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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ruthless Putting Now in EPUB

Well, it seems like it's taken forever, but I finally got my Ruthless Putting book in EPUB format.

Some of you may not understand why this is such a big deal. Let me enlighten you...

When I first wrote Ruthless Putting back in 2009, I only planned to put it out in paperback and a PDF version. In fact, previous to that time, ebooks of any kind weren't taken very seriously and I expected the paperback to be the biggest seller. However, on a whim, I decided to do a Kindle version. It was my first experience with an ebook that wasn't a PDF.

Ruthless Putting coverIt turned out to be a great idea. That was just about the time that Kindles started taking off in popularity, and the Kindle edition is now my bestselling version of the book. (The PDF is right behind, with the paperback trailing the pack. My, how times have changed!) However, the Kindle format is proprietary, which means Amazon owns it and I can't sell it direct without going through a lot of red tape (I can give away free stuff though, which is why you can get the companion Ruthless Chipping book from my site.)

EPUBs are a different matter. EPUB is an open format, which means anybody can make and sell them. And because of this, there are more ereaders using this format than any other. However, it's also more difficult to create a "clean" EPUB which runs well on all the different devices that use them -- which is almost all the ereaders except the Kindle. But after months of work, I finally figured out how to create clean EPUBs -- which means they pass a special format checking program -- and I can at long last make Ruthless Putting available that way.

Hopefully I'll have the Nook version available through in the next few days, but I've already got it available direct through the site (which has a much more detailed look at what's in the book) as well as through a new "Mike's Books" page here on the blog. The direct version will not only run on the Nook, but on the Kobo, the iPad, the Sony, and any other ereader that handles the EPUB format. And you can also read it on your PC or Mac using Adobe's free Digital Editions reader software; I've included a download link for it (as well as for the Adobe Acrobat reader you use for the PDF) on the "Mike's Books" page.

In case it matters to you, you can also print a hardcopy of the book using Digital Editions, if you prefer to read paper but don't want to pay the higher price of the book.

Oh, and for all you folks out there who already bought the book... THANKS! Several of you have written me emails to tell me how the book helped you, and that really means a lot to me. While I get feedback on the blog all the time, it's harder to know when a book is helpful to readers. So again, thanks! But I'd like to ask a favor, if I might:

Amazon uses reader reviews to help establish rankings, which obviously help sales. If any of you "satisfied customers" have a moment, could you pop over to Amazon and leave a short review on the Kindle edition? Amazon likes reviews to be helpful -- which means just writing "I liked this book" won't do much good -- but they don't have to be long. And since I'm not one to go nuts tooting my own horn -- I personally hate it when people spend all their time writing blog posts about how great their stuff is -- I'd appreciate it if any of you want to add a review.

So that's about all the personal horn-tooting you'll get from me about the new edition. Now back to the blog and the next book... ;-)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bobby Jones Chips Smoothly Too

A couple of days ago I posted a clip from a Bobby Jones film on putting. Well, I found another clip from the same series, except this one's on chipping and pitching. This one's chopped-up like the other one -- they were recorded from a TV adaptation that, for a while, was the only way you could see them -- but it shows enough to prove that the Jones approach isn't limited just to putting:

One thing I like about this clip is you can clearly see how the Jones "popping" style works. Most people have heard teachers say "pop putting" is bad, but the Jones style is very different from the way most people "pop." See how his right forearm is anchored and his right wrist acts like an unpowered hinge while his left hand does all the work? It let Jones use the same technique for putting, chipping, and pitching, which probably contributed to his success against the pros.

Did you also notice how he uses the same "routine" when he chips that he does when he putts? One tap in front of the ball, one tap behind the ball, hit the ball. There's no elaborate preparation; he just hits the thing! I'm not saying you should duplicate what he does, but I do want you to see that there's no reason to agonize over the typical putt or chip.

There is one really important tip I think would help many of you chip better. Although it's true that sand wedges weren't invented until around the time Jones made these films (Gene Sarazen is officially credited with its invention in 1935 though he may have used a version as early as 1932), note that Jones doesn't use a short iron until he's some distance from the green. He's using a 5-iron from just off the green, where most of us would use a lob wedge!

Clubs with straighter faces (as opposed to a wedge's lofted face) are much more forgiving of mis-hits, and are less likely to leave the ball in the rough because the club went under it. And because of this, the technique is much closer to putting than chipping -- Jones just moves the ball back in his stance and uses his standard golf grip, then makes a putting stroke.

Why is this important? Jack Nicklaus says the most important tip he ever got came from Arnold Palmer. What was that tip? Simply that your worst putt is usually better than all but your best chips, so you're better off to putt if you have a choice. Chipping with a straight-faced club is a way to get most of the advantages of putting even when the ground is too rough for putting.

I personally tend to use an 8-iron or a hybrid, depending on how deep the rough is, but the principle is the same. Use a straighter-faced club if you can, and don't get so tense over the shot. It's just a chip, after all.

Remember: A club is just a tool for hitting balls. Tools are intended to make the job easier, not harder. So a good workman lets his (or her) tools do the work.

Try it and see if you don't hit better chips.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Ladies Are Playing!

Today's post is just a reminder that the LPGA is finally back in action -- the only tournament this month, in fact.

The Avnet LPGA Classic was Se Ri Pak's last win. You may remember she won a 3-hole playoff against Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen when last year's final round was cancelled due to rain.

Because so many sites have done lead-up posts, I've just decided to provide links to several of them. This tournament has been covered as well as any event thus far this year.
You can catch the first round broadcast on Golf Channel today from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm. You can also check the live leaderboard online by clicking the "LPGA Tour" link in the Live Leaderboard list in the right column.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Accelerating Your Putter is a Bad Idea

(I've tagged this post with "mindset" because so much of putting is just about how you think. In this case, it's especially so.)

When Dexter told me he'd been three-putting way too much, I commented:
Let me guess... you've been listening to all that crap about "accelerating the putter through the ball."

That's a sure way to destroy both line and feel.
And he replied:
Isn't that what all the pros say? "Accelerate through the ball and then hold the follow through."
So here's a new post on what I believe is one of the greatest putting heresies ever taught... especially since it's taught by really great teachers who should know better. I wrote an entire chapter about this in my book Ruthless Putting, so I'm not going to rehash the whole thing. But I do want to point out why this is bad advice and what the proper "technique" is.

1) The Relaxed Grip Conundrum
Here's the first reason this teaching makes no sense. We are constantly told -- and rightfully so -- that we should hold the club with as gentle a grip as possible. Sam Snead was notorious for the "holding a bird" metaphor that is often cited along with this important concept. Simply put, a gentle grip increases your ability to feel the clubhead and hit the ball the desired distance.

Now, to accelerate your putter you have to make a change of direction with your hands which the putter will resist. The putter's resistance is called inertia, as in "a body in motion tends to remain in motion until it is acted on by an external force." That's Newton's First Law of Motion.

Folks, if your grip is relaxed and you try to change the putter's direction (which is what acceleration will do), your wrists will cock. This is supposed to be a no-no, isn't it? That wrist cock will create power in the stroke that you don't want. You'll have to tighten your grip to resist that cocking motion. So accelerating the putter is advice that works against keeping your grip relaxed.

OK, there's a solution: Don't accelerate your putter until it has come to a complete stop on its backswing. I would argue that this is a delicate timing issue and presents serious problems when you're under pressure... but, as it turns out, this timed acceleration happens all on its own if you don't interfere.

2) The Nature of Gravity
If you hold a golf ball at shoulder height and drop it, does it fall at a constant rate or does it accelerate?

That's a trick question. Gravity is a constant acceleration of 32 ft/sec2 (32 feet per second per second), which means your ball speeds up at a constant rate that causes it to cover an extra 32 feet each second it falls. Or, if you prefer:
  • At zero seconds, the ball has not moved.
  • The ball falls 32 feet in the 1st second.
  • The ball falls 64 feet during the 2nd second, because it has accelerated enough to cover 32 feet more in this second than it did during the first one. At the end of 2 seconds, the ball has actually fallen 96 feet (32 feet during the 1st second, 64 feet during the 2nd second).
  • The ball falls 96 feet during the 3rd second, for a total of 192 feet in 3 seconds. (That's 32 feet + 64 feet + 96 feet = 192 feet.)
  • And so on...
Now, since we see this constant acceleration all the time and are used to it, we tend to see it as a constant speed. Do you understand the implications of this? If we just let the club essentially fall without us adding any power (think of a clock pendulum), gravity causes the putter to accelerate without ANY help from us whatsoever. And if we try to help it, which we think is acceleration, all we're actually doing is JERKING the club.

If we do that, we not only jerk the club off-line and thus affect its path, but we also alter the tension in our hands and thus hinder our ability to return the club face to the square position we had at setup. If we had just let gravity do its work, we could have kept our nice relaxed grip and not altered the path or the face... which means we would have hit a better putt.

And since gravity's acceleration is the same anywhere we're going to be playing golf, the speed of our stroke will be more consistent, which means we'll have better distance control.

All if we let things happen naturally and don't interfere.

3) Driving a Tack
One last thought. You've may have been told to practice your stroke by attempting to push a 2x4 straight toward the target with your putting stroke. (Shame on you, Martin Hall and Michael Breed!) This may have originated with an article Bobby Jones himself wrote called "Looking at the Ball," reprinted on pages 85-86 in Bobby Jones on Golf, where Jones wrote about visualizing the putting stroke as "an attempt to drive an imaginary tack into the back of the ball."

However, Jones never suggested accelerating the club in any way. Rather, he says it is to help him contact the ball more accurately. It's an aiming device, nothing more.

Obsessed with Power
This has all happened because we've developed an obsession with power in the game. Most teachers now advise making a short backstroke, then accelerating through the ball. That's a recipe for jerking the club off-line, twisting the face, and messing up your distance control.

I'll leave you with this: The first of the How I Play Golf film series that Jones made in the early 1930s was about the putter. This version is slightly chopped up, but it's the best I could find on YouTube. I have a DVD of the original, so I know what's in the whole film and I'll point out what Jones actually stressed in it.

A quick word before you watch, though. Jones is a pop putter, but his style is very different than what most people think of when they hear the word "pop." I spent considerable time analyzing his swing in my book, mainly because it's such a different approach. For now, just note that his right hand -- not his left -- is anchored; the left hand provides the power, the right hand is an unpowered hinge. Now listen to what Jones says:

Here's a few things you should pay attention to.
  • Here's the Jones "pre-shot routine": Tap the ground in front of the ball, tap the ground behind the ball, hit the ball. This is one of the greatest putters ever to play the game, and there's none of that fussing around you see in modern players.
  • Jones keeps saying you should take a long slow backswing that sweeps the ball. Doesn't the downswing look to be the same speed? There is no rushing the shot, no accelerating the putter. It's just a pendulum stroke. He's sweeping the ball. At the end of the original film, which is chopped off here, Jones says the one thing you have to remember is that long slow backswing. Do that, he says, and you'll never have a problem getting the ball to the hole. There's not one #%^@ word about acceleration in the whole film!
  • And look at him hit shot after shot, with barely a breath between them, and all the strokes look identical. You can't do that if you're trying to do it. Jones is just getting out of his own way and letting it happen.
So that's today's rant. Hold your putter with a gentle grip and forget about accelerating your putter through the ball! Learn to make a relaxed sweep the way Jones does, taking a long stroke and letting the putter do all the work. It's amazing how quickly your putting will improve once you stop trying to accelerate the putter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Improving Your GIR

SOS in bunker
Missed the green short again, eh? You're not alone.

Dexter mentioned in his blog that he's been hitting a low percentage of greens in regulation, or GIR. I suspect a lot of you are having that problem, so let me give you a quick lesson on the subject.

On the outside chance you aren't familiar with this stat, here's a quick definition: The guys who determine par on each hole assume you will generally take two putts to get the ball in the hole. If you subtract this "two-putt" from a hole's par rating, that tells you how many strokes it will take to get from the tee onto the green -- for example, a par 3 takes one stroke to reach the green and then two putts. If you hit the green in one stroke, you have "hit the green in regulation" and made one GIR.

GIR is usually expressed as a percentage of holes played; for a given event, the PGA Tour site will give you a GIR for each round and for the entire tournament. If you look at the big stat page for each player, that GIR is for all the holes the player has played in that year.

As of today, the average of all the GIRs of all the Tour players is 64.30%. (When I write a post and mention the average player's GIR, this is the number I'm talking about.) This means that, on average, players hit less than 12 greens in a round. Justin Rose is the best right now with a 73.61% average, which is just over 13 per round. Only 53 players hit 66.67% or better, which is right on 12 per round.

As you can see, hitting greens isn't the easiest part of the game, even if you play golf for a living!

But here's an interesting fact for you: As a general rule, the pros tend to miss greens to the right or left, while weekend players tend to miss the green long or short. Yes, I know Luke Donald missed several greens short on Sunday. Some of that was because of swirling winds, and the rest came from trying to get the ball as close as possible on hard greens. But overall, most of the guys were right on the distance but wide of the hole, weren't they?

I suspect I'll be revisiting this subject as Dexter works on his approach shots, but here's a quick tip that may help many of you. Have you ever noticed how many teachers and players advise weekend players to take an extra club on approach shots? (Butch Harmon called Michael Breed on The Golf Fix Monday night and said if he could only give one tip to viewers, that would be it.)

The reason is twofold. First, many weekend players just don't hit the ball solidly all the time, so they don't always hit the ball a consistent distance. But the second reason, which is intimately related to the first, is that weekend players always choose their club based on the best shot they've ever hit with it! That virtually guarantees they'll be short of the green most of the time.

Likewise, weekend players are often advised to take a longer club and swing easier, the idea being that the player will get a more solid hit with the shorter swing and therefore hit the ball farther.

For a little more insight into what factors affect your choice of club, here's some instruction from Jim Flick, taken from the Golf Channel's archives. (Golf Channel won't let you embed the video regardless of what the page says, so just click the link.)

The best thing about Jim's tips are that they don't require any extra practice or special techniques, just a few moments' thought. Hopefully they'll help you put more shots on the green during your next round.

The pic came from this Golf Digest article.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Heritage

Winner: Brandt Snedeker

Around the wider world of golf: For a holiday, this was a busy weekend! Kumiko Kaneda won the Fujisankei Ladies Classic on the JLPGA; Nicolas Colsaerts won the Volvo China Open, his first victory on the ET; David Eger and Mark McNulty won the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf on the Champions Tour in a two-hole playoff against Scott Hoch and Kenny Perry (Des Smyth and Mark James won the Raphael Division); and Lee Westwood won the Indonesian Masters, successfully retaking the #1 spot in the OWGR.

Snedeker on #7 at the HeritageIf this really is the last Heritage to be played on the PGA Tour, it certainly went out with a bang. Well, maybe bang isn't quite the right word; I understand the traditional cannons are much louder than that.

The day started with defending champ Jim Furyk and leader Luke Donald paired together. Furyk eventually fell out of contention after 3 bogeys and 2 doubles ruined his day. But that didn't mean Donald would have a carefree walk to the winner's circle.

First Brandt Snedeker birdied nine holes -- including the 18th -- to post at -12, making him leader in the clubhouse. Then both Tim Herron and Ricky Barnes put up runs, finally ending up tied at -10. South Carolina's own Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey made a run that included his own birdie on 18 and finished solo 3rd at -11, his best finish on Tour this year. (He posted a 2nd back in 2008.)

Donald matched Snedeker with a par on 18, and the two went to a playoff. Winning would not only make Donald a two-time winner this year but vault him to the top of the world rankings.

Both players birdied the 18th, then parred the 17th. But after a half-buried lie on the third playoff hole left him with a chip for par, the best Donald could do was lip out for a bogey and 2nd place. Brandt Snedeker got his 2nd Tour win by shooting the 2nd-lowest score of his career.

Appropriately, he had shot his lowest score to get his first win back at the 2007 Wyndham Championship. Ironically, he shot both personal-best scores in final rounds!

And so perhaps ends the run of one extremely popular Tour stop, since the Heritage doesn't have a new sponsor yet. South Carolina managed to find the money to keep it going this year, but this is it unless somebody steps up. So this Limerick Summary not only pays tribute to the winner but to the tournament itself. And in case you don't know, an exchequer is a treasury:
The last of the Heritage exchequer
Wound up with the victor, Brandt Snedeker.
But he wins with a frown;
Till a sponsor is found,
The end of this stop is a dread specter.
Click the pic to read the story as reported in the Deseret News.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ben Crane's New Video... 'Nuff Said

Oh yeah, it's out. In case you missed it, here is Ben Crane's new video... a response to those who say he's boring:

I think he should keep the mustache. ;-)

Happy Easter, everybody!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What You Can Learn from Ken Green

Since the Legends are playing this week, I thought I'd run a lesson on a legend you might not have expected -- Ken Green. You may remember that Green was in a car accident in June 2009 that killed his girlfriend, brother, and dog, plus resulted in an amputated right leg.

The prosthesis he plays on now is the focus of today's short lesson. Here's a short clip of Ken hitting balls -- first, a full-body view and then a close-up of the leg:

Granted, you'll want to keep your back knee flexed; Ken doesn't have that luxury. But do you see how steady he keeps his back leg and hip? That's a big key to getting a good movement through the ball that'll give you both power and accuracy.

Note that Ken lifts his left heel so he can get a good free turn -- sometimes you just aren't flexible enough to keep both feet on the ground. Ken's body also moves forward quite a bit on his followthrough because he can't get the normal hip and leg rotation from his right side. That's ok too -- it's just like Gary Player's old step-through move. It helps him avoid a reverse pivot, which would be a real problem since he can't bend his right knee.

If your lower body is a bit stiff, Ken's approach may be just what you're looking for. And in case you're interested, Ken and his partner Mark Calcavecchia are at -4, considerably behind the leaders at -10 and near the bottom of the field. But after what Ken's been through, that's amazing.

And in case you missed it, the team of Joey Sindelar and John Cook are at -7, just 3 off the lead. What makes this so cool is that Sindelar was out Thursday because of back problems (he hopes to be back today) and John played all by himself. Cookie finished ahead of half the field on his own ball!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Starts Today

AUGH! It's Easter weekend, my friends are on vacation and all kinds of things are going on... and when I finally cranked up my computer this afternoon, I realized I had forgotten to do today's post! So I'll make this brief.

I just wanted to make sure everyone remembers that the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament starts today on Golf Channel. (CBS has the last two days.) This is the tournament that really got the Champions Tour started, and it may be the most enjoyable event on the whole tour.

Past champions Watson and North
Four-time winners Tom Watson and Andy North are playing together again this year.

It's a two-man team event, and you get to see some unusual teams like Jumbo Ozaki and Ian Baker-Finch, or Andy Bean and Chien Soon Lu. And there are three different divisions -- the Demaret Division, the Raphael Division and the Legends Division. The Champions Tour site has an article explaining all the divisions, but here's a quick summary:

The Demaret Division is for players 70 and older, and they played Monday and Tuesday. Gibby Gilbert and J.C. Snead won this division.

The Raphael Division plays Friday and Saturday, and features players who don't play full Champions Tour schedules and/or are otherwise ineligible for the official 54-hole competition. The defending champs in this division are John Bland and Graham Marsh.

And the Legends Division is the main event. Mark O'Meara and Nick Price are the defending champions in this division.

So if you find a few spare moments this weekend, you might want to peek in and see how the old guys are doing. Like I said, it's one of the most fun events of the year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Core Workout without Crunches

I don't know about you, but I absolutely hate crunches. It's difficult to do them with proper form, and many of us simply can't do enough of them to make a difference. Because of that, I try to keep an eye out for ab workouts that don't include them.

I've used some of the exercises in this short video before, but I've never seen them strung end-to-end like this before. It looks like a pretty good workout, so I thought I'd pass it on.

The video will probably start with an ad. Such is life at YouTube these days.

This could be a good ab routine to work into a short full-body workout, to help improve your core stability during your golf swing. Hope it helps.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trevino Returns!

I know you thought I'd forgotten about this, but I wanted to wait until the golf majors were over. We're going to go back and look at some of Lee Trevino's driving advice and see how well it stands up to today's standard teaching.

First, here's the video again:

In the following comments, I've explained things for a righthander and put the lefthander's version in parentheses right after it; the first two times specifically say "for lefties" so you can see how I'm doing it. And I've included the time on the video where each segment starts so you can find it quickly.

1) Drawing the ball: Trevino says you need to pull your right foot (left for you lefties) back a little from your target line and roll your hands at impact. You guys know I don't like rolling your hands for a standard shot (recovery shots from funky lies are a different matter), but if you've read any of my December 2010 posts on the "new ball flight laws" you know that just squaring the clubface up from a closed stance will give you a slight draw. So far, so good.

Lee says you have to stay on the right side (left side for lefties) a little longer to get the proper result. Remember, this is being done from a closed stance, which puts your body just a bit farther behind the ball anyway. From a closed stance you have a tendency to try and make up that distance too fast, so you lurch forward and get ahead of the ball; when that happens, you push the shot. (Remember, a closed stance makes you swing more in-to-out.) What you want to avoid is lurching forward to make up the distance too soon. That closed stance gives you a longer backswing and downswing, so you don't have to move forward quite so quickly to get back to the ball.

Once you understand that, Lee's advice makes perfectly good sense. Since your downswing is coming more from the inside, your grip should be turned slightly stronger on the club's grip (remember, that side is a bit farther away from the ball now, and Trevino had a stronger grip to begin with) and your right (left) hand and arm will automatically feel like they're a bit under their normal downswing position.

2) Why You Slice, First Reason (1:20): Is stopping your slice really as simple bending your left (right) knee toward the target and keeping your right (left) knee behind it? Well, the key here is his explanation about your right (left) shoulder. Look, if that shoulder gets closer to the target line before the other one turns away, you'll swing from out-to-in; if it stays behind the shoulder closest to the target, you'll swing from in-to-out. If you get stiff-legged during your swing, your hips can't move well either and you'll fling that back shoulder out in front of your hips in order to turn.

You don't have to flex just one knee. If you keep both knees flexed during your swing, you should avoid this problem. Not only can your hips move more freely, but your weight doesn't get thrown toward the ball. That should let you keep the club more on plane so you swing it down the line better.

3) Why You Slice, Second Reason (2:24): OK, this one sounds contradictory to what we're being taught. Aren't you supposed to lead the club head into the hitting zone? Again, the key is Lee's explanation: The left (right) arm is too fast and the right (left) arm is too slow. What does this mean? You aren't turning your shoulders all the way through the hitting area. As a result, your hands are just sliding past your body through the hitting area without body rotation to help them square up.

This happens a lot to people who "chicken wing" their followthrough. When you "chicken wing," your elbow is pointed toward the target; but when you swing the club properly, your elbow should point at the ground. A real good thought here is that if you bent your elbow when you hit the ball, your elbow would hit you in the side of your stomach. If you're in the wrong position and you bend your elbow, it will probably point to your left (right), about halfway between your side and the target line.

4) The Correct Takeaway (3:46): Essentially Lee is teaching you the one-piece takeaway I detailed in the "Dexter's Coming Over the Top" series, for which you can find the links on the Some Useful Post Series page. That third error Lee shows -- the right (left) elbow bent too soon -- is exactly the problem Dex was having. The only problem I have with Lee's explanation is that some people might try to keep that arm and club stiff when they can actually stay relaxed as long as they turn their shoulders early in the swing.

If you look at Lee's arm just before his halfway back position -- right about the 4:58 position on the video -- you'll see his right arm has just bent. Ideally neither arm would bend before this point, but Lee is only 5'7" so his swing plane is a little flatter and his arm has to bend a bit sooner. But even if you're taller, if your backswing looks like Lee's, you'll be in good position.

And that's it. Trevino's basics aren't so different from what anybody else teaches -- he just explains things a little differently, that's all. If you're struggling with an unwanted slice, I hope the video and comments help.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Manny Manhandles the ET

Matteo Manassero (known as "Manny" on the European Tour) turns 18 today. He celebrated this past weekend by nailing his 2nd win on the ET in less than a year. Manny jumped from #57 in the world last week -- you'll recall that he didn't make the Masters field because he wasn't #50 or better -- up to #33. If he can stay in the Top 50 for another 5 weeks, he'll qualify for the remaining 3 majors of 2011.

I suspect a lot of players aren't particularly thrilled with that thought. Manny seems to understand how to close out a tournament when he has the chance.

It's pretty easy to understand why when you look at his stats. By now you've heard that he's a little short off the tee but very accurate with his irons. Here are his stats from

Category 2010 2011
Stroke Average 70.41 70
Driving Accuracy 72.66% 70.41%
Driving Distance 271.24 yds 273.21 yds
Greens In Regulation 72.33% 78.17%
Average Putts Per Round 29.62 29.64
Putts Per GIR 1.76 1.74

Although Manny is 6' tall like Jim Furyk, he doesn't really hit it any further than Furyk. But he's a good putter and -- most importantly -- check out that GIR. He hit over 72% of his greens in his first year on Tour, and this year he's up to 78%! Most weeks you're going to devastate the field with that kind of accuracy. Does Manny really need to be longer when he's already hitting more greens than the big hitters?

Here's a swing analysis video from the European website I'm going to focus on the slo-mo footage at the very beginning, but the video goes into a lot of detail for those of you who are interested.

Note a couple of things about Manny's swing. Granted, this is an iron swing so it's shorter than his driver swing, but he's still close to parallel with his club so I know I'm right about this. Manny's backswing is relatively short with a lot of wrist cock at the top. The shorter swing gives him a lot of control, while the wrist cock gives him quite a bit of power. He doesn't keep a lot of that wrist cock; if you watch, when his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, it basically forms a 90° angle with the club shaft. That's not a lot by modern standards, but it's certainly plenty in Manny's case.

Combined with this shorter backswing is the fact that he keeps his hands in front of him during the swing. This is actually stressed later in the video, and it means that if you drew a line across his chest and then drew a line perpendicular to it from the middle of his chest, his hands stay pretty much right there until he reaches the top of his backswing. At that point, his hands move to a point just outside his shoulders, but they return to a point inside his shoulders by the time his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing. From this position it's much easier to square up the club at impact. That's how you avoid getting stuck and hitting a big slice.

Add this to his good balance throughout his swing and you've got the ingredients for decimating the field despite still being a teen.

Manny's on the verge of breaking into my Ruthless Golf World Rankings, but the guys who are ahead of him all have majors, WGCs, or a prestige event like Riviera. But at the rate this kid's going, he may worm his way in by June...

Just in time for the U.S. Open, a major where accuracy is worth way more than length off the tee. That should make the rest of the field really nervous.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Valero Texas Open

Winner: Brendan Steele

Around the wider world of golf: Young Matteo Manassero went one-up on the old guy Rory McIlroy, holding on to get his second win (before he even turns 18!) at the Maybank Malaysian Open on the ET; Yuri Fudoh chalked up another win at the JLPGA's Nishijin Ladies Classic; Sweden defended their title at the LET's European Nations Cup; John Cook won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in a one-hole playoff over Jay Don Blake on the Champions Tour; and Daniel Chopra won a very foggy Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae on the Nationwide Tour when it was shortened to only 3 rounds.

Brendan Steele at the Valero
Click the pic to read the Ottawa Citizen's recap of the event.

If you watched the Valero Texas Open, you know why most golfers from Texas have flat swings. It's darn windy down there! So perhaps it's no surprise that a player with a strong grip and a flat swing took down the trophy this week.

Rookie Brendan Steele started the day with a lead. Even the veteran players haven't done particularly well under those conditions lately -- let alone with the wind whipping shots all over the place -- but Steele didn't seem to have much trouble. Two birdies, one bogey, and a whole passel of pars was all the rookie needed to grab his first Tour victory. The fact that he kept his swing under control, despite both pressure and wind, is no small deal when you're after that elusive first victory. (First PGA Tour victory, of course. Steele locked down none other than the Nationwide Championship last year. If that doesn't give you confidence, what will?)

And it's not like the rest of the field just rolled over and said, "No prob, Brendan. You take this one, we'll catch it next week..." Another rookie, Kevin Chappell, managed to catch him at the turn and stay with him until a bogey on the 17th put him in the rearview mirror for good. And Charlie Hoffman shot -4, matching the low score of the day (by Keegan Bradley, nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley) and almost getting the job done himself.

Almost... but no cigar. Which is just as well, because I'm not sure you could've kept a cigar lit out there in all that wind.

Other favorites fell by the way as well. Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker, and several other players who had been in the thick of it at the Masters last week just seemed to run out of gas. Fredrik Jacobson, who's been trying to get his game back together, put up another good finish this week, so he bears watching as the year goes on.

But so does Brendan Steele. He's not a famous writer or a mysterious private eye, but remember that name. When you've got a name like Steele and nerves to match, you just might have a future on the Big Tour.

It certainly gets you a Limerick Summary:
He's Brendan, not Danielle or Remington;
Decisive, not hawing and hemming, son!
Steele nerves never crumbled;
The field was soon humbled
Though some thought his chances were slim and none.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Had a Very Busy Day

I ran out of time Saturday. There was too much to do and too little time. So today I'm taking a break and letting Donald Duck give you a new appreciation for Kevin Na...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Everyone Knows It's Windy...

Down at the Valero Texas Open, but I don't think it's quite what the Association had in mind when they recorded this...

But the song is certainly appropriate. Only 16 players finished the day under par -- about a third of Thursday's total. Remember Kevin Na's 80 on Thursday? Quite a few players shot worse than that on Friday, including an 87 from Chris Baryla.

Btw, in case you didn't see it, TGC talked to Na after he shot his second round 77. He was actually in pretty good spirits and still laughing a bit about Thursday -- he said he saw the tape when he counted up his strokes, and thought it was probably entertaining for viewers. When asked if there was anything he wished he had done different, he said, "I should have taken a 7-iron instead of an 8. I bet I would have gotten out of the trees then." And he grinned real big. Yeah, I think he picked up some fans this week.

Seven players are tied for the lead at -3. When was the last time you saw a non-major where the lead was that high after two rounds? Geoff Ogilvy is in that tie, and defending (raining?) champion Adam Scott is just one back. Angel Cabrera barely missed the +4 cut.

"And Windy has stormy eyes" that were focused on Kuala Lumpur at the ET's Maybank Malaysian Open. Rory McIlroy stormed the course with a 64 to tie the lead... after which the course just got stormed. They couldn't even finish the second round because of all the lightning. (I should point out that Simon Dyson also shot a 64, but he's a shot back. What a bummer, eh?)

There were several scores over 80 in Malaysia as well, including an 89 from Marcel Siem. The projected cut there is even par, where Masters champ Charl Schwartzel is barely hanging on.

If ever there was a weekend to "blow" a lead, this looks like the one... but I don't expect Rory to do that this week. Just watching the interviews, I'd say the "eyes that flash" belong to him.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thank You, Kevin Na

I'm sure most of you think that post title is tongue-in-cheek, but it's not. I really do want to thank Kevin Na for what he did Thursday at the Valero Texas Open.

Kevin Na at Riviera in February
Photo from This was at Riviera in February, but it could have been the 9th tee yesterday -- same followthrough, same look.

In case you missed it, Kevin experienced every player's nightmare. He came to the 9th tee at -1, then took a 16 on the par-4 (that's right, 12 over par on a single hole!) when he drove two tee shots into the right woods, then made a poor decision to try and play the second one. Each shot went deeper into the jungle, farther away from the fairway. The ball hit him on one shot (that's a penalty) and then he whiffed another one! He finally left the 9th green at +11. But as amazing as it was, there was something that made it worse for him.

Kevin was mic'ed for TV. We could hear everything he said as it happened, not just stray mumbles if he wandered within range of a boom mic. But you know what?
  • He didn't say anything you couldn't play on live TV.
  • He didn't chew out his caddy.
  • He didn't scream and curse.
  • He didn't blame the course designer or the greenskeepers or even the golf gods.
Do you know what he did? He laughed about how ridiculous the score was! He and his caddy walked along, trying to count up the strokes, and finally Kevin laughed and said he was "somewhere between 10 and 15, but probably closer to 15."

He did get noticeably irritated for a moment after it was over, apparently because something got inside his pants legs while he was in the jungle; he said, "it feels like it's all over!" And a numb wrist (he hit a rock under the ball during one swing) caused him enough pain that his caddy asked if he wanted to stop playing... and Kevin said no, he'd wait and see if it continued to bother him.

In the end, Kevin finished the day at +8 (T140) and ahead of only 3 other players in the field.

Kevin gets a lot of grief for being a slow player, among other things, but can you imagine what a mic'ed-up Tiger might have sounded like after posting a 16 on one hole? Yet here's a guy who's still trying to win for the first time after years on Tour, knowing he's probably blown himself completely out of the tournament because of bad decisions on a single hole (and yes, his caddy did let him know -- gently, of course -- that they were bad decisions), and yet he didn't lose it. In fact, he came back and shot -3 on his back 9.

Everybody talked about how well Rory handled his blown final round at the Masters, but Kevin's train wreck was far more embarrassing. Most of us would have given Rory a pass if he had flipped out -- he's young, and that was Masters pressure -- but nobody would have given Kevin a pass, especially being mic-ed up like he was. And yet Kevin handled his disaster with just as much class, even though he didn't have time to consider the "proper" way to handle it before meeting the media.

He was mic'ed-up, after all. We got the full story as it happened.

So say what you like about Kevin Na, but what he went through Thursday was something all weekend players can identify with... and he handled it way better than most of us would. That's a lesson everybody watching could learn from.

Thanks again, Kevin. I hope you go crazy low today and make the cut. Wouldn't that be a story?

UPDATE: Kevin shot a 77 in his second round, so he won't make the cut after all. But he has two Top 5s so far this year, has pretty much locked up his Tour card for 2012, and is 30th in FedExCup points, so don't write him off yet. ;-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

About PowerPlay Golf

PowerPlay Golf logoYou may have heard about something called PowerPlay Golf before, or maybe you just caught Colin Montgomery talking on Golf Central about the first tournament that happens at the end of May. In either case, I thought I'd give you a quick lowdown on the format. You can also get more detailed information from these two sites, which are where the quotes in this post came from:
First, here's the basic idea behind PowerPlay Golf: "PowerPlay Golf is played over nine holes, with two flags on every green. Golfers can score extra points by taking a limited number of ‘PowerPlays’ to the harder Black Flag, creating exciting risk-and-reward decisions on each tee." That's right, two flags -- an easy one and a hard one -- on each hole, and you can decide which one to go for when you reach the tee. The scoring is British Stableford, which means you score points rather than strokes on each hole. And you can choose to make a few "PowerPlays" during the round, which allow you to increase the number of points you get if you're successful.

The game is apparently designed with two goals in mind. First, to make golf more attractive by offering a version that costs less and takes less time. I've been expecting something like this to happen eventually; time and cost are clearly two of the biggest hurdles to the average would-be weekend player. Personally, I think equipment will have to be downsized as well, perhaps to a 7-club set using a 3-wood with a driver length shaft instead of a driver in the standard set. (If players get hooked, they could then expand their sets to a normal 14 clubs.) If manufacturers could get such a set down to maybe $75, they'd be in a better position to compete with other weekend sports.

But I digress...

Apparently the second reason is to provide a made-for-TV sport that can be played in 2-3 hours and increase the excitement level with those gambles to the black flags.

Saab Great Britain Ltd. is onboard as a sponsor -- they've also signed on for the 2011 Saab Wales Open at Celtic Manor, and this first PowerPlay event will be held early that week -- so this format is going to have some serious cash behind it.

And they've picked up some starpower as well. Check out who's playing in the first tournament: "Taking place next month, POWERPLAY GOLF: IGNITION is the first of a series of three unique televised professional golf tournaments, to be broadcast live worldwide in 2011. In POWERPLAY GOLF: IGNITION, sponsored by automobile manufacturer Saab, golf’s global ambassador Gary Player will headline the field. Reigning US Open Champions Graeme McDowell and Paula Creamer, Ryder Cup stars Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, and Major Championship winners John Daly, Ian Woosnam and Helen Alfredsson will also be among the stellar field of 12 players competing at The Celtic Manor Resort, City Of Newport, Wales, on Bank Holiday Monday May 30th 2011 at 1700 BST."

So it appears that these tournaments will include members from all the major tours, regardless of whether they're men, women, or seniors. (Not unlike the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge.) That should be fun! It may also gain new viewers for the LPGA and Champions Tours.

The big question is simply: Will the concept fly? That I don't know, but it certainly sounds interesting. At any rate, we'll find out on April 30th.

So that's your 10-cent tour of the new format. And here's the official site for PowerPlay Golf, in case you're interested.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Love for Masters First-Timer Jason Day

Why, you may wonder, am I not looking at the swing of Charl Schwartzel, the newest Masters champion? The answer is simple: I already did! Back in January I did this look at Schwartzel's swing right after he defended his Joberg Open title. I was ahead of the curve!

Instead, I'm going to look at Jason Day's swing. You can make a decent argument that Jason played the best of anyone in the field, given that he was playing the Masters for the first time. (You can't give him the title, of course... but you can make the argument.)

Here's a swing analysis from professional Dan Whittaker, done after the second round at the Masters. (Talk about timely!) I'm just going to look at a couple of points for this post, but feel free to learn everything you can from his entire analysis. ;-)

I've lifted a couple of frames from the video. The positions on the left side are from Jason's win at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson, and the ones on the right are from his second shot on 18 at the Masters last Friday. The little yellow lines on the bottom pics were drawn by Dan Whittaker; you can ignore them in terms of what I'm saying, but I added the two vertical black lines.

Jason Day -- swing positions

There are two things I want to point out, one thing that's different and one thing that's the same.

The difference? Last year Jason was standing taller with his weight more back on his heels. This year he's taken a more athletic stance -- which means he has a bit more knee bend and leans slightly more forward from his waist -- which puts his weight more over the balls of his feet. This lets him keep his balance more easily and swing a bit more freely. Just compare the two swings -- which looks like it will send the ball farther to you?

So what stayed the same? Jason still keeps the club "in front of him." That's the reason he played so well in the past despite being a bit too much on his heels. I'm sure many of you get confused by that statement, so here's a good chance to understand it.

See those vertical black lines I drew through Jason's hands? See how they are just barely outside his right shoulder at the top of the swing? That means his hands are "in front of him." If they were farther behind his shoulder, he would be more in danger of getting stuck. (Note to self: Do a post with a "keeping your hands in front of you" drill.)

For comparison look at Tiger, who's notorious for getting stuck. He has traditionally had his hands much further behind him at the top. If you look at footage of his new swing with Foley (yes, there's some up on YouTube) you'll see that his hand position and posture now look more like Day's. Woods is on a flatter plane than Day but he's leaning more forward, which has the effect of making him carry his hands higher and putting them "closer" to his shoulder.

Now back to Day. If you compare where Jason's hands are relative to his feet (look at the black lines) you'll see that his hands are also more over the balls of his feet at the top of his backswing. In other words, they aren't behind him. All of his motion goes into hitting the ball, not trying to get his hands around his body.

These are the two things I think you can learn from Jason Day -- take a more athletic posture at address and keep your hands more "in front of you." Rather than trying to stretch your hands back behind you, focus on turning your shoulders more fully. That will give you more power with less stress.

Just look what it did for Jason. Not bad for a Masters virgin.... not bad at all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: April 2011

April's RGWR is a week later due to the ladies playing their first major last week. However, this allowed me to include the Masters results in this ranking, perhaps making it it a bit more up-to-date.

And that's important, because things are changing in the RGWR. The 4 wins each of Kaymer and McDowell now separate them from the pack, as the only other player with more than 2 wins is Jhonattan Vegas. However -- and this is equally important -- the leaders benefit from having gotten their wins later in 2010. Except for Kaymer's 2nd at the Accenture and McDowell's 2 Top 5s in January, neither has played particularly well in 2011. That means they may be riding on past glories, which can get you a quick trip to the bottom of the RGWR!

So let me once again give you my standard description of RGWG criteria:
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. The OWGR rates consistency over the last 2 years, so I see no reason to rank that; my RGWR says 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
I put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness.

I assign points to tournaments like this:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC: 8 points
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
As usual, although the points affect my rankings, they don't override my personal opinions. So here's my post-Masters round-up:
  1. Martin Kaymer: 4 wins (1 major, 2 prestige). Kaymer's runner-up at the Accenture is still the best showing of the big boys lately. After all, he wasn't the only one to get the boot at the Masters. He'll figure out Augusta soon enough.
  2. Graeme McDowell: 4 wins (1 major, 3 prestige). Graeme hasn't played well enough lately to hold his spot in the OWGR's Top 5, but he's still got more wins than anybody but Martin. A little downtime is understandable.
  3. Jhonattan Vegas: 3 wins. Jhonattan's been a bit flat the last couple of months, but he's still played better than most of the big names. And he's won in more than one country.
  4. Louis Oosthuizen: 2 wins (1 major). Louis lost one of his three wins last month, but his win at the Africa Open in January is recent enough to make him someone to watch. And his Open Championship will probably keep him in the RGWR for at least three more months. Louis is ahead of Charl simply because Louis had 3 wins in 12 months and Charl had no more than 2.
  5. Charl Schwartzel: 2 wins (1 major). Needless to say, his Masters win kicked him up in my rankings. He tends not to play as well during the summer, so I'll be interested to see if this big win changes that.
  6. Luke Donald: 2 wins (1 WGC). Yeah, I've been singing his praises since late 2010... but I've been right, haven't I? The Accenture is easily the biggest of the WGCs, and his T4 at the Masters just continues his good play. Right now he's still my favorite for the U.S. Open -- despite criticism of his driving -- but I'll have to weigh his play against another new entry to this month's RGWR before I pick in June.
  7. David Horsey: 2 wins (2 prestige). Are you in shock? Do you even know who he is? He won the 2010 BMW International Open and the 2011 Trophée Hassan II, both highly-regarded tournaments on the ET. If he keeps playing this well, it won't be long before everybody knows him.
  8. Alvaro Quiros: 2 wins (1 prestige). Quiros has the whole package, plus he's starting to post Top 5s the way Luke Donald does. With his length, that makes him a dangerous player.
  9. Adam Scott: 2 wins (1 prestige). Adam Scott is the new entry in my U.S. Open Favorites list. I'm really impressed with how he's rebuilt his game over the last year or two and, with that T2 at the Masters, I think he may be ready to break out the way Donald has.
  10. Bubba Watson: 2 wins (1 prestige). Bubba still makes too many mistakes to rank higher in the RGWR. But this is a guy who's been rebuilding himself, even while working through the death of his dad. If he keeps on his current track, he's got serious potential.
  11. Jonathan Byrd: 2 wins (1 prestige). J-Byrd's been a bit flat since his win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions; I think that's understandable after the drama of his wins. (Remember the playoff hole-in-one last year?) He did post a T10 at the WGC-Doral -- another big stage -- so we'll see how he does the rest of the year.
Guys to watch over the coming months:
  • Both of the Molinari brothers -- Eduardo already has 2 wins and Francesco won the WGC-China.
  • Gary Woodland has posted a win or Top 5 each of the last 3 months and was T24 (-2) at his first Masters.
  • Jason Day. 'Nuff said!
  • Rory McIlroy. And no, this isn't a pity pick. He's been playing pretty steady over the last year and in a few weeks he'll recognize the biggest lesson of this past weekend -- namely, that his "collapse" didn't touch anything that's important to him. Mark my words: He's going to be very dangerous at the Open this year!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Masters

Winner: Charl Schwartzel

Around the wider world of golf: What wider world of golf? Everything stops for the Masters! Ok, that's not entirely true... the LPGA Futures Tour was in action. Former Big Breaker Ryann O'Toole won the Santorini Riviera Nayarit Classic.

Charl Schwartzel after eagle on the 3rd hole
Click the photo to read's article on what Schwartzel accomplished with this win.

On the 50th anniversary of Gary Player's 1st Masters victory (both for himself and for South Africa), another South African got his 1st Masters victory as well. Charl Schwartzel's bump-and-run birdie on the 1st and his hole-out eagle on the 3rd were great, but his 4 birdie run on 15-18 to take the tournament was just incredible.

You may remember I made a big deal about Schwartzel last year when he nearly beat Ernie Els at the WGC-Doral. Well, Sunday's win jumped Charl from #20 to #11 in the OGWR and jumps him to #4 in my own RGWR, just ahead of his buddy Louis Oosthuizen. While both have 2 wins in the last year (one a major), Charl has more high finishes in other tournaments -- just this year he has an 8th, two 4ths, and a 2nd in addition to his two wins.

On Golf Channel's pregame show, Gary Player said he thought anybody within 7 strokes of the lead still had a chance and that funny things often happen the final day of a Masters... although he added that he had picked Rory before the tournament ever started. I wonder what Charl thought about that?

Such humorous moments are common at the Masters, and this one had other humorous moments early on as well. Did any of you see the footage of Tiger and Westwood meeting each other on the putting green in similar outfits? It was hilarious!

But this Masters got serious very quickly. It was much different from any other we've seen, simply in terms of how many storylines came together:

Anniversaries: Ten years since the Tiger Slam, 25 years since the Jack Attack, and 50 years since Gary Player broke ground for the international winners. Add Seve's birthday to the mix and you've got a special week right from the start.

The Train Wreck: Did anybody expect Rory McIlroy to fall as badly as he did? He'll be back -- he's too good not to rise above this -- but as a wise man once said, "Some of us learn from other people's mistakes; the rest of us get to be the other people."

The Return of the Prodigal: He's baaaack... sort of. I'm sure Rory had considered that someone might catch up to him before the day was over. However, I doubt he expected that person to be Tiger Woods. In 9 holes he had moved from 7 back to 1 back before his putting deserted him.

Still, he carries away a lot of positives. I do think Friday was a turning point for Tiger. As I said in Saturday's post, it's the first time I've seen him actually "swinging the club" rather just trying to "hit positions." Although he didn't score particularly well Saturday, he's clearly had a (pardon the pun) major breakthrough in his rebuild process. And I don't think Sean Foley's going to be criticized as much now.

The Curse from Down Under: Australians just can't seem to get a win at Augusta. Still, three -- THREE! -- made runs on Sunday and nearly succeeded. And the two who tied for 2nd will leave Augusta knowing it's only a matter of time:
  • Geoff Ogilvy: He wasn't on anybody's radar till he shot 31 on the back 9. His game is looking good.
  • Adam Scott: Has Scott's game ever looked this good? This T2 was his best-ever finish in a major.
  • Jason Day: The Masters virgin joked that he needed to pay people to cheer for him. After this T2, that won't ever be a problem again. And with that birdie on the 18th? 'Nuff said.
Unlucky (Par) Three: My pick to win, Luke Donald, supposedly fell to the par-3 curse. However, this is the first time Luke ever shot par or better in all four rounds at a Masters, and he snagged a T4 with an amazing birdie on the 18th. That's a curse?

Tanks and Ducks and Van Pelts: Although in the end K.J. Choi, Angel Cabrera, and Bo Van Pelt ended up as also-rans, they were integral players who all held a share of the lead at some point... actually, at several points.

Sole Survivor: And I don't want to forget that Hideki Matsuyama finished as low amateur this year. Some people criticized the tournament decision to offer a Masters invitation to the holder of the 2010 Asian Amateur title, but Matsuyama's finish ought to put an end to that debate. He was the only amateur to make the cut!

It Could Be Verse: But regardless of how many great stories we had, today's Limerick Summary has to be dedicated to the newest invitee to the Champions' Dinner held each April at Augusta National:
This banquet was set for Charl Schwartzel,
Who stepped up and savored each mortzel.
He ate up the course;
With this tour de force
His world rank won’t be controvortzel.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So Is It a One-Horse Race?

What a difference a day makes. Suddenly the talk has changed from "This is a wide-open championship" to "Are we witnessing a changing of the guard?" The bunched-up leaderboard is still bunched up... as long as you don't count the leader!

Here's where we stand entering the final round:
  • -12 (1st), Rory McIlroy
  • -8 (T2), Jason Day, Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi, Charl Schwartzel
  • -7 (T6), Luke Donald, Adam Scott
  • -6 (8), Bo Van Pelt
  • -5 (T9), Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Geoff Ogilvy, Ross Fisher, Bubba Watson
Phil was the favorite a few days ago, now he's a longer shot than Tiger.

On the bright side, Ian Poulter may yet be vindicated!

Is it a one-horse race after all, just with a different horse than we expected? That all depends on Rory. If he comes back to the field (which is quite possible, you know -- just ask Greg Norman), there are at least six players capable of winning this thing. (One of whom is my pick, Luke Donald. Just so you remember...)

And that's not such a far-fetched possibility. Should Rory come out and shoot 2-over on the front 9 and one or two or the T2 players shoot 2-under, we've got a three-way tie entering Amen Corner. In that case even Phil, languishing back at -3, could get 3-under on the front, shoot a 31 on the back, and post an early -11 that Rory would have to stare at for the last 90 minutes of his round. Playing beside Cabrera, who's coming off a 67, life could get very difficult.

Or Rory could post a fairly pedestrian 70 of his own (moving the lead to -14), forcing someone to shoot at least a 66 in hopes of a playoff. If the chase pack doesn't step up, the powers-that-be at Augusta might have Rory's green jacket ready and waiting for him before he even plays 17.

Or Luke could shoot that 64 and take the lead at -15. Smiley Faces What will you do then, Rory? Huh?

So, although I'm not ready to say it's Rory's tournament to win or lose, it's also clear that Rory can make things very hard for his pursuers... or very easy.

Let the race begin!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A MAD Friday at the Masters

Alfred E. Neuman pic from tvtropes.orgI couldn't help but think of Friday's Masters madness in terms of a MAD Magazine issue, so...

"What Have You Done for Me Lately?" Dept: After rounds of 70-72, Phil Mickelson received hardly any airtime in the daily recaps. An explosive player like Phil certainly isn't out of it yet -- all he needs a good day (a "g'day"?) like Jason Day's -8 to get back in contention. But as we all know, yesterday's favorite is today's afterthought.

"Shoot Your Ages" Dept: Rory McIlroy (age 21), Ricky Fowler (age 22), and Jason Day (age 23) played together both days and posted a group score of 23-under. Rumors that we were getting a glimpse of a possible future "Big Three" may not be far off, given that the three are apparently good friends. McIlroy and Day will continue to be paired at least for Saturday, at 10-under and 8-under respectively.

"Who's on Third?" Dept: K.J. Choi is making another run toward a first Masters title for South Korea (and Asia in general), posting -7 to snag a share of third place. And who's that wild animal tearing through the ranks to join him? None other than Tiger Woods, who joined him there with a great second round. Tiger actually seemed to be swinging his clubs rather than just hitting positions; he even had some touch in his putting and short game. These two should also enjoy a comfortable pairing, since they played all four rounds together last year.

"What's Old is New Again" Dept" What happens to Fred Couples at Augusta? I forgot to list him as my "Low Old Guy" in yesterday's post, but it's impossible to forget him at this point. Freddie's 5-under puts him in a tie for 7th, 5 shots off the lead, but that's not too far back when you consider that one 64 and three 65s have already been posted this week.

Alfred E. Neuman pic from"So Who Wants to Be First?" Dept: Well, apparently not Martin Kaymer or Graeme McDowell. Their early exits clearly put #1 in the OWGR up for grabs. Four other players can take that spot with a win this week, and all four -- Mickelson (8 back), Donald (6 back), Westwood (5 back), and Woods (3 back) -- are all still very much in contention. Get ready for another shuffle in the rankings... and more debate over who should have gotten it!

"Down Under the Radar" Dept: An Australian has never won the Masters, but Jason Day isn't the only one with a chance. Geoff Ogilvy has quietly crept up the leaderboard and currently sits T5, a mere 4 shots back. Could this be the year the boys from down under come out on top?

"Over Par/Under the Knife" Dept: The cut came at +1, which I think I heard was the lowest cut ever. Only 49 players made the cut, and many favorites went home. Among them: Mahan, Harrington, Oosthuizen, and Vegas. At least Ernie Els survived -- he made it in at #49.

"Shot in the Arm" Dept: Finally, a bit of news reported by Todd Lewis at Golf Channel. Todd talked to Sean Foley, who says an old mainstay of Tiger's arsenal will soon be returning to the course. Apparently they've been working on restoring Tiger's old go-to shot, the stinger. Given how often Tiger used that shot in the past, that's big news.

And if you're wondering whether I'm worried if this weekend can live up to the drama of the first two days, I have but one reply: "What, me worry?" ;-D

Click the Alfred E. Neuman pic to read's article on MAD Magazine. And the Spy VS Spy pic is from Dave Lawson's blog (, also just a click away.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday Lows at the Masters

First, let me mention one of the "highs" of the first day at the Masters:

Before play started, Mike Davis from the USGA (speaking for the R&A also) announced a new rule designed to eliminate player DQs because an unintentional rule infraction was discovered on video after play had ended. You may remember that Padraig Harrington got DQed when his ball moved so slightly that it could only be seen in a slo-mo replay -- which is just what happened during a tape-delayed broadcast after the round had ended. (Bear in mind that neither Paddy nor his playing partners could identify this infraction at the time it occurred. The USGA and R&A are taking the position that, if an infraction can be identified in any manner, it must be enforced.)

Under the new rule, Paddy would be assessed 2 penalty strokes and allowed to keep playing. Just for the record, Camilo Villegas would have still been DQed because ignorance of the rules is not excused under this rule.

I wrote about the need for such a rule several months ago and, while I doubt they paid attention to my post, it was nice to see this problem finally addressed. I even heard it called "the Harrington Rule," the same term I used because it was Paddy's DQ that prompted my post. Golf Channel showed officials making a special trip to the range to tell Paddy about the new rule! Cool stuff.

Now on to the "lows" of the day, bearing in mind that Sunday's leaderboard rarely looks like Thursday's:
  • Low Young Gun: Rory McIlroy's 65 (-7) was enough to grab the early lead... and good enough to stay there. How good was it? Here's all you need to know: BOGEY-FREE. Wow.
  • Low Bomber: Alvaro Quiros matched McIlroy at the end of the day. His 65 was a full ten shots better than any round he ever shot at Augusta National!
  • Low Previous Low Am: This one's a tie. Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes, both low amateurs at past Masters, posted 68s (-4) to keep the rivalry going.
  • Low Past Winner: Trevor Immelman has really been fighting injuries since his Masters win, but he finally seems to be healthy. His 69 (-3) was the lowest of the past champions.
  • Low New Kid on the Block: This one's a no-brainer. Gary Woodland not only posted a 69 for lowest score among the rookies, but he blistered the final six holes in -6 to do it (eagle, par, 4 birdies).
  • Low Tiger: While nobody really expected much from Tiger, he still posted a 71, placing him T24 -- a very typical first-round Tiger score. Only once has he shot better than 70 in the first round (that was last year), and his first round average is well over 72. In other words, we still don't know where Tiger's game is.
  • Low Favorite: Of course, that would be Phil. He posted a 70 (a single bogey on the 18th kept him out of the 60s) but even he had mixed feelings about it. See, he only hit 4 or 5 fairways, which makes this sound like a great score... until you realize he still missed putts for another 4 or 5 birdies. That's what got under Phil's skin -- that much was clear from his after-round greenside interview. Still, he's very much in position, currently T14.
  • Low Cursed Player: That would be my pick, Luke Donald. Burdened by the par-3 curse, he was +3 coming out of Amen Corner. But suddenly, he played 14-16 in birdie, eagle, birdie to get in red figures before a bogey on 17 put him back to even, where he finished. At T31, he's still very much in this one, and an early tee time may give him a chance to make up ground today.
  • Low Amateur: This was a three-way tie between David Chung, Hideki Matsuyama, and Peter Uilein. Still, the worst of the amateurs was +3, which is nothing to be ashamed of. As Curtis Strange pointed out, several of the pros would have paid good money for those scores!
When it comes to surprise lows, I have to split the "honors" as there are two ways you could interpret this category:
  • Surprise Low Point: I don't know which surprised me more -- Henrik Stenson's +11, which put him dead last in the field, or Martin Kaymer's +6, which is just a shocking score for the World #1. I'd have never guessed either one would happen. (Paddy's +5 doesn't count here because he was playing with a neck injury.)
  • Surprise Low Score: No question -- and this is a really pleasant surprise -- Sergio Garcia's 69, which placed him T7 in the field. After a couple of bogeys in the middle third of his round, Sergio rallied to post eagle-birdie on 14 and 15. He was smiling almost everytime I saw him during the round, and even a bogey on the 18th didn't seemed to dampen his spirits. I guess that time off really helped him! A happy Sergio in contention at a major is a good thing.
So now you've got the scoop on Thursday. The cut will be at either (1) Top 44 and ties or (2) everybody within 10 shots of the lead, whichever is less. What surprises will "cut day" give us?

Well, one thing's for sure. More than a few players will experience "lows" of their own tonight!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Great Ruthlesski Makes His Masters Pick

Clearly overconfident after picking Stacy Lewis to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship last week (after Paula Creamer, his original pick, stumbled badly and drove a sharp pink stake through his heart), the Great Ruthlesski once again buffs up his crystal golf ball -- this time for Masters predictions.

Let's face it, Phil is the favorite. He was already playing better than he did last year, and now he's got his two best rounds (and best weekend score) in two years, has tied a course record, and set a new tournament record -- all in the week before the Masters. He's the only guy in 20 years to win the week before the Masters and then win the Masters also. He's ahead of Tiger in the world rankings for the first time this century. And, perhaps scariest of all for his competitors, he seems to be in a good place both physically and mentally for the first time in those same two years.

Therefore the Great Ruthlesski is NOT picking Phil to win. (I told you he was overconfident.)

As little as a month ago the Great Ruthlesski had been leaning toward Martin Kaymer despite his past poor showings at the Masters. However, Kaymer's inability to post a good finish recently has the Great One concerned, so he can't in good conscience risk his already fragile reputation on the World #1.

However, there is a player whom the Great Ruthlesski has been big on for several months now and who has not let him down... a player who has stepped up big time on the biggest stages so far in 2011. It is this player who gains the Great Ruthlesski's nod.

That player is WGC-Accenture Match Play champion Luke Donald. (Photo from

Luke Donald photo from

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm for Donald. For example, Jimmy Boyd over at Locksmith Sports Picks writes:
Luke Donald – Donald shot a course record 62 at The Bear’s Club last week but enters this tournament slightly overvalued in my opinion. His backers know all too well how he did at Augusta last year (missed the cut).
To which the Great Ruthlesski replies: This isn't your 2010 model Luke Donald. The 2011 model rode roughshod over a WGC field earlier in the year for his biggest win ever and, according to Tim Rosaforte, backed up that course record 62 with a 66. He may have missed his first cut back on Tour after a 3-month rest (that was Riviera), but he's got 3 Top 10s (with that WGC win) since. He looks confident and at ease with himself. And the Masters cut he missed last year? You can be pretty sure that helped fuel his improvement.

Most importantly, his iron play and putting are obviously still sharp. Tom Watson says that iron play is the determining factor at Augusta, not length (although it helps). True, Donald's only 145th in GIR at 63.33%, but he's missing them in the right places. We know that because he's ranked 2nd in Scoring, 5th in Scrambling, 7th in Total Putting, and 8th in Sand Saves.

The Great Ruthlesski will ride that pony till it breaks its leg on the turn and we have to shoot it. (Ok, maybe not the best analogy...)

At any rate, the Great Ruthlesski has spoken: Luke Donald shocks the sports world and wins the Masters for his first major. Be appropriately awed.

And just for the record, I wrote this Monday night for posting this morning. In the meantime, Luke Donald won the Wednesday par-3 tournament, which no one has ever won and then won the Masters in the same year. I think Donald is the guy who's going to break that curse. I'm still picking Luke Donald to win this year's Masters.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Phil Has Two Drivers

I'm really amazed at the confusion that surrounds Phil's two drivers. Let me try to shed a little light.

The last time Phil carried two drivers, one was set up for hooks and one for slices. That's simple enough to understand.

This year they don't have different playing characteristics. The differences are that one is an inch longer and has less loft, the other (presumably) is his regular driver. And everybody seems mystified why, if these are the only differences, why doesn't he just carry the longer one and choke down on it for shorter shots?

Here's why: The more loft a club has (that is, the larger the number of degrees on the face), the more backspin it develops. Backspin stabilizes ball flight, kind of like a gyroscope. It's why you can hit a 9-iron straighter than a driver; the greater backspin off the 9-iron makes it tend to fly straighter. It's also why it's harder to hit large cuts and hooks with short irons.

As we have all learned from the science of ball-fitting, part of getting distance involves reducing backspin. By reducing the loft and adding an inch to the shaft of his long driver, Phil grabs another 15-20 yards. But there's a trade-off: he loses some accuracy.

Now let's say he wants to hit a shorter shot. Sure, he can choke down on that longer-shafted driver... but he's still lost some accuracy. He can't control the direction of the ball as easily, although that's the logical reason to use the shorter club, right?

That's why Phil's carrying two drivers this week. One of them is for when he's got a wide-open shot where he can go for distance without worrying so much about accuracy, the other's for shots where he still needs more length than a 3-wood but accuracy is a bigger concern. I suspect he'll use the long driver to shorten the longer, more open holes and the shorter driver when the hole is tight.

Will Phil's plan work? I don't know... but I think he's proven he knows what he needs at Augusta. I'm not going to question it.

Just a Thought on Tiger

Tuesday was the day most of the Masters hype began in earnest. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that all the "official" activities really got underway. And pressers by the various players are the big focal point for us fans. (Of course, the Champions' Dinner is the big thing for the players.)

We got to hear stories from Nicklaus and Player, first-timer observations from US Amateur champ Peter Uihlein, and the rambling media circus that is Phil Mickelson. We heard everything from humor, as when he was asked if his vertical jump had increased and he said, "The cameras did not catch me at the apex. I just need to stress that," to more factual info about his equipment.

In case you didn't hear, Phil will again use two drivers, but they aren't set up with different playing characteristics as they were in 2006. Rather, one is about an inch longer and has less loft, which he says he can hit 15-20 yards farther. He also said that he swings harder at the Masters than he does at any other tournament because length is a bigger advantage there, and that he has been working with a doctor to make sure his back was strong enough to withstand the "rotational forces" involved. Typical Phil presser!

But I thought Tiger's presser was the most interesting, even if it wasn't as entertaining. Since I talk a lot about swings on this blog and have speculated on what and why Tiger changes things, I wanted to mention a couple of things he said which put his frequent swing changes into perspective.

Tiger said he makes changes in an effort to get better and more consistent. While he said this in reference to all of his changes, it seemed clear that he specifically meant that his first swing change (the "Butch" swing) was for this reason.

The second change (the "Hank" swing) was made because the move he used in the "Butch" swing tore his left knee up... twice. I've speculated before that, based on different things I'd heard, this was the reason. It was nice to hear it finally confirmed.

But the most interesting thing I heard was his reason for his recent swing change (the "Foley" swing). Tiger finally confirmed that this wasn't merely a swing tweak but a complete rebuild. Then he said he wasn't as consistent making the moves as he wanted, but when questioned further said his body wouldn't permit him to make the moves consistently. In other words, age and damage have taken their toll. This also helps explain the more "stacked" position Tiger is using; with the left knee supporting a bit more weight in the backswing, much of that "snapping" motion of his left knee is eliminated while still allowing him to unwind his body quickly. (Just for the record, there is no "tilt" in the swing; Tiger's hips stay much more under his head using the Foley swing. Again, that means less stress on his body.)

One other fact that came out is that Foley has changed him to a stronger grip. This certainly backs up the idea that his body wouldn't allow him to swing the way he had with Haney. Weaker grips, typically used to eliminate hooks, automatically assume you're making a really fast move with your lower body. A stronger grip will take some pressure off that left knee because he doesn't need to turn as dramatically to get a good release -- more power, less effort.

So now we have a clearer picture of why Tiger has changed his swing so much. What was originally just an attempt to get better has become a need to adapt to a changing body. Apparently even the most athletic golfers are subject to the same human weaknesses as us weekend players.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Powerful Swing of Stacy Lewis

Stacy Lewis holds KNC trophySince the Masters is this week, I'm postponing the April Ruthless Golf World Rankings post until it's over. Instead, let's take a look at the swing that took down the ladies' world #1 -- the swing of Stacy Lewis, the latest LPGA major winner.

Stacy's swing is particularly interesting because of her battle with scoliosis. It's no secret that she has a metal post with five screws in her lower back, although golf is known for the stress it places on your lower back. And it's not just that Stacy manages to play pro-level golf with this little addition to her anatomy; at only 5'5" tall, she still managed to keep up with long-hitting Yani Tseng.

If you have back problems, you can probably learn some things from Stacy Lewis!

There is relatively little video of Lewis on YouTube, but we're fortunate that posted this footage of her swing from the Honda LPGA Thailand earlier this year:

A huge key to Stacy's swing is just how upright her swing plane is. By swinging her hands high over her head -- as opposed to the more-rounded swing she would have if she used a lower plane -- she eliminates a lot of twisting stress on her back. It's also worth noticing that a large number -- not all, but a large number -- of big hitters, past and present, have had upright swings. Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, and Tiger all fit into this category.

Being upright automatically causes some changes in your swing that help ease back problems. Stacy has taken this "high hands" concept and adjusted it to take even more stress off her lower back.

For one thing, she stands taller to the ball. By not bending a lot, she eliminates much of the back stress that generating rotary power with a bent waist would cause; she can keep her back pretty straight throughout her swing. She flexes her knees enough to allow fluid movement, but not enough that she has to bend over a lot. This also lets her keep a steady height throughout her swing. See how little her head moves up and down during her swing? All of these little things take stress off her back.

Even though her head doesn't move up and down a lot, you should notice how much her head moves back and forth during her swing. At setup her head is just back of the center of her stance. As she nears the top of her backswing, her head gets almost (but not quite) back over her right knee, then she starts her downswing by moving it forward. Her head finally stops pretty much at her setup position and doesn't move any farther forward until her swing is nearly finished.

Have you ever tried to reach for something when you couldn't stand close to it? Your feet form a base for balance. When you have to move your upper body weight toward the outer edges of that base, the struggle to keep your balance as your weight moves over one foot puts more stress in your lower back. Stacy keeps her head (and therefore her upper body) well between her feet to eliminate stress on her lower back. Even in her finish position, her head doesn't get over her left knee.

She also has her ball back in her stance a little, even with her driver. (The angles of these videos are a little misleading. The ball is between her front heel and the center of her stance, not square in the center of her stance!) This does two things:
  1. It helps keep her ball flight lower for more distance.
  2. Since she keeps her weight more centered between her feet, the ball is located so she doesn't have to "chase after it." This also takes some stress off her back.
Finally, Stacy doesn't make a violent move with her hips to start her downswing. That's part of the reason her swing looks so smooth and simple. I've been recommending that you try to feel as if you start your upper and lower body at the same time to simplify your timing, but it also takes stress off your lower back. And as Stacy proves, it doesn't take any power away from your swing.

The result of all these little things is quite obvious. No matter what angle you watch her swing from, her back stays pretty straight all the way through. That means less pain and stress, even as she generates a huge amount of power.

Now, there is one caveat I should add. There is a flaw that upright swingers frequently fall into, and that's not finishing their shoulder turn. Because their swing plane is higher, there isn't as much momentum pulling their arms and shoulders around at the change of direction in the backswing. Please understand that it's not more difficult to get a full shoulder turn with an upright swing -- it's actually easier to turn your shoulders when you stand taller -- but you have to think about it a bit more. Stacy doesn't make this mistake; she gets a good shoulder turn. As a result, the payoff is less lower back strain during her change of direction, plus she gets plenty of power.

Stacy says she has patterned her swing somewhat after Karrie Webb. Personally, I think a lot of her mechanics are also very Annika-like. You can do a lot worse than copying two Hall of Famers.

Especially when it takes the stress off your lower back.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Shell Houston Open

Winner: Phil Mickelson

Around the wider world of golf: The Great Ruthlesski smiled smugly as Stacy Lewis came from behind to grab her first LPGA victory -- and first major -- at the Kraft Nabisco Championship; Tom Lehman won the Mississippi Golf Resort Classic on the Champions Tour; Zuzana Kamasova became the first Slovakian winner on the LET when she won the Lalla Meryem Cup; and David Horsey won the Trophée Hassan II in a three-way playoff on the ET.

Photo of Phil from a greenside bunker on the 8th
Click the photo to read the LA Times summary.

What will Phil do next? Just make the bookmakers scream bloody murder, that's all.

You see, the last thing a bookmaker wants is heavy betting on the most likely player to win the Masters. Guess what started happening mere minutes after the final round of the Shell Houston Open?

It was bad enough that Phil tied the course record on Saturday with a 63, which was also the best round of the day and his best round in two years. It almost certainly started a buzz in the betting community. But then he follows it up with a 65 -- again the best round of the day and easily the best weekend for him in that same two-year period. Did I mention that he won the Masters during his "slump"?

He also jumped all the way up to #2 in the FedExCup points race. For all the gloom and doom about Phil's game, he's actually been playing better than he did last year before the Masters.

BTW, did I mention that he won last year's Masters during his "slump"?

It wasn't as if Mickelson just waltzed his way into the winner's circle, even if he made it look that way. (Does Phil waltz? Perhaps Phil will do "Dancing with the Stars" next.) Scott Verplank, whose lifelong struggle with diabetes has sidetracked his career several times, came in second and once again showed just how good a player he is when he's even slightly healthy. Newcomer Chris Kirk (no relation to James T.) chalked up the best finish of his short career to tie Verplank. Steve Stricker knocked the rust off his game pretty quick and even Padraig Harrington showed up in time for the Azalea Festival we like to call the Masters.

Did I happen to mention that Phil once won a Masters after winning the week before, and that he's never been out of the Top 10 there when he's won the week before (3 times)?

Look, I don't want to paint Phil as the savior of golf. Quite frankly, I've enjoyed seeing some new blood on the leaderboard and, if ratings are any indication, most golf fans have too. But I agree with Johnny Miller, Dan Hicks, and all the other commentators I've heard talk about it -- all major sports seem to thrive best when there are one or two dominant players that those up-and-comers are trying to displace. Phil's win, especially the week before the Masters, is one of the best things that could happen to golf.

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of it all is that Phil finally leapfrogged Tiger in the world rankings -- in fact, he's now #3 again. Why's that so fascinating? Because now he's only .68 points behind Westwood and 1.16 points behind Martin Kaymer. If he could somehow win the Masters next week... !

Wow... could Phil somehow defend his title at the Masters next?

Welcome to the 2011 PGA Tour, where Phil is Phil and the bookies are nervous.

Today's Limerick Summary salutes the resurgence of Lefty and the start of a very interesting week at Augusta:
The father of golf thrills, Phil Mickelson,
In past months played more like a fickle son.
Now bookies are fretting—
The gamblers are betting
And Phil's who they're putting their nickels on!