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Friday, September 30, 2011

If You're Determined to Use a Belly Putter...

Then at least I can help you minimize the trauma. Here's a recent video I found featuring former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas, who doesn't like belly putters any more than I do but is willing to tell you how to get fitted correctly:

I like this video because Frank explains the "6 degrees of movement" that the belly putter minimizes. Please note that he also says that a belly putter is NOT a quick fix. It's going to take a lot of practice to overcome the loss of feel which those "6 degrees" allow. If you don't want to spend a lot of time practicing your putting, this is not the club for you.

And I'd like to add that you won't completely overcome the loss of feel, no matter how much you practice. If you'd like to know why, just take your driver or 3-wood and try to stroke some putts with it. You'll quickly discover that you can't hold the club with a relaxed grip and still keep it in your belly buttton. That relaxed grip is a major factor in developing feel.

By comparison, a belly putter is a strictly mechanical approach. If you choose this method, you are giving up on developing a natural feel for the stroke. If you want to do that, that's fine. But I have trouble understanding why any weekend golfer, who by definition doesn't have a lot of time to practice, would knowingly choose a putting method that not only takes more practice but virtually guarantees less feel.

But for those of you determined to use a belly putter, I found this video that demonstrates the technique:

The proper term for this is seppuku, a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment made popular (?) by samurai. Sort of like what you do to your putting by using a belly putter.

But at least now you'll do it with a properly-fitted one. ;-)

Oh, and if you're interested, Frank Thomas has a website called Frankly Golf at this link.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Solheim Cup

So much has already been written about the Solheim Cup by the blogs listed in my sidebar -- and who knows who all else -- that I probably can't add much. Still, I have a few thoughts that I'd like to post, if for no other reason than to say, "hey, I said that!"

The depth in women's golf is improving. The European team didn't play anyone more than 4 sessions. The US team played only Creamer and Kerr all 5 rounds -- or would have if Kerr's wrist had held up. And guess what? The singles began with both sides tied and the outcome was in doubt until the last 20 or 30 minutes of play. That bodes well for the game.

The concept of the "work horse player" is dead. You get a higher quality of play when you don't run your best players in the ground and sit players who have potential. With the Euro team's success and the success of the US players who played no more than 4 sessions, I think this practice is just about over. Now if the men would just learn this lesson...

We may be seeing yet another changing of the guard. Caroline Hedwall, who I profiled last week, has already begun establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with. Apparently she's already picked up the nickname "the Viking Laura Davies." Ryann O'Toole, Vicky Hurst, Azahara Munoz, and Melissa Reid also had good showings. (Mel Reid's 1-3-0 record is misleading. She actually played very well.)

Don't misunderstand me -- the older players aren't done yet. It's just that the nature of the media is to look for the newest, hottest property. These players, along with Yani Tseng, are going to get the bulk of the attention. I'm afraid Morgan, Paula, and Jiyai are going to be cast as the veterans now. Heaven help Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen, whom the media will soon be fitting for walkers!

Hedwall and O'Toole may become a great rivalry. I know not everyone agrees with me, but I think these two will become team leaders in the next few years. Both are strong mentally, which is the most important asset in this game. Hedwall has already crossed the biggest skill obstacles to success. O'Toole mainly needs to develop a good course strategy; once she does, she'll have a plan for improving her skills.

The "old girls" aren't washed up yet. Again, I suspect I'm in the minority. I think Laura Davies and Juli Inkster are just suffering from the "we have to change our games to compete" syndrome that kept the men from competing effectively against Tiger for so long. Catriona Matthew is still competitive despite being 42 and having 2 children in the past few years. But Catriona just goes out and plays her game, knowing that she won't be in the mix every tournament... but when she is, look out! She won the Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open by 10 strokes earlier this year and smashed Paula Creamer 6&5 in horrible weather last week. If Davies and Inkster reach the same realization, they'll be able to hold their own as well.

Finally, I didn't think the matches "needed saving" but if they did before, they don't now. The European win certainly boosted the competitive nature of the matches and helped the current European rush of confidence, but it didn't change the matches as such. It's just that predicting gloom and doom for the women's game is popular right now. The LPGA and LET, as well as the other assorted tours, are probably in better shape than almost any other women's sport right now. When the Euro team beats the US team on US soil, then talk to me about a change in the matches.

Personally, I enjoyed the matches. I just hope the Presidents Cup will be as exciting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just a Few Thoughts...

About the news of the last couple of days.

First, the Presidents Cup picks were announced. In case you didn't hear, Greg Norman loaded up on Aussies who have fairly intimate knowledge of Royal Melbourne -- Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley. I think this caught a lot of people off Tuesday that he hoped that would happen. He also mentioned that he had spent nearly 30 minutes on the phone with Keegan Bradley and told him that he would take Steve Stricker's spot if Stricks ended up getting the shoulder surgery he's talked about.

Overall, these picks seem well thought-out on both sides. This should be an interesting meeting, especially given the losing record of the US in virtually every other current team event right now. That shouldn't make a difference, but you know how things can play on your mind...

The other thing is, of course, the announcement that Joe Lacava was leaving Dustin Johnson to caddie for Tiger Woods. Again, most of the conversations I've heard feel this is a good move for both Lacava and Tiger. Most of the debate has centered around speculation about whether Tiger treated DJ fairly in this deal.

I think this may be the wrong question. The better question is whether Lacava treated DJ fairly.

In a past post I mentioned a statement that Annika made on Morning Drive, in which she said that caddies are always looking for greener pastures. One thing which has not been emphasized much during these debates is the statement Lacava released that said he approached Tiger when the caddie job opened up. Although I haven't found the actual statement itself (I may be searching for it incorrectly), I did find this article from the Independent -- a UK site --that referenced Lacava's statement:
"LaCava confirmed he had instigated the appointment. 'I contacted Tiger... because this is a unique opportunity to be part of something very special,' he said. 'Tiger and I have been friends for a very long time, and I know what he can do.'"
This is definitely a case of a caddie simply leaving a player, not a player wooing a caddie away from another player.

And I'm not so surprised by this. Beyond a 4th at the Memorial, a T2 at the Open Championship, and the win at the rain-shortened Barclays, DJ has done no better than T23 since Lacava joined up with him. I'm not beating on DJ -- some of the problems have simply been a single bad shot hit at a key moment like that OB at the Open, and I've heard that he's working on some changes in his swing (aren't they all?) -- but you have to think Lacava expected more. The results just haven't been there.

Most everyone feels that DJ has more ability than Adam Scott, and you have to think Lacava believes he's a better caddie than Steve Williams, but there's no question that Scott made a quantum leap within a month of hiring Williams. (Again, I'm not crediting Williams with improving Scott's ability to strike the ball. But Adam's strategy on the course has definitely improved.) Lacava has to be disappointed in DJ's performance, and then Tiger had this convenient opening...

I'll be interested to see how DJ handles this. There are rumors that the two just didn't "click," which I suppose is to be expected after such a high-profile breakup. But if DJ didn't expect this, I have to wonder if he'll throw this off as easily as he did his major losses. Realizing you made some bad shots isn't the same as having a top-ranked caddie leave you for a struggling player, no matter how much of a superstar he is.

And of course it's pretty clear that neither Fred Couples nor Butch Harmon, who originally set up this deal, expected it. This should certainly make the Presidents Cup more interesting for more than the competition!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stan Utley on Putting

Another quick putting tip from an expert besides me. ;-) This time it's Stan Utley.

That doesn't need much explanation, does it? Learn to relax when you putt and just let a stroke happen. Don't fuss too much over mechanics, since your mechanics will sort themselves out to a large degree.

In other words, learn to relax over your putts. That's why I stress the gravity stroke so much -- letting gravity do the majority of the work in your swing will almost force you to relax.

And if you don't tense up, it's virtually impossible to yip. You can't say that about a belly putter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Tour Championship

Winner: Bill Haas

Around the wider world of golf: The European Solheim Cup "saved" the matches by snapping their 3-time losing streak and winning 15-13 over the USA; Kenneth Ferrie won the Austrian GolfOpen on the European Tour; and Ted Potter Jr. won the Nationwide's Soboda Golf Classic. Both the ET and Nationwide events were decided in playoffs... not unlike the PGA's premiere event.

Bill Haas gets sore arms after cleaning out the Tour and FedEx

So much for the Top 5 players at the Tour Championship "controlling their own destinies." Bill Haas was what, 25th place? It would appear that playing well makes up a lot for a poor starting position.

Bill got to do some showing off in the process. He beat Hunter Mahan in a 3-hole playoff by hitting a shot out of the water and making it spin -- something not even he knew could be done.

He got to show off for his family, who came to watch him play. He really impressed his dad, Champions Tour player Jay Haas, by bankrupting both the Tour and FedEx all in one day. I understand that Bill won more this week than Jay won in his entire career. I suspect Dad will be getting a piece of the pie to make up for college expenses and such.

And he got to show off for Fred Couples... and, in a way, his dad again. After all, this was Bill's only hope of impressing his way onto the Presidents Cup. I don't know if it's as done a deal as most folks think -- does making your way up through the ranks to win the Tour Championship and FedExCup offset Keegan Bradley's two wins, one of which was a major? That's a tough one. I'm glad it's Fred's choice and not mine.

But one choice I'd love to have is how to spend over $11.4 million. So today's Limerick Summary is a tribute to the man with the heavy burden of doing just that:
Ten mill's a career worth of money
To Bill's daddy Jay. Ain't that funny?
Forget rainy days—
Whether Billy's or Jay's—
There's enough to make all of them sunny!
The picture came from the home page at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is East Lake Really That Hard?

I don't get this. I don't get this at all.

Out of the 30 players who made it to the Tour Championship, only 17 are under par. Par is just 70 -- granted, that only gives these guys two par-5s to beat up -- but one of those is less than 500 yards long! And the course itself is listed on the Tour's website at a mere 7154 yards long. Have I missed something here?

Aren't these the guys that modern course designers claim need 7500+ yards just to make them break a sweat?

The leaders are averaging 3-under each day. Only 4 players average better than 2-under. And only 10 players average better than 1-under.

I repeat... Am I missing something here?

Maybe East Lake has gotten into their heads. Maybe the $10 million has gotten into their heads. Maybe they've gotten into their own heads. (I like Bubba Watson a lot, but he certainly acted like he did. How else do you follow a 64 with a 79?)

But I have a thought...

Is it possible that modern golf course designers have forgotten what really makes a course challenging? No doubt Rees Jones is being cursed for tricking East Lake up -- he seems to take the brunt of criticism lately -- but I understand that Jones merely restored the original course design.

A design from the mind of Donald Ross.

I'm a bit familiar with Ross. He designed Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro (maybe 40 minutes from here) where they play the Wyndham Championship, and he designed Pinehurst #2 (maybe 2 hours from here) where the Tour plays a little major golf on occasion. ;-) Both of these are in the 7100-7300 yard range. And both are considered a bit of a challenge.

Maybe modern course designers should study these "short" Ross courses in more detail, maybe even try incorporating some of his design traits into their modern courses. And maybe the PGA Tour should consider including more Ross courses in their schedule.

After all, if East Lake is that hard, maybe the Tour's TPC overly-long designs are too easy to challenge the best players in the world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Maybe We Should Take Caroline Hedwall Seriously

Caroline Hedwall's photo from LPGA.comUnless you keep up with the LET, you may not know who Caroline Hedwall is.

I suspect you will by the time the Solheim Cup is over. The 22-year-old Swedish rookie is 2-0-0 after her first day of competition. Since I want to keep this post short -- lots of golf on TV this weekend! -- I thought I'd give you a quick bio since I'm sure you'll be seeing more of her soon.

First of all, she lives in Löddeköpinge, Sweden. (I can't even say that and won't try. Sometimes I'm glad blogs are written, not spoken.) But like many European players, she went to school in America -- in Caroline's case, at Oklahoma State University.

Her amateur career is as impressive as any you'll see. Starting in Europe, she won:
  • 2007 European Amateur Championship
  • 2008 European Team Championship
  • 2008 World Amateur Championship
  • 2009 European Amateur Championship
  • 2010 European Team Championship
At Oklahoma State she was:
  • 2009 First-Team All-American
  • 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year
  • 2010 First-Team All-American
  • 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year 
  • 2010 NCAA Individual Champion
  • 2010 NGCA Player of the Year
  • 2010 Golfstat Cup Winner
Then she turned pro and won the LET Q-School by 9 shots. And she's won five times so far in 2011:
  • ALPG New South Wales Open
  • LET Allianz Ladies Slovak Open
  • LET Finnair Masters
  • LET UNIQA Ladies Golf Open
  • And, although it's not an official win, she also won the PowerPlay Golf IGNITION Tournament. That was a mixed event, and she beat some folks like Gary Player, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, and Paula Creamer. Not a bad showing for a rookie!
And now she's coming up big as a Captain's Pick at the Solheim Cup.

You might want to get used to her name. This week won't be the last time you hear it.

The photo is from and much of the info came from her Wikipedia page, simply because I'm in a hurry today!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Pitching Seems So Hard

Dexter did a post called The Dreaded 40-60 Pitch Shot about his problems learning to get the ball close from this distance. He included a video by PGA pro Brad Hauer that showed one way to do it. And it sounds simple when you watch it. So why do players have so much trouble with these shots?

It's because nobody agrees on how to do them. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I'm going to show you a couple of other videos on the same topic. You'll notice that they not only disagree with each other, but they seem to disagree with the video Dexter posted as well! (Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging without some simple guidelines to help you.)

The first video comes from Australian PGA pro David Milne and it's part of his Pro Tour Golf College series.

Now here's somebody you may have heard of -- Phil Mickelson -- and he has an entirely different approach.

As I mentioned, neither of these videos say the same thing as the one Dexter found. And I'll let you in on a little secret... there are even more ways to approach this shot. Dave Pelz, for instance, teaches a system of pitch shots in his Short Game Bible that focuses on using different wedges with backswings of different lengths. Is it any wonder weekend players get confused?

Let's just focus on these three videos and find the commonalities between them. Believe it or not, there are several similar things that all three teachers are doing. In fact, the things I'm going to point out here won't be far off from what any method teaches.

First of all, Hauer is swinging on a much flatter plane than either Milne or Mickelson. That makes these swings look very different! Hauer's hands rarely get above his waist either before or after he hits ball. The other two are making much more upright swings, and that contributes to the apparent contradictions.

Then Phil says you should "accelerate" the shot, as opposed to the smoother rhythm the other two are teaching. Milne specifically seems to contradict this acceleration idea. This is a case where we have to ignore what the teachers say but pay attention to what they do. I'm going to point out two things that are the same in all three videos, although they don't describe them the same way.

Let's start with the Milne / Mickelson rhythm contradiction. What are they both saying NOT to do?

Milne says not to take the club back short and try to make a hard hit with a short finish. Mickelson says not to take it back long and slow down... which will cause you to have a short finish. Both finish with their hands higher at the finish than they were at the top of the backswing. And even flatter-swinging Hauer gets his hands to travel as far on his finish as he did on his backswing.

Lesson #1: Keep a smooth rhythm throughout your swing -- no speed-ups or slowdowns -- and make sure your finish is at least as long as your backswing. Wow, that's not so difficult, is it? It's something you can check pretty easily. And remember, if you have a flatter swing, your finish will be closer to the length of your backswing; with a more upright swing, your finish should be noticeably longer.

But how do you do that? Speed control can be a bit tricky, but if you know what you're looking for, you'll see that all three men are using the same technique for speed control. Did you notice that all three of them are making full shoulder turns, even though the swings are not as long as a full swing? We have a name for that move on this blog. All together now -- ONE-PIECE TAKEAWAY.

This is what Hauer is encouraging you to do with that glove drill of his. (And that glove drill specifically creates a flat swing, in case you didn't know. If you keep your upper arm "tight across your chest" as he suggests, it's inevitable.) But if you've paid any attention to my numerous posts about the OPT, you know that your lead elbow automatically points down toward the ground throughout the entire swing. And when it does that, your elbow stays close to your side as he suggests. There's a reason I keep covering the same few moves over and over, folks -- if you do those few basic moves correctly, a lot of other problems take care of themselves.

Lesson #2: Control the speed of your pitching motion with a one-piece takeaway. By using the big muscles of your upper body to swing the club rather than your arms, it's much easier to make a smooth rhythmic swing. If you make a sudden jerk on the downswing, you'll throw yourself off-balance and not hit the ball solidly. If you try to slow down as you hit the ball, it just feels uncomfortable.

Hauer's flatter swing is the most obvious use of the OPT. Mickelson and Milne appear to have more arm motion because their swings are more upright.. but that arm movement is vertical. They don't move their arms across their bodies as they make their swings. Watch the videos a few times and you'll see that their hands stay pretty much in front of their bodies all the way through the pitch, just as I try to get you to do on your full shots.

And finally...

Lesson #3: The length of the backswing depends on which wedge you're using. Milne and Mickelson both specify that they're using 60° lob wedges, and I suppose Hauer is doing the same. But you may find that you don't hit your lob wedge far enough for this pitch shot. If so, instead of trying to lengthen your backswing and make a longer swing, just go to a different wedge. I personally find my current 54° sand wedge is better for this shot; my lob wedge gives better results in the 30- to 40-yard range. A backswing that goes only to waist height and no higher will probably give you more consistent results.

Hopefully this post will help you get closer more often with those mid-length pitch shots. It doesn't take much practice at all to find the wedge / swing length combination that feels natural for this shot. And that's really the key to this shot -- find the combination that feels natural to you for this distance.

Then you can make your own video to confuse people. ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Golf Around the Clock

In case you hadn't realized it, there is wall-to-wall golf this weekend! With the Solheim Cup being in Ireland, the live broadcasts start in the middle of the night here in America, plus we've got European Tour and PGA Tour coverage. The Champions Tour is off and the Nationwide isn't being covered this week.

Here is a link for a PDF listing all the golf on GC through 6pm Sunday evening. It's the easiest way to keep up with it all, but here's a bit to get you oriented until you can download it. All the times are for the East Coast of the US.

Morning Drive is on this morning (Thursday) from 7am-9am as usual. It won't be on Friday because of all the golf.

The European Tour's Austrian Golf Open airs from 9am-noon.

Golf Central will broadcast the Solheim Cup opening ceremonies from noon-1pm.

The PGA's Tour Championship airs live from 1pm-6pm. Golf Central airs from 6pm-7pm, then the Tour Championship re-airs from 7pm-midnight. Then you get two-and-a-half hours of repeats (although the first hour of Golf Central may be new).

At 2:30am Friday the Solheim Cup starts and runs straight through until 1pm Friday afternoon. That's ten-and-a-half straight hours of live coverage! Give them credit for this one, folks -- this is as thorough as any of the men's majors get.

The Tour Championship picks up again at 1pm Friday. You should have that TV schedule downloaded by then!

All-in-all, it looks like GC will have things covered extremely well this weekend:
  • 27.5 hours of live coverage and some re-broadcasts of highlights from the Solheim Cup, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies
  • 12.5 hours of live PGA coverage, plus GC and NBC re-broadcasts
  • 11 hours of live ET coverage, plus a tape-delay of the 2nd round
For all the complaints we give them, they got it right this weekend. Way to go, GC!

Now if I can just figure out when to get some sleep...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dave Stockton... 'Nuff Said

Dave Stockton has been making the rounds on GC plugging his new book Unconscious Putting. So I'm going to give him a little space as well. Here's a clip he did for Champions Tour Learning Center a few years ago. Some advice never really changes:

A lot of what he says here echoes what I wrote in a post called Why Tiger Can't Putt a few months ago. If you use the "gravity swing" I talked about in that post (and in my book Ruthless Putting) you probably won't have problems with the back of your lead wrist breaking down either. That'll make it even simpler to putt than Dave says.

And Dave says it pretty simple, folks. If you won't listen to me, listen to him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Problem with Lexi

What to do with Lexi -- that is the problem, isn't it? For most of us it's pretty simple. Let me sum it up for you, in case you've been living under a rock lately.

Say 'hi

Lexi's only 16 -- she'll be 17 in February -- but she's already been given permission to qualify for the LPGA through Q-School. In the first round of Q-School she blitzed the field, winning by 10 shots. Sunday she won the Navistar LPGA Classic, which would make her eligible for instant Tour membership if she were 18. She made history by becoming the youngest woman to win an LPGA tournament by nearly 2 years. In doing so she beat each of the Top 5 in the Rolex Rankings by at least 12 shots. Her closest Top 10 competition was Stacy Lewis, who just made the #10 spot this week and had already remarked that the LPGA wasn't for players as young as Lexi. Lexi calmly beat her by 8 shots. (Stacy's comment was less tactful, so I won't repeat it. I wonder if she feels that way now.)

But Lexi didn't get her Tour card Sunday. Instead, a questionably-worded release seemed to indicate that Lexi had been granted permission to get her card via Q-School and that she would have to get it that way. Later statements have indicated that Michael Whan won't be that harsh and that he's awaiting a petition from Lexi to be granted Tour membership. But that just added fuel to the fire. She's already beat the LPGA's best, and it wasn't a squeaker either. Why shouldn't she get her card right now?

Lexi has stolen the thunder of both the Solheim Cup and the FedExCup, and she's even taken some headline space from the NFL. Not bad for a 16-year-old!

And that's the problem. Lexi's still only 16. That raises problems that, if they're not handled properly, the LPGA fears will backfire on them down the road.

In this New York Times article Whan spoke about those problems. Karen Crouse wrote that:
"Whan has made it clear he is philosophically opposed to youngsters forsaking their high school and college educations to pursue full time a sport in which athletes often continue improving into their 20s and 30s and even 40s."
She also notes his willingness to consider each player on a case-by-case basis, as evidenced by the Q-School ruling.

John Feinstein even seemed to agree with Whan to an extent, because he feels Whan is trying to protect Lexi from a "too much, too fast" situation. Michelle Wie is always quoted as the example here, but Feinstein does have a point. The public's hunger for the next big thing can put tremendous pressure on any player, let alone a 16-year-old. Whan certainly cares about that, as well as the possibility of "burnout" for an up-and-coming star who could really spark the LPGA's future.

Whan also has to consider possible backlash from players who might be, shall we say, less than welcoming to a young player like Lexi. While Stacy Lewis -- who is a self-admitted traditionalist -- may have only meant that the rules concerning age shouldn't be bent, there may be those who will be outright hostile to a hot young player who's going to make the competition tougher. Especially when the rules would have kept her off the Tour for another year or two.

And of course there's Whan's previously-mentioned desire to avoid setting a precedent. Lexi is an anomaly, the type of player who only comes along once every few years. Almost every young player who's been successful as an amateur is going to think that she is that player. When Whan and the LPGA have to tell those players that they aren't as good as they think, they're going to have a lot of angry players... and parents.

All of these things are surely playing into Michael Whan's decision. And I don't think he's having any difficulty at all with his decision. Rather, the difficulty comes in how that decision is publicly explained.

Personally, I think Lexi should get her card. She's old enough to have a driver's license -- which puts people's lives in her hands -- and to hold down a job, which is an adequate description of playing golf. Especially at the level Lexi plays! She's proven she can stand with the best -- she did, after all, win by a large margin. What more does she have to prove?

And I think Whan agrees with me. Bear in mind that he gave her the special permission to go to Q-School. I suspect he'll grant her petition for Tour membership but make her wait until 2012 to claim it. That's when she could have claimed a card won through Q-School, and it will put her only a year short of the normal age limit. He'll hope that minimizes the possible bad feelings and future petition problems from other young players.

Whan's decision is expected next week, after the Solheim Cup, although the word "decision" is questionable. I'm not sure he has any real choice. In fact, it's not even a real question. Not only does Lexi have a legitimate claim to LPGA membership, but the LPGA needs her. The real problem will be how the LPGA handles the consequences of the decision they almost have to make.

The picture came from this story.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 BMW Championship

Winner: Justin Rose

Around the wider world of golf: The big news came from the ladies this week as Lexi Thompson got her first LPGA win at the Navistar LPGA Classic and became the youngest person to win a multi-round event on any tour. But there was other golf news as well: The GB&I team overcame a scare from the Continental Europe team to win the Vivendi Seve Trophy; Jay Don Blake got his first Champions Tour win at the Songdo IBD Championship; Jason Kokrak got his first Nationwide Tour win at the Albertsons Boise Open; Melissa Reid won the Open de España Femenino on the LET for her third win; and Mayu Hattori won the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic for her third JLPGA win.

Justin Rose after BMW win

Have you ever noticed how many "underachievers" seem to be winning on Tour these days? Forget the worldwide wins for a moment. Justin Rose has 3 PGA Tour wins -- and big wins, at that -- in the last 15 months. Maybe he hasn't played the way everybody expected... but wouldn't you love to underachieve as successfully?

Justin's swing has been the subject of scrutiny the last few days because he played so well Thursday -- he hit every fairway and all but two greens (appropriate at a tournament sponsored by BMW) -- and then his stats steadily worsened over the next few rounds. By Sunday he was hitting just a bit over 55% in both areas. This flaw has been blamed on Justin's "inconsistent rhythm." I suspect there's some truth to that. Poor rhythm certainly throws your swing out of whack.

I do find myself wondering what the players with consistent rhythm blame their sprayed shots on, though. ;-)

Look, I'm not going to defend nor attack Justin's swing today. There are plenty of commentators ready and willing to do so without my help. What I want to do is congratulate Justin on playing his way not just into the Tour Championship next week but into the Top 5. As you know, the Top 5 can win the FedExCup if they win the Tour Championship -- they won't need "help" from the other players in order to get that monstrously huge $10 mil payout. That's no small accomplishment.

Two other players who I think should get some special attention are Geoff Ogilvy, who both made the Big 30 and his Presidents Cup team (it's being played in Australia this time, you know), and the forgotten hero of the last month or so, Jason Dufner. Jason was pretty much written off after his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship; some said they would certainly give him a pass for the rest of this year, just to give him time to get over the loss. I guess it helps to hang around Vijay Singh a lot; Jason finished T6 this weekend to make it to East Lake. Yeah, Jason!

And in case you missed it, here are the Top 5 next week:
  1. Webb Simpson
  2. Dustin Johnson
  3. Justin Rose
  4. Luke Donald
  5. Matt Kuchar
These are the guys who can take it all with a win. In my mind, both Kuch and Donald are due.

But for now I'll just send out this long distance Limerick Summary to the driver who needed his crash helmet to get it across the line... but he managed to do it in one piece. Perhaps his mechanic can take a look at that timing problem before next week's race:
The ultimate driving machine
From Thursday would swerve and careen
While crossing the finish…
Though that won't diminish
His chance at a prize that's obscene.
The pic came from the front page of

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jack's Way

Yeah, that's a play on the Nicklaus book Golf My Way. I found this clip from the old Nicklaus video of the same name:

The clip is pretty much self-explanatory, but I'd like to explain one thing. Jack says the ball position is the same for every shot, and you're probably wondering how that can be true. If you look closely at the split-screen showing his setup with the 4 different clubs, you'll realize that his stance width changes with each club. (In fact, he specifically mentions it.) And when his stance gets narrower, it has the effect of moving the ball back in his stance.

For example, if your stance is 24 inches wide and the ball is 4 inches back from the front, the ball is positioned 1/6 (4/24) of the way back in your stance. But if you narrow your stance to 20 inches for a shorter club and the ball is still 4 inches back, it's now 1/5 (4/20) of the way back. You can see how that works. Obviously, if you don't change your stance as much as Jack does when the club gets shorter, you'll need to actually move the ball back in your stance to get the same effect.

I keep saying golf is no harder than any other sport -- we just make it harder. Sounds like Jack agrees with me!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Can Lexi Seal the Deal?

In case you missed it, Taylor Leon barely missed the cut this week at the Navistar LPGA Classic. The gals at +2 made the cut and Taylor finished +3. She won't go home alone, though -- also at +3 were Cristie Kerr, Natalie Gulbis, and Christina Kim, among others. Jennifer Johnson made the cut easily at -6 (she shot +1 on Friday) and Sara Brown made the cut on the number to raise her record to 2 made cuts in a row. (And 2 made cuts for the year, but we won't get into that. As I said, she's played better on the LET.)

Lexi Thompson seems to have finally gotten her game in shape. Aside from the 10-stroke shellacking she gave 'em at the first stage of LPGA Qualifying, her play has been a mystery this year. But after a 66-68 opener with only 2 bogeys, we have to wonder if maybe she's gotten her mind clear about what she needs to do.

If that sounds like I'm questioning Lexi's ability, it's not intentional. But it seems to me that the slump in her game this year hasn't been so much a matter of mechanics as of focus. After getting permission to play in as many tournaments as she could Monday-qualify for, I wonder if she didn't put too much pressure on herself to perform. The goal ceased to be making a cut, which takes two rounds. Instead, it became getting into the tournament at all, which is a single-round effort.

And bear in mind that the "cut" in a qualifier may be as few as 2 players, although I suspect it's usually 4. Do that week after week, and it's enough to throw anybody's game off.

Have her attempts to play the FuZion Minor League Golf Tour taken some out of her? (That's a men's developmental tour in FL that plays 1-, 2-, and 3-day tournaments. The women play at 94% of the men's distance. You may recall that Lexi won one of these events back in February.) She played a lot early on this year, although I can't see how that would have hurt... unless she was frustrated that she played better in those events than in the big events. Bear in mind that she's played 10 events on the LET, ALPG, and LPGA Tours -- and missed 5 cuts, with her best finish a T19.

Did that blowout win at stage 1 of Q-School initially raise her expectations for her Tour play? It might explain why she struggled so much right afterward.

I just don't know what happened to Lexi this year. What I'm sure of is that something has now changed. Perhaps she's finally decided to focus on Q-School for her card and just play Tour events to help her prepare for the next stage. Maybe that's taken some of the pressure off her game. Again, I don't know.

But whatever has happened, I hope she keeps it up. If she does, she could very well be petitioning the LPGA for full membership after she wins this weekend.

Friday, September 16, 2011

This Time a Rookie Leads the Pack

Last week Taylor Leon made news by getting near the lead of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. (And for those of you keeping a Taylor Leon watch, she's at +1 -- T47 -- after the first round. That sounds good until you realize that +2 is T70. Taylor is right at the cut line. Get a move on, girl!) This week another new name is on the board... and this one's a rookie. Since you probably haven't heard much about her, I thought I'd give you the skinny on this week's headliner.

Jennifer Johnson LPGA photoJennifer Johnson is a member of the 2011 rookie class. She went to Arizona State University but she's only 20 years old, so you know she didn't go for long. ;-) However, her bio at the ASU site is fairly complete, and it paints a picture of a pretty well-rounded player.
  • She was named to Golf World's Mid-Season All-Freshman Team in 2009-2010.
  • She was runner-up at both the 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur and the 2010 NCAA Championship.
  • She played on the 2008 Junior Ryder Cup Team, the 2009 Junior Solheim Cup Team, and the 2010 Curtis Cup Team. In fact, she was 3-0-1 at the Curtis Cup and scored the winning point.
Although she's just a rookie and hasn't gotten much TV exposure -- let's face it, most rookie years aren't much to write home about -- it's still possible you've heard of Jennifer because she's been featured in Navistar's Wounded Warriors Project campaign.

As things stand, Jennifer is #9 on the Rolex Rookie of the Year list with 110 points. She's made just 6 out of 9 cuts this year, including 2 of the 3 majors she played in, and her best finish is a T12 at the CN Canadian Women's Open. Her 3 missed cuts came in the last 4 events -- the CN being her one made cut during that time -- and then she had the great showing Thursday. In fact, the LPGA lists her career low score as 67. They'll have to change that since her 65 yesterday is a new record!

She may not have her 2012 Tour card locked up yet, but Jennifer currently sits at #70 on the money list with $84,809 -- nearly $25,000 above that key #80 position. With the limited number of tournaments remaining this year, I think she's in pretty good shape.

But Jennifer will probably have her hands full this week. With Lexi Thompson only 1 stroke back and Yani Tseng just 3 behind her, she'll need that Women's Am and Curtis Cup experience!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The One-Piece Takeaway is Back!

A couple of weeks ago I did a post called How Will Phil Putt Next? after Phil Mickelson showed up at the Deutsche Bank Championship with a belly putter. Luke left a couple of comments, and the last one included a reference to a YouTube video about -- you guessed it! -- one-piece takeaways.

Why would Luke include that? It's because Paul Wilson, the teacher who made the video, uses a putting motion -- with a regular putter, not a belly putter ;-) -- to demonstrate the proper way to perform a one-piece takeaway. I thought it looked pretty good, so I'm passing it on to all of you:

Paul only focuses on the one-piece takeaway going back about two feet from the ball. As you know, I want you to do it back to waist high. That's because I don't just want you to make a one-piece takeaway, I want you to get your shoulders turned (or "coiled") early in the swing. Good things happen when you turn your shoulders early in the swing. Never forget that!

But Paul's video provides yet another way to get the feeling of starting back "in one piece," which means you'll start your backswing by turning your shoulders first. That's what I want you to do. I know I say it until you're all sick of hearing it, but turning your shoulders early will solve oh so many problems in your swing and increase your power and accuracy as well.

BTW, did I mention that you should start your backswing by turning your shoulders first? ;-)

Thus ends my weekly sermon on the virtues of the one-piece takeaway.

And thanks again to Luke for sending me the link.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How a Yardstick Can Help Your Game

If you've breezed through any of the early posts in my Basic Principles of the Game category, you'll find that I have one principle that doesn't change whether you're putting, driving, or any kind of stroke in-between:
The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
As radical as that may sound, you'll find echoes of it in the works of many teachers who would probably deny teaching it. Hogan, for example, said that your forearms shouldn't consciously rotate during your swing. Another example is Brandel Chamblee, who is only one of the teachers you'll hear on GC telling you that you want your hands under the club at the top of the swing. (Think about it. If your hands are under the club at the top and you gripped the club with a neutral or only slightly strong grip -- as recommended -- your wrists have cocked pretty much straight up. That means you didn't rotate your forearms.)

The legendary teacher Bob Toski used a yardstick to teach how this feels, and it may help some of you who have trouble with twisting your forearms and laying the club off on your backswing. The drill is from Toski's book How to Feel a Real Golf Swing, and it's on pages 24-27 if you want to check out Toski's entire explanation. It helps correct problems from putting the grip too much in either your palms or your fingers. The photos are from this webpage at the U.S. Golf Schools and Travel site showing the drill. I've enlarged the pictures for easier viewing.

Lead hand position on yardsticksAll you have to do is take two yardsticks (or one cut in half) and tape them together to stiffen and thicken them up. Toski says to take your grip by laying the sticks against the callouses at the base of your fingers on your lead hand (left hand for righties, right hand for lefties), then curl your fingers around the yardsticks. The sticks will slide up slightly into your palm. You can see this in the picture at right. Your lead thumb will be on top of or just creeping over the side of the yardsticks.

Complete grip on yardsticksOnce you've got your lead hand placed, it's a fairly simple matter to get your trailing hand in place. Note that your trailing thumb WON'T be on top of the yardsticks. Rather, it will hang over onto the target side.

You should try cocking your wrists up and down with this grip. Toski says it will probably feel weaker at address than than you're used to, but will actually feel stronger at impact. And if you've been holding the club too much in your palms, this will increase your wrist cock. That should add power to your swing.

Notice that the yardstick is under the heel of your lead palm. (Look at the top picture again.) This is where a lot of players get messed up with their grips. You want to get the same feeling when you grip your club.

And when you put your trailing hand on the club, the thumb of your lead hand should fit into the lifeline of your trailing hand. When you read this it sounds like your trailing hand will be on top of the club, but when you actually do it, your grip will be slightly strong. And when you swing, at impact it will feel as if you're "slapping" the ball with your trailing palm.

If you try making some swings and cocking your wrists straight up on the way back, it will help you keep the club "on plane." When you bend your trailing elbow during your backswing, that will cause enough "slant" to get the club on plane... but you'll feel as if your hands and forearms are in pretty much the same relative position they were at address. That will make it easier to return them to the ball squarely.

I know it sounds a bit strange, but it makes sense when you actually feel it. 

The yardstick drill can help you develop a better grip with less forearm rotation. And that will help you hit longer, straighter shots.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who's Number Two?

There's no question that Yani Tseng is Numero Uno in the women's game. (And no, I have no idea how to say "Number One" in Taiwanese. I just call her the Empress.) But nobody seems to agree on who the second-best women's player is.

Well, it looks like a battle is shaping up. Just as Yani has separated herself from the rest of the pack, two of the other ladies are also separating themselves from the rest. Here's the Top 5 according to the Rolex Rankings for September 12th, along with their current points average:
  1. Yani Tseng, 16.63
  2. Suzann Pettersen, 11.97
  3. Cristie Kerr, 11.87
  4. Na Yeon Choi, 9.16
  5. Jiyai Shinn, 8.89
Na Yeon actually dropped .02 points this week and Jiyai will probably drop some more due to injury time. So it looks to be a battle between Suzann and Cristie.

Suzann's picCristie's picIn a text-in poll Morning Drive conducted Monday morning, Suzann was the popular choice. I have to admit that I don't understand that at all. It's not that I think Suzann isn't capable -- far from it. But for whatever reason, nobody seems to believe in Cristie.

Has no one noticed that Kerr has been in the Top 10 of the Rolex Rankings for 387 consecutive weeks? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that over 7 years? Sounds to me like Cristie's got a bit more staying power than Suzann has had.

I'll grant you that Suzann has two LPGA wins this year while Cristie has none. (Suzann also has an LET win this year.) But Suzann was in that boat last year when Cristie had 2 LPGA wins -- 1 a major -- and Suzann had none. That does happen, after all. But last year we kept talking about how Suzann was right there, what with 11 Top5s, which proved she hadn't lost her game. How has Cristie done this year without a win?

So far, Cristie has 9 Top5s while Suzann only has 2. (I'm not counting Suzann's wins in that total, of course.) Like Suzann last year, Cristie is fighting her putter.

On this year's money list, Cristie's about $200,000 ahead of Suzann. As I said, Cristie missed one cut; beyond that, she has played one more tournament than Suzann. That $200k is nearly a winner's check, however.

In the majors, Suzann has 1 Top5 and Cristie has 2. Suzann and Cristie tied for 3rd at the LPGA Championship, then Cristie had a solo 3rd at the U.S. Women's Open. Suzann did make the cut in all 4 majors while Cristie missed one, but Cristie still finished ahead of Suzann at the British.

Granted, none of this proves Cristie will come out on top. The two are nearly the same age -- Cristie's about 3 1/2 years older -- but both are at that age normally considered to be a player's prime. Suzann does have a few more injuries to contend with, and that could pose a problem in the future.

But the general consensus is that Yani needs an American rival to really rev up the ratings... and whether people like it or not, it's not likely to be Paula Creamer, currently at #8 and over 9 points back, or Michelle Wie, who's at #12 and a point behind Paula.

You can say what you like, but I expect Cristie to get her putting sorted out soon enough. And when she does, I suspect she'll be the one to give Yani a run.

And then she might not be Number Two at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Winner: Yani Tseng

Around the wider world of golf: It wasn't a good week to be the favorite. The U.S. Walker Cup "Dream Team" got waxed by the GB&I Team 14-12; Simon Dyson took out both Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood to claim his 3rd KLM Open, a feat previously accomplished only by Seve and Bernhard Langer; and Yuko Mitsuka beat Shanshan Feng at the Konica Minolta Cup, the 2nd JLPGA major of the year (the Constructivist has the details). Less of an upset but still quite impressive were Jade Schaeffer's win at the Raiffeisenbank Prague Golf Masters on the LET and Sydnee Michaels's win at the Price Chopper Tour Championship on the LPGA Futures Tour. This was the last tournament of the year for the Futures Tour, and the Top 10 on the money list -- which now includes Michaels -- get LPGA Tour cards next year.

And in case you're wondering: Taylor Leon finished T22 at -4. She picked up $20,541, which jumps her up to 96 on the money list -- about $20,000 behind that magic number 80. I'm guessing she'll need a Top 10 next week at Navistar to be sure she makes it. (Last year the 11th place player made $24,471, and since 80 apparently moved up about $4,000 this week... well, you do the math.) We'll have to keep a watch on her and see if she can pull it off. You go, Taylor!

Yani Tseng after another great shot

Well, at least one favorite didn't disappoint this week.

Since the men took the week off, I had to decide which of the other tours to feature in this week's Limerick Summary. How could I not focus on the only player on any tour with 5 victories on her home tour and 8 worldwide wins?

Like most of the other favorites who didn't come through this week, Yani spent most of the day chasing the leader. Unlike them, Yani was tied for the lead when the day started (she seems to enjoy doing that.) but Amy Yang jumped out to a lead on the second hole. Then the other chasers made their runs -- Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Belen Mozo, and Ai Miyazato -- but each came up just a bit short.

Yani finally caught Amy at the 16th hole, and pars on the 17th and 18th sent the pair to a playoff. While Yang is no inexperienced rookie -- she has 3 LET wins and finished Top 20 in all 4 majors this year -- this was her first playoff and it may have shown in her 2nd shot on the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th. To be blunt, she left herself dead with no way to get the ball close.

Of course, Yani birdied the first playoff hole. Did I really need to tell you?

Whatever your opinion may be of the women's game compared to the men's game, you can't question that Yani is the best of the women right now. She leads the stats in:
  • Driving Distance
  • GIR
  • Number of birdies
  • Rounds under par
  • Rounds in the 60s
  • Top 10 finishes (tied with Kerr)
  • Scoring average (about 3/4 of a stroke ahead)
  • Number of victories
She also leads the money list. Not surprisingly, the weakest part of her game is putting (she's only 3rd in Putts per GIR). But when you play this well with the regularity she does, does it really matter?

So the men rightfully step aside this week to allow this lady to shine. The Limerick Summary simply reminds the other women that their chances to dethrone the Empress of the Tseng Dynasty this year are running out:
So Yani got win number eight
This year, and her fans think it's great.
But to all those behind her
It's just a reminder—
If they don't win soon, it's too late!
The photo came from this post at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Dream Team's Nightmare

Saturday the U.S. Walker Cup Team discovered the downside of being a heavy favorite.

You see, sometimes your opponents don't get the memo!

After the GB&I Team jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the morning session, both teams split the afternoon matches. That means the favorites are down 7-5 going into today's matches, and there's bad weather coming in which could play into the hands of the "underdogs." With 14 points up for grabs -- 4 foursomes in the morning, 10 singles in the afternoon -- anything could happen now. Maybe 2 points isn't an overwhelming lead, but any lead helps when the weather turns on you.

The Walker Cup should be extremely interesting today. Potential upsets are almost always more interesting than runaway wins. After all, it takes two to make a race; otherwise it's just one runner out for a jog.

And while I'm talking about races, a couple of runners may make the LPGA event even more interesting than it already is:
Both of these ladies will be playing during the broadcast window on GC. Keep an eye out for them!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

So Who Is Taylor Leon?

The big attention getters at the LPGA event Friday were (as expected) World #1 Yani Tseng and local girl Stacy Lewis, both of whom are tied for the lead at -5. The putting struggles of Michelle Wie also snagged a considerable amount of airtime.

But the leader for most of the day was Taylor Leon. You can be forgiven if you didn't recognize the name. Let me give you a quick bio.

Taylor LeonTaylor is 24 years old and spent 2 years at the University of Georgia before turning pro in 2007. She's got 2 wins on the LPGA Futures Tour. Her best score is a 65, and her best finish is a sixth -- ironically, at the 2009 edition of the very tournament she was leading Friday!

She's struggling this year. She's #111 on the LPGA Money List, and she has only this week and next week to earn her card by getting up to #80... which is currently about $35,300 dollars away. (That will probably change this week, of course. As it stands, that's about $15,000 more than she's earned so far this year.) She, like so many other players, has been a victim of the smaller playing schedule this year -- she's only played 8 events, and made only 4 cuts. Her best finish has been a T43 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the only major she was qualified to play in. (That must count for something, if only an emotional boost.)

And she shot a bogey-free 67 (-4) on Friday, which puts her one off the lead of the afore-mentioned Tseng and Lewis.

So why am I telling you this? Because Taylor will be playing during the GC broadcast window today. There's a decent chance you'll get to see her since they were talking about her situation Friday -- after all, she was leading for most of the day. It'll be interesting to see if she can make the cut and make up some ground in her efforts to keep her card.

For every player like Tseng and Lewis, there are a dozen Taylor Leons who never even get mentioned during a broadcast. Maybe she'll end up being the big story this week. After all, a win would secure her card as well.

Good luck, Taylor. Go low this week.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just a Reminder...

The LPGA's Walmart NW Arkansas Championship starts today. This is big (to me, anyway) because there's been so little women's golf on TV this season... *sigh*

Anyway, there are some featured groups you might be interested in. The first few tee off early, so you'll have to check the live leaderboard at for them.  The group with Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, and Karrie Webb should be interesting. Likewise, Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, and Morgan Pressel tee off shortly after them. Both groups could put up some good numbers early.

The featured pairings for the TV coverage window sound like fun as well. The biggest is probably Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, and Ryann O'Toole. Not only will you have #1 and #2 in the Rolex Rankings together, but you've got a Solheim Cup rookie. O'Toole will not only have to deal with the big names, but she'll be mic'ed as well.

Another pairing is Michelle Wie, Sandra Gal, and Stacy Lewis. This is a hometown game for Lewis, and all three are part of the Solheim Cup teams.

Reilley Rankin, Jessica Korda, and Danielle Kang will probably also get some airtime since this is Kang's debut as a pro. She's the two-time defending U.S. Women's Amateur winner, in case you've forgotten.

GC will be airing the tournament from 3pm - 6pm today, Saturday, and Sunday. The ladies are benefiting from the lack of men's golf this week, so catch 'em while you can!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Putting from Off the Green

Today's post is very short. It's a tip from Ben Crenshaw that you may have missed even if you saw Champions Tour Learning Center on GC.

Like Nicklaus and Palmer, Crenshaw believes your worst putt will probably be better than your worst chip, so you should putt whenever you get the chance. Crenshaw said that you should putt from off the green as long as there aren't too many problems between you and the green, such as tall grass or an uneven surface. This is probably no different than anything else you've heard various teachers say.

However, Crenshaw mentioned something specific that I don't remember hearing very often. He drew special attention to the grain of the grass. If the grain of the grass is against you, putting may not be your best option.

Obviously it's not unusual for us to putt against the grain when we're on the green. However, the grass on the green is usually shorter, more uniform, and better groomed. When you're putting from off the green and conditions are therefore less than perfect, putting against the grain could become the determining factor in your decision.

He also recommended standing a little taller when you putt from off the green. Since you'll need to make a bigger swing, you want to leave as much room for your arms to swing as possible.

So next time you're putting from off the green, remember to check the direction of the grain. It could help you avoid leaving the putt short... or maybe hitting it too far past the hole.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Hit That Ball Low

On School of Golf with Martin Hall on GC Tuesday night, he talked about hitting low shots. However, there are different types of low shots. This video by PGA teaching professional Kevin Battersby shows you the difference between hitting a low shot with an iron and with a driver.

Note that with the iron you hit down on the ball, but with the driver (and the ball on a tee) you want to hit up on the ball. We'll come back to this in a second.

One thing that Kevin didn't stress which Martin did is that, when using the iron, you'd like to keep the iron moving parallel to the ground for a while after you hit the ball if possible. This minimizes the lift created by backspin. Kevin hints at this when he talks about hitting the ground well ahead of the ball, but Martin expressed the concept a bit better.

You might wonder why there's a difference between how the irons and woods create a low shot. It's all about the shape of the face. While irons are flat, woods have rounded faces. The side-to-side curve is called bulge, and the top-to-bottom curve is called roll. Those "outward curves" in the face of a wood prevent them from putting as much backspin on the ball as the flat face of an iron does, which is why a hybrid -- which also has a flat face -- tends to hit the ball higher and stop it faster than a fairway wood does.

And that's the "low-down" on how to keep your shots low.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship

Winner: Webb Simpson

Around the wider world of golf: Most players got their wins early so they could take Labor Day off... if they were playing, that is. The LPGA and Champions Tours were off last week. But Gary Christian got his first win at the Mylan Classic on the Nationwide Tour; Thomas Björn got his second win in as many weeks (his third this season) at the Omega European Masters; Caroline Hedwall won the UNIQA Ladies Open on the LET (that's her third win this season, not counting the PowerPlay Golf tournament); and Li-Ying Ye got her first win at the Golf5 Ladies on the JLPGA. (The Constructivist has the details here.)

Webb thanks God for his win

Perhaps we should nickname Webb Simpson "the Prince," after Niccolò Machiavelli’s best-known book, Il Principe (yes, that means "The Prince" in Italian). The book has long been considered a guide for those who seek to gain and hold power. It was once considered radical because it didn't shy away from bluntly saying that you may have to be ruthless and even act immorally to keep that power once you have it.

In fact, that's where we got the term "machiavellian." Old Nick became a bit of a pariah in his time because of that book.

No one would accuse Webb of being machiavellian -- at least, not in the traditional sense of the word. He called a penalty on himself earlier in the year which probably cost him a victory. And The Prince recommends that a ruler encourage religion in his followers while abstaining himself. Some of Webb's detractors have given him a hard time for his very obvious Christian faith. That's one of the reasons I chose the picture here -- Webb isn't afraid to 'fess up to his faith.

In any case, old Nick would not approve.

But I'm sure Nick would approve of what we've seen at the Wyndham and now at the Deutsche Bank -- Webb striding confidently down the fairways, mercilessly crushing any player in front of him on the leaderboard, winning gracefully... but winning decisively, nevertheless.

I've been less than complimentary of belly putters, and I'm not about to change my stance. All things being equal, a good feel putter will beat a mechanical player with a belly putter more times than not. BUT if you're going to be a mechanical putter, I'll certainly concede that the belly putter is the best way to do it -- better even than the broomstick. Webb has certainly proven he can wield one with authority (ah yes, Machiavelli was big on authority), using it to hand out beatdowns his opponents won't soon forget.

So Webb Simpson now enters the rarefied air of those Tour players with two wins and two runner-ups this season. Granted, he'll have to wait at least another few months for a major, but if he plays his cards right he just may pick up another victory, Player of the Year, and perhaps an extremely large bank account in the meantime.

It's good to be the king... or the prince, as the case may be.

So this week's Limerick Summary salutes the new monarch of the FedExCup playoffs. He's not committing hari kari with that putter shaft he's got stuck in his gut... but his opponents may wish he was:
Though Webb sticks a shaft in his belly,
It's clear that he's not full of jelly.
He rises to battle
And never gets rattled—
He's ruthless, like Nick Machiavelli!
The photo came from the front page of Knowing how things change, it probably won't be there when you check later!

Monday, September 5, 2011

How the Great Dane Retrieves a Trophy

The Limerick Summary is delayed until Tuesday by the Monday finish on the PGA, so today I'm taking a quick look at the swing of a winner on another tour this weekend.

Thomas Björn won the Omega European Masters in Switzerland this weekend, his 3rd win of the season (only Luke Donald has matched him) and his 2nd win in as many weeks. Many years ago he picked up the nickname "the Great Dane" -- he's from Denmark -- and his career has been full of ups and downs. Through it all, despite a few years of poor play he has maintained the swing we're going to look at today.

And I meant it when I said "a quick look." There's very little footage of his swing posted at YouTube, and the video I'm including here is the only slo-mo I could find. But it's enough to show you what impresses me about his swing.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about Thomas's swing. In fact, that's exactly what I find so remarkable! Thomas is over 6' 2", a tall golfer even by today's standards, and yet his swing is so simple that anybody can copy it.

Although you can't see it from this angle, Thomas has a fairly classic swing a la Tom Watson. He takes the club back with quite a bit more hip turn and "left heel lift" than most players, then moves his hips toward the target to start his downswing. You don't even have to be very flexible to do that!

What makes his swing so great is its simple rhythm, There's no attempt to generate extra power by exaggerating his hip move, or by jerking the club down to start the swing. His swing generates power because its tempo is fairly quick, as you can tell from this video of his swing at full speed:

Watch the Great Dane's swing a few times and see if you can't pick up that smooth rhythm yourself. You may not retrieve any trophies, but you won't have to retrieve so many balls out of the woods either.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Playing a Ball That's Under Water

After all the rain that's been dumped on us by hurricanes lately, you may have thought to yourself, "Hey, I wonder if I could play golf underwater?"

Ok, you probably haven't... but it's a good lead-in to this tip on playing a ball from a water hazard.

Normally the best course of action after dunking your ball is simply to take your penalty and get a decent lie. But sometimes there's no decent lie available, or maybe you really need to get a score on this hole. Under certain circumstances you just might be able to play from that hazard. The trick is knowing what kind of shots are playable.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this was Henrik Stenson's "underwear" shot during the 2009 WGC-CA Championship. I include this for two reasons:
  • Henrik explains the type of situation where playing this kind of shot might be a good gamble, and
  • I have numerous female readers who will certainly enjoy seeing this again. ;-)

This video by teaching pro John Hanrahan of the Fort Collins Country Club in Colorado covers the basics of the shot... and takes a dig at Stenson for good measure:

The real key here is the depth of the shot. If the top of the ball breaks the surface of the water, you have a decent chance of pulling this off. Hanrahan is playing out of a deeper lie. Note that he is in ankle-deep water; this is the outside limit for this kind of shot.

Why? Because when the ball is completely under water, its image is refracted by the water. That simply means that the ball isn't exactly where it appears to be. If you don't allow for that, you'll just drive it down into the mud. And, just as in a sand trap, you aren't allowed to touch the surface of the hazard with your club. You play it just like a sand shot.

Make sure you practice this shot before you attempt it during a round. It's not a high-percentage shot, and it's no fun getting messy if you leave it in the hazard.

Of course, if you're playing with the ladies, you have the right kind of body, and you don't have a rainsuit, they might not care. I'm not going there, though. ;-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How Will Phil Putt Next?

Phil and his new dateIt's all the buzz, isn't it? Phil Mickelson "dating" a belly putter. (In the highly unlikely event you haven't heard the saying in the last few days, here it is: "You don't marry a putter, you only date them.") In this case, it's a particularly "spicy" relationship since Phil's caddie Bones is on record saying that, if he could change one thing about the rules, he'd outlaw long putters.

I find this whole affair very sad. I know that a lot of young players are coming out on Tour having never used anything else. Using a long putter used to carry the stigma that you were in the throws of desperation, and supposedly these young guys are changing many players' viewpoint. But I'm not sure the stigma has lessened, no matter how many youngsters start using them.

In essence, no matter what reason you give, using a belly putter is an admission that you no longer believe you can putt. There's no question why Phil is trying one out -- he's developing a reputation for missing 3-footers and coughing up majors as a result.

Bobby Jones famously wrote,
"Anyone who hopes to reduce putting -- or any other department of the game of golf for that matter -- to an exact science, is in for a serious disappointment, and will only suffer from the attempt. It is wholly a matter of touch, the ability to gauge a slope accurately, and most important of all, the ability to concentrate on the problem at hand, that of getting the ball into the hole and nothing more." (Bobby Jones on Golf, p88)
The belly putter (and its brother, the "broomstick") is proof that Jones knew what he was talking about.

If anyone has approached this part of the game scientifically, it's Phil. He's enlisted the help of short game gurus Dave Pelz, who really is a rocket scientist (at least, he used to work at NASA), and Dave Stockton to help him reduce it to pure mechanics. I have a lot of respect for both men, and I've said more than once that I enjoy just reading Dave Pelz's Putting Bible because I always learn something from it.

But has this approach worked? No. And if I might point you to the Jones quote again, think about how many times Phil has blamed poor putting on problems with his concentration.

The main problem modern players face is rigid mechanics. Lower bodies are locked in place, arms and shoulders locked into a triangle that must never be altered, and players are told that the wrists must remain firm throughout the stroke and not "break down." Then they're told to stay relaxed and swing rhythmically! It ain't gonna happen, folks.

Add the debates over straight line strokes with no wrist action versus arc strokes with release moves, each side bolstering their arguments with high-tech research projects... it's no wonder players have forgotten the simple way they putted as kids. Presumably they made enough putts back then to qualify for the Tour and make millions of dollars, but that's no longer good enough.

Eventually the USGA and the R&A may outlaw the technique of "anchoring" that makes long putters so attractive to struggling players. I doubt that the putters themselves will be outlawed simply because the technique that Matt Kuchar and Michelle Wie are using -- letting the longer shaft just rest against their lead arm -- is much too close to a regular crosshand style. If they tried to outlaw such a long-accepted practice, they'd have a rebellion on their hands.

Even a broomstick can be used without anchoring the butt of the putter. People have been sweeping with regular brooms for eons, and the technique can work with long putters as well.

Personally, if it comes down to a putting contest between a belly putter and someone who remembers the nearly extinct art of putting, I'll put my money on the short stick. They'll probably win at least 7 out of 10 times. That's why I don't mind if the belly putter stays legal; I remember how to putt. The long putter will never allow you to putt with as much feel as a regular putter, no matter how much you practice.

Besides, I don't really want to spend hours practicing something so simple.

But when you're convinced that you can improve your golf by sticking a metal rod in your gut, you've got bigger problems than the yips. Do the phrases "crisis of confidence" or "paralysis of analysis" ring a bell?

The pic came from Dexter's post about Phil's experiment -- one of many such posts dotting the web this week -- over at Golf Tips & Quips.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Getting Used to Flat Shoes Again

Yesterday I wrote about research I found that said overly-cushioned shoes could actually cause foot and leg problems. I decided to experiment and see if it was really true, since I've had some prolonged foot and leg pain.

But the articles I read said you can't just go back to flat shoes because the muscles in your feet must be given time to strengthen first. Otherwise you can end up with strained muscles in your feet. So I set out on a 3-month experiment, beginning in early June, to see if changing shoes would really make a difference. I'm posting it here in case any of you are interested in trying it, since I couldn't find any procedures to help me make the change.

To start with, I needed to figure out a plan of attack. While the articles I read gave me ideas, nobody seemed to know how to make the switch beyond "take it slow." Real helpful, huh? So I created my own two-pronged attack:
  • First, I started going barefoot (or sockfooted -- is that even a word?) around the house. That way I knew I would neither injure my feet nor end up having to walk if my feet got sore. This "step" was easy.
  • Second -- and more difficult -- I had to find a way to adjust my running. Buying new shoes wasn't an option at this point. Suppose they just made my feet hurt more? I decided to keep wearing my regular running shoes but change the way I ran.
This didn't take too long, but I had to study the video in my last post more closely. I decided the major changes running barefoot caused were (1) a shorter stride so I could (2) land more on the balls of my feet. Those were changes I could make without any expense or major changes to my regular routine.

I was surprised at how much of a difference these two changes made... and how quickly they became obvious. My typical running time was around 19:00 minutes. I walk part of the distance because there are some steep downhills involved, which are harder on your legs than flat land or uphills, and I have to walk some of the distance simply because I can't run the full distance yet. The foot and leg problems have made it hard for me to get back in shape... and I love to run.

I run 4 times a week -- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with a walking day on Wednesday to mix things up a bit. I had run an 18:42 time on Monday and started the new routine on Tuesday. That first time I ran about the same time -- 18:44 -- despite taking shorter steps. I attributed this to the steps being a bit faster (short steps take less time, right?) and being able to run a bit more of the distance since my legs didn't get quite as tired. I walked Wednesday as usual... and then things went crazy.

Thursday's time was 17:26, well over a minute faster than Tuesday. I thought it was just an anomaly, one of those "best time" days that happens occasionally. But then I ran 17:28 on Friday, so I decided to see what happened the next week.

Monday I ran 17:43, which was slower but still a minute faster than the Monday before... and then Tuesday I ran 16:39. This is over two minutes better in only one week... and then I noticed the weak left ankle was stronger. I won't go into detail, since it involves my shower after the run, but I found I could stand on my left foot alone without losing my balance. At this point I decided to splurge on the second stage of my program.

I bought a new pair of sneakers for wearing around all the time when I wasn't running. And since I wanted to eliminate any potential benefit from the sneakers, I went for the cheapest things I could find. I bought a pair of Faded Glory sneakers from Walmart; they cost about $12 a pair here, and they feel more like bedroom slippers than shoes because the soles are so thin. I kept running in my regular shoes, however, because I figured it would take longer to get where I could run in flats.

After three more days of runs around 17:20, my regular time dropped to around 17:00 minutes! I even had run a 16:46 time by the end of June. In case you've never followed a running program before, this kind of improvement is much more than you typically see. I decided to buy a second pair of cheap sneakers for running in, which I started using July 1st. It was an odd feeling -- despite having adjusted my running style, the first few steps in the sneakers felt like I was dropping into a hole. After the run my feet and legs didn't hurt but they were really tired. If you've ever had a "pump" after a workout, where your muscles feel warm and relaxed, you know how I felt afterward.

The next day I did some extra walking that turned into something I didn't expect. I walked for a half-hour, felt good, and decided to walk another half-hour... during which I ran into one of the neighborhood kids and ended up traipsing around for two hours that involved running and climbing in the woods! I was afraid I would be sore the next morning so I took a couple of Tylenol before bed, but had no problems.

The next week I ran a 16:04 -- I'd now beat my original best time when I started by 3 minutes in only 5 weeks. During the month my times were all over the place because some days my feet and legs were really tired and other days they felt really strong. By the end of the month I'd also run a 16:30, a 16:20, and a 16:15 time. I haven't been that fast in years.

In the last week I've beat that 16:04 best time 5 straight days -- my new best is 15:31. My weak left ankle is now as strong as my right ankle for the first time in about 5 years. I suppose part of my speed improvement could be due to the sneakers being lighter -- gosh, you don't realize how heavy running shoes are until you run in something light! -- except that I'm now able to run on pavement in these unpadded shoes without any pain. It often hurt me just to run in the grass before I started this little experiment, even wearing padded shoes.

The chiropractor friend I mentioned in the other post has told me that he never would have believed this if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. He says I'm running more easily than he's ever seen. That's certainly due to the increased strength in my lower body.

So that's how I got used to flats again. It took about two weeks of going barefoot around the house and shortening my walking and running stride in the regular shoes, followed by two weeks of walking only in the flats and running in the regular shoes to get my feet in good enough shape to leave the padded shoes entirely.

That's a month to switch over for casual use, and maybe another month to feel completely comfortable doing anything I wanted. And I didn't have to change anything else in my daily routine to get through the changeover. There are certainly worse ways to get rid of some foot and leg pain.

Again, I have to remind you that I'm not a doctor and I can't tell you what's right or wrong for you. But if you're interested in experimenting with less-padded footwear, this is the process that worked for me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Running Barefoot? Not Quite...

I've done a large number of posts on various aspects of fitness, many of which can be accessed from the Some Useful Post Series page. In fact, one of the most searched-for post series on this blog is my 100 Pushups in 7 Weeks series, which is also listed on that page. Although I have some definite ideas about fitness, I'm always open to exploring new workout info.

Now that I'm 53, I've become interested in exercises that may eliminate some of the aches and pains from past injuries. For example, if you read the pushup series, you know that a recurring shoulder injury finally kept me from finishing the program. I was in the process of hunting for a workout that might help me heal that once and for all -- I believe I found it, btw -- but got sidetracked by some info I found by accident. The heat prevented me from exploring both of these things at once, so I decided to try the accidental discovery first since it fit in with the running program I was already doing.

As a result, I've made some interesting discoveries about shoes.

I've spent the last three months experimenting with this info. I got it from John Sifferman, who is an NSCA certified personal trainer, among other things. He has a blog called Physical Living that touches on anything and everything about fitness. And while I was checking some of his posts I discovered one he did about running barefoot.

Before you ask... no, I haven't started running barefoot. But this post, The Definitive Guide for Going Barefoot, got my attention because of one simple YouTube video he included. It was made by the New Jersey Sports Medicine and Performance Center, and it was the basis for a Harvard Study. It shows the same runner on the same day, first running in regular running shoes, then running without shoes. The runner was given no other instructions.

The differences are amazing!

The implications of this video are important. If it's correct, then running shoes can actually cause foot and leg problems.

To make things short and sweet, all the padding in running shoes immobilizes the small muscles in your feet which are intended to absorb shock, so they get weak. The design of the shoes changes the way your feet hit the ground, and shocks are passed on through your body to parts that were never meant to deal with them.

And for me, this is critical information. See, I have several foot and leg injuries that have wrecked my exercise programs over the last several years:
  • My left ankle was injured in a freak Tae Kwon Do accident during a school tournament when both my and my opponent's protective padding slipped and I took a hard elbow straight into the soft tissue on the top of my foot. I was unable to play golf for 3 months because I couldn't roll to the outside of my foot during my finish.
  • My right heel was bruised so badly that I could barely put weight on it for over a year, which further weakened it to the point that I have been unable to run without at least occasional pain. This is by far the worst problem because I've had it for several years and the pain can come on when least expected.
  • I have occasional pain in the tendons on the outside of my right knee.
These injuries not only interfered with my running, they interfered with other workout routines as well.

Vibram Five Fingers running shoeYou may have seen some of the funky "shoes" used by some barefoot runners, like the Vibram Five Fingers shoe pictured at left. Personally, I have no intention of spending a fortune for something like that, no matter how good it is. But some further reading (there are several other posts referenced in Sifferman's post) gave me an idea...

You see, since you can't go barefoot all the time, even the enthusiasts agree that so-called "minimal shoes" are a necessity. These are shoes that are as close to going barefoot as you can get while still looking somewhat normal. Again, a lot of these are still funky-looking, but I found at least one option I was very familiar with:

Plain old canvas sneakers

That's right, plain old canvas sneakers like I used to wear as a child. So I decided to experiment with them.

However, you can't just go straight back to "flats" like this. Oh, no. The little muscles in your feet have gotten too weak to handle the drastic change in shock absorption so quickly; you have to ease into wearing them. And that's how the 3-month program got started. I have a neighbor who's a chiropractor who was very interested in my little experiment, because he had come to the conclusion that sneakers were causing some problems he was seeing in his practice but couldn't figure out why.

And now it's been 3 months... and all the pain is gone. Well, I'm still having some stiffness in my right heel, which my chiropractor friend says is because the tendons are having to get stronger, which takes time, but I'm no longer having outright pain. Not only have my foot and leg problems vanished, some stiffness in my hips and lower back that I thought were just age have vanished as well. And as if that wasn't enough, my running times have decreased by 20-25% over that time -- an absolutely unheard-of rate of improvement that has impressed the chiropractor as well as me.

Look, I'm not throwing my padded shoes away. The hardcore barefooters will no doubt claim that our ancestors ran barefoot across rocky mountainsides with no problem... but I'll add that those ancestors never had to stand in one place on that rock 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for years on end. Modern life offers challenges that they never had to deal with. For some of those challenges, padded shoes are a necessity.

But I've decided that they're not good for my everyday running and walking. I'm not a doctor, but I know that pain-free is generally better than pain! So I wanted to pass this on to you guys, just in case some of you are in the same shape I was and thought you had run out of options.

Tomorrow I'll give you the simple program I worked out to help me get used to less-padded shoes, and I'll update this post to add that post's link right here.

BTW... you do realize that Tiger's new golf shoes use this idea too, don't you? Now you know why.