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

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year-End Review: Glass Half-Full

As my last post of the year, I wanted to take a look at the condition of the PGA Tour... yet to do so I really need to look at the game in general. Though some may argue the point, the PGA Tour is still the main tour in the world and its condition is viewed as representative of golf in general. I decided the easiest way to do this overview was simply to look at the OWGR, since most of the "gloom and doom" I've heard concerns the lack of American talent.

I simply compared the first OWGR rankings of 2010 with the last OWGR rankings of 2010. That's simple enough, don't you think?

Ironically, #21 Robert Allenby and #22 Zach Johnson are at the same positions they started the year, and with nearly the same point averages. So we can use them as a yardstick, so to speak, and focus on the Top 20 in the world. This is where most of the action has been.

The first table shows the "The Dependables." These are the guys who finished the year as they started -- in the Top 20. Names preceeded by ** were Top 10 starting the year, while * means they were Top 20.

# Jan 3, 2010 Dec 31, 2010
1 Tiger Woods ** Lee Westwood
2 Phil Mickelson ** Tiger Woods
3 Steve Stricker * Martin Kaymer
4 Lee Westwood ** Phil Mickelson
5 Jim Furyk ** Jim Furyk
6 Padraig Harrington Graeme McDowell
7 Henrik Stenson ** Steve Stricker
8 Paul Casey ** Paul Casey
9 Rory McIlroy Luke Donald
10 Kenny Perry ** Rory McIlroy
11 Ian Poulter * Ian Poulter
12 Sergio Garcia * Ernie Els
13 Martin Kaymer Matt Kuchar
14 Geoff Ogilvy Dustin Johnson
15 Sean O'Hair Francesco Molinari
16 Stewart Cink * Retief Goosen
17 Ernie Els Robert Karlsson
18 Ross Fisher Edoardo Molinari
19 Retief Goosen Hunter Mahan
20 Lucas Glover Louis Oosthuizen

This other table shows fallers and risers. Players marked with * in the January column fell out of the Top 20 this year; players marked in the December column rose into the Top 20.

# Jan 3, 2010 Dec 31, 2010
1 Tiger Woods Lee Westwood
2 Phil Mickelson Tiger Woods
3 Steve Stricker Martin Kaymer
4 Lee Westwood Phil Mickelson
5 Jim Furyk Jim Furyk
6 * Padraig Harrington * Graeme McDowell
7 * Henrik Stenson Steve Stricker
8 Paul Casey Paul Casey
9 Rory McIlroy * Luke Donald
10 * Kenny Perry Rory McIlroy
11 Ian Poulter Ian Poulter
12 * Sergio Garcia Ernie Els
13 Martin Kaymer * Matt Kuchar
14 * Geoff Ogilvy * Dustin Johnson
15 * Sean O'Hair * Francesco Molinari
16 * Stewart Cink Retief Goosen
17 Ernie Els * Robert Karlsson
18 * Ross Fisher * Edoardo Molinari
19 Retief Goosen * Hunter Mahan
20 * Lucas Glover * Louis Oosthuizen

If you look at the actual OWGR charts, you'll see that the positions don't tell the whole story. Sure, Tiger lost over 6.5 points, Phil lost nearly 1.5, and Stricker nearly .6, but almost everybody else's average went up considerably. Westwood's #1 at year-end is more than a full point higher than Phil's #2 at the start. Kaymer improved nearly 3 points, McDowell over 3.5 points. Furyk gained .75 points and Casey nearly .65 points, yet both merely held their position. McIlroy's average actually improved by nearly .8 points, yet he lost one position. Poulter gained a full point although his position didn't improve either.

Overall, the level of play around the world went up this year... and that includes the PGA Tour. Eleven of our Top 20 stayed the same, while 9 new members joined the club.

Did the Americans lose ground? No -- we had 7 in the Top 20 last year, and 7 this year. Granted, instead of 4 of the Top 5, we now have 4 of the Top 7, but #7 is .6 points ahead of where #5 was when the year started. Is that a "loss"? I'd say that's a matter of opinion. And the 3 noobs we gained -- Kuchar, Johnson, and Mahan -- were responsible for 5 wins (one a WGC), as well as the money and scoring titles.

Then add Phil's major, Stricker's 2 wins, and Furyk's 3 wins (plus the FedExCup trophy and Player of the Year) to the total. That's hardly a "poor showing" by the PGA Tour!

So I have to conclude that golf in general -- and the PGA Tour in particular -- is in great shape going into 2011. With Tiger apparently ready to make another run at #1, Westwood and the Euros ready to make him work for it, and the American players (along with the rest of the world's players) all set to make sure they aren't lost in the shuffle, I think we're all going to have a blast in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Quick Look at the Haig

One of the pros Bobby Jones is most often linked with was the great Walter Hagen, also known as "the Haig." He was one of the first touring golf professionals, and he did a lot to make the gig respectable. We know he won at least 52 tournaments -- 45 of them were PGA Tour events -- and he won 11 majors. Only the Masters escaped him... but since he turned pro in 1912 and only played the Masters once in 1936; I think we can let him slide on that!

Hagen won 2 US Opens, 4 Open Championships, and 5 PGA Championships. This last is particularly amazing because the PGA was a match play tournament back then; he won it in 1921, and then won 4 straight from 1924-1927. And according to Wikipedia, some golf historians debate whether he should be given credit for 16 majors, since the Western Open was considered an elite tournament on the level of the other Opens... and Hagen won the Western 5 times. His legend was well-earned!

I couldn't find much video on Hagen, but I found a couple of interesting bits that I thought you might be interested in. Hagen was renowned as a wild driver of the ball. Some people attribute a quote something like this to Bobby Jones, talking about Hagen:
Give me a man who hits his drive down the middle, his approach to the green, and two putts for par. That's a game I understand. But when a man is wild left with his drive, wild right with his approach, and chips in for birdie... that's a game I don't understand at all.
Nothing makes this point clearer than this brief piece of video showing a typical Hagen drive:

It looks pretty modern, doesn't it? It was, and it gave Hagen a lot of power. But it wasn't particularly accurate for one simple reason: Hagen is playing with hickory shafts! This swing is much better-suited to steel shafts. You rarely see such a wide stance used by any other players of his time, because it results in more of a hitting motion, not the swinging motion more common with hickory shafts. (A classic example is Jones himself.)

If you're determined to hit the ball hard, you could do a lot worse than copying Hagen. You'll note that he uses a setup similar to the Stack and Tilt swing; his weight is set slightly on his left side, so he stays down on the ball through impact. He uses a limited hip turn with a huge shoulder turn, and if you stop the video when his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, you'll see he has as much wrist cock as any modern pro coming into the hitting area. Finally, he ends up with his weight completely transferred to his left side -- there's no hanging back in Walter Hagen! He attacked the golf course... and did so very successfully.

Here's one of his iron shots. Note how much more restrained it is, compared to his drive:

Note that he uses a much narrower stance with his irons. However, if you can stop the video when his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, you'll be able to see just how much flex he gets in those hickory shafts. The part of the shaft near the grip points almost straight up... but the shaft is bent so much, the head of the club is behind his head! Imagine how many tournaments he could have won if he'd had steel shafts in those clubs...

Hagen is proof that nothing is really new when it comes to golf. The Haig was using a modern swing before modern equipment even existed! Consider this my last instructional thought for the year: Just because players played in a different time period and used different equipment, it doesn't mean you can't use some of the same techniques they did. This is especially true since graphite shafts came into vogue, because they often perform like hickory... only more consistent.

You can learn useful techniques from any player of any era. The Haig is one that many of you would do well to study.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year-End Review: Ryding High

The big talk of 2010 -- besides Tiger, that is -- was the "sudden rise" of the European players. And let's be honest, it was specifically the European players everybody was talking about -- not the Japanese or Korean players, though they certainly stepped up their games, nor the Australian players with Jason Day's coming-of-age and the return of Adam Scott.

But was the European invasion really all that sudden? I don't think so. What really happened is that the OWGR finally caught up to what's been happening for quite a while.

Here's the deal: The Euro Tour players have been consistently improving for several years. However, because the OWGR didn't award any great number of points for their tournaments -- supposedly the fields weren't strong enough! -- these players slowly inched their way up the charts without anybody really noticing. Since they didn't get the points, the Euro players didn't rank high enough to play often in the majors and other quality events, so they didn't get much notice. And, as a result, unless you followed the ET closely, these players simply didn't register on your radar.

But then, sometime in the last eighteen months, the world rankings of these players reached a critical mass. The OWGR suddenly started granting more points to these tournaments, and the constant climb became a "sudden rise" in the world rankings. But those of us who tried to keep up weren't so surprised. For example, Neil over at Armchair Golf Blog and I commented back and forth earlier in the year about the European and South African "invasions," and I'm sure plenty of you noticed it too.

To paraphrase a well-worn motto, those guys are good too. And if that didn't become clear at the majors this year, it was certainly plain at the Ryder Cup.

After an American (Phil) won the Masters, the final 3 majors went to an Irishman (Northern Irish -- I did pay attention, folks), a South African, and a German. And none of those players were really surprises. Graeme McDowell already had 4 ET wins and 3 seconds coming into 2010; Louis Oosthuizen had 3 ET seconds, 5 Sunshine Tour wins, and a vote of confidence from Ernie Els; and Martin Kaymer had 4 ET wins and 6 seconds, plus 2 Challenge Tour wins. Can you really call any of these big surprises? They certainly had some experience.

And Lee Westwood reaching #1 in the OWGR was certainly not a surprise. The only surprise is that he hasn't won a major yet. I had him picked to win the PGA until that calf injury put him out. Ironically, several of the guys at Golf Channel have picked Westwood to win the PGA in 2011. Of all the majors, I think the PGA sets up best for him; there are no tricked-up greens, pavement-hard fairways, or jungle-high rough to contend with. The PGA is set up so good players with a decent all-around game can score, and that's what Westwood does best.

Every year after the Ryder Cup teams are finalized, there is always talk about who is stronger "on paper." The lag between the skill level of the European players and their recognition by the OWGR has made that argument a badly-skewed one, since the rankings were in no way an accurate measure of where players truly ranked. When the American team characterized themselves as the underdog at this year's Ryder Cup, they may have accidentally spoken the truth. At the very least, the teams were much closer than anyone was willing to admit.

In 2011 we will finally start to see the real rankings. With several of the top-ranked players remaining on the ET as their home tour, the points for those tournaments should be more in line with the actual talent playing there. By the end of the year, we should have a much better idea of who is really at the top of the rankings.

But you can count on one thing: A lot of those players will be European, and that bodes very well for the European Tour.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Classic Nancy Lopez Swing

Do I really need to go into details about Nancy Lopez's record? She won 52 tournaments -- 48 were LPGA and 4 were team events. She won 3 majors -- all LPGA Championships -- and too many awards to name. And for many years, it was fair to say she was the LPGA.

I've mentioned Nancy Lopez's swing in some of my past posts. It's a classic example of a swing that works well even though it's a bit odd. The nice thing about this video (which was taken from a show Jim McLean did) is that she actually explains some of the details of her own swing:

I've mentioned before that she lifts her hands to start her takeaway. You might wonder why this works. If you watch her swing a few times from down the line, you'll see that this is very much a single-plane swing. She eliminates any angle between her left forearm and the club shaft, which fits in very well with Principle #4 of my Basic Principles. (Remember, those can all be found under the "Basic Principles of the Game" category in the sidebar.)

The other important thing I'd like to point out is simply how still and balanced she is during her swing. She's not rigid, mind you; you can see her move slightly back and then through as she swings, but none of the movements are excessive. You can tell she's swinging "aggressively," as McLean puts it, but she never looks stiff or tense during her swing.

This also works into her wrist action. She cocks her wrists early in the swing, in large part because she's lifting her hands while using a fairly strong grip; that's why she ends up rolling the club to the inside, as she mentions in her commentary. She also returns them to her original position "unconsciously," as McLean says, simply because relaxed wrists tend to return to their setup position on the downswing. As McLean says, "She just allowed it to happen."

Those are the main things I want to point out about this classic swing. But be sure to spend some time watching the rest of the video; McLean did several shows like this on the swings of different players, and they're all extremely good.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Epilogue

Winner: Us Fans!

Around the wider world of golf: Anticipation and rumors. What else would you expect a week before the new season starts?

So 2010 has finally come to an end. If you're like me, it's been a mixed bag -- some good, some bad, some surprises (a classic example was the white Christmas we had here in North Carolina  -- the first in several years!), and of course the hopeful promise of a new year as this one winds down.

It's been the same in golf, hasn't it? As Charles Dickens once observed:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." -- A Tale of Two Cities
This year has been consistently cast as the greatest upheaval in golf history in one way or another, just as Dickens noted in that last sentence. While we have to be cautious in making such grand and sweeping statements, one thing's for sure: Golf was rarely boring this year.

It started with those sweeping predictions about Tiger's attempts to catch Jack. Three of the year's majors were on courses he'd dominated in the past, which set him up to possibly tie Jack by year's end... and the commentators were sold on his chances. Of course, the greatest golf year in recent history didn't turn out the way they thought, and now we're hearing about how bad it really was... or how great it really was, if you're talking about the European Tour. In any case, at least there was always something something worth talking about.

Whether we were listening to Tiger make public apologies about "undisclosed indiscretions"... or the Mickelson / McCarron jousting over grooves that shouldn't have been legal but were... or the series of dramatic rules lessons we got concerning broken weeds in hazards and weighted clubs and unmarked bunkers and faulty alarm clocks... or watching players from around the world break through and put their names on the major trophies while Tiger struggled... or any of another dozen things we never anticipated, the one word that we could never use was "boring." In fact, even as we were getting tired of TMZ spreading the latest unsubstantiated Tiger gossip early in the year, it was still hard not to just "perk up a bit" and listen.

So my final limerick of 2010 is just a summing up -- appropriate for a limerick summary, don't you think? -- of one of the weirdest golf years in memory.
This year defied every prediction
And showed us things stranger than fiction:
Rules gaffes, awesome Ryders,
Glum hydrant colliders—
That’s why golf’s a hopeless addiction!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Year-End Review: These Old Guys Are Good

It was a good year for the Champions Tour. You can sum it up in one word: Freddie.

I know Fred Couples wasn't the whole story for the "old guys." But I think it's fair to say he was the key addition who set everything in motion. My take on things is probably a little different from most people, but I think this is a fair assessment:

The Champions Tour now has the closest thing possible to "Jack vs. Arnie" since the originals strode the fairways.

Bernhard Langer is as methodical and consistent as Jack Nicklaus. Although he lacks Jack's power -- which would probably make him almost unbeatable -- he can certainly hold his own against any field, as he proved this year by winning 5 events that included 2 back-to-back majors on different continents separated by 8 time zones. And of course he won that second one in Freddie's backyard.

Fred Couples has the flash and charisma of Arnold Palmer. He can power the ball out there anytime he wants -- just like the King did so many times -- and you never know when he's going to hitch up his pants and take over the tournament.

And just like Jack and Arnie, Bernhard and Freddie enjoy playing together... and they spur each other on to play better.

Furthermore, if you'll grant me a bit more poetic license, you might even consider this another "Big Three" if you include Tom Watson in the mix. Like Gary Player, the third member of that original legendary trio, Tom continues to surprise people by being competitive long after most had written him off. Between the three of them, the new Big Three nabbed 10 events this year and even made some news on the main tour with their good play.

It's exactly what the Champion's Tour needed. With Freddie as 2010 Rookie of the year and Bernhard as 2010 Player of the Year, it seems the other players agreed.

To me, the only real question mark here is Freddie's back. I've heard that he plans to focus on the Champions Tour in 2011, which should hopefully lessen some of the strain on his back as well as let him square off against Bernhard and Tom even more often.

And of course there will be new rookies for 2011. The main names I've seen are Kenny Perry, Steve Lowery, Ian Baker-Finch, and Steve Pate. Perry will probably split his time between tours, and I haven't heard Lowery's plans yet. Baker-Finch seems the most interesting story to me -- a major winner who lost his game because he felt he wasn't good enough, now trying to make a comeback on the senior circuit. (How often have we heard that story?) And the Volcano won on the Nationwide Tour this year, so his game hasn't slacked off any either.

Like the ladies, the old guys look to be in pretty good shape going into 2011. I guess only time will tell if we get another great year of duels like we did in 2010. Let's hope the Champions Tour makes sure the therapy--er, fitness trailer remains state of the art!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Yes, it's Christmas Day and the last thing on my mind is golf instruction. Instead, I decided to post a Christmas cartoon to get your celebration off to a great start. Being a huge fan of Chip and Dale, I decided to let them handle things today... after all, they work for peanuts. (Or Brazil nuts or pecans or pistachios or...)

No golf, just a few laughs. We'll get back to golf tomorrow. In the meantime, have a great holiday!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little "Slammin' Sammy"

Sam Snead played winning golf longer than anybody else in history. He won 82 PGA tournaments, still the most of any golfer ever. He won 152 times worldwide, plus another 14 on the Champions Tour. He has 7 majors -- he never won the US Open, although he finished 2nd four times.

He won the GGO, aka the Greater Greensboro Open (now the Wyndham Championship), a total of 8 times. The first was in 1938, the last in 1965 at the ripe old age of 52 years, 311 days. That win makes him the oldest winner ever on the PGA Tour. And just to give you an idea of how good he played, let me lift a few examples of his longevity as listed on Wikipedia:
  • In 1971, he won the PGA Club Professional Championship.
  • In 1974, at age 62, he shot a one-under-par 279 to come in third, three strokes behind winner Lee Trevino at the PGA Championship at Tanglewood in Clemmons, North Carolina.
  • In 1978, he won the first Legends of Golf event, which was the impetus for the creation two years later of the Senior PGA Tour, now known as the Champions Tour.
  • In 1979 he was the youngest PGA Tour golfer to shoot his age (67) in the second round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open. He shot under his age (66) in the final round.
  • In 1983, at age 71, he shot a round of 60 (12-under-par) at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for all the numbers I listed above.)

Look, this is a guy who played high-quality golf far longer than most people think is possible. He was a believer in weight work and flexibility training long before Tiger or even Gary Player. I've heard some people say they actually saw him stand in a doorway and kick the top with one foot!

I found this YouTube video with a variety of swing clips from various times in his career. The slo-mo swings begin around the 1:15 mark:

There's a lot you can learn by studying this video, but I'll point out a few things that stood out to me.

Although it's not shown in this video, Snead was renowned for practicing his swing barefooted. He even played part of a round at the Masters this way! He said that practicing barefoot helped him regain his sense of balance whenever he had trouble with his swing. Of course, many teachers now recommend this as a way to improve your rhythm (Sean Foley was the most recent I heard). You can certainly see that he never looks off-balance.

Snead is sometimes known for a technique nicknamed the "Snead squat," where his knees actually separated when he started his downswing. (Most players keep their knees about equidistant from each other until they hit the ball.) At about the 1:55 mark you'll find something that very few videos have -- shots of Snead's swing taken from behind his back! The beauty of this is that you can see how the squat was actually accomplished...

And it appears to be very close to a Stack and Tilt swing! His right leg stays mostly straight -- not flexed as in most swings -- and he stays very much centered over the ball. Please note the difference, however; Snead is centered in his stance, not over his left side, so it's not technically Stack and Tilt. Still, the technique is very close.

You'll also note that Snead overswings a bit. Even in the swings where he's older, he still gets past parallel. With this much flexibility, it's no wonder he played so well for so long.

One other thing I'd like to point out: Although he often starts his left hip slightly before his shoulders in his downswing -- especially in the younger swings -- you will note that his entire left side, from his shoulder to his knee, generally seems to move as a unit. I've recommended feeling as if your upper and lower body start the downswing together as a way to improve your tempo and keep from creating unwanted spine angles. I didn't know it when I started recommending it, but apparently Snead used this technique himself. Look at how graceful and smooth his swing looks when he does it.

As much as any player you'll see, Snead looks as if he just turns away from the ball, then turns back through the ball. Just watching this video a few times might help improve your rhythm and tempo.

Snead got his nickname because he was just about the longest player in any field, regardless of whether he was using hickory shafts or metal shafts. It's worth your while to spend some time learning how "Slammin' Sammy" got the job done.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Year-End Review: Looking at the Ladies

As the year winds down (along with the golfers!), I thought I'd take a look at where the different tours stand going into 2011. Or at least where I think they stand. And first up are the ladies.

First, concerning the business end of things... Michael Whan did a pretty good job his first year in, especially given the Tour's fragile state at the time. Just to keep it from tanking -- even if he could only muster a third of the events on US soil -- was a pretty impressive achievement, especially given his inexperience. (Yes, I know he had some sports management experience, but neither women's nor seniors' sports ever carry the potential of the men's. I wish it was different, but I'm not blind and won't pretend I am just to sound encouraging. You gotta work with what you got!) I doubt things will change much until the economy makes some serious improvement... and that may be a couple of years out. All things considered, the LPGA is in decent shape.

As for the other women's tours, they seem to be in pretty good shape to me. I don't intend this to be demeaning, so please don't take it that way... but the LPGA had further to fall. The "entry cost" for sponsors to the other tours around the world is relatively lower, but the number of world-quality players there is rising. That's a great situation for the sponsors, and ultimately I think it will help the women's game in general. But I don't think the LPGA will ever be just an American tour again... and becoming a world tour may be what the LPGA needs in order to take the next step.

When it comes to the ladies themselves, I think the game may be in the best shape it's ever been. True, Annika and Lorena have stepped down... but they have been replaced by not one, not two, but by at least ten women from all over the planet who I think will form the core of the "next incarnation" of the game.

One of the ongoing arguments in sports (all sports, not just golf) is whether one dominant player is good for the game or not. If you watched UConn's women's basketball team set the new record of 89 straight wins -- beating the previous record by the UCLA's men's record of 88 -- you know that the argument goes both ways. UConn was a leading sports story on many stations... but the game itself was downright boring. How many 30-point wins can you watch and still get excited?

The truth is probably somewhere in between. For many people, the golden age of golf saw Palmer and Nicklaus fighting it out each week... but even they had to keep their eyes open or Player, Casper, or some other player would be right there if both stumbled. In fact, Jack has said that he and Arnie lost tournaments they should have won simply because they got so caught up playing each other that they forgot to look over their shoulders!

In the women's game, it looks like we have 6 players forming that main group -- Shinn, Miyazato, Kerr, Pettersen, Choi, and Tseng -- and a few others who will likely join the battle in 2011. (I'm guessing In-Kyung Kim and Paula Creamer will make it 8, and possibly Michelle Wie and Anna Nordqvist will join them later on. I would add some other Asian players, but I think LPGA members will be the most visible. You still need English TV coverage of your wins to become a big name worldwide, though that may simply be coverage of a major.)

In 2011 I expect 2 or 3 to separate themselves from this sextet, but right now I wouldn't bet on who they'll be... although, if you pressed me, I'd pick Shinn, Kerr, and Choi. They're the most consistent members of the group, although the other three don't need to improve much to match them. (After all, just this year they have 8 wins, 2 majors, and a load of 2nds between them!) Given what we've seen this year, I don't see any of them falling away through lack of desire. I suspect either motherhood or injury may end up being the determining factor.

Finally -- and perhaps this is just the optomist in me -- I think 2011 may be the year that the women's game starts to get some real attention. The intense competition between the top women has raised their games considerably. I went back to 2004 -- the earliest of the the online scoring records -- and, if you eliminate Lorena and Annika's averages, this year has seen the women's best overall scoring in any given year. If the ladies keep this up, driving each other to improve, this could be a breakout year for them.

Now if the Golf Channel can just be convinced to give them a good broadcast spot...!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Look at Byron Nelson's Swing

Byron Nelson had a relatively short career -- from 1935 and 1946. In 1945 he had arguably the greatest year in golf history:
  • Won 18 total tournaments
  • Won 11 straight (no weeks off), plus 7 seconds
  • Set the scoring record of 68.33, which was finally broken by Tiger in 2000
  • Set the record for 18 holes (62) and 72 holes (259), both broken since
In addition, Nelson had a cut streak of 113, which is second only to Tiger's 142. But that's not the whole story. Since the PGA defines a made cut as a made check, and only the top 20 finishers made a check in Nelson's time, that gives him a record 113 Top 20 finishes in a row.

In all, he had 64 total wins, 52 of them on the PGA Tour, and 5 of those were majors -- 1 Masters, 2 US Opens, and 2 PGAs. Not bad at all! (Thanks to Wikipedia for the figures.)

A side note: I find it ironic that Nelson never won an Open Championship, yet his most famous student -- Tom Watson -- is considered the "King of the Open."

But his influence on the golf swing is sometimes overlooked. The changeover between hickory and metal shafts happened during his era -- he played with both -- and Nelson was the first player to figure out how to truly utilize the strengths of the metal shafts. I'll show you how in the YouTube video I found. (One of the swings in the middle of the video is paused, so there's nothing wrong with your computer.)

Nelson didn't get to parallel at the top of his backswing, even with the driver. But he was accurate and surprisingly powerful, as you can see by how blurred the club is, even in slo-mo!

The distinctive move in Nelson's swing is how much he bends his knees. Notice that his left knee doesn't straighten until the ball is long gone, and his right knee looks as if it's collapsed! By dropping his body this way, Nelson loaded the metal shaft much more forcefully than was possible with a hickory shaft. Coupled with his upright swing, he developed an amazing amount of power with a relatively short swing and used it to trap the ball. That let him hit crisp, accurate approach shots.

Essentially, Nelson put the "down" in "hit down on the ball."

Otherwise, Nelson's swing is nothing special, although his hands are so close to his body that it reminds me of Jim Furyk. In fact, Nelson doesn't even get a good shoulder turn! Instead, he bends his right elbow and lifts his hands. He'd come over the top if it wasn't for two things:
  • He doesn't get to parallel at the top, so he doesn't spin his shoulders toward the ball when he starts down. (That does cause him to lose some distance, though.)
  • Look at how he dips his right shoulder at impact! (See the picture below.) That also forces his hands more down than out.

Byron Nelson's shoulder tilt at impact

Although you won't see it taught to the degree that Nelson does it, he changed the golf swing when he started using that knee flex. "Hitting down on the ball" is now a basic tenet of every golf swing... and you can thank Lord Byron for that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hogan VS Wright

Since we don't have much going on in the golf world for the next couple of weeks -- after all, this is Christmas week! -- I thought I'd try to focus on some classic instruction and year-end review stuff. Today I found this cool comparison video by PGA certified pro Todd Dugan. Check out the side-by-side views of legends Ben Hogan and Mickey Wright!

Let me point out a few interesting things that you might otherwise miss:
  • Both players are set up to play draws. You can tell because their feet are lined up to the right, and that's not just the camera angle. Their shoulders are lined up straight away from the camera, not parallel to their toe lines.
  • Todd mentions that both players have their arms extended away from their bodies. If you look at my "Basic Principles of the Game" posts, which are in the category of the same name, you'll find that Principle #4 is that the forearms and the club shaft should form a straight line. Doing so eliminates a lot of possible changes in the angle of contact, and that's what Hogan and Wright are doing. (Nancy Lopez lifts her hands to start her backswing. That serves the same purpose.) Please note that they don't have to form a perfectly-straight line; what's important is that you minimize any wrist angles if you can. You'll see why later in this video.
  • Note that Hogan bends his right elbow more on the backswing than Wright. That's because he swings on a flatter plane than she does... and apparently doesn't turn his shoulders as early in the swing as she does. Look at Hogan and Wright's hands at the 2:11 mark -- you can see that Wright's hands are more centered between her shoulders than Hogan's. This is a combination of having his elbow bent more and his shoulders turned less. Sound familiar?
  • Also note that Hogan bends his right elbow backward while she bends it downward. Again, that's a function of their planes. But the interesting comparison of backswing positions is at around 3:06 on the video, when both players' left arms are parallel to the bottom edge of the video -- Hogan's swing may be flatter, but his hands are actually higher above the shaft line than Wright's! He's lifting his hands, which is just what you'd expect when he doesn't turn his shoulders early enough. The reason he doesn't come over the top is because he tucks his elbow into his side so tightly on both his backswing and downswing. Otherwise, he'd come over the top big time! Bobby Jones also had a flat swing... and made a similar move.
  • At about 3:20, ignore Todd's line for Hogan's shaft position at the top of the swing. Look carefully -- you'll see the club head peeking over his left forearm. That's because he's overswung a bit; when he starts down, the club head moves behind his hands, then the shaft reappears and points at the ground about halfway between the ball and his feet -- that's the classic Hogan "laid-off shaft" move. Hogan is above the original shaft line all the way down, while Wright gets back on it at waist high and stays there. The lesson? As long as your swing works, don't get too hung up over perfect positions!
  • Back to the forearm/shaft alignment: Notice at impact that Wright's shaft and right forearm look almost perfectly straight while Hogan's wrists seem to "bump up" a bit so the line from elbow to club head isn't quite straight. (Hogan's position is clearer before Todd draws in the shaft line at 4:51.) That's because of Hogan's weak left hand grip -- he's rotating it hard so the club face doesn't point to the right at contact. Remember, he's set up for a draw.
Like I said, this is a pretty cool video since it shows two greats of the game side-by-side. It also demonstrates how two players with similar swings can be so different technically.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2011 South African Open

Winner: Ernie Els

Around the wider world of golf: There really isn't much to report except the LET Q-School results. Maria Verchenova, the Russian player whose swing I looked at a couple of weeks ago, failed to get her card. The big news (at least, as far as this blog is concerned) is that Big Break's Sara Brown finished T9 in cold conditions and snagged her LET card, making her exempt on both the LET and LPGA for 2011. I told you that girl was for real!

Ernie Els holds his national championship trophy
Click the image for the story.

National championships are something special, whether it's the Open Championship (aka the British Open), US Open, Canadian Open, Australian Open, or whatever. The South African Open, as I mentioned yesterday, is the 2nd oldest Open in the world -- right behind the Open. (Granted, the US Open has been played more times and Wikipedia lists it as the older tournament -- 1895 versus 1903 -- but the South African Open was an unofficial event for ten years in 1893-1902.) And this was the 100th South African Open, which gave this edition a little extra shine, so all the top South African players wanted this little Christmas gift for their very own.

And they were up to the task. After being rained out Thursday, a cut to the low 50 and ties (rather than the normal low 65) was made Saturday night and a 36-hole shootout scheduled for Sunday. And leading the pack? Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charl Schwartzel held 1st, 2nd, and joint 4th respectively, with Els just two strokes up on Goosen.

The weather wasn't done with the tournament, however. Early morning rains delayed play and left the green on the par-3 4th unplayable. As a result, only 34 holes were played, with all players receiving a par on the 4th for each of the final two rounds.

After the first 18 (third round) the Goose had cut Ernie's lead to a single stroke, posting a 63 to Ernie's 64. Oosthuizen also posted 64... and gained no ground whatsoever. (That has to be disheartening!) Schwartzel shot 66, which pretty much ended his hopes of winning. Despite that, the four South Africans held the top four spots on the leaderboard.

Beginning the final 18, Els led by one over Goosen, four over Oosthuizen, and six over Schwartzel. It ended up being a shootout, with Els and Goosen  keeping a comfortable lead over the rest of the field. But even though neither could separate himself from the other, Ernie continued his Grinchy ways by denying Goosen more than a glimpse of the title. Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas to you too, buddy! In the end, the three leaders shot 63s and Schwartzel a 64 to give Els a single-stroke victory over the Goose.

For the record, Tim Clark (who has won the SA Open the last two times it was played at this course) finished T9.

This is the last tournament we'll be seeing this year, despite the date in the title. I'll be glad when the European Tour finally gets their seasons synchronized with the calendar! But the best part of this is that it bodes well for the actual 2011 golf season. The top four finishers will all be PGA players next year although only Goosen is listed to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. However, I'm hopeful this win will encourage Ernie to change his mind and show up.

And if I might be allowed a brief rant, I think Oosthuizen, McDowell, and Kaymer should have been invited. They may not be members (or, in McDowell and Oosthuizen's cases, members at the time) but if you win a PGA Tour event -- especially a major -- I think you should be invited to the HToC. Majors transcend normal Tour events and should be treated accordingly. The PGA Tour keeps saying it wants the best players -- well, here's a great opportunity to throw out the welcome mat. I'm sure Hyundai wouldn't mind!

At any rate, here's the last official Limerick Summary of the year. (Perhaps we'll have an exhibition limerick next week.) We salute Ernie Els's 3rd worldwide victory of 2010 -- a stocking stuffer of a year in anybody's book:
Though the weather outside had been frightful,
Els’ competitive fire was delightful.
But might Santa deduce
Ernie’s gift to the Goose
Crossed the line between friendly and spiteful?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ernie and the Goose Prepare for 2011

Just a quick one today...

Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are #1 and #2 at the 100th South African Open Championship, which is the 2nd oldest open in the world. (The Open Championship is older.) Ernie's at -14 and Goose is -12... and since Thursday's round was rained out, the field was cut to only 50 and ties (60 made it). They're playing 36 holes today.

It looks as if Ernie and the Goose are going to be in good shape for the PGA Tour in 2011... and it looks like Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, both tied for 4th place, are also getting ready for their debut as PGA Tour members.

I guess Tiger's not the only one looking to get back on track next year. This could be fun.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Working the Ball with the "New Ball Flight Laws"

A lot of you are going to read this post and say, "My gosh, Mike -- why didn't you just say this in the first place?" But most teachers aren't going to be as clear as I'll be in this post, so you'll have to reason out what they mean... and that means you needed all that theory.

Today, we joyfully shout "Screw theory!" and simply learn how these "new ball flight laws" can save us a few shots on the course. (With pictures!) And just so you know, they do it in one of two ways:
  • They help us avoid getting in trouble in the first place.
  • If we do get in trouble, they help us get out of it in fewer shots.
Personally, for all the talk about how these new rules are such a drastic change... I don't see it. There are some important changes but, when you state them simply, it's just a "duh!" moment where you wonder why it wasn't taught this way in the first place.

Let's look at a simple situation where the new rules make a big difference in how you play the shot. We've just mis-hit a shot into the woods. We found the ball, but there's a big tree right between us and the hole. We've all been taught to set up with the face of the club aimed at the hole (and therefore at the tree) and swing on a line around the tree. Here's a diagram showing what happens according to both sets of rules:

How the rules differ

Two very different outcomes, aren't they? And I suspect most of us have experienced the "new" version's result more often than the "traditional" version's. So why did the traditional view survive unchallenged for so long?

Well, I can think of at least three common examples of the situation that would make it look as if the traditional view was correct:
  • If the tree was fairly thin and your club path was wide enough -- and let's face it, you'd probably aim to be sure you missed the tree if you had room -- the ball path would still miss the tree.
  • If the tree was thicker but you were far enough away from it, you might miss the tree.
  • And there's always the possibility that players closed the club face as they swung, since the ball may have been in thick rough. That would change the club face angle, again allowing them to miss the tree.
I imagine these three situations occur quite frequently -- certainly often enough to convince us that the traditional rule was correct. But because we've seen these happen, we've also hit the ball into the tree way more often than we should have.

If you asked a child how to deal with this, what do you think the child would say? The little angel would probably say, "Why don't you just aim around the tree?" and smile at you like you were an idiot. And guess what? That's exactly what the new rules say we should do!

What the new rules tell us to do

Simple, huh? So why are teachers making such a big to-do out with all the talk of "new ball flight laws" and acting like this is a revolution of some kind?

I think it's just shaken their worlds in some profound way -- is it possible they kept hitting trees yet didn't dare question what they'd been taught? -- and now they feel as if they've been freed from prison. If you watched the video I posted a couple of days ago or read this post to which Jonny sent me the link, you've seen Nick Faldo lambasted for repeatedly teaching the incorrect laws. How often do you think Faldo's had to get out from behind a tree? But in the examples shown, he seemed to be far enough back from a thin tree that the traditional method may have worked. Is it possible the pros knew enough to be skeptical of the traditional approach?

To be honest, in all my golf reading, I can't remember anything from a player specifically on how to play around a tree. I have an old copy of Jack Nicklaus' Playing Lessons -- yes, the one done like a comic book -- and I couldn't find a single thing about playing out of trees, although you would think a book aimed at amateurs would include something. The closest I could find was some advice on playing doglegs on page 73. Jack clearly advises playing well clear of the dogleg -- to the left side of the fairway on a dogleg right, for instance -- and calls attempts to cut them close "gambling." I now wonder if this was in part because he didn't trust the traditional approach to playing them enough to pass it on to weekend golfers.

I suspect all of us grasp this to some extent. Ironically, Jonny had posed this question because of the Understanding Your Shot Shape post I did, but in the following day's post I applied the new laws to describe those same shapes... not because I knew they were the new rules or contradicted the traditional rules, but just because it made sense. And nobody questioned it, which means either you guys aren't paying attention or it made sense to you also. (I'm going to assume the latter. Since you follow my blog, it's obvious that you're a truly intelligent bunch.) So it certainly appears that the context has a lot to do with which laws we apply -- I applied the traditional laws when explaining a traditional teaching in the first post, but instinctively followed the new laws when presenting new material. You probably do the same thing.

So let's try to get all our Titleists in one box, shall we? Let's find some practical, simple-to-use advice on how to use the "new ball flight laws" to cut strokes from our game. First, let's make sure we understand what's changed and what hasn't:
  • What hasn't changed is what a shot is and how it's shaped. A shot starts on a certain line -- we'll call it the starting path -- and then curves to one side or the other unless it's a straight shot. We call this a "shot shape" and it's determined by two things --  the swing path and the face angle, which can be open, square, or closed relative to the swing path. All of that stays the same.
  • What has changed? Only one thing: We used to think the swing path had the most influence on the starting path, but research has proven that isn't true. The face angle has the most affect on the starting path, which means the starting path is closer to where the face angle is pointing than where the swing path is headed. That's it -- that's the change.
What makes this single change so complicated is that it also changes our entire frame of reference for thinking and talking about the swing. We used to think about aim in terms of the swing path; now we have to think in terms of the face angle. More fundamentally, we used to think the face angle caused most of the curve, but now we give that job to the swing path. (Most teachers won't say that upfront, but it's implied in all the discussions.) It turns our whole way of thinking on its head... although the practical applications are very simple.

The new rule can be simplified as one simple rule of thumb:
"Aim the face of the club in the direction you want the ball to start flying. Adjust your swing path to make the ball curve -- aim right to curve left, aim straight to fly straight, aim left to curve right. The ball will start out between where the face is pointed and where the swing path is headed... but it will be closer to where the face is pointed."
Just aim the club face where you want the ball to start, not where you want it to end up. The irony is that, properly taught, the traditional view should have given the same results. The traditional view says the ball will land on the line where the club face is aimed at impact... then bounce across it. To get the ball close, you should have aimed the way the new laws say you should, anyway!

When the ball lands on the target line

So here's how to use the new rules on the course:
  • If there's nothing between you and your target: Aim and play as usual. You might want to aim the club face a little to one side and use the swing path to give the shot a little curve. Remember: If you curve the shot, you need to leave room for the shot to bounce toward the target.
  • If there's something in your way (like a tree): Aim the club face to miss the tree, and aim your club path enough left or right to add some curve. You should miss the tree. (Hooray!)
  • Curving around a dogleg: Unless you're going over the trees or whatever is in the way, make sure the club face is aimed in the fairway. Then aim your club path to give the shot some curve. As long as you take enough club, you should go around the dogleg without any problems.
And that's all there is to it. It's complicated theory, but simple application. And now you not only know how to use it on the course, but you should be able to figure out which theory a teacher is using by how they describe things. As long as you remember that the ball starts out between the swing path and the club face -- but closer to the club face -- you should be able to figure out how almost any shot will actually start off and curve.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to Use the "New Ball Flight Laws"

Ok, enough with the theory behind the "new ball flight laws." I said that understanding them could save you several shots per round if you understood them. You're probably wondering how.
  • If you're stuck in the woods, knowing them can mean the difference between getting out or hitting that tree you're stuck behind.
  • They could keep you from going into the woods at all!
  • They could help you get around that big dogleg that you've been unable to conquer.
And all of these things could save you shots without any changes in your skill level. All you need to know is how the ball really behaves when you hit it! And you will, by the time you finish these next two posts.

First, let's get clear on how these new laws actually affect our shot shapes. Remember, Jonny originally asked me about these new laws because of this post about shot shapes. Here's one of the diagrams from that post:

Shot shapes for right-hander

(There's also a left-hander's diagram on the original post, but the only difference is the names of the shots. We're only talking shapes here, so this diagram should do fine.)

Here's the big difference between these new laws and the traditional teaching: The bigger the face angle is relative to the swing path, the more effect the face angle has on the starting direction of the ball flight. Wow! That's a mouthful, isn't it? Let's break that down into four smaller groups of shots, based on the diagram, then we'll see how this affects our shotmaking.
  1. The face angle is perpendicular to the swing path, or nearly so. In other words, we hit the ball pretty straight. That would be the paths numbered 2, 5, and 8. These shots are unchanged by the new laws. If you hit the ball straight, it goes straight. (Of course, 2 and 8 aren't likely to be shots you hit on purpose -- straight pulls and straight pushes -- so we won't talk about them anymore, but they still behave just like you've always expected them to.)
  2. The face angle is only a little off from perpendicular to the swing path. You're just trying to hit a little fade or draw. This would be paths 4 and 6. These two shots stay pretty much the same. They don't start going exactly straight, but it's close enough that you shouldn't have any trouble.
  3. The face angle is nowhere near perpendicular to the swing path. This is what you get when you try to hit a big curving shot. These are shots 1 and 9, the pull-hook and the push-slice. These babies are REALLY affected by the new laws, and they're the ones that typically get us in trouble.
  4. And there are two shots that can fit into any of the other three categories, depending on how much we curve them. These are shots 3 and 7, the push-draw/hook and the pull-fade/slice. If we only curve them a little -- the push-draw and pull-fade -- they almost act like shot 5, which I'll explain in a minute. But if we curve them a lot --  the push-hook and pull-slice -- the new laws really affect them and we need to be careful.
First let's talk about the ones that don't change much:
  • Shot 5 is just your standard straight shot. Easy enough, right? Just aim at the target and fire.
  • Shots 4 and 6 are where you line up either left or right of your target and point your club face square at the target. The ball will start ever-so-slightly more left or right that you think -- almost like a super-small pull-draw or push-fade -- but not enough to make a difference in your aim because you're just playing for a small curve. Aim as normal.
  • The "small curve versions" of shots 3 and 7 are actually affected the most among the shots you might say are desirable. Some of you like to play a little push-draw or pull-fade, which is perfectly acceptable -- many Tour players do the same with great results. Generally, you'll have the club face pointed squarely at the target for these "little curvers." You may remember from an earlier post that the face is responsible for 5/6 of the direction; in this case, it means that the ball will start out much closer to straight than you might expect.

    For example, suppose your swing path is a 12° pull. Since the face is responsible for 10° of that angle and it's aimed straight at the target, the ball will start out as only a 2° pull... and it will curve back toward the target! For a weekend golfer, this is great news. It means that you don't have to worry about a slight pull or push swing messing you up as long as you square up the club face. It'll let you relax and swing more freely. Just aim normally and don't be surprised when the ball seems to fly straighter than you expected.
This post is running long, so we'll wait until tomorrow to talk about the "big curvers," since those are the ones most affected by the new laws. We want to make sure we take the time to understand those shots, since they can save us the most shots!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Video of the "New Ball Flight Laws"

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I certainly hope so!

I'm sure many of you are just as unconvinced as Court about how accurate these "new ball flight laws" are, so I decided to see if I could find some slo-mo footage actually showing what happens when you hit a golf ball.

Here's what I found -- and no, there's no sound with it, so there's nothing wrong with your computer.

Please note that, if the traditional rules are correct, these balls should travel in the same direction the clubhead is traveling once it hits them. This video shows several hits, with lines clearly showing the direction of the club path and the resulting launch direction of the golf ball.

To make a long story short, the initial direction of a golf ball is not determined by the club path. The face angle has the biggest effect. If this video (and TrackMan's documented research) isn't sufficient to demonstrate that these "new laws" are valid, I don't know how to convince any unbelievers out there. The evidence is there; if you want to ignore it, it's up to you.

Between TrackMan and this video, I don't know what I could add anyway.

Tomorrow we'll look at how these "new laws" actually affect how we play the game.

Understanding the Angles in the "New Ball Flight Laws"

(UPDATE: At the end of this post, I've added a copy of TrackMan's diagram showing the angles involved in this discussion.)

If you're like Court (and me, when I first started looking at this), you think these "new ball flight laws" are just crazy. I certainly understand. As I said in the comments on yesterday's post, one of the reasons I waited to do these posts was because it was hard to get my mind around them. They seem contradictory.

The breakthrough for me was realizing that the original concepts we were taught are a mixture of these so-called "new rules" and some things that, if you stop and think about them, don't make sense anyway. Today I want to try and show you what you already know that conforms to these "new rules." I think you'll be surprised how much sense they actually make. I'm going to use Court's comments as a jumping-off point -- for the simple reason that originally I would have given the same sort of objections, but Court states them more clearly.

The big point of contention is that, according to the "new rules" the ball doesn't come straight off the face in the direction of the club path; rather, it shoots off in roughly the direction the club face is pointed. Court raised a valid objection when he commented:
The same physics apply to bowling when you see a pro throw a ball that goes out straight and breaks late. You also see it with baseball pitchers who can make the ball break closer to the plate.
I would have given similar examples, and he's completely right. This is something we observe every day of our lives. It really is "simple physics," as he repeatedly put it.

Unfortunately -- and this is why it took me so long to catch on -- it's the wrong simple physics. The laws that regulate how a ball behaves when it is being held and directly launched in a given direction with a given amount of spin are slightly different from a ball that is not being held, but being hit and receiving its direction and spin through that contact. It's the difference in control that the pitcher has versus the control the batter has. The batter has to deal with laws of physics that don't affect the pitcher.

Specifically, the batter has to deal with this law: The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Here's a visual explanation from

Angle of incidence diagram

Simply put, when a ball bounces off a surface at an angle -- the way a golf ball does when the face is open or closed relative to the swing path -- it doesn't bounce back on the original line. If the surface with the point of contact in our diagram was the club face and the line representing the angle of incidence was the ball's contact along the swing path (the actual swing path would be coming from the lower right of the diagram, along the same line of incidence), the traditional way of shotmaking says that the ball would contact the club face and then travel directly back along that line. (There are golf-specific diagrams later. If that wasn't quite clear, just hang with me.)

The traditional "rule" doesn't make sense when it's put that way, does it? Ironically, Court agreed with the new rule unintentionally:
Again - it's basic physics that work when you can hit the ball hard enough with enough spin that the fade or draw spin can't take over until the ball loses enough velocity for the air pressure to affect the ball. Most of us can't do it because we don't hit the ball hard enough.
If we can't hit the ball hard enough to delay the effect of the spin... doesn't that mean the ball should head off-line immediately for most players? I would agree with him entirely -- it's the most sensible application of the traditional rules -- but that logic agrees with the new rules! Court instinctively realizes that the new rule is correct, yet believes that the old rule makes more sense... probably because he was taught that way by teachers he respects (who were taught by teachers they respected, etc.). And I would be the first to say that's a good reason to be skeptical of any so-called "new rules." But when even the logic of the traditional way seems to agree with the new rules, perhaps it's time to reconsider. (Tomorrow I'll look at some classic teaching that seems to back up this new understanding.)

According to Dave Pelz (and the other "new rules" guys), the face angle is apparently responsible for 5/6 of that total angle between the incidence and reflection lines in the diagram. The remaining 1/6 is determined by the swing path, so it looks like the speed of the club does have an effect... but not as much as we thought. Even the big hitters have to deal with this "angle of reflection" stuff.

I can think of two ways that you already use this knowledge in your swing. One I mentioned in yesterday's comments -- shanks. When you hit a hosel rocket, the ball doesn't start straight toward the target, then curve away; it shoots straight off to the side. This is what the new rules predict. The only way the hosel rocket goes toward the target is if you hit it square on the front of the hosel. And you expect this -- that's why you're so embarrassed. ;-)

Hitting down with an iron diagramA less obvious example involves hitting down on iron shots. Take the diagram at left. The club face is coming down at an angle from the upper right, which means (in effect) that the ball is coming up from the bottom left. Where the ball contacts the club face, it rolls up the face -- giving it backspin -- and causing it to go up, as the arrow pointing from the club face to the upper left corner shows. "Hit down to go up" is classic teaching about iron play. None of us really expect to drive the ball down into the ground, do we? In fact, if we don't pinch the ball against the ground -- a real possibility if the ball is in thick rough -- the ball will actually fly even higher!

Hitting a push-draw diagramSo I take that same diagram, flip it upside-down and gray it out, then draw over it to diagram a right-hander's push-draw. Now instead of hitting down to make backspin, we're hitting from the side to create sidespin. Now tell me... does it make sense that the club face, which is closed and coming from the lower right corner of our diagram, is going to start the ball toward the upper left corner, along the swing path? Logically, the ball should head toward the lower left corner as the ball "reflects" off the face and gathers sidespin. It's going to head to the lower left and curve even farther left!

It's the exact same physics, just viewed from a different angle. But while the downward hit with the iron is traditional teaching, the hit from the side isn't. Yet in both cases the ball receives its direction and spin by being hit. Since the traditional model predicts the first example, it should also predict the second example because the physics are the same... but it doesn't. And that means the traditional model of the second example is wrong.

Or, as the TrackMan folks put it:

TrackMan diagram of ball flight

Do you have a headache yet? Me too... so let's call it for today. Reread this as many times as necessary -- in really small chunks if necessary -- until you can see what's happening. (Look, it took me a few weeks to get a good handle on it. I don't expect you to put it all together overnight.) Tomorrow we'll look at what this really means in terms of how we play golf. Fortunately, the application is much simpler than the theory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yes, Jonny... There Could Be a Problem

Recently I mentioned an email I got from Jonny Barber a few weeks ago. Jonny ran across some posts on other sites that may indicate a problem with a post I did earlier in the year called "Understanding Your Shot Shape." I'm glad he did, because I don't know everything -- please wipe that look of shock off your face! -- and I really do appreciate it when you guys catch things that I've got wrong. (Like when Rob Roth tweeted me to let me know some of my info on Stack and Tilt was out-of-date. Thanks again, Rob.) I want people to be able to trust what they read in this blog, and sometimes things change and I don't know about it.

The post Jonny referred to focused on how shot shapes -- that is, the path your ball flies on after you hit it -- can help you figure out what you're doing during your swing. He sent me all the links he found, which I'll give to you in a minute, and asked if it would change what I said in that post.

I wish I could say "No, it doesn't change what I said." But in all honesty, I'm not sure now. I know some of it's right -- specifically the shots labelled 4, 5, and 6, which are also the way I generally recommend hitting shots. Those three assume you're swinging the club on a straight path and simply hitting the ball with a closed, square, or open face. But the other shots... According to the posts Jonny sent me, using the traditional method of hitting a push-draw (path 7 in my post) would actually produce path 4, a straight draw.

In other words, if you tried to hit a push-draw around a tree using the traditional guidance, you'd actually hit the ball directly into the tree!

What Jonny found is some really important information that's starting to get more attention... and it's not always made clear that the speaker is referring to what is now being called the "New Ball Flight Laws." You need look no farther than Sean Foley's appearance on Golf Channel's recent 12 Nights at the Academy series, where he described the "preferred shot" as one that flies straight and then "falls off" to one side or the other at the end, rather than as a fade or draw.

So I want to bring you up to speed on this paradigm shift in the golf world, about which the folks who make the TrackMan ball flight monitor say "All the scientific people in the golf industry know that this [the old beliefs about ball flight] is very wrong."

These new rules focus on one simple, unquestioned truth that I've mentioned before. In fact, I used this illustration in the post about fixing path problems that immediately followed the post mentioned earlier:
Diagram of putter and ball contact

I mentioned Dave Pelz's statement that face angle has five times the effect on ball direction that path does -- or, to put it another way, if you swing on line but your club face is aimed 6° right, the ball will actually go 5° right. (Make sure you understand that. It's not 1° more than the club path, but 1° less than the face angle. Essentially, the ball is going where the face is aimed, not where you're swinging.) Of course, that makes sense for a putt where friction eliminates most of the effect of sidespin imparted by that open face and the ball speed is fairly slow.

But suppose the ball is in the air?

This is where that "paradigm shift" is happening. The belief has always been that the ball started out in the direction of the club path, then veered off as the sidespin took effect. My own thinking was that the ball behaved as Dave says if you were swinging at a slow speed (say, for a chip or pitch), while a drive smacked at 120mph traveled along the swing path for a while before the sidespin made it turn.

The new thinking is that swing speed doesn't matter -- the ball always heads off at an angle as soon as it leaves the club face, no matter how hard you hit it. Increased speed simply makes it curve more. Now, this clearly has some serious implications for the weekend golfer -- like smacking the ball into a tree rather than around it! If these new rules are accurate, we need to understand how they affect our strategy around the course. If we're losing shots because we're aiming incorrectly, that's a relatively easy problem to fix... and a quick way to shave some strokes from our score!

Jonny sent me three links:
Since I'm mostly interested in how this affects shotmaking for weekend golfers, I'll give you some time to look over these links Jonny sent me and then I'll pick it up again tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sara Gets Her Big Break After All

As I mentioned yesterday, Big Break's Sara Brown made it through LPGA Q-School and got her card. She nearly broke down crying in an interview with Golf Channel, simply because she had been ready to quit the game when she first tried out for the show, and now... well, I don't think anybody's betting against her.

And I was fortunate enough to find a video with some slo-mo footage of her swing. (Three swings, actually.) I thought it would be interesting to see how a small woman like Sara pounds it so long and straight. Here, just take a look at it:

Sara doesn't do it by the book... but she accepts what she has and makes the most of it.

The first thing that stands out about her -- even when watching her swing at full speed -- is her balance. Sara never looks like she's the slightest bit off balance! On her backswing, on her downswing, in her followthrough, in her finish... she is rock solid. That's a great foundation for a swing.

Sara has an extrememly flat swing. She gets a huge shoulder turn -- which is where part of her power comes from -- but if you watch that first slo-mo swing carefully, you'll see that she also bows her back at the top of her swing. (You can see her left shoulder lift slightly as she does.) It causes her clubhead to dip down behind her -- see how the entire club shaft is hidden behind her left arm and the clubhead is visible beneath her left arm? This isn't something you see very much. It causes her to lay the club off, but it's not a manipulation of the club. She starts her downswing by straightening her back, which drops her hands onto the club's new plane.

Otherwise she just holds on to the club and unwinds. She doesn't slide her hips or flip her hands. She carries a huge amount of wrist cock down into the hitting area, which flashes by so fast in the full-speed front view that I can't even stop it between waist-high and the hit, and she finishes high so she doesn't hit a big hook. Just take a look at this swing sequence:

Sara Brown swing sequence

Now that's balance! You can see how her back arches in the third photo, and look at how much wrist cock she still has at waist-high in the fourth photo!

Get used to this swing, folks, because it may be making some big noise on the LPGA next season. Say what you like about Golf Channel shows... but Sara Brown is for real.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Shark Shootout

Winner: Ian Poulter & Dustin Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Iben Tinning won the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, her last tournament of her career; Pablo Martin successfully defended his title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the first event of the European Tour's 2011 season (confusing, I know); and Aree Song was medalist at the LPGA Q-School. Amateur Jessica Korda (the daughter of tennis player Peter Korda) came in second and announced that she will be turning pro. Also getting her card was Big Break's Sara Brown -- the LPGA better watch out for her!

Photo of Poulter & Johnson from
(Photo from

You could argue -- with justification -- that Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter have been the two best players in the world over the last couple of months. Each has won a tournament of some status (Poulter the UBS Hong Kong Open, McDowell the Chevron World Challenge) and each could have won one or two more, save for a couple of bad shots that came at the worst possible time. So it was no real surprise when the Shark Shootout came down to teams headlined by these two players.

The Shootout itself has become a standout event in the so-called "Silly Season," although that title has become less and less accurate. As less-popular events have been eliminated, leaving events that feature either the top players or respected charities, the Silly Season has almost become a showcase for the various tours. Greg Norman's tournament has been around for so long -- and consistently put on a good show built around the kind of games weekend players most frequently play -- that it has earned respect as a quality tournament.

And this year was a classic example. The final-round scramble resulted in some incredible play, like the nine straight birdies posted by Greg Norman and partner Matt Kuchar.

In case you've never played a scramble, here's how it works: All members of the team hit tee shots and choose the one they think is best, then each player hits their second shot from there. They choose the best of those shots, and play continues that way until the ball is in the hole. The beauty of a scramble is that it allows even a team of unskilled players to post a decent round. I've played four-man scrambles before and really enjoyed them.

But when the pros play a scramble, it's a wonder to behold. Scores in the 50s are common!

Two teams were tied for the lead at the start of the day: Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, the defending champions, were in the final group with Fred Funk and Kenny Perry. The team of Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson were one back. But Stricker and Kelly got off to a slow start, and Funk and Perry couldn't get anything going at all... so it didn't take long for them to drop out of the race and leave Ian and Dustin in the lead. After four birdies in the first four holes, they never looked back.

Paired with  Poulter and Johnson, and starting the day two strokes back, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke were chasing the whole way. Poulter and Johnson pulled out to a three-stroke lead, only to have McDowell and Clarke rein them back in. In the end, it was the clutch play of Poulter who kept the team ahead -- hitting the fairways so Johnson could go for the big drives, sticking his iron shots, and sinking pressure putts when necessary. In the end, both teams posted 59s... but it was Poulter's deft touch around the greens that secured his team's win.

Not all the sharks were great whites at Tiburon (which, I suppose you know, is Spanish for shark). In fact, given Ian's remark that he asked Dustin to play because it was useful to have a partner who hit it 350 yards, I guess you could argue they weren't sharks at all. And that will have to serve as the intro to this week's limerick:
The long ball of Johnson went soaring
And the plaid ball of Poulter went scoring.
Once the big dogs were eating,
The field took a beating
And no one could say it was boring.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tinning Goes Out with a Bang

(Just to update my little storyline about Maria Verchenova from Russia, she finished tied for 29th in Dubai, not enough to keep her out of Q-School. A cold putter in the third round pretty much killed her chances. Oh well... good luck at Q-School, Maria!)

Photo of Iben Tinning from WikipediaIben Tinning from Denmark was playing in her last tournament this week. Many of you may not recognize her name unless you've been following the women's game for quite a while.

Tinning was, back in 2005, one of the hottest female players in the world. She won three times that year, bringing her career total to five and landing both the LET Order of Merit (their money title) and LET Player of the Year award. Her career took a bit of a detour after that with the birth of her son and the start of chronic hip problems.

Back in September she announced that she would be retiring at the end of 2010. This week's Omega Dubai Ladies Masters would be her last tournament. Ironically, this tournament escaped her grasp once before in 2007, when she spun her approach on the 18th back into the water and virtually gave the win to Annika Sorenstam.

Not this time, however. Tinning casually birdied the 18th to win by two over Anna Nordqvist. It also made her last appearance on tour perhaps the biggest victory of her relatively short career... and she did it with her husband on caddy duty. When asked if this win changed her mind about retiring, she simply said no. The hip pain has just become too much of a problem.

But what a way to go out on top, huh? This is what she'll be remembered for... getting her biggest win to end her career. Good luck, Iben... and congratulations!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Play to a Style

That's what Arnold Palmer said Friday night on Golf Channel's last 12 Nights at the Academy show. He said this is the advice he's been giving his grandson Sam Saunders. He said all the greats -- Hogan, Nelson, Jack, him, and all the others -- played to a style and he believed that when Sam learned to play to a style also, it would be obvious to everyone.

Photo of Arnold PalmerSo what exactly did he mean by that? How do you play to a style? I wish he'd gone into more detail, but I'm going to take a stab at defining it.

I'm going to use a different word though. I think Arnie meant that your game has to take on a "persona" that shapes and guides its development. Arnie said your style influences how you play, how you walk, how you talk -- in short, everything about how you play. That's the persona of your game coming through.

For Arnie, that persona was "aggression." Arnie attacked the golf course from the tee, the fairway, the rough, and deep in the woods; it didn't matter where he was, he attacked the course.

He strode up the fairway, complete with that famous "hitching up his pants" move. For a while early on, he had a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth as he tracked down that ball.

Even his swing looked aggressive. Maybe "swing" is the wrong word; Arnie "hit" the ball. Words like "slash" and "bash" were used frequently. That characteristic followthrough is unmistakable, isn't it?

Now, I'm not saying that Arnie himself is an aggressive person. He has always had a reputation for being very approachable and easy to talk to. But on the course he "put on" his style (as he calls it) and it shaped how we perceive him to this very day.

I think I understand what he's saying. This is like putting on a cape, a mask, and leotards before heading out to a costume party where no one knows you. You can become someone else for a while. Your style or persona on the golf course works the same way -- you become a golfer with the mental approach that will best allow you to play your best.

It will affect how you carry yourself because you become the kind of golfer you want to be.

It will affect your approach to the game because this golfer will play the course this way, not that way.

And it will even affect your swing -- at least in terms of your tempo and playing rhythms.

I can't tell you how to choose a golf style or what style might be best for you... but if Arnie says it works, it's at least worth giving the advice a little thought.

Wonder if I could convince my new golf persona to be rich... ?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Russian Swing

No, it's not a new series of events on the Siberian LPGA. It's how Maria Verchenova hits the ball. After she got near the lead in the Dubai tournament yesterday -- she's tied for 4th after her 2nd round -- I got a little curious about how the only Russian female pro on the LET gets it done.

I can tell you that she drives the ball just over 259 -- I guess that's in meters, so that's close to 285 yards -- which may sound pretty long, but I think it's reasonable. She's just over 5'9" and her swing resembles Michelle Wie's, as you'll see in the video below. (I love the way the guys are going nuts over her shot!) She hits just over 68% of her fairways and 67% of her greens in regulation. I can also tell you that her scoring average is 74.24. Her scoring dropped off in 2009, but she's improving again.

I realize these aren't great stats, but how many great Russian golfers have you seen? I think this is part of her appeal; you just don't expect to see a Russian golf pro, let alone a female pro. She's obviously had to do this on her own, and she's done well.

Here's the main video I was able to find of her swing. For those of you who are wondering, since this video is shot from slightly in front of her, I'd guess her ball position is even with or just inside her left heel:

As I said, her swing looks a lot like Michelle Wie's. And -- as I am wont to do -- I wondered if there was anything funky about her swing. Indeed there is! Here's a photo sequence I worked up from the video -- it's hard to get a regular-speed video to stop where you need it to, folks! -- but this will give you the idea. You can see in the video that she has a very athletic and traditional setup... but take a good look at her left knee and foot in this sequence (and yes, the 2nd image is her backswing and the 3rd image is her downswing):

Maria Verchenova

Her left foot stays flat on the ground most of the way to her finish, and her left knee really squats down on her backswing... and even more on her downswing! She doesn't lean sideways, she goes straight down. Then she pushes up as her hands enter the hitting zone. This is how she develops so much power. (Some of you history buffs may remember the trademark "Sam Snead squat." This is very similar, except Sam's knees would separate when he squated and Maria's knees stay roughly the same distance apart.)

How much does she push up as she hits the ball? Just look at her hip position -- not her head, which stays about the same height all the way through -- and compare the bottom edge of her pink shirt to those letters on the sign behind her. That's gotta be 5 or 6 inches of flex! Otherwise her swing is pretty typical.

I found one other piece of video -- a sand play tip Maria did for the LET. I'm including it because she not only covers a standard sand shot, but a buried sand shot. If you saw Gary Player on Golf Channel Wednesday night, this is the same info he gave...

But it's prettier when she does it, don't you think? ;-)

I understand Maria only needs a Top 20 finish to keep her LET Tour card without a trip to Q-School. If she can just hold it together for a couple more rounds, she should make that easily. You go, girl!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Bikinis in Dubai

Well, not that I'm aware of, anyhow. But the ladies are playing in Dubai this week, and it's an interesting leaderboard.

Photo of Maria VerchenovaAt the time I'm writing this (it's late, folks), the second round is just underway and Maria Verchenova from Russia is one of the leaders. It's possible you've heard of her; I think she's the only female pro from Russia on the LET. As you might expect, Russia doesn't have the development system in place that exists in many other countries. That makes the fact that she's played the LET since 2007 pretty impressive to me. She's scheduled to go back to the LET's Q-School next week, but a win this week would certainly change that.

Ok, boys -- you can stop staring at her picture now. Back to the post...

Photo of Carling CoffingFour Americans are under par in Dubai -- Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Lexi Thompson, and leading the pack is none other than Carling Coffing. Some of you may remember that she won Big Break: Sandals Resorts. She's had Type I diabetes since she was five, which does put a crimp on attempts to play competitive golf. But she plays the LPGA Futures Tour (her status is A-1 there), and she's been playing pretty well in the few "big tour" events she's been in this year.

With the LPGA Q-School going on this week, this is the main "regular" golf tournament for the ladies. If you want to keep up with it, Golf Channel is showing repeat coverage during the day. Of course, if you can't watch, you can always check the online leaderboard. Just pop over to the LET homepage and click on the "Live Scoring Monitor" button in the right column.

If it's as cold where you are as it is here in North Carolina, at least you can watch some warm weather and lovely ladies.

No bikinis, though. That may be a Dubai thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Swing Powered by Guinness

(BTW, congrats to Graeme on co-starring with Martin Kaymer as European Tour Players of the Year. I can guess how Graeme's celebrating!)

This past weekend I was amazed at the number of comments I heard comparing Graeme McDowell's swing to Jim Furyk's. Really? REALLY? (Maybe the commentators had downed more Guinness than McDowell?)

If I was going to compare it to someone, I might choose Rickie Fowler. Graeme has that same laid-off slinging motion -- appropriate for someone who's become a bit of a gunslinger lately. (Cue the theme from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"...) Perhaps it's not the kind of motion you'd take lessons to learn, but it's not nearly as unusual as you might have been led to believe.

Just a quick note: Graeme looks a bit short on TV, but he's listed at 5'11" and he averages just over 286 yards per drive and he hits over 75% of his greens. That puts him right in Steve Stricker's category... but Graeme swings the club much differently, as you'll see.

Let's start with a face-on view from a couple of months ago:

The only unusual thing visible from this angle is Graeme's hip movement, which is probably due in part to keeping his head back. That gives him what is sometimes called a "reverse-C" finish. Also note how short his backswing is. Here's another view from slightly ahead of him, taken at the 2010 U.S. Open:

More noticeable from this angle is how much his right shoulder appears to dip as he hits the ball. That's actually a bit misleading; when you watch the down-the-line videos you'll see he doesn't really dip it any more than most people. However, Graeme does move down quite a bit from the top, a la Tiger. It's all part of the way he lays off the club at the top.

All that downward motion creates a lot of wrist cock, which you might expect to send the ball a long way. Instead, he hits it about the same distance as Stricker with his deadhanded swing. Obviously this is a very natural motion for Graeme, and that's part of the reason he's so accurate with it.

This down-the-line view gives you a clear view of how he lays off the club at the top of his downswing. This is partially because he bows his wrist:

This next video adds a couple of plane lines and some commentary. I liked it because it helps you see exactly what his laid-off move looks like. Notice that his hands are actually below the shaft plane at setup, then he bows his wrist slightly at the top. That means there's a lot of wrist movement in his swing, more than most players.

Despite all that wrist movement, that shaft is on the shoulder plane at the top before he re-routes it onto the original shaft plane on the way down. I suspect Graeme had trouble hooking the ball at some point in the past, and he developed this move to help prevent a pull-hook.

If you go back up to the third video and start and stop it so you can slowly watch his clubhead hit the ball, you can use the mower lines on the tee box to see how that move works. His clubhead comes in from the inside and launches the ball dead straight down the fairway. If you can do that consistently (which he can) you're gonna be down the middle most of the time.

You might wonder what you can learn from a swing that's so clearly built around one player's unique natural movements. There are two things, actually:
  1. A shorter swing with more wrist action can drive the ball as far as a longer swing with less wrist action. For some of you -- especially if you've played some other sport or have restricted flexibility -- a shorter swing with more wrist action may be second nature to you. If that's the case, don't fight it; you'll probably be just as long as you would with another swing, and more accurate because it's more natural to you.
  2. Make sure you stay in balance. No matter how much Graeme moves during his swing, he never looks like he's gonna fall over. When you stay in balance, you're more likely to make solid contact with the ball; that generally improves both distance and accuracy.
And maybe Guinness is some kind of magic elixir that improves your skill with the big stick... but I can't prove that from the videos. If you want to test that theory, you're on your own.

But don't expect me to pay your traffic tickets for driving while under the influence. ;-)