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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

And So It Begins...

This post will seem like it's really out of left field at first, but I promise there's a reason if you'll just stay with me.

Were any of you Babylon 5 fans? It was a cool sci-fi show, and it had its share of great jokes. For example, did you know that every species in the galaxy apparently has its own version of Swedish meatballs? Or that Daffy Duck is "the Egyptian god of frustration"?

It also had a lot of great quotes. Some were serious, like "The avalanche has started, it's too late for the pebbles to vote" and "The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest." Others were funny, like these classics from Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova, "If regret could be harvested, Russia would be the world's fruit-basket" and "I know, I know. It's a Russian thing. When we're about to do something stupid, we like to catalog the full extent of our stupidity for future reference."

But Babylon 5 was probably best known for the number of strong female characters in the show -- characters like Ivanova, whose "God sent me" speech just before one of the climactic battle scenes is considered one of the highlights of the series. (You can find it listed at YouTube as "God Sent Me," but "White Star Fleet vs. Advanced Destroyers" has the speech plus the whole battle sequence.)

I bring all this up because there is one sequence that I can't seem to shake when I think about the LPGA's Kraft-Nabisco Championship starting today. It's a short speech made by Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari.

Brief background: There was a war between the Minbari and Earth. Earth was about to lose until one Captain Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner) defeated a Minbari fleet. I don't remember all the background, but it was a turning point in the war, and Sheridan became revered among the Minbari. (It's a whole warrior culture thing.) Delenn has gone through a metamorphosis, becoming half human/half Minbari to better mediate between both races. In this clip, Earth has turned against the Babylon 5 station where Sheridan is now in charge, and Delenn has just brought some of the Minbari fleet to protect it:

When I think about the KNC, I can't shake that last line: "If you value your lives, be somewhere else."

Last year, both the PGA and the LPGA lost their dominant players for various reasons. On the men's tour, everybody and their brother has stepped up to claim titles; every week we have a different winner.

But it's been different on the women's tour. A few select players have stepped up and taken charge... and they aren't no-names. Other than last week's winner Sandra Gal, virtually every winner over the last year has been Top 15-20 in the Rolex Rankings. (Se Ri Pak, Sun Young Yoo, and Jimin Kang are the only ones I think were outside... and Pak is a Hall of Famer. Hardly a surprise win there, is it?)

I'm not looking for a lot of breakthrough winners this year, and certainly not this week. I've already picked Creamer to win -- she's #10 -- but it's a pretty safe bet that if she doesn't win it'll be another highly-ranked player. The rest of the field may wish they were somewhere else.

Golf Channel has six hours of live coverage today and tomorrow, and another four hours each on Saturday and Sunday. You won't want to be anywhere else!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More Sandra Gal: Short Game

In yesterday's comments Court observed:
"Funny thing about Gal, the shorter the clubs get, the less relaxed she looks. As good as that last wedge on Sunday was, she looked...well...girlish. More of an awkward looking slash than the flowing wood she hit off the tee."
I hunted up some footage of her short shots from Sunday to check it out. Is her short game really that different?

Court may have a point. And it's possible that some of it was simply the stress of trying to win her first tournament; when asked later about whether she struggled coming in, she simply said yes, she had to dig deep. But I did see a difference beyond just Sunday's swings, and I believe the cause was actually mentioned in the broadcast from the previous week.

Let's jump back to the LPGA Founders Cup, second round. Skip ahead to the 3:10 mark in the clip, then listen to Phil Parkin's comments over the next 10-15 seconds about her putting stroke:

"That is a really slow backswing with almost a pause when she gets to the top. So it will be interesting if that works under severe pressure." If you look at the clips I included in yesterday's post about Sandra's full swing, you'll see there's no pause in her driver swing.

Now look at this short game tip video she did for Golf Channel some time back:

See the pause at the top of the short swing? Here she is again hitting a short shot from the rough at 14 at the Kia on Sunday:

Again, there's another pause. And here's some footage of several players from the last round. Gal's footage starts at around the 2:57 mark. Note that there are a few short iron shots and a driver swing in this clip; note the change of direction in each of them:

So that's probably why Sandra's short iron swings look less fluid than her driver swings -- that little pause at the top of her backswing interrupts that otherwise beautiful swing of hers. But it certainly proves one of the big points I like to make on this blog: You don't need a perfect swing to post a good score in this game.

At least we can answer Phil Parkin's question now. Yes, Phil, it does work under severe pressure. It works very well indeed. ;-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

German Engineering: Sandra Gal's Swing

Bio photo of Sandra Gal from LPGA.comI knew Sandra Gal (pronounced Sahn'-dra Gahl) was from Germany. But before the LPGA broadcast on Sunday, I didn't know that both she and Martin Kaymer were born in Düsseldorf or that they grew up playing amateur golf together. Martin is one year older and turned pro early, while Sandra decided to attend the University of Florida where she was an All-American twice. There were a lot of expectations for her when she finally turned pro.

According to Judy Rankin during Golf Channel's Sunday coverage of the Kia Classic, Sandra's biggest improvement has been mental rather than physical. When you look at her swing, it's easy to see why. This is a very solid swing that defies the need for improvement.

The first of these videos is from the 2010 State Farm LPGA Classic. It's just a good full-speed shot of her swing:

This one's from the 2011 Honda LPGA Thailand. It has several slo-mo shots of her swing from different angles:

If you compare the face-on views to Tiger's original swing when he first came out on Tour in the Golf Digest Tiger swing sequence, you'll see a lot of similarities.

Finally, this slo-mo's from the 2010 LPGA Tour Championship. The angle is slightly more down-the-line than the one in the last clip:

What can you learn from this swing that you can take to the course and apply immediately? Well, it's simple and balanced... but most of all, it's very free and relaxed. Does Sandra look as if she's overly worried about where the ball is going? Not to me! She just lets it fly. In an age where we worry way too much about perfect mechanics, Sandra's swing is a breath of fresh air.

Sandra says that Martin Kaymer's success has given her something to shoot for, and her win at the Kia gave her a nice boost, vaulting her from #100 in the Rolex Rankings all the way up to #44. Since she's proven she can stare down a top player like Jiyai Shin and keep her wits about her, this swing just may take her on a quick trip to the top.

After all, the women do have a major this week. Wasn't that what jump-started her friend Martin's rise?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Winner: Martin Laird

Around the wider world of golf: Sandra Gal got her first LPGA win by out-dueling Jiyai Shin at the Kia Classic; Tzu-Chi Lin won the Florida's Natural Charity Classic on the Futures Tour; Brett Wetterich won the Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Nationwide Tour; and Paul Lawrie broke a 9-year winning drought at the Open de Andalucía de Golf on the European Tour.

Reuters photo of Martin Laird
Click the photo to read the Reuters recap.

Arnold Palmer is still such an intimidating presence in the world of golf that no one could find the nerve to take his trophy.

First Spencer Levin dropped out of contention with 5 bogeys on the front 9, then Martin Laird went from leading by 3 to trailing by 3. Other contenders came and went -- David Toms made an early run and Steve Marino soon followed, only to settle for rounds of par. (Marino's par was still good enough to snag solo 2nd.) "The Bubba and Rickie Show" that Bubba twittered about never materialized as both shot rounds of 78. And Justin Rose's round of 68 was only good enough to move him into a tie for 3rd.

Of course, some of that could be blamed on the King himself. Apparently Arnie wanted the course to play hard and fast, and the afternoon winds may have taken it just a bit over the top. Johnny Miller remarked that some of the greens weren't even accepting well-hit shots, so some of the holes may have "gotten away from" the greens crew.

In the end it was Laird who fought his way back to the top. He posted birdies on the 15th and 16th, followed by pars on the 17th and 18th to seal his second Tour win and become the first European player to claim Arnie's championship.

Perhaps it was only fair. Laird has had two other chances to win in playoffs -- in one, Matt Kuchar hit a shot that was incredibly lucky to end up inches from the hole after running a victory lap around the green, and Jonathan Byrd stole the other with a hole-in-one (the only PGA playoff ever won that way) in near total darkness. After all that, getting the biggest win of his career by basically outlasting the field seems entirely appropriate!

So here's a Limerick Summary salute to the player with the highest winning final-round score in the history of the Bay Hill tournament:
The course was a challenge for Laird
And for Levin, with whom he was paired.
But his seventy-five
Helped the Scotsman survive
All the ambushes Arnie prepared.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Parallel Storylines

I have been absolutely astounded by the number of parallels between the PGA tournament at Bay Hill and the LPGA tournament in California. It's rare that we see something like this happen.

On Thursday both tournaments had rough weather -- cold wet weather at the Kia, strong winds at Bay Hill -- and in each case one player went out and shot an unexpectly low 66 to snag the lead. Spencer Levin did it at Bay Hill, and Amanda Blumenherst did it at the Kia.

On Friday both tours saw a major Korean player who hadn't been playing well so far this year step out and shoot a 64 to get in contention. K.J. Choi did it at Bay Hill to grab a piece of second place just 1 shot back, and Jiyai Shin did it at the Kia to grab a 1-shot lead.

And then Saturday nearly gave us another parallel storyline. Until he bogeyed the 15th and 16th at Bay Hill, Spencer Levin was neck-and-neck with Martin Laird, and the two would have been separated from the field. As it stands, Laird is 2 strokes ahead of Levin, who is 2 strokes ahead of Bubba Watson and Steve Marino.

At the Kia, Jiyai Shin had separated herself by 2 strokes from Sandra Gal before an unexpected duck hook on the 18th put Shin in the water hazard. She had to settle for bogey, but the best Gal could do was par. Now Shin stands at -15, one stroke ahead of Gal, who is 5 strokes clear of Na Yeon Choi. (Hmmm... K.J. Choi drops from contention and Na Yeon Choi moves up... we trade one Choi for another. Parallels, parallels.)

So what will Sunday serve up? If winning counts for anything, Shin and Laird should both come out on top. (Perhaps they could celebrate together. Imagine a celebration with both haggis and kimchi -- a meat dish made from sheep innerds and a fermented vegetable dish, both of which I'm told are "acquired tastes.") But we've also got two players seeking their first wins -- Gal and Levin -- and both are proving to have pretty good nerves. We could end up with similar endings to both tournaments as well.

Fortunately NBC and Golf Channel aren't airing them at the same time, so I won't need parallel TVs to watch them both! ;-)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

National Korean Go Low Day

And no, I'm not poking fun at Korean players. It's just that on Friday two different Korean players -- one PGA, one LPGA -- both posted 64s.

Over at Bay Hill, K.J. Choi posted an 8-under 64 to put himself in a tie for second with first-round leader Spencer Levin and just one stroke behind leader Martin Laird. (Who, btw, shot a very tidy 65 to get himself in contention once again.) It was Choi's best round of the year, and it's nice to see him getting back in contention again.

Just a side note: The second-round notes at note that part of Choi's good play came from having three -- count 'em, three -- hybrids in his bag to help him better attack the par-3s. He's testing the idea to see if it might help him get over the hump at the Masters. Given that he's leading the field in average approach shot distance from the pin -- he's at 25 feet, the field's at 40 -- I think this is a good decision. Keep 'em in the bag, K.J.!

Meanwhile out at the Kia, Jiyai Shin shot a 9-under 64 (remember, the Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms is a par 73). After Thursday's round she was T4 and 3 shots back. But the course got hit by bad weather that postponed Friday's round by 3 hours, which means first-round leaders Amanda Blumenherst (-7) and Sandra Gal (-6) won't even finish their rounds until Saturday morning. When play was called for the day, both had finished 9 holes; Gal was at -8 and Blumenherst was at -6... and it will probably be cold in the morning.

Of course, they shot their good first rounds in the cold on Thursday, so maybe that's a good thing for them... but I don't think Jiyai will mind sleeping in!

Both Jiyai and K.J. have been largely missing in action so far this year -- between them, they have one Top 10 in ten PGA and LPGA tournaments. But if this keeps up, we could be looking at a Korean sweep this weekend. At any rate, Friday was a banner day for Choi and Shin.

Finally, while it doesn't have anything to do with Korean players, it's worth noting that my suggestion to keep an eye on Tiger might have been on the money. This week the young guns like his partners Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland, as well as Jhonattan Vegas, all missed the cut... while Tiger sits at T10, -3 for the tournament after a 4-under 68 on Friday. And while he still only hit 43% of his greens, his misses were mostly first cut, he's hitting 67% of his greens, and his putting is better. I still don't think he'll win the Masters, but it's nice to finally see some improvement continuing from his last tournament.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Rocco Mediate also made the cut at T17, -2. Way to go, Rocco!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hot Girls... and Guys

At both the LPGA's Kia Classic and the PGA's Arnold Palmer Championship a few players really stood out from the field because of their hot play. Ironically, these standout players all played in the worst conditions at their respective tournaments!

Let's start at the Kia. The par-73 course was inundated with rain (more is expected) and the early groups played in 40° weather. Two unexpected players separated themselves from the pack early on:
  • Second-year player Amanda Blumenherst (who got completely blown away by Azahara Munoz in the ROY race) posted a -7 66, finishing her round with 4 straight birdies.
  • Sandra Gal (possibly better known for her nude pose in ESPN The Magazine's "2009 Body Issue") posted a -6 right behind her.
Only Michelle Wie managed to close the gap in the later groups, posting a -5 late in the day.

A few other notable scores from the Kia:
  • T4 (-3): Jiyai Shin, Mika Miyazato, I.K. Kim
  • T10 (-2): Jane Park (one of TC's faves who's been fighting back problems), Christina Kim, Yani Tseng
  • T17 (-1): Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Kristi McPherson (one of my faves), Karrie Webb
  • T31 (E): Sara Brown (another fave), Na Yeon Choi, Laura Davies
  • T49 (+1): Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Grace Park (another good player fighting back problems)
  • T64 (+2): Juli Inkster, Azahara Munoz, Morgan Pressel

Meanwhile, over at par-72 Bay Hill, a single name stood out: Spencer Levin, who posted a bogey-free 66 in some pretty strong winds during the afternoon. That was enough to give him a three-stroke lead going into Friday.

And here are a few notable scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational:
  • T2 (-3): Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan
  • T4 (-2): Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Rocco Mediate
  • T15 (-1): Robert Garrigus, Ian Poulter
  • T22 (E): K.J. Choi, Justin Rose
  • T31 (+1): Tiger Woods (actually a pretty good score -- he scorched playing partners Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland's +5), Sergio Garcia
  • T46 (+2): Jim Furyk, Ryan Moore, Sam Saunders, Ryo Ishikawa, Jarrod Lyle
  • T63 (+3): Tommy Gainey, Ernie Els, Erik Compton
  • T107 (+8): Jhonattan Vegas, Graeme McDowell
Like I said, it was a rough day at Bay Hill!

Golf Channel has live coverage of both tournaments today -- 2:30pm for Bay Hill and 6:30pm for the Kia.

And for the record, GC stayed on for 10 extra minutes Thursday to broadcast Michelle Wie's finish. I know a lot of you feel that GC gives Wie too much coverage, but bear in mind that just last year they wouldn't have stayed live even for her. This is yet another indication that GC may be giving the LPGA better coverage (and just plain better treatment) this year.They deserve a round of applause for that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keep an Eye on Tiger This Week

Ok, I'm not saying Tiger is going to win this week at Bay Hill. However, in case you missed some of the talk on Wednesday, let me tell you what I heard...

First of all, Tiger was apparently very chatty during the pre-tournament press conferences. Not only was he relaxed, but according to Golf Channel's Jay Coffin he was actually volunteering information during the presser. For Tiger to be this relaxed and -- dare we say it? -- open is certainly unusual, and given how much the press has dogged him about his swing... well, it's just odd.

Likewise, Charlie Rymer said he talked to Sean Foley earlier in the day and asked him what he expected from his most notorious student. Foley said bluntly that he didn't know, but he felt they were making daily progress on the range... and then he showed Charlie some footage of Tiger's practice. Rymer's take on the footage? He said that Tiger looked awfully good and that if he could take it to the course (that's always a problem, isn't it?) and maybe get some putts to fall, this could be an interesting week.

And finally, I heard Tiger say that he was trying to get his putting stroke back to the way his dad taught him to putt.

What does all this mean? Maybe nothing. But Tiger doesn't seem to have any real expectations this week -- he's been talking about how much the course has changed since he last played it -- so if he relaxes and just gets out of his own way...

We'll see, won't we?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The First LPGA Major

While most of the golf world is already buzzing about the Masters, that isn't the first major of the season. The LPGA plays the Kraft Nabisco Championship starting March 31, which is only a week away!

Guess where my mind is?

I'm not going to do a preview of the tournament per se, since we've still got the Kia Classic this week as well as the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA. (Don't worry, I'll be taking a look at it soon.) But I'm already thinking about who has the best chance to win the KNC.

Ironically, most of the talk so far this year has surrounded two players -- Yani Tseng and Karrie Webb. And for good reason. Yani won four straight tournaments (including the first LPGA tourney of the season) to snag #1 in the world. Karrie came in 3rd in Yani's last win, then took the other two herself.

Both women should clearly be in the conversation when we look for favorites at the KNC. Yani is the defending champion (and won the Women's British, the last major played), and Karrie won the thing twice in 2000 & 2006. Most women's golf fans would probably say they are the unquestioned favorites.

Photo of Paula Creamer from LPGA.comConsequently, I'm picking Paula Creamer to win. Here's my reasoning:
  • Paula finally broke through to get her 1st major last year at the US Women's Open, so that "first time" pressure is off.
  • She finally seems to be healthy for the first time in 18 months or so.
  • She's been playing well early on, and finished T2 this past week. Her 11 rounds so far look like this: 69-70-70-71-76-70-72-73-69-70-66, for a scoring average of 70.55. That makes her 4th best on Tour so far. (Thanks to the Constructivist for that info.) And that 66 tied Webb for the best round of the day.
  • The KNC is played in Rancho Mirage CA at Mission Hills. At just over 6700 yards, the course should (barring bad weather) play hard and fast. Paula's not a long hitter but she's very accurate, so this should play to her strengths.
  • She's playing the KIa this week. It's at another California course about the same length, which should be a good warm-up.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Paula seems to be playing more aggressively early this season. I chalk that up to finally feeling good enough to compete.
Of course I'll be interested to see how she does at the Kia Classic this week. But I'm thinking the Pink Panther may add another major trophy to her mantle next week.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gary Woodland Plays Away

It's great to have new players step up and win tournaments, perhaps giving us a glimpse of what the first generation to grow up seeing Tiger's athleticism as a prerequisite can do. However, it's not so cool trying to find slo-mo swing footage suitable for our purposes here at Ruthless Golf, simply because these are new guys who haven't drawn the attention of YouTube videographers yet.

Such is the case with Transitions winner Gary Woodland. The only recent footage (at least it's slo-mo!) is this fairway bunker shot from the 2011 Hope -- you remember, where he lost in a playoff to another new guy, Jhonattan Vegas:

Since long sand shots require a little different swing, it's not much help figuring out his normal swing, is it? I wouldn't be so sure. Take a look at this normal-speed driver footage from two years ago:

And in the interest of completeness, here's a down-the-line shot that, based on the notes, is probably from the same practice session:

Apparently Gary's playing both shots the same!

I usually try to find something a weekend player can use, and these two stills from the regular-speed video catch Gary at the end of his backswing and the start of his downswing:

Now I'll grant you that Gary Woodland is one of the more athletic players on Tour. He's 6'1" tall, 200 lbs, was a college basketball player until he decided that he was probably too short to make it in the NBA, and drives the ball just under 300 yards. Typical of long drivers, his Driving Accuracy isn't so good -- 56.58% -- and he'll also need to work on his Scrambling -- 56.72% -- if he wants to become a consistent winner on Tour.

But his GIR is great -- 71.37%. That, coupled with some good putting, keeps him in the game. And I think what you can see in those two stills is the reason.

Gary, like Yani Tseng, keeps both feet pretty flat on the ground throughout his swing and still gets a pretty big shoulder turn. However -- and this is a big thing -- Gary doesn't get anywhere near parallel at the top of his swing.

Why is that important? Well, you can find some discussion of this between me and Court in the comments on the Tseng post, where we talked about how keeping both feet flat can sometimes help you be more accurate. The problem is how much flexibility you need to do that with a full swing. But the point here is that you don't need to be particularly athletic to keep both feet flat on the ground if you make a shorter swing. (Interestingly enough, long hitter J.B. Holmes also has a short backswing. Coincidence?)

That's what Gary does. It doesn't really help him with a driver -- and the power he develops with that shorter swing may be beyond most of us (perhaps he needs a stiffer driver shaft to handle all that power?) -- but this technique is definitely usable with your short and mid-irons. I think the biggest thing it does is help you stay balanced, which helps you be more accurate.

As Court pointed out in the Tseng post, this won't work for everybody because some of us simply have to move our feet to swing well. However, you may be one of the people for whom it works, so I'm passing it on.

And one other thing: Gary told the guys on Golf Central that the one thought he tries to carry through his round is tempo, and that as long as his tempo is good, his swing will probably be good as well. That alone is a great thing you can learn from him, but teamed with that short balanced swing, he could be around for a long time.

Just look at his year so far. He's got 4 Top 10s with a win in 7 starts. If you're having trouble hitting greens, Gary's approach might be worth experimenting with.

Just don't expect those 300-yard drives... at least, not right off. ;-)

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Transitions Championship

Winner: Gary Woodland

Around the wider world of golf: The Tseng Dynasty is already under attack! Karrie Webb posted her 2nd LPGA win in row at the inaugural RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. And the European Tour will have to wait until Monday morning to crown a winner at the Sicilian Open; currently Raphaël Jacquelin holds a one-stroke lead.

Gary Woodland at the Transitions ChampionshipGoing into the final day of the Transitions Championship, the leaderboard was so crowded that at least a dozen players had a chance to win. The 54-hole leader Justin Rose and last week's winner Nick Watney were the main players near the lead with any experience winning.

That didn't last. Both faded pretty quickly, leaving the field wide open for yet another first-time winner this year... and the battle was on.

The lead went back and forth among several players. Only one could win... but in the end, several players profited from the battle.

Mark Turnesa's T5 was his best finish of the year, coming off 3 missed cuts and best finish of T58.

Scott Stallings, a Tour School grad who was in danger of losing his priority in the reshuffle after five missed cuts and a T42, nailed a solo 3rd and a spot in the Shell Houston Open.

Even new father Webb Simpson, whose solo 2nd must have felt like a loss, probably made enough to seal his card for 2012 -- an important consideration with a new baby!

But Gary Woodland's maiden win had to be a dream come true. After three Top 6s, including a playoff loss to Jhonattan Vegas at the Bob Hope, he gets his first win in only his 34th career start. Plus he grabbed a ticket to the Masters.

One notable comment by the TV commentators today -- and I can't remember who said it -- was that perhaps the "legacy" of Tiger Woods is something different from what everyone expected. Rather than an increase in African-American golfers, perhaps it's an increase in athletes who choose golf over other sports. As a former basketball player who switched to golf, Woodland certainly fits into that category.

Given all the snake metaphors surrounding the Copperhead Course, as well as the wildlife, it wasn't a huge stretch to write a Limerick Summary about a guy named Woodland:
Said Gary, that wild Woodland creature,
"Out here, I'm the obvious feature!
I'm more than a duffer—
This course is no tougher
Than watching the game from the bleachers."
Click the photo to read another tournament summary at ESPN's website.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Freaky Time at the LPGA Leaderboard

What is the cut at the Founders Cup?

This is a good question. You see, the +2 players are listed as T63 and the +3s are listed at T78.

However, the leader at -12, Angela Stanford, is listed as being in second place. Brittany Lincicome, her closest competition at -9, is listed as being in third place. And so it goes. Hmmmm...

In either case, it's good news for both Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng. They've had a disastrous week and sit at +2. Worst case, they should both still make it!

At any rate, here's your Top 9, who are about the only ones who have a chance to win unless Stanford stumbles Sunday (par is 72):
  • -12: Angela Stanford (66, 66)
  • -9: Brittany Lincicome (67, 68)
  • -8: Mindy Kim (69, 67)
  • -7: Cristie Kerr (69, 68)
  • -6: Karrie Webb (71, 67); Seon Hwa Lee (69, 69); Mina Harigae (68, 70)
  • -5: Paula Creamer (69, 70); Sun Young Yoo (69, 70)
As you can see, the course has taken its toll. Several players who were in contention, like Juli Inkster and Sophie Gustafson, got hammered with over-par rounds and took a tumble down the leaderboard on Saturday. More than a few missed the cut entirely.

At any rate, Golf Channel's Founders Cup coverage is live. So if you get bored with NCAA ball games, you can flip over and catch the final round at 7pm ET.

Maybe the LPGA will have the leaderboard fixed by then. It would be nice to have an outright winner. ;-)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Another Animal... the Phoenix

As in Arizona, where the LPGA is teeing it up in the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. The tournament is turning out to be pretty good so far.

As you may recall, only 4 of the Top 10 ladies came to play. Here's how they're doing:
  • #1 Yani Tseng, +1
  • #2 Jiyai Shin, -1
  • #5 Cristie Kerr, -3
  • #10 Karrie Webb, -1
Obviously Kerr is doing the best of the four, but she's still 3 off the lead. Here's how the leaderboard looks:
  • -6: Angela Stanford
  • -5: Brittany Lincicome, Aree Song
  • -4: Sophie Gustafson, Juli Inkster, Beatriz Recari, Mina Harigae, Nannette Hill, Amelia Lewis
Also, Paula Creamer's at -3 and Morgan Pressel's at -2.

Among other names of interest (at least to me) Gerina Mendoza Pillar and Kristy McPherson are at even, and Sara Brown is at +5. (Not such a great round for her first LPGA start, but those are the breaks.) Jane Park and Natalie Gulbis are at +1, a good start given how much back trouble they've each had.

I know there's been a lot of buzz over the "charity" aspect of the event, but Angela Stanford may have put it best. She said she didn't care whether the money went in her pocket or to charity, she wanted that trophy! RR Donnelley has added a "Finish Strong for Japan" charity, donating to Japanese relief efforts $100 for each birdie and $500 for each eagle made on the last four holes. And the folks in Phoenix seem to be turning out to support the tournament.

Although the LPGA clearly couldn't put a second tournament like this on the schedule, I still maintain that Michael Whan had a good idea. The Founders Cup is an idea that fits in with the charity image of golf, brought the LPGA back to a market that wanted them, gave the women one more tournament to warm up before the first major, and will show potential sponsors that the LPGA has no intention of being beaten by a bad economy. If it turns out to be an exciting tournament as well, I suspect they'll find some new life from this.

Perhaps not unlike that famous bird known for rising from its own ashes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

From Bear Traps to Snake Pits

Animals are well represented on the PGA Tour. For example, we have a Tiger, a Penguin, a Duck (El Pato), a Great White Shark, a Bulldog, a Walrus, and a Goose, just to name a few. We used to have, among other wild creatures roaming the trails, a Golden Bear and a Hawk.

It's probably no surprise that their native habitats -- the golf courses themselves -- also have animally-sounding names. Three weeks ago the Mayakoba tournament was played on a course called El Camaleon. Two weeks ago, a number of players got caught in the Bear Trap. Last week they fought the Blue Monster.

This week they have to wade through the Snake Pit at the Copperhead course.

Statue at the 16th at Innisbrook

In the words of, those three holes are:
  • The par-4 16th "Moccasin" (460 yards): "No. 16 is Copperhead's most intimidating par 4, with water stretching the entire right side. A well-positioned tee shot sets up a long second shot to a wide green."
  • The par-3 17th "Rattler" (215 yards): "A long par 3 to a very narrow green, No. 17 has bunkers and trees protecting both sides of the hole, making birdie a good score."
  • The par-4 18th "Copperhead" (445 yards): "The 18th is a beautiful, uphill finishing hole. An accurate tee shot will leave an uphill second shot to an elevated, hidden green. The putting surface slopes back to front and has bunkers short and long."
Sounds nasty, doesn't it? Well, the pit appeared to be empty on Thursday. In fact, the entire course offered very little resistance to the players. Paul Casey waltzed through the Pit in even par on his way to a tidy -7. Last week's winner Nick Watney, along with Martin Laird, skipped merrily through at one-under as both posted -5 to tie for second (along with Garrett Willis and Scott Stallings, who both went even at the Pit). Even defending champion Jim Furyk, who's been struggling lately, managed even par at the Pit for a -4 round.

Personally, I hate snakes. Despise them. Indiana Jones is downright enthusiastic about snakes compared to me. But the Snake Pit ain't looking so terrifying right now.

Quail Hollow, the Horrible Horseshoe, and Deere Run await the players in the next few weeks. Some of these will be real beasts. But such worries can wait. The real question right now is...

Will the Copperhead course finally sink its fangs into any of the smaller animals out and about the Pit this week? Or has Lee Trevino managed to slip another rubber snake onto the course?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Little More About Tiger's Swing

In yesterday's post about the similarities between Tiger's and Sean O'Hair's swings, Lefty left a link to a Golf Digest article and slide sequence that compares all of Tiger's "incarnations." I believe it was Devil Ball Golf where I originally saw this video but, for those of you who missed it, here it is:

There are a few things I think are worth noting:
  • Tiger's original swing had a lot of movement to the right but not as much dipping, and he stays more centered between his feet throughout his entire swing.
  • In the "Butch" swing there's a lot of sliding movement to the left. Note that Tiger doesn't really turn his hips as well as in his original swing! His foot action isn't nearly as good either; Greg Norman originally moved his feet in much the same way (but with a better hip turn), and he also ended up changing his swing. Tiger won a lot with this swing, but (at least in the swing used for this sequence) this swing just looks painful to me.
  • The "Haney" swing has a lot of dipping but his hip turn and leg movement look much more like his original swing. Note that his finish is straighter, which would make it easier on his left knee. If it wasn't for the dipping, I would say this is actually a better swing than the "Butch" swing.
  • And in the "Foley" swing, he really is closer to his original swing than with either the "Butch" or "Haney" swing. This swing is very similar to his original swing except his weight is more on the left side than the right. Eliminate the dipping, and I believe this would actually be a better swing than he started with.
Those are just my observations, of course, but I have to say I like where this video seems to indicate Tiger is heading. His leg and hip action looks much more like his original swing, he seems much more balanced, and this swing looks like it will put less stress on that left knee. If he can just get rid of that dipping...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Was That Tiger O'Hair?

Another quick post, this one about the Tavistock Cup. For those of you who didn't see much of it, the Isleworth course was set up so it was somewhat similar to the speed of Augusta... which you would expect, since the big boys who live there are ready to start practicing for the Masters. It turned out to be a pretty good tournament, and Tiger also played pretty well with a sixth-place individual finish.

But what interested me most was a brief side-by-side slo-mo of two players -- Tiger Woods and Sean O'Hair. Frank Nobilo made a point of how similar their swings look -- not exactly unexpected, since both just happen to be Sean Foley students -- but it was eerie watching the two swing in lockstep with each other. He also noted (a couple of times, in fact) that Tiger is snapping his left knee much less on his followthrough than he has in the past.

I wasn't writing this blog when Tiger originally changed teachers from Butch to Hank, but I remember talking with friends and saying that I believed that was Tiger's primary reason for changing. He had already been having a lot of trouble with that knee and Hank's more rounded swing concept seemed to be a logical way to eliminate some of that snapping motion.

Of course, Tiger continued to have knee problems, probably because he began dipping and jerking so much on his downswing. It's quite possible that Tiger's change to Foley was driven at least in part by a belief that Foley could help him eliminate those violent moves -- moves that contribute to that snapping motion and his constant knee problems. If that's true, I certainly understand -- I have a basic belief that your golf swing shouldn't hurt. ;-)

Nevertheless, it's a sign that things have changed. It wasn't that long ago that we compared other players' swings to Tiger's; now we compare Tiger's swing to theirs. While Tiger may once again become the dominant player on Tour, I can't help but feel that something irreversible has happened.

When Tiger believes he will improve by becoming like everybody else, we know the game has changed.

BTW, Lake Nona won the event by about 15 strokes. Frank Nobilo is extremely happy. ;-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

About the New LPGA Event

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup logo

We finally get to see some more LPGA action this week. The inaugural RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup -- the notorious "no purse" event that has been the center of much conjecture and controversy -- will debut at the Wildfire Golf Club, which is at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona.

Although 134 players are expected to play, a lot of the big names won't be there. The only Top 10 players listed in the final field list are #1 Yani Tseng, #2 Jiyai Shin, #5 Cristie Kerr, and #10 Karrie Webb. The other players in the Top 10 stand to lose some serious ground this week, especially #3 Na Yeon Choi and #4 Suzann Pettersen. Kerr's points are at 9.09, Pettersen's at 9.15, and Choi's at 9.18, so Kerr stands to make a big move up to 3rd this week. (And since Shin is only at 9.58 -- half a point above Kerr -- she'll need to play well to hold her place at #2.) Webb could also move up this week, to #8 or even #7 with a good finish.

In fact, with so many of the Top 10 laying out this week (indeed, many of the Top 20 aren't playing), the stage is set for some serious movement up the rankings by players with 2-, 3-, and 4-point averages.

Rookie Sara Brown makes her first LPGA start here, as does newly-married rookie and fellow Big Breaker Gerina Mendoza Piller. (She's married to PGA Tour rookie Martin Piller.) Of course, she's listed as Gerina Piller on her bio page but Gerina Mendoza on the final field list. Is it any wonder people get confused? A third Big Breaker and rookie, Ryann O'Toole, is 2nd alternate.

Here's the full field listing, just in case you want to see if your favorite players will be in action.

One last thing: In case you wonder who the founders are that this event is supposed to honor, the LPGA is listing 13 of them. They are:
  1. Alice Bauer
  2. Patty Berg
  3. Bettye Danoff
  4. Opal Hill
  5. Helen Dettweiler
  6. Marlene Bauer Hagge
  7. Helen Hicks
  8. Betty Jameson
  9. Sally Sessions
  10. Marilynn Smith
  11. Shirley Spork
  12. Louise Suggs
  13. Babe Zaharias
I have to admit I don't recognize several of these names, although I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about the LPGA's beginnings. Michael Whan has a short video about them and the concept behind the Founders Cup here.

You can also read the LPGA's full tournament preview on this page.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 WGC—Cadillac Championship

Winner: Nick Watney

Around the wider world of golf: Michael Bradley won the Tour's alternate field event, the Puerto Rico Open, in a one-hole playoff against Troy Matteson; and Nick Price won the Toshiba Classic on the Champions Tour. The JLPGA events have been cancelled for obvious reasons.

Nick Watney at the WGC-Cadillac
Click on the photo to read the Golf Digest article.

So Tiger, Phil, Lee, and Martin didn't figure into the final standings at all. (Although Tiger did post a 66 Sunday and looked -- for the most part -- like he knew what he was doing. Maybe that's some good news among the big boys.) But that didn't mean the second WGC event of the year wasn't exciting. I typically have some idea who the Limerick Summary will be about with four or five holes to go, but this one went right down to the wire.

Watney has said he knows his short game is his weak spot and he's been focusing on it lately. Sunday that practice payed off. Dustin Johnson stayed near the lead all day until the end, when Watney's amazing par saves and 18th hole birdie finally put it out of DJ's reach. Except for Anders Hansen's last minute run, nobody was able to hold it together for 18 holes besides Watney -- a far cry from past performances where he himself said he let some get away.

No one will accuse him of that now. Sunday's performance, especially on the 18th where he knocked it in the water for bogey on Saturday, will be what people remember this time.

If you go to Nick Watney's PGA bio page and look at the six key stats they list, you'll see that he beats the averages in all six. I know I go on and on a lot about my "Rule of 67" but if you look at the Driving Accuracy, GIR, and Scrambling percentages, you'll see that the PGA Tour average is below 67% on all three (Scrambling is a pitiful 58%!) and Nick Watney is above 67% on both GIR and Scrambling. This, along with some good putting, is why he has five Top 10s with a WGC in five starts.

At 70.79% in Scrambling -- the part of his game that he's been working on most -- Nick is now 2nd on Tour. His Driving Accuracy was at 79% and 64% the first two days this week, and his GIR was 78% those days. If he improves that Driving Accuracy stat, with his putting touch he could become a dominant player on Tour.

When I did Saturday's listing of possible contenders at Augusta, I considered putting Nick Watney on the list because he's been playing some consistent golf lately -- four Top 10s in four events. In the end, I decided to leave him off because he hadn't won in over two years. With this WGC win, which also gives him five Top 10s in five events, I now feel good about adding him as the sixth member of my little Augusta fantasy league.

So today our Limerick Summary recognizes the newest member of the "Young Guns with WGCs" club:
The biggest win ever for Nick
Featured chipping and putting so sick
That he made up-and-downs
From both sand traps and mounds.
His new practice drills did the trick!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to End Slow Play

All of us are tired of slow play. Well, I found this very elegant solution:

Granted, it's not as cool as the Batmobile golf cart I found, but it's got more room for clubs... and I figure this little baby will reduce a 5-hour round to about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Tops. ;-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scoping Out Masters Contenders

After watching the PGA players for the last few months, I find my thoughts wandering to the hallowed fairways of Augusta National. Who will be the main contenders at the 2011 Masters?

I know the standard spiel -- to win at Augusta, you must:
  • be a long driver, either by carry or by roll (aka "sneaky long"), in order to position yourself as close to the small greens as possible
  • be a strong player, capable of hitting high fades with the longer irons in order to stop them on rock-hard greens
  • have a killer short game, for all the delicate shots around the greens that you will almost certainly miss
  • putt as if you had a laser scope on your putter, and
  • be a master of strategy.
But I don't hold to most of these. I've seen shorter drivers win in wet, windy conditions. And I've seen players spray iron shots but miss them in the right places, which often means you don't need a great short game because you can putt most of the time.

I believe the likely winners are those who can think their way around the course (the strategists); who can control their shots well enough to use their strategy, whether they are long and powerful or not; and who can putt decently without getting too depressed by the number of putts they will certainly miss.

Because of this, and because of what I've been seeing over the last few months, I've begun to pick my list of contenders for this year.

I've already said I don't think Tiger will get a major this year, and that hasn't changed. I think he'll win some tournament later this year, and I expect him to get back on the major train in 2012, but it's going to take him a while to get this swing working well enough that he can just think about his target.

Phil? Well, Phil's proven there's something magical going on between him and Augusta, and his chances there don't seem to depend on how he's playing going in. For that reason, he remains on my contender list... though not very high on it.

And Westwood, as much as I like him, just doesn't seem to have his game in shape for Augusta. I think he'll get a shot at a major later this year, but I think the Masters is a bit too soon for him.

So who do I like? I've put together a list of 5 players who I think are contenders -- not just for the Masters, but for all 4 majors this year if they keep playing as they have been for the last several months:
  1. Matt Kuchar: Extremely consistent, but hasn't come through in a big tournament yet. (Although he could pull it off at the WGC this week -- he's got Top 10s in the last three he's played in.) Still, he's a US Amateur champion and he has Walker and Ryder Cup experience. Add a Tour win each of the last two years, and I've got to think he could be due.
  2. Francesco Molinari: Another increasingly consistent player with a Ryder Cup and the WGC-China under his belt.
  3. Luke Donald: Do I really need to give you the reasons for picking him? I'll just mention his Ryder Cup performances and that WGC-Accenture win.
  4. Hunter Mahan: Another consistent player with a WGC and Ryder Cup experience. The big complaint against Hunter is his short game. I say that he's good enough with his irons to leave himself mostly putts... and he's a good putter most of the time.
  5. Martin Kaymer: Without question, Kaymer has been playing better than anyone else in the world for the last several months. He already has a major, so he knows how to win one, and and he's just solid. In addition, he's been working for months on a draw, just to improve his chances at Augusta.
Now, I'm not saying no one else can win the Masters... but I think these guys are the most likely to win. And right now I'd pick Kaymer as "the most likely of the most likely."

We'll see how it all shakes out over the next couple of weeks, but I'm feeling pretty good about these guys. And I'm looking for one of them to win the WGC this week as well...

Which could mean the next Masters champion will be driving a Cadillac down Magnolia Lane. ;-)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Golf VS March Madness

This will be a short post, for two reasons.

One, it's a rough weekend when it comes to sports. March Madness hits college football just in time to clash with the WGC -- Cadillac Championship. I find myself frantically flipping back and forth to catch the big names and see how they do at TPC Blue Monster (you gotta love that name!) without missing any important plays at the ACC Tournament (taking place in Greensboro NC, less than an hour from where I live) or any of the other games around the country. As it turned out Thursday, there were very few close ACC games at the same time as the WGC.

The other reason is the lack of play at the WGC. For those of you who didn't hear, TPC Blue Monster truly lived up to its name not for how hard it played (it actually played pretty easy Thursday) but because of the storm that blew thru the course. Winds gusted to 55mph, blowing trees and TV towers over. And the rain that fell was just enough to soften the course, and then the wind died down, which means we saw some amazing scoring...

At least, we did while they got to play. Only 11 players finished their rounds. The leader, Hunter Mahan, was at -7 after 11 holes. It's going to be another week of playing catch-up as they try to get the tournament back on track to finish on Sunday.

And the broadcast coverage will be opposite March Madness. The real madness will come from trying to watch it all at once.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Wedge Lesson from Lee Trevino

A couple of days ago I posted a video of Lee Trevino's thoughts about driving. (And I am going to go back and talk about it some, really.) But I thought I'd post this video Lee did for a Jim McLean program about the Trevino swing. It's about the basic technique Lee uses to hit what McLean calls "the burning wedge":

That video also includes a down-the-line slo-mo of this wedge shot -- the one Rocco Mediate used so well to hole out 4 times in late 2010 -- but here's a couple more full-speed shots from back in 1990:

I've seen other videos about how to hit the burning wedge. If I can find any of them, I'll post them. Still, this short explanation from Lee should help you improve your wedge play.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ben Crane Strikes Again!

I started looking for this Monday, but it didn't show up until Tuesday after its debut on Golf Channel. On the outside chance you didn't get to see it, here's Ben Crane's newest golf "lesson."

This one's on slow play, a subject he knows something about. At least we now know why he wears that helmet:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Driving Lesson from Lee Trevino

I found this driving lesson from Lee Trevino. Trevino got criticized a lot for how different his swing was from the accepted standards of his time, but his style has become more acceptable lately -- especially since players like Rocco have used his short game techniques with a lot of success. And given that he won 6 majors against players like Nicklaus and Player, I think he knew what he was doing!

I'm not going to comment on this today because it's a fairly long video that covers a lot of ground. But you might find some useful info in it... and yes, a lot of it seems to contradict current thinking.

Actually, I don't think it really contradicts anything... but Lee describes things differently than a lot of teachers. Like I said, I'll come back to this video later and compare what he says to what some other teachers teach.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Honda Classic

Winner: Rory Sabbatini

Around the wider world of golf: Brenden Pappas won the rain-shortened (only 36 holes!) Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open on the Nationwide Tour, and Inbee Park won the Daikin Orchid Ladies on the JLPGA.

Photo of Rory Sabbatini at Honda Classic
Click the photo to read the FoxSports version of the story.

I am pleased to present you with a Limerick Summary that isn't tape-delayed. NBC wasn't so lucky when it came to the actual tournament Sunday. PGA officials anticipated bad weather coming in, so they sent the players off early, in threes, on both sides. And they did get a little bit -- enough to cause a half-hour delay -- but the tourney finished on time.

And Rory Sabbatini got his sixth win, although not without a little scare. Don't people know a 5-stroke lead on the last day is supposed to be enough?

Apparently not. Both Jerry Kelly and Y.E. Yang, Rory's playing partners, decided to take a run at him. They nearly pulled it off, as Jerry finished only two strokes back and Y.E. just one.

There's not a lot to say about Rory's play. He didn't do anything fancy or heroic; he did that on Friday and Saturday when he posted rounds of 64 and 66. Rory just played smart -- and played the Bear Trap (15, 16 & 17) at 1 under.

OK, Jerry and Y.E. did too. But Rory didn't start the day 5 strokes back.

In fact, Jerry and Y.E. both birdied the 18th, which Rory didn't. But then again, Rory didn't need to. You could tell he knew it, too.

And that was perhaps the most memorable thing about this win -- there were no explosions, no temperamental outbursts. Despite his reputation, there wasn't a single storm ruffling the surface of Lake Sabbatini this week, not a single ripple to disturb its calm surface. Rory's been through some not-so-public problems of his own this past year -- his wife's difficult pregnancy, his own brush with cancer -- and it seems to have put things in perspective for him. If so, he may be ready to get out of his own way and take down a few more tournaments.

He's certainly got the game for it. He proved it this week.

So here's a limerick tribute to the South African beast who wasn't and the victory that was:
Though some say that Rory's a bear—
A firecracker waiting to flare—
He kept it together
Despite the bad weather.
Not once did he grumble or swear.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Series of Rain Lessons

It's not unusual for me to post a video, but today I'm recommending a channel at YouTube. It's the GolfLessonVideo channel, and it features a large number of videos all devoted to playing in the wind and rain. I think almost all of them are done by Denis Pugh -- in fact, I think I've included one or two of his videos before.

Today I'm featuring the first 4 of his series on playing in wind and rain -- all 4 are on preparation to play. Since the Honda Classic is struggling with bad weather and we tend to have more rainy weather during the spring anyway, this seemed to be an appropriate time for them!

There must be a hundred or more different videos on this channel, most of them between one and three minutes long. You might want to take a quick look through them, since they cover almost all aspects of the game.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What Time Is It at the Honda Classic?

With all apologies to the Jukebox Robot, it's actually time to reassess who might win this tournament!

At the halfway point the cut was +6 and only 12 players are under par... and it's one of the most scrambled leaderboards we've seen all year!

Kyle Stanley sits atop the leaderboard at -6 after a 68-66 start. This is certainly unexpected, although he's 5 for 5 in cuts made this year.

Where did Rory Sabbatini come from? It's not like he hasn't played reasonably well, but that amazing 64 he shot Friday put him in 2nd place at -5.

Charl Schwartzel's at -3. He won the Joberg Open in Africa earlier this year, so he's probably not such a surprise.

I admit that I'm rooting for Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey. I don't think anybody expected him to be in contention again so soon but there he is at -2, T4 with Ricky Barnes, Jerry Kelly, and Stuart Appleby. I'd really like to see Tommy pull a "Jhonny Vegas" and get a win this week.

World #2 Lee Westwood sits at -1 with a chance to retake #1 if he wins. If the weather gets bad as expected, I think you have to consider him a realistic contender. Others at this number include Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Y.E. Yang, and 1st round leader Spencer Levin.

Beyond that, I don't know how many players still have a realistic chance to win. I don't want to rule out Luke Donald at +1, given how well he played in last week's conditions. But depending on how bad the weather turns -- and how much the leaders come back to the pack -- most of the players may have shot themselves completely out of the tournament.

So I guess, for the players left in the field at the Honda Classic, it's also time to buckle down for a rough ride. Charlie Rymer was right -- if you really enjoy watching the pros struggle like weekend players, you came to the right tournament!

Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Copy Josh Broadaway... If You Dare

Let me say up front that I doubt most of you want to. Still, his swing is fascinating so I thought it would be fun to take a look at it.

For those of you who don't know who Josh Broadaway is... he's been playing the Nationwide Tour for a while now and he's at the Honda Classic this week. You can't miss him; he's the guy who swings crosshanded. I didn't say he putts crosshanded; he swings crosshanded. And I know Chris Couch has chipped crosshanded before, but we're talking full swings here. (BTW, Josh putts lefthanded.)

First, here's how his swing looks:

Wild, eh? You might be surprised to know he's not the only one to play this way. Albert Crews from Big Break VI also played this way. Here's David Toms's instructor Rob Akins discussing it:

I hate that the video is cut off before they finished talking about it, but you can hear Rob tell the big advantage of this swing: Distance. You get a huge lag coming down into the ball, which translates into a lot of clubhead speed. As Rob points out, that can make chipping more difficult and he doesn't really know how Albert figured it out. The simple answer is that you just don't cock your wrists -- or at least, you cock them very little -- when you chip. If you can putt crosshand, you can probably chip crosshand.

One thing that got left off this video is that, if you want to try this, you have to clear your hips very fast. Otherwise, you'll probably hook the ball off the golf course. In that sense, it's not much different from playing with an extremely strong grip. (I talked about that when I posted on Bernhard Langer's swing.)

Apparently Homer Kelley documented this swing in his Golf Machine book as the "10-1-E Cross Hand Grip", which allowed me to find this blog post from the Richie3Jack Golf Blog.

Here's a Japanese video of the technique, notable because it's in slo-mo. You'll note that the player starts with the club already cocked, almost like a baseball swing. Apparently the video includes 3 tips to performing this swing properly, but I can't read Japanese:

And finally, just to round out this little tour, apparently some players call this a "cack-handed" grip. Here's an interview with Scottish pro John Gallagher, and it shows him playing several shots this way:

Maybe it's not everything you ever wanted to know about swinging crosshand -- maybe it's more than you wanted to know -- but there you have it. Hey, I wonder if Charles Barkley has considered trying this...?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The OWGR and the Bear Trap

Well, there is no European Tour event this week. As a result, if you want to move up in the world rankings, you gotta play the Honda Classic, the first event in the Florida Swing. The tournament is played on the PGA National Champion Course, which has hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup and the 1987 PGA Championship (won by Larry Nelson). It also hosted the PGA Seniors' Championship from 1982 to 2000. Thanks to Wikipedia for that info.

And then Jack Nicklaus got hold of it.

PGA National - Champion is a mere 7,158 yard par-70 course, most notoriously known as the home of the Bear Trap. That's the par-3 15th (179 yards), par-4 16th (434 yards), and par-3 17th (190 yards) holes. If you check the Tour's page about the course, you'll find that the 17th is listed as the shortest hole on the course. I assume that's a misprint since 15 is obviously shorter.

So what's the big deal, you may ask? (Go ahead... you may ask.) Why should you even care? It's those pesky world rankings again. Here, conspicuously lifted with no attempt to mask the theft, are the Top 10 in the world from the front page of
  1. Kaymer, 8.36
  2. Westwood, 8.16
  3. Donald, 6.64
  4. McDowell, 6.44
  5. Woods, 6.32
  6. Mickelson, 6.23
  7. Casey, 6.02
  8. McIlroy, 5.65
  9. Stricker, 5.49
  10. Kuchar, 5.20
You will note that while not all of these players are at the Honda this week, several notable names are -- Westwood, Donald, McDowell, McIlroy, and Kuchar. With #2, 3, and 4 there, and 5 of the Top 10, this tournament should carry an abnormally high number of world ranking points. That means we could have some more shuffling at the top.

Specifically, you may have already heard that Westwood can retake #1 from Kaymer if he wins. This tournament should give the winner at least a 1-point boost. If the winner gets 1.5 points -- not impossible, if the OWGR functions like the Rolex Rankings -- all bets are off. In that case, Donald might snag #2! But even with just the 1-point bump, McDowell and Donald could switch, McIlroy could conceivably move all the way up to #3, and Kuchar could possibly break into the Top 5.

While most the ladies are taking the week off -- Shin and Miyazato are playing, according to the Constructivist, but I haven't found the leaderboard for the JLPGA's Daikin Orchid Ladies yet -- at least there's a little bit on the line for the men. Depending on who gets caught in the Bear Trap, it could certainly be an interesting week on the PGA Tour.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Martin Hall Explains My Move

One of the things I frequently suggest to help stabilize your swing and straighten out shots is to feel as if you start your upper and lower body at the same time.

Well, Tuesday night on School of Golf, Martin Hall was talking about how important it was to get "sequenced" rather than "synchronized" in your downswing to get more distance. He gave a drill to help viewers learn this move, and the move looked familiar to me. I got in front of a mirror and tried it.

Lo and behold, it was the very move I've been using to feel as if everything started together!

Of course, the irony of it all is that we sound as if we're saying two different things. I've written about how confusing it can be when teachers use different terms to describe the same thing, or the same term to describe different things. This is one of those cases, so I'm glad he showed this drill.

My description of the feel is that, even though you feel as if everything starts at once, the lower body has to move first just because of physics. And I've said that moving this way causes you to keep your lower body more centered, so you don't start leaning backward during your downswing. This drill demonstrates how that works.

Martin's drill uses a basketball. Basically, you hold it between your knees and, when you start your downswing, the front knee and hip move toward the target (you may have heard this called "opening your hips") and the ball drops to the ground.

How your knees start the downswing

If you try this drill, you'll find that your back leg stays flexed but it doesn't move forward much until you're well into your downswing. It's very similar to the "squat" move used by players at least as far back as Sam Snead.

When you try it, you'll find that moving your front knee toward the target automatically starts pulling your shoulders around and down, which helps you keep from uncocking your wrists too soon. To me, it really does feel as if your upper body and lower body start at the same time. And it helps you keep your hips from sliding toward the target too much, so you don't lean backward and change the plane of your swing.

I hope this drill helps you better understand why I talk about "starting your downswing with your upper and lower body together" while other players and teachers tell you to start the lower body first. (Luke Donald said he had been working on increasing the "separation" between his upper and lower body. That's the same thing.)

No matter what you call it, it puts you in a powerful position to hit the ball where you're aiming.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: March 2011

As we enter March, things start to get a bit interesting for the Ruthless Golf World Rankings. You see, several of the current players in the rankings who had multiple wins got them early in 2010. They either lost them during February, like Miguel Angel Jimenez did, or will lose them this month -- Jim Furyk is one of those unfortunates, and he's not playing well either. You'll also note that Lee Westwood has totally fallen from grace -- in the RGWR, you get no wins, you get no love. Because of this, we're beginning to see a changing of the guard.

As usual, here's my standard description of my criteria:
I focus on the last 12 months of play -- that's long enough to see some consistency but short enough to be current. Every player in the RGWR won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. The OWGR rates consistency over the last 2 years, so I see no reason to rank that; my RGWR says if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC, and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
I put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness.

I assign points to tournaments like this:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC: 8 points
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
Although the points affect my rankings, they don't override my personal opinions.
  1. Martin Kaymer: 4 wins (1 major, 2 prestige). Kaymer's official rise to World #1, coupled with his runner-up at the Accenture, keeps him ahead of McDowell for another month. Enough said.
  2. Graeme McDowell: 4 wins (1 major, 3 prestige). Graeme did manage to move up to #4 in the world, and his wins won't start falling off for a few months yet. He's right on Kaymer's tail.
  3. Louis Oosthuizen: 3 wins (1 major). Louis, like Ernie and Jim, loses the first of his 2010 wins this month, plus he took the early exit at Accenture. He did win the Africa Open in January, so he'll be sticking around for a while... but he may be on the bottom looking up. Step it up there, Shrek!
  4. Ernie Els: 3 wins (1 WGC, 2 prestige). Ernie's WGC win drops off this month... and his South African Open win is nearly 3 months old now. Add his relatively poor showing -- T17 -- at Accenture, and he's in serious danger of dropping down the list. What have you done for me lately, Ernie?
  5. Jhonattan Vegas: 3 wins. "Jhonny Vegas" continues to play well, posting finishes of T3, cut, T12, and T19 since his first PGA Tour win. I suspect he needs some rest, but that's pretty good playing for a rookie getting so much attention so fast.
  6. Jim Furyk: 3 wins (1 prestige). Jim hasn't played well in the last 5 months -- highlighted by a first-round ouster at the Accenture -- and the POY award only goes so far. He finally squeezed past MAJ because he's still in the 3-win elite, and that means something in the RGWR... but that'll change in April if he doesn't get his game in gear.
  7. Luke Donald: 2 wins (1 WGC). That Accenture win is good enough to jump Luke all the way up into my Top 10. As you'll recall, he briefly peeked into the January rankings on the strength of a win and 9 Top 5s. At that time I said -- and I quote -- "He's another player who's been recovering from injury... and who may be on track to break out in 2011. I'll be really surprised if he doesn't post at least one important win this year." Fortunately, none of you can see how big my head is right now. ;-)
  8. Miguel Angel Jimenez: 2 wins (1 prestige). Despite losing one of his prestige wins, the Mechanic posted a 2nd at the Volvo Golf Champions at the end of January and a T5 at the Accenture, taking Kaymer the full 18 before losing on the 18th. That's good enough to keep him in my Top 10 for now.
  9. Bubba Watson: 2 wins (1 prestige). Bubba done good. Bubba got a win in February and provided some real excitement on his way to 4th place at the Accenture. Bubba gets to stay in my Top 10. You're welcome.
  10. Mark Wilson: 2 wins. This was a tough call. J-Byrd also has two wins, including the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this year. But two wins in three starts? And he beat Dustin Johnson head's-up on a course tailor-made for his length? I can't let that go unacknowledged. What has Mark done for us lately? PLENTY!
With Ernie, Jim, and Louis all losing wins this month, the WGC-Cadillac World Championships coming up in 3 weeks, Bay Hill just two weeks later, and the Masters two weeks after that, the potential for some major movement in the RGWR this spring is huge. Can anybody dethrone the Germanator? Stay tuned!