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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Farmers Insurance Open

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: Paul Casey snapped a 20-month victory drought by winning the Volvo Golf Champions on the European Tour; and the team of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson won the Champions Skins Game on the Champions Tour. That's right, the 71-year-old and the 61-year-old beat the young guns... and beat them impressively. Golf is so cool!

Bubba holds the winner's trophyAlthough Tiger wasn't a factor on Sunday -- it's clear that he's still thinking more about where the club is than where the shot's going -- that didn't mean the Farmers Insurance Open was a snoozer. Far from it! The California desert seemed to be teeming with life these last two weeks... at least on the golf courses. Although the weather turned cold and wet, an early round of -8 by Nick Watney (he shot 28 on the back nine!) moved him to a T6 finish and foreshadowed just what could be done.

Bill Haas faded right out of the gate and Phil Mickelson struggled early, but it quickly became apparent that Mickelson came ready to play... as did Bubba Watson and last week's winner, rookie Jhonattan Vegas. Although several other players made runs at them, it didn't take long for the three to separate themselves from the rest of the field.

Even after all this time, it seems the commentators just can't get over how much Bubba curves his shots. He has said repeatedly that he finds straight shots almost impossible and that those slices and hooks are what he sees in his mind. What made it so wild is that he was hitting these huge curving shots far beyond everybody else -- even though Vegas and Mickelson aren't slouches -- and he still hit half his fairways, more that either of the other two. Not only that, he managed to lead the entire field in GIR, hitting almost 82% of them!

Those "anything but straight" balls Bubba hit kept finding their way into birdie range, and Bubba --who said all he practiced during his off-season was 10-foot putts -- kept making them. The other players could catch him but couldn't shake him.

In the end, it was Bubba's tenacity that won him the tournament.

Phil made a final push and birdied the last two holes to take solo second, a single stroke back. (You could argue that Phil lost it early in the round; he could have been 2- or even 3-under when he left the 3rd green.) Bubba flew the par-5 18th with a 2-stroke lead. Vegas, knowing he needed eagle to even have a chance, dumped his second into the lake in front of the green. He took a bogey to finish 3 back. Bubba scrambled for birdie and his 2nd Tour win.

There were a lot of twists and turns in this tournament... and not all of them came off Bubba's clubs. Still, it's those atypical shot shapes of his that make him as much fun to watch as Phil or Jhonattan. So is it any surprise that my Limerick Summary "takes a swing" at Bubba's swing?
A “Bubba swing” isn’t conventional;
His ball flight is multi-dimensional.
Though Einstein may grumble
And startled crowds mumble,
I'm certain that corkscrew’s intentional!
Click the photo to read the tournament wrap-up from PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Buzzing Around the Bloggerhood

It's been a while since I did a round-up of interesting posts from the blogs I read. Today just seemed like a good time for it, so buckle in for a quick cruise around the bloggerhood.

First off, the LPGA hasn't swung into gear yet, but the Constructivist and HoundDog are getting ready. The Constructivist has determined the winner of the Mostly Harmless 2010 LPGA Prognostication Derby and announced the 2011 version, while HoundDog has put up some info to help you get your entry ready.

Over at Golfgal Gayle takes a look at some of the bad tempers she's seen lately and how we should deal with bad shots.

Down under at Aussie Golfer, Michael has ranked his Top 10 Australian golfers going into 2011. (Not to be contrary, Michael, but I think Jason Day should rank a bit higher.)

Shane Bacon thinks this is a key weekend for Phil Mickelson in a post over at Devil Ball.

The Armchair Golf Blog has gone all TV Guide on us as Neil gives his thoughts on Hank Haney's newest project, Rush Limbaugh.

Likewise, Dexter has a review of the reality show Pipe Dream over at Golf Tips & Quips.

And last but not least, over at the Whiffling Straits Golf Blog Mike wants us to give Steve Stricker a little more love.

These are only a few of the golf blogs I check regularly. By all means, if these aren't on your list, you should pop over and give them the once-over. And of course, if your all-consuming passion is great art... my Limerick Summary of the Farmers will be up tomorrow. ;-)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why Your Wrists Cock

Are you wondering why I've included this post in the "mindset" category? It's because too many players have a mental hang-up about power, and it keeps them from making the correct moves. If you have the right mindset, proper wrist action is almost automatic.

And remember, I'm writing this because of a question from Dexter, who's a righthander. You lefties will have to reverse the "lefts" and "rights." Sorry about that.

So we've talked about "back cock" and flipping -- the wrist movement that many teachers don't talk about -- and we've talked about why it's hard to keep your wrists cocked by trying to do it. But we've also said that it's important to keep your wrists relaxed. Now it's time to see why relaxed wrists can cock and stay cocked all the way down to the hitting area when we can't consciously make them stay cocked.

If we keep our wrists relaxed, some of our wrist cock happens because of the turning of our bodies and the motion of our arms. First we're turning our shoulders and swinging our arms in the direction of our backswing, then we change direction. When we change direction, the club doesn't want to change with us, so it causes our relaxed wrists to cock. The cocking action works much the same way an airbag does -- it slows the club down, and continues to slow it down for a few moments while we start the downswing. That lets us get down near the ball before the downswing motion causes the club to move fast enough in the new direction that it uncocks our wrists.

That's simple enough, but how do we know how much cocking motion is the right amount? The movement of our arms determines how much our wrists cock. I'm going to try and explain how this works in today's post.

For a right-hander, the left arm stays relatively straight and the right elbow bends at the top of the backswing. If you think about it, this really isn't a lot of motion. Once you eliminate your body turn from the equation and think about hand position relative to your navel, your hands only move a couple of feet or so from their original setup position. That's all!

Forget about turning for a moment. Just take your normal setup position, which probably puts your hands just below your navel or maybe a couple of inches to the left of it. Now keep your left arm fairly straight while you lift your hands up to "the top of your swing." If you're like most people, your hands will move up and to your right -- either above or just outside your right shoulder. When one arm stays straight and the other bends at the elbow, your hands HAVE to move diagonally like that. In fact, you may only feel as if your right elbow is bending; if your left arms stays straight, it has to move toward and above your right shoulder.

But in addition, your wrists will cock. Again, they HAVE to -- the only way you can stop it is by keeping your wrists rigid. But we want relaxed wrists, remember? As a general rule, the more you bend your elbow, the more wrist cock you get. And this may help you understand why some teachers advise certain positions at the top of the swing.

For example, you hear teachers talk about keeping your bent elbow close to your side. Obviously, the closer your elbow is to your side, the farther it is from your hands... and that causes you to cock your wrists more. Try it -- just hold your club out in front of you and push your left arm as straight away from you as you can, while pulling your right elbow as close to your chest as possible. You can create a wrist cock that really strains your left wrist.

This is also where plane comes into the picture. Your plane affects how much wrist cock you get because it affects how much you bend your elbow. Flat planes cause more wrist cock because your elbow is so much closer to your side. Have you ever heard a flat-plane teacher who didn't tell you to keep your right elbow close to your side? Flat planes make you bend your elbow more.

Upright-plane teachers tend to stress "depth of arc," which simply means you get your hands as far behind you (outside your shoulders) as possible. That's because if you have a "shallow" swing, where the club is more above your right shoulder, the right elbow can stay fairly straight and not cock the wrists as much. (When Jack Nicklaus rebuilt his swing in 1979-1980, he said he did it because he had gotten "too upright." This is what he was talking about.) If you push your hands back "behind you," your elbow has to bend more and you get more wrist cock. You can check this by simply lifting your clasped hands above your shoulder -- your elbow doesn't bend much at all. But lower your hands a few inches and push them out to the right -- a "deeper" position -- and your elbow will bend a lot more.

If your move to the top is smooth -- all the lifting and bending happening as one fluid motion -- you may be completely unaware of when or how much your wrists cock. But whether you can feel them cock or not, it happens most consistently when you relax your wrists and just let it happen. The key is not how you maneuver your wrists, but how your arms -- your straight arm and your bent elbow, working as a team -- move.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Holding Your Wrist Cock Doesn't Work

Are you wondering why I've included this post in the "mindset" category? It's because too many players have a mental hang-up about power, and it keeps them from making the correct moves. If you have the right mindset, proper wrist action is almost automatic.

And remember, I'm writing this because of a question from Dexter, who's a righthander. You lefties will have to reverse the "lefts" and "rights." Sorry about that.

In yesterday's post I wrote about "flipping" the club at impact. Flipping is related to what I called "back cock," where the back of the right hand bends back at the top of the backswing. Today we'll look at the more common problem of "losing the angle" too early in the hitting area, which involves the "side cock" where the thumb side of your hand bends. At least, that's the problem more people complain about. This post will probably need to be split in two in order to adequately explain what's happening.

I've done articles about "the Secret Move" before. You can find them listed on "The Route 67 Posts" page. This diagram from the first of those posts is probably worth a page of description:

Secret Move Diagram

The post that originally used this picture focuses mainly on getting extra distance with your driver. However, even a deadhanded swinger like Steve Stricker uses this same concept -- it's just not as dramatic. Today I'm going to focus on how wrist cock works in a deadhanded swing -- which will help lengthen all of your shots without affecting your accuracy much at all -- and why most attempts to "hold" that angle don't work.

In fact, attempts to hold the angle generally make you lose it quicker! If you want to carry that wrist cock down into the hitting area, you can't make it happen -- you have to just let it happen on its own.

The logic behind this paradox is actually pretty obvious if you just think about it for a moment. Let's say you drop a piece of pottery onto a stone patio. It's going to break, right? That's because there is no "give" between the two. The pot and the patio are both rigid, and neither one gives any ground, so the pot shatters the instant it hits.

Now replace the pot with a rubber ball. When you drop the ball, it gives -- in this case, it deforms -- and absorbs the impact, which takes a few microseconds. Then the ball springs back to its round shape and redirects the energy toward the floor. As a result, the ball bounces off the ground.

That's essentially the same thing that happens with wrist cock. In a word, if there's no "give" at the top of your backswing, you start losing your wrist cock almost immediately. If you have some "give," the club doesn't react immediately. Instead, it absorbs the energy at the change of direction and holds it for a few microseconds while you start down, then gives you a bounce that adds power to your downswing. That "give" comes from several areas, like your overall flexibility, but there are primarily two sources that concern us.

The first is your shaft flex. Too much shaft flex gives you a lot of angle, but very little control. If you go back to my post about Walter Hagen's swing and look at the videos you can see his hickory shafts bending almost double under the strain. They were too flexible and "gave" too much, so the Haig was notoriously inaccurate. But if the shafts are too stiff, it's like slamming your wrists against that patio floor -- except that pots don't feel pain.

The other big factor is your wrists' ability to cushion the change of direction, which they do primarily by the action of cocking. Now don't rush over that last sentence without making sure you understand it. When I mention "the action of cocking," I'm actually talking about how much they move -- that is, how large an angle they move through while they cock.

I've referred to Jim McLean's research on the "V-Gap" in several posts. (Just search on the phrase "v-gap" in the search box above the Blog Archive list in the sidebar to find all the posts I've done.) The V-gap is simply the difference in the angle your wrists have at waist high on the backswing and at the same point in the downswing. McLean discovered that the players who hit the ball farthest had the biggest V-gap. If you look at the pictures in McLean's Golf Digest article, you'll see that he's saying a large cocking angle (what teachers traditionally call a "late cock") gives you more distance than a small cocking angle (an "early cock").

Hopefully you can see now why advice like "try to hold the angle" and the similar "set your wrists at the top" don't help you get any extra distance. In essence, to use my original image, you have gently set the pot on the patio. The pot doesn't break, but it doesn't bounce either. It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help. It does nothing at all. In fact, it doesn't matter if you exchange the pot for a ball. When you set the ball gently on the patio, it's not going to bounce either!

When dropped, the ball absorbs the impact and resists bouncing away because of the downward movement of the its mass -- what physicists call inertia. Until the resistance of the floor overcomes that inertia, the ball cannot bounce away. But a ball simply placed on the floor has no inertia and therefore there's nothing to resist. That's an example of Newton's First Law of Motion, which says:
An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.
Attempts to hold or set the angle at the top of your backswing are the equivalent of setting the ball gently on the patio. The club is at rest, so there is no force acting on it to keep your wrists from uncocking. By "setting" your wrists at the top, you have already eliminated the inertia of the club; when you start down, there's nothing to hold the club in place against the centrifugal force trying to sling the clubhead outward and uncock your wrists.

No, if we want to carry our wrist cock down into the hitting area, we're going to have to learn how to "let it happen." And this is a convenient place to break until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Relaxed Approach to Wrist Action

Are you wondering why I've included this post in the "mindset" category? It's because too many players have a mental hang-up about power, and it keeps them from making the correct moves. If you have the right mindset, proper wrist action is almost automatic.

And remember, I'm writing this because of a question from Dexter, who's a righthander. You lefties will have to reverse the "lefts" and "rights." Sorry about that.

When Rocco appeared with Jimmy Ballard on Golf Channel's 12 Nights at the Academy series, he said he didn't feel his wrists cock at all during his swing although they clearly do. If that statement surprises you, then you don't quite understand how the wrists work during a golf swing. And when teachers talk about "setting the wrists at the top," that often just adds to the confusion. Your swing works best when "setting your wrists" is not an action but a reaction.

That's what I want to look at in today's post -- the reaction your wrists should have during your golf swing.

One thing you need to understand is that sometimes we use a conscious drill to teach an unconscious move. In this case, the drill isn't what you want to learn; rather, you focus on the reactions the drill causes in your swing. A good example is the "early cock" drill I gave Dexter. Cocking his wrists early counteracts the excess forearm rotation he had -- rotation that causes him to "lay off" the club when it should stay on plane.

By using an early cock --  which is a conscious move, one that I have to think about -- I learn what it feels like when my forearms don't rotate. (Which, ironically, is what would happen normally if I didn't interfere!)  I used to have that problem, and Carl used the early cock drill to teach me correct forearm movement. I no longer use an early wrist cock because I don't twist my forearms anymore. It's important to understand what a drill is trying to teach you if you want to get the most good from it!

So, since we've already talked about forearm rotation, let's look specifically at wrist cocking. Wrists can cock in two directions. The one we think about first is sideways, thumb toward forearm, which is what we normally refer to as "cocking." But the low wrist also cocks backwards, and this move helps you square the clubface. The forward "uncock" of that wrist is what causes the "flip" mentioned in my look at John Cook's swing. We'll talk about it first.

You can best compare this backward cock to the way your hand moves during a slap. Isn't it convenient that I have this rough diagram of a slapping motion? Just follow the numbers to follow the sequence, and you can even slap a wall hard enough to make some noise as long as you don't hurt yourself:

How your wrist moves during a slap

Now here are a couple of observations about this motion that you SHOULD make if you really pay attention:
  • The harder you slap, the more accurate this diagram becomes. At a very slow speed (say, the speed of a short putt) you probably won't notice much wrist cock at all. But as you speed up to a waist-high pitch shot (I don't want you to break your hand on a wall imitating a full swing!), the wrist cock happens as you change direction. This is because your wrist and forearm are relaxed. That's part of what happens at the top of your backswing -- the weight of the club moving in the "backswing direction" helps cock your wrists when you change to the "downswing direction."
  • Your wrist and forearm are just as relaxed at high speed as at low speed! You may have never thought about this, but it's true. In fact, to get the soundest noise, you have to stay relaxed! If you try to help the move along and consciously cock and uncock your wrist, it simply doesn't work well. It's exactly the same in your golf swing; if you tense up, you slow things down. To get maximum swing speed, you have to just let your wrists act without conscious interference from you.

How your wrist moves during a slapDo you remember my post about Walter Hagen's swing? I pointed out that, in the second video on that post, he set up with his iron shafts leaning forward -- the shaft formed a straight line with his left forearm. When he does this, his right wrist takes position 1 in my slapping diagram. Many other players use this setup as well.

Why? Because it presets both wrists so they get to the position we want at the top of the swing. In the diagram at left, the left wrist (the flat one) is actually turned a bit so the 'V' between the thumb and forefinger points toward the right shoulder. At the top of the backswing, this position allows the right wrist to cock back (like a slap).

Now, when this happens at the top, some players will feel this as a slapping action. Others will feel as if the elbow "sets" because the elbow bends and moves to create this angle. How you feel it isn't the issue; I just want you to be aware that it happens. If you look at the top position of most players (check some of the YouTube videos if you don't believe me), you'll see this flat right wrist / backcocked left wrist position.

Which brings us to that flip at the bottom. Since slapping is such a natural move to us, we naturally try to do it when we make a golf swing. The problem comes when we do it at the wrong time during the swing. And we do it often! We just have different names for it, depending on where we do it.

A classic example is casting, which I've written about before. When you cast, you "slap the wall" at the start of your downswing, somewhere around shoulder level. It's not unusual for people to straighten their bent elbow at the same time, which is where the "casting" label came from. (I included an illustration of that in the casting post.) But straightening an elbow is much easier to see than the slap movement. You can make a weak slap just by straightening your wrist at the wrong time. Suddenly all your speed is gone and you may not have even noticed that you did it. What happened? You tightened up your forearm and wrist, which messed up your timing.

An unconscious move got derailed by a conscious attempt to control it.

Some people "slap the tabletop," right around waist high. These people often get caught up trying to "hold the angle" longer. But if you try that slapping exercise from earlier in this post, you already know that you can't get a good slap if you tighten your muscles.

And then there's the people who "flip." They are so close! For them, the ball is the wall, and their hand slaps the wall. They slapped properly, but their "wall" is in the wrong place!

So how do we fix it? Simple -- we move the wall!

Here's your drill: Set up (no club) perpendicular to a wall. I want the outside of your foot (left foot for righties, right foot for lefties) about 4 inches from the wall. Now I want you to practice slapping the wall with your low hand (right hand for righties, left hand for lefties). Just take your golf setup, turn back to about waist high, then swing around and slap the wall with your low hand. Please understand that I don't want you to slide forward toward the wall. I want you to turn your shoulders and hips more fully through the shot. Your belt buckle should be pointing toward the wall when you slap it.

Let me repeat that: You have to turn through the shot more in order to slap the wall with your palm. That's probably why you're flipping the club -- you stop your turn too soon. This drill, which you can do inside when you can't go to the course, will help you learn to turn through your shot better.

To take it to the course, set up normally with your ball in its normal position... but try to "hit the wall" with your hands before the clubhead hits the ball. I don't care if you can actually do it or not; what I want is for you to turn through the shot with relaxed wrists. If you do, you will create the proper amount of "lag" as a byproduct. The idea here is to stop interfering with a proper move that should happen unconsciously, and we do this by focusing on a move we do make consciously.

Give it a try and see if it doesn't help solve the problem. And since this post ran so long, we'll look at the other way your wrists cock tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The First School of Golf

Tuesday night was the first broadcast of School of Golf, the new Golf Channel instructional show featuring Martin Hall. Hall won TGC's Instructor Search Contest, which turned out to be a bit more controversial than I think they expected it to be. Still, Hall is a knowledgeable teacher who can list Morgan Pressel as one of his successful students, so I was interested to see what his show would be like. Consider this my review.

Since TGC chose to have Michael Breed co-host the first show, it's hard to say exactly how Martin Hall will do as a host. I suspect they made that decision for two reasons -- Breed is both a successful host and a familiar figure to viewers, and Hall is not used to hosting his own show. It's probably their idea of "on-the-job training." But Hall has done "one-offs" for them before, so it's not like he has to get used to the camera. Once he gets used to the week in / week out routine of doing a show, I think he'll do fine as a host.

The show itself is loosely patterned on a school motif. My own favorite section is, not surprisingly, "Martin's Library," where Hall pulls an idea from some of the books and DVDs he owns. For example, he drew an example from Annika's book Golf Annika's Way where Annika says she feels she is keeping her right arm straight for much of her backswing. This, as Hall pointed out, helps her get extension in her backswing and helps keep her left arm straight without making it rigid.

I was also happy to see that Hall apparently intends to challenge some currently popular swing ideas. In one section he attacked the idea that most players are decelerating the club during short game shots; rather, they are actually swinging too fast and interfering with the natural action of the club. Trying to "accelerate through the shot" will prevent you from solving the problem because it's been misidentified. He advocated using a pendulum to help gain a feel for the proper swing rhythm and accurately advised trying to make what feels like a steady-speed swing.

Gravity affects all of our movements, and gravity is a steady acceleration; therefore proper acceleration actually feels like a steady speed to most of us. I've mentioned this from time to time in this blog (and devoted an entire section to it in my putting book) because it's a personal thing for me -- you can't get better if you misunderstand the problem. The fact that Hall chose to attack this common myth on his first show tells me that School of Golf may turn out to be a cutting-edge show for TGC.

All-in-all, I think the show has promise. I'll be interested to see what Martin Hall does next week, when he has the show all to himself.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Old Guy Wins: John Cook

Surprise! Instead of looking at this week's PGA event winner (no good video available) or the ET winner (I think I've looked at Kaymer's swing before), I chose to go with an old guy. Tiger's buddy John Cook won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship this weekend, which gives him two wins in his last two starts. (He also won the Schwab Championship at the end of 2010.) Cook generally doesn't win until late in the year, but said he worked "about 10% harder on everything" during his break... and came out firing on all cylinders.

It's ironic that a player with as many wins as Cook has so little video available on YouTube. Instead of a driver swing (none of which were slo-mo), I've gone with these two long iron shots. Though separated by the better part of two years, they're close enough for our purposes.

An important note here: John Cook is not a long hitter. Year in and year out, he averages around 275 yards off the tee. Nevertheless, as he starts his 5th year on the Champions Tour, he has at least one win each year and has been Top 5 on the money list every year except 2007, his first year. Cook is an everyman player that we can all learn from.

This down-the-line shot is from Cook's win at the 2010 Schwab Championship:



First, I want you to note that Cook uses a slightly closed stance. Cook has a very upright swing, and upright swingers have a tendency to slack off on their shoulder turn. Given his ball flight in this video, it's obvious he closes his stance for exactly that reason -- to increase his body turn. He also has a good one-piece takeaway, which helps him get that body turn going early...

But his hands never get above his head! I guess you'd call Cook's swing a "three-quarter swing," which isn't unusual for any player using a long iron. However, if you watch him swing a driver, you'll see that his swing is a bit flatter but not any longer. This is about as long as a Cook swing gets. Because of that, he's always in balance and always in a strong position to make his swing. That's why he's so accurate -- well over 70% in Driving Accuracy most years, and over 83% last week. His GIR stays right around there as well.

One thing you'll notice that's different from, say, Steve Stricker is that Cook doesn't use a deadhanded motion at the top of his backswing. Even with that long iron, you can see it clearly in this video. I think it works for him mainly because of his shorter swing, which helps him stay steady all the way through his swing.

This face-on view is about a year-and-a-half earlier but still looks about the same:



Note that his weight looks to be a bit more to his left side at the top of his backswing. This helps him hit down on the ball a bit better. And you can really see that "downcock" at the top which is noticeably missing from guys like Stricker, especially with an iron. Cook actually carries quite a bit of wrist cock down into the hitting area... so why doesn't he hit the ball farther? One possibility is that his three-quarter swing simply doesn't allow him to get the clubhead speed other players do. But I think there's more to it than that.

If you've seen the commercials for that new practice club that's supposed to teach you to keep your hands ahead of the clubhead through the hitting area, you know the commercial shows what it calls a "flip" motion. The sellers say it will cost you some distance. John Cook makes that flipping move; you can see it very clearly in this video, and it probably does cost him some distance.

I want to point this out because Cook is an excellent example of why this move isn't necessarily such a bad thing. True, Cook loses some distance because this flipping move causes him to hit the ball higher, and a higher ball flight usually results in less distance. However, that higher ball flight also allows him to stop the ball more quickly on the greens. That means this flip move also improves Cook's GIR!

Golf and life are alike in this way: Everything's a trade-off. To gain something in one area, you often have to give something in another. Cook is giving away a little distance to gain some accuracy, a trade-off that works very well for him. This is the biggest thing I think you can learn from John Cook -- that everybody has some strengths and weaknesses, and just because somebody tells you such-and-such constitutes a "weakness" doesn't mean it has to be a weakness for you. Cook's learned how to accept what he has and score with it, which means it's not really a weakness for him, is it?

When you decide to get better, you'll be faced with decisions over what to try and improve, and what to leave alone. Make those choices based on your own game, not somebody else's. John Cook plays just fine with his "weakness," thank you very much; you can learn to do the same.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Bob Hope Classic

Winner: Jhonattan Vegas

Around the wider world of golf: Martin Kaymer ripped the field apart with an eight-shot victory in defense of his title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on the European Tour and took over #2 on the OWGR from Tiger Woods; and John Cook posted back-to-back 64s to win the Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the Champions Tour.

Photo of Jhonattan Vegas from PGATOUR.com

Well, "Jhonny Vegas" went four-under in the first eight holes of his final round at the Hope, and we all thought it was over. Gary Woodland and Martin Laird, his playing companions, struggled as Vegas pulled away.

But the happiness of Vegas didn't stay with Vegas. As quickly as it started, the party ended and it looked like Jhonny's "Hope" of victory might be extinguished. The star found himself putting for par -- lengthy, tricky putts -- on hole after hole. Meanwhile, on the back nine, Woodland found something and started making a move.

And in a group up ahead, defending champion Bill Haas caught fire and posted a 66. It put him at -27, one stroke behind Vegas... but Vegas continued to struggle for par. Coming up the 18th, Woodland stood at -26 and Vegas at -28. Vegas had saved difficult pars for nine straight holes and needed only one more.

Then the unthinkable happened! Woodland made birdie and Vegas bogeyed, giving Haas new life as the three headed for sudden death. From there it was almost anticlimactic. Haas was eliminated on the first hole with a par, and Woodland on the next with a bogey.

You might say the bright light of Vegas shone through in the gathering dark. (Well, I would. I'm corny that way.)

When I did my introductory post on Jhonattan Vegas a few days ago I mentioned his victory on the Nationwide Tour last year. However, I'm still not used to keeping up with the events in South America, so I missed his win at the VISA Argentine Open in December. In the process Vegas beat, among others, major champions Ángel Cabrera and Tom Lehman. Forget the hype -- Jhonny Vegas is for real, folks.

And so this week's Limerick Summary goes out to the first rookie winner of 2011. I guess you could say "The trophy won by Vegas stays with Vegas."
The Vegas ads play on duplicity:
What happens there, stays there. Publicity
For this Vegas win
Will get a new spin
Since his game shows real authenticity!
The photo is from PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New World Order?

Of course, I'm talking about the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and the shake-up that's about to take place.

All the big names are playing in Abu Dhabi this week. Well, all except Tiger, but he's not playing anywhere until next week... at which point we could have another shake-up. On the outside chance you haven't been keeping up with the tournament over there, Martin Kaymer has pretty much shocked everybody by leaping out to a 5-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy. After taking some time off, he came back out as if he hadn't missed a day.

And if he keeps it up -- he needs to win, since he drops a T2 off the back of the rankings this week -- Tiger will drop to #3 in next week's rankings. When was Tiger last out of the Top 2? And Phil, at T39, will drop out of the Top 5.

Granted, it's not such a big shock, given how they played last year. But it's only one aspect of the shake-up. If things stay the way they are now -- with Westwood near the back of the pack (currently T65) -- here's how the OWGR will look Monday:
  1. Lee Westwood
  2. Martin Kaymer
  3. Tiger Woods
  4. Graeme McDowell
  5. Steve Stricker
  6. Phil Mickelson
And Kaymer will be only about .6 behind Westwood, putting #1 well within the German's grasp.

I heard some interesting stats this weekend. Apparently, if Kaymer wins this tournament, he will have won 7 of his last 33 events -- a little better than 21% of them. That's a Nicklaus- or Tiger-esque number, don't you think? I don't know if he can keep it up, but it's certainly impressive and it should give you an appreciation for how well he's been playing over the last 18 months or so.

I'll also grant you that things can change next week. Of the six, only Woods and Mickelson will tee it up at Torrey Pines. (Or anywhere, for that matter.) Good finishes there could certainly change the complexion of the OWGR yet again. But there can be little doubt that Kaymer is in the driver's seat right now. He and Graeme McDowell are clearly the two hottest golfers on the planet at this point and, as long as they continue to play well when they tee it up, everybody else will have to scramble.

Here's what we're looking at:
  • McDowell played very little early in 2009, which are the tournaments that will be dropping off the "back end" of the OWGR. The only tournament he'll drop before March is a T24 two weeks from now. Only two more tournaments will drop in March -- a T33 and a T66 at the Accenture and Doral WGCs. If he continues to play like he's been playing, Graeme could be contending for #1 by the Masters.
  • Kaymer is in much the same boat. He drops a T31 next week, then a T4 the week after. And he too drops mediocre scores at the WGCs -- a T17 and a T35.
The good news for Tiger is that he still has a window of opportunity. He will only lose 2 tournaments before the Masters -- a T17 and a T9 at those 2009 WGCs. These are decent finishes that he'll need to replace, but he's got a full month before then to post good finishes without losing points from past finishes. In essence, the new Top 3 will start next week almost neck and neck!

The run-up to Augusta is shaping up to be an exciting race... and it's pretty much up to Martin Kaymer to get it started today.

Unless he misses his tee time, I suspect he'll get the job done.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Tape-Delayed Rules Infractions

Since Padraig Harrington got DQed for signing a wrong scorecard at Abu Dhabi, the debate about TV viewers calling in to report rules infractions has heated up again. Added to the Camilo Villegas DQ a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd post my own opinion about the problem... and my thoughts are actually a bit different from what you've probably heard elsewhere.

You see, I think the problem is more complex than it appears at first glance, so it's not a simple rule change. First let me give you the "ground rules" I'm working from:
  • The rules are intended to "level the playing field" and prevent any player from getting an "unfair advantage" over the rest of the field, which to a large degree means they are a hedge against cheating.
  • The rules assume a player has the opportunity to defend himself against accusations of "taking an unfair advantage."
  • The rules may be complex but they are not particularly difficult to understand, and every player should be expected to know the rules and accept the penalty when they break them.
  • The rules should not be changed arbitrarily just to benefit fans or sponsors... but they should take both groups into account, since without them we don't have any televised golf!
  • Intent of the player is a tough thing to judge; intent of the rule is not.
Are we all agreed here? I think it's safe to say we are, so I'll move on to what I think are the real issues in this debate.

First of all, the vast majority of players have no intention of cheating... and if any other players believe they do, they'll take action to stop it. I'm not saying nothing ever gets by the players, but by-and-large they all want things done by the rules. In fact, though no one ever wants to call an infraction on themselves, it's almost a badge of honor nowadays to have done so. So, for the most part, I think we can drop intentional cheating from this discussion.

But tape-delayed tournaments add a wrinkle to this discussion that the rules have never addressed. There are several ways an infraction can be caught -- by the player, his playing partners, on-site officials, on-site TV crews, and even TV viewers who are watching a live broadcast -- and in each of these cases, the accused player has an opportunity to address the infraction before signing his or her card. This is important, because all the players are being DQed for breaking the same rule: Signing an incorrect scorecard.

In the case of tape-delayed rules infractions, the player is not given this chance. No one accused them of breaking any rules before they signed the card, and this is why the DQs have raised so much ire. It's particularly nasty when, as in Harrington's case, you can't even see the infraction unless you view it in slow motion replay; at regular speed, the ball simply appears to oscillate in place, which is NOT a penalty.

So how do we deal with this problem? It clearly needs to be addressed because tape delay didn't even exist when the rules were first conceived, and no one has attempted to update them yet. And you need to understand that simply saying "Phone calls from viewers of tape-delayed broadcasts will be ignored" doesn't address the problem because the infraction clearly happened and should be dealt with.

Make sure you understand that I don't really have a problem with viewers calling in violations as long as the player has a chance to deal with them before signing their card. It's the tape delays that give me a problem because players are being DQed not for the penalties that result in extra strokes, but for signing incorrect scorecards -- scorecards that would have been accepted as accurate without question before the age of tape delay. The arguments being made that these DQs are acceptable because they "maintain the integrity of the game" ignore the fact that tape delay is itself affecting the integrity of the game.

So here are my suggestions. Yes, suggestions with an S. This isn't a simple problem to solve. Let me start with Harrington, since his penalty is the easiest to deal with.

Personally, I have a problem calling penalties that can only be seen in slo-mo. If you can't identify the problem in real time, I don't think it should be called. However, I realize that's a two-edged sword that goes beyond this issue, so I won't argue that. For the sake of this discussion, if a penalty can be identified, we'll call it. Harrington thought his ball merely oscillated and no one else had a problem with it, but the slo-mo shows it did move. However, this minute amount of movement -- probably no more than a quarter-inch -- gave him no advantage over the field.

I'm proposing a basic rule that says:
"If an infraction is identified by a viewer during a tape-delayed broadcast but the player is not deemed to have received an advantage from it, the stroke penalty for that infraction will be added to the player's score. The player will NOT be DQed for signing an incorrect scorecard, because it was not called to his attention in a timely manner."
Please note: This rule specifies that no advantage is gained. If the ball rolls 2 or 3 inches and is not replaced, that WOULD constitute "gaining an advantage" and the player should be DQed. Let's face it -- if the ball moved that much and wasn't replaced, this infraction probably wasn't an accident.

I think it's safe to say that most of the debaters who are against the DQs would say this rule is acceptable. Under my "Harrington Rule," Padraig would have come out Friday morning, seen the replay, been informed that 2 strokes were added to his score, and allowed to continue playing... and I suspect most people involved in the game would have considered that a fair penalty, given the nature of the infraction.

However, Harrington's case is a very simple one. Harrington clearly knew the rule and just made an honest mistake -- again, a mistake that only became clear when viewed in slow motion replay -- without any intention of gaining an advantage. But the Villegas penalty is more complex because it's more than just a mistake. Villegas made an error that, although it stemmed from not knowing the rules and in this case didn't give him an advantage, it certainly could have and no one would be able to know his intent. That introduces some real problems that my "Harrington Rule" doesn't address.

Do you DQ Villegas if his ball runs through the area where he swept away the divot, yet only penalize him 2 strokes if it doesn't? Did sweeping away the divot improve his stance, thus "giving him an advantage"? Do you legislate a radius around the ball, and as long as the infraction didn't happen within it, you're ok? That just seems like an extra complication to me, but you can see the problem. The infraction Villegas committed is substantially different from Harrington's.

It seems to me that the USGA (or at least the PGA Tour) needs to enact my "Harrington Rule" to eliminate some of these senseless DQs caused by tape-delay calls. However, to do so, they need to go through the rules and make a determination about which infractions merely result in "mistakes" and which result in "advantages." The "Harrington Rule" should NOT be enforced across the board when considering tape-delayed calls because not all infractions have the same impact on play.

And how can the ruling bodies determine which infractions my "Harrington Rule" should be applied to? By determining the intent of the rule. For example, there was a debate last year when Michelle Wie "grounded" her club in a hazard after hitting the ball. Suppose this issue came up in a tape-delayed broadcast. Do we add penalty strokes or DQ the player?

Here's the real question: What is the intent of the rule? In this case, it's supposed to keep players from getting information about the lie before hitting the ball. My "Harrington Rule" would say that, once the ball was gone, grounding the club gave the player no advantage. Therefore the player would be penalized two strokes and not DQed.

I would have let Harrington play on with a 2-stroke penalty... but I still would have DQed Villegas. The infraction Camilo committed (1) created a possible advantage on a future shot and (2) couldn't be reversed, which clearly violates the intent of the rule.

I certainly don't believe Camilo meant any harm, but I can't see any way to let him continue playing in that situation without opening Pandora's Box. I'm sure some will argue that his infraction would have only received a 2-stroke penalty if it had been caught at the time. My argument is that the other infractions wouldn't have created an advantage for the player at all, even if the infraction hadn't been called; but Camilo's infraction could have resulted in a big advantage for him had it not been caught by the TV viewer. In this case, the DQ helps protect the field by reminding them that they can't be lax about the rules.

Or, to put it another way, all rules are not created equal. My "Harrington Rule" should be applied in a way that recognizes that. An honest mistake is one thing, but an honest mistake made because you don't know the rules is an excuse that could be badly abused. In that case, when "ignorance of the law" is called, it should probably carry some sort of penalty as well.

Especially when that call is tape-delayed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Schwartzel Again?

Yes, Charl Schwartzel is at it again. No sooner did he win again in Africa and get some love from me about his swing than he jumps right back into the fray, this time in Abu Dhabi. He sits on top of the leaderboard after a first-round -8.

Not that Charl is the only guy looking good in the desert. Padraig Harrington -- you remember him, don't you? -- is in second, one shot back. To watch him play Thursday, you wouldn't believe he's had so much trouble over the last couple of years. He looked really confident out there, for the first time in a long time.

Martin Kaymer is T6 at -5. The commentators said he had made a swing change but it looks more like he's just trying to learn a new way to draw the ball, since I didn't see him use it on every swing. Kaymer's standard swing is a fade.

Lee Westwood is T15 (-3), which isn't too bad this early, and he has no worries about losing the #1 ranking this week. In fact, I heard that that he may not need to worry for a while, since he'll only lose a single Top 10 finish off the back end of the ratings period during the next two or three months. His swing looked pretty solid after a few weeks off.

Phil Mickelson is all the way back at -1, tied for 41st. It's not that Phil played badly -- he had two birdies and one bogey -- he just didn't get anything going.

But frankly, I think the real story here is the continued good play of G-Mac, who's tied for third at -6. At this point I'm not so sure he cares how anybody else is playing, as he put on another of his patented runs and birdied his last five holes! McDowell plans to take some time off next week, so it'll be interesting to see how he plays after his break... but I'm not ready to bet against him having another great year.

And maybe a great week as well. Schwartzel's got his work cut out for him.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meet Jhonattan Vegas

If you watched any of Golf Channel's coverage of the Hope on Wednesday, you may have seen Jhonattan Vegas chip in at the 13th on PGA West Palmer Course. Since Jhonattan is T2 after the first round, I thought some of you might want to know a bit about this rookie.

Photo of Jhonattan Vegas from PGATOUR.com

Jhonattan Vegas attended the University of Texas, but he's originally from Maturin, Venezuela. He got his Tour card via the Nationwide Tour, where he won the 2010 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open on his way to finishing 7th on the money list. Here are a few interesting facts about him:
  • He was a semifinalist at the 2007 U.S. Amateur in San Francisco.
  • He turned pro in 2008 and joined the Nationwide Tour in 2009.
  • He and Alfredo Adrian represented Venezuela in the 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup, finishing tied for 12th place.
  • He's the first Venezuelan ever on the PGA Tour.
  • He finished T57 at the Sony last week which means that although he didn't get to play the weekend because of the shortened field, he did make the cut. Not bad for his first start as a rookie.
Obviously he doesn't have much up in the way of stats so far, since he's only got two rounds of stats on his bio page this year... but his Nationwide stats are still up, and you might find them very interesting. Especially his Driving Distance of nearly 313 yards! (That's Garrigus territory.)

His GIR of 73% and Total Putts of 29.65 should both stand him in good stead if he keeps them up this year. Granted, his two rounds at Sony aren't enough to make any solid predictions, but Waialae is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Jhonattan averaged just under 299 on his drives, almost 78% in GIR, and 32.50 putts per round. I'd say that's pretty good for a rookie in his first tournament on a tough course.

Jhonattan is one of those guys who always seems to have a smile on his face and seems truly grateful for where he is and what he's achieved. I had a lot of fun watching him on the Nationwide last year, and I suspect he'll be just as much fun to watch on the PGA Tour. Keep an eye out for him this week.

The photo is from PGATOUR.com.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That Nasty Forearm Rotation!

If you've been following Dexter's attempts to improve his golf swing over at his Golf Tips & Quips blog, you probably saw this post about his first attempt in some time to hit driver. It includes some old video footage of his swing before I started trying to help him as well as some new video taken just recently. If you haven't seen them, you're going to be surprised by how well he's swinging now!

But as you will see in his post, Dex still believes he's coming over the top. (As if I haven't mentioned this a hundred times, you can find the links to my "Dexter's Coming Over the Top" series here on the Some Useful Post Series page.) In my comments I tried to show him that he isn't coming OOT anymore, and tried to explain exactly what he is seeing and how to deal with it. I suspect many of you have a similar problem, so I thought I'd cover that info in a post here as well.

As I told Dex, an OTT move happens primarily at your right shoulder. (For you lefties, it's your left shoulder.) A look at Dex's video reveals that his shoulder is now staying level throughout the change of direction at the top of his backswing. He's really made a tremendous amount of progress in a short time!

The slight lift that Dexter thinks he sees -- and that he believes is an OTT move -- is actually where he's rolling his forearms during his backswing. It causes him to lay the club off a little at the top, so he has to twist his hands the other way when he starts his downswing to get the club back on line. He isn't rolling them nearly as much as he used to -- you can compare the two videos and see the difference very clearly -- but it's still enough to cause a problem.

I've made a big deal in many of my posts about forearm rotation. I believe it's the one fault that causes the most problems among golfers... and that includes pros as much as amateurs. If you eliminate it, you tend to gain both accuracy and power simply because you hit the ball more solidly.

Since I had the exact same problem years ago and my teacher Carl gave me a drill that fixed the problem, I passed it on to Dex and now I'm going to do the same for the rest of you. I know for a fact that it works, and you can use it indoors if necessary because you don't always have to make a full swing. In addition, it's easy to incorporate it into the drill I gave you for learning the one-piece takeaway... which, as it happens, also helped Dexter to minimize his wrist-twisting!

I've just copied the following from my comment on Dexter's post. I think it's pretty clear.
Often what we "feel" we're doing isn't what we're actually doing. That's why you hear teachers like Hank Haney or Michael Breed tell their students to exaggerate their movements. In your case, you feel like your wrists and the club shaft are on line when they're actually turned too much. Therefore, we're going to exaggerate so much in the other direction that you feel like you're out of position.

Take a wedge. When you reach waist-high on your backswing -- and you don't have to swing back down, just swing your one-piece takeaway to waist-high THEN STOP -- I want the club shaft to point straight up in the air. When you reach that point, take a good look at it, then set up again and repeat as many times as desired. And then use this as part of your pre-swing routine before you hit shots... at least for a while.

Now pay attention, because this is very important: Don't look at the shaft when you actually make shots! Look at the ball like normal, make your normal one-piece takeaway and swing to the top, but try to feel as if the shaft points straight up at waist-high. Yes, this is an early cock instead of the later cock you're using now, but this change is a necessary evil. In time, you'll be able to make this move with a late cock if you want to. Right now, we're far more concerned with correcting your wrist over-rotation.

I can hear your thoughts now -- "But that's going to make me too steep! I'll start going over the top again!"

No you won't. When you make your regular shot, the momentum of the club head and shaft will force your swing to travel on plane... which means your wrists will be on plane as well. But you'll stop the extra turning your wrists make, which is why you're laying the club off now!

Try this for a while, then tape your swing again. I bet you'll see the change clearly then... but I'm betting you'll see some improved consistency in your shots even sooner.
That's an understandable explanation, isn't it? Although you'll have to practice a little to ingrain this move, it's amazing how quickly it "takes" as part of your swing. You should start seeing more accurate shots -- and probably a little extra length -- before long.

And I don't think Dex will mind if I include this video of his improved swing...



I bet a lot of you wish your swing looked that good!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Out of Africa, onto the Tour: Charl Schwartzel

Alas, I found no usable swing footage of Mark Wilson for our weekly look at winning swings. Fortunately, Charl Schwartzel has received more attention... and since I've been touting him since early 2010, perhaps it's time to look more closely at the two-time Joberg Open champ.

Something I'd like to point out before we start is that Charl (pronounced "Sharl" unless I'm mistaken) looks much taller in these videos than he really is. The European Tour site puts him at 5' 11", although he swings more like he has the 6' 3" frame of Ernie Els. This is certainly something you can learn from Charl: If you have the ability to do it, an upright setup and an upright swing can be very powerful. Charl bangs his drives out there around 290-295 yards, which is better than average for his height.

Although he's not as accurate as I'd like to see -- he only hits around 60% of his fairways -- I've decided to focus on his driver since everybody wants more power. (His GIR is much better, usually 70% or more. This is probably a function of a noticeably shorter swing when he hits an iron.) Here's a face-on view of his drive:



Charl uses a relatively early wrist cock, which means the club shaft is nearly perpendicular to the ground when his left arm is parallel to the ground. You'll also note that he looks as if he's leaning just slightly toward the target at the top of his swing. That's not an illusion; if you check his left foot, you'll see that it's still flat on the ground! That's a combination of flexibility and "lean." The fact that he gets his hands so high (an upright swing) also helps.

Two important things here: Charl stays very steady, which almost all of us can learn to do, and (as mentioned) he gets his hands very high... which many of us can't learn. Unless you're very flexible, it's hard to get that full upper body coil and still get your hands up that high. The result is the same as an over-the-top swing, except it's caused by inflexibility instead of poor technique. Rather than trying for height, focus on getting a full shoulder turn; for most players, that's a better route to gaining distance. If you're capable of the upright swing, there's a good chance you do it naturally.

And just as a note, Charl's right foot comes off the ground much more quickly than the typical player's. I suspect this is a reaction caused by staying on his left foot so long... and it probably affects his accuracy with the driver. It stays on the ground much better when he plays his irons.

Now let's take a down-the-line look:



Charl's downswing plane drops slightly below his backswing plane, for those of you who obsess over such things. For my money, the two are very nearly the same... and that helps him hit the ball solidly, even if he's not hitting it accurately. The math goes like this: Solid contact = more distance. I don't care whether you use a "one-swing" or a "two-plane" swing, as long as the backswing and downswing planes are close. If a wildly-divergent swing is natural to you and produces consistently good results, like Jim Furyk does, then do what works. Otherwise, just try to keep the two planes somewhat close together; that should help you be more consistent.

The best thing you can learn from Charl Schwartzel is to stay balanced throughout the swing. I don't think he's quite as steady as his fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen, but he's pretty darn good!

This is Charl's first year on the PGA Tour and I fully expect him to win at least once. (He nearly won last year at Doral, finally falling to his mentor Ernie Els.) At any rate, you should have plenty of chances to watch him play during 2011. He already has a win and three other Top 5s in the last month, so I have no reason to doubt this big game hunter will do great things in the jungle we call the PGA Tour.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Sony Open

Winner: Mark Wilson

Around the wider world of golf: Charl Schwartzel defended his title at the Joberg Open on the European Tour. Schwartzel is off to another hot start this year; his last four starts are a second, 2 fourths, and a win. Since he accepted a PGA Tour card this year, you might want to keep an eye out for him!

Photo of Mark Wilson from msnbc.comYes, it finally came down to this: A relatively small group of players plodding along 36 soggy fairways, hoping they could finish this rain-drenched tournament on time. Around 10 miles of golf later -- 10 miles of slushy, mushy golf -- we did indeed have a winner.

Not the one we expected, though...

The guys who started near the front just couldn't find the magic. Shigeki Maruyama, Stuart Allenby, and Steve Marino were the guys to watch early on, but they all faltered down the stretch. It's not that they played badly -- in fact, I think Shigeki may have had his best finish ever at the Sony -- but they just couldn't get it going deep enough. Marino had the best chance, making some incredible shots down the stretch, but the best he could do was T2, two shots back.

Tim Clark was the big man on the beach Sunday, posting a total of -10 for his two final rounds. But he was the other half of the T2 twosome. (Say that five times fast!) This is two good weeks for him, however; he's another player who should be on your radar this year.

In the end it was Mark Wilson grabbing his 3rd win. Wilson joked that he seems to win every other year -- just enough to keep his card -- but that it was ok with him. This win gets him into the Masters, and with his accuracy he could be a factor if he continues to play well. We'll hope he doesn't wait until 2013 to pick up his 4th win!

At any rate, here's a soggy Limerick Summary for a guy who played swimmingly:
Mark Wilson has been called a plodder,
But when the course went under water
He strapped on his fins
And stroked till the end.
He won ‘cause he did what he otter.
The photo is from this msnbc.com article.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Long Day Ahead

The time lag between North Carolina and Hawaii is making it hard to do summaries. As it passes 11pm here, it's just reaching 6pm there... and a few players are still out on the course. But I'll try to hit the high points as they finish the 2nd round and prepare for a 36-hour final day.

If the online scoreboard is correct, despite talk of cutting to 60 and ties instead of 70 and ties, 83 players will make the cut. The cut should be T57 since the next line falls at T68, but the scoreboard shows the T68 group making the cut... and the next group is at T84. I'm going to assume the scoreboard is incorrect and 67 players will play Sunday.

The leaders are Stuart Appleby and Shigeki Maruyama at -10. Stuart's not a surprise -- he always seems to play well in Hawaii -- but Shigeki has struggled since 2008, his last full year, and he hasn't scored well at this tournament for quite a few years. It's good to see him playing well again -- he's posted two 65s.

I must admit I'm a bit surprised that the scores aren't lower since the boys are playing LCP (lift, clean, and place) --

Wow! They just updated the leaderboard since the final group finished and only the T43 group is going to play! This certainly makes more sense to me, as only 56 players will tee it up Sunday. Technically speaking, both the T57 and T68 groups "made the cut" and are listed as MDF, which means "Made Cut, Did Not Finish." For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of finish, it means those players will get the money and FedEx points that the T57 and T68 finishers would have made had they completed the full tournament in their current positions.

So today is setting up to be a real shootout. I'll be interested to see if Shigeki can keep this going and regain full Tour privileges for 2011.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Snake Shaker Returns

Many of you have probably already seen it, but here's Ben Crane's follow-up to his insanely popular -- and just insane -- golf fitness video. As you can see, this one's on preparing for your round:



I managed to keep a straight face until the :26 point and that wide-angle shot of him "communing" with the course beside the water hazard. I completely lost it then.

Today's pre-shot thought is... it all starts with a hum. Although I'm not sure I would describe all that as humming, what do I know? He's clearly the expert.

Maybe the Golf Channel should have approached Ben during their new instructor search!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Too Much Water, Too Little Hawaii

I had planned to look at what happened during the first round of the Sony Open today... only nothing happened.

We have too much water and not enough Hawaii for a tournament!

If you saw any pictures of the course at Waialae Country Club, you know that there was way too much casual water. (Like, several inches deep everywhere.) Apparently the nearest point of relief was somewhere in Japan, which meant rounds were going to take even longer than usual. This was unacceptable, even for the PGA Tour. (I guess they didn't have enough officials to put every pairing on the clock.)

Seriously though... the Waialae course is at sea level and, after so much rain, the course simply can't drain. The current plan is to start the first round early Friday morning and hope the rains are over. Otherwise, the tournament could run into Monday or even Tuesday and there could be big problems getting to the Hope next week since it starts on Wednesday.

So I guess we'll just have to see what happens today. Maybe somebody will discover there's dry land in Hawaii after all!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stop Fishing for a Better Swing

I couldn't resist such an appropriate pun. I refer, of course, to a rather common problem called "casting." I've mentioned it only once before on this blog, although I've done several posts about "swooshing," a related topic. (The posts about "the swoosh at the bottom" are listed on this page if you're interested.) But given how common the problem seems to be, we certainly need to understand what it is and how to prevent it.

One thing we need to make clear is that casting is not the same as coming over the top. You'll remember that I did an entire five-part series called "Dexter's Coming Over the Top" (and you can find those links on this page). Some teachers may have given you the idea that casting is the same thing, but it isn't. Although you can cast and come over the top at the same time, they are two entirely different problems.

Let's make sure we understand the difference between the two:
  • When you come over the top, your arms and body are out of sequence. In a proper swing, first you turn your shoulders (also called an "upper body coil") and then your arms move up to the top of the swing. When you come over the top, you get that backwards -- you lift your arms to waist-high first, then you turn your shoulders. In other words, coming over the top starts at your takeaway.
  • Casting is an unnecessary (and unwanted) arm movement that happens at the start of your downswing. It's also a sequence problem of sorts -- it's a natural muscle movement during the downswing but we've interfered with it.
So an over the top move is something we fix, while casting is something we just want to get rid of!

Here we have a fellow golfer who's going to show us what a proper downswing move looks like compared to a casting move:

Diagram of how casting looks

The first golfer in our diagram has reached the top of his backswing. His wrists are cocked, and one arm is bent while the other is reasonably straight. He's all set to start down and smack that ball a long way... and he will, if he looks like the second guy on the way down. Notice that the second golfer's arm and hand positions look almost identical to the first guy, except that the hands are lower. How do you think they got there?

Essentially, all that happened is that his arms dropped as they pivoted at his shoulder joints. His grip was relaxed and did nothing but hold the club. You can see that his left knee has moved; that's because his body is turning back to his setup position. That body movement was enough, combined with gravity, to start his arms on their way down without any help from his forearms and wrists. Beautiful, isn't it? Because of this one simple move, he is going to hit the ball a lot farther than the third guy... who just happens to be casting the club.

See how the club is leaning toward the second guy? That's what the pros call "lag." What you have to understand is you can't "make" lag -- you can only let it happen. Lag is a technique that is created by NOT doing something, and that's why so many people get tricked up by it. If you try to create power, all you'll do is waste it.

You'll note that the hands of the third guy are at the same height as the second golfer... but he has nowhere near as much power stored up for hitting the ball. See how the club is leaning away from him? That's because his forearms and wrists are tight, and they're trying to make power. As a result, he makes a power move -- he straightens his bent arm, which forces his wrists to straighten out as well and push the club shaft away from him. And that means he uses all of his power right there! NONE OF IT ever gets to the ball!

That is what we mean when we talk about casting the club. It's very similar to the move a fly fisherman makes when he casts his lure, and that's how it got its name. And if you study the diagram until you understand what it's showing, you'll understand that many of the techniques taught by different teachers and players are simply ways of preventing casting. For example:
  • Keep your head steady and slide your hips toward the target. This older swing thought caused you to tilt backward, but it also pivoted your arms downward without any movement on their part.
  • Pull straight down on the grip as if tolling a bell. Also an older swing thought. If you pull straight down from the top of your backswing, you almost have to keep your elbow bent. In fact, you may actually bend it more, which increases your wrist cock on the way down! For many people, this interferes with their timing.
  • Tuck your elbow into your side to start the downswing. If your elbow is against your side, you can't straighten your arm until your hands are almost back to your setup position. At least, that's the idea...
  • Swing your bent elbow past your hip on the downswing. This is basically the same as the last swing thought, except it assumes you might tuck your elbow and fling your hand outward as you do so. This thought requires you to move your elbow toward the ball, almost forcing you to keep your elbow bent as you start down.
You get the idea. Golfers seem to have a real problem with the idea that power is a byproduct of proper technique. Therefore, instructors have a tendency to add extra techniques to the golf swing -- and consequently make it more complex -- in order to (hopefully) keep students from making the unnecessary and poorly-applied efforts that cause casting. But here's all you really need to know:

The muscles in your upper arms and shoulders start the downswing as your body turns back to the ball -- it's a combined action -- causing your bent elbow to get nearer to your side as it pivots down. This is the essence of a proper downswing that creates lag and avoids casting.

If you've been struggling with casting, there's no need to fish for answers. Just spend some time studying this post -- especially the diagram. If you want to eliminate casting from your swing, you have to do less at the top. If you do less at the top, you can do all you want at the bottom without fear... and that's where it'll do some good!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Learn to Turn

Many weekend players have a problem hitting the ball solidly. What do we mean by "hitting it solid"? Simply that we hit the ball in the same spot on the clubface time after time. When we do, the ball travels as far and as accurately as it can, given the swing we put on the ball.

However, several different problems can cause inconsistent contact; excess body tilt is a common one. I've mentioned some ways of dealing with this one before, such as trying to feel as if you start your upper and lower body turning at the same time. But many drills have been created because different people respond better to different approaches. Today we're going to look at a couple of different drills that attack the body tilt problem.

First, Michael Breed has one:



This "ostrich drill" is probably familiar to you, and it's a useful way to learn what "staying steady" over the ball feels like. As you can see, Breed is focusing on keeping the center of your chest steady over the ball. (Not unlike some of the Stack and Tilt drills, eh?) Many of you will find that this centering drill will give you a feeling that you can draw on during your swing.

But what if you can't? What if pivoting on two hip joints totally destroys the feeling you discovered using this one-foot drill? What if you tend to dip your shoulders when you swing from your regular stance, but not when using the ostrich drill? In that case, you need a second drill to help you transfer the feel of the ostrich drill to your regular stance.

I have no video for this one, but I doubt you'll need one. Simply take your normal setup position but lift both arms to shoulder level and point them out to your sides, so they and your shoulders form one straight line. (Remember when you were a child and pretended you were an airplane? Same idea, but your knees and hips are flexed... so you can "take off.") Then, keeping your arms and shoulders in that straight line, coil your shoulders in a backswing move until that line is perpendicular to your setup position, then "swing" through until that line is again perpendicular to your setup except that you're facing the other way.

In other words, you're duplicating your backswing and downswing motion... except that your arms are extended like a propeller. Do this movement very slowly at first; you can pick up the speed as you get used to it. And if you still find it difficult to keep your arms straight, you can hold a broomstick across your shoulders to help.

What does this drill do? For one thing, it helps you visualize turning your shoulders in a plane. You'll find it more difficult to lean your spine sideways with your arms extended this way, plus it will be harder to tilt your shoulders forward on the "downswing." It will help you feel a level coiling and uncoiling motion.

Combining these two drills will help you learn the various feels involved in making a level turn on two legs while staying centered. And those feels will help you hit the ball more solidly with your normal swing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fly It Like the J-Byrd

There's not a lot of video footage of Jonathan Byrd around -- especially recent footage. J-Byrd has been making some swing changes in the last couple of years, and I couldn't find any recent face-on footage at all. However, somebody did post a slo-mo from this week at the Hyundai (with Faldo's commentary):



There are just two things I want to point out about Jonathan's swing; it's so simple that it's hard to miss what he's doing! First, note that his swing plane is pretty flat. It's not as flat as Matt Kuchar's, which would put it below his shoulder, but it's right on his shoulder line. That's flatter than most players, and it's because he uses the rotation of his body to make his swing -- there's no arm manipulation at all. He just hangs on to the club and unwinds his body.

The other thing is something Faldo points out -- namely, that he starts everything together on his downswing. There's no effort made to lag his hands or make sure his lower body starts first. (Your lower body has to start first; that's basic physics.) I've been recommending this to any of you who are having problems tilting or sliding your lower body when you start down. Here's proof of how well it works; J-Byrd only drives it about 275 yards, which is right at the Tour average. Nevertheless, he won at Kapalua, generally considered a long-hitter's course.

This other video is about two years old, but it's the most recent thing I could find that gives you any sort of view that isn't down-the-line. I don't know how early this is in his swing changes, but you can still see how balanced and "together" he is when he swings:



I hope you're beginning to notice how competitive players with simple, seemingly less powerful swings can be against the big hitters. You will hear the commentators say that if you want to lower your scores, you need to work on your short game. That's only true if you can get on or near the green in regulation. If you can't, you need to work on your long game first. A simple swing like Jonathan Byrd's can make it much easier to get it close... where a good short game can make a difference.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Winner: Jonathan Byrd

Around the wider world of golf: Looks like Louis Oosthuizen's ankle is completely healed. He picked up his third European Tour win in a three-way playoff at the African Open. Louis will be jumping into my Top 5 this week as he now has 3 wins in the last 12 months, which includes the Open Championship. The 2011 golf season is officially underway!

Photo of Jonathan Byrd

Regardless of where you stand on the "best in the world" argument that the OWGR usually sparks, there is one thing you can't deny: Right now, Graeme McDowell is the man! His blistering bogey-free final round of -11 — a round that could have easily been -14 — proved, if it was necessary, that the man is truly a force to be reckoned with. Players making their first appearance at Kapalua aren't supposed to play that well!

Alas, G-Mac fell a little short, posting -23 for a solo third. The kona winds took their toll on everybody in contention except for Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus. (Garrigus really needs a cool nickname, like G-Mac or J-Byrd.) It truly was the kind of match play that makes for good TV — an animated bomber, the longest player on Tour, facing off against a quiet strategist who averages between 30 and 40 yards less off the tee.

And neither faltered coming down the stretch. Each had a chance to win on the 18th — Garrigus missed an eagle putt and Byrd a birdie putt. The two went to a playoff and parred the 18th, so it was back to the 1st hole... and that's where things turned. Byrd could only par the hole, but Garrigus missed a short one to extend the playoff.

It's hard not to root for Robert Garrigus, especially since the big hitter has such a great view of life. That optimism came through as he talked about how much confidence this 2nd-place finish gave him. Hey, it's hard to have it much better than a win and a 2nd in your last two tournaments!

Unless you're Jonathan Byrd and your last two finishes are wins, both in playoffs. If he keeps playing this solidly, he could end up being a player to watch in 2011. He's going to be in the majors now and, as we found out last year, it only takes one good week at a major to change your life. Just ask G-Mac!

This week's Limerick Summary pays homage to a player with a classic-looking swing by tipping its hat to another classic — the Beatles' Norwegian Wood:
As Garrigus came to the playoff’s end
He and Jonathan struggled to putt it in.
But soon Rob would find
He had been left behind—
This J-Byrd had flown on the kona win.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Itty-Bitty Putter of Robert Garrigus

If you've been watching the Hyundai event in Hawaii, you've gotten to see a lot of Robert Garrigus, the Tour's longest driver and winner at Disney, the last tournament of 2010. The only reason you haven't seen a lot of his itty-bitty putter is because... well, it's so itty-bitty. A standard putter is somewhere between 33 and 35 inches long. In Robert's case, it's only 28 inches long!

Photo of Robert Garrigus puttingWhat possesses a man to use such a short wand? Does it provide any benefits? What are the drawbacks? Struggling putters want to know!

The photo to the right comes courtesy of PGATOUR.com, and that link will take you to an article Adam Barr wrote about what's in Robert's bag. About the short putter Barr writes:
Advocates of shorter putters... may have difficulty getting their eyes over or just inside the intended line of the putt, resulting in pushes and pulls and other directional nightmares. Shortening the putter requires a more aggressive bend at the waist, as Garrigus does, putting one's eyes in the right place.
If you look closely at the photo you'll see that the clubhead is still under Robert's eyes, even though the ball is already on its way. It certainly appears that his feet are slightly open, indicating that his putting stroke may be inside-out -- in other words, a push stroke. There's nothing wrong with that -- Nicklaus putted that way his whole career, and he bent over this way too. The two appear to be a good match.

But there's another reason you might want to use a short putter like this. If you're big into the Dave Pelz style of putting, copying Garrigus will put you in a great position to make the move perfectly. It's very easy to rock your shoulders when your upper body is nearly parallel to the ground... and for most players, getting in that position pretty much demands you use a shorter putter.

Of course, this position can also be hard on your back. Barr also mentions that you have to get used the feel of the putter head since this is a very different position -- namely, the head feels much heavier in this position.
 In my putting book, I mentioned that head weights are generally measured in grams -- one ounce is roughly 28 grams. The typical putter head weighs 200-230 grams, a belly putter head around 400, and "broomstick" head around 500. I also mentioned that heavier heads -- and a shorter putter feels much heavier -- can slow down your stroke and help you "feel" the head better. What I don't think I mentioned is that I learned this through experimentation.

Several years ago I built some putters to try out, and one of them was a short putter I affectionately nicknamed "Big Mama." She's got a 32-inch shaft, which I generally gripped down on, and a belly putter head -- yeah, just under 400 grams. Big Mama is something of an extreme and I decided I didn't care for bending over so much when I putt, but even now that heavy putter feels very good when I use it. It's easy to keep good rhythm when I swing, in part because it's easy to keep my arms fairly straight, and it feels very solid when it contacts the ball.

I suspect this is the real reason Robert Garrigus uses such a short putter. Shorter putters tend to feel very solid during the stroke, and that breeds confidence. And considering how he's been playing the last few months, he seems plenty confident to me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

And the Winner Is Martin Hall

In case you hadn't heard, the Golf Channel has announced the winner of its Instructor Search.

Photo of Martin HallThe winner was, as I predicted, Martin Hall. (The crowd goes wild. For my amazing predictive powers, that is.) You can read Randall Mell's announcement here.

Apparently voters shared my belief that Hall's credentials -- which include having been Morgan Pressel's teacher -- and his ease in front of the camera put him ahead of his two "opponents" in the search, Karen Palacios-Jensen and Wayne Player. Not that those two aren't good teachers, but I have always thought of Karen as more of a golf fitness instructor (like Katherine Roberts) and Wayne is more of a mental coach.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I'm a bit of a Monty Python fan -- my friends will tell you that's an understatement -- which may explain why I enjoy Hall's British humor so much. And some of his teaching devices remind me of Red Dwarf props gone horribly wrong. Anyway, Hall's 30-minute show will be called School of Golf and premieres January 25.

And for those of you who have never seen Red Dwarf, here's your introduction to the only true sci-fi sitcom that's ever been done. (And yes, there's a golf connection in the clip; see if you catch it.) The Red Dwarf is an intersteller mining ship. There was a nuclear accident on board and Dave Lister, who was in a suspended animation brig for smuggling his pet cat onboard, didn't get out for a million years. Now he's the last living human being in the universe. In this clip, Lister is trying to teach Kryten, a robot, how to lie. The word "Camille" that scoots across the screen is the name of the episode this clip is from, and the guy who walks in on them is Cat, the result of a million years of evolution from Lister's pet cat:



(The photo of Martin Hall is from hankhaneygolfinstructor.com.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

The New Tournaments on the LPGA

There's a lot of chatter around the web about some new LPGA tournaments being launched in 2011. Michael Whan announced the events in a special Golf Channel interview... which, I admit, I didn't know was planned. I sort of stumbled into it without knowing exactly what was going on, and then got interrupted and couldn't watch it all. When I got some time, I started searching the web and found the info I'm going to pass on in this post.

Here are a variety of links I found concerning the announcements:
Basically, all the excitement is about two events. (There are more new events than that, but two have garnered all the attention.) The first is the new year-ending Titleholders Championship... although this isn't actually a new event. The original Titleholders Championship was played from 1937 to 1966, then one last time in 1972. It was played at the Augusta Country Club and was sort of a women's version of the Masters. It was a winners-only event with both amateurs and pros in the field, and the list of winners is a veritable Who's Who of women's golf. The "dominators" were:
  • Patty Berg: 7 wins, 3 as an amateur
  • Louise Suggs: 4 wins, 1 as an amateur
  • Babe Zaharias: 3 wins, 1 as an amateur
To pull this tournament out of retirement to replace the current Tour Championship is an interesting idea. The field is going to be really trimmed from the current 120-player field to the low 70s, making it an elite field. I like the way they plan to do it -- they're going to take the top 3 from each tournament, "sliding down the order" if any of those have already qualified.

The real buzz has been about the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup because the players are going to play for free. Yes, you read that right. Here's the description in DiMeglio's words:
"Players in the tournament, a 54-hole stroke-play event which marks the organization's return to Arizona at the Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, will forgo purse money in favor of financially supporting the LPGA Foundation that runs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. The tournament will be officially sanctioned, so players will earn points for player of the year, rookie of the year and the Rolex World Ranking. The money won will count on the money list. The tour will provide free rooms and a stipend to pay caddies."
When I saw the announcement on TGC, I noticed that Whan was particularly excited about this. While many of the postings around the web question whether 132 players will really support it, Whan said the players have been discussing this for nearly half the year and are in favor of it. He said this year's tournament will double the size of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program, and that the 2012 and 2013 events will triple and quadruple it, respectively. That's amazing.

If you're wondering how this idea got started, Whan said it actually came from the female pros who founded the LPGA. (Hence, the Founders Cup.) In talking with them, he said he was overwhelmed by how proud they were about what they left behind for the young girls coming after them. The idea was born from that -- a desire to build a groundswell of support for developing women's golf in the USA, not unlike the support other countries have given their national programs. (At least, that's my understanding of this.) Whan said they'd all be leaving the Tour better off than they found it, having an impact long after the name players of today were gone.

He also made it clear that he thinks this will improve the LPGA's marketability to sponsors as well, simply because it shows they're thinking about what they will have for sponsors in the future. Whether you agree with him or not (I think that depends on the foresight of the sponsors and their own belief in the future of the LPGA), this will certainly give this tournament a lot of buzz. A full-field event where the players don't get paid, yet the money list changes? It's outrageous... and newsworthy. The sponsor not only gets advertising, but possibly a huge charitable donation deduction. This event will almost certainly spark a huge round of debate on the sports shows, resulting in more press for the LPGA... which they need. Badly.

More importantly, it shows that the LPGA is willing to think outside the box and take some chances. They could be insane or they could be inspired beyond belief... but they're definitely going where no tour has gone before.

Could it be that the LPGA actually has more balls than the PGA? I guess time will tell.