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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Ahead... the Champions Tour

I guess it's appropriate that I spend the last post of the old year on the old guys.

The Champions Tour seems to be in pretty good shape. Golfweek published a list of the most obvious changes to the schedule just before Christmas. It also includes the venues for the majors, the most notable being the Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Michigan for the U.S. Senior Open and the Ailsa Course at Turnberry in Scotland for the Senior British Open.

Notably missing from the Golfweek list is the change to the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. That event will now be the Tampa Bay Pro-Am, and it will be hosted by the Tampa Bay Lightning. That's right, the NHL and the Champions Tour will be working together for charity. Several hockey players, Wayne Gretzky being the most notable, have already become associated with the Tour in one way or another. You can read about that change in this PGATOUR.com announcement, just released Friday.

I can't tell you much about new rookies from the PGA Tour for 2012. The main names I've been able to find so far (and recognized) are:
  • Kirk Triplett
  • Andrew Magee
  • Duffy Waldorf
  • P.H Horgan III
I would be surprised if there weren't some others, but I couldn't find an official list. Bear in mind that there are also new members that came through the Q-School, but I was just looking for previous Tour members.

As for what I expect in 2012? Simply put, more Couples, Lehman, Calcavecchia, Langer, Price, Cook, and Watson. These clearly aren't the only good players on the Tour, but they are the biggest draws... and they were all playing well at the end of the season. (Well, Langer was still getting it back together after thumb surgery, but it's just a matter of time.)

Unless something unforeseen happens, I don't expect things to change much for the Champions Tour in 2012... and that's probably a good thing. As I said, it looks to be in pretty good shape. For now, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Now you guys have a good time this New Year's Eve... and try not to get in any trouble, ok? We've got a whole new year of golf coming up!

Friday, December 30, 2011

An Anti-Shanking Tip

I had a very busy day today and didn't have time to do the post I intended. Therefore, I decided to pass on another tip I found. This one is about that nasty fault that nobody wants to talk about:

Drawing of ball getting shankedShanking.

I don't think I've ever posted anything about this problem, so those of you struggling with the problem will probably find this useful. I like it because it's simple.

Simple is always good!

This short article is simply called Stop Shanking and it was written by Steve Atherton, who was VP of Instruction at GolfTec when he wrote this. (Maybe he still is. Life holds so many secrets...) It has several different things you can try if this inconvenient little problem pops up. (Or sideways, for that matter.) Again, I like variety.

Especially when it's simple variety. Hope it helps!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Looking Ahead... the European Tour

Since GC looked at the European Tour on Wednesday's Golf Central, I thought I'd do the same. Might as well keep us all on the same page, eh?

I guess the best place to start is with the debate over which tour is best - PGA or ET? I think it's time we stop thinking so narrowly. It's true that the golf played in Europe (around the world, really) is different than that played in America. Many argue that the European courses aren't nearly as challenging as the American ones. Fair enough -- that means Americans should play as well overseas as they do here, right? I mean, if the courses are easier, our guys are much better and shouldn't have any problems with "resort courses," right?

So I did a quick survey of winners on both PGA and Euro tours over the last 3 years -- that's 2009-2011 -- looking for players who won at least once on both tours. I didn't count events with less than 30 players in the field. Some events count on both tours, like majors and WGCs, so those were judged by where they were played. For example, the Masters is a US win, the Open Championship a Euro win, etc. Here's what I found:
  • American winners: Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. I'll give an honorable mention to Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland for the World Cup, mainly because they both had to play all 4 rounds. That's 4 players total with wins on both tours.
  • European winners: Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, and Adam Scott. I also give an honorable mention to Danny Lee because he did get a win on the Nationwide Tour. That's 11 players total with wins on both tours.
It certainly looks like the European players are capable of adapting to different conditions better than the Americans. This is probably because their tour's courses vary so much from week to week while the US courses all require pretty much the same playing style.

I don't think it's a question of which tour is best, but apparently these "inferior" courses are making players more versatile. It seems pretty clear to me that, if American players want to be more competitive, they need to start playing around the world more... and not just at the events that will pay them appearance money. Forget about tours -- the best players will be the ones who play the most different styles of golf.

This probably also affects my second big question -- namely, what should we expect from the Ryder Cup? I'm a bit nervous about our chances right now. Although the US will have the home field advantage, this adaptability difference has an effect on who makes the team. Ryder Cup points are accrued by playing stroke play events... but the best US match players aren't necessarily the best stroke players, as opposed to the Euro players whose best in match play seem to excel at stroke play also.

Here's an example of what I mean: I think you can make a fair argument that some of our best match players (at the moment, anyway) include the teams of Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele (winners at the Shark Shootout), Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland (the reigning World Cup champs), and Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson (off a good showing at the Presidents Cup). As of today, Bradley is #1 in the Ryder Cup points standings... and the only one in the Top 10. Where are the rest?
  • Woodland -- 15th
  • Kuchar -- 19th
  • Simpson -- 21st
  • Watson -- 28th
  • Steele -- T38th
This makes me nervous. Most of the best Euro players are either in the Top 10 of the OWGR or high in the Euro Ryder Cup points list. (Sergio is high enough to qualify on both lists.) So we'll have to keep our eyes on this race.

As for my players to watch:
  • I like Sergio Garcia to make his presence known on the PGA Tour this year. Look for him to get a PGA win sometime later in the year, maybe even a major.
  • Luke Donald will almost certainly be focused on the majors this year. I think coming up big in the money races has shown him that he's got more potential than even he may have believed, so I don't expect him to repeat the poor showings he had in the 2011 majors. I think he'll get one this year... and I've got a sneaky suspicion it'll be the U.S. Open, simply because that's the one that seems to fit him least. I think he'll focus better there.
  • My breakout player of the year is Alvaro Quiros. I think he's ready. That boy's drives are hotter than a habanero chile!
  • And perhaps my most bizarre prediction of the year: I think an American will win the Open Championship in 2012. I don't know who, but I expect either a Tour rookie or a sophomore.
As for the other big names on the Euro Tour... I expect them to continue as normal, but that's about it. AS NORMAL. Sacrilege I know, but I think the tide is about to shift in world golf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Ahead... the LPGA

I'm going to look ahead to my expectations for 2012 over the next few days. I thought I'd start with the LPGA.

I've broken down my thoughts to a few players (or groups of players) I think are worth watching in 2012.
  1. Yani Tseng: Of course Yani leads the list! Earlier in the week I wrote a pretty long piece on her accomplishments this year. Unless Yani has a meltdown, nobody's likely to take the #1 spot away from her in 2012. However, I don't know if she'll have quite the year she did in 2011. That's not because I expect a falloff in play, although her domination of the LPGA (and women's golf in general) will be tough to match. Rather, I suspect Yani will focus her attention on two specific tournaments -- the U.S. Women's Open, which she needs to complete the career Grand Slam, and the Women's British Open, which would make her the only player to win it 3 times straight. I don't know how that might affect her play the rest of the year.
  2. Lexi Thompson: Clearly she's the 2nd storyline of 2012. With 2 wins before her 17th birthday, she enters 2012 with a huge amount of momentum. She's got to learn the courses but I'll be surprised if she isn't a factor pretty soon.
  3. Michelle Wie: I know many of you have given up on Michelle, but I haven't. In fact, I suspect the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment she'll have after getting her degree from Stanford will put her in a great frame of mind to make some noise on the golf course. The only real question for me is how soon she'll get her putting figured out... but I suspect she will, and then the sky's the limit.
  4. Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, and Jiyai Shin: Although these players certainly didn't have bad years in 2011 -- all of them are still in the Rolex Top10 -- none of them had a win anywhere in the world. I have trouble believing that will continue. The question will be who and how many.
  5. Caroline Hedwall, Hee Kyung Seo, and Azahara Munoz: These three players are poised to make a huge splash on the LPGA. Hedwall and Munoz played big at the Solheim, which almost always kickstarts a young player's career, and Seo was the runaway Rookie of the Year.
Finally, I wanted to pick a player to watch. I've narrowed it to two but I can't make up my mind:
  • Na Yeon Choi is #3 in the Rolex this week. (She moved ahead of Kerr by .01  points.) Na Yeon won once on the LPGA (also one loss in a playoff) and once on the KLPGA. Most importantly, I believe she won both playing head-to-head against Yani. (I know she did in the LPGA event.) She's the most obvious choice here.
  • In-Kyung Kim is the other. Inky sits at #8 in the Rolex. She didn't win this year, but she came close -- she had five Top5s on the LPGA. Her problem has merely been some inconsistency at bad moments. But I really have a good feeling about her in 2012.
Just one more mention I'd like to make. The Constructivist and his pals over at Mostly Harmless have done some really nice work covering the women's golf scene this year. TC's been adding some new writers to his existing list of very capable posters, most notably Tony Jesselli and Diane. You probably recognize their names, if for no reason than they occasionally comment on this blog. If you haven't been checking out their blog, you're missing a good chance to keep up with women's golf in general. I couldn't keep up with the worldwide women as well without them. (TC somehow manages to get scores from the Japanese sites, which impresses the hell out of me. ;-) In fact, Tony recently did a post showing who the big gainers and losers in the Rolex were this past year -- cool post.

I expect all of us will have plenty of cool stuff to write about the ladies in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

11 More Days

This is a special time of year. We're halfway through the holidays -- that magic time between Christmas and New Years when the old year isn't quite gone but the new year isn't quite here. I love the anticipation, the realization that I'm on the verge of a new year with new opportunities.

an Alabama beach sunset

I just finished watching Drew Brees set the single-season passing record in the Saints/Falcons game. The NFL season is winding to a close and the NBA season is just getting started. I'm even starting to get interested in that "other" football, soccer, because we're getting to crunch time. I saw Manchester United slam Wigan 5-0 earlier in the day -- not one of the better games I've seen lately, but still entertaining.

And now we're just 11 days from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the beginning of the new PGA Tour season. (Don't forget that the Tour is starting this tournament on Friday this year.)

Over the next few days we'll be looking ahead to next season and what may be on the horizon.

But today? I'm just enjoying the waning moments of 2011. It's the quiet before the dawn...

The Alabama beach sunset photo came from this site.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 in Five Lines

Winner: Yani Tseng

Around the wider world of golf: Absolutely NOTHING happened! What a surprise! However, the Christmas card I posted yesterday didn't tweet like it was supposed to. If you missed it, you can see it here.

Yani holds her 5th major trophy

Let's face it... Yani Tseng is THE story of 2011. Not Tiger's struggles, not Luke Donald taking over #1 on the OWGR (although that's pretty cool too), not Lexi's 2 wins, and not the "parity" that exists in the game of golf -- not just on the PGA Tour, but on all of them.

And yet Yani flew mostly under the radar. Let's briefly review her year, shall we?
  • 2 majors -- LPGA Championship, Women's British Open (and she was the first woman to defend the Open since it became a major)
  • 7 wins on the LPGA Tour
  • 14 Top 10 finishes out of 22 starts on the LPGA
  • 12 total worldwide wins
  • Wins on 5 different tours -- LPGA, LPGA of Taiwan, ALPG (Australian Ladies Professional Golf), LET (Ladies European Tour), LAGT (Ladies Asian Golf Tour)
  • Youngest player ever, male or female, to win 4 majors
  • Youngest player ever, male or female, to win 5 majors (yes, they were 2 separate records)
  • LPGA Player of the Year (second year in a row -- locked up with 4 events left to play)
  • LPGA Vare Trophy (low scoring average)
  • 45 weeks at #1 in the Rolex Rankings, currently more than 7 points ahead of #2
  • Led the LPGA money list
  • Voted the United States Sports Academy's 2011 Female Athlete of the Year
  • #1 in LPGA stats for Rounds under par, Birdies, and Driving Distance, as well as #2 in GIR
  • Picked up 11 points toward the 27 point minimum for World Golf Hall of Fame membership (4 points for 2 majors, 5 points for 5 more LPGA wins, 1 point each for POY and Vare Trophy) -- that's nearly half the points in a single year!
And I probably missed something. She did so much in 2011 that it boggles the mind.

For all of this she got very little attention in the press. As impressive as Luke Donald's accomplishments were -- and I was a big Donald cheerleader, you know ;-) -- he still didn't win as often or as big as Yani. It's not that the men played badly... but only Luke Donald's accomplishments even came close to Yani's. And he did get more credit than Yani did.

And what woman ended up getting the most attention in the press? Lexi Thompson. Lexi's 2 wins on the LPGA and LET before she turns 17 certainly were a big story... but bigger than Yani's? I think not.

So forgive me if I elect Yani Tseng as the story of 2011 in a nutshell. She represents the great stories that slipped past most people without them ever really recognizing her accomplishments. Add another record, Yani -- you get the final Limerick Summary of 2011:
She's the youngest to five majors. Who
Thought twelve wins would get no ballyhoo?
As the star of the year
She's a cinch. Ain't that clear?...
I guess other folks played ok too.
The photo came from bleacherreport.com.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

I hope you all have a good day with family and friends. I certainly plan to!


Saturday, December 24, 2011

And Still Another Drill

This one will help you at the top of your backswing. Teaching pro Joe Thiel created this drill to teach you a proper elbow position.

Top of backswing positionNow some of you may not carry your hands this high at the top of your backswing. You may change direction with your hands somewhat lower -- maybe at ear level, maybe even at shoulder level. All of those are perfectly acceptable, and this drill will work with all of those. When you follow Joe's instructions, all you have to do is position your hand at your normal backswing height. Everything else will be correct, and you'll still learn a good position for your elbow.

The reason many of you get into trouble with your swing has nothing to do with your plane or spine tilt or any of those other "common faults" you often read about in golf magazines. You just get your arm in a bad position and you can't recover from it.

I went through a bad period when I couldn't hit a fairway to save my life. Most of my normal swings ended up as push-slices; if I really threw my hands at the ball, I hit a bad pull-hook. Ironically, if I only carried my hands to shoulder height, I could hit the ball as hard as I wanted and it would go dead at my target.

It drove me nuts because when I checked my positions in a mirror, they were absolutely textbook.

Do you know what the problem was? At the start of my downswing I moved my right elbow toward the ball. I ended up with my forearm leaning backward as I started down, and my wrists could never uncock in time to square the clubface. If I threw my hands at the ball, I didn't lean my arm backward but my right shoulder went way out over the target line. Once I realized what was happening, I was able to fix the problem quickly. Joe mentions a similar problem near the end of his instruction.

One thing I like about this drill is that you can't get in the position this drill teaches if you rotate your forearms on the backswing. (As you know, that's one of my big no-nos.) So this drill will also help you stop laying off the club at the top.

I've given you some good indoor drills this week, and they cover several different parts of your swing. Best of all, they won't cost you anything. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Yet Another Indoor Golf Drill

And this one works with the body turn drill from yesterday.



This is pretty much self-explanatory, and it's a good drill to experiment with when the weather's nice enough to play again. But you can combine this with yesterday's drill by simply adding the chair in front of your lead leg.

One key point to notice about the position of the chair: Your foot isn't under the chair, but the chair is close enough to stop your hip from sliding past the outside edge of your foot. You may wonder why you couldn't just use a wall and put the outside of your foot against it. It's because your arms will hit the wall when you turn! By using the chair, you can make a motion much more like your regular swing.

Now you can not only work on your coil, balance, and finish inside, but you can eliminate excessive hip slide as well! And you don't even need a golf club... or nice weather...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Indoor Practice

Sequence photo of body turnThe bad weather just won't go away, will it? Well, here's another drill I found at the golftipsmag.com site. This drill's called "Body Movin'" and it'll help you improve both your shoulder coil and your finish.

Best of all, you don't even need a club to do it. That means you can do it ANYWHERE!

One thing I really like about this drill is that it will help your balance and rhythm as well. It's easy to find drills that let you complete them even if you're off-balance. This one simply won't feel right if you try to do too much too fast. It teaches you how fast your body can realistically move.

I also like that the instructor, Frank O’Connell, makes a point that you don't need to "keep your head down." If your head doesn't stay down on its own, forcing it down won't make you any better. There are too many "do thises" and "do thats" in this game as it is. Focus on the important things and just learn how to make a good turn and finish!

And for all of you covered in bad weather... hang in there. Maybe the weather will clear up soon and you can take your improved balance out to the golf course.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coil Them Shoulders!

Carl demonstrates a good shoulder coilI've mentioned Carl Rabito, the instructor who straightened my game out, several times in this blog. In fact, I keep a link to his site in my sidebar. (See the "Some Useful Golf Links" list next to my bio.) I don't know all the players Carl is working with right now, although I know he's worked with Jeong Jang on the LPGA and Andrew Svoboda on the Nationwide.

Well, while working on another project this week, I discovered an article Carl did for golftipsmag.com back in 2003. It's called "Turnstyle" and it's got several different ways of checking and improving your shoulder turn. Since Carl is a really good teacher -- and I'm feeling a mite lazy today Smiley Faces -- I thought I'd just link you to it.

I should point out that Carl's drills get you a bit more behind the ball than mine do. There's certainly nothing wrong with that -- as I point out frequently, there's more than one way to swing well -- but I want you to be aware that his drill positions may feel slightly different than mine. Use whichever one feels best to you.

Several of the drills Carl covers can be done inside. With the weather so bad in many parts of the country, at least you can do something to improve your golf. And Carl is someone who I know can help you. He sure helped me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Little Diversion

The pro golf is pretty much done for the season and many of you are stranded inside because of bad weather. So today I'm providing a little diversion for you.

This is the link to the Cartoon Networks Cartoon Cove Mini-golf game.

This little 9-hole mini-golf game is one of the most challenging -- but playable -- online golf games I've found. There are 8 par-3s and 1 par-4, and up to 2 players can play.

After you see a (usually funny) short commercial for Cartoon Network, tell it how many players there are, enter a name, and pick your ball color, you're ready to go.

To play, right-click on the ball and hold it, then draw the pointer back and let go. The club can be aimed in any direction and you can hit the ball pretty hard, so be careful. There are holes with transporters, black holes, fans that blow your ball toward the hole, treadmills, and even bombs! It looks pretty crazy, but even the wildest holes can be played strategically.

I hope it brightens up your day. It's a quick way to get in 9 holes!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 JBWere Masters

Winner: Ian Poulter

Around the wider world of golf: Lee Westwood got a win at the Thailand Golf Championship on the Asian Tour, and Lexi Thompson got her second win of the year at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters on the LET.

Poulter gets his second win of the year

What can I say? Poulter played better than anybody else. (Or is that plaid better than anybody else? I'm never quite sure...)

The story coming in at the JBWere Masters was that Greg Chalmers just might grab the Aussie Triple Crown -- the Australian Open, PGA, and Masters all in one year.

After the third round, the story was Geoff Ogilvy's sparkling 63 to take the lead and maybe redeem an otherwise ho-hum year. In fact, I wrote about that a couple of days ago.

But then Santa showed up in a plaid sleigh drawn by eight wallabies, slapped a shrimp on Poulter's barbie, and started throwing a BYOT (bring your own trophy) Christmas party!

From being 3 back starting the fouth round to 3 ahead at the end, Ian Poulter probably feels as if Santa paid him an unexpected visit. Although he had won the Volvo World Match Play Championship back in May, he seemed a bit disappointed with his year until he picked up that Australian Masters trophy this weekend. Now he's sitting on a two-win season, which is a success by anybody's measure, plus he jumped 8 spots to #20 in the OWGR.

Ho, ho, ho indeed. Not that I think his joy will last long -- Ian's a bit greedy for wins, you know -- but he's got one hell of a new Christmas ornament for his tree.

So today's Limerick Summary pays tribute to a little English boy who was good enough to grab one last title before Christmas. We'll have to wait and see if Santa also brings him a nice shiny 2012 season:
That final-round charge staged by Ian
Is something we haven't been seein'
For most of the year.
The form he found here
Might cheer him up for the time bein'.
The photo came from this article at the UK's Daily Mail site.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lexi Makes It Two

And why shouldn't she? It's been that kind of year. It's only appropriate that the youngest member of the LPGA Tour, who hasn't even played her first official round as a Tour member, quietly added an LET win to the LPGA win that got her a membership in the first place.

Lexi's newest hardware

And of course she had to make her LET win that Tour's championship, the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. She only won it by 3 shots... no big, right?

There's really no need for me to rehash the victory. You can read about it here at ladieseuropeantour.com, as well as Devil Ball Golf, Fairways and Forehands (that's bangkokbobby's site -- lots of pics in this post), and Waggle Room. It's only a matter of time before even more sites add their own voices to the chorus, so there'll be plenty of coverage.

As yet there's no word whether Lexi will take LET membership. Helen Alfredsson said on the GC broadcast that the LET has no age limit in this case -- if you win a tournament, you've earned membership. With the limited schedule the LPGA has played lately, I wouldn't be surprised if she took it. However, even if she doesn't, I don't think Lexi's going to have any more problems finding a place to play.

EVER.

The photo came from the front page at ladieseuropeantour.com.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Maybe That Cut Finger Finally Healed...

Mr. Stache looking fine!Geoff Ogilvy looked good coming into 2011. Then he messed up his finger in Hawaii the first week of the year... and struggled from there on in.

It looks like the new Mr. Stache can finally ditch the bandaids. He's leading the JBWere after 3 rounds, 3 strokes ahead of his closest competitor, Ian Poulter. Geoff laid down a sweet little 63 (it's a par-71 course) -- and that was with 3 bogeys!

Granted, Poults is still on the course as I'm writing this. But he's only got one hole left (a par-5), but it's a pretty safe bet that Geoff will still have at least a 2-stroke lead when the 3rd round finishes.

I have a feeling we're gonna be seeing that 'stache for a while.

GC should be showing the final round tonight starting at 8:30pm ET.

The photo came from this article at the Australasian website.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More Than Just the JBWere Masters

Ah yes, there's still more golf to be seen. Earlier in the week I forgot to mention that the ladies are playing an LET event in Dubai. GC is showing the tournament from 3-6pm ET. Today should be the third round -- the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters ends on Saturday -- and Lexi Thompson is leading by 2 over Sophie Gustafson and Margherita Rigon. At least, she was when I wrote this; those three hadn't teed off yet.

Lexi on the 9th tee

Meanwhile, Lee Westwood is playing a new event on the Asian Tour -- the Thailand Golf Championship -- and he shot the lowest round of his career in the first round. It was a 12-under 60, and it gave him a 5-shot lead over John Daly, who is also playing well. As I write this, Westwood has finished his second round although some players haven't teed off yet. He shot an 8-under 64 to back it up, putting him at -20 for the event and 13 shots ahead of Kwanchai Tannin and John Daly, now wa-a-a-ay back in second place. (Wave to the leader, folks. You probably won't be able to see him for long.)

If you want to read about Westwood's record round, here's an article from CNN about it. And if you want to check out the leaderboard, here's the link to the Asian Tour main page (in English!). That's the most convenient way to catch the current leaderboard. I'm adding it to the sidebar as well. GC will be airing the 2nd round today from noon to 3pm ET, just before the LET broadcast and right after the JBWere rebroadcast.

You can find the leaderboard for the JBWere here. And you can catch the leaderboard for the LET event here.

That should get you all up-to-date on the golf that's going on. At least, all the golf leaderboards I can find in English.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nick Faldo on Connection

GC's 7 Nights at the Academy series Wednesday night was about iron play. I must admit I was surprised how much Nick Faldo emphasized connection. It's something I believe is vital if you want to create an easily repeatable swing without a whole lot of practice, but I simply didn't realize how much Faldo utilized it himself.

Nick didn't just stress connection in the full swing. He also went into considerable detail about connection when you're chipping. (I'd add putting to that as well. Fewer people would struggle with their putting if they stayed connected during the stroke.)

Here's a video from the Faldo Golf Institute videos on YouTube. Although this isn't the same segment they showed on GC, it does cover some of the same material. The section on connection starts around the 1 minute mark:



Baptiste mentioned the towel drill in the comments of this post. Note that Nick advises you to limit this drill to shots around 40 yards.

On GC Nick specifically mentioned that he wants to feel as if the triceps stay connected to the chest throughout the swing. I would just add that the connection is a light one -- you don't want to feel as if the muscles of your upper body are tight. You want to feel as relaxed as you can while still maintaining your technique. Staying relaxed will help you generate the most clubhead speed as well as the most accuracy, because relaxed muscles don't fight your natural movement.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The JBWere Masters Starts Today

Chalmers photoToday I just want to remind you about the JBWere Masters, aka the Australian Masters. While Luke Donald may be the biggest name playing, I think the big story here is Greg Chalmers's run at the Triple Crown. As you'll remember, he's already snagged the Australian PGA and the Australian Open a few weeks ago. Only Robert Allenby has successfully captured all three titles in one year. Can Greg do finish it off?

Officially, the tournament begins on December 15th... but Australia is half-a-day ahead of us folks here in the US, so GC starts their coverage today. Here's the GC broadcast schedule:
  • Wednesday 12/14 -- 8:30 PM - 1:30 AM ET
  • Thursday 12/15 -- 8:30 PM - 1:30 AM ET
  • Friday 12/16 -- 8:30 PM - 1:30 AM ET
  • Saturday 12/17 -- 8:30 PM - 1:30 AM ET
And the JBWere Masters scoreboard is at this link, in case you want to check at your convenience.

And just to be thorough, the photo of Greg at the Open is from this page at supersport.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hitting It High and Low

If you watched the first night of GC's Seven Nights at the Academy -- specifically The Golf Fix -- you saw Michael Breed talk to Webb Simpson about controlling the trajectory of your golf shots. It's possible you got a bit confused because Webb sometimes combines techniques to get the results he wants.

I'm going to try and give you a really simple explanation that should help you start controlling the height of your shots pretty quickly. And since I know many of you are left-handed, I'm going to use the terms "lead" and "trailing" in this discussion so everybody gets it. Remember, your lead side is closest to the target and your trailing side is not. ;-)

And remember also that these instructions assume you start from your standard setup.

Hitting It Low
There are 2 keys to hitting it low. First you want to move the ball back in your stance. Starting from your standard setup, you're going to move your trailing foot toward the target. You want to narrow your stance by about one foot width, which will be between 3-6 inches depending on how big your feet are. By moving your trailing foot forward a few inches, you narrow our stance and the ball ends up being farther back in your stance.

Why not leave your stance the same width and just shuffle it around so the ball is farther back? Two reasons:
  1. It's easier to get the ball in the same spot each time this way. The more different setups you use, the less likely you are to be consistent about it.
  2. You want your hands to be a little more in front of the ball to deloft the club. It happens automatically this way. If you shuffled around, you might adjust your hands back as well and not deloft the club, which would make the trajectory higher than you want. It's easier to keep your hands in their normal setup position this way.
You might also wonder why you don't move your lead foot forward and widen your stance, since that would also move the ball back in your stance. This would make it harder to turn through the shot, so you'd be more likely to leave the clubface open and hit a higher shot.

Once you're in position, you make your normal swing but with a shorter followthrough. By making your finish shorter, you help the ball fly lower.

That's simple enough, right? Narrow your stance by moving your trailing foot a few inches nearer the hole, then make a shorter followthrough.

Hitting It High
Likewise, there are 2 keys to hitting it high. This time you want to move the ball forward in your stance, so you start from your standard setup but you move your trailing foot away from the target. This widens your stance by about one foot width, just the opposite of what we did to hit it low. This time we want the wider stance because we want to hit it high.

And once you're in position, you make your normal swing but with a higher followthrough. By getting your finish higher, you help the ball take off a bit higher.

This high shot is a bit trickier than the low shot because you hit down on the low shot but now, with the ball forward in your stance, the clubhead comes in more parallel to the ground so it's easier to hit it fat. This one's probably gonna take a little practice before you feel comfortable with it.

So here's the quick summary: You can adjust your trajectory merely by changing the position of your trailing foot (and therefore the ball position) and by adjusting the length of your followthrough. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

After you're comfortable with these two shots, you can start trying to open or close the face or manipulate the shot in other ways if you want. But this is the simplest way I know to add trajectory control to your game -- it gives you a low, regular, and high shot -- and you don't have to change your setup much at all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Dubai World Championship

Winner: Alvaro Quiros

Around the wider world of golf: Yani Tseng grabbed her 12th worldwide win in 2011 (her 12th, people!) at the Swinging Skirts TLPGA Invitational; Caroline Hedwall won the Hero Women's Indian Open on the LET; and the team of Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele became the first rookies to win the Franklin Templeton Shootout, aka the Shark Shootout.

Quiros grabs 2nd Dubai win of 2011

I wrote about Luke Donald's achievements yesterday so I could focus on Quiros today. And he certainly deserves more attention than he's gotten.

The big 6'3" Spaniard has quietly had a very successful 2011, with 2 wins, 2 more Top5s, and yet 2 more Top10s. He finished #6 in the Race to Dubai, picking up an extra € 332k+ bonus for a grand total of € 2,259,242. That's just over $3 million in American dollars. And if that wasn't enough, he jumped all the way up to #21 in the OWGR -- just above Tiger Woods -- just in time to grab a spot at the 2012 Masters.

That's a pretty successful year in my book!

And he won this tournament in style. After Luke Donald birdied the last 3 holes to post at -16 (and ultimately finish 3rd) but before playing partner Paul Lawrie put himself in position to birdie the 18th (finishing 2nd at -17), all Quiros did was successfully take on the winding water hazard surrounding the par-5 18th and sink the long difficult putt for an eagle, putting him 2 clear at -19. He hits the ball well over 310 yards off the tee and has some nice touch around the greens. The guy's definitely got style...

And a huge contagious smile. After a poor finish on Saturday, Quiros cheerfully told the media that things don't always go the way you'd like but he was still in the lead -- right where he wanted to be. Perspective like that certainly makes Alvaro Quiros someone you can root for.

At almost 29 years old and after just 4 years on Tour, Quiros has 6 wins on the European Tour... but it's only a matter of time before that number goes up and he adds some wins around the world, maybe even some majors. So today's Limerick Summary salutes the big bomber and his plan for Tour domination:
Let's glimpse at the mind of Al Quiros:
"I know how we'll teach them to fear us!
We'll hit it great lengths,
Then play to our strengths
And smile as they fail to get near us!"
The photo came from this page at europeantour.com.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Luke Donald, World Player of 2011

At least he is in my book. His third-place finish at Dubai earlier today locked it up for me.

Luke wins the Race to Dubai

I've heard a lot of talk this week -- Nick Faldo for one was quite vocal about it -- who said Rory should get this honor, essentially because he won a major and Luke did not. I agree that majors are important, but I note that two main groups argue that "majors trump everything." With a few exceptions, they are either Tour players with majors (Faldo has six, you know) or media types with no majors at all who spend a lot of time with those players. I think their logic is flawed.

Here's the way I see it: There was a time when majors were more important than they are now. Majors were virtually the only time when players from around the world competed against each other. If you won a major, that was the only time you could say you had truly beaten ALL of the world's best.

Not so anymore. We argue from time-to-time whether there'a a "world tour" or not, but we now see ten tournaments a year where most of the big names show up. These are the four majors, the four WGCs, the TPC, and the BMW. In fact, you could argue that the majors aren't even the best of these fields, since the TPC regularly has 95 or more of the Top 100 in the world rankings. (Bear in mind that the Masters rarely even has that many players in total, and a large percentage of those are from outside the Top 100. I'm not backtracking on what I said about the relative uselessness of the world rankings. However, at this time that's our only measure of field strength, so that's what we have to use when comparing tournaments.)

While some of these are not recognized as "official" tournaments by the PGA Tour, they're all recognized by the European Tour. Rory couldn't beat Luke for PGA POY since he wasn't a member but, had he been, Rory had only won the US Open while Luke won the Accenture WGC and the Disney (not a top field in that last one, but a top performance because he had to win), plus the Money Title, both scoring titles, and has held the #1 spot in the OWGR for seven months and counting.

So is Rory's performance on the European Tour strong enough to grab World POY for 2011? In a word, no.

Rory's US Open counts on the ET, so he gets credit for 2 wins -- the major and the UBS Hong Kong Open. That's not a bad year.

But Luke's WGC also counts on the ET, along with the BMW PGA Championship and the Barclays Scottish Open, for three ET wins. The WGC and the BMW are in that ten-event "world tour" group I mentioned, and I should point out that Luke beat the reigning world #1 in both events, gaining the #1 position himself at the BMW. (In fairness, Rory beat #1 Luke at the US Open... but it still wasn't enough for him to take #1 away from Luke.) Add that second money title, and it's pretty much a slam dunk for Donald.

Ironically, the best measure we have of who played best is probably still the OWGR because they award points for each tournament a player is in. In 2011 Luke gained 507.45 points versus Rory's 353.83 points. I'm cautious with this since it doesn't tell us how many tournaments they needed to gain these points, and I know Luke played more. However, Luke had to fulfill obligations to two tours while Rory didn't, and over the 2-year period the OWGR covers, Luke has played only 4 more events (53 vs 49) yet Luke's average is two points higher than Rory's. That can only be interpreted as a higher level of play overall by Luke Donald.

If Rory had won Dubai, I admit I would have reconsidered this decision, primarily because Rory needed to win both Hong Kong and Dubai events just to have a chance at money title. Had he come through, even without winning the money title (that depended on how Luke played), I would have given him even more credit than we give Luke for the Disney performance. And while it's true that Rory was sick at Dubai, Luke was still rusty after a month of not playing while he dealt with the birth of his daughter and death of his dad. The fact is, had Luke played a decent first round, he might have won Dubai straight out.

In short, Luke Donald did everything possible in 2011 except win a major. And on that I agree with Julian Tutt -- it probably won't be long before he does that as well. In just one year. Luke Donald has completely changed his image by becoming one of the toughest players in modern golf.

It's only fitting to proclaim Luke Donald as the World Player of the Year for 2011. Congrats, Luke!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

NEWS FLASH! I've Fixed the Presidents Cup!

The Shark Shootout has inspired me today. I've figured out how to make the Presidents Cup more competitive.

I'm changing the format. Each day is a different kind of "ball":
DAY 1: Hard Ball. This is the regular alternate-shot format where one player tees off and the other player hits the next shot. Everybody has trouble with this, so let's get it out of the way first.

DAY 2: Better Ball. This is the regular fourball, where each player plays his own ball and you count the score of the team member with the best score.

Usually the 3rd day has 10 matches, 5 each of alternate-shot and fourball. Each team gets to "hide" two players in each type of match, and there's 36 holes of play. POPPYCOCK!

DAY 3: Best Ball. Let's scramble, baby! The final day at the Shark Shootout is a scramble where both players hit the tee shot, they pick the best and then each player hits the second shot, they pick the best and then both players hit... you get the picture. It's not unusual to see scores in the 50s with a scramble, so this would give the team that fell behind the first 2 days a chance to catch up. Everybody plays, but there are only 6 matches and 18 holes (like the first 2 days).

DAY 4: Your Own Ball. We finish up with the regular singles matches.
This means we now have 30 points available (6 + 6 + 6 + 12), so the winning side needs 15.5 points to take the Cup. It seems very workable to me.

Of course, if that doesn't work, perhaps we could play just the last 3 days and give the struggling team those first 6 points... consider it "handicapping the field."

But I suspect the best solution is the simplest. The International Team probably wouldn't need any changes at all if they just used one Captain's Pick to take Nick Price!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Shark Shootout is Back!

Today I just want to remind you about the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout. It's one of the most fun (and longest running) of the team competitions, and it's generated over $11 million for charity in the 21 years that it's been around. (I got that little tidbit from naplesnews.com.)

And it's played at Tiburon Golf Club. For those of you who didn't know, tiburon is Spanish for shark. What a surprise...

Since the Shark didn't like losing the Presidents Cup, he's stacked the deck a bit at the Shootout. He's teamed up with Scott McCarron, who's won three of these things. Several of the teams are first-timers and should make things interesting. After all, if you play well at the Shootout, you just might catch Ryder Cup captain DL3's eye!

The Shootout leaderboard is on this page, and GC will televise the first round from 3pm--6pm ET today.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do World Rankings Really Tell Us Anything?

After my remark yesterday that Tiger only gained one point in his OWGR leap from #52 to #21 and so it wasn't really a big deal, I found myself wondering if the world rankings really mean that much. Let me show you what I mean.

The OWGR for this week lists 998 players. The last man on the list, Mark Williams of ZAF (which I assume is Zambia in South Africa) has a grand points average of .07. That's right, seven one-hundredths of a point. No player below #865 has more than one-tenth of a point, #595 has a quarter of a point, and #384 has a half point. Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, sitting at #188, has .99 points and Benjamin Hebert of France finally breaks the single-point barrier at #187. He has 1.01 points.

That means the bottom 810 players in the ranking don't even have a single point. That's over 80% of the OWGR! Pardon me for being dense, but does this really tell us anything about how good these players are?

At the other end of the scale, world #10 Matt Kuchar has 5.00 points and #1 Luke Donald has 10.20 points. The Top 10 in the rankings are separated by more points (5.20) than the gap between #10 and #998 (4.93)!

A few other notable points milestones:
  • 4.00 -- Sergio Garcia, #17
  • 3.00 -- Miguel Angel Jimenez, #41
  • 2.00 -- Anthony Kim, #74
Every year at the Accenture Match Play, which takes the top 64 from the OWGR, players say that there isn't really that much difference between #1 and #64. And yet the only measurable differences seem to be among the top handful of players. If that's the case, then why bother with the OWGR at all?

What other options do we have? Most of the "measuring sticks" I can think of aren't much better:
  • If we just count total majors, we can only assess a few players. After all, there are only 4 majors each year.
  • Add the TPC, the BMW, and the WGCs and we're only up to 10 tourneys a year... and some of those don't have particularly long histories.
  • Total wins adds another layer, but how do we rate players who have never won (which is most of them)? And how do we equate wins across tours?
  • And each of these are cumulative over years. The big complaint about the OWGR now is that 2 years is too long for a ranking period.
Do I have a solution to this conundrum? No, I guess not. But it makes me wonder -- is there really any accurate way to determine the best players in golf?

Still, I guess anything is better than the BCS. They might as well draw numbers from a hat. ;-)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How Important Was Tiger's Win?

Tiger's win at the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday "catapulted" him up the OWGR to #21 in the world. But was it really important? After all, it was only an 18-man field and you could argue that Lee Westwood's win at the Nedbank carried more weight. After all, there were more Top 10 players at that limited-field event.

For Tiger, I don't think it was that important. Sure, after struggling for so long he relishes any win, but I don't think he really needed it to validate what he was doing -- at least, not to himself. Maybe he'll get a bit more peace at his pressers now.

As for that jump up the world rankings, it's really no big deal. When he was at #52, his points average was 2.694. At #21 that number leaps all the way up to 3.74 -- a little over a point. You do realize that Matt Kuchar, at #10, has only a 5.00 points average? One quality win could easily put Tiger back in the Top 10. Catching Luke Donald's 10.20 points average is what will take some work, especially if Luke can rack up another win or two before Tiger hits Dubai.

For Tiger, the win is probably more important from a business standpoint. This may cause some of those more cautious sponsors to come out of the woodwork. Things just got a little easier for his agent Mark Steinberg.

Let's face it, though. The big winners here are the PGA Tour and the TV networks. A winning Tiger is a ratings getter. As John Hawkins said, Tiger doesn't move the needle -- he IS the needle.

And for the rest of us... well, it means very little until late January. That's when Tiger plays next. Until he actually tees it up against a good field again, it doesn't really change things for us at all.

So while I'm happy for Tiger, I'll be a lot happier when he starts playing again. Until then, his win was just a teaser.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Q-School Drama Is Over

It's finally over. The bubbly has been popped (or the wrists slashed, depending on your perspective) and the 2012 tour rosters have been settled.

Well, that might not be entirely true. The controversy that erupted at LPGA Q-School concerning some bad advice given to Stephanie Kono by the LPGA itself -- and given to her more than once, it appears -- may yet change her status. The Constructivist has a thorough post on that little skirmish, so I'll just refer you to his site for that story.

But I can tell you that 26 guys finally got their PGA Tour cards Monday. (I thought they said 29 on TV, but -9 was the cut line.) Brendon Todd was the medalist at -17. You can check out the full list at the Q-School leaderboard page, but I'd like to pick out a few of the more interesting stories -- interesting to me, at least:
  • Seung-Yul Noh is a name you may have heard. He's been making some noise over in Europe for a couple of years now, and he finished T3. He's a promising young talent; we should get to see him quite a bit.
  • Several past PGA players had to go back to school. Aussie Jerrod Lyle caught my attention -- you may remember his hole-in-one at Scottsdale's 16th amphitheater earlier this year. He finished T5.
  • Remember William McGirt? He's the guy who made it to the second FedExCup playoff tournament but still didn't make enough to keep his card. He finished T13.
  • Harris English made a little noise earlier this year when he won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational and lost a playoff at the WNB Golf Classic while still an amateur. Guess what? He's not an amateur anymore -- he's T13 too.
I won't go through the list of no-shows, although I will mention James Nitties because I really thought he would breeze through. Instead, he had a terrible week and finished T115. But we won't cry too much for these poor guys. The fact is, the Top 50 and ties get a Nationwide card and almost everybody else has status of some kind on either the PGA or Nationwide Tours.

So the Tour's infamous "Hell Week" is over for another year. Now we can get back to worrying about the guys who don't really worry about tour cards or money or even room service. Ah, there's nothing like the old grind, is there? ;-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 UBS Hong Kong Open

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Around the wider world of golf: Tiger Woods finally got off the schneid with a win at the Chevron World Challenge, and Lee Westwood successfully defended his title at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. There was also a seniors division at the Nedbank, and Mark Calcavecchia won that.

Rory with the UBS Hong Kong trophy

You're in shock, aren't you? You thought I'd pick the Chevron since it's Tiger's first win in 2 years. HAH! It's not even an official event. It's a win, but it doesn't register on my RGWR until Tiger gets an official win on either the PGA or Euro Tours.

Same goes for the Westwood win at Nedbank. Nice win against a strong field -- and it'ill count now, because Lee already has some official wins -- but it's still an unofficial event.

Not so with Rory's win at the UBS Hong Kong Open. It's more than just official -- it's important. Let me give you a rundown of the reasons why.

I'm sure your first thought concerns the Race to Dubai, and this is certainly a big win where that's concerned. Rory was 3rd and needed to win this week just to have a chance at the title. Now he's in second place, less than €800,000 behind Luke Donald. That doesn't mean he can win without some help from Luke... but he couldn't win at all before.

But even more happened with this win. For example, Rory barely held onto 2nd place in the OWGR over Lee Westwood. This win made that possible.

Like Donald's win at Disney, Rory needed this win. And just like Donald, Rory performed under the pressure. For a kid who's been accused of under-achieving (and who has admitted as much), this was a HUGE accomplishment.

It's the first year that Rory's had 2 official wins -- one on the PGA and one on the ET -- and it's his first 3-win year. (He had that unofficial win at the Shanghai Masters.) This is only Rory's 5th win, folks -- it's a big deal.

According to this page at the ET site, Rory also helped Northern Ireland make history -- 6 wins in a single season. There were 2 by Rory (remember, the US Open counts as an ET win as well), 2 by Darren Clarke, and 2 by Michael Hoey. It's also the first time 3 players from that country won multiple events in one season.

And he's certainly made next week's Dubai World Championship much more interesting.

So here's a Limerick Summary for the newest 3-time winner of 2011. Could he be the newest Race to Dubai winner as well?
It looked like a foregone conclusion;
Luke's dominance was no illusion.
But winning in Hong Kong
Means Rory has prolonged
His shot at a huge cash transfusion!
The photo came from this page at the European Tour site.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

More on Full Swing Putting Strokes

It's uncommon for the pros to use their full swing grips when they putt. When Tiger did so Friday he was inundated with questions, during which we learned that Steve Stricker does the same.

In yesterday's post I tried to explain why Tiger's interlocking grip helped reduce wrist action, not increase it as some analysts suggested. Since we now know that Stricker uses his regular Vardon grip when he putts, I decided to go into this in more detail. Some of you may think my views are something I created out of my imagination, but they aren't.

Let me take you briefly into the teachings of Ben Hogan. This will help you better understand what's happening.

First, let's make sure we understand the grips involved. This photo comes from golfgriptips.co.uk and shows the three most common full swing grips. The last two are the ones we'll focus on in this post.

The three most common full swing grips

You also need to understand that Tiger likes to hit his putts with his right hand, while Stricker prefers to feel his left hand is in control. Tiger mentioned both of these facts during his press conference Friday.

Now let's bring Hogan into the mix. In his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf Hogan wrote about the importance of a proper grip. This quote refers to the right (trailing) hand -- remember, Hogan is right-handed --  but it applies equally well to the left (lead) hand. He says that a major part of creating a proper grip involves:
...subduing the natural tendency of the right forefinger and thumb to take charge. If they do, they'll ruin you. The "pincer fingers," the forefinger and thumb, are wonderful for performing countless tasks in daily living such as opening doors and picking up coffee cups, but they are no good at all in helping you build a good grip and a good swing. The explanation behind this is that the muscles of the right forefinger and thumb connect with the very powerful set of muscles that run along the outside of the right arm and elbow to the right shoulder. If you work the tips of the thumb and forefinger together and apply any considerable amount of pressure, you automatically activate those muscles of the right arm and shoulder -- and those are not the muscles you want to use in the golf swing. Using them is what breeds so many golfers who never swing with both hands working together, who lurch back and then lurch into the ball, all right arm and right shoulder and all wrong." (pp 24-25, emphasis mine)
Hogan says that the two middle fingers of the right hand are the "pressure" fingers in the grip. He also stresses that the last three fingers of the left hand should apply pressure -- again, not the thumb and forefinger.

Why is gripping with the thumb and forefinger so bad in the full swing? Because they minimize wrist action, which is necessary to generate power. After stressing a left-hand (lead) grip that doesn't interfere with the left wrist, Hogan specifically points out that the right (trailing) hand will then "take over" if you "pinch" the club with the right thumb and forefinger.

But that's in a full swing. What happens when this knowledge is transferred to a putting grip?

Well, if the trailing hand "takes over" in the putting grip, the lead wrist will likely cup at impact. (I talked about that in yesterday's post. That cupping is the problem.) In a full swing we need for the lead wrist to remain flexible so it can create power, but in a putting stroke we don't need power. Because of that, in our putting stroke we'd like the lead wrist to be a bit firmer. Are you with me so far?

The easiest way to do this is to lightly "pinch" the club with the thumb and forefinger of the trailing hand. And the key word here is lightly. Rather than focusing the grip in the last three fingers of the trailing hand, all we have to do is grip evenly with all five fingers. That allows us to use a very light grip that still firms up the wrist.

Now let's see how this works for each player. We'll start with Steve Stricker.

In a traditional reverse-overlap putting grip (in case you missed it, there was a picture in yesterday's post) all of the fingers of the trailing hand are on the club but only three from the lead hand -- notably, that means the lead forefinger is off the club. Since Stricker prefers to control the club with his lead (left) hand, it makes sense that he would want to reverse that -- which is just what his full swing Vardon grip does! With the forefinger of his lead hand now on the club, that wrist automatically firms up while the trailing hand's grip (which is now only three fingers) is lessened. His trailing hand doesn't have to grip the club at all. He can just lay it along the club's handle and push lightly. Such a light grip allows for a good sense of touch.

But Tiger prefers to control the club with his trailing (right) hand, so it's no surprise that he's used the reverse-overlap grip for years. Now that he's experimenting a bit, he could certainly use a Vardon grip like Stricks... but it would feel more like his lead hand was in control. So he compromised and tried his interlocking grip, which feels very familiar. It took his trailing hand pinky finger off the club but, since it interlocks with his lead hand, his trailing hand grip feels just as solid. And while his lead hand grip feels roughly the same -- there are still only three fingers on the club -- the interlocked forefinger helps firm up his trailing wrist slightly. It's not a huge change, but it's enough to keep him from cupping his wrist when he strokes the putt.

So that's the more technical explanation of yesterday's post. And if you're thinking ahead and wondering if that means the ten-finger grip -- the third grip in the photo above -- would reduce wrist movement even more because both forefingers and thumbs are on the club, you're absolutely correct. I wrote about that in Ruthless Putting over two years ago, and it's just as true now. And a split grip -- separating the hands slightly -- firms the wrists up even more.

I hope this helps you struggling putters out there. Just look how quickly it helped Tiger!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tiger's Putting Change

Tiger got a lot of attention Friday, but not so much for his play as for his putting grip. Normally he uses a reverse-overlap grip, where the forefinger of his lead hand (left hand for a righty, right hand for a lefty) overlaps the last couple of fingers on his trailing hand. Friday he used the interlock grip he normally uses in his full swing.

Here are pictures of the two grips. The first photo of the reverse-overlap grip comes from this page at thesandtrap.com and the second photo of the interlocking grip comes from 1st-beginners-golf-swing-tips.com.

Reverse-overlap putting gripInterlocking grip

Tiger said simply that Steve Stricker does it, and that was good enough for him to experiment with it.

On Golf Central Charlie Rymer tried to explain why Tiger might find this change useful. (Charlie called the original grip a "double reverse-overlap," but that just refers to how many fingers Tiger's forefinger overlaps.) He said that the interlocking grip gave Tiger a bit more flexibility in the wrists, which allowed him to release the clubhead more easily.

Unfortunately, he was completely wrong. In Charlie's defense, he gave the explanation that most teachers would have probably given.

In this post I'm going to tell you why Tiger -- and apparently Steve Stricker -- are using the interlocking grip with their putter.

First, let's get this whole "releasing" thing straight. "Releasing the putterhead" is how many people describe the toe of the putter passing the heel during the stroke. But too many teachers and players are giving the impression that you have to twist your wrists and forearms in order to "release" the putterhead. This is completely wrong, and I suspect it's part of the reason that so many people have trouble squaring the putter at impact.

Here's a diagram I used in my book Ruthless Putting. It shows the putterhead moving as it strokes the ball -- the top one is a straight-line stroke (a la Dave Pelz) and the bottom one an arc stroke (a la Stan Utley). In each case, the little squares in front of the putterhead indicate that the putterface is always at a right angle to the path of the stroke.

How the putterhead releases during the stroke
Now, the putterhead is clearly "releasing" in that bottom stroke -- that is, the toe of the putter passes the heel of the putter. But if you imagine the triangle formed by your shoulders and hands as a flat iron triangle that can't be bent, and you welded the putter shaft to it so the putterface was square at address (the middle position on the diagram), you could make the stroke shown by merely turning around your spine. Your wrists and forearms don't have to twist at all to release the putterhead. If you do, you're just making the game harder than necessary.

The problem many players have is that their lead wrist cups as they hit the ball. That just means the lead wrist bends backward. In fact, the photo of the reverse-overlap grip at the beginning of this post actually shows this player's left (lead) wrist in a cupped position. Many players cup their wrist even more at the moment they hit the putt, and that causes the putterhead to suddenly move upward. As a result, they don't hit the ball solidly.

The reverse-overlap grip doesn't firm up the wrists. In fact, it's the most flexible of any putting grip you can use. It was developed many decades ago, back when greens were slower and players wanted more wrist action so they could "pop" the ball and get it up on top of the grass.

However, if you grip your putter with an interlocking grip, you'll actually reduce the amount of flex in your wrists. There are other grips that also do this, but the interlocking grip lets you get a firmer hold on the club without tightening your grip as much. The interlocking fingers form a mechanical bond between the hands that is reinforced by the shaft, almost as if the shaft was wedged into your hands.

Try it yourself. You'll find that you don't cup your wrist as much with the interlocking grip because you don't have to hold the club as tightly. Or to put it another way, since your wrists are more relaxed, the weight of the club keeps them straighter. The pull of gravity actually keeps you from cupping your wrist.

A light grip is one of the two most important components of a consistent putting stroke. That's why Steve Stricker uses this grip and why Tiger is copying him. And I agree with Tiger -- Stricks hits it pretty good, so he's a good player to copy.

And that, as Paul Harvey would have said, is the rest of the story. ;-)

UPDATE: I finally got to hear some of Tiger's after-round comments in the media center and he said that Stricker's putting grip is essentially a Vardon grip and that he (Stricker) feels as if his left hand controls the putter. Since Stricks is using the same grip for both long and short game, it makes sense that he would recommend Tiger do the same.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Donald Knocks Off the Rust

After a roller-coaster November that saw both the death of his dad and the birth of his daughter, Luke Donald is finally back out on the course. Not at the UBS Hong Kong Open -- where Rory McIlroy is making his best effort to catch Donald in the Race to Dubai -- but at the limited-field Nedbank Golf Challenge.

And it's clear Donald has a little rust to deal with after his layoff. He's T9 after 2 rounds, 5 shots off the lead. Rounds of 70-72 probably aren't that bad after a month away but his 8 birdies were offset by 4 bogeys and 1 double, some of which went in the drink -- hardly what we're used to seeing from him.

Ironically, the real story in Sun City may be Jason Dufner, the only American in the field. (Yes, there's a senior field playing with several Americans in it, but that division doesn't even show up on the leaderboard.) Dufner is only one shot off the lead and playing very steady golf. (By that I mean NO BIG NUMBERS. He has 9 birdies and 3 bogeys.)

Next week I suspect Donald will be at Dubai to make sure he wins the Race to Dubai. And I'm sure at least part of the reason he's in Sun City rather than Hong Kong is 4 guaranteed rounds of competitive golf against most of the higher-ranked players in the world. But of all the tournaments being played this week, it appears he picked the one with the nicest weather.

If you've gotta knock off the rust, you might as well do it in style.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"A Position I Recognize"

When Tiger did his press conference on Wednesday, he said something that none of the media pursued. I think it's a revealing statement about the learning process, one that all weekend golfers can benefit from if they understand it.

The statement was a simple one. Tiger was asked what had changed about his swing and why he was playing so much better now. He said he had known what he wanted to do and what he needed to do, he just couldn't do it. (A lot of that was health-related, of course.) He talked about the time it took to learn the new approach Sean Foley was teaching him. He talked about how it took a while to understand what he was doing wrong when he made mistakes. And then he said -- and I believe this is the exact quote -- "Sean has me in a position I recognize."

This statement says so much in just a few words! It tells you that the principles Tiger was working on are now moves he can duplicate consistently. More importantly, it tells you that those positions feel not just good but familiar.

Familiar. That's a word you wouldn't expect, based on the criticism he took earlier in the year. Analyst after analyst complained that the swing he and Foley were building didn't look or act anything like that mythical Holy Grail called the "Butch" swing of 2000-2001. And yet familiar is the word Tiger uses to describe his "new move."

It's no secret that I think Tiger and Sean have been trying to go back to his teenage swing -- minus that big move off the ball that Tiger eliminated under Butch Harmon's care. I've said as much in earlier posts. The real question is how can a swing feel familiar but look entirely different from what you did before?

I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing how you can think you're doing one thing when you're actually doing something else. The first time I saw my swing on video shocked me. For example, I was certain that my club was on plane during my backswing. Instead, I was twisting the club into a laid-off position and moving my hands way underneath the plane. It wasn't until Carl taught me some drills that felt entirely wrong (at first) that I learned an important truth:

Feelings are deceptive in the golf swing. Without an objective standard to measure yourself against, your feelings are not an accurate indication of what you're doing -- or not doing -- during your swing.

It has taken Tiger quite a while to get the hang of what Foley has been teaching him. It clearly felt odd to him before; that's why he was "thinking mechanics, not swing" out on the course. That's because the moves that felt right didn't produce the actions that Sean wanted him to do.

That's changed now. Tiger finally realizes that the moves he was trying to do before actually feel different from what he thought they should. Now he's associated the new feels with the mechanics he intended to do all along. When he recreates the "feels" that seemed so wrong before -- feels that he could make easily but didn't match the mental picture he had of his swing -- he knows that he's actually right where he intended to be all along. The mental disconnect is gone.

To use Tiger's words, now he's in a position he recognizes.

When you're working with a new swing thought, the problem is rarely a hard-to-duplicate move. It's your mind's inability to believe that this new move is correct. The wrong move feels right to you, and the right move feels wrong. If you can identify a move you already know that duplicates the correct feel, you can often short-circuit this problem. I use this idea all the time in my posts, as when I suggested that (to me, anyway) the downswing feels very similar to throwing a Frisbee. Researchers have found that the fastest way to learn anything is to associate it with something you already know.

Are you struggling to make a change in your swing? Compare it to "a position you recognize." You just might find the new move isn't so hard to learn after all.