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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Your Address Position Affects Impact

This post attempts to answer some questions Patrick (aka "Lefty") asked in the comments of the Hooking Out of Trouble post. All the diagrams are for a lefthander, so you righties out there will have to mentally "flip" them, the way lefties have to do most of the time!

Teachers generally teach one of two ways to address the ball. The shaft of the club is vertical in one and slanted toward the target in the other. It's ok to use either one as long as you understand how each one affects the way you swing and make contact with the ball. Here's a diagram of these two ways:

Two ways to address the ball

The Leaning Shaft
The second one in the diagram is the method I recommend most often on this blog because I believe it's simpler for most players. The reason is that it uses a stronger grip. Here's why:

Stand up and let your arms hang loosely by your side, and look at your hands. I'd be willing to bet that very few of you see your thumbs pointing straight ahead. Instead, they angle in toward a point somewhere in front of your belly button. This means your lead hand will naturally take a strong grip on the club. (By the same token, if your thumbs point straight forward, your natural golf grip is a neutral grip; and if your thumbs point outward, your natural golf grip is a weak grip. Not so difficult, is it?)

If you take that strong grip, it's natural to hold the club so its shaft forms a straight line with your lead forearm; that gives you the flat wrist look in the diagram. Since I recommend that you don't twist your forearms when you swing, this setup allows you to swing the club back, cock your wrists, and swing down through the ball. You'll hit it with your hands slightly ahead of the ball, which gives you that descending blow all teachers say you want to have... and you don't have to do any kind of manipulation with your hands to get it. To me, that's the simplest way to swing.

The Vertical Shaft
However, there's another approach that's based more on Ben Hogan's approach to golf. (Players used this position before Hogan, of course, but he's the one who standardized the technique.) In the Hogan swing, you use a neutral grip, which means you cup your lead wrist at setup. (Hogan used a weak grip to further reduce his tendency to flip his hands.) Of course, you can't hit the ball with a cupped wrist -- it'll cause mis-hits -- so you have to change your wrist position sometime during the swing. Most Hogan disciples call this pronation "supination." [Correction: I always get the two mixed up because each wrist does the opposite of the other. The lead wrist supinates while the trailing wrist pronates. The scan below shows the lead wrist supinating.] Here's a scan of the wrist motion as you hit the ball with this technique; the one with the dotted line under it is the position at impact:

How Hogan pronates the club when he hits the ball

The problem here is that teachers keep saying you have to rotate your forearms to make this motion. THAT IS WRONG. Hogan had a problem with duck hooks, caused by rotating his forearms too much, and he developed his swing in order to prevent that. In Five Lessons, which is the textbook for his rebuilt swing, he wrote -- in capital letters, no less:
The action of the arms is motivated by the movements of the body, and the hands consciously do nothing but maintain a firm grip on the club. (p82)
Hogan says the hands consciously do nothing. The wrists cock and uncock, and the club sets on plane, because your elbows bend and unbend during the swing. You don't make any twisting movements with your forearms at all. In fact, it's almost impossible to get into this position by twisting your arms at impact! Hogan designed it that way -- he was trying to stop twisting his forearms, remember?

So you may ask: Why then does it look like your forearms are twisting during the swing? That's a fair question, and I think that most teachers take it for granted that their students know the answer.

Look at those hand positions above. It sure looks like the forearms are turning. I mean, I can see the back of the hand on the right as it starts down, and the edge of the hand at impact, and the palm after impact. If the forearms aren't turning, how can this be?

It's because the upper body is turning as well. If you could see Hogan's chest, you'd see that it faced the right side in that first position, it faced you at impact, and it faced left after impact. The hands are in front of him all the way through the swing, something I've written about many times in this blog, and to him it looks as if the hands are always in the same position. You can demonstrate this to yourself by taking your address position in front of a mirror with your hands together and thumbs up. Then turn your body into your backswing but keep your thumbs pointing straight up; when you look in the mirror you'll see the back of your hand...

Do I really need to continue explaining this? It's obvious once you realize what's happening. What you see as the golfer is different from what onlookers see, which means that the onlookers aren't always correct about what you're actually doing.

Anyway, the next obvious question is: If your forearms aren't twisting, how does your lead hand get into this pronated position? I'm glad you asked.

If you take your "vertical shaft" setup and simply lean the shaft toward the target, you'll get this position. Do you recognize it? It's a bowed wrist -- the same position that Dustin Johnson gets into AT THE TOP OF HIS SWING. DJ's position is greatly exaggerated, of course -- you can look at Hogan's position in the swing sequence above and see that it's just a small bow -- but DJ has the principle correct. And please note that you don't have to rotate your forearms at all during your swing to get into this position at impact, since just leaning the club forward at address can create the same position.

Here's the key: You have to get into this pronated position either at the top of the downswing or just as you start down. From there you simply finish your swing without any further change to your wrist position; you just hang on to the club. It's the turning motion of your whole body that creates the appearance that your forearms are rotating during the swing. It's much easier than it sounds, although I think it takes a lot more forearm strength than the slanted shaft swing does.

You can practice this position by addressing the ball, leaning the shaft forward to create the bow in your wrist, then just making short waist-high swings back and forth. (That's what Hogan suggests on pages 82-83 of his book.) It won't take long to get the hang of it. Hogan says to keep both elbows close to your side when you do it, so you'll have to rotate your body or you just won't be able to do it.

Oh, and one last thing. I suspect one reason some people believe the forearms rotate at impact is because, if you keep your lead elbow close to your side as Hogan suggests, your lead elbow will bend quickly at or just after impact. When it does, your lead forearm will move upward suddenly -- it's very noticeable -- and that makes it feel as if your trailing arm has flipped over a bit. It really hasn't; if it did, the clubface would suddenly close and you'd get the very duck hook that Hogan designed this swing to prevent.

If You Get the Two Swings Crossed...
Patrick also had a few other questions that we can try and answer now.

If you use the vertical shaft setup with its neutral grip, but you hit the ball from the more natural slanted shaft position, the clubface will be open. That's because a clubface that's square with a neutral grip will open if you turn your hands to the stronger position without regripping the club. Try it -- take the vertical shaft / neutral grip and then, without regripping the club, change to the slanted shaft / strong grip setup. The face will open right up.

By the same token, if you setup with the strong grip and then move the shaft to the vertical position, the clubface will close. That's why you need to settle on one type of swing and stick with it -- if you set up for one but hit from the other position, you'll never be able to predict your ball flight.

Since I don't have video of your swing it's hard to tell exactly what's causing the other problems, but here's a couple of things to check:
  1. There's a problem with your legwork. This sounds likely because you said your lower body stops turning so your hands can catch up. Your slice could be caused by leaning backward when you start your downswing, or pushing your hips too far forward to start the downswing, or reverse pivoting. The pull could be caused by straightening your trailing leg rather than keeping it flexed and getting a full turn with your hips. Start with Hogan's half-swing drill and then stretch it out so your hands are going to shoulder height. If at any point during this you feel strain or pain in your lower back, that identifies a slice problem; if you lose your balance and fall forward, that's a pull problem. Neither of these is very hard to fix.
  2. Your elbows are moving in opposite directions. If your trailing elbow stays close to your side but your lead elbow doesn't, you'll tend to push the ball. If your lead elbow stays close to your side but your trailing elbow doesn't, you'll tend to pull the ball. Again, try the half-swing drill and focus on keeping both elbows close to your side. If the ball goes straight, this could be the problem. But check the legwork first; if your legwork is bad, you won't be able to hit the ball straight period.
We haven't talked enough for me to learn the pattern of your misses yet, which would tell us a lot. But if you work with the things in this post -- so we know for sure that you're not mixing swings -- that should help us narrow down the likely causes considerably.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: September 2011

The majors are finally done and the FedExCup playoffs are underway. It's going to be harder for players to make big jumps in the RGWR now because most of the really high-ranking tournaments are over. Still, things could start to hop if a player gets hot -- just take a good look at Keegan Bradley, with 2 wins in roughly 3 months.

On the other hand, a few players with multiple wins like Jhonattan Vegas and Martin Kaymer (say it ain't so, Marty!) have dropped out of the rankings simply because they haven't won in over 6 months. They need to get back to what got them here in the first place -- WIN!

As usual, these are the RGWG criteria:
I focus on the last 12 months of play -- that's long enough to see some consistency but short enough to be current. Every player in the RGWR won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. The OWGR rates consistency over the last 2 years, so I see no reason to rank that; my RGWR says if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC (PGAT), BMW PGA (ET), and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
I put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness. I'm even willing to cut you a little slack for illnesses like "major win hangover" and "new gal Friday syndrome." Also, remember that I count Top5s as a separate category from wins; if you see a player has 3 Top5s, those are seconds through fifths only.

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

And because of a strange quirk on the ET site, I've decided I have to specifically state that a tournament win can only count once. Therefore, to avoid possible confusion, I'm just telling you that the RGWR says you can only win a tournament once at a time.

As usual, the point total (and even the number of wins) a player has affects my rankings but doesn't override my personal opinions:
  1. Luke Donald: 3 wins (1 WGC, 1 BMW), 10 Top5, 38 points. The #1 player on the OWGR continues to rack up Top5s. Granted, he's still sans a major, but if he keeps putting himself into position...
  2. Lee Westwood: 3 wins (1 prestige), 4 Top5, 19 points. Lee remains right where he was last month. He too will have to wait for next year to make another major run.
  3. Charl Schwartzel: 2 wins (1 major, 1 prestige), 2 Top5, 17 points. Well, #3 hasn't made any gains this past month either, but his Masters win is still new enough to carry weight. He's up one spot this month.
  4. Darren Clarke: 2 wins (1 major), 0 Top5, 13 points. Likewise, Darren's Open Championship win jacked him up another notch in my rankings. I don't expect much from him until next year... but as long as he waited for his major, I'm willing to let him party for a while.
  5. Keegan Bradley: 2  wins (1 major, 1 prestige), 4 Top5, 23 points. The rookie nabbed himself a major to go along with his win at the Nelson. He's a bit flat right now -- I suppose that's a major hangover. It's hard to believe he won't make the Presidents Cup team.
  6. Rory McIlroy: 1 win (1 major), 5 Top5, 20 points. The U.S. Open champ may be a bit distracted by his new main squeeze, Caroline Wozniacki, but he too gets a temporary pass.
  7. Adam Scott: 2 wins (1 WGC), 3 Top5, 18 points. Since getting Steve Williams on his bag, Adam seems to have found the final piece to his comeback. At this rate he may pick up a major of his own next year.
  8. Steve Stricker: 2 wins (1 prestige), 2 Top5, 12 points. Stricks is just entering the time of the year when he typically gets hot... and let's not forget he's one of the few multiple playoff event winners.
  9. Dustin Johnson: 2 wins (2 prestige), 5 Top5, 20 points. This may not last -- one of DJ's wins was in last year's playoffs. But if he's finally got his putting stroke back, his length off the tee may be the determining factor for the next month.
  10. Nick Watney: 2 wins (1 WGC, 1 prestige), 3 Top5, 18 points. Nick's about due for another win, and he seems to prefer winning the big events.
Players to watch:
  • Sergio Garcia continues to post some good numbers, and his consistency is improving.
  • Vijay Singh made a little trip to the back doctor in Germany and it seems to have done the trick. If he keeps playing the way he has the last couple of weeks, I think he's got a chance to take the FedExCup again.
  • Padraig Harrington and Camilo Villegas have finally found their games. It's gonna be a long uphill climb, but both have made a good start.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 The Barclays

Winner: Dustin Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Brittany Lincicome got her 2nd victory of the year at the LPGA's CN Canadian Women's Open; Thomas Björn got his 2nd victory of the year after winning the ET's Johnnie Walker Championship in a 5-man playoff; Mark Calcavecchia won the Boeing Classic on the Champions Tour; Kirk Triplett won the News Sentinel Open on the Nationwide Tour; Syndee Michaels won the Vidalia Championship on the LPGA Futures Tour; and Ritsuko Ryu won the Nitori Ladies on the JLPGA. And let's not forget our U.S. Amateur champion -- Kelly Kraft beat #1-ranked Patrick Cantlay 2up in the 36-hole final.

Dustin Johnson claims his win

And Irene said, "Let the playoffs be shortened!" And it was so.

Actually, Mother Nature doesn't seem to like Barclays at all. Late last year the Barclays Singapore Open was rain-delayed and had to be finished on a Monday. Earlier this year the Barclays Scottish Open got shortened to 54 holes after torrential rains caused mudslides on the course. And now she sends a hurricane to eliminate any consideration of a full tournament at The Barclays.

Heaven help this year's Barclays Singapore Open!

At any rate, DJ broke his winless drought and got his first victory with Joe Lacava -- Fred Couples's former caddie -- on his bag. DJ managed to blast his way around the course and, despite all the mud, give everybody a "dustin'." (Sorry, it was just too good to let it pass.)

Matt Kuchar had stated earlier in the week that longer tournaments suited him better, and proved it during Saturday's finish. He started with the lead but ended up second. I like the nickname "the Silent Assassin" that the media has given Kuch, but it's clear that he's not a fast worker. I guess it's hard to be stealthy in mud.

Several players made valiant runs at the big man, but most were too far back. Only Brandt Snedeker got close; his course record 61 (-10) still fell 3 shots short.

DJ now has 5 wins in his 20s, the most of any young player on Tour. However, after noting that two of those have come in rain-shortened events, I may begin referring to him as "The Big Muddy." That's a nickname for the Missouri River, which is the longest river in the United States (appropriate, don't you think?). Also, like one of Dustin's golf shots, it seems to meander all over the countryside.

And then, of course, there's all that mud that seems to follow him everywhere he goes.

Frank Nobilo stated that, if the majors aren't coming to you, the next best win is either a WGC or a FedExCup playoff event. Well, Dustin has two of those now, and here's a soggy Limerick Summary to celebrate his latest one:
Since majors for which he has lusted
Remain out of reach, DJ busted
It long. It went "thud"
As it splashed through the mud,
Leaving Kuch and the others all dusted.
The photo came from the front page of PGATOUR.com.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Which Is the Tougher Tournament?

With Hurricane Irene shortening The Barclays to 54 holes, I found myself pondering which is tougher -- a 54-hole tournament or a 72-hole tournament?

As we all know, 54-hole tournaments are the norm for regular play on both the LPGA and Champions Tours, with majors being 72 holes. (And on most of the other women's and seniors' tours around the world.) Likewise, all tournaments are 72 holes in length for the PGA, Nationwide, and European Tours. (And most of the other men's tours as well.) But are there other differences besides just length?

I've heard players on the Champions Tour say that their events are more like sprints while the PGA Tour events are more like marathons. And I have noticed that second-day scores at a Champions Tour event are frequently lower than the second-day scores of a PGA Tour event. I've always assumed that had more to do with course setup than something intrinsically different between 54- and 72-hole events.

But then Irene shortened The Barclays and players had enough notice for it to effect their second- and third-day play. Did it make a difference? Apparently.

I didn't hear many of the players talk about it, but I thought comments from Vijay Singh and Matt Kuchar were interesting. Vijay was specifically asked if having the event shortened affected how he played and he said it did. He said that he had a good idea before he started play Friday that the event would probably be shortened. Meanwhile Kuch said that he felt longer events favored him... and the longer they were, the better he liked them.

The Barclays is probably not the best tournament to look at if we want a comparison. After all, the course had been inundated with nearly a foot of rain in the week or so before Irene made her presence felt. Take soggy fairways that made any shot the equivalent of throwing darts, add LCP (lift, clean, and place for those of you who are unfamiliar with the abbreviation) to guarantee that players always had clean balls and good lies, and throw in the added ingredient of the FedExCup playoffs eliminating 25 players... this was anything but a normal tournament.

Still, I find myself wondering which is harder to play.

In a 72-hole tournament, players spend two rounds jockeying for position to make the cut, knowing that they'll have two more rounds to play against the "cream" of the field. The third round is traditionally called "Moving Day," and scoring is almost always lower in that round than the final round.

But in a 54-hole tournament, there are only 3 rounds. Which one is "Moving Day"? Do you take risks on the second day in order to position yourself for the final round, knowing that a misstep may mean you don't make the final round at all? Do you focus on just making the cut, knowing you could be so far behind the last day that you don't have a realistic chance to win?

Doesn't the strategy change make the 54-holer harder than the 72-holer? After all, the 72-hole tournament favors the player who plods along and makes no mistakes, slowly gaining momentum over 4 days. And anybody can recover from a single bad round. Throw players into a 54-hole event and everybody struggles -- plodders get pushed out of their comfort zones while gamblers risk losing it all before they even reach the final round.

I don't have any answers to this question; if any of you do, I'd be interested to hear them. But it has caused me to consider something...

There's been a lot of debate about how the Tour could make the FedExCup playoffs more exciting. The points system is supposed to be NASCAR-like, but some think the points system should be simplified. Other suggestions include cutting the number of players and changing the Tour Championship to match play.

But what if they changed all the playoff events to 54-hole events? Then it would really be a race to the finish... and probably with a large number of wrecks as well.

It's just a thought.

Hooking Out of Trouble

Ever been stuck behind a tree and the only way out is a hook... but you can't hit a hook? It's a common problem, but today I'm gonna help you.

That's right. Even if you can't hit a hook, this technique should help.

First, let's look at a typical video on how to hit a hook. This one's by PGA pro Jay Golden; we'll use it as a starting point.



I'm sure a lot of you have heard this advice before but have had no luck applying it. That's because you didn't have my help. ;-)

There are two important things to note from this video:
  • Move the ball back slightly in your stance. Some videos advise moving it forward but we want a low shot. If we're stuck in the trees, the lower, the better.
  • Forget the fancy swing path / face angle combinations. Here's the simple version: If you're righthanded, the face should point to the left of your swing path. If you're lefthanded, the face should point to the right of your swing path. Simple enough, right?
The reason you're having trouble hitting a hook is because you're making too long a swing. See how I tagged this post for the chipping, punching, and pitching categories? We're going to make a shorter swing so we can better control the club path.

Here are the steps for hooking your way out of trouble:
  1. First, we want to take a club that will keep the ball low. This will be determined to a large extent by how much rough the ball is in. If the rough is kinda thin, you can take something longer like 5-iron or more. Otherwise, figure on hitting something like a 7- or 8-iron.
  2. Aim the face of the club so it aims past the side of the tree. Remember, if you point the face at the tree, no matter what you do, you'll probably hit it.
  3. Now aim your body. Don't worry about hitting some kind of in-to-out swing; if you could do that easily, you wouldn't need help hooking out of this mess! Instead, set up to make a straight swing that goes farther away from the tree than the face angle. See the diagram below to make sure you've got the idea.
  4. Set up so the ball is halfway back in your stance, or maybe just a bit more if you really need to keep it low.
  5. Now, just make a normal half-swing, a punching motion. Let your wrists cock if you need more power, or play it more like a chip or punch shot if you want to make sure the ball stays low. But don't swing too hard or the ball will jump up higher than you intended! This should feel like you're making a long smooth punch shot straight out of the trouble -- but since you've got the face of the club "closed" relative to that straight path, the ball is going to shoot to the left (the right if you're lefthanded) and hook even more as it goes.
Here's a diagram of the setup:

Diagram of hook setup

As you can see, it's a pretty simple setup. No changing your swing path, no flipping your hands at impact, no long swings where you have lots of time to get out of position. Just place the ball halfway back in your stance and make a smooth half-swing along the dotted line with the clubface aimed so it misses the tree.

Is it going to make you look like a Tour player (pick a tour, any tour)? No.

Is it going to save you a shot? Probably. You'll need to use it a few times to get a good idea of just how low you can hit the ball with this shot, but at least you'll know it's doable. If you run into any trouble using it, just post a comment. The lie will be the biggest variable in this shot.

Most importantly... will it impress your foursome? You betcha! And what's better than that?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Must Be the Water, Eh?

Michelle Wie suddenly discovered she could play golf! After months of struggle (during which, granted, the ladies haven't had the most regular schedule), Wie returned to the site of her last win, the CN Canadian Women's Open, and promptly posted a bogey-free 67 (-5). That puts her in a tie for fourth after the first round.

The leaders? Ai Miyazato posted a bogey-free 65 (-7) and Pernilla Lindberg (who has 5 missed cuts and a DQ out of 8 starts) got her 65 with a single bogey. Coming in at third is Samantha Richdale, currently the low Canadian with a 66. Four other players are tied with Wie.

It's a bit wet at the courseBut Paula Creamer, part of a large pack tied for ninth at -4, probably best identified the reason for the low scores when she said, "It doesn't take a lot of brains to throw it at the pin." (Not an exact quote, but pretty close.) Yes, the CN has had quite a bit of rain lately and the ladies are hoping the course dries out a bit.

The same could be said of the first round at The Barclays. Rainfall at Plainfield Country Club is being measured with yardsticks. After being inundated with several inches of rain before the tournament ever started, more rain caused a 3+ hour delay that prevented the first round from being finished. And as we all know, Hurricane Irene intends to disrupt both The Barclays this week and Deutsche Bank in Boston next week. No one's even sure how this week will finish out yet. It might end up shortened... or it might run until Tuesday. The Tour intends to make a tentative announcement Friday afternoon once they know more about Irene's impending landfall.

In the meantime, Harrison Frazer sits on top with a 64 (-7), although both Matt Kuchar and William McGirt (yes, the bubble boy at 125!) are also there but with more holes to play. Vijay Singh and Jonathan Byrd -- two players who have struggled somewhat this year -- are one behind, along with Chris Stroud who's also still on the course.

Not even the amateurs are safe. Erin Hills in Wisconsin, the site of this year's U.S. Amateur and the 2017 U.S. Open, got hammered by a thunderstorm Tuesday. As Dave Shedloski noted in a USGA news article, "Mother Nature clearly isn’t much of a golf fan."

The Nationwide event in Tennessee (the News Sentinel Open) and the Champions Tour event in Washington (the Boeing Classic) appear as yet to be untouched. But old Mama Nature's still got plenty of time to show them her distaste for the game. Too bad we can't play a large number of golf tournaments in Texas this week... they probably need the rain more than anybody.

The photo came from this website for the Pines Golf Course in Bainbridge GA.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ryann O'Toole? Why Not?

When Rosie Jones picked Ryann O'Toole as a Captain's Pick for the American Solheim Cup team, many people reacted in disbelief. How could Rosie pick a rookie with only 7 starts and 2 Top 10s over other more experienced players?

Ryann O'Toole LPGA photoI can truthfully say that I would have been surprised if Rosie hadn't picked Ryann. Since the debate is still going on, let me tell you why Ryann was perhaps the best possible choice Rosie could have made.

First, think about the facts I mentioned in the first paragraph -- the ones that everybody seems to think are against Ryann. She's a rookie and has only been able to make 7 starts on the LPGA Tour. Two of those are Top 10s. Excuse me, but doesn't that mean nearly 1/3 or her starts are Top 10s? (For the perfectionists out there, that's about 28.6%.) How many other players have made that kind of showing? And those two Top 10s were in the U.S. Open -- arguably one of the hardest tournaments under normal conditions, and this year's weather made it even harder -- and in the Safeway Classic, where she knew she had to play well if she hoped to get Rosie's attention at all. I'd say those stats are a pretty good argument for choosing her.

Any player will tell you that adjusting to life on tour (any tour) takes time. Ryann missed only one of those seven cuts. And yet, with only 6 tournaments where she earned Solheim Cup points, she managed to make 18th on the list. You realize that Vicky Hurst -- the other Captain's Pick, and one which everyone seems to agree with -- had 14 starts this year (twice as many as Ryann) with only one Top 10 (half as many as Ryann, which the Tour lists at 7.1%). And Vicky only made about twice as many points as Ryann (138 vs 64.5), although Vicky had the full two years to qualify. Does that sound like Vicky is playing that much better than Ryann?

Other factors indicate that Ryann is doing noticeably better than Vicky this year. Did you realize that Ryann is ahead of Vicky on the money list? Ryann is at #37 with $165,477.00, while Vicky is at #38 with $160,825.00. (Remember, Vicky has played twice as many tournaments this year.) Ryann has a better scoring average -- 72.04 in 25 rounds (#24 on Tour) vs Vicky 's 72.71 in 41 rounds (#45 on Tour). And while Ryann has just 10 points toward Player of the Year (T30), Vicky has only 6 (T35). And again, I have to remind you that Ryann has played half as many events as Vicky this year.

Ryann is also the top American in the ROY race (209 points), second behind Hee Kyung Seo (475 points). Again, Seo has played 13 events vs Ryann's 7.

While Ryann has only had 7 LPGA starts, she's also played 3 times on the LPGA Futures Tour. She has one win and another Top 10, with winnings of $20,336.00. That puts her at #18 on their money list. Jennifer Johnson has 4 starts; she's #14 with $23,535.00, and Tiffany Joh is #5 with $37,566.00. No other player above Ryann has less than 12 starts, and no player with only 3 starts is any higher than #91 -- Nannette Hill at $5,357.00.

And I don't think you can underestimate the advantage her appearance on GC's Big Break gave her. Participants talk about how that show is harder than any event because you sit for hours, then they say "You're up," all the cameras come on, and you have to make one shot that determines whether you make it to the next show or not. Players from the show who have made it to the Tour -- players like Kristy McPherson, James Nitties, and Tommy Gainey, to name a few -- have proven that they have the necessary toughness to survive, even if it takes them more than one try to succeed. And while Rosie didn't mention this specifically, she did point out that Ryann's performance under pressure when she needed to perform was what finally swayed her decision.

All of this is to say that Ryann O'Toole isn't the "wild pick" that so many commentators are making it out to be. It'll be fun to see just what she does at the Solheim Cup.

BTW, Ryann's average drive is 266 yards, putting her #4 on the LPGA and a mere 3 yards behind #1 Yani Tseng. I doubt that any of Ryann's critics -- male or female -- hit it that long. Maybe there's just a bit of jealousy involved...? Smiley

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Norwegian Wood (The Driver, That Is)

Suzann Pettersen is one of the longest drivers on the LPGA. Although Yani Tseng leads the pack, Suzann's less than 10 yards behind. She's 14th in the driving stats at about 261 yards and since she won the Safeway Classic this past week (her second LPGA win this year), I decided to take a look at her swing to show you how she does it.

First, here's the customary slo-mo swing footage I found at YouTube:



That's a very smooth and powerful swing, don't you think? Suzann is also a very good skier, and her athleticism makes her stand out among most of the women on the LPGA.

For obvious reasons, Suzann isn't one of the most accurate drivers on the Tour -- long hitters rarely are. She's ranked 82nd, but that's a little misleading since the best LPGA players hit over 84% of their fairways. Suzann hits over 69% -- still good enough to beat the 67% I hold up as a goal and also to make her 15th or 16th on the PGA Tour. (Bear in mind that none of the PGA players who would be ahead of her hits it even average length, while Suzann is one of the longest drivers on her Tour. John Merrick's bio page lists him at 298 yards, but the stats page puts him at 283. No matter how you cut it, Suzann is pretty impressive with a driver.)

How does she manage to be so accurate? It's because Suzann ignores a commonly-held belief about the swing -- she doesn't slide her hips forward on the downswing. You'll see this is true for most long hitters who are reasonably accurate. Here are a couple of frames taken from the video. I've added an identical line to both, showing the position of Suzann's lead knee and shoulder both at address and impact.

Suzann Pettersen hitting a driver

As you can see, her hips do move forward ever so slightly because her weight has shifted to her lead side. But most of the apparent "slide" is an illusion caused by her upper body moving away from the target at impact. Her hips have not crossed that line. You can check the video -- this is the most extreme part of her forward motion. And remember that this is with a driver. With most other clubs Suzann wouldn't be leaning backward this much. With them her lead shoulder would be much closer to the line.

Sliding your hips too much on the downswing causes you to lean backward, and that causes you to leave the clubface open and hit a slice. (A few of you would manage to flip the clubhead and hit a big hook.)

One of the keys to long straight drives is to keep your body -- all of it -- moving together through the swing. If you keep your lower body more centered beneath your upper body, the way it is when you throw a Frisbee or hit a tennis forehand, you'll find it much easier to hit the ball hard and still keep it in play.

Take it from Suzann. She's an athelete -- and #2 in the Rolex Rankings, btw -- so she ought to know.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Digging a Buried Ball Out of the Sand

There's more than one way to play a buried lie in a bunker. Michael Breed did an entire show on sand play Monday night on The Golf Fix... but he didn't show you this shot.

Some of you may have been lucky enough to see this shot played by a pro during a Tour event. I was lucky enough to find this demo by Canadian pro Shawn Clement. This video is nice because it also shows a regular greenside bunker shot and compares the differences between the two:



To summarize:
  • Use your 60-degree wedge.
  • Toe it in -- that is, turn the wedge in your hands so the toe of the club hits the sand first. You want the club to dig in.
  • Hit close behind the ball, but make sure there's some sand between the clubface and the ball. You want to hit the sand first, not the ball.
  • Don't swing as hard as a regular sand shot.
  • Land the shot closer to the sand trap than the hole. This is the opposite of a regular sand shot because the ball comes out low and will roll a lot more.
  • And make sure you realize that the ball will come out like a pulled shot -- to the left for a righthander, to the right for a lefthander. While Shawn didn't mention it, you can see it in the video. You may want to allow a little for this when you aim.
While the version Breed showed works most of the time -- he used a square clubface and hit just inside the little crater the ball made when it landed -- the ball can be buried so deeply that this is the best way to get it out. And if the sand is soft and fills that little crater in, this shot may be your only option.

Learn this shot and your golf buddies will think you're channeling Phil Mickelson... or at least that little gopher from Caddyshack. ;-)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Wyndham Championship

Winner: Webb Simpson

Around the wider world of golf: Fred Couples got his first Champions Tour major at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship; Suzann Pettersen came from 9 shots back to win the Safeway Classic on the LPGA; James Nitties got his first Nationwide Tour win at the Midwest Classic (way to go, Nitties!); Oliver Fisher got his first win at the Czech Open on the ET; Catriona Matthew won the Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open on the LET; and Chie Arimura won the CAT Ladies on the JLPGA.

Webb Simpson at the Wyndham Championship

Well, Tommy Gainey will just have to wait for another chance to get his two gloves around a trophy. Webb Simpson didn't intend to let anybody touch this one but him.

You can't really begrudge him the pleasure of being greedy. After all, he's already had two seconds this year -- one because he had to call one of those stupid "oscillating ball" penalties on himself -- and four other Top 10s. He was due.

Of course, that 6-under in 5 holes stretch on Saturday didn't hurt his cause. But he went deep crimson all week -- scores of 66 - 65 - 64 - 67 will usually get the job done, even when everybody else is going nuts on the course too. As it was, Webb managed a 3-shot margin of victory.

Perhaps more important, he moved up to #3 on the FedExCup points list. Granted, he was already well up in the list -- at #12, in case you're interested. But although we tend to laugh at the points list -- after all, it's going to be scrapped next week and new points assigned based on your position -- the fact remains that the $10M winner has come from the Top 5 on that list every time so far. I'm sure Webb is aware of that as well. (CORRECTION: That's changed -- points don't reset until the Tour Championship, but starting this week each event is worth 5 times as many points as the regular season events. My bad!)

Unlike Webb, who's dancing around whooping and hollering right about now, many players are dragging their weary butts home because they fell short of the magic 125 to make The Barclays this week. Camilo Villegas (125) and Ernie Els (126), the bubble boys last week, managed to squeak into the playoffs, as did Padraig Harrington (130) and William McGirt (127). But Matt Jones (122), David Mathis (123), and Cameron Beckman (124) will be crying in their beer for the next month since they failed to hold onto their precarious positions for one more measley week.

"Bummer for them," says the cheerful law firm of Villegas, Els, Harrington, and McGirt as they lift a few at the local tavern. "Bully for us." (Ok, that's not a direct quote. They're too civilized to say that. Doesn't mean they don't feel like it. But you didn't hear it here, so don't say you did. ;-)

And Tommy Gainey? Well, he's got at least a couple more chances this season to get his first win because he moved up from #40 to #30.

But our big winner was Webb Simpson, and so this week's Limerick Summary celebrates what he missed as much as what he gained:
This win was a bonus for Simpson.
He won't be some poor soul who limps on,
Just missing The Barclays
For four weeks of dark days—
'Cause scoring's not something Webb skimps on!
The photo came from the PGATOUR.com front page.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: The Caddie Who Won the Masters

Here's another of my occasional book reviews, and this one's unusual because it's a novel.

Although John Coyne's most recent novels have been golf-oriented (The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played With Hickory), some of you may may actually know him better as a horror novelist. One of his novels, The Legacy, was made into a movie back in the late 1970s.

Coyne book coverThe Caddie Who Won the Masters actually has some of the trappings of a supernatural novel, what with the ghosts of some legendary people from Masters history walking the course along with some of today's superstars... although the superstars are completely unaware of their spectral companions.

But an amateur who qualified for the Masters -- a caddie from the Midwest, Tim Alexander -- can see them. All of them. These legends have a problem and they need Alexander's help. And they have some advice for him as well -- not just advice about playing Augusta National, but advice that could save his wife's life...

I don't know exactly how to review a novel like this, since I don't want to give away too much. The blurb on the back of the book likens it to Field of Dreams, and that seems as good a description as any to give you an idea of what it's like.

And I can tell you that Coyne's a good writer. Perhaps it's his background writing genre horror, which has given him a lean narrative style that doesn't get bogged down in description or the sound of his own voice. Maybe it's his past experience as a caddie, which gives him an appreciation for the game that a lot of other people might not have.

But it's a very different sort of golf novel from anything you may have read before. If you're looking for a fun read, you might want to give it a look.

Click the pic to go to the paperback page at BN.com. It's also available as a NOOK book, and Amazon has a Kindle version.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

FedExterminated

It's time for many weary PGA Tour players to get some rest. They really need it. We know this to be true because they played like it this year.

Four weeks sounds about right.

Friday was cut day at the Wyndham Championship, the final event before the FedExCup playoffs. I don't have to tell you what that means -- the PGA Tour tells us about it virtually every day! Some of the players who missed the cut won't be making it into the playoffs.

In fact, some of the players who did make the cut won't be making the playoffs. For example, Padraig Harrington made the cut right on the number (-3) but he's currently projected to finish 3 places worse than he was when the week started.

That's not good... at least, not for Padraig. I'm sure several other players are quietly celebrating his misfortune, although they probably feel bad for doing so. But if they successfully make it into the playoffs, I suppose they'll learn to live with it.

As usual, a few players seem to be getting it together. Take Camilo Villegas and Ernie Els, the bubble boys (125 and 126, respectively) for example. Both are in the Top 20 and look good to prolong their season for at least one more week.

Even Paul Casey, who's at 147 in the points race, still has hope. He's tied for 6th place, although he's gonna need to make up some serious ground. He's currently 62 points away from the 125 spot, and I don't know how many points he can make up without a win. (A win is worth a few hundred points.) Actually, I'm surprised he's still in the running, what with that "turf toe" problem.

I looked up "turf toe" -- let's face it, the commentators haven't been very clear about what it is -- and this is painful stuff. Basically, it's when your big toe gets bent upward so bad that it strains the ligaments under the toe holding all the bones together. If it's not treated properly, it can result in permanent problems with arthritis, which will further mess up your foot and lower leg by changing the way you walk.

It's nasty stuff. I think I would have just called it a year, but it looks like Paul wants to play for a few more weeks. Still, it's ironic that the average time for a properly-treated turf toe to heal is about four weeks...

Makes you think, doesn't it? Sunday I guess we'll see which ends first, Paul's season or his turf toe.

I bet some of those other guys wish they could blame turf toe for their seasons.

Welcome to the FedExCup playoffs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Two-Fisted -Gloved Swing

The Wyndham Championship is almost in my backyard -- Greensboro is just 30 minutes or so away -- and Tommy "Two-Gloves" Gainey is tied for the lead after the first round. Seems like a good time to take a look at one of the most... "unique" swings on Tour.

I've been a fan of Tommy since his first appearance on Big Break. He describes his swing simply as ugly, but it's one of the most beautiful ugly swings I've ever seen! It repeats better than a lot of the textbook swings out there, and I consider that a prime requisite of a good swing. Tommy followed one of my beliefs about good swings -- you've got to build them around moves that are natural to you.

Tommy's swing is built around his old baseball swing. Let's take a quick look at it. First, face on, complete with commentary by Peter Kostis:



And then a look down-the-line:



Tommy bends over more than most players, but he stays in that position from setup until that ball is out of the park. (You don't want to be motionless in a good swing, but you need to be stable. If you're stable, you're balanced. You'll hit the ball more solidly that way.) This is more than just not swaying away from the target; he also keeps his height. Look at how steady the back of his neck is. This is where your stability during a swing really shows up -- it shouldn't move up and down during the swing. The second video shows this clearly.

He gets a good one-piece takeaway, which means he turns his shoulders early in the backswing. That gets him in a good position to hit the ball. (Remember: Good things happen when you turn your shoulders early in the backswing.)

Of course there's a lot of "unconventional" movement also. For example, I don't guess there's anybody who moves their legs quite the way Tommy does. That's a baseball player going for a low pitch if I've ever seen one! But that's what happens when you tailor a swing to your own moves. Don't forget that, for all the grief Lee Trevino took about his homebuilt swing, few if any of his critics ever matched his 6 majors; now players go to him for lessons because they know he could score. Likewise, both Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan's swings were considered a bit "funky" until they started dominating their opponents.

Ultimately, success becomes the arbiter of convention. (That just means that successful people are the ones everybody wants to copy.) And who knows? Maybe someday Tommy Gainey's swing will be considered a standard way to swing...

Ok, probably not. But Tommy continues to improve, and I wouldn't bet against Two-Gloves to win a few before it's all over -- maybe even this week at Greensboro.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And Now, Sam Snead's Version

Yesterday I focused on that little forward move that Jason Dufner uses to start his backswing. Today I want you to see how one of the legends used it -- the great Sam Snead. This video is short but very informative.

You may need to turn the volume up -- this is an old video:



I like this video because it gives you a different view than the Dufner video from yesterday. You can imagine this as a rocking motion -- you shift your weight ever so slightly from your trailing foot to your lead foot, then rock back as you start your backswing from there. It eliminates the stiffness you feel after standing motionless -- even for just a moment -- over the ball before you start to swing.

Note also that Sam isn't making a huge move. It's just enough to get his body in motion. The second part of the video, on rhythm, focuses on that aspect of the move.

This video also helps you understand why I called it a "syrupy" motion yesterday. Sam calls it an "oily" move. Whatever you call it, it can help you make a smoother swing... and that can help you be more accurate and powerful. They didn't call him "Slammin' Sam" for nothing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Dufner Way

Surprise -- it's not Keegan Bradley's swing! Keegan's been analyzed to death over the last couple of days, but Jason Dufner -- who actually hit more fairways and greens than Keegan -- has received very little attention apart from his waggle. That's a shame, since Jason is not tall like Keegan -- at a more common 5' 10", I suspect his swing would help a lot more people.

To make matters worse, there's very little footage on YouTube of his swing. I found only 3 down-the-line videos.

But I think you can learn something very important from Jason... and I was fortunate enough to find a clip that shows it. Here it is:



It's no secret that Jason is self-taught and a self-confessed Hogan disciple. He's got that waggle and relatively flat plane Hogan had. (Actually, I think I'd call it a neutral plane since his left forearm is exactly shoulder height. You can see that clearly in the video.) It's an extremely simple swing -- that's part of the reason he's so accurate with it -- and for those of you who worry about such things, he doesn't have a great deal of separation in his downswing. That's a term that describes how much sooner his hips start the downswing before his shoulders start down. It's barely noticeable with the driver and not noticeable at all with an iron. Personally, I think that's a good goal for those of you who are trying to increase that separation -- keep it minimal and you'll be more accurate.

But there's something Jason Dufner does when he starts his backswing that many of you might find useful. You'll find it just past the 00:16 mark. I don't know if some of the analysts have considered it part of his waggle, but it deserves some "air time" on its own.

After he waggles, Jason starts his backswing by quickly moving his right knee toward the target. (That would be the left knee for you lefties out there.) I'd describe the motion as a kick-in move. Some of you may be familiar with a motion called a "forward press" that many putting teachers like Dave Stockton teach their putting students, where they move their hands slightly toward the target before starting back. It helps a player ease into the stroke.

Jason is using a big version of that. He kicks his right knee slightly toward the target, and the slight "rebound" he gets from it helps him start his backswing more smoothly.

For those of you who have trouble starting your backswing, this is a wonderfully simple way to get you moving. It's sort of like a tennis player rocking from one foot to the other while waiting for the serve, or a basketball player preparing to move either way if his opponent tries to put a move on him.

Between the waggle (to relax his hands, wrists, and forearms) and this kick-in move (to get his lower body relaxed), Jason is able to start his swing with a syrupy motion that doesn't move him off the ball or throw him off balance. It's a useful motion to incorporate into your swing, especially if you tend to tense up before hitting a pressure shot.

It certainly worked well for Jason Dufner. For a guy who's never won more than a Nationwide tournament, his swing held up under major pressure pretty well... about $865k worth of "pretty well," in fact. That works for me!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paddy Speaks

In case you missed it, Padraig Harrington did a phone interview on Morning Drive Monday morning. I think Paddy always says something interesting when he talks to the media, and he had a couple of observations that were interesting enough that I wanted to pass them along.

Padraig Harrington photoThe first concerned his remark that Rory McIlroy would surpass Jack's major record. Paddy said that he was actually misquoted, and he went into some detail about what he meant. Although it was mentioned to Rory during a U.S. Open presser (remember Rory's humorous "Oh Paddy, Paddy, Paddy..." reaction?), Paddy said he actually said it at the Masters and that he didn't say Rory would break Jack's mark. Rather, he said Rory had both the talent and the time to beat Jack's mark.

And Paddy said the time aspect was the most important. Jack had 25 years -- 100 majors -- in which to build his record. Even Tiger, who had started winning early and dominated for 12 years, had only been able to amass 14 majors. The fact that Rory was playing so well so early gave him the best chance to chase down Jack... and he added that he thought Keegan Bradley had the same chance. While Keegan has slipped under the radar with casual golf fans, Paddy said the Tour pros had noticed his talent early on.

The other comment concerned the state of Tiger's game. Since he had played the first two days of the PGA with Tiger, he was asked where he thought the Big Cat's game was. I thought this was particularly interesting, given that Paddy is such a technician himself, and perhaps it will give some of you encouragement about your own games.

Paddy believes that Tiger has confidence issues -- not with his swing so much as his knee. This makes good sense to me -- although it's held up so far, it takes time to rebuild trust in it and swing without fearing that it's going to give out again. But I got the impression that Paddy feels that's not the biggest issue.

Instead, Paddy believes Tiger is having troubles with perfectionism. If anybody would know, it would be Mr. Tinkerer. Paddy's comment really caught my attention because while most critics are attacking Tiger's mechanics, Paddy believes that any other player with Tiger's game as it is right now would be winning! That's something worth remembering next time you get too bummed out over the state of your game.

Padraig Harrington is a pretty smart guy. (Well, except for tinkering with his swing after winning 3 majors.) It should be fun to see him at the Wyndham this week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 PGA Championship

Winner: Keegan Bradley

Around the wider world of golf: Danielle Kang won the U.S. Women's Amateur over Moriya Jutanugarn and became the first woman to successfully defend her title in 15 years; Steve Friesen won the Price Cutter Charity Championship on the Nationwide Tour; Sun-Ju Ahn won the NEC Karuizawa 72 on the JLPGA; and Mo Martin won the Eagle Classic on the LPGA Futures Tour.

Keegan Bradley with the Wannamaker Trophy

Alas, the Chubby Slam is not to be, as an American finally broke the U.S. winless streak in majors. But Keegan Bradley is Irish-American, so I guess everybody's happy.

I know his aunt Pat Bradley is. She joined GC's Live from the PGA Championship by phone, and you could hear her ringing her bell loud and clear. (On the outside chance you missed it, Pat's family used to ring a bell after every one of Pat's LPGA wins. That tradition has been revived for her nephew.)

This is Keegan's second "belling" this year, the first coming after his win at the Byron Nelson. Keegan is only a rookie, but he now has two wins (one a major, of course), has likely locked up the Rookie of the Year award, and is definitely in the running for the Player of the Year award. He jumps from 107 to 29 in the OWGR. I'd be surprised if he hasn't found his way onto Fred Couples's Presidents Cup list as well.

In addition, he becomes only the third man to win in his first major appearance -- the first two being Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open Championship and Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open -- and the first player to win a major while using a belly putter. (I'm sure that last one is really important to him.)

Unfortunately, Keegan will probably give little attention to his sudden rise in the Ruthless Golf World Rankings -- he's now #5. Since Martin Kaymer lost his major this week, dropping his total wins to 3 (none of which happened since January), he drops down in the rankings. Jhonattan Vegas suffered the same fate earlier in the year, as his 3 wins are also too old to count more than a recent major and another recent win... or even just a recent major. Keegan leapfrogged over Rory McIlroy, who was previously #6 but had only the single major. (Rory tweeted a "welcome to the club" message to Keegan, in case you didn't hear. Ah, they're a friendly bunch, those young guns... especially when they're both Irish, right? Smiley I told you everybody was happy!)

Everybody will be talking -- and rightfully so -- about Keegan's guts and perseverance and character and approachability, but I for one am glad to see that both he and Jason Dufner (who I suspect will use this as a springboard to his first win very soon) successfully proved that hitting fairways and greens is a basic golf skill. Perhaps more players -- especially all those who lost because they simply couldn't hit the dang ball straight -- will decide to acquire these useful skills. When two players with such different driving distances end up beating the best in the world just by putting their shots in the short grass, it ought to be a lesson for everybody.

In the meantime, let me send out this Limerick Summary to the newest major champion. Feel free to ring 'em if you got 'em:
On a course where so many played badly
For a major they wanted so madly,
Keegan couldn't be cowed.
Aunt Pat sure is proud
As again the bell rings for a Bradley!
The photo came from the PGA.com photo gallery.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Up for Grabs

This major leaderboard isn't what anyone expected... at least, not for the final day. Thursdays and Fridays are a different matter, aren't they? But perhaps these players aren't such a surprise after all.

Granted, two of the leaders are rookies and this is their first major. (That in itself is unusual, given how many amateurs get invites to majors these days.) But both Brendan Steele (-7) and Keegan Bradley (-6) have won on Tour this year -- Steele at the Valero Texas Open, Bradley at the Byron Nelson. If either of them wins today, he will probably win Rookie of the Year as well. (Assuming Charl Schwartzel doesn't win something big in the remaining tournaments. Technically he's a rookie too -- a rookie with a Masters under his belt.)

Neither is it fair to say that either is unprepared for this test. While it's pretty well known that Bradley is the nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley -- a winner of 6 majors herself -- both he and Steele are being mentored by Phil Mickelson. Likewise, co-leader Jason Dufner (-7) may not have won on Tour yet, but Vijay Singh has been mentoring him. These three "unknowns" are better prepared for this stage than many more experienced players.

Scott Verplank (-5) and Steve Stricker (-4) may not have won majors, but both have won numerous times and are used to Ryder Cup pressure. I suspect they'll do ok, don't you?

And Anders Hansen and D.A. Points, the guys at -3,  both have wins on the Euro and PGA Tours, respectively. They at least know what it's like to face the pressure of winning.

I won't go any lower on the leaderboard than that. The guys at -2 and below could win if they get hot and post another of the 64s we've already seen this week. They may be at least 5 off the lead, but there are only 7 players ahead of them -- certainly not too many to fall victim to the final 4 holes. After all, that stretch is the reason so many of those name players aren't in the lead anymore.

And bear in mind that the Rees Jones redesign of the course clearly doesn't favor one type of player over another. As long as you can control your ball reasonably well (Rees-onably well?), you can win at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

With that in mind, I thought I'd give you a quick look at how the leaders have played holes 15-18 over the last 3 days. Perhaps this will give you some idea who's got the upper hand.
  • Brendan Steele -- E , E , +1 (total +1)
  • Jason Dufner -- -1 , E , -2 (total -3)
  • Keegan Bradley -- E , E , E (total E)
  • Scott Verplank -- +1 , +1 , -2 (total E)
  • Steve Stricker -- -2 , +1 , E (total -1)
  • Anders Hansen -- -1 , +1 , E (total E)
  • D.A. Points -- +1 , +1 , E (total +2)
As you can see from the bold type, Jason Dufner has far and away played this stretch the best. If it comes down to the final 4 holes, my money's on Dufner.

Of course, nothing's for sure on the last day of a major. But it's probably a safe bet that we'll see our 7th consecutive first-time major winner today... and quite possibly the first American winner since Phil Mickelson. The 2011 PGA Championship is definitely up for grabs -- a fitting final major for this topsy-turvy year of golf.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Note to Self: Bunkers Are Hazards

According to The Rules of Golf, published by the USGA and the R&A, a bunker is a hazard. For those of you who are new to the game, hazards are NOT where you want to be.

Apparently nobody explained this to the players at the PGA Championship. Bunkers are an undesirable place to go... yet everybody seemed to be attracted to them on Friday!

On Thursday -- and even most of Friday -- the short knockers dominated the leaderboard. They did it largely by avoiding the bunkers. If you land in the rough, especially the first cut, there's a possibility that your ball will sit up. You don't get that advantage in the bunkers. The AAC guys had quicksand brought in just for this tournament. (They called it "special sand," but we know what it is when your ball just rolls into the bunker and immediately sinks down an inch. Two caddies have inexplicably gone missing already!)

One of the co-leaders, Jason Dufner, hit every fairway and every green in the first two rounds. The other, Keegan Bradley (unusual on this leaderboard because he can launch his ball 300 yards), also seems to understand this principle. While he's only hit about 60% of his fairways, I only know of him being in one bunker Friday -- on the ninth hole -- and he seems to have learned this great lesson in just his first major. Why, here he is now!

Bradley from a bunker on #9

Short and crooked won't get it done -- at least, not at the Atlanta Athletic Club. But it looks like long and crooked isn't much good either. If you made the cut there this week and happen to be reading this, here's a quick tip that will stand you in good stead this weekend:

Bunkers are hazards, fairways are not.
Hazards are bad, fairways are good.
Avoid hazards, hit fairways.

Trust me, this advice is gold. And anybody who made the cut -- and follows this advice -- has a decent chance to win this major.

Oh, and for any of you weekend golfers out there who are reading this... it's good advice for you as well. Smiley

The photo came from the seattlepi.com site.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stricks and His Sticks

Sure, everybody will be talking about Tiger and Ryo's implosions, as well as Rory's unbelievable decision to hit a full-power shot near a tree root. Here's my quick take on each, then I'll get on to the important stuff!
  • I don't agree with Brandel Chamblee that Tiger's screwed for a long time. Tiger said his swing worked when he focused on what he called "mechanical" thoughts, so he'll just have to do that for a while until he works off the rust.
  • The general word is that Ryo just overpracticed for this major. He's young, he'll learn.
  • And in case you haven't heard, Rory strained a tendon in his right wrist and arm -- he's lucky it isn't more serious. By the time you read this, you'll probably know if he felt like playing Friday. I'm guessing he will.
Ok, now to the real story of the day, Steve Stricker.

Stricker's on top

Actually, the story is three guys -- Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, and Scott Verplank. Stricks leads at -7, Kelly's second at -5, and Verplank's fourth at -3. This on a day when no one expected scores lower than -2 or -3... and none of those scores from short knockers. (By comparison, our three heroes have driving distances of 288, 275, and 277 yards, respectively.)

Instead, Stricker had no bogeys while the other guys had one each. Stricker had 3 birdies in a row while Kelly had 4 in a row. And that wild 4-hole stretch from 15 to 18 that's supposed to kill everybody? Verplank was +1, Kelly was E, and Stricker was -2. (By comparison, Tiger was +5 and Ryo was +8 for that stretch.) In fact, Stricker twice had putts to set a new major scoring record of -8... and he didn't even realize it.

Are these young guns? Nope -- Stricks and Kelly are 44, Verplank's 47.

Now this is where the story gets interesting. Jerry Kelly said in his post-round interview that the three of them had played together early in the week and come to an interesting conclusion: The 7500-yard course could be had without overpowering it! Sounds entirely different from what the experts have been saying, doesn't it?

But apparently they were right. And their game plan? Stricker summed it up: "My goal was just to put it in the fairway. You can't score here from the rough or the bunkers."

Wow. Incredibly simple, isn't it?

I know I beat some things to death on this blog, but it's because we still don't understand that it's the simplest of fundamentals and strategies that help us score low. Here we are, at one of the toughest courses of the year -- in fact, that 4-hole finishing stretch is playing as the toughest 4-hole stretch on Tour all year -- and 3 guys who don't hit it all that far are in the top 4 just because they focused on hitting the fairway, so they would have good lies from which to attack the greens.

Don't overlook the basics when trying to improve your game. You might be surprised what you can do.
 
The photo was on the PGATOUR.com homepage on Thursday night.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lee Westwood on Iron Play

Since Lee Westwood's name is on almost everybody's short list of likely winners at the PGA Championship starting today, I thought this tip he did for UPS on iron play would be appropriate. The info he gives is useful on its own, but I want to focus on something you can see near the end of the video. First, here's the tip:



Pay attention to the unusual low front camera angle at the end of the clip. This leg work is a big part of the reason Lee is so good from tee to green.

Although Lee's left knee bends quite a bit during his backswing, can you see how his right leg stays pretty steady? His right knee stays flexed -- it doesn't straighten out, which is a real problem for some people. This helps him stay steady over the ball during his swing, so he's more consistent in bringing the club back into contact with the ball. Consistent solid contact is the big key to both distance and accuracy.

But mainly I'd like you to look at his left foot. It stays pretty much flat on the ground throughout his backswing until he starts down. I know many of you aren't flexible enough to do this, and that's ok because that's not what I want you to notice. Smiley Rather, I want you to see that little "jump" his heel makes as he starts down, right about the 1:15 mark. That's how he starts his downswing, NOT by shifting his hips too far forward the way some of you have been taught to do!

Don't get me wrong -- your hips will move toward the target a little bit. Let me stress that -- A LITTLE BIT. This move happens naturally, but if you purposely move them too much you'll start leaning away from the ball on the downswing. That will cause you to do bad things like leave the clubface open and hit the ball fat.

Note also that Lee doesn't lift that heel slowly throughout his backswing. It really does look like a little jump, right at the last moment as he starts his downswing. There's nothing wrong with a more prolonged heel lift -- Tom Watson is someone who does it really well -- but I want you to know that there's more than one way to use a heel lift during your swing. Tom uses it to lengthen and smooth out his swing while Lee uses it as a trigger to start his downswing.

Lee's method isn't something that's obvious when you see him swing at full speed, but you might find it to be a useful technique if you're struggling to calm down an overactive lower body.

And don't forget, the TV coverage is on TNT from 1pm-7pm Eastern Time today. Lee tees off at 1:55, so he should be one of the featured players during the telecast.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ruthless Golf Picks for the PGA

"Glory's Last Shot" is upon us. (Gosh, that sounds silly even to me. But maybe I've just heard it too often. There is certainly some truth to the old adage that "familiarity breeds contempt.") And so it's time for me to pick the winners in this week's last major.

And of course we know I'll be right because they always listen to me. ;-)

I've put together a list of five players that I think have the best chance of winning this week. And many of you will be pleasantly surprised that I haven't picked Luke Donald this time. I expect him to win a major soon, but I think the PGA is the least likely major to be his first. (Which probably means it will be... because, as we all know, they always listen to me.)

Anyway, here are my five picks:
  • I still believe the PGA is the best chance for Lee Westwood to win his first major. He's a bit of a wild card for me this week, however; I'm not certain how quickly he'll develop some consistency with the new putting mindset he's developed by working with the Stocktons and Bob Rotella. For that reason I can't make him my main choice.
  • I like how Ryo Ishikawa has been playing lately. He got his best finish ever in America last week and I believe he just might carry that good form over to this week.
  • Adam Scott wouldn't have made my list if he hadn't won last week; I simply hadn't expected him and Steve Williams to get their act together so quickly. (Just look at the learning curve Dustin Johnson and Joe Lacava have gone through; I thought they'd be winning by now for sure.) But although it's hard to win two weeks in a row, I really like the swagger I'm seeing in Adam's step right now.
  • I have Sergio Garcia as a dark horse. I know he seems to be as far off form as Adam is on, but I think that's the kind of situation Sergio needs right now to give him a chance at a major. Early reports are that the new greens at Atlanta Athletic Club are fast but not particularly tricky; that may work well for him.
  • And my favorite -- actually picked about a week ago -- is Jason Day. Since the Masters he's played 9 events; he's only been out of the Top 10 three times. He's overdue to win again and with such good showings at the majors this year I can't help but think he'll rise to this occasion as well.
So there you have it. Jason Day is going to break the Australian drought in majors. (Now if he could just find a way to break that other drought the country's going through...)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Steve and Tiger Split

Steve Williams may have filled in the blanks in this ongoing story for us with his post-game interviews Sunday. In fact, I thought they explained some of the more interesting events in the timeline very well. Today -- and I promise this will be the last of these posts -- I thought I'd share what I think happened between the two.

I admit this post is speculation, but everything dovetails so well that I think my conclusions are close to the truth. And please note that I'm not saying one side or the other is "right"; rather, I think it's pretty clear that there were ample opportunities for both sides to jump the shark.

Last week I said the breakup was probably caused by personal rather than professional differences. Steve's comments clearly backed up that idea and even fleshed it out a bit. It makes sense that his barbs would have been aimed specifically at problems he had experienced with Tiger, don't you think? So let's take a quick look at those specifics.

I wrote last week about Steve telling Tiger early on that he would need to earn back his respect, and Tiger perhaps feeling that the relationship had changed irreparably sometime after that. How would this have shown up? Presumably, Steve's role in Tiger's game would have been increasingly minimized as the communication lines shut down. Remember Steve's remark that caddies, coaches, and players usually work together to improve a player's game? He said he had enjoyed having input about what Adam was practicing. The most logical conclusion is that he had at one time had that kind of input about Tiger's game but that it had stopped.

Before you write that off as overblown, think about how many times you saw Tiger on the range with Steve watching or helping him with drills (like holding a club next to his head so Tiger could tell how much he was moving). Players talk about their caddies serving as a second pair of eyes, and the caddie's observations would definitely influence what a player decides to practice. Clearly Steve was no longer serving in that role and it was frustrating him -- especially when he saw Tiger struggling and probably thought he knew what the problem was.

BTW, this would also explain the "talk" Steve had with Adam about expecting a commitment to improvement from him if Steve took up his bag. Clearly Steve thought he could help Adam get better and didn't want to be cut out of the loop again.

I think all the "me-me-me" talk during the interviews came from this frustration. If Steve felt Tiger was treating him as merely the bag carrier when he felt he was playing a much bigger part, it makes sense that he would focus on finally being allowed to do what he knows how to do. Rory McIlroy was asked about Steve's comments on Morning Drive Monday, and he remarked that -- much as with Rory's "Twitter-war" with Jay Townsend -- in the heat of the moment you say things you meant but you phrase them in ways you wouldn't have if you had more time to think about them.

And maybe some of it came from Steve wanting to prove to Adam that he really could help him. In his interviews he said it was important that, when your man had his first chance to win, that you found a way to get him across the line. It's been a long time since Steve has been in that position. He also said he believed in destiny and that after watching Adam hit it well on the range, he had no doubt that Adam was going to win. Having succeeded in getting that win, I don't doubt that it did feel awfully good to him... even if he went a bit overboard in celebrating it.

Can Steve really make a difference when he's on your bag? In the wake of Steve's comments there's been some debate about this. But I think it's fair to say he certainly does make a difference. Even Tiger was capable of naming specific times when Steve made calls that saved him shots, and even I can think of one time Steve helped Adam during Sunday's round -- I believe it was on the par-3 12th, although it might have been the second shot into 14. Adam was lining up the shot; Steve walked over with the bag and said something; Adam changed clubs, then knocked the ball pin high just off the green and put it in for birdie. A wrong club there surely would have resulted in at least a 20- to 30-foot putt and a likely par, so that one call probably saved Adam a stroke. It was precisely the kind of distance call Adam had credited Steve with all week.

In that post last week I wrote:
We're pretty sure that Tiger originally gave Steve permission to caddie for Adam Scott, then changed his mind but Steve refused to go back on his word to Adam. We know Tiger told Steve in person that he was fired after the AT&T and that, whether you believe it was a "good talk" or not, Tiger said they both said some tough things "that needed to be said."
But Steve's comments Sunday indicate that Tiger actually "fired" Steve over the phone, apparently when Steve asked him about caddying for Adam. (I believe Steve has said that he had already flown in from New Zealand to caddy for Tiger, unaware that he wasn't going to play the U.S. Open. If so, it's clear the two were already having communication problems.)

I think too much is being made of this, as some are saying that Steve is calling Tiger a liar. I put "fired" in quotes because Steve's actual words were that Tiger said "Maybe it's time for a change" over the phone, which could be taken as a not-so-veiled threat that he would fire Steve if he caddied for Adam. That was the last straw for Steve, who of course did caddie for Adam... and then the actual firing happened in person. And no, I'm not sure we'll ever get that clarified.

But something more may have been at work here.

Last week on Morning Drive Erik Kuselius asked Annika Sorenstam about the ethics of looking for a new caddie when that caddie already works for someone else. Annika made two interesting comments -- one, that the good caddies are already working for someone else and if you want one you have to take them from someone else; and two, that caddies are always looking for greener pastures. She was talking about Tiger's search for a new caddie, but it might have affected Tiger's reaction to Steve wanting to caddie for Adam during the U.S. Open.

Some caddies clearly work with one player but loop for other players when their player takes a week off -- one example is Fluff Cowan, who loops for both Peter Jacobson and Jim Furyk. Steve probably pursued that line of thinking when he asked about looping one time for Adam. But I suspect Tiger, who was clearly already having personal difficulties with Steve, assumed Steve was looking for another bag and that Adam -- who had recently dropped Tony Navarro and had no regular caddie -- was trying to woo him away. And let's face it -- Tiger's a control freak, so the idea of "lending" his caddie for a week never entered his mind.

So, very briefly, here's what I think happened:
  1. The wreck, which I once nicknamed Tailgate, sets off the series of events. Tiger vanishes as more sordid info comes out, and Steve (along with the rest of Tiger's team) is considered guilty by association. This begins the strain on Steve's end.
  2. Tiger finally makes "the confession," which satisfies nobody, and the bad news continues to grow. Steve says nothing; this is SOP in Tiger's camp, after all.
  3. At some point, when they start working together again, Steve tells Tiger he'll have to work to regain his respect. I suspect his and his wife's friendship with Elin complicates this -- how does he deal with both Tiger and Elin fairly? The real problems between Tiger and Steve probably begin here.
  4. Tiger's game falls apart. Hank Haney leaves. Tiger withdraws even more, and Steve in increasingly left out of the loop.
  5. Tiger's game hits bottom. Steve isn't getting to caddie and his input becomes less important as Sean Foley enters the picture. The relationship between the two gets worse.
  6. Tiger's injuries take him out of competition, and now Steve doesn't even get to caddie -- which we know Steve really enjoys.
  7. The communication gets so bad that Tiger doesn't even tell Steve not to come over for the U.S. Open. Steve doesn't find out Tiger isn't playing until he's already here. Adam Scott has no caddie and asks Steve if he'd like to do a one-time gig since he's already here.
  8. And now the whole thing comes to a head over a simple misunderstanding: Steve just wants to caddie for a week, but Tiger thinks he's ready to leave... and their relationship has gotten so bad that their dominating partnership ends with a whimper. And, in typical fashion, the employer simply sees it as cutting his losses while the employee takes it personally.
I don't think either meant things to go this way. Neither had it out for the other. But it looks as if a very successful partnership ended basically because the two stopped talking to each other.

Having said that, this won't be the end for either player. In time Tiger will return to form, get a new caddie, and start winning again. And yes, I suspect Tiger will break Jack's record -- he only needs 5 more majors. And while I know that sounds like a lot, remember that Jack didn't win his 15th until he was 38 and that he pretty much shut things down just after he turned 40 to focus on family and business.

And if Adam and Steve stay together, I think it transforms Adam's career. For the first time I can remember, Adam Scott actually has some swagger! Between his golf swing and Steve's knowledge and toughness -- whether you like him or not, he's arguably the best caddie in the game right now -- I can realistically see Adam now finishing his career with 4 to 6 majors. He's only 31, you know; Phil picked up 4 majors between 33 and 40, and could have picked up at least one more if he hadn't hit that driver off 18 at the 2006 U.S. Open.

To me, there lies the true irony of the situation. As bad as this breakup is, it could eventually give us two superstar golfers where before we had one. And that would definitely be good for the game... and for us fans.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 WGC—Bridgestone Invitational

Winner: Adam Scott

Around the wider world of golf: Shanshan Feng won the Meiji Chocolate Cup (sounds delicious!) on the JLPGA; the Pennsylvania Classic on the LPGA Futures Tour suspended play until early Monday morning, but at the time of this writing Cathryn Bristow is 3 shots ahead after 2 rounds; Suzann Pettersen won the Ladies Irish Open on the LET; Jay Haas won the 3M Championship on the Champions Tour, his first win in a couple of years; J.J. Killeen won the Cox Classic on the Nationwide Tour, his first win since last week; and Scott Piercy became the Tour's 11th first-time winner this year at the Reno-Tahoe Open, the PGA Tour's alternate-field event.

Adam Scott, the actual winner of the WGC-Bridgestone
"Stevie is unavailable to pose with his trophy, as he's doing post-tournament interviews in the media center. He said I could do the honors."

Well, you can be forgiven for believing the real tournament this week was between Steve Williams and Tiger Woods. (BTW, that score is now SW-1, TW-0.) Devil Ball posted a video of Steve's post-round interview, which clearly sounds like the battle was between him and Tiger. (Did anybody notice how much it sounded like one of Tiger's "I only play to win" speeches? I doubt that was an accident. And I love it when Steve calls himself "a good frontrunner." Twice. It's interesting to me that Adam also used that phrase when talking to Steve Sands.) And while I agree there's clearly some bitterness there -- which I think backs up my contention that Tiger and Steve split because of personal issues, not professional ones -- I'm not so sure this is the bad turn of events that most of the media will probably make it out to be.

Intentional or not, Steve Williams may have just made it easier for Adam Scott to slip into next week's major under the radar -- no small feat when you've just won a WGC event. Winning any event, let along a big one, is hard enough... and following it up with another win is even harder. Perhaps the rarest of all birds is following up a big win with a major the very next week! But now all the talk will be about Steve Williams and his not-so-private battle with Tiger, rather than about the chances of Adam Scott pulling off the rarest of doubles.

Will the media firestorm be a distraction to Adam? I seriously doubt it. Look at how he's handled the last 3 months of gossip over how he "acquired" his new caddie; all it seems to have done is make Adam more focused. And if we've learned anything about Steve Williams, it's that he can deal with distractions and pressure. He'll deflect anything he thinks will sidetrack Adam's march toward a major... even if that something is himself.

Oh yes. Let's not forget that all the new team did in the midst of this media attention was march to a decisive 4-shot victory over a really tough field. I'd almost think they're thriving on the controversy. Adam seems to be picking up some of Steve's confidence and swagger -- he certainly sounded that way in the pressers I heard -- and I won't be surprised if Steve starts picking up some of Adam's quiet strength and class. Steve's spent a decade working with golf's most domineering attitude; I'm sure that's made him a bit quick on the trigger when he feels slighted.

(And in fairness to Steve, in later interviews he specifically mentioned how well the fans had treated him, and how satisfying it was to get this win after the hard times in the last two years, that contributed to his comment that this was his best win ever. We also found out that while Tiger may have talked to Steve at the AT&T, he sacked Steve by phone. Perhaps after all these years Tiger has finally gotten a rival... but it's a caddie!)

Did Adam expect this little outburst from Steve? I doubt it... but he's probably not particularly surprised either. Bear in mind that these two have been friends for a long time, and I'd be surprised if Adam doesn't know more about what went on between Steve and Tiger than we do. I expect Adam will talk to Steve about it, although I doubt Adam will be as negative as most of us would be. Adam just had one of the biggest wins of his life, and he's aware that the rift between Steve and Tiger makes their success even more important to Steve right now. But Adam also knows that Steve isn't helping him just as a way to get back at Tiger. Lest we forget, Adam was pretty messed up for a while after he broke up with his girlfriend. It was only the help of friends like Greg Norman that helped him get back on track. Steve needs that help right now, and I suspect Adam will take that into account.

Unlike most people, I believe Steve Williams truly meant it when he said this win with Adam was the most satisfying of his career. This one was personal, people -- and Adam understands that too. But I doubt that Adam will need much of an apology -- to paraphrase an old saying, the Gary Player Cup covers a multitude of sins.

A late addition to this post: In fact, Adam did address Steve's comments in a later press conference... and spent much of the time laughing about them. When asked how it felt to have his caddie receive more cheers than him coming down the 18th, Adam joked that he, an Australian, had no idea New Zealanders could be so popular. (If you don't know about the mostly friendly rivalry that the two countries share, you've missed a lot of humor.) But perhaps most revealing was that Steve made the "most satisfying win" remark to Adam before they ever left the 18th green... and Adam told the media, "That was kind of him to say. It's part of why he's so good for me." So I guess he wasn't so surprised after all... nor all that disappointed.

I know Tiger likes to win but perhaps he should take the advice of the Dread Pirate Roberts (aka the farm boy Wesley) from The Princess Bride: "Learn to live with disappointment."

This week's Limerick Summary salutes the two new frontrunners at the WGC-Bridgestone -- the one who won the cup and the one who skinned the Cat:
So Steve Williams was just a bit catty;
Nonetheless, Adam's win was quite natty.
As Scott plays with more sass
And more victories amass,
I bet Steve will be much less chatty.
The photo came from this post at europeantour.com.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pitching Over a Bunker

It's been a week since I've posted a playing tip of some kind, so I figured I better get my act together!

While looking for something I haven't tackled before, I realized I haven't done a post about playing short shots over hazards -- something which most of us end up doing far more often than we'd like. Either we mis-club and leave the ball short of our target or we mis-hit the shot and send it too far to the left or right of the green.

And then we compound the error by mis-hitting our recovery shot right into the hazard instead of over it!

The true irony here is that this is actually an easier shot than most of the trouble shots we face. Unless we've hit it into a really funky lie, this shot takes no special skill to hit it well. In today's video that's the situation we're in -- we've got a decent lie. The problem is that yawning bunker (in the video I've chosen) or that brackish water hazard sitting in front of us, and that's a mental problem.

This video is by an instructor whose expertise I've tapped frequently -- Denis Pugh. His approach to playing this shot is so simple that I'm amazed more teachers don't use it:



The technique for hitting the ball over trouble is exactly the same for hitting any other shot -- you want to hit down on the ball. The problem is that you want to "help" the ball get over the trouble, so you flip your wrists as you hit the ball. That causes you to hit it thin and skull it right into the trouble.

The solution Denis suggests is that you focus on the position of your trailing wrist when your followthrough stops. (For you righties out there, that's your right wrist; for you lefties, it's your left wrist.) Let me explain it in a slightly different way than Denis does. Between the two of us, you should find an easy swing thought you can use to make this shot.

Do you understand why you flip your trailing wrist? It's actually very simple. When you swing the club away from the ball on your backswing, your trailing wrist cocks, or bends, slightly. Then when you swing back down to hit the ball, your leading hand stops swinging just as you hit the ball and your trailing wrist has to uncock to keep the club going. This makes the club hit up on the ball instead of down, and you don't get under the ball.

When you pitch over a hazard, what you want to do is keep both hands moving together all the way into your followthrough. That way, your trailing hand doesn't uncock early. That's simple enough, isn't it?

Doing this also gives you an extra benefit: It helps keep the clubface pointed straight at the target so it doesn't twist sideways and cause you to pull the ball. You not only get over the hazard, you hit a more accurate shot as well.

If you pitch this way -- it's not a bad idea to pitch this way all the time when you have a decent lie -- you'll quickly lose your dread of hitting over hazards. And once you remove the mental obstacle, you'll remove the physical obstacle as well and hit better pitch shots.

Best of all, this is a move you can practice in your backyard. You don't even need a ball! All you have to do is practice the motion. When your dread of pitch shots over hazards vanishes, the high scores your fear used to cause will vanish even more quickly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Should You Change a Child Who Swings Crosshand?

Looney left a comment on my How to Copy Josh Broadaway... If You Dare post that was a bit too complicated to try and answer there. He wrote:
I have a 7 year old son that plays cross-handed and he won 6 tourneys against 10 year olds this summer. The season is over and I'm wondering if I should switch his hands, turn him around left handed or just let him keep swinging cockeyed. What do you think?
Wow -- that's a tough question, Looney. Most people would automatically  recommend you change him from cross-handed simply because it's not the way we normally play golf. I'm not certain that alone is a good enough reason, since most breakthroughs come because someone went against common logic. Your son could be that breakthrough; we just don't know.

However, there's a reason we don't see too many cross-handed players. When making your decision I think you have to consider:
  • how your son's performance compares against the folks he plays against, and
  • what kind of goals your son has -- or you believe he might have as he grows up.
In the first case, I'm just talking about stats. How long has he been playing this way? How far does he hit the ball, and how accurate is he? He may be beating 10-year-olds, but how good are those 10-year-olds? Unless his opponents are very good for their age, he still might not be playing all that well compared to a good player with a more traditional grip.

As for goals... if he just intends to play for fun or occasionally enter an amateur event, maybe crosshand is fine. But if he has more serious aspirations -- even if it's just to get a scholarship and play for a college team -- I'd seriously consider the change. Some of the techniques he may need to learn in order to be competitive don't lend themselves to crosshand play.

Since the only player I know who's had any real success playing crosshand is Josh Broadaway, I looked over his stats on the Nationwide Tour... and quite frankly, they're not that good:
  • His best finishes are 2 thirds, and he's only made 65 of 152 cuts in his career -- that's less than 43%.
  • His scoring average is almost half a stroke better than the Tour average... but nearly 1.5 strokes behind the leaders. At the time I'm writing this, he's T44 in Scoring while the Tour average is right around T78. That's not particularly good.
  • He's about 5 yards longer than the Tour average and he's above average in scrambling, but he also hits fewer fairways and fewer greens than average. That's really not good!
Given those stats -- and given that Josh is the most successful cross-handed player I know of -- I'd suggest you change your son's grip. I wouldn't turn him lefty though, simply because I think you'd be depriving him of an obvious strength of his current swing -- namely, he's used to leading through the shot and squaring up the clubface with the back of his left hand.

Here's my suggestion: Tell him to think about his swing as a Frisbee throw, with his left hand at the end of the club "throwing" the clubface through the ball. Leading with the left side is more of a classic swing move, a la Tom Watson, that should feel very similar to his current crosshand swing without requiring too much work to adapt.

When he makes this change he won't have to hold the club too tightly with his right hand, which should help him keep much of his old swing's feel. And he's already used to making a strong body turn to get his wrists uncocked, so he should have a strong move through the ball with the new grip. Once he gets used to it, I'd be surprised if he didn't pick up some extra distance as well.

And by applying that crosshand move he already knows to the new grip, so he's leading the swing with his left hand, he should still be able to square the clubface at impact much more easily than other players his age. Tom Watson is still a great model to follow, because he has such a long flowing swing even at 61.

And the reason I suggest likening the swing to a Frisbee throw is because he'll keep his left elbow close to his side through impact if he does, and that's probably the biggest key to hitting the ball long and straight. Most kids can instinctively throw a Frisbee as hard and straight as they want, so he should see some good results from the change pretty quickly. That will help him stick with the change long enough for it to feel as natural as his crosshand swing does now.

If you get him a teacher, make sure the teacher knows you want to teach him to lead with his left side and control the club primarily with his left hand, just like a classic swing. If the teacher doesn't want to teach him that way, I'd find another teacher. (Some teachers teach right-hand control. There's nothing wrong with that; I just think that the classic left-hand control style will feel more natural to a crosshander.) You want to make the new swing feel as familiar as you can.

Of course it's your decision, but that's the best advice I know to give you. Hope it helps, and good luck! Let me know what you decide and how it goes.