swing methods and how we can learn from them, even if we don't use the full swing method itself, and how we can borrow ideas from different swings and create a "new" swing specifically suited to our own strengths and weaknesses. (Not that any swing is really "new," you understand.)

It's time we recognized that specific swing methods become popular not because one swing method is necessarily better than another, but because certain players rise to dominance in the pro ranks using that swing. And what have those pros done? Merely adjust a "standard" swing to better suit their own strengths and limitations. That's what makes them better than the guys who just learn to make a "textbook" swing.

For example, everyone wanted to copy the relatively flat swing of Ben Hogan during his heyday... but it fell out of favor once that kid Nicklaus showed up on the scene. His swing, which was much more upright than Hogan's, became all the rage as soon as Jack became the man to beat. Such "new" swing methods rise and wane with amazing regularity, and that's not going to change any time soon.

Well, I decided that it's time to post an example of how you can do the same thing. Today we're going to take a few bits and pieces of the teachings we've looked at and put them together in a new way. Let me give you this one warning: You can't just mix and match techniques with no regard for the mechanics that make them distinctive. Some bits and pieces just don't go together, like mixing Hogan's practice of "tucking" his right elbow quickly on the downswing with Jack's upright swing plane. Unless you have perfect timing, that combo tends to result in a huge loop and a lot of fat shots.

As a general guideline, the easiest workable combinations usually involve pairing an upper body technique with a lower body technique. When you combine two upper body techniques or two lower body techniques, you have to use a bit more care. Got it?

Since I did the post on swaying a couple of days ago, I'm going to "create" a swing method that also tries to address the swaying problem. It should also help those of you who are having trouble getting solid shots because you can't hit down on the ball consistently. To show you how it's done, I'm going to combine an upper body and a lower body technique.

For the upper body technique, I'm going to use the shoulder motion Carl demonstrated in his video. By turning your upper body around your lower spine so it leans away from the target at the top of the backswing, your shoulders stay mostly parallel to the ground and you eliminate a lot of the stress in your lower back. See, part of the reason you sway is because your coil puts a lot of stress on your back, hips, and legs; unless you're very flexible, your lower body moves to prevent back damage. That's a good thing, but it can hinder your attempts to make consistent contact.

Now let's see if we can't find a lower body technique that works with it, to help eliminate the need for that movement while also improving our stability. I have an idea that just might work...

Back in September I did a couple of articles looking at "Stack & Tilt" for usable techniques. In the second article, I noted that "'Stack and Tilt' is little more than a full swing made from a short game setup." I think that may be just what we need!

When we make short game shots, one of the key things we do is set a bit more of our weight on the leg closest to the target. So let me take give you a couple of simple diagrams -- similar to the ones I made for to illustrate Carl's move to stop swaying -- and show you how it looks with the short game setup. (Yes, it's Mr. Pinhead again!) In the first illustration, the arms and club are pointed down in a typical setup position; and in the second one, they're at the top of the backswing and the shoulders are turned 90 degrees:

                         \-------         CLUB 
                          \               ARMS
        O                  \O             HEAD
      XXXXX                 \X          SHOULDERS
      \ X /                   X
       \X/                     X
       XXX                     XX         HIPS
     X  | X                  X   X
   X    |  X               X      X       FEET

Using Carl's "spine angle coil" with a standard setup puts the player's shoulders very nearly over the back foot at the top of the backswing. By using the short game setup instead, the shoulders are well inside your stance, which should make you feel much more balanced during your swing. And remember, you don't have to lean way over on the backswing -- just enough to lessen that back and hip stress. That helps your balance even more.

With your weight more forward in your stance at setup, your back leg is in a stronger position to resist the swaying movement. (Remember: Swaying is a hip and leg problem). And I think a lot of you will be surprised at how much hip and back tension is relieved when you coil from this position.

The reason for all these improvements is simple: With a standard setup, your weight moves over your back leg. Yes, yes, I know teachers keep telling you that's what you should do... but don't you ever ask why? You supposedly need a backward weight shift to create the forward weight shift on the downstroke... but the short game setup is supposed to eliminate all that movement, isn't it? If you're eliminating the forward movement, you don't need the backward movement! So don't worry about creating movement you don't need.

Anyway... when your weight moves over your back leg from a standard setup, most of your arm weight is outside of your stance. That's what puts the stress on your lower back. From the short game setup, your weight is more centered between your feet, which means more of the weight of your extended arms is between your feet as well. This reduces the stress on your back and hip, which means those muscles aren't contracted as much... so some of you will get a bigger shoulder turn from this setup as well.

But that's not all. You get all the advantages on the downswing that you would expect from a short game setup -- which means you're going to be more stable over the ball and be better positioned to hit down on it. Result: Solid contact when you hit the ball.

So maybe you'll want to experiment with this swing variation if you have trouble with your balance or hitting inconsistent shots or struggling to get a full shoulder turn or simply feeling too much stress in your lower back and hip during your backswing. And hopefully you'll begin to understand why some of the best players in the world have some of the most unusual swings... it's all about capitalizing on your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.

And it helps if it keeps your swing from hurting. That's always a big plus in my book!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gamesmanship, Woody Woodpecker Style

Yes, I'm taking a day off. (Obviously I'm writing this on Thanksgiving!) You all know I'm crazy about cartoons, and today I found one I didn't even know existed. It's an old Woody Woodpecker cartoon called "Woodpecker in the Rough." I'll let you guys decide if it's a turkey or not! Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clearing Your Hips

Over at Golf Tips & Quips Dexter posted an article about how Jim Furyk clears his hips during his swing. I left a comment there, but it occurred to me that we've been talking about this hip thing quite a bit lately... without actually calling it that. I thought this might be a good time to pull all these thoughts together in one place and give Dexter a fuller answer than the comment on his blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "clearing your hips" -- sometimes called "opening your hips" -- simply describes how your hips and legs move during your downswing. "Opening" may be the most natural image if you know what an open stance is. An open stance is when you set up with your forward foot farther from your target line than your back foot. This diagram from the Swing Machine Blog is a great illustration of an open stance:

Open stance diagram from

See how the forward foot is farther from the target line? Well, when you open your hips, you turn your hips during your downswing so they are parallel to the arrow drawn across the toes... and then they keep on turning until your belly button is pointed straight toward the target. Obviously it's easier to open your hips from an open stance, but it's also natural to open your hips from either a square stance or a closed stance; it's just part of the swinging motion.

Some teachers prefer the term "clearing your hips," which has to do with "making room" for your hands. Again, it's not a difficult image to picture -- if your hips stayed parallel to the target line, your hands would get awfully close to your forward hip -- maybe even hit it -- as your hands swung past the ball. To prevent this, your hips keep turning as you swing through. It's the same move as "opening" your hips, just with a different name.

As I told Dexter, Jim Furyk clears his hips more than most players, and it's simply because he has to. He sets up with his hands much closer to his body than almost any other player on any tour. To keep his hips from moving in some weird way that changes his spine angle (and thus affects his accuracy), he has to really turn his hips to avoid hitting them with his hands.

Most players don't need to clear their hips as dramatically as Jim Furyk because they don't set up with their hands so close to their bodies. In fact, if you try to clear them too much you'll tend to lean backwards, changing your spine angle and causing the very problem that Jim is trying to avoid with his hip movement!

When I did the post about J.B. Holmes last week, I talked a bit about how teachers sometimes overemphasize things in the swing to get you to do them. Actually, the moves themselves aren't as big as you may be led to believe. As an example, I had taken the following 4 positions from a video (with arm and club lines added) and you could see that, despite being a big hitter, J.B. doesn't move his hips all that much -- in fact, if you watch the slo-mo in the video on that post, you can see that J.B. is basically just replanting his feet so they match his setup position, which returns his hips to his setup position, and that's how he "starts his downswing with his hips."

J.B. in 4 positions

Please notice that, although J.B.'s left hip has moved toward the target between position 1 and position 2, it's still well inside his left foot in position 2 -- his left foot is still closer to the target than his left hip.

I know you've probably read a lot of teachers who describe the hip move that "starts the downswing" as a "slide and turn," but I want to stress once again that this is a matter of degree. If you compare positions 1 and 2 in the sequence above, J.B.'s left hip has indeed moved toward the target based on where it was at the top of his backswing... but that new position is basically the same position as his setup. While his hips may have "slid and turned" relative to their position at the top of his backswing, essentially all he did was return to his setup position! I know I'm belaboring this point -- I'll do it more before this post is over -- but you have to understand that this "slide and turn" instruction is a matter of perspective.

Let me repeat that again: If you try to "slide and turn" relative to your setup position, you're going to overdo it and create problems in your swing. From the top of your backswing, all you want to do is return to your setup position; that has the same effect as the "slide and turn" you're trying to feel.

The process of clearing or opening your hips starts at the top of your downswing. When you let your hips start unwinding by replanting both feet solidly in your original setup position (this is very natural if your knees stay flexed slightly during your entire swing), your hips will just naturally continue to unwind unless you interfere with them. So the problem comes when your hips stop turning during your downswing; then they don't clear at all. How much you need to clear your hips before you hit the ball depends on the amount of motion in your swing.

Let me just quote some of what I told Dexter:
A good key thought here -- one we keep coming back to, beginning with that one-piece takeaway -- is that you want to keep your hands "in front of" your body throughout the swing. You don't want them to get stuck behind you, which causes a push-slice; but you don't want them to "get ahead of you" either, because that causes a pull-hook.

At the risk of oversimplifying this:
  1. Your shoulders are turned more than your hips at the top of the backswing.
  2. This angle stays almost the same until your hands are near your back thigh on the downswing -- some players describe this as the hips pulling the hands and arms down -- and then the shoulder-hip angle starts closing.
  3. At impact your shoulders are pretty much parallel to your target line and your hips are facing about halfway between the ball and the target.
  4. And at the top of your followthrough, your belly button points toward the target and your shoulders pretty much match your hip position (they "pass" your hips as the club arcs over your shoulders and points down at the ground for your finish).
If you're not clearing your hips, you're probably locking your knees when you hit the ball. If you maintain a little flex in them until the ball is gone, you'll probably clear your hips naturally. Just make sure that you don't start tilting backwards as you try to clear your hips, and you'll probably find the balance for your swing pretty easily.
By "find the balance for your swing" I just mean understanding how much your hips need to turn to let your hands swing through.

One other thing I should mention: Too many people make the mistake of thinking they are opening or clearing their hips when all they're doing is sliding their hips toward the target on the downswing. This makes you lean backward and actually keeps your hips from opening; your hips end up stuck in their setup position, only pushed toward the target, so they get in the way of your hands.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion -- and problems -- many of you are having when you try to clear your hips. Many of the instructions you've heard are attempts to describe the feel of various movements, not the actual physical moves you make while feeling them. As a general rule, too little movement is better than too much movement when it comes to your body, because it's easier to keep everything together. And if everything stays together, it's easier to move everything faster and develop more clubhead speed. Just look at J.B. if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Carl Rabito on Swaying

Some of you have told me you have problems with swaying, so you'll want to pay special attention to this video. Carl tells you the difference between a turn and a sway; he also gives you a way to check and see if you are reverse-pivoting.

The movement behind the ball that Carl shows here is a little bigger than what I make -- if I dangle my arm when I make my backswing, my hand falls to the inside of my back thigh. Still, it's a pretty good way to catch a poor shoulder turn.

I wanted to talk a little bit about sways because this is a real problem for people who aren't as flexible and for those who are trying to get a HUGE shoulder turn. Carl says that it's ok for your spine to lean a little away from the target at the top of your backswing. I don't want you to think you're leaning backward when you do this. Your entire spine is actually swiveling at your hip.

A quick example of a similar move may help you understand this. Hold your arm out in front of you, with your forearm and hand pointing straight up in the air. Now bend your wrist just a little, so your hand is at an angle to your forearm. (Just think of a bendy straw -- your arm is the long part, your hand is the short part, and your wrist is the bendy part.) Now just rotate your arm so your hand points in a different direction.

In the turn that Carl is teaching you to make, your spine rotates at your hips the way your hand rotates at your wrist. Some of you, especially if you aren't very flexible -- and that's not a crime, after all -- may find this move is much easier for you to make. If you do it while standing in front of a mirror, it may look a little odd at first... but as long as you keep your balance and feel stable when you turn, you should get used to it pretty quick.

You may wonder: If I can lean to the side that much, how do I know when I'm swaying? Swaying is a hip and leg problem. When you set up to hit the ball, your legs form sort of an 'A' shape -- your feet are usually just a little wider apart than your hips. When you sway, your hip moves away from the target until your back leg stops leaning and gets vertical -- you might say your stance goes from an 'A' shape to one like the bottom of a 'K'. If you move like Carl is showing, your shoulders may end up over your back foot... but your back hip won't.

Or, if you need a quick visual... at the top of your backswing you should look more like the first diagram below, not the second:
     \-------          CLUB      \-------
      \                ARMS       \
       \O              HEAD        \O
        \X           SHOULDERS      \X
          X                          X
           XX          HIPS          XX
          X   X                      X  X
         X      X      FEET          X    X
See how your shoulders and spine can lean a bit -- your head may even seem to be outside your feet -- but your legs still make an 'A' shape and your hips are still between your feet? That is still a stable position, and you haven't moved "off the ball" as much as it may look at first. But you don't want your entire right side (or left side if you're a lefty) to make a straight vertical line -- that's a sway. (And yes, I know my model here is a pinhead. ;-)

I hope this helps you players who are struggling with a sway. There's a good chance that you're just trying to stay too still over the ball. A little upper body movement is ok as long as your lower body stays in a stable position. If your lower body starts getting into the second position in the diagram above, you're going to start moving all over the place.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Well, Not Everybody's Turning Down a PGA Card

Well, after so many foreign players have decided to stay on their home tours, the PGA Tour is probably relieved to have some more players accept the invitation to play over here. Graeme McDowell, who qualified by winning the US Open, had already accepted membership while Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, and Ryo Ishikawa had turned it down.

Monday saw two more players join McDowell -- Louis Oosthuizen, who qualified by winning the Open Championship, and Charl Schwartzel, who qualified via the "match the 125 money list in 7 sponsor exemptions" route.

Both players were groomed through Ernie Els's golf program in South Africa, and I must admit wondering if the two men chose to take membership simply to hang around him more and maybe get more chances to learn from him. I can certainly think of worse reasons to join!

Let me give you a little background on the two. (The photos are from their bios at Obviously both are European Tour members and, since I haven't heard anything different, I suspect they intend to retain dual membership. Ernie does the same, and is currently 6th in the Race to Dubai.

Photo of Louis Oosthuizen from augusta.comLouis Oosthuizen has been one of the quieter guys on the ET. His play has been a little uneven this year, but his Open win wasn't as much of a surprise as some may have thought. Although he didn't do well in most of the majors this year, Louis had a 5th at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, 2nd at the Trophée Hassan II, and a win at the Open de Andalucia de Golf before he ever played the Masters.

After winning the Open, he posted a 4th at the Nordea Scandinavian Masters, a 9th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and a 4th at the KLM Open. After that he injured his foot -- the story is that he did it on the tractor he bought after winning the Open -- and his only appearance since then was the WGC in China, where he placed 72nd. Hopefully he'll be healed up in time for 2011. He's currently 10th in the Race to Dubai.

Photo of Charl Schwartzel from augusta.comCharl Schwartzel was a guy I thought might contend in the majors this year. He won twice early on the ET -- at the Africa Open and Joberg Open -- and had a couple of seconds, one of which came at the WGC-CA Championship where Ernie Els beat him out. His play the rest of the year was a mixed bag; and after placing 16th at the WGC in China, he's missed both cuts in Singapore and Hong Kong. He's currently 8th in the Race to Dubai.

These two guys should be good additions to the PGA Tour in 2011. And with Ernie Els available to mentor them a bit, I wouldn't be surprised if you saw both of them become regular contenders over the next few months.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 UBS Hong Kong Open

Winner: Ian Poulter

Around the greater world of golf: It was a pretty quiet week. Na-Ri Kim got her first JLPGA win at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies, which the Constructivist summed up in this post. Most of the other action centered around tour qualifying tournaments; Keith Clearwater was medalist at the Champions Tour final round qualifier, and the other tours are still in earlier stages. Ty Tryon and Erik Compton are among those who made it through PGA 2nd stage.

Photo of Ian Poulter from the ET websiteFor the last two weeks Ian Poulter has been right there, close enough to smell victory but not grasp it. He came up short at both the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and the Barclays Singapore Open. The good news for Poults is that he was right back at it again this week in Hong Kong. After getting his first US win (and a WGC at that) back in February at the Accenture World Match Play, he had spent the rest of his relatively lackluster year struggling.

But something has changed. Maybe it's that blindingly white driver he's put in his bag; maybe the Ryder Cup got his juices going again; or maybe he just found a new pair of peuce-and-chartreuse plaid golf shoes. At any rate, he's been on a tear the last three weeks and it finally paid off.

Despite posting the best round of his life -- a 60 in his 2nd round -- Ian just couldn't get the rest of the field to lay down and concede victory. He and Graeme McDowell were the primary battlers going into the last round as Graeme tried to track down Race to Dubai leader Martin Kaymer, but McDowell came out flat Sunday. Two bogeys in the first three holes derailed him completely. Englishman Simon Dyson, Italian teen Matteo Manassero, and American Anthony Kang all made their own runs but came up short. Manassero's final round 62 showed once again that players had better not underestimate the kid from Italy.

Poulter made only two bogeys all week, perhaps one of his most impressive performances ever.

So this week, since I have no PGA tournaments to summarize, I devote this limerick to Ian's win on the European Tour... and despite my little jab at him, I really do like Ian's self-confidence:
A first chance at victory got Shanghaied,
Then at Singapore fell by the wayside.
Poulter said, “I’m no quitter—
Just a few words on Twitter
Will turn this win into a landslide!”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ryo Says "No"

Photo of Ryo IshikawaI suppose many of you have already heard, but Ryo Ishikawa has become the latest foreign star to turn down membership on the PGA Tour. He said he just wanted to do what he did this year again. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.)

Many people will say it's a mistake, but it's probably a good choice for him. Ryo is only 19 years old, after all; I think we all forget how young some of these players are because they play so well for their age.

There's been so much talk about foreign players not taking PGA Tour membership when it's offered to them that I think people are starting to overreact a little. Is refusing a Tour card really a slap in the PGA's face, as some seem to think?

Perhaps. The PGA has been the 800-lb gorilla in the room for so long that it's possible players from other tours have built up a little resentment. Maybe the sudden ascension of so many foreign players to the top of the world rankings has caused a backlash against a perceived lack of respect.

And then again, maybe a lot of players (especially younger players) have decided that having a personal life is a good thing. Maybe grabbing all the money they can doesn't appeal to them... or perhaps they can get all the money they want on their home tours. Maybe, just maybe, some have taken Tiger's past year as a cautionary tale of what can happen when you become too big and lose track of what really matters to you.

And maybe some just miss seeing their favorite football team (that's soccer to us Americans) at a decent hour.

At any rate, I don't expect this to hurt Ryo's game any. The kid's got a practice green that duplicates the greens at Augusta, doesn't he? He'll be plenty ready when he comes over here to play.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are De Facto World Tours Inevitable?

Back in November 1994 Greg Norman pitched the idea of starting a World Tour -- 8 limited-field events with big purses and a rumored TV deal -- which Tim Finchem shot down by threatening to suspend any player who got involved. Two years later, Finchem launched his own idea for a series of world golf events that eventually became the WGC tournaments. (Tim Rosaforte covered some of the battle in 1996, in this article for Sports Illustrated.) Since then, different groups have suggested that the World Tour idea should be resurrected, that the time is right.

But I wonder if it's even necessary. It looks to me like we're already seeing World Tours develop, whether the powers-that-be want them or not. The term de facto in this post's title is a Latin term that means "in fact," "in reality," or "in practice."

The PGA requires a player to play 15 events to retain their membership; the European Tour is increasing their number to 13 in 2011. Let's use that as a baseline, shall we?

The world's best male players, regardless of what tour they belong to, already have a group of tournaments that they all generally play in. The four majors, TPC, and WGC events are variously recognized by most of the tours on this planet -- a total of 9 events which are supported by organizations with enough size, money, and clout to do whatever they want regardless of what any individual tour says. These events have the cache to attract whoever they want.

Other events like the BMW PGA Championship, the Barclays Singapore Open, and the UBS Hong Kong Open have purses that match the majors and WGC events... and many players from other tours are skipping their own events to play in them. That makes 12 events, and a few of the smaller-purse events are gaining notoriety among the players (or already have it, like Jack and Arnie's tournaments). If a few of those could bump their purses, especially in Australia and Africa...

Perhaps a World Tour is already here... and it doesn't require its "members" to play a minimum number of events.

I think this is happening because Americans are no longer the majority of top players in the world anymore (only 8 of the Top 20 this week, for example). And with several of the top players (like Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, and Rory McIlroy) choosing to "remain loyal" to their home tours because it no longer hurts them in the OWGR, sponsors are beginning to realize that there may be no advantage to getting their event on a particular tour -- the big names will come, as long as they don't schedule opposite another "world" event.

A similar phenomenom is happening with the ladies. The bloggers over at Seoul Sisters have written a detailed article about many Korean players opting for the JLPGA over the LPGA. With competitive players no longer limited mainly to one tour, the benefits of strong fields (higher purses and more world ranking points) are no longer limited to a single tour either. Many players are opting to stay closer to home, either for family reasons or simply because they don't want to travel as much. (This is also happening on the men's tours, of course. Witness Rory's recent comments about the loneliness of the US Tour and wanting to be nearer his girlfriend.) And perhaps because of this, co-sponsored events are popping up on all the tours -- regardless of gender -- as tighter economies send every tour scrambling for their piece of the pie.

And ultimately I think that is -- if you'll pardon the pun -- "the bottom line." Because when push comes to shove, it isn't the tour bureaucrats who will determine the future of tournament golf, but the sponsors and the players themselves. Greg Norman may have been the prophet who just didn't get the profit... but at this rate, neither will Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour, or the European Tour, or any other individual tour.

The World Tour may have arrived, whether we recognize it as such or not.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Creating Power, Part 2: J.B. Holmes

Today I'm continuing my look at how sometimes contradictory teachings are more a matter of how they are presented than of actual technique differences, and I'm looking specifically at how such teachings say you should swing to hit the long ball.

Yesterday I looked at some things teacher Carl Rabito said about generating power. I've mentioned in several previous posts that Carl taught me back in 1990, and when I stumbled over some teaching videos he made for a device called the Perfect Connextion while looking for this J.B. Holmes footage, it seemed a perfect way to look at this "contradictory teachings" problem.

I pulled these five points from Carl's videos for comparison to J.B.'s swing:
  1. 76% of your speed comes from your wrist cock and another 11% comes from your elbow movement.
  2. The majority of your range of motion comes from your spine and upper body.
  3. The power triangle is how you "keep your arms in front of you" and basically just return to your setup position when you hit the ball.
  4. To make your downswing, you turn your shoulders back to your setup position, which pulls your arms and hands down to your back leg, and then you drive your legs.
  5. To hit the ball solidly, you want to keep your elbows parallel to the ground throughout the swing.
So here's the video from J.B.'s appearance on Golf Channel's "Playing Lessons with the Pros." The first apparent contradiction shows up at the :31 mark, when Stephanie Sparks notes that J.B. doesn't cock his wrists at the top of the swing:

J.B. doesn't seem to follow the rules at all, does he? He and his teacher Matt Killen sound light years away from Carl Rabito -- and there are some differences, but they aren't anywhere as big as they seem. Let's start with the most obvious difference, his wrist cock (or lack thereof).

Carl says a good 3/4 of your clubhead speed comes from your wrist cock, and J.B. doesn't cock his wrists at all at the top of his swing. Carl also said you don't want to try and "hold" your wrist cock as you swing down (that was in the more complete discussion of Carl's point #5 in the previous post). How can these two views possibly be describing the same movement?

If you've read my Route 67 posts (there's a link to a complete listing at the top of the page), then you're familiar with the "Secret Move" that gives your swing its power. The Secret Move is how you get your wrist cock from the top of your backswing down to the hitting area, and there are several ways to do it. I've done posts on 3 of them so far, but one I haven't covered yet is cocking your wrists on the way down. That's what J.B. does. Take a look at this sequence of J.B. swing positions taken from the video -- I've added white lines to show the clubshaft and his arm:

J.B. in 4 positions

Matt Killen's talk about the hands leading the club into the hitting area also refers to my Secret Move and the wrist cock; most weekend players lose their wrist cock before they get to the ball, hence his explanation that you need to "exaggerate through the hitting area" and "feel like the hands are way ahead." He and Carl are saying the same things here, except they're focusing on different positions in the swing to get there.

I'll be honest, I wasn't ready for just how much this matched what Carl said. See, Carl said you get over 10% of your power from your elbows (it's in point #1) and I didn't realize J.B. was bending his elbow so much until I started drawing the lines. If you just connect his hand to his shoulder with a straight line, it looks like J.B. has cocked his wrists. Some of J.B.'s extra power comes from his bent elbows! As he straightens his elbows on the way down, it cocks his wrists -- you can see that happening between the first and 2nd positions in the sequence.

And you can see that "power triangle" Carl talked about in the 3rd and 4th positions as J.B. prepares to hit the ball. Killen demonstrates that position repeatedly during his explanations. Again, the two teachers teach the same thing -- same positions, just with different wordings.

Now, not even Carl teaches this exactly the way J.B. does it -- Carl would have him cock his wrists at the top. But as J.B. says, he's been swinging this way since he was very young. Bending his elbows and keeping his wrists straight are exactly the way a small child would have to do to swing a club that felt heavy to him. Give Matt Killen kudos for not trying to change it in an effort to "improve" his swing.

However, J.B. doesn't try to keep his elbows parallel to the ground throughout his swing -- his tilt is pretty noticeable in the 3rd and 4th positions above. The irony is that this doesn't contradict what Carl said at all. If you go back and check Carl's video, you'll find that he says that tilting that way results in a fade or slice... and J.B. says he is trying to do exactly that, to "eliminate the left side of the course." In fact, if you watch J.B.'s swing from behind, you'll see that his left arm is quite far from his chest -- which makes it much harder to draw the ball -- while Carl is trying to get his student to keep both arms close to his chest. J.B. is making these "mistakes" on purpose, to get the result that Carl says it will give... a guaranteed fade. Again, no contradiction -- just a difference in purpose.

Which just leaves points 2 and 4. Killen and Holmes both make a big deal about starting the downswing with the legs, while Carl says the upper body starts the downswing. They can't both be right, can they?

If you speed ahead to around the 1:40 mark J.B. says "From this position [that is, the top of the backswing] I just pull down, basically" and he moves his hands down in front of his right leg, the same position Carl referred to as "the bus" in his explanation of point #4. He then says that from there he just turns his chest. And in none of these demonstration moves does he make a big hip turn. In fact, if you look at the slo-mo footage I took the position photos from, you'll see that his "hip drive" looks more like a squat to square up his hips. There is no "hard" driving by his legs; starting the downswing with his legs simply means returning them to his setup position or slightly more open.

Around the 1:12 mark Matt Killen says J.B. has to rotate his chest to get his hands to stay ahead of the ball at contact, and at the 2:25 mark he makes it clear that J.B. "starts with his lower body and then rotates his chest."

While Carl says the shoulders start the swing, if you watched the second video I referenced in yesterday's post, Carl says the first thing that happens in the downswing is that you "open your left side." He says this is an opening of the left shoulder -- returning it to its setup position -- but the video clearly shows the left hip also returning to its setup position! These two teachers are describing essentially the same motion with different emphases.

I've been a big proponent of simply feeling that your hips and shoulders start at the same time because I know that physics require things to happen in a certain sequence. Killen is describing the actual sequence of events as they happen -- he calls it the "kinematic sequence" -- while Carl doesn't want you to try to drive your hips hard from the top of the swing because you'll tend to lean backward and tilt your shoulders -- which he wants to avoid (point #5) -- so he focuses on the shoulder movement.

Apparently Matt Killen and Carl Rabito aren't too far apart at all, despite how different their teachings sound. So what useful tips can we draw from their apparently contradictory explanations of how a powerful swing should work?
  1. Starting your downswing with your hips doesn't necessarily mean driving your hips hard (which can cause back problems). Rather, simply returning them to their setup position can be enough.
  2. Rather than focusing on what you do with your hands and wrists (the cocking motion), focus on getting your arms and chest to turn together. If your forearms are relaxed, your wrists should cock naturally -- whether that's at the top of the swing or on the way down.
  3. Once your chest and arm "triangle" gets your hands down near your back leg, that's the time to start driving your legs. Now your chest and legs will work together without straining your back as much.
Personally, although he gets a lot of wrist cock down into the hitting area by cocking his wrists on the downswing, I think the real key to J.B.'s power here is that late drive with his legs after his hands reach his thigh. It's like a second-stage booster rocket kicking in when he's in a powerful position to use it... and it's a technique that should adapt well to almost any kind of swing. If you decide to experiment with it (that late leg drive), I'd really like to know if it helps increase your distance.

And hopefully you've learned a little about comparing the actual moves a teacher describes with the words he uses to describe it. When teachers appear to contradict each other, a picture (or video) really can be worth a thousand words.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Creating Power, Part 1: Carl Rabito

There are so many things I want to talk about on this blog. For example, Jonny Barber sent me an email about some new stuff he read concerning shot shapes that seemed to contradict some of what I wrote about full shots back in April but not what I wrote about putting. I haven't forgotten it, Jonny, but I don't know how many posts it will take yet... so I'm saving it for December, when we don't have as much golf going on.

Contradictory (or at least apparently contradictory) teaching is part of the reason golf seems so hard. We hear this teacher say one thing, that teacher says something else, and yet another teacher disagrees with them both -- it's no wonder we struggle! I like looking at these apparent contradictions and finding the common ground; it often clears up otherwise confusing problems.

Well, earlier this week Golf Channel rebroadcast a "Playing Lessons with the Pros" that focused on J.B. Holmes, one of the Tour's longest hitters... and also a guy who seems to break all the rules for getting that distance. I went looking on YouTube and found somebody had posted that part... and quite by accident discovered some instructional video by the pro who taught me, Carl Rabito. It seemed a perfect way to show just how differently two pros can describe the same action, and how understanding what's actually happening can help you make sense of apparent contradictions.

Like most teachers these days, Carl is spokesman for an instructional aid -- the Perfect Connextion, which is basically a bar that connects your upper arms just above the elbow -- and he did some instructional videos for it. The ones I've seen aren't pitches per se, they just use the device to demonstrate the lessons he's teaching. You can find 14 free lessons from Carl at this site, but I'm going to focus on one I found posted at YouTube today and another from the free site. We'll pull out a few teachings, then tomorrow we'll compare them to what J.B. and his teacher said on TV.

Ok, here's the first video:

Carl says that 76% of your speed comes from your wrist cock and another 11% comes from your elbow movement. That's nearly 7/8 of your speed! Your body creates the rest, which Carl refers to as "force" or "power," and he says the idea is to get this force, along with the speed from the hands and arms, to release at the same moment -- when we hit the ball.

Then he says the majority of your range of motion comes from your spine and upper body. That doesn't mean that your legs and lower body don't move, only that your upper body moves waaaaay more than the lower body does. The way he says it may sound unusual, but most of us are used to the idea that we want a big shoulder turn and much less hip turn; Carl is saying the same thing.

Finally, Carl labels the blending of your wrist, arm, and body movement, with the intention of releasing all of its created speed and power at one time, as "the power triangle." To put this in terms I've used before in this blog, the power triangle is how you "keep your arms in front of you" and basically just return to your setup position when you hit the ball; that way the ball goes where you aimed it with all the clubhead speed you can deliver.

For the other video you'll have to go to that free website I gave you earlier and click on "Lesson 7: Starting the Downswing with the Hips." (You'll need to click on the words "Lesson 7" because the title is just text. You can start and stop the video, but if you want to restart it you'll have to click on "Lesson 7" again.) There's one main point we're interested in, but first there's a couple of odd-looking things that I want to explain so you don't get sidetracked from the lesson.

Carl is teaching a backswing position that looks really awkward, where his student Mike (no relation) is really bent over. This looked strange even to me, and I learned from him! But I think the reason it looks so weird is because Carl teaches a "squat" setup position, which causes you to lean a bit more on the backswing; Mike is probably less flexible than some players, plus he's demonstrating that Perfect Connextion device. You'll note that Carl's position is much less extreme than Mike's. Personally I don't use the squat setup anymore because I find it a bit too constricting as I get older. Now back to the video...

The main thing I want you to pick up from this video is Carl's atypical statement that you don't start the downswing with your hips. Please note that he doesn't say your hips don't move early in the swing, only that you don't drive them to start the swing. That's an important distinction. I really like the analogy: Your fingers are the people and your back leg is the bus. Take the people to the bus, then the bus takes them home. Carl is saying that you turn your shoulders back to your setup position, which pulls your arms and hands down to your leg, and then you drive your legs.

Carl also says you don't want to try and hold your wrist cock on the way down, or keep your head back behind the ball on the way down, or consciously swing your front hip around, because all of these will make your back shoulder drop and cause you to mis-hit the ball. To hit the ball solidly, he says you want to keep your elbows parallel to the ground throughout the swing.

Yeah, I know -- Carl says keep the bar parallel. But the bar is attached to your upper arms, so your elbows will determine whether it's level or not -- even if your shoulders tilt. Just clasp your hands and hold both arms straight out in front of you, then bend one elbow and let the other arm move to that side so your hands stay at the same height. I don't care where you clipped that bar on your upper arm, it ain't parallel to the ground now! Carl's student Mike has both of his elbows bent all the time, so he has to move in the way Carl shows with both of his shoulders pretty level.

But if you're keeping one arm straight (as most players do), your shoulders can be tilted a little downward at the top of the backswing -- which Carl says in another video is bad -- and a line between your elbows would still be level. I point this out because this is the kind of thing that confuses us when we listen to differing teachers. Carl assumes a backswing with the elbows bent, where many teachers assume one elbow is straight. (I dare you to find a straight arm at the top of the backswing in these video lessons!) Focus on the elbow position, and Carl is teaching the same thing as other teachers.

Anyway, here's the five points we want to compare when we look at J.B.'s swing:
  1. 76% of your speed comes from your wrist cock and another 11% comes from your elbow movement.
  2. The majority of your range of motion comes from your spine and upper body.
  3. The power triangle is how you "keep your arms in front of you" and basically just return to your setup position when you hit the ball.
  4. To make your downswing, you turn your shoulders back to your setup position, which pulls your arms and hands down to your back leg, and then you drive your legs.
  5. To hit the ball solidly, you want to keep your elbows parallel to the ground throughout the swing.
Tomorrow we'll see how slugger J.B. Holmes compares to these points.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Rolex World Rankings Get Interesting

Well, it looks like I don't have much time -- we've got severe weather right on top of us and I'm going to have to shut down the system here. I just thought I'd note something interesting that's happening with the ladies right now.

In fact, it's not too much different from what the men saw last month.

Photo of Suzann Pettersen from LPGA.comAt Lorena's tournament this past weekend Suzann Pettersen got her sixth 2nd-place finish of the year... and leapfrogged all the way up to #2 on the Rolex World Rankings. She's about half a point behind leader Jiyai Shin and three-tenths of a point ahead of #3 Cristie Kerr.

As I said, this isn't too much different from the Lee Westwood story... except Lee had a win in 2010. Suzann doesn't. And I don't mean she hasn't won on the LPGA Tour -- Suzann hasn't won anywhere in the world in 2010. Her last win was last November at the Ladies Irish Open on the LET; her last LPGA win was the CN Canadian Women's Open in September 2009.

How consistent do you have to play to move up the rankings like that? It's not like the women have been playing badly -- it's been just the opposite, as you know if you've been following this blog, Mostly Harmless, and Hound Dog LPGA, just to name a few. And this despite battling a chronic hip problem!

I mention this because Suzann isn't eligible for most of the LPGA awards this year... she doesn't have enough rounds. But wouldn't it be funny if she managed to snag #1 in the world without getting any of the other accolades?

Just thought it was worth mentioning and worth watching over the next month as the LPGA year comes to a close... and as I close down my system to avoid the storms. (Although I don't think that will affect her rankings.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Smooth Swing of Adam Scott

If you ever needed proof that confidence makes a difference in your game, you need look no further than Adam Scott. Scott had all but disappeared from competition, even though he kept showing up at tournaments, until earlier this year. With his second win in 6 months, his confidence is back... and so is his game. Remember that -- keep your head straight if you want to play good golf, folks.

I think it's fair to make comparisons between Adam, Tiger -- who never had a swing this smooth and has never hit as many fairways as Scott -- and Steve Stricker, although Stricker rebuilt his swing to resurrect his game (and Tiger is on the same path). Adam never lost that sweet swing, even when he struggled, although it's not quite as good as Stricker's.

Nevertheless, let's check out the smooth motion that cruised to victory in Singapore this past weekend. First, here's a face-on view from taken back in June:

You can see the main difference between Scott, Woods, and Stricker here, and it has to do with head and shoulder movement. Woods and Stricker are the extremes, if you will -- Tiger's head and shoulders dip to start his downswing and Stricker stays rock steady throughout. Scott is in the middle; he dips his head like Tiger but -- and this is important -- Adam's head and shoulders don't dip until he is well down into his downswing. In this video, the movement becomes noticeable around the :16 mark, when his left arm is parallel to the ground. There's a little sideways movement toward the target as he starts down, and he moves back away from the target as he hits the ball, which should be expected. Here's a basic physical principle that happens in everybody's golf swing:
Any movement you make during your golf swing will create an equal and opposite movement to balance itself. If the movement is small, it will create a small opposite movement; if it's large, you'll look like a beached whale flopping around.
Well, maybe not but it'll be a big movement. I looked for some footage of Tiger from the JBWere this weekend and couldn't find any, but this is why Tiger is struggling so much. Tiger talks like this is a major swing rebuild while Foley says he's just tightening Tiger's swing; both are right. If you watched any of the JBWere, you would have noticed that Tiger's swing has a lot less movement, more like Stricker's. It feels like a rebuild to him because he's having to learn not to make about three different movements -- up-and-down, side-to-side, and keeping his heel flat on the ground longer in the downswing -- but Foley is really just taming some excess movement. I'll post some footage if I find it and show you.

But I digress...

Because Adam starts that downward move much later in the swing, he doesn't make such a big opposite move and it happens later in his swing, after the ball is gone. As a result he's a more accurate driver than Tiger (though not as good as Stricker, who doesn't have this excess movement at all).

For the most part, the rest of the commentary about Adam's swing could be a description of a Stricker swing -- arms and shoulders in sync (that's the one-piece takeaway I keep talking about, which is a result of coiling early in the swing rather than later) and he makes a deadhand swing (when the commentator says his hands and arms stop and start together, that's how a deadhand swing looks). You can see that he doesn't sway off the ball on the way back, so he doesn't move forward much on his downswing (that helps his accuracy as well; since his hips don't slide forward a lot, he's less likely to get tilted and have to flip his wrists to save the shot).

Also, Adam has a late wrist cock -- later than many players -- which is part of the reason he's about 10 yards longer than Stricker despite using the same deadhand swing that Stricker uses. (And before you ask -- yes, Tiger has a "later" wrist cock than Adam, which helps him hit it longer than Adam. If you guys are interested in why that happens, let me know and I'll do a post comparing pictures of the three at various points in their swings.)

Here's another clip -- also from June -- showing a down-the-line shot of a drive:

Again, you can see that Adam's swing is much more like Stricker's than Tiger's -- in fact, if not for the head and shoulder dip, Stricker and Scott's technique would look nearly identical from this angle.

So there you have it. Scott drives better than Woods because his technique is closer to Stricker's... but he's not as good as Stricker because he has that excess bobbing motion. That makes him more prone to timing problems than Stricker... and timing problems happen more often when you lose your confidence.

The moral of the story? Keep your swing simple and your mind clear... and a trip to Singapore (where Adam now has 3 wins) might not hurt either. Just don't take Kate Hudson with you; she seems to be a distraction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic

Winner: Robert Garrigus

Around the greater world of golf: We had a lot of golf this weekend! Stuart Appleby nailed his 2nd win of the year at the JBWere Masters on the Australasian Tour (Tiger finished in solo 4th after shooting -6 on the last 6 holes); Laura Davies won the Hero Honda Women's Indian Open on the LET; In-Kyung Kim demonstrated the "scorched earth" approach to golf, posting a -8 final round to win the Lorena Ochoa Invitational (Suzann Pettersen had her sixth 2nd of the year, but she will jump from #5 to #2 on the Rolex World Rankings); Ryo Ishikawa won the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Tour; Miki Saiki won the Ito-En Ladies on the JLPGA; and Adam Scott continued his "return to form" with his 2nd win this year, the rain-delayed Barclays Singapore Open on the ET in a Monday finish.

Mickey presentss Robert Garrigus the Children's Miracle Network Classic trophy
Photo courtesy of

It was only June when we last saw Robert Garrigus, struggling down the stretch at the St. Jude Classic. He led by three but thought he was only two ahead, made some poor decisions, and tripled the 18th. It put him into a playoff that Lee Westwood won, thus blowing a chance to win his first tournament. Folks wondered how poor Robert would ever recover.

But Garrigus has seen his share of problems. Seven years ago his life was going nowhere due to an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He went to Calvary Ranch, a Christian-based rehabilitation facility in San Diego, and kicked his habits. You could say Cinderella found the biggest glass slipper of his life that day; it completely changed his future and gave him the chance to become a better person. He kept it all in perspective, focusing instead on what he had -- like a great family -- and not the tournament he lost. In addition, his friends on Tour all took time to help him deal with the loss. I laughed at what he says Kenny Perry told him: "Hey, I lost a Masters. It's no big deal."

Well, on Sunday Cinderella found the second biggest glass slipper of his life. Five strokes behind leader Roland Thatcher at the start of the day, Garrigus used his Tour-leading driving distance to not only catch Thatcher but win by three strokes.

I won't go into detail about the breakdowns that happened to other players along the way. Few of the leaders were guaranteed a Tour card when the day started, and the pressure simply took its toll. It wasn't enough to just beat par Sunday; players needed rounds in the mid-60s just to keep pace. (Garrigus shot an 8-under 64 -- the best of the day and absolutely amazing under the circumstances.)

Don't cry too much for Thatcher. His 2nd-place finish did secure his Tour card for next year.

Also saving his Tour card was Troy Merritt -- on the number. But after his draining -5 round barely squeaked by, good ol' number 125 had to go right back out into a playoff on the 17th hole -- the Kodak Challenge hole. Seems Merritt, Ricky Fowler, and Aaron Baddeley were all tied after the season-long race for $1,000,000 at -17. The playoff lasted one hole, as Merritt stuck his approach to 15 inches and tapped in for birdie. Not a bad day, huh?

But today's limerick belongs to Robert Garrigus. I guess you could say his golf game finally caught up to the rest of his life -- he's in the win column now:
His failures once made Robert Garrigus
So sick he turned green as asparagus.
But now his advisers
Have made him much wiser;
He’ll share if you ask—he’s not garrulous.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not-So-Happy Endings at the Magic Kingdom

Well, today is the day. The PGA winds up its official season and a lot of players will go home without their card for next year. In addition, everybody is talking about whether we'll ever see Tiger play well again (or Phil, for that matter) and how that will change the Tour in 2011.

The fact is, the Tour is changing in a big way and nobody seems to be paying any attention. It's not just the big names that are struggling, but the former big(gish) names that we're all used to seeing.

It's easy to overlook this change, because we see quite a few of those bigger names continue to play without really thinking about why they can play. Even Golf Channel forgets; earlier in the week they talked about Davis Love's win at Disney back in 2008 and how it was nice if not a big deal for him... but it WAS a big deal. Here's a quick explanation from the "List of golfers with most PGA Tour wins" entry at Wikipedia:
Accumulating 20 wins is significant, because it is one of the requirements for "lifetime membership" on the PGA Tour. This means that the golfer does not need to requalify for membership on the tour each year by finishing in the top 125 on the money list, or through an exemption for tournament victories. Many golfers struggle to do this through their forties, and go through a hiatus in their career before they qualify for the Champions Tour, but those with 20 wins avoid this problem. However, lifetime members are required to maintain a certain (relatively modest) standard of play to retain their playing privileges: when they can no longer do so, they are moved into the "Past champions" membership category, effectively becoming honorary members.
That Disney win was DL3's 20th. Because he won it, we'll continue to see Davis play at a number of events for as long as he wants... and his name is one that many fans tune in to follow. Others won't be so lucky. Let me give you the list of "under-50s" with 20 wins according to that Wikipedia article:
  • Tiger Woods
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Vijay Singh
  • Davis Love III
In the immortal words of Porky Pig, that's all, folks. Ernie Els is two back, Jim Furyk is four back, and nobody else is closer than 13 wins. A lot of names you're used to seeing are falling away... names like Chris DiMarco, John Daly, Rich Beem, and Brad Faxon are all outside 150 on the money list, which means they have no status on Tour. We've been losing more and more of these players over the past few years... and the loss of these "lesser" names also affects the Tour.

I don't expect you to sit down and have a good cry about it. It's the way things work, after all, and the Tour (all the tours, really) are about "what have you done for me lately" and all those other cliches we throw around. But I think we should remember that "the Tour" is not just about the big names, but also about the less-famous players they build their reputations playing against. Many of these will be missed, and some fans will lament that "the Tour isn't what it used to be" without ever realizing why they feel that way.

In the grander scheme of things, life will go on. Many of the players who lose their cards today will just trot over to "the tour formerly known as the Nationwide" and work the kinks out of their games, while the new graduates from that tour and the upcoming Q-School will take their shot at becoming the next big name. Some of those who didn't qualify will bide their time waiting for the Champions Tour, and others will pick up a mic or a briefcase and move on. But the 2011 season will be substantially different from the 2010 season... and it won't be just because of Tiger and Phil.

All I want is for us to remember that our sport isn't only about a few big names. For lack of a better analogy, for every Justin Timberlake who survives leaving the boyband that made him a household name, dozens of other singers just say "bye, bye, bye..."

After the bloodletting is done at Disney today, take a moment to remember all those other players before they're gone for good. They helped make the Tour what it is, even if they never won a single tournament.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Scott & Poulter Roar in the Lion City

In the melee that is golf this week, we have Tiger's attempt to defend his title at the JBWere Masters in Australia (SPOILER ALERT: probably ain't gonna happen), the struggle for Tour cards and the $1M Kodak Challenge final at the Children's Miracle Network Classic down at Disneyworld, and the LPGA's battle for end-of-year awards at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico. All of them are turning out to be really good tournaments.

But somewhere along the line the Barclays Singapore Open seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Floating in a time zone between Australia and Florida, members of the European Tour are battling in the Race to Dubai which finishes in two weeks.

Oh yeah, that Mickelson guy is there too. He's T18 (-6) on the 9th hole of his third round as I'm writing this, which is certainly an encouraging sign that he's starting to get his game back in shape... but he's not the story in Singapore.

Graeme McDowell, 2nd in the Race, is trying to run down leader Martin Kaymer. McDowell is in 3rd at -10, 2 shots out of the lead, and Kaymer is T12 at -7. But that's not the story in Singapore either.

No, the real story is two guys who have been relatively quiet this year, Adam Scott and Ian Poulter. Yeah, both won early on (Poulter won the WGC Accenture Match Play, remember? And Scott won the Valero Texas Open) but neither has set the world on fire since.

Until this week, that is. Scott leads the Singapore Open after two 65s (he's even after 3 holes in his third round), and Poulter's 1 back after opening rounds of 66-67 and he's two-under after four holes in his third round. These two have been dropping putts from everywhere -- if you didn't see GC's highlights of the 2nd round, you may have missed Poulter's bomb to end his round. GC put a clock on it -- it took 11 seconds just to get to the hole!

Look, I know you can't write a lot into one tournament. But given that Scott has shown signs of getting his game back this year, and Poulter is just plain fun to watch (and listen to), I think this bodes well for their 2011 seasons. Poults will be playing at the Chevron World Challenge the week after Dubai World Championship, and both he and Scott will be at Kapalua, so they won't have a lot of downtime to lose their games before the new season.

If you haven't watched any of the Singapore tournament, try to catch some of the rebroadcasts today or tomorrow. This is one of those "big purse" tournaments, so there's a lot of big players there...

And now Poults and Scott are tied at -13 after four holes, 3 shots clear of the field. (A Scott birdie and a Poulter eagle. There was an error in the online scoreboard earlier -- Poulter was three-under after four, not two.)

Maybe the "Lion City" will give us a new King of the Jungle, eh? (Hey, it's late and I ain't Conan O'Brien. Live with it... ;-)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cristie Kerr Found Ben Crane's Snake Shaker

"And if you have something bottled up inside you, go straight to the Snake Shaker..." Or so counseled Ben Crane in his "training video" from several weeks ago.

Photo of Cristie Kerr from LPGA.comI guess Cristie Kerr took it to heart and got herself one. That bottled-up scoring she's been struggling to get out showed up at the Ochoa Invitational Thursday as she set a new course record -8 (64), one shot better than the previous record. She had 9 birdies -- 6 of them in a seven-hole stretch -- and 1 bogey, which came at the long and difficult par-3 17th. (There was only one birdie there today -- by Ai Miyazato -- but I'll come back to that.) Her playing partner, Juli Inkster, was mic'ed up and made perhaps the best observation of the day: "So that's why you look so fresh. You don't do any work." Yes, Cristie made it look pretty easy.

Lorena had remarked that she expected this week to be easier than it has turned out to be. She was even par going to the par-5 18th, which she doubled. In fact, she doubled two of her holes Thursday and that's what left her at +2. Over half the field is under par, so that doesn't bode well for Lorena's chances this week.

The big news was Michelle Wie's withdrawal after the first round. When I first turned on the tournament (but before hearing any coverage) I saw Michelle tee off with either a driver or 3-wood and immediately did a double-take. Using a clock face is the best way to describe this: Michelle's hands generally get all the way up to 12 o'clock, but she only went to about 10:30. Shortly I heard she was having back problems... and the swings got worse. The fact that she finished the round at all is amazing to me; she shot +6 and withdrew. I'm sure she wanted to defend her title (this was her first-ever title defense) but it just wasn't to be.

Back to Kerr... She's 3 ahead of Stacy Lewis, who posted a nice -5 earlier in the day, and 4 ahead of Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, Katherine Hull, and Paula Creamer. Choi had 5 birdies in her first 6 holes, and got to -6 before stumbling on the way in; I'm chalking it up to jet lag after the Mizuno Classic in Japan last week. Miyazato probably had jet lag too, but played so badly last week that there was only one way left to go. She had 8 birdies, 2 bogeys, and a double. One of them was that birdie at the 17th, which I think was playing 231 yards and the pin was tucked in the back left -- Ai struck a gorgeous 3-wood that ended up pin-high where most players didn't even try to go. Hull and Creamer had fairly standard rounds, with 5 and 6 birdies respectively.

The biggest shock was probably Yani Tseng, who shot +4 and ended up ahead of only Carling Coffing (playing on her Big Break exemption) and Brittany Lincicome. In some ways I'm not really surprised; it seems to be feast or famine for Yani this year, although with 2 majors I doubt she'll complain! However, this does bring several players back into the POY race. As things stand, with a win here Cristie Kerr will take the lead in this race, leaving Tseng (who's way out of the Top 10) 8 points back in 2nd place. For those of you curious about such things, here are how POY points are awarded for Top 10 finishes:
  1. 30 points
  2. 12 points
  3. 9 points
  4. 7 points
  5. 6 points
  6. 5 points
  7. 4 points
  8. 3 points
  9. 2 points
  10. 1 point
As you can see, Tseng would need 3rd or better and for Kerr to finish out of the Top 10 in the Tour Championship if Kerr wins this week and Tseng misses the Top 10.

Golf Channel mentioned how important the points races were to Kerr (and the others) in terms of the Hall of Fame. There are three -- the scoring title, Player of the Year (POY), and the money title. Since Hall of Fame membership requires 27 points, and you get one point for a win and two for a major, you can see that these three races are worth 2-3 extra wins each year.

In the money race currently led by Na Yeon Choi, I don't see much chance of anyone catching her except Jiyai Shin... assuming Choi doesn't place too high this week. (As I said, she's T3 after the first day.) Tseng is playing herself out of contention -- this tournament paid $220,000 last year, and Tseng is nearly $230.000 behind entering this week. Kerr, Pettersen, and Miyazato have outside chances of catching Choi if they win both this week and at the Tour Championship, as they are roughly $330,000 to $380,000 behind. (The Tour Championship paid $225,000 last year.)

Hound Dog had an interesting take on the race for the scoring award. Neither Suzann Pettersen nor Yani Tseng will have enough rounds to qualify for the award (you need 70) but both will have played 19 of the 24 tournaments and missed no cuts. He thinks this is a flaw in the system when you already have a limited number of tournaments; for what it's worth, I agree. A large number of LPGA tournaments are only 3 rounds... but the real killer here seems to have come from 2 sources:
  • For Suzann it was the Sybase Match Play. Cristie's T5 finish counts as 4 rounds, while Suzann's T33 counts as only 1 round.
  • For Yani, it was a missed cut at the CN Canadian Women's Open. She missed a single cut all season, and that's enough to kill her chances.
And though he didn't mention it, Jiyai Shin only has 58 rounds played; she's not playing this week, so she'll only have 62 rounds after the Tour Championship. Hound Dog's right -- the LPGA definitely needs to take a closer look at this. When 3 of your stars play nearly 4 out of every 5 events and still can't qualify for an award just because they had one bad week, you've got a problem.

But the big question right now is whether Kerr can keep that snake shaking. Remember the 12-stroke Kerr blowout at the LPGA Championship earlier this year? I suspect the rest of the field may be starting to shake a bit themselves...

If she shows up in a helmet, we're in trouble!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Craig Parry vs. Kevin Stadler

This is a very quick swing lesson in honor of the JBWere Masters. This is one of the few times we get to watch Craig Parry anymore; although Craig said he was tired of traveling, I can't help but wonder if Johnny Miller isn't at least partially responsible for his decision to not to play the PGA Tour anymore. Of course, everybody remembers this infamous moment in golf broadcast history:

"If Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke." Miller rightfully took a lot of criticism for that; I wanted to point out to Johnny that Craig was still competitive with his swing. (High-hat shot, thank you very much.) But in this post I want to take issue with his description of Parry's swing as "over-the-top." To be blunt, you can't hit the ball "unbelievably good" (Miller's words) if your swing is really over-the-top. Parry does have an outside-to-in swing, but that isn't the kiss of death.

Unfortunately, YouTube has very little footage of Parry's swing, so we'll have to make do here. I thought a good comparison would be Craig Stadler's, since their builds are similar and Stadler also played with an outside-to-in swing. (And won a Masters and 2 Champions Tour majors with it, I might add.) Alas, I found no useful footage of Stadler's swing. What I did find was a decent clip of his son Kevin, who swings much like his dad did.

What I want to do is show you 2 different outside-to-in swings that work. Since I went into considerable detail about the differences between an outside-to-in (O2I) swing and an over-the-top (OTT) swing when I first tried to help Dexter fix his OTT move, I won't rehash that here. You can find links to that series on the "Some Useful Post Series" page.

First, here's some footage of Craig Parry. It shows the swing over and over maybe a dozen times, but the repetitions begin to slow down so you get a few looks at his swing in a decent slo-mo. It'a only a down-the-line look, but that's all we need:

Because Parry's fairly stout, he doesn't turn his shoulders quite as well as a slightly-built person. That's not a problem, folks -- don't think I'm saying it is. But it does mean he won't get quite as big a shoulder turn and that's why his swing is slightly O2I. And I do mean "slightly" -- if you place your mouse pointer up where his hands come up over his shoulder, you'll see he comes down slightly to the right of that spot. His downswing plane is therefore higher than his backswing plane, which is what an O2I swing is.

Please note that Parry makes a pretty good one-piece takeaway. His arms stay reasonably straight until he's halfway back on his takeaway, so his hands don't get in a position where they have to go straight up on the backswing. That is what makes a swing go OTT, and it forces them to loop up and over to start the downswing. Craig's hands go up on plane, pause long enough for him to change direction, then start down -- no OTT move.

Why does this happen? There are 2 reasons. One, his hands simply couldn't get as far behind him because he can't turn quite as much. (It's a good turn, just not as much as other players.) Second, he goes down after the ball which causes him to lean slightly forward, and that movement carries his hands a bit forward before they start down. If you know what to look for, you can even see it in the regular-speed video with Miller's comment.

But ignore Johnny Miller. This is a good solid swing that's been used by some good players like Craig Stadler (with 29 wins) and Bruce Lietzke (with 22 wins, 1 senior major). Your natural shot will be a slight fade, but a vast number of good players prefer that shot anyway. I should mention that Lietzke chose to use this shot even though he wasn't as stout as most of the players who use this swing; it's just that stout players often find this swing suits them perfectly.

Now let's take a quick look at Kevin Stadler. Fortunately this one has a Peter Kostis commentary that hits the high points of this swing; I'll just focus on what Kevin does different from Craig Parry:

A quick note about the toe of Kevin's club pointing straight down at the top of his swing: Kevin is trying to hit the ball with an open clubface, so he cups his wrist (bends it backward at the top of the swing) and this position helps him do it. Craig also cups his wrist; replay the Miller video and you'll hear him mention it. Unless you're trying to hit a fade, you'll be more consistent with either a flat or cupped wrist. (Steve Stricker uses a flat wrist; Dustin Johnson cups it big time.)

Place your mouse pointer on Kevin's hands as they go over his shoulder and you'll see that his hands travel O2I like Craig's. However -- and this is interesting -- he reroutes his club so it actually travels on a fairly standard path to the ball! This "rerouting" is also called "laying off the club" -- if you watch the clubhead, you'll see it drop straight down behind his head on the backswing, but it comes out sideways to point more behind him on the downswing. What this means is that his hands come down above the backswing plane while his clubhead comes down under it. It can be a bit tricky to do consistently; that's why Kevin and other players who use this move (like Sergio) become a little erratic at times. Craig's way is a bit simpler. (Just for the record, Kevin and Craig are both a little slack in their short games, and that causes more scoring problems for them than their swings.)

My point is this: An O2I swing is a perfectly good swing as long as it's natural to you. If you're stout -- and I'm not using that as a euphemism for "fat," because I know too many people who are broad-shouldered and even bulky who aren't fat -- if you're stout, it makes it difficult for you to get that big turn most teachers say you have to make in order to play well. It's simply not true; you have a lot of strength that many smaller players don't have; an O2I swing can let you use it. (Just for the record, Parry averaged around 275 off the tee when he played a lot, and Kevin's averaging 290 this year.) You may be able to make a bigger swing by using a closed stance, but an O2I swing isn't a problem.

And if Johnny Miller complains, just ask him how competitive his swing is lately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Francesco is Italian for "I Piped It Again"

You knew it was coming, didn't you? We're going to look at Francesco Molinari's swing -- not just because he won the WGC event in China last week but because, as I said in yesterday's post, he's one of the most consistent players on the European Tour. I quoted him as having 7 Top 5s in the last 12 months, but I didn't include his win in that total. (I didn't want to count the win twice in my points totals.)

Francesco is considered a real machine with his irons -- we all got to see that firsthand last week -- but what I want to do today is see if we can figure out why he's so good. Bear in mind that Steve Stricker and Luke Donald are both ahead of him in the OWGR, and Ben Crane is behind him. (This week Stricker is #5, Donald #8, Molinari #14, and Crane #35; however, in point averages, they are about equally spaced.) But when you look at Top 5s -- and this time I'll include the wins -- Donald leads with 10, then Molinari with 8, Stricker with 4, and Crane with 3. Since I've already looked at the other three swings, it should be pretty easy to figure out if there's something different about Francesco's swing. Here are the links to those posts:
Just to level the playing field a bit here: Donald plays both tours regularly and his accuracy stats are 5-6 percentage points better on the ET than the PGA. Francesco's ET stats are actually better than Donald's ET stats. Both Crane and Stricker's PGA stats are better than Donald's PGA stats. Are you with me so far? If you adjust Francesco's stats for what they might be on the PGA (based on Donald's difference), both Crane and Stricker are better drivers but their GIR stats are nearly identical. Francesco's weakness is putting; Donald actually putts better on the PGA than the ET, so Francesco would be the worst putter of the four. This is what I think has held Francesco back, but his stats over the last five years show a steady improvement each year so I don't think it will hold him back much longer.

Ok, on to the swing. Let's start with a down-the-line shot from the PGA Championship this year:

This looks very much like the other three, but let's check overall movement. Look at his head and right foot on the downswing. You'll see that Francesco's head moves down quite a bit; only Crane moves down as much. However, his right foot stays on the ground about as long as Stricker, who is king in this category, and it stays down a little longer than Donald and waaaay more than Crane. (You'll remember that I pointed this out in the Crane post.) The downward movement of Francesco's head tends to help him hit down on the ball, which is part of why he hits his irons so well; while the solid anchor of that right foot helps keep him steady over the ball, improving the consistency of his hit.

Now let's check his swing from face-on. Here's a look at his driver swing during the US Open:

Francesco is a little different from the other three guys. He uses an "early cock," which means the club forms a 90-degree angle with his left arm when that arm reaches parallel to the ground in his backswing. Although it may keep him from being quite as long off the tee as he could be, he still hits it around 280 -- about the same distance as the other three. That's plenty long to play this game, even at the pro level, as long as you put the ball in play. And Francesco certainly does!

Although Francesco "goes down after the ball," his upper body isn't moving forward (toward his target) very much. If you place your mouse pointer on his left ear, you'll see that his head stays pretty much in that same position all the way through impact. Only Stricker is this steady; Donald moves back, forward, and slightly back again while Crane makes a huge move. (Again, I pointed that out in the Crane post.)

One last video -- this one shows both views during practice at the Ryder Cup:

This is an odd angle but if you place your mouse pointer over his ear, you'll see how steady he is with his swing. This is why Francesco Molinari held his own against Lee Westwood, the European "Mr. Consistency," in China last week. When you're this rock-solid with your swing, you're going to be a tough competitor.

Watch these videos and the Stricker videos a few times to make sure you understand the differences here. While both players are using the same basic techniques in their swings, their swings do not look alike. Francesco's swing uses much more body movement than Strick's, which may explain why Francesco is almost as long as Steve off the tee despite being 4 inches shorter -- but that body movement is controlled so it doesn't affect his ball-striking. Francesco hits the ball as solidly as anybody on either tour.

Man, if he just improves his putting a wee bit... look out, world!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: November 2010

This is my second attempt at ranking the players I think are currently performing the best. This month I'm working on a ranking system that's a bit more scientific than last month.

A quick reminder of the original criteria I used in October's rankings:
I focus on the last 12 months of play -- that's long enough to see some consistency but short enough to be current. Every player in the RGWR won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. I think if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC, and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
This year, the Ryder Cup gives you extra credit if you did something special there. Most Americans are Top 10 on the Tour money list; most foreign players are Top 10 in the ET's equivalent, the Race to Dubai. I also put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness.
This month I've actually tried to quantify those wins by assigning points. The list looks like this:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC: 8 points
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
Majors are worth about 3 times as much as a regular win. The TPC has the quality of field but not the glamor of a major, and a slightly better field than a WGC. I decided Top 5s were almost as hard to get as wins, so I gave them a couple of points as well. You might be surprised to find that Luke Donald leads this stat with 9, while Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari each had 7; however, none of them made the rankings. (Donald was #9 last month. Assigning points changes things.)

And before you ask, I made the decision to consider Euro and PGA events on an equal footing; with so many Euro players in the Top 10 of the OWGR (and those players playing a lot over there), I just can't justify the "weaker fields" argument anymore. It's the Euros who are posting the most Top 5s... and they're not just against Euro fields.

I decided I'd better define a "prestige" event. In addition to the FedEx events, I looked at venue and purse. These may change as I get a better feel for this (especially the Euro events) but here are the current prestige events by course or name (some of these tournaments change names a lot):
  • US: Kapalua, Torrey Pines, Riviera, Pebble Beach, Bay Hill, Quail Hollow, Colonial, Aronimink, Canadian Open, and the Byron Nelson invitational.
  • Euro: Abu Dhabi, Celtic Manor, Valderrama, Dunhill Links, Scottish Open, Open de France, Omega Euro Masters, and BMW PGA Championship.
And since quite a few players aren't playing right now, I've had to put a bit more emphasis on the main season this time. So here are the Top 10 in the November RGWR (please forgive the funky formatting; I couldn't get the numbering correct otherwise:
  • 1. Martin Kaymer: 4 wins (1 major, 2 prestige, 1 regular) and 27 points. There really isn't anybody even close to this fine piece of German engineering right now.
  • 2. TIE:
    • Miguel Angel Jimenez: 3 wins (2 prestige, 1 regular) and 15 points. Only two players have 3 wins, but the Mechanic won 2 prestige events and matched Furyk in Top 5s, plus played well at the Ryder Cup.
    • Jim Furyk: 3 wins (1 prestige, 2 regular) and 11 points. Furyk does have the Chevron World Challenge from last December; although that's not an official win, it's an individual win (unlike the Ryder Cup).
  • 4. Graeme McDowell: 2 wins (1 major and 1 prestige) and 17 points. This was a close one; Oosthuizen has actually played more consistently than McDowell in stroke play events, but Graeme's prestige win and performance in the Ryder Cup put him over the top.
  • 5. Louis Oosthuizen: 2 wins (1 major, 1 regular) and 21 points. I had Louis tied for 10th last month because he hasn't done much since the Open. However, as I did with Westwood, I'm cutting him some slack for injuries apparently sustained from that tractor he bought with his winnings.
  • 6. Ernie Els: 2 wins (1 WGC, 1 prestige) and 18 points. Ernie also won the Grand Slam of Golf, although it was only 4 guys... but since 2 of them are ahead of him on this list, that should count for something.
  • 7. Dustin Johnson: 2 wins (2 prestige) and 14 points. Quite frankly I'd like to drop Dustin about 2 spots, but he had 2 high-profile wins and showed some serious character and resiliency.
  • 8. Lee Westwood: 2 wins (1 prestige, 1 regular) and 18 points. Last month I forgot that Lee won the Dubai World Championship in December. Add that to nabbing #1 in the OWGR, plus that great showing at the WGC this past weekend... I'd like to put him higher, but this time it's about numbers and this is the best I can give him.
  • 9. Edoardo Molinari: 2 wins (1 prestige, 1 regular) and 18 points. And that doesn't count his World Cup win with Francesco last December or making the Ryder Cup. And he has five Top 5s on top of it all! Just a great performance this year.
  • 10. TIE:
    • Justin Rose: 2 wins (2 prestige) and 14 points. Rose edges Stricker in quality of wins, but really didn't do much else this year.
    • Steve Stricker: 2 wins (1 prestige, 1 regular) and 14 points. He played much more consistently than Rose and had that great Ryder Cup... plus he won the Shark Shootout last December.
Not what I expected, and I'm not sure I care for this dependence on numbers, but I see some value in it. I may tinker with it for next month, but this is how it stands right now.

At least it's something to think about. Maybe numbers should only be one part of the equation. I definitely think we should keep our eyes on Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari, and Rory McIlroy over the next few months. Although they only had one win each (ok, Francesco had that World Cup with Edouardo, Rory finished T3 at the Open because of an 80, and all three were at the Ryder Cup where Luke went undefeated), they had some impressive point totals this year:
  • Luke Donald: 1 regular win, 21 points
  • Francesco Molinari: 1 WGC, 21 points
  • Rory McIlroy: 1 prestige win, 19 points
Look for these guys to start winning big over the next few months.