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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: June 2011

Yes, I'm hitting these a day early. I normally do them on the first Tuesday of the month, but that would throw me a whole week later.

I've made a couple more slight alterations to my system this month, so here are the updated 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 (PGAT), BMW PGA (ET), and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
As you can see, I've put the ET's BMW PGA Championship at the same level as the PGA Tour's TPC. It's the ET's flagship event (as the TPC is ours) and played on a single course that's been accused of being "tricked up" yet still managed to give us World #1 and #2 in a playoff. That's good enough for me!

I put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness. Also, remember that I count Top5s as a separate category from wins; if you see a player has 3 Top5s, those are seconds through fifths only.

I assign points to tournaments this way:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC & BMW PGA: 8 points (yes, I'm calling them equals!)
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
I've decided to give full credit for wins on the "minor" tours like the Nationwide and Asian Tours provided the winner has a current win on the PGA or European Tour. These wins will count only as "regular" wins and not "prestige" wins, no matter how prestigious they may be for their tour, because they generally don't have the strength of field of a regular PGA or ET event.

And because of a strange quirk on the ET site, I've decided I have to specifically state that a tournament win can only count once. I know that sounds weird, but here's the situation: Michael Hoey won the Madeira Islands Open but it counted as 2 wins because it was co-sanctioned by the ET and the Challenge Tour (the ET's equivalent of our Nationwide Tour). I understand that it counts as both a Challenge Tour win and a European Tour win... but that's not two wins, guys! Therefore, to avoid possible confusion, I'm just telling you that the RGWR says you can only win a tournament once at a time.

As usual, the points affect my rankings but don't override my personal opinions:
  1. Lee Westwood: 4 wins (1 prestige), 4 Top5, 22 points. To be honest, I don't feel Lee should be #1 -- he's still a bit too inconsistent for my tastes. But the RGWR places a lot of importance on wins and on current form, so by the criteria I use, Westwood is the most deserving of the #1 spot.
  2. Martin Kaymer: 4 wins (1 major, 2 prestige), 2 Top5, 29 points. Kaymer is still ahead of McDowell because he has a win this year, plus he's playing better as of late.
  3. Graeme McDowell: 4 wins (1 major, 3 prestige), 5 Top5, 36 points. The U.S. Open champ is still struggling, but I look for him to come out of this funk soon. The signs are there.
  4. Luke Donald: 2 wins (1 WGC, 1 BMW), 11 Top5, 37 points. Luke fell victim of a strange aspect of my recordkeeping -- his win at the Madrid Masters last year came after the BMW PGA, so technically he still has 3 wins. Unfortunately, I go by dates rather than playing order and the MM was in May, so it dropped off the RGWR the same week he won the BMW this year. But with those 11 Top5s, I've still put him at RGWR#4. In my opinion, he should be #1 here like he is on the OWGR because he gets in position to win more often than anybody else... but the RGWR can only be bent so much.
  5. Bubba Watson: 3 wins (1 prestige), 3 Top5, 17 points. Bubba's stats remain the same as last month. Perhaps he needs some time to catch his breath.
  6. Jhonattan Vegas: 3 wins, 1 Top5, 11 points. Jhonattan hasn't budged either. I suspect his problem is just a matter of getting used to his newfound notoriety.
  7. Charl Schwartzel: 2 wins (1 major), 2 Top5, 17 points. His Masters win is so recent that it weighs heavily on his ranking, but he's nowhere near as consistent as Luke Donald; there's something to be said for a body of work versus a single big win. Still, Schwartzel posted another Top5 since his big win, something many players haven't done.
  8. Alvaro Quiros: 2 wins (1 prestige), 5 Top5, 13 points. His point total dropped this month but he picked up another Top5 finish. I think he's almost ready to break out.
  9. Matteo Manassero: 2 wins, 3 Top5, 12 points. What can I say? He's played well enough to qualify for the U.S. Open (#30 on the OGWR!), so he's doing something right.
  10. Ian Poulter: 2 wins (2 prestige), 1 Top5, 12 points. Granted, Poults hasn't set the world on fire lately. Still, he won the Volvo World Match Play Championship against Luke Donald, who's no slouch at match play himself. He seems to be over his "flat spot" and is getting into the hunt a bit more often now, so I like where he's headed.
The RGWR Short List U.S. Open Favorites (in no particular order):
  • David Toms: Toms has one major win, so he knows how to get it done. He's played extremely well for the last few months (a win and 3 Top5s), and he's shown he's still got the resilience to handle adversity on the course.
  • Matteo Manassero: The kid has shown some vulnerability on the big stage; witness his poor last round at the BMW this past weekend. But he's got to learn somehow, and I think he'll place well at Congressional; he's too good not to.
  • Luke Donald: Luke has been my favorite for months, despite his sometimes unruly driver. But after that little show he put on at Wentworth last week, I'm no longer sure it's as much of a liability as I first thought.
  • K.J. Choi: When K.J.'s putting well, he's a force to be reckoned with. And having won at Congressional before, he's bringing along some good memories.
  • Jason Day: He's my dark horse. After his T2 at Augusta and his title defense rally to finish 5th (and as one of only 5 players under par) at the Nelson this past week, I feel really good about his chances.
  • Lee Westwood: I know the rap -- he can't close 'em out. But when you keep getting to the dance floor, eventually somebody's gonna dance with you. With his tee-to-green game, it could very well be this month.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 HP Byron Nelson Championship

Winner: Keegan Bradley

Around the wider world of golf: Luke Donald took down Lee Westwood in a one-hole playoff at the BMW PGA Championship, grabbing not only the win but #1 in the OWGR; Caroline Hedwall took the LET's Allianz Ladies Slovak Open; Hiromi Mogi won the Yonex Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has the details); Mariajo Uribe won the LPGA's Brazil Cup in Rio de Janeiro; and Tom Watson beat David Eger in a one-hole playoff to win his sixth senior major on the Champions Tour.

Keegan Bradley on Nationwide Tour

I guess Tour rookies get no respect either. A search for articles about Keegan Bradley's playoff victory at the Nelson turned up photos of Jordan Spieth (the local amateur), Sergio Garcia, Ryan Palmer... but no pics of Bradley, even though the articles were about his win.

Maybe that'll change in the future. As it is, I chose a pic from showing Bradley on the Nationwide Tour, the article having been written by our local newspaper's golf columnist, John Dell. That article gives some nice background on the Tour's newest winner.

In case you've been hanging out with the guy in this commercial:

let me tell you about Keegan Bradley. His dad Mark is head pro at the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club in Wyoming, and his aunt is LPGA legend Pat Bradley. (I wonder if they'll be ringing the cowbell for his win, the way they used to for Pat? Probably!) And Keegan won in typical Bradley fashion -- by outlasting the field.

After Friday's round the lead was at -8... and it went backward from there. Winds gusting at more than 30mph on both Saturday and Sunday drove the number of players under par to a mere 5 by the end of the tournament. When Keegan posted at -3 via a bogey-free back nine that included 8 straight birdies, Ryuji Amada was at -5 and looked to be in good shape. But the wind cost him 3 bogeys in the last 4 holes, and everybody else with a chance had a similar tale to tell. Only Ryan Palmer, who started the day at -5, managed to birdie the 18th and post a +2 round to make a playoff.

Surely the advantage fell to Palmer, with 3 Tour wins already and riding the high of a birdie on the last hole. Bradley had been waiting for some time, and it showed as the playoff began and he nailed his drive way right into the woods. Palmer also missed the fairway right, but he had a fairly clear shot. Game over, right?

Right, but not as expected. Bradley threaded a big hook through the trees and barely held the edge of the green, just short of the water on the left... and Palmer rinsed his second shot. Bradley got up-and-down for his first Tour win... and most likely his first "cowbelling."

So here's a Limerick Summary for the Florida kid who's originally from Vermont... and who showed his appreciation for alpine sports in the hot flatland of Texas:
Keegan Bradley could not have been calmer
In his playoff against Ryan Palmer.
Though he drove in the woods,
He came up with the goods―
An approach dodging trees like a slalomer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 4

Today's the payoff for all the time you took learning this hand position drill.

First, just so you have all the links:
Today we'll finish it all up and show you how it works in your regular swing.

As I've been saying all along, we have a tendency to overdo things during our swing and interfere with things that should happen naturally. We want to hold the club with a relaxed grip so the muscles can react to the swinging action of the club, but we try to help the club too much. The drill is designed to focus on the moves you should make so you don't interfere, to make your swing happen as naturally as possible.

Of course, once I separated those moves from the normal act of swinging they didn't make much sense, did they? Now that we know what the moves are and how to do them in order, I can better explain how they work.

During the drill we held the club so the shaft pointed straight up in the air all the way through the swinging motion. This is to teach us how those relaxed forearms move when we don't consciously twist them. The swinging weight of the club, along with the bending of our joints and turning of our body, will cause them to turn only what is necessary for the club to follow its plane during the swing. We're letting the swinging of the club determine the plane, not our twisting muscles.

We used a neutral grip during the drill, and many players will feel comfortable with it and use that grip during their swing. (That's how Carl taught me, in fact.) If you go back to an early series I did on the deadhanded approach shot (it's listed on the "Some Useful Post Series" page), you'll find that I did some of these movements there. In the second post I included this drawing:

Neutral grip

and another drawing showing how that position looked at the top of the backswing. But many, maybe most of you will not be comfortable with a neutral grip; you'll tend to leave the clubface open at impact. No problem, just use a stronger grip.

In fact, in the third post I included a drawing that showed how a strong grip looked when you cocked your wrists at address:

Strong grip

and another drawing showing how that position looked at the top of the backswing. The club shaft is almost the same position at the top because the stronger grip puts the club pretty much on plane from the very start of the swing. This should show you that your wrists are going to cock on plane when you get to the top of your normal swing; you don't have to twist them to get them on plane.

The one-piece takeaway we used for the first move in the drill keeps your arms straight because you're turning your shoulders. This does two things: The turn gives you power for your downswing and puts your hands on plane. Your wrists will still be in nearly the same position as your setup (they do most of their cocking in the top half of the backswing), and the bending of your elbow when you pivot your arms upward causes them to finish cocking. The momentum from that motion will smooth out that "bend in the plane" we had when we paused halfway up, and it pulls our hips around a bit too.

The wrist cock you get at the top when you change direction is what makes sense of the downswing moves. The club is still trying to go back when you start down, so it resists your body's efforts to change direction. Your hands and arms swing farther back than we did in our drill; that provides the tension between your hips and shoulders.

Your lower body starts the downswing simply by putting both feet flat on the ground, which causes enough weight shift to get you going. Your shoulders lag a bit -- that's why I had you hold them steady during the drill -- and the club's backward momentum helps hold them there, but your hands and arms start to drop (it's only 3 to 6 inches) -- which we also did during the drill -- when your feet replant themselves. This little drop helps you keep your hands in front of you. If you start turning your shoulders before your hands drop, it causes you to lean backward a bit and that throws your whole downswing off.

At this point you want to feel as if you are backhanding the ball. That's how you keep from flipping your wrists at impact -- you simply feel as if they are square all the way down. This way, the club naturally squares up; if you try to flip them, sometimes you'll do it too much and sometimes not enough. This will also keep your elbow pointed down toward the ground, so you won't chicken wing the finish.

With your elbow close to your side like that, the club's speed will help pull you through to the finish. That will ensure that you don't stop too soon and flip the club (causing a duckhook) or pull your arms low across your body (causing a pull). Finally, we mirrored the top of the backswing so you'd get used to finishing on the same plane you started on.

Whew! That's a lot of stuff. But it all comes basically from eliminating the unnecessary forearm rotation so many of us have in our swings because we try to "help" the club go where it wants to go all on its own.

I recommend using the full drill from Saturday's post every once in a while to help you keep these things clear in your head. But once you have a handle on it, you can do a short version as a practice swing. Just use step 10 from the drill, which is just the full swing in slo-mo, but use your regular grip and hold the club normally. Make the drill slowly, stopping at each pause with the club in its actual position, then make the swing at full speed and try to feel your hands at the same positions. It'll help your aim and you'll hit the ball more solidly. It may even add some distance since you'll stop working against yourself during the swing.

As for you, Dex, I suppose this sounds really complicated... but it isn't. The trickiest part for you will be learning not to twist your forearms. But once you get it, you'll get it quickly and you'll see a quantum leap in your ballstriking.

Just remember to think about your hand position. It should feel as if they are in basically the same position they were at setup, no matter where they are in the swing. Think about holding a full glass of water. You can hold it at waist level, raise it to your mouth, move it to the side to avoid it getting bumped by someone... but it always feels like it's upright, and you do it without even thinking about it most of the time. That's what you're after with your club.

All you have to learn is how to stop "spilling" your club shaft on your backswing. ;-)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 3

Ok, let's review. We're working on a hand position drill to help improve your swing in a general sort of way. I want it to be useful to players with a lot of different swing styles, and I'm focusing on a basic concept that the late Seve Ballesteros said was very important -- namely, you need to be conscious of your hand position throughout the swing. If you know where your hands are at all times, you can keep track of where the clubface is pointed at all times.

Thursday we worked out a hand position drill for the bottom half of our swing, and Friday we worked out a hand position drill for the top half of our swing. So what's next?

We put the two together, of course... but not the way you might think. At least not yet.

You see, I want this drill to do more than help Dexter eliminate that excess forearm rotation he's dealing with. I want to help him eliminate some of his movement off the ball on the backswing as well. I don't want him to stand like an iron pole embedded in the ground, but I don't want him waving like a weed in the wind either! So initially we want to put this drill together backwards -- that is, we'll start the drill at the top of the backswing. That way, it'll be easier to learn how to start the club back without moving so much.

Here's the drill. Make sure your wrists and forearms are relaxed, and that you go through this is slow motion. This isn't a swing, but we're mimicking a swing. And yes, it will take a couple of minutes to do one repetition because we're building the swing in segments:
  1. Take your normal setup position using a club and the neutral grip from the past posts.
  2. Cock your wrists straight up so the club shaft forms a 90° angle with your forearms. Keep the club cocked like this throughout the drill.
  3. Lift the club up to your "backswing shoulder." Your hands will be just above shoulder height, one arm is straight, and the other is bent.
  4. Turn your shoulders 90° to mimic your position at the top of your backswing. The club shaft should extend over your shoulder at about a 45° angle. Your weight should be pretty evenly distributed on both feet, but you may feel a bit more pressure on the "backswing side." And make sure you haven't inadvertently stood up straight; we want to be in our normal top of swing position, with flexed knees and tilted at the waist.
  5. Keep your shoulders still and slowly lower your hands down to waist high. Both elbows should be straight and your hands roughly in front of your belly button. Pause, then return them to the bent position with as little excess motion as possible. Repeat this action 3 times, then end with your hands at waist high.
  6. Slowly return to your setup position by turning your body and lowering your hands, feeling as if you are leading the "swing" with the back of your lead hand. Pause, then turn back to the halfway up position you started from (i.e., make your takeaway). Repeat 3 times, then end in your setup position.
  7. Slowly make your takeaway to waist high, pause, then continue to the top, pause, return to waist high, pause, return to setup. Repeat 3 times.
  8. From the setup position turn to waist high in your finish (got that? we've changed directions), pause, then return to setup. Repeat slowly 3 times.
  9. Slowly make your takeaway to waist high on the backswing, pause, then continue to the top, pause, return to waist high, pause, return to setup, pause, move to waist high in the finish, pause, return to setup. Repeat 3 times.
  10. Now -- you guessed it -- slowly make your takeaway to waist high on the backswing, pause, then continue to the top, pause, return to waist high, pause, return to setup, pause, move to waist high in the finish, pause, continue to the top of your finish, pause, return to waist high, pause, return to setup. Repeat 3 times.
  11. Congratulations -- you survived the drill! Throw a party and celebrate -- it's Memorial Day weekend, after all!
A couple of days ago I asked you to trust me while we put this together, because this drill seems to violate every fundamental concept of the swing you can imagine. The neutral grip you're using probably feels unnatural to you, you don't rotate the club, you do all your coiling in the bottom half of the swing, you hold your shoulders still in the top half, and now I've got you turning in an exaggerated "plane" that looks more like a bent paper plate because you pull down at the top of the swing and then "backhand" the ball at the bottom. How in the heck is this drill supposed to help you improve your swing?

Now that we have the first incarnation of the drill assembled, I think I can answer those questions in a way that will make sense to you.

A lot of things happen in a golf swing automatically. Many players try to make them happen, and as a result they prevent them from happening correctly. This is a feel drill and it's intended to teach you how the swing feels when you make moves that don't interfere with those natural movements. To do that, I've designed it to eliminate most of the natural movements caused by swinging weights, bending joints, and twisting muscles. In fact, the club itself should feel pretty light throughout this drill because of the consistently cocked position.

In essence, you're making the moves you should make without feeling any of your muscles' reactions that are caused by the momentum and weight shifts these moves create. This allows you to focus on just the moves you should make. When you actually swing a club using these movements (and that's what we'll do tomorrow in the last of these posts, where I'll show you how it works with your normal grip), the natural effects of these movements will cause them to blend together and let the club do what it should. And you'll be able to tell where your hands are "aimed" throughout the swing.

This drill has you moving the triangle formed by your elbows and hands through the entire swing so it stays pretty much parallel to the ground. Yeah, it'll tilt a bit at the top because your elbow bends there, and the club shaft will rotate your wrists as it goes up, but those things will happen on their own without your help, so the swing will still feel pretty much the way this drill does.

It will all make sense tomorrow, I promise. So practice this drill today and focus on where your hands are "pointed" -- it should feel pretty consistent all the way through your slo-mo swing -- and we'll apply it to a real swing tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 2

Yesterday's post looked at forearm and hand positions in the bottom half of the swing on both sides of the ball. But there is so much more to your swing than just the bottom parts. If you want to know where your hands are (and thus where the clubface is) throughout the swing, you've got to know about the top parts as well. That's what we're going to look at today.

First, let me link you to this post about K.J. Choi's swing. That post focused on how well K.J. keeps his hands in front of him throughout the swing and it included a short video by K.J.'s swing coach Steven Bann. The post is worth re-reading, but here's the video (just to save some time) because some of you may not have heard this aspect of the swing taught before:

Let's use what Steven Bann has just said to help us work on the top part of our swing drill. First let's get in position. I'm describing this for right-handers and I've put the left-handed version in brackets:
  1. Take your normal setup position. Use a neutral grip (both thumbs on top of the club's grip) as we did in yesterday's post.
  2. Cock the club straight up with your wrists so it forms a 90° angle between the shaft and your forearms. Again, we did this in yesterday's post.
  3. Lift the club toward your shoulder.
  4. I want you to do this is a very specific way. Keep your left [right] arm straight and raise your arms by bending your right [left] elbow. This will move your hands from the center of your body to a position just above shoulder height and in front of your right [left] shoulder. This will look like it's not a full arm swing, but if you did it at normal speed this position would get your arms nearly vertical. This is about how the top of swing position would feel during a normal swing.
  5. Turn your shoulders 90° to mimic your position at the top of your backswing. The club shaft should extend over your shoulder at about a 45° angle.
  6. You should be able to hold this position pretty easily, even with both feet flat on the ground. If you aren't flexible enough (and there's no shame if you aren't), relax your arms a bit (let them drop) just enough that you can. The hand position is the most important thing here.
Now we're in our starting position. Ready to start the drill? This is going to sound insanely simple after all that description on how to set up, but I bet some of you are going to have trouble with it.
All I want you to do is lower your hands from shoulder-high to waist-high using just your right [left] elbow. Your hands will travel in a diagonal line from in front of your shoulder down in front of your belly button, which will cause your bent arm to straighten out. Then use your elbow to return them to their starting point in front of your shoulder. Don't tilt the shaft to either side as you raise and lower your hands. Do it slowly several times... and make sure you don't turn your shoulders at all.
It's harder than it sounds, isn't it? Let's look at this in a bit more detail.

Since you're still in your golf posture at the top, the club shaft should be pointed over your shoulder as I explained in this post using Lucas Glover as an example. (And that post also explains why I want you to keep your shoulders still during this drill.) When you lower your hands, you return them to about the same position they were during yesterday's drill with the one-piece takeaway.

You've probably been looking at your hands up to this point. That's ok, but I also want you to turn your head back to your normal position (you'd be looking at the ball during a real swing, after all) and see how it feels if you haven't tried it already.

I want you to be able to feel that your hands are pointing the shaft straight up all throughout this move, even when you aren't looking at them. Then I want you to reset and mirror this drill on the other side, at the top of your finish position.

I know you're all beginning to think this is silly. "My hands won't really be in this position during the swing," you say. "The club moves on a plane, not straight up and down. This drill has absolutely nothing to do with the actual positions I move into during an actual swing." But you're wrong...

Although the club won't be in these actual positions during a swing, this is how your hand positions will feel when the club moves through its actual positions. When you consciously try to put the club on plane, you actually twist it off the correct plane. If your relaxed hands and forearms move through the positions we've used in the drill so far, the physics affecting the swinging club combine with the bending of your joints as your body turns, and the combination creates the proper swing plane automatically.

But the swing will feel this way, and feel is what this drill is intended to develop.

Work with this today because -- you guessed it -- tomorrow we'll put both parts together to make a drill for the complete swing. But we're going to do it in a special way... after all, I promised Dex this drill would do more than just stop his over-rotating forearms...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 1

In yesterday's post I looked at the improvement in Dexter's swing and decided the next step was to eliminate his excess forearm rotation. Usually I take two or three posts to explain the hows and whys of drills, but this time I'm doing to try and do that as we go. I'm dividing this drill into several pieces, each of which builds on the others.

After I looked at Dex and his friend Doc's swings, I finished the post by saying
"So what both Dex and Doc need to do is correct that over-rotation of their arms during the backswing. In the next post I'll give them a drill to teach them both the proper movement of their arms though the entire swing -- or rather, teach them what they should feel in order to get the proper movement. That's what is really tripping them up."
The first stages of this drill focus almost totally on how a good swing feels. One good thing that has come out of Seve's untimely passing is a renewed interest in his game, and one of his keys was an awareness of his hand position throughout his swing. That's what made him such a great shotmaker, and I want Dex (and Doc, if he decides he wants to try this) to learn how to make shots rather than just swing the club.

To do that, we're going to build our drill in stages. Each stage will focus on developing a feel during that stage of the swing. One of the most important lessons you can learn is that what you feel you're doing during your swing is almost always entirely different from what you think you're doing. Much of making a good swing is just about getting out of your own way, of putting yourself in a position that allows a good swing to happen naturally.

For the first part of our hand position drill, we're going to incorporate a move Dexter has already proven he can do -- the one-piece takeaway. We're going to use the one-piece takeaway drill as our first building block in this drill, but we're going to make a few changes to it:
  • change our grip
  • cock our wrists
  • increase its range
Let's look at each in turn.

Change Our Grip
In the original drill we used our normal grip, which for most of us is turned slightly strong on the club. (That is, your hands are turned slightly to the right if you're a right-hander, slightly to the left if you're a left-hander.) But this time we're going to start with a neutral grip, with both thumbs on top of the club shaft. The reason is simple: It's much easier for most of us to correlate our hand position to the clubface position this way, and that's what we ultimately want -- to know that when our hands are in this position, the clubface will send the ball in that direction.

Cock Our Wrists
By using a neutral grip, it's very easy to cock our wrists straight up. Here's what we want to do: We take our normal setup position and, using a neutral grip, cock our wrists so the club shaft forms a 90° angle with our forearms. Yes, it's going to look a bit strange, standing in your setup position with the club pointing straight up in the air, but bear with me.

Increase Its Range
In the original one-piece takeaway drill we only turned from our setup position until our hands were waist-high on the backswing. Now we're going to add the same portion of our followthrough -- in other words, the drill is now twice as long, from a half-backswing to a half-followthrough. Got it?

So Here's Part 1 of Our Drill:
If you aren't already, get familiar with the one-piece takeaway drill in the post I referenced earlier. Dex already knows it, so I'll get on with how to do this new version:
  1. Take your setup position, holding the club with a neutral grip.
  2. Cock your wrists upward, so the club shaft makes a 90° angle with your forearms.
  3. Start your backswing, slowly turning until your hands reach waist-high. Now, this is vitally important and will probably be the most confusing part, but I'll explain it in a minute: I want you to make sure the club shaft is perpendicular to the ground when you reach that waist-high position. This won't require any forearm twisting. All you need to do is lift your left elbow (right elbow if you're left-handed) straight away in front of your body, just a little. Although your elbow moves, you'll probably feel it more at your left shoulder, as if you were pushing the club away from you.
  4. Keeping your wrists cocked, slowly change direction and turn until your hands reach waist-high in your followthrough. Again, it is vitally important that you make sure the club shaft is perpendicular to the ground when you reach that waist-high position. In fact, it will feel as if the shaft points straight up all the way through this drill.
  5. Return to your setup position and uncock your wrists. This will put you back into your original start position. Repeat several times.
Alright, let's talk about that perpendicular shaft position throughout the swing. Why point the shaft straight up when you're swinging on a plane? Shouldn't the shaft be "on plane" instead?

Here's where we get confused over what we think we're doing and what we feel we're doing. There are physical laws at work in the golf swing that happen automatically. When you swing the club back at your regular speed, the weight of the club is automatically slung along a plane, which means the shaft automatically slants onto the plane, In addition, the bending of our elbow on the backswing further shapes that plane. That's how it works provided we don't interfere. But when we consciously twist our forearms, we do interfere and we cause the shaft to slant too much.

That's what Dex and Doc -- and probably many of you -- are doing during your swings. What this drill teaches you is what a neutral, unmanipulated forearm move feels like. With your forearms relaxed and in this position, the natural forces in the golf swing act automatically. Anything that happens naturally tends to happen more consistently, and that's what we're after.

Here's one other thing you'll notice when you try this: You can't point the butt of the shaft (and therefore the heel of your hand) toward the ball as you "swing" into the impact position. That's because you have to rotate your forearms to make that move. Instead, this move will feel more like you're throwing a Frisbee, with the back of your hand moving toward the target. Focus on that feel; in this position, the back of your hand faces the same direction as the face of the club. You can know the clubface position because of your hand position. This is an important concept, and I want you to feel it clearly.

I know you all probably have more questions, like how this translates to a normal grip or how this "Frisbee feel" can possibly work in a normal swing. By the time we're done you'll be doing this with your normal grip and you'll be able to feel the hinging and unhinging action for yourself, but I'm going to ask you to trust me for now. This is the shortest route to success I know, and I'll try to answer your questions as we go along. For now, just work with this first stage of the drill and focus on that vertical shaft position at the two halfway points. It's going to pay dividends in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dexter's Back!

As most of you probably remember, I've been trying to help Dexter over at Golf Tips & Quips improve his swing. After our initial round where we used a one-piece takeaway to eliminate his over-the-top move, I needed to see how he's doing so we could figure out the next step.

Here's the post where Dex posted the videos of his new swing. It has nine videos. He posted the original video of his old swing, followed by four videos of his new swing -- two different angles of both his driver and an 8-iron -- and four videos of his friend "the Doctor" (no relation to the BBC character) with the same clubs.

You really should go and look at the first two videos. I have to tell you, I'm incredibly proud of what Dex has done. For all the credit he gives me, all I did was help him identify the main cause of his problem and give him a drill; he's done all the work on his own. Some players struggle for years with an over-the-top swing; Dex has all but eliminated his in just a few months.

But Dex is still having some problems with consistency. And his friend (who I'll just call Doc) asked me if I had any advice for him. So today I want to take a look at some stills from the videos to identify what Dex needs to work on next. In each of these stills, Dex is on the left and Doc is on the right.

Ironically, he and Doc are having the same problem but for different reasons. That's why it can sometimes be difficult to find the true cause of a problem. Since this is a common one, I'm going to explain both.

In this first still I've drawn a line from the ball through their hands at about halfway back. This isn't intended to be a "desired plane"; rather, I just want to emphasize the problem: Both players are twisting their forearms on the way back. Their arms have started the club back along the line I've drawn but they've twisted their arms so the shaft points somewhere below that line. That means the club wants to go in one direction and they're trying to swing it in a different one. Because of this, they're fighting the club during their backswings, and this causes a lot of inconsistency in their swings.

Dex and Doc takeaway

The way they do this is different for each. Dex keeps his left elbow closer to his side (way to do that takeaway, Dex!) and is rotating his forearms. He feels like this puts the club on plane, but he actually turns it too far under the plane. We've talked about this before and he's worked on it some; if you compare this pic with that first video of his, you'll see he's turning less... but he's still turning too much.

Technically, Doc doesn't twist his forearms. Instead, he rotates his entire arm! See how his left elbow is pointed away from his side? If you look closely, you can even see the background sky between his arm and chest. This not only twists the club off-plane, but it puts him in a bad position to come down, as we can see in the following two stills -- the top one with the driver, the 2nd with the 8-iron:

Dex and Doc at contact

Dex and Doc arm fold

As you can see clearly in the 2nd still, Doc has a "chicken wing" followthrough. That's because his lifted elbow at the top of his backswing causes him to make what feels like a powerful move to him -- he pulls the club through impact with his left tricep and lat. By comparison, Dex's left elbow is still near his side and he's standing more erect. (That's what some teachers call "staying connected." And that's a good move, Dex -- a really good move!)

That pulling action is also causing Doc to pull his swing across the ball. See the arrows pointing to the ball in the top still? Dex thought he had a poor launch angle with his driver, but it's actually pretty good. You can't get an exact launch angle measurement from these pics, but Dex's measures about 10° and Doc's about 30°. The ideal launch angle is around 12°, so Dex is very close. Doc's pull is a glancing blow that shoots the ball upward.

That's even more clear in this last still. See how Dex's clubhead is nearly in a straight line with his hands halfway to his finish? That's because he's kept his hands in front of him. (Really good job, Dex!) Doc's hands are in nearly the same position, but look at how far ahead of the clubhead they are. That's a sure sign that he's pulling across the ball. Note that the ball has started off pretty straight -- that's because he squared the clubface pretty well, and the clubface position has the most effect on initial ball flight. (If you've forgotten how that works, the first of 5 posts on the new ball flight laws is here. They're dated from Dec 15-18, and there are two on the 16th.)

Dex and Doc post contact

So what both Dex and Doc need to do is correct that over-rotation of their arms during the backswing. In the next post I'll give them a drill to teach them both the proper movement of their arms though the entire swing -- or rather, teach them what they should feel in order to get the proper movement. That's what is really tripping them up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why David Toms is Accurate But Not Long

David Toms isn't long off the tee. In fact, the PGA lists his driving distance so far this year as a mere 278.4 yards -- 150th on Tour.

Of course, this is offset somewhat by his driving accuracy. He hits 73.52%, which makes him 3rd on Tour. (Only Brian Gay and Ben Curtis are ahead of him.)

His resurgence is made even more incredible by the physical problems he's had over the last few years, so it's worth our time to take a look at why he's so good. This time, however, I've chosen to let others dissect his swing -- both the good and the bad -- over the last few years to see what's changed.

First, we have analysis by Peter Kostis from the 2007 St. Jude. This is a couple of years after his last win:

A quick note: While David's hip slide starts his "power leak," the hip slide itself isn't totally responsible. Remember your physics -- every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When David's hip slides forward, he's turning his body... and he pushes his right arm backward. Since his left arm is moving forward, this causes his wrists to start uncocking a little early. That's one reason I recommend keeping your hips "under you" as much as you can.

But every weakness is a strength, depending on how you look at it. The same move that causes the power leak helps him hit upward on his drives, which is just what you want.

Now let's skip ahead a couple of years. Toms is at the 2009 Travelers and, once again, Kostis is at his trusty SwingVision:

"Secondary spine tilt" looks an awful lot like a "reverse-C" to me. It may be good for driving, but it's not so good for your back. The point here is that it helps you get that upward angle with a driver. When you drive, you need to keep your head a bit behind the ball. You don't need to lean that much, however! More important is that he keeps his head and spine position relatively quiet; that makes it easier to make solid contact.

And now we come to the Crowne this past week... and guess who's back with SwingVision?

Everything sounds the same, doesn't it? However, if you check the impact position from the front view in all three videos, you'll find that two things have changed -- his ball position and his left foot angle! They aren't huge changes, but the ball was clearly a bit farther forward in his stance this weekend, maybe one ball width. And if you stop all of the videos when David's left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, you'll see that his foot is perpendicular to his target line in 2007, turned slightly toward the target in 2009, and turned noticeably in 2011.

Ironically this hasn't helped his driving, although that foot position should help him turn more easily. He was actually about 5 yards longer in both 2007 and 2009, and his driving accuracy this year is almost identical to 2009. So why the change?

It's his GIR. He went from 63.78% (128th) in 2007 to 68.32% (20th) in 2009, and now he's at 71.93%. That makes him 2nd on Tour! (Believe it or not, Bubba Watson is 1st.) That's roughly 6 more fairways every week, and when you putt like David Toms that can amount to several strokes per tournament.

And it's probably safe to say that the new foot position is easier on his body. Just try the two and compare -- the square foot position puts a lot more strain on you.

So don't let a lack of distance get you down. The same moves that cost you distance can actually help your accuracy if you accept them and learn to work with them. That's what David Toms did, and look what it got him. -- a Crowne!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational

Winner: David Toms

Around the wider world of golf: First Ian Poulter beat Lee Westwood, then turned the tables on Luke Donald with a 2&1 win at the ET's Volvo World Match Play Championship, which left Donald a few tantalizing hundredths of a point short of the OWGR #1 position; I think Harukyo Nomura managed to win the JLPGA's Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open (I'm not so good reading Japanese); Diana Luna won the UniCredit Ladies German Open on the LET; Garth Mulroy beat Sunghoon Kang in a one-hole playoff at the Nationwide's BMW Charity Pro-Am; and Suzann Pettersen broke her long winless drought by beating Cristie Kerr 1up at the LPGA'a Sybase Match Play.

David Toms and son at Colonial

Never underestimate the power of family.

We all heard the stories -- David's shoulder had been sore because he'd quite literally thrown himself into his son Carter's desire to play baseball, then saw his game improve when Carter decided he liked golf better and the two began playing together a lot, and how David wanted his son to see what Dad is capable of on the course. Last week at The Players, no one struggled more with David's loss than Carter, and all the talk was about "teachable moments" and how Carter would learn so much from his dad's classy behavior.

But it appeared Carter's lessons weren't over. After everyone worried that Toms couldn't come back from such a tragic loss -- in fact, David referred to the vast number of calls and emails he got that simply asked if he was ok -- what did he do but post back-to-back 62s for his best tournament start ever. At -16 and seven shots ahead of the field, his victory was a foregone conclusion...

Until Saturday's 74 left him a single stroke behind Charlie Wi's lead, that is. The talk about "teachable moments" and how cruel the game is once again dominated the media.

But David Toms has a lot in common with Ben Hogan, whom the Scots nicknamed "the Wee Ice Man" (one biography simply called him "the Wee Man") and who won the first tournament at Colonial... then won it four more times. Although Toms trailed Wi by as many as three strokes early on, he proved he had some balls that weren't in his golf bag. He posted a 69, highlighted by an eagle from the fairway on #11.

In the end he won by posting -15, a single shot behind his 36-hole score. And the first person out to greet him was his son Carter. Last week David said Carter was more enamored with Ricky Fowler than with his dad, but I'm not so sure that's true anymore.

And now everybody's talking about the old man's chances at the U.S. Open if he keeps playing like this. Yep, it's good to be the king -- he is the one with the Crowne, isn't he? -- and this week's Limerick Summary pays tribute to the new kid on the block... or at least, his dad:
Having won at the home of "the Wee Man,"
David's game is now stylish as Nieman
Marcus, maybe Dior.
'Cause his star soars once more
And his son Carter feels like he's dreamin'.
Photo courtesy of NBCsports.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Links to Some of the Chipping and Pitching Posts

Nick has been having a problem using some of the full-swing info on the site for partial shots like chips and pitches, so this post provides links to some of the posts that deal specifically with those shots.

The most recent was Ryan Moore's lesson in Golf Digest about playing from the rough.

This post has a video of short game tips from player Eric Axley.

This post is on ball position. It's useful for any type of shot where you want to vary the height.

This short game video was one of the short films Bobby Jones did for Warner Brothers back in the early 1930s. It's still some of the best instruction on the subject, I think.

This post helps you decide whether to chip or putt.

This post is about choosing a chipping club so you don't chunk it.

This post is more about the same topic.

This post is about hand action, but talks some about making partial shots.

This post and this post are part of a series I did for Canadian reader Brian McGregor. These two cover a full-motion punch shot, which is good when you want to keep the ball low. Brian's left-handed, so you'll need to reverse the left and right instructions. ;-)

This is part of Phil Mickelson's short game DVD. It's on sand play. The video looks a bit small, but that's because it was sized for my original blog format. You can click "YouTube" on the player and it will take you to the original size video at YouTube.

Hank Haney and Joe Beck help explain the knockdown shot in this one.

And here are some lessons from Dennis Pugh on playing in wind and rain that might help. The post also has a link to Pugh's YouTube channel, which has a bunch of other instructional videos about this topic.

I think that covers most of them, Nick. It should at least be enough to get you started.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Play Your Best Golf Now

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, every now and then I receive books to review. Sometimes I hold off on them because there are a lot of reviews being made, and sometimes I'm just busy with other things and reading takes a back seat.

Cover of Play Your Best Golf NowI'm still reading this book, but it's pretty cool so I thought I'd go ahead and pass it on.

Most of you are probably familiar with the authors, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. They're the founders of VISION54, the program built around the idea that it's possible to birdie every hole in a round of golf -- to shoot a 54. Annika Sorenstam has been one of the most vocal supporters of the program, and several other pros have picked up on it. Lynn and Pia have already done a couple of books about VISION54 but this one, Play Your Best Golf Now, is the newest. (In fact, it was just released at the end of April.)

As a general rule, I'm not big on books that focus on the mental approach. Golf is just a game, and keeping perspective is just a normal life skill. What's cool about PYBGN is that it merges practical golf skills with a mental approach that fits in with my goals for this blog. For example, I encourage you to focus on developing a predictable swing rather than a perfect one, and to focus on scoring rather than technique. Nilsson and Marriott feel the same way:
"Having a great swing is not playing great golf. That is only part of the puzzle of peak performance. Our goal is to unify the elements of the game that have become splintered into swing coaches, long-game coaches, short-game coaches, putting coaches, mind coaches and more. We are performance coaches. The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible." (p10, their emphasis)
Or how about this:
"It can be just as destructive to be totally obsessed with swing theory and swing mechanics as it can be to be obsessed with visualization, strength training or any other piece of the game. We reduce the game to its simplest, most accessible -- and therefore most attainable -- elements, and it is these elements, when combined, that produce great golf." (p11)
And I love this one:
"To score, you need to have a good enough swing and a good enough putting stroke, but you don't need to be perfect. In fact, the obsession with perfection can be detrimental to performance." (p12, their emphasis)
Those quotes could have been part of my own "about" page for this blog! Can you tell why I'm loving this book?

The book focuses on 8 Essential Playing Skills (some are more mental, some are more technique) and 2 Practice Essentials that are basic to VISION54. There are short practice sections at the end of each chapter, and they cover things from physical skills like balance and rhythm to mental skills like decision-making and commitment to your shot.

I'm well into the book and it's maintained a very practical tone so far. It's even fairly fun to read! Because of this, I feel pretty good recommending it. Play Your Best Golf Now seems to have the same goals I do on this blog -- to help you learn how to use your existing swing to actually play good golf, post good scores, and have more fun with less work. What more could you ask for?

Click the pic to go to the hardback page at It's also available as a NOOK book, and Amazon has a Kindle version. Apparently there is no paperback edition yet.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ryan Moore from the Rough

Ryan probably felt that way after Luke Donald waxed him 4&3 Thursday. Of course Ryan's not dead yet -- the 24 players are cut to 8 through 3 player pool play, then go to single elimination.

If you're still confused... There are 8 pools; Donald, Moore, and Ross Fisher are in pool B. Each player will play the other 2 and get points based on their finish. Donald got 2 points for his win and Moore got 0 points for his loss. (You can halve matches in pool play; each player then gets 1 point.) Today Fisher has to play 2 matches, 1 against Donald and 1 against Moore, then the guy with the most points in pool B moves on to the Final 8. UPDATE: Oops, my bad! Two guys come out of each pool to a round a 16.

Ryan Moore demonstrates playing from the roughAnyway, given that Ryan's got it a bit rough right now, I thought I'd pass on one of his tips on playing from the rough. (Isn't that clever?)

You can click the pic to go to the original Golf Digest instructional article.

To sum up the article, you want to chop down on the ball so you get as little grass between the clubface and the ball as possible. To do that, you should:
  • Move the ball back a bit in your stance.
  • Set your wrists quickly and feel as if you are swinging as vertically as possible.
  • Play one club longer.
  • Allow for a fade, since the rough will make it harder to square the clubface.
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? I hope it is, for Ryan's sake. Luke Donald, as well as Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, and Miguel Angel Jiménez are plowing the field like an oversized John Deere. The lone American will have his work cut out for him today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Match Play Heaven

In case you didn't know -- but you're a huge fan of match play, like me -- both the ET and the LPGA start their match play tournaments today.

The ET has the Volvo World Match Play Championship, which is being played in Spain and features the top 3 players in the world rankings. Only 16 of the 24 opponents will be playing in the first round, which is an interesting change from the Accenture Match Play. Ross Fisher is the defending champion, but my money's on Luke Donald; match play is definitely his strength. Ryan Moore is the only American in the field, but he had a pretty good record as an amateur so I'll be keeping my eye on him as well.

And the LPGA is playing the Sybase Match Play Championship, which has a unique twist. Rather than playing standard brackets (1 vs 64, 2 vs 63, etc.), each of the top 32 in the field drew the names of their first-round opponents. This makes for some very interesting first-round match-ups, the kind that normally wouldn't be seen for another round or two -- for example, Cristie Kerr is playing Amanda Blumentherst -- a 3 against a 48 -- and Jiyai Shin plays Meena Lee -- a 2 against a 33. Sun Young Yoo is the defending champion.

Looks like I'll be glued to the TV today. Golf Channel will be covering both -- the Volvo starts at 9am and the Sybase at 6:30pm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Conan Elliott on Turning

Conan Elliott is the Director of Instruction at Camas Meadows Golf Club in Camas WA. He did this video about proper turning in the golf swing. I've been talking a lot about how the upper body works, but proper lower body action is just as important:

You need to keep your swing motion and "weight shift" inside your stance for stability. I've written about that before, but this is a pretty good explanation of the details of the move.

If it sounds overly complicated to you, you'll find that the action is very similar to throwing a Frisbee with a full shoulder turn.

I hope you're starting to realize that a good golf swing doesn't have as much excess body movement as you may have thought. A well-balanced and stable swing is the best way to get both distance and accuracy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

K.J. Choi Keeps His Hands in Front of Him

How cool is it that the winner of The Players does exactly what I've been talking about for the last week? Not only that, but his swing coach has some instruction about this very topic!

Coincidence? I think not...

Anyway, let's start with a quick look at K.J.'s swing. Here's Peter Kostis explaining the move. Note that if you drew a line straight out from his chest, it would pretty much intersect his hands from nearly shoulder-high on the downswing all the way through to shoulder-high in his finish:

I also hope you notice how "together" his swing looks. It looks that way because his hands stay in front of him. For you purists out there, his lower body is clearly moving first, but you almost have to watch in slo-mo to tell. Again, that's because his hands stay in front of him; it sort of "camouflages" the move.

That lifting action Kostis mentions can be seen more clearly in this footage from the Masters this year. Obviously it's more pronounced with the longer clubs:

See how K.J.'s hands move a little up-and-over at the top of his swing? Michael Breed also showed some footage of K.J.'s swing on The Golf Fix Monday night and talked about this. Last week I mentioned in several posts how the hands should line up with the middle of the shoulder at the top of the swing. Note that K.J. swings his bent elbow slightly outward at the top of his backswing; that brings his hands up just in front of his shoulder, and then he bends forward to start his downswing. That gives him the little over-the-top movement that helps him hit that little cut of his.

But even without that OTT move, K.J. still swings more up than around. He makes a good one-piece takeaway -- which simply means that he turns his shoulders early in his backswing -- and then lifts his arms up a little to get them to the top. This ensures that his shoulders turn fully and his hands get on plane. Let K.J.'s swing coach Steven Bann explain it a little more clearly. In fact, you may have heard a similar explanation before but didn't take it seriously. Notice that after he makes this move, his hands end up in front of his shoulder:

Am I running this into the ground? Perhaps. But I can't stress strongly enough how radically this simple concept of an early shoulder turn with a simple arm movement can streamline and improve your ball striking. Even though K.J. doesn't perform it perfectly, it still makes him a very consistent player who is respected for his game.

Keep your hands in front of you like K.J. -- you won't regret it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 The Players

Winner: K.J. Choi

Around the wider world of golf: Talk about a feel-good story! Darren Clarke got his first win since 2008 at the Iberdrola Open on the ET; Ashleigh Simon won the Portugal Ladies Open on the LET; and Miki Saiki won the Fundokin Ladies on the JLPGA. The Constructivist has details on that event.

K.J. Choi at The Players

Get used to those "Choi's Bois" T-shirts. They're gonna be around for a while.

When Sunday started, we didn't know that. With more than 27 holes to go for the leaders, it looked like The Players could be won by anybody. By the finish of the third round, that list had been cut by nearly half and Graeme McDowell sat on top of the heap. And we all know what McDowell does when he has a chance to win.

Except today. McDowell's swing fixes from last weekend finally stopped working and he followed the lead of almost every third-round major leader since last year at Pebble. His 79 was the worst round of the day but at least he knows that, with a bit more work, his swing is back on track.

Graeme wasn't the only fallen angel of the day. Lucas Glover's 77 sent him spiraling downward with no ground in sight, but even a 72 or 73 looked like a disastrous score as the leaders held their ground. Luke Donald and Nick Watney, winners of the year's first two WGC events, shot 71s and could only finish T4. (Luke's probably not too bummed, however. His beloved Bulls slammed the Heat 103-82 in the first game of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.)

Of course, there were bright spots too. Sergio shot 65 for a T12 and his best final-round score in... well, forever. Perhaps this bodes well for future weekends, since his first two rounds have generally been good this year.

And Paul Goydos brought the Dirtbag Nation to its feet by posting early at -11, but even he expected the two heavyweights of the week to duke it out between themselves. And he was right...

But who would have picked David Toms and K.J. Choi as the last fighters standing?

The real turning point came when Toms stepped up to the par-5 16th with a one-shot lead... and promptly drowned a long approach shot after Choi was forced to lay up. The best he could manage was bogey and Choi narrowly missed birdie, sending the two to the 17th tied at -12. Choi then birdied 17 to take a one-shot lead, and Toms birdied the 18th to send them to a playoff.

The playoff at 17 didn't last long, however. Toms missed a tricky birdie putt, then inexplicably missed the short comeback. Choi made an easy par for the first Asian win at Sawgrass and the biggest win of his career.

Saturday I mused over what The Players could tell us about potential U.S. Open contenders. With only a month to go, I think we've learned quite a bit:
  • McDowell's swing still needs some work, but he'll probably be ready to defend.
  • Watney and Donald both have some work to do. I had Donald as my favorite, but he had to scramble for his T4 at Sawgrass -- not a good sign for Congressional. Still, he adds another Top 5 and moves to #2 in the OWGR, which means he probably isn't far off.
  • Toms and Choi have to be taken seriously at the next major -- especially Choi, who has won at Congressional before.
  • And Jason Day shot all four rounds at par or better, finishing T6. Coupled with his good showing at Augusta, he just might be a good choice for the U.S. Open.
Meanwhile, I have to salute... age. After all the talk about the young guns, it was the 40-somethings who took the top 3 spots at one of the toughest courses the Tour plays all year. I'm sure I can find a Limerick Summary suitable to the occasion:
With vocal support from his bois,
The trophy is now K.J. Choi's.
The young guns keep firing
But can't stop admiring
Those older guys still making noise.
Click the pic to read the FoxSports article about Choi's win.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thor Dominates Third Round

ThorThor still rules at the box office, but apparently he's not satisfied with that victory. The God of Thunder took TPC Sawgrass by storm Saturday, interrupting play for his own little four-hour round in the middle of the day.

A pounding by rain (fortunately, no giant robots were sighted) left the course softer and more accessible, despite the vaunted sub-air systems of TPC Sawgrass. And it seems everybody decided to take advantage of its weakened condition. (As opposed to its normal "weekend" condition? Sorry -- I couldn't resist.)

They were passing out birdies like party favors at the first hole. K.J. Choi birdied the first 3 holes to get himself into contention. Kaymer posted 5 birdies in 7 holes, then 3 straight bogeys and another birdie. Graeme McDowell became "odd man out" as he posted birdies on 1, 3, and 5 before tying the lead (with Nick Watney) and calling it a night. In fact, it was rare to find someone who didn't birdie at least 2 of the first 5 holes after the storm.

Play resumes early Sunday, and I do mean early. Golf Channel will broadcast a special Morning Drive starting at 6am, followed by early coverage of the remaining third-round play at 7:30am. The sub-air systems will probably run all night and the course will be harder; Frank Nobilo guessed course conditions will be comparable to Thursday, meaning the course probably won't be as difficult on Sunday as in past years.

McDowell and Watney lead the pack at -11. Stricker and Toms are at -10, Choi and Glover at -9, and there's a logjam at -8. This year's Players is more wide open than any other year in recent memory, but I think one player's play and position have made him the favorite to win on this long final day...

Thor may have flexed his muscles Saturday, but I expect Graeme McDowell to put the hammer down Sunday and claim his first Players. I wonder if they'll make a movie about it?

Click the pic to read Entertainment Weekly's roundup of box office winners this week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

TPC Halftime: Looking Toward the Open

Blogger had some problems Wednesday and Thursday that caused me some problems. For example, I had to repost the Ross duPlessis swing video post after all the tags got messed up. It's also interrupted my posts about "keeping your hands in front of you." I'll get back to them next week.

2011 U.S. Open logo In the meantime, I thought I'd take a quick look at how the TPC is shaping up for this weekend and what, if anything, it tells us about the possible contenders in the U.S. Open next month.

TPC Sawgrass has a lot in common with most Open venues:
  • The course places a premium on accuracy; it's hard to score if you don't hit the fairways.
  • The greens are highly contoured. There aren't many easy putts.
  • With a few exceptions (Bethpage comes to mind) length off the tee isn't all that important. It helps, of course, but generally shorter players have a fair chance.
The players who do well at the TPC this week will make a good case for their chances at Congressional in June. Matteo Manassero's struggles at the TPC tell me he's probably not ready for a U.S. Open. Both his Driving Accuracy and his GIR stats are in the 50-60% range, which won't help him deal with a USGA setup. I'm a bit surprised at that, so I don't consider him a favorite right now. The Open Championship at Royal St George's is probably more in his wheelhouse this year.

So who should we be watching this week?

First off, we have two past champions in the Top 5 right now -- 2009 champion Lucas Glover and 2010 champion Graeme McDowell. Both finally seem to be back on form, and they certainly know how to play and win on a USGA torture track.

Luke Donald has been my choice for most of the year, the main question being his occasionally wild driver. Given that he's the only player without a bogey through two rounds, despite the TPC rough, I think that proves he's accurate enough to handle U.S. Open rough.

David Toms has entered the picture now. I didn't realize that most of his stats were Top 10 on tour, and given that he's won a major before (2001 PGA Championship), I think he has to be taken seriously for Congressional.

Hunter Mahan, Aaron Baddeley, and Nick Watney have all been playing well this year. Can they put four good rounds together at an Open? That's a good question, and I'm not convinced yet. I'll be watching them over the next few weeks.

The same goes for Steve Stricker. The U.S. Open seems tailor-made for him, but his iron play has been questionable this year.

That just leaves J.B. Holmes and Davis Love III in our Top 10. Although they're playing pretty well this week, neither is hitting many fairways (a real bugaboo for both this season) and neither has putted particularly well.

So right now Donald is still my favorite to win at Congressional, although Glover, McDowell, and Toms are back in the conversation. Is any player making an impression on you?

Click the image to read a Golf Channel / Associated Press article about the course setup. Graeme McDowell's foreboding comments sound pretty much like what we hear every year before an Open. ;-)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ryans and Tigers and Beards, Oh My!

This certainly isn't Oz, as Blogger was down for the better part of a day and prevented me from posting last night. But I thought I'd take a quick look at how things stand at the TPC, circa midday Friday.

The Ryans in the field (Moore and Palmer) diverged early Friday. At -2 and -1 respectively after the first round, they now sit at -4 and +2 after the second. Palmer probably won't be around for the weekend... and his trip home required no ruby slippers.

Tiger, as you already know, is sidelined again by his injuries. Tiger's reactions during his interviews Thursday certainly indicate that he was surprised when his leg took a turn for the worse. Having dealt with a calf pull recently, I can sympathize; I re-injured my calf after I thought it was ok and ended up disrupting my exercise program for another week to make sure it healed. Golf Channel talked to a doctor who said it's entirely possible for it to heal before the U.S. Open, so at least that's some good news.

As for beards... Lucas Glover posted the second-best round of the day Thursday (he has yet to tee off as I'm writing this) and a bearded Hunted Mahan is finishing the 18th at -7, two off the -10 lead set by David Toms (who has no beard at all).

As for the other leaders, Graeme McDowell sits at -8; his game seems to be bouncing back nicely after a few flat weeks. Thursday's leader Nick Watney hasn't teed off yet, and Steve Stricker has just posted -8 after taking only 9 putts on his back nine! Paul Goydos is just a stroke behind, although he's still on the course.

So here's the top of the leaderboard at midday. Numbers in parentheses tell you what hole the player is on, and SP means they're still to play:
  • -10: David Toms
  • -8: Graeme McDowell, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney (SP)
  • -7: Hunter Mahan, Paul Goydos (15), Aaron Baddeley, Lucas Glover (SP)
BTW, Mark O'Meara dropped back to -4 after a 74 Friday, and Phil Mickelson got off to a blistering start (-4 on his first 9) but stumbled coming in, posting another 71 to put him at -2 for the tournament.

And that brings you up-to-date. No smoke machines behind the curtain here... just railroad ties in plain sight.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Some Thoughts from Ross duPlessis

Ross duPlessis is a PGA Professional who I think lives in Albuquerque NM. I was doing some research (photos, etc.) for these posts on "keeping your hands in front of you" and stumbled across his website, which is really cool. I found another post there that I'll be referring to soon, but he has a video on his front page that covers so many good things that I'm just going to link to it. This video shows an excellent example of "keeping your hands in front of you."

Thie duPlessis video is an overall look at just how simple a golf swing can be. He explains pretty clearly why I recommend setting up with the clubshaft in a straight line with your lead arm rather than pointing the butt of the club toward your belly button. It's all about squaring up the clubface at impact. It's not that it won't work, just that it adds the need for a compensation to your swing. If you don't make the compensation, you won't square the clubface. And unless that compensation is a natural move for you, that means you'll need more practice.

Ross does say some different things from what you'll read here, but they aren't things I have any trouble with. Unless I misunderstand what he's saying, he'll have you setting up like Fred Couples and you'll hit a very slight (and very consistent) fade. I know a lot of you think fades don't travel as far as draws, but that's not true; distance is determined by ball trajectory, not shot shape. A low fade travels as far as a low draw.

Be sure to read the comments below the post. He adds some important info there that explains some of his setup advice.

Ross has quite a few sample lessons that you can access from his website. Just click the "Sample Lessons Videos" button at the top of the page.

Finally, this video is on the main blog page but I don't know if it stays there all the time. If you check and it's gone, here's the url for the video itself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More Thoughts on Keeping Your Hands in Front of You

I want to make the drill simple. In fact, the drill is simple. But it affects many different aspects of your swing and we need to talk about some of those things first, before we ever get to the drill. Therefore, today's post doesn't have the drill per se, although it describes a lot of what goes on during the drill. I'll be describing things for a right-handed golfer since I'm still using Lucas Glover as an example, so you lefties will have to reverse it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

First, this drill should eliminate a lot of excess mechanical swing thoughts. For example, I used Lucas Glover's swing to illustrate the top of swing position in yesterday's post. If you've been obsessing over your swing plane, obsess no more! Your setup position and where your hands are at the top of the swing create your swing plane. That's one less thing to think about!

Let's look at some stills I "borrowed" from that Glover video:

Sequence of Lucas Glover hand positions

The first pic shows Glover at setup. For simplicity's sake we'll assume his hands are located in front of his belt buckle, centered in his stance.

The second pic shows Glover's hands at waist-high. Note that he has used the one-piece takeaway that is almost a religious conviction on my blog, and remember that he got to this position by turning his shoulders early in his backswing, not by keeping his arms stuck out stiff in front of him. (The drill for learning a relaxed one-piece takeaway can be found by clicking this link.) Relaxed arms and shoulders that turn early in the backswing eliminate a lot of potential problems later in the swing.

A one-piece takeaway also keeps your hands in front of you. Note that his hands are still pretty much in front of his belt buckle, even though his wrists have begun to cock. (In case you're having trouble seeing it, the clubhead is just to the left of his elbow.)

And the third pic shows the position I pointed out in yesterday's post. In case you missed it (shame on you!), when your hands are in front of you and the club shaft is parallel to the ground at the top of your backswing, the shaft points over the center of your shoulder. See Lucas's shoulder peeking out between his forearms? As I mentioned yesterday, many teachers tell you to reach behind you for a deeper swing, but this is not a good idea. A large number of both feel-based and mechanically-inclined teachers recommend the position Lucas is using in this picture. (I gave Don Trahan and Martin Hall as respective examples yesterday, but they are not the only ones.)

Now, this little series of pictures demonstrate something most weekend golfers never realize: Your arms and hands don't move very much during a full swing.

Think about it. The hands are in the center of your body (ie., in front of your belt buckle) at setup. When the hands are waist-high, they're still in the center of your body. That means your shoulders have moved and not much else. Then, from the waist-high position, your right elbow bends and your left elbow doesn't, which causes you left shoulder joint to pivot up.

So your hands have only moved from your waist to just above your right shoulder, and most of that movement comes from bending your right elbow. That's not much movement at all!

Now your hands might move a bit higher if you swing high like Bubba, or both elbows might bend a little if you swing like Rocco, but basically your hands aren't moving very much.

This also helps us understand something that else causes debate among teachers and players -- namely, is there a pause at the top of the swing?

The answer is both yes and no. Because your shoulders turn so early in the swing when you keep your hands in front of you, your shoulders finish turning before your hands and club change direction. You got that? Your shoulders stop turning before your hands and club stop moving. That's where the pause comes from -- your shoulders pause, not your arms.

When you start your downswing, you basically reverse the process this way:
  1. Your lower body starts the swing, typically by returning your left knee just past its setup position. I already covered that knee move in this post.
  2. That knee movement pull the hips around to their setup position, which causes your shoulders to start turning.
  3. Your shoulder turn pulls your arms and hands down to a lower position, but your arms don't start "swinging" the club yet. This is where a lot of you are losing your wrist cock. The arms get pulled down a little, but that right arm stays in the same bent position it had at the top of the backswing! The arms are pulled down by the body movements I mentioned in the last few steps, not by straightening your right elbow or pulling with your left arm.
  4. Now, once your lower body feels like it's back in its setup position (or a little past) and your shoulders have started turning back and your arms and hands have dropped to shoulder level or a bit lower (whew, what a chain reaction!), now you can swing as hard as you want! Think of the movement from this point as if you were throwing a Frisbee; that will help you stay level, square up your clubface, and keep your left elbow against your side so you don't "chicken wing" the followthrough or leave the face of the club open. (If you do leave the face open, check your grip at setup. That's probably where the problem is.)
Wow, that's a lot to digest at once, isn't it? I'd better call it a day and end this post. But hopefully you can see how keeping your hands in front of you affects your entire swing from setup to finish.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Don't Fear the Beard's Swing

Yes, grasshopper, I can tell you're getting tired of all those "fear the beard" jokes. First it was all about San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson and that whole "ESPN meets Stephen King" thing:

and now it's spread to Lucas Glover's very similar whiskers, which I doubt went to the same obedience school as Wilson's. But after years in the wilderness of swing changes, the Mountain Man is once again stalking the fairways of the PGA Tour and we might as well accept that we'll be hearing the joke for a while.

So why don't we just focus on the action taking place beneath the beard, eh?

Finding useful footage of Lucas is somewhat complicated by his lack of good swings over the last two years, which is the result of swing changes. (Why do good players win big tournaments and then change their swing? Beats me.) Lucas himself said he just found something last Tuesday -- he mentioned a change in his hand position at setup -- but admitted that he didn't know if he was really "back" yet. And footage of his swing from two years ago doesn't necessarily tell us why he played well at Quail Hollow.

Fortunately someone posted this footage from Sunday's round. And since I usually try to find something you can use immediately in your swing, this clip turned out to be perfect:

A few weeks ago I did a post in which I put the phrase "(Note to self: Do a post with a 'keeping your hands in front of you' drill.)" I forgot about it, but Peter didn't. He dropped me the following email:
hi, mike.  love your blog and great tips.  back in the jason day post you had that note to yourself to do a "keeping your hands in front of you" drill.  will we see that anytime soon?
I wrote back that I had forgotten and would try to get one up this week. How ironic that Lucas would give me some help!

There are several things involved in "keeping your hands in front of you," one of which Lucas clearly demonstrates in this video. It's right around the :15 mark when he reaches the top of his swing.

You've probably heard teachers say you should make a "deep" swing, which means you reach as far behind you as you can. This supposedly helps you make a better swing. Au contraire, mon frère! That's actually bad advice. It encourages you to get your hands too far behind you, which will cause you to "get stuck" on your downswing.

Now, this isn't something I made up on my own. Many teachers caution against this, from the super-technical Martin Hall to the more feel-based Don Trahan. (If his name sounds familiar, it's because his son is Tour pro D.J. Trahan.) So where do these teachers say your hands should be at the top of the swing?

When your wrists cock at the top of your swing, the club shaft should cross over your shoulder and point on a line parallel to your target line. Simple enough to check, eh? And that's just where Lucas has his hands in this video. He's using a short iron so his swing is short, but you can see from this down-the-line shot that his hands are right on that line; you can even see his shoulder peeking between his forearms.

Now, if you've been a "reacher," this position is almost certain to feel as if your hands are stuck straight up in the air. But this position is vitally important if you want to keep your hands in front of you throughout your swing. It's an extremely strong position that helps you keep your downswing on line and also retain more of your wristcock down into the hitting zone.

I'll be coming back to this later this week, but for now this will help you start getting used to this more powerful position.

The beard is optional.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Wells Fargo Championship

Winner: Lucas Glover

Around the wider world of golf: Sun-Ju Ahn rallied to win the Salonpas Cup, the first JLPGA major this year (the Constructivist has all the details); Russell Henley became only the second amateur to win a Nationwide Tour event at the Stadion Classic at UGA; Christel Boeljon won the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open on the LET; Thomas Aiken (yes, another South African) got his first ET win at the Open de España; and Tom Lehman beat Peter Senior on the second playoff hole of the Regions Classic, the first Champions Tour major (and Lehman's third win) of the year. And of course, we lost 5-time major champion Severiano Ballesteros to brain cancer.

Glover holds mom and trophyStudy this picture closely, for its message is clear: Fear the beard... unless you're his mom.

When the final day started at Quail Hollow, it looked to be a duel between Jonathan Byrd and Pat Perez. And as usual, looks were deceiving. After 7 holes Perez was +3 for the day, never to get it back. and J-Byrd was struggling to stay even -- just the kind of circumstances that make the field smell blood.

The main excitement early on came from a major pairing. Phil Mickelson made a run, going -4 after 10 holes... before 2 bogeys knocked the wind out of him. His playing partner Padraig Harrington is finally playing like a major winner again -- and not a moment too soon! -- going -6 in 14 holes before 2 bogeys ended his hopes. Several others tried to mount charges as well -- Bill Haas, Kevin Na, Zach Johnson, Bobby Gates -- but they couldn't do enough.

There was also another bizarre rules question as to whether Paddy teed off ahead of the tee markers on 13. The Tour is eventually going to have to bring golf into the 21st Century to avoid these problems. Come on, guys, it's simple enough to put GPS chips in the golf balls so their actual positions can be determined at all times!

And then we got some excitement. Rory Sabbatini, rumored to be in danger of suspension, ran the tables with a bogey-free -7 and posted early at -14. With no player able to get past or even hold on to -15, it looked like he might at least make a playoff if not win outright.

But Lee Westwood, watching the tournament overseas, saw what was happening. Midway through the round he tweeted "Fear the beard!" (Thanks to for that little tidbit.) Lucas Glover has been struggling since his 2009 U.S. Open win, but this week things started to click and Glover began his march up the leaderboard. An eagle at 10 got him to -15 where he finished. And in his after-round interview, Glover calmly told Peter Kostis that Byrd would birdie 18 to force a playoff. They had already discussed playing together Sunday, he said.

And that's exactly what J-Byrd did. Only two players had birdied 18 Sunday until Byrd added his own, sending the two college teammates into a playoff.

But it was short-lived. Byrd missed the green, hit his pitch thin, and two-putted for bogey on the first playoff hole. Glover two-putted for par and his first win in two years.

Where did Glover win this tournament? Ironically, it became clear with the new "Strokes Gained -- Putting" stat the Tour recently introduced. The stat showed that Glover made up over 10 strokes on the field just through his putting!

So this week's Limerick Summary pays tribute to Grizzly Ada -- er, Lucas Glover, who proved that you can play from the rough if it's just on your face:
First Lucas said J-Byrd would putt it in,
Then Lucas faced off against Jonathan.
The Beardman then shot down
The Byrdman and got down
For vict'ry, his first since his Open win.
Click the pic to see the original photo at

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Couple of Thoughts on Seve

I stayed up late Friday night and was just going to bed when I heard that Seve had received the last rites. No one said he had died yet, and some people survive for several days afterward before they finally die.

As it turns out, the news must have come shortly after I turned out the light.

Seve was only about a year older than me, so I certainly feel he died too soon. But having not known him personally, I can only offer a few thoughts as a fan.

Seve was the patron saint of wild drivers everywhere. He certainly made it cool to be a short game wizard. But most of all, Seve made a difference in people's lives; that much is clear from the memories players are sharing as they deal with their grief.

Much has been made of Seve's struggle with his full swing during the last few years he played. I've begun to wonder if that wasn't just the first signs of the tumor that finally took his life.

In the end, everybody will remember him in their own way. This will always be the way I remember Seve -- winning the 1984 Open Championship at St. Andrews:

Passionate, vibrant, alive. I just hope I can live as fully as Seve did.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Straight Down the Middle

Every now and then I receive books to review. Often I don't review them right when I get them, primarily because reviews tend to pop up in clusters. Since I worked in the book industry for a couple of decades, I can tell you that publishers often give a new book massive publicity for a few months before dropping down their priority list in an unfairly quick manner. So I like to wait a while on my reviews and see if I can't give the book a boost after the initial excitement dies down.

Straight Down the Middle book coverOne such book is Josh Karp's Straight Down the Middle, which I confess I've had for a while. (If you click the cover to the right, you'll go to its page.) To tell you the truth, I haven't been quite sure how to review this one.

Don't get me wrong, SDTM isn't a bad book at all. It's a golf book that claims to be part instruction, part mental guide, and part memoir. Josh Karp is a journalist and pretty much a lifelong golfer who decided to try and improve his game, so he started exploring some of the different "paths" that are being touted as a way to improve your game. This book is his record of that journey.

When a golf instruction book is subtitled "Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing," you'd probably guess that journey didn't include guys like Harmon, Haney, or Foley... and you'd be right. And while Karp is clearly familiar with sports psychologists like Parent and Rotella... well, they weren't really on the trip either. Josh makes no bones about it:
"My quest, the quest that became this book, was one toward two goals -- better golf and a better life via the non-traditional Eastern route. I would sample various Eastern approaches to life -- meditation, martial arts, and all other manner of instruction both on the course and off -- hoping to lower my handicap and find my true, calm, happy self, or vice versa." (page 15)
Even as a Christian who has explored some Eastern mysticism -- and make no mistake, the roots of Christianity are at least partially Eastern -- as well as some martial arts, and as one who has found considerable help for my game in my faith, Josh's approach seems a bit "out there." So I can't really recommend his book as a golf instructional book.

However, SDTM is a good read. The blurb on the book flaps call it a "hilarious memoir," and I have to agree. If Dave Barry decided to write a book on how to become a "mystical golfer," I think he might have written this book! Josh Karp writes enjoyable prose. I don't know if he intended the book to be read this way, but I give it high marks as a very entertaining read. So if you enjoy personal stories, you may want to give Straight Down the Middle a look.

However, if you're looking to improve your golf game, you might want to look somewhere else. Personally, given a choice between Shivas Irons and a new set of Callaway RAZRs... no contest.