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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting a Firm Grip

I haven't put up anything about grips in a while, and I found this clip that I liked. It's basically an ad for Swing Man Golf, but it has a couple of useful bits of info that I thought you'd all find useful:



First, that little trick about wedging the club under the heel of your lead hand? That's pure Hogan. If you want to pattern your swing after Hogan in any way, shape, or form, you should pay close attention to that part of the video. And even if you aren't a Hogan disciple, it can help you reduce the amount of pressure you need to keep a firm grip on the club.

Bear in mind that it's very important to have the correct size grips on your club in order to hold the club this way. If the grip is too large or too small, you'll have trouble getting a firm hold. If you have trouble, ask your local pro to check your grips.

And on the second point, you need to understand that a neutral grip does NOT mean that your thumbs are centered on top of the grip. The Vs between your thumb and forefinger -- on both hands -- will be centered on top. That means that your thumbs actually rest on the opposite side of the grip from your palms!

Many of you who are having problems with slices will find this small adjustment will straighten you out or at least reduce your slice to a very playable fade.

These are small things, but they can make a huge difference in your swing. Best of all, you can practice them right in your living room while watching TV because you don't have to swing a club to practice your grip and address position.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 RBC Canadian Open

Winner: Scott Piercy

Around the wider world of golf: Inbee Park won the LPGA/LET Evian Masters with a lights-out putting exhibition; Fred Couples won the Senior Open Championship on the Champions Tour; Bernd Wiesberger won the Lyoness Open on the ET; and Ben Kohles won his very first tournament as a pro at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on the Web.com Tour.

Piercy holds his prize

Scott Piercy has been so close lately. After missing cuts at the U.S. Open and the AT&T National, Piercy scored a T12 at the Greenbrier and a 3rd at the Steve Stricker Clas--, er, the John Deere Classic. He just couldn't seem to get over the hump.

Fortunately for him, some of his friends on the Tour gave him a little push. They didn't mean to, of course... but the result was the same.

Robert Garrigus and Will McGirt were both in full pursuit Sunday afternoon. But Piercy's decision to play a strategic game at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club, rather than his normal power game, left him in a very solid position -- sitting in the clubhouse with a -3 for the final round and -17 for the week. Under the pressure, McGirt bogeyed the final hole to fall out of a tie and Garrigus left his birdie putt just inches short. (Don't cry too hard for them -- McGirt still locked up his card and Garrigus is now just outside the Top 30 in the FedExCup. Not too shabby for either of them.)

Piercy seemed to struggle just getting his mind around his win. His only other win was last year's Reno-Tahoe Open, where he had planned to defend his title next week. Unfortunately, he is no longer able to do so -- unfortunate for the tournament, that is.

Fortunately for him, that's because he'll be heading for his first WGC event, at Bridgestone.

So this week, the Limerick Summary salutes the power hitter who played the strategic game he doesn't really care for -- and reaped the benefits. Apparently "But it's good for you!" is a good reason to do something after all:
Though he'd already locked up his card,
Scott's route to a win had been barred.
But he reined in his power
To be man of the hour;
Now at Bridgestone, again he'll drive hard.
The photo came from the front page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

So Many Storylines...

As if the Olympics weren't enough, this week's golf tournaments have left us with an amazing number of storylines.

The ET's tournament, the Lyoness Open, ended Saturday (I had forgotten about that) so players have time to get to the WGC-Bridgestone this week. Bernd Wiesberger got his second win of the season -- and I admit I expected Thorbjorn Olesen to grab his second win of the season instead.

Over on the Champions Tour, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer are the final group at the Senior Open Championship. That should certainly be interesting.

The Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on the Web.com Tour is in the sights of Ben Kohles, who turned pro this very week when he got a sponsor's invite. That's a nice way to make your pro debut!

Robert Garrigus has managed to take the lead at the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour. That finishes up later today.

And the ladies over in the Evian Masters are playing live in the early hours on GC, starting at 6am ET. If I had to pick a storyline here, it would be that Natalie Gulbis is just one stroke off the lead. After all her injuries and such, a win for her would be a big deal... especially since her only other win is at the 2007 Evian Masters.

So settle in for a busy day of golf and Olympics... and channel surfing.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Olympics Are Here!

On the outside chance you didn't see this, let me just say that there was no way I could follow this with a post. In case you missed it...

This is the BBC's broadcast. The movie that starts the clip was being seen by the people in the Olympic Arena, as James Bond escorts the Queen to the Olympic opening ceremony. (Yes, it's the real Queen, and it was shot at the real Buckingham Palace. Even the Queen's pet Corgis are in it.) Just after the 4:40 mark the video begins cutting back and forth between the film being seen in the arena and the actual arrival of the helicopter...



I hope you didn't miss the Churchill statue!

I wish I could have found NBC's clip, as they followed "the Queen" all the way down and you could see her land behind the area from which she entered the arena. Alas, I had to do this post before their clip had time to reach YouTube.

In case you're interested, here's an article with more detail on the film.

But like I said, I simply couldn't follow this. It's one of the coolest things any Olympic presenter has ever done! I'll get back to golf tomorrow.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Will Putterus Extendus Go Extinct?

While players using regular putters were shooting lights-out at the LPGA and PGA events Thursday, the rumors continued to circulate that the USGA and the R&A will make a ruling about long putters within the next few months.

Most of the rumormongers seem to think that the putters themselves won't be outlawed, only the practice of "anchoring" them against a player's body. If they do, the general belief is that the rule won't take effect immediately, but will be phased in over 3 or 4 years to give players time to learn how to putt normally.

Some believe that bifurcation is inevitable -- that is, that the ruling bodies will make two sets of rules concerning the putters. In that case, amateurs will be able to use them while pros will not.

And a few commentators -- David Feherty is one -- believe that the pro tours should simply make their own laws concerning long putters, regardless of what the "amateur" ruling bodies decide.

If the USGA and R&A decide to outlaw long putters, I'll post some help for those of you struggling to adapt to the new rules. It'll be particularly easy if they merely outlaw "anchoring," as there are other ways to putt legally using long putters.

What bothers me is the mere fact that it has come to this. It sounds harsh, but it seems that no one understands the simple basics of putting anymore... and I blame most of it on technology and how teachers interpret it.

We can now measure things in the putting stroke that we couldn't even conceive a couple of decades ago. There are two problems with this:
  • We think anything that happens during the putting stroke has to be consciously performed by the player.
  • We think that when we can determine "the most efficient" way to do something, we have automatically found "the most effective" way to do something.
Neither of these beliefs are true.

Many of the things we measure during a putting stroke are side-effects of other things we do. For example, if you bend your trailing elbow during your backswing, the clubface is going to make different moves than it will if your trailing elbow remains extended. If you try to get those other moves on the way back by consciously manipulating the clubface, you have to consciously undo them on the way down. However, if you just focus on your elbow, those other things will happen on their own and will probably happen more consistently.

In the second case, let me give you a couple of examples. Most modern teaching says you should hit upward on the ball to get the smoothest roll and theoretically make more putts. Yet Loren Roberts, "the Boss of the Moss," will tell you in no uncertain terms that he wants to hit down on the ball when he putts. And he's not the only good putter who'll tell you that.

Likewise, it's common now to teach a short backswing that accelerates through the ball and makes a longer followthrough. Bobby Jones taught just the opposite, saying that the main key to good putting is a long slow backswing. Listen to commentators admiring Ai Miyazato's stroke -- they say it may be the best in pro golf, and it's a long slow backswing.

Long putters don't make you a better putter if you know the basics of good putting technique; they only help if you're doing it wrong to begin with. For me, the real question is whether a new rule will do anything to change the way we teach putting... or will poor putters simply quit the game in frustration.

That remains to be seen.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Major and a Half

The major, of course, is the Senior Open Championship at Turnberry. Tom Watson is playing. Those two facts alone should be enough to get you to watch!

Here in the States, the broadcast is on ESPN2 from noon ET until 2pm ET. If you go to either the Champions Tour site's TV page or the European Tour site's TV page (they're the same page), you can find a listing of times for a lot of countries... and neither lists the US times, so I don't know how much help it will be. It shows the Australia listings by default, so you'll have to choose your country from the list.

In either case, here's the live leaderboard. Watson is playing in a threesome with Greg Norman and Roger Chapman (the English player who's won two majors so far this year). Russ Cochran is the defending champion.

The "half major" is the Evian Masters, which will be a major on the LPGA starting next year. I still think that move was initially conceived as part of a plan to ensure there would still be four majors should Kraft Nabisco not renew their contract past 2014. (Whan originally said the tournament would go on regardless, even if it didn't continue to be a major.) While the situation appears to have changed -- KNC's new owners seem to be warming to the tournament's value, and other "suitors" have made it clear that they would be interested if KNC wasn't -- I suspect the alternative "five majors" plan was also developed as an expansion of the LPGA's new "world leader" status.

If you haven't read any of my past posts about the idea, I'm guessing the LPGA will have the Kraft Nabisco and the U.S. Women's Open in North America, the LET-co-sponsored Women's Open Championship and Evian Masters in Europe, and then move a co-sponsored LPGA/LET Championship around to different continents. That would give them a major that could be played in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and -- if the popularity of the game keeps expanding -- South America and Africa.

Anyway, the 2012 not-a-major-quite-yet Evian Masters will be broadcast-delayed here in the States until 6:30pm ET through 8:30pm ET. Tony Jesselli has already posted a preview over at Mostly Harmless, so I'm just linking you to that article. And, if you want to know how the scoring goes before the broadcast airs late in the day, the LPGA live leaderboard is here. Ai Miyazato is the defending champ.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Graeme McDowell on the Beach

I couldn't believe my luck here. I found a video of Graeme McDowell explaining how to judge the spin you'll get coming out of a trap.



Just a few of the points you need to make sure you get:
  • Soft sand won't give you as much spin at firm sand.
  • You need a good lie to get spin.
  • You have to hit closer to the ball to get more spin.
  • Soft sand means the ball will release more when it hits the green.
  • You need a wedge with more loft in soft sand.
Graeme says more in this video, and it's info you don't hear very often. Play this several times until you get all you can out of it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some Thoughts from Tom House

Monday I heard that Tim Tebow had been doing some work with a pitching coach named Tom House. You may be wondering... what does that have to do with golf?

House works with athletes in a variety of sports, helping them improve their mechanics. He did a brief phone interview Monday on ESPN -- primarily because he's working with Tebow and anything involving Tebow is news -- and he mentioned a couple of things that may help you improve your golf swing.

How long does it take for a new move to become... well, your new move? When does it become second nature? House said that research done on thousands of athletes from different sports -- and he specifically mentioned martial arts -- is that it takes 1000 perfect repetitions to master a new skill. I've heard the saying in a slightly form, that it takes 1000 reps to learn a technique and 10,000 to master it.

Still, this saying seems to match up with the idea that it takes anywhere from one to several months to "own" a new skill. If you made 100 swings a day -- and I'm assuming you took your time to make each one correctly, not just swinging a club rapidly -- it would take only 10 days to reach 1000 reps. You would reach 10,000 reps in only 100 days, just over three months.

And if each swing took only 10 seconds -- I'm allowing plenty of time to focus on doing each rep correctly -- your daily 100-swing routine would require 1000 seconds, or just under 17 minutes. Using that figure, it would take somewhere between 3 hours (1000 swings) and 29 hours (10,000 reps) to get that new swing motion down. That doesn't sound all that bad, does it?

Bear in mind that the figure assumes you focus on doing the correct movement each time. Tiger has said that it typically takes him 15 months or so to learn a new swing because, once he gets out in a tournament, he tends to slip back into the old swing. Then it takes extra time on the range to overcome the "backsliding" from improper practice.

House also mentioned that, at least when you're talking about throwing a football, inaccuracy to the left or right is usually caused by a posture problem and throwing too high or too low is caused by arm movement problems. Although I'm certain it's not nearly so clearcut with a golf swing, we do know that leaning backward can cause pushed shots and leaning forward (which happens during an over-the-top swing) can cause pulled shots because your posture has a huge effect on your swing path. And getting your arms out of sync with your body can certainly cause fat or thin shots.

What does this all mean to you? It sounds to me like short practice sessions spent making correct swings can get quicker results -- in a matter of weeks, in fact -- than hours spent smacking ball after ball with a sloppy swing. Work out when you're fresh and know you can make correct swings; quit when you start getting tired. And it also sounds as if you should focus on proper balance and posture during your practice if you want to make the fastest progress.

Just one more thought: It all sounds pretty sensible to me. But like I keep saying, golf isn't that difficult -- we just teach it that way. And while I know some of you think I'm crazy to say that, just think about this for a moment:
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of basketball. It's just hard to learn how to play like LeBron James.
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of tennis. It's just hard to learn how to play like Maria Sharapova.
There's a difference between developing a level of skill that lets you play well in an amateur setting and developing a level of skill that lets you play well in a professional setting. If you can agree with me about that -- and I think most of you would -- then it follows:
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of golf. It's just hard to learn how to play like Tiger Woods.
Most of you are capable of playing better than you do. It's just a matter of focusing on learning the basics and not judging your performance against an unrealistic standard.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 Open Championship

Winner: Ernie Els

Around the wider world of golf: Dan Quinn won the American Century Championship celebrity event in Tahoe, which is interesting primarily because he'll be caddying for Ernie Els in Canada this week; Minjee Lee won the USGA's U.S. Girl's Junior over Alison Lee; Jenny Gleason won the Symetra Tour's Northeast Delta Dental International; Scott Stallings won the True South Classic, the PGA Tour's alternate event; and Megumi Kido won the JLPGA's Samantha Thavasa Ladies. The Constructivist has details on that one.

Ernie kisses the Jug

Oh my god!

Is there really any other phrase that's adequate to describe Sunday's finish at the Open?

Personally, I couldn't have been more wrong with my predictions. I thought Zach Johnson was out of it because, at -5 and T5 for the tourney, he was just too far back. Ernie Els was also T5.

I said all Adam had to do was shoot 68 to get the win. Ernie Els shot 68 to get the win.

I called it a two-man race between Scott and McDowell. And it was... a race down the leaderboard.

Who would have ever expected a four-shot lead with four holes left to just evaporate?

This finish will probably be debated for weeks. In the meantime, I'd just like to put what Ernie has done in perspective. GC pointed out a few things -- he became one of a handful of players to win majors in 3 separate decades, as well as joining Jack, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player as the only players to win a major after entering the Hall of Fame. But there was one accomplishment they mentioned that I don't feel they presented properly... and I think it's a much bigger deal than the others.

There were only five players (previous to Ernie's win) who had won both Opens more than once. (I've used "US" for the U.S. Open and "Br" for the Open Championship.) That list, from earliest winner to latest (the year shows the last year they won a major), now looks like this:
  • Walter Hagen: 2 US, 4 Br, 1929
  • Bobby Jones: 4 US, 3 Br, 1930
  • Lee Trevino: 2 US, 2 Br, 1984
  • Jack Nicklaus: 4 US, 3 Br, 1986
  • Tiger Woods: 3 US, 3 Br, 2008
  • Ernie Els: 2 US, 2 Br, 2012
In my opinion, winning both Opens more than once lifts you above all the other major champions because you have demonstrated the ability to win at both American and European styles of golf under varying conditions and on different courses. This is a big deal because, if you check, most players are good at one style or the other, but don't have a large number of wins -- even regular wins -- in both. (You could get lucky to win just one U.S. Open or one Open Championship. And to be honest, multiple winners usually win multiple Opens and just one U.S. Open. Ben Hogan is the exception with 4 US, 1 Br.)

But look at this list more closely and you'll see something interesting. The three players with at least three wins in both -- Jones, Nicklaus, and Woods -- were the dominant players of their eras. Of the others, Hagen was Jones's greatest rival and Trevino was one of Nicklaus's greatest rivals. And Els? Tiger has said several times that he expected Ernie to be his primary rival when he came on Tour.

I find myself wondering if Ernie might not be on the verge of a "second career" where he wins even more majors. Yes, the rumor has it that the belly putter may be outlawed in the coming months. I'll just point out what several commentators noted this week -- that Ernie's current belly putting setup looks remarkably similar to his regular putting setup from back when he was winning majors a decade ago. If this is true, I wouldn't be surprised if Ernie could change back and putt just fine!

In the meantime, this week's Limerick Summary pays homage to Ernie Els, his record-setting win, and the "oh my god!" moment of the golf season so far:
So… Ernie's four back near the end;
Four holes left; and you know it's been ten
Years since he won a major.
Would you take a wager
That he'd win the Open again?
The photo comes from the front page of PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Well, I Wasn't Far Off...

As it was with Friday's post, some of my predictions for yesterday's round were spot on while others missed badly. Here's a quick refresher:
Today we'll probably see the top 10 or so jockey for position; I'm not sure what the score will be at the end of the day, but I expect to see Adam Scott leading. I don't think Sneds is going to play badly, but he's gotten awfully lucky with some of his tee shots and I don't see his luck holding up. It only takes one or two bad breaks in that rough to make par a great score. Unless Tiger's putter gets hot, I expect him to repeat his last two performances and finish at -8 or -9. Beyond that, I expect McDowell, Kuchar, and Dufner to get in the mix.
Clearly Tiger shot an even par round so I missed that one. Likewise, Kuchar and Dufner both went backwards. However, I was pretty much on target with the rest of my predictions, especially with Scott leading, Sneds falling back, and McDowell entering the fray.

Here's the update on my "5 to Watch":
  • Tiger Woods: -6, 4th
  • Rickie Fowler: +3, T43
  • Lee Westwood: +4, T54
  • Francesco Molinari: +2, T33
  • Zach Johnson: -5, T5
I take some consolation knowing that all of my picks (except Tiger) improved their positions from the 2nd to the 3rd round. Zach really proved my faith in him by surging back into the top 5, but I think he's too far back unless Adam stumbles.

As for today's final round, I'm going to use a phrase that I absolutely detest because most of the time I think it's an inaccurate cliche. That phrase is:
This is Adam Scott's tournament to win.
In this case, I believe it's impossible to say anything that's more accurate. Here's my reasoning: Scott is 4 shots ahead of McDowell and Sneds, 5 ahead of Tiger, and it gets worse from there. All Adam Scott has to do is shoot -2 today -- a 68 -- and both McDowell and Sneds will have to tie the course record just to force a playoff, while Tiger and all his other pursuers will have to break the course record. Granted, Sneds did that earlier this week... but doing it twice is a big ask. McDowell is certainly capable of it if he gets on a roll... but his best score this week is a 67. Again, a big ask.

Let me repeat: This is Adam's tournament to win IF he can manage to post a 68, which would tie his worst score this week.

If we get some wind -- and I won't be surprised, since Weather Channel is currently predicting 17mph winds gusting to 25mph -- I think it's a two-man race between Scott and McDowell, as both men are good wind players. Tiger's current strategy would probably have worked well had we seen wind all week, but I don't see him breaking the course record today with his current iron play; he's just not hitting it close enough to make a good run. (I don't believe that's going to last, but it's too late for this Open.)

As for the winner... gotta be Adam Scott. If Graeme was only 2 strokes back, I wouldn't be nearly so sure, but 4 strokes is too much unless Adam stumbles... and Adam isn't going to stumble.

Sports psychologist Steve Williams will earn his money today.

And if Adam does indeed get this major, I'll go out on a limb and say that the golf scene has seen its first major power shift (sorry, couldn't resist) since Tiger fell out of the OWGR's #1 spot.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sneds & the Waggler Invade England

Some of my predictions from yesterday were spot on, while others weren't. My most accurate turned out to be my "under par" number -- I guessed 25, the actual number was 27. Here's the update on my "5 to Watch":
  • Tiger Woods: -6, 3rd
  • Rickie Fowler: +3, T68
  • Lee Westwood: +3, T68
  • Francesco Molinari: +1, T40
  • Zach Johnson: -1, T15
Westwood and Fowler made the cut on the number. It's interesting that Lee moved up nearly 30 spots with a round of par on a calm day. Apparently the R&A set the pins high on difficult knobs trying to get them above the water table (I don't see that changing this weekend, btw), and nobody could figure out how to deal with them.

Except Sneds, of course. All he did was tie Nick Faldo's -10 record for 36 holes. The other big mover (in my opinion, anyway) was Jason Dufner aka the Waggler. While -4 may seem a long way back, we have to remember that it's not just the score -- it's how many people you have to pass. Jason was at even when the day started, behind 27 other players. All of the players now at -4 (including Jason) are now T5. In essence, they only have to pass 4 players... and a little weather (predicted for Sunday) could give them the chance. Let's not forget Rory McIlroy's infamous 2010 Open, with rounds of 63-80-69-68 to snag solo 3rd. Most of the players are clearly struggling to deal with better-than-expected conditions, so there's no telling what kind of bad rounds might happen if the weather turns!

I don't expect much change at the top of the leaderboard today. Conditions are expected to be much the same until Sunday, when winds up to around 25mph are expected. Today we'll probably see the top 10 or so jockey for position; I'm not sure what the score will be at the end of the day, but I expect to see Adam Scott leading. I don't think Sneds is going to play badly, but he's gotten awfully lucky with some of his tee shots and I don't see his luck holding up. It only takes one or two bad breaks in that rough to make par a great score. Unless Tiger's putter gets hot, I expect him to repeat his last two performances and finish at -8 or -9. Beyond that, I expect McDowell, Kuchar, and Dufner to get in the mix.

Apparently the bunkers are in everybody's heads. Let's see how the leaders handle them today!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Few Surprises

Well, the first round of the Open gave us a few surprises... starting with decent weather! First, let me put up the scores of my "5 to Watch":
  • Tiger Woods: -3, T6
  • Rickie Fowler: +1, T54
  • Lee Westwood: +3, T99
  • Francesco Molinari: -1, T22
  • Zach Johnson: -5, T2
Currently the cut is projected at +1, although we know that will probably change today. But given that Zach was one of my two favorites, his good play was especially satisfying to watch.

There were 3 big shocks for me in the first round. Of course, I expected more from my other favorite, Lee Westwood. He'll need a really good round today if he even hopes to make the cut. Funny thing -- I thought his comment after the round that he didn't feel as if he had any control over the ball was something everybody could relate to!

I was also shocked by Justin Rose's poor performance -- at +4 he was even worse than Westwood. Given his play this year, I didn't expect that at all.

But I may have been even more shocked by the good play of Bubba Watson. That he had learned so much from Tiger and Phil in 2 days at the U.S. Open AND had successfully figured out a way to use it so soon was amazing to me. Granted, he had good weather in which to play, but that hasn't helped him in the past. If he can maintain the good attitude he had Thursday, I think he's got a good chance this week.

We saw a lot of firsts Thursday as well -- Adam Scott's best score and first-ever lead in a major, and best scores by both Paul Lawrie and Zach. Sneds made a good showing in his comeback from injury, and several other struggling players posted good numbers. Luke Donald even managed to post an even par opening round! But what should we expect today?

Well, as I'm writing this, Weather Channel says it's 99% humidity in Lancashire. Today they predict 50% chance of rain with 78% humidity, 61 degrees F, 6mph wind. In other words, it's going to be sloppy and uncomfortable! I think that's going to thin the herd a bit.

I don't know how Adam will do, but I won't be surprised if he does well. While he's not used to having the lead, his caddy is and I suspect Steve Williams will keep him calm.

Look for the past major winners to move up the leaderboard and the number of players under par to decrease. A full 36 players were under par after Thursday's round; if the weather does turn, I'd expect that number to drop to maybe 25 by day's end. And depending on the weather, I'm looking for the lead to be -8 or less.

And while Zach's still my favorite, watch for moves by Paul Lawrie, Ernie Els, and Graeme McDowell in that order. Lawrie was awfully impressive on the back 9 Thursday.

Now if Mother Nature will just surprise us with a little weather!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just a Reminder...

ESPN will be carrying the Open Championship live starting at 4:30am ET with a re-broadcast at 3pm ET. I'll refer you to this SBNation/Golf post about the coverage for more info about the coverage -- apparently Boomer isn't involved this time.

You can also keep up with the broadcast (and rebroadcast) times at ESPN's TV listings page. Just click the arrows at either end to scroll through the listings.

As for my own thoughts, I want to wait until after the first round before I write anymore about it since this Open almost defies prediction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My "5 to Watch" for the Open

Gosh, there are so many players I think have a good chance this week at Royal Lytham & St. Annes... but I have to limit myself to only 5. So here goes:
  1. Tiger Woods: I have said all year that if Tiger kept improving as I expected, he would be my favorite. Well, he's not my favorite. I like where his full swing is but I'm a little unsure about his short game which is less consistent than I thought it would be. However, he's improved enough to make my "5 to Watch" list for the first time this year. The wet conditions may help him if his short game is off a little, and if it isn't... well, anything might happen. His experience also figures in; he has 3 Opens, you know.
  2. Rickie Fowler: Although he hasn't won a major, Rickie has won on two tours -- previous experience "across the pond" is important when playing an Open -- and played very well in last year's bad weather Open, as well as at the Ryder Cup. More importantly, Rickie enjoys the challenge of Open conditions. That fares well for him this week.
  3. Lee Westwood: Lee is one of my favorites this week. I like the relaxed attitude he seems to have at majors now; unlike Luke Donald, he seems to be learning how to get out of his own way. Despite the disparaging comments others have made about Lee's putting and short game, the vast number of wins he has "over there," combined with his good play in majors during the last three years or so and his great ballstriking, makes him a favorite. Like Tiger and Rickie, I think the poor conditions will work in his favor and his putter will be just fine.
  4. Francesco Molinari: This may seem like a strange pick, but I like how he's been playing. He nearly won the Scottish Open last week in challenging conditions, and his accuracy from tee to green combined with wet conditions should help him put the ball wherever he wants. Plus, although he hasn't won a major, he has won a WGC playing head-to-head with Lee Westwood so he's plenty tough. All he needs is for his putter to get hot and, given his play lately, that's entirely possible.
  5. Zach Johnson: Zach is my other favorite this week. He hasn't played that well at the Open, but sometimes it just takes a while to learn the links. He already has a Masters, he's won twice this year already and is playing well most of the other weeks, his putting and short game are sharp, and he's extremely accurate. But most importantly -- and this goes for Francesco as well -- normally you'd think that being relatively short with all his clubs would be a disadvantage. Not so this week. With the soft conditions, he won't have to worry about low-loft clubs coming in too hot and running out of control along the ground. And he has an advantage that Francesco doesn't have -- Zach already hits a low ball that should bore through the wind. Eliminate the fear of shots coming in too hot and he should actually have an advantage. Lee Trevino was also a short hitter with a low trajectory... and he won 2 Opens.
There are a number of other players I debated over -- Harrington, Rose, and Els among them. But I feel good about my picks, and I think we're going to have a surprise winner this week.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some Help for Ramzi

Some of you may remember that Ramzi Abdullah from Malaysia left some comments on last week's post about Na Yeon Choi's swing, asking for some help with a pull. Ramzi has written before -- I did a post for him called Golfing Large, in case you missed it -- and he says it helped some. (That post focused on his driving, which he says has improved but still isn't great.)

Today I'm going to see if I can't give him some better help. I asked him a few questions in the NYC post comments, and he sent me an email with some answers. He also sent me a short video, so I have a bit more to work with this time. Ramzi says he shoots in the 104-110 range (I remember being stuck there once myself), and I definitely think we can help him get that down quite a bit.

Ramzi at addressThe video helped, but it was at the wrong angle to tell me everything I'd like to know. As you can see from this still of Ramzi's setup, it's neither a face-on or a down-the-line view... but I think I've found a few things we can work on, especially with the info he included in his email.

Just a note: Sometimes I'm speaking directly to Ramzi in this post, but often I'm talking to everybody because Ramzi's problem is a common one. Don't let the sudden change between the two confuse you!

Ramzi's address position actually looks pretty good. From this position I can't tell for sure, but it looks as if his knees aren't flexed enough -- but let me make this clear: From this angle I can't tell for sure. However, if Ramzi's knees are too straight, that would definitely contribute to an over-the-top swing. And if you come over-the-top, you'll almost certainly pull the ball.

But Ramzi, I can't tell for sure from this angle. Don't change your knee flex until you work on the other things I'm going to talk about. Even if your knees are too straight now, I suspect they won't be by the time we're finished... so just keep reading.

I noticed when viewing the video that Ramzi seems to be "losing the brace" in his right leg a little bit as he makes his backswing, but he knew about that problem and he tells me that he's gone to more of a "reverse K" setup since this video was made roughly 4 months ago. First, let me make sure you know what a reverse K setup is. Here's Michael Breed -- and yes, this is a Golf Fix video from Taiwan, but it's the only way I could embed it. The subtitles shouldn't cause a problem:



Note that I referenced this position indirectly in the 3rd All About Pushes post last week, only I did it using the "Gary Coilman"  prop. Gary's shoulder position gives you a reverse K setup.

Anyway, Ramzi says he's much more solid over the ball now and is hitting it more solidly. He describes it this way:
I seem to have better contact with all clubs when I feel that I've set my weight near the area around my big toe on the right foot.
That description sounds about right. In the last of my All About Pushes post series last week, in the 5th and 6th paragraphs, I talked about this braced position and how to learn it if you're having trouble. Try it and you'll see that Ramzi's "reverse K" is a good description of the proper position.

However, unless his address position has changed quite a bit from this photo, he's not doing exactly what he thinks he's doing. (That's not unusual for any golfer, Ramzi, so don't feel bad about it.) In his email he wrote:
I've learnt a new trick to maintain my swing plane before the backswing which is to push the club into the ground in a way to cock my wrist - and it works. This is combined with the reverse K (which I know opens my hips, and as a result I have to close my shoulders a bit before the swing).
But take a good look at the photo. Ramzi's shoulders are OPEN, not closed. (If they were closed, his right shoulder would be farther from the ball than his left shoulder, not closer as it appears in this photo.) That immediately sets Ramzi up to pull the ball because his shoulder line is now aimed to his left. (That would be "aimed to his right" for you lefties out there.)

And second, a reverse K setup doesn't automatically open your hips. If your hips are open, Ramzi, your reverse K setup isn't quite right. Again, don't worry about that right now; just keep reading. There's a bigger problem that we need to fix first, and it's more important. If we get the biggest problem fixed first, a lot of smaller problems will probably disappear on their own.

One of the things I asked you was if you were rolling your forearms during your takeaway. You wrote back:
Yes, I use a lot of forearm action. After I reach the top of the backswing I actually start pulling, rolling and releasing with my right arm. I know its wrong but I do believe that Tom Watson also did the same thing. Releasing from the top was what my first golf instructor told me to do to combat my slice. I'm very aggressive in the downswing (I do not know how to swing at 80% or 70%)
Even if you hadn't told me so, I would have known the second I viewed your swing video. Here are a couple of other stills I took from it. While I couldn't be sure about some things from this camera angle, it's perfect for viewing the biggest problem:

Ramzi's takeaway

See those arrows pointing at your right elbow? You don't just roll your forearms on the way down. You roll them on the way up! And I can tell because your right elbow is bent so early in your swing. You can't bend your elbow that way without rolling your forearms.

And if you go back and look at your swing video again you'll see your right shoulder and head diving toward the ball as you start your downswing. You're coming over-the-top, big man! And when you come OTT, you pull the ball -- it's just the natural mechanics of your swing.

When you roll your forearms on the way back, you lay the club off and come too much inside. Tom Watson -- and lots of players -- do teach you to roll your forearms. It's part of the reason they all have trouble hitting the ball straight when they're under pressure -- it's hard to roll them exactly the same amount coming down as you did going back. And, more importantly, this "rolling" happens on its own -- and in a very consistent matter -- if you don't consciously do it. Even Ben Hogan wrote (in capital letters, no less), and I quote:
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. (Five Lessons, p82)
I explained all the mechanics of it in detail in my Stop Coming Over-the-Top Quick Guide -- in fact, I included a drill that lets you go from address to the top of the backswing without ever twisting your forearms so you could see for yourself that it works. You can get the book if you want the full explanation. (I'm not plugging the book. I just want you to know that it took an entire book to explain all the details of why swings go OTT, which is why I'm not going to try and do it in a blog post! But don't worry, I've got stuff here on the blog to help you.)

So while I suspect that Ramzi has some setup problems, I'm much more concerned about his -- you guessed it -- lack of a one-piece takeaway. So here's what I want you to do: Go to the Some Useful Post Series page and find the listing for the Dexter's Coming Over-the-Top series. Read all of the posts in that series, but the drills are in the 3rd post.

Ramzi, let me stress that I don't want you to rotate your forearms when you do the drills. When your hands are at waist high, I want you to feel as if you're cocking your wrists straight up in the air! Although you'll be pointing the club shaft straight up in the air when you do the drill, it will actually be on the correct plane when you make a normal full-speed swing. I'm not going into the mechanics here -- as I said, that's all explained in the book -- but it has to do with all the angles that already exist in your swing. (Your spine angle, shoulder tilt, bent elbow, etc.)

As for you concern about your stomach -- which isn't as big as you think -- the one-piece takeaway will move your hands and club a bit farther away from your body, so it will be less of a problem than you think.

And after you get the hang of that one-piece takeaway, then you'll be in a better position to make changes to your setup if they're still needed.

So Ramzi, that's where I think you should start. Focus on the one-piece takeaway. You may need to adjust your grip slightly as you get used to starting back in one piece. Make as few changes as necessary until you feel comfortable with the move. Dexter found that fixing his takeaway made immediate improvements all through his game -- both in how far and how straight he hit the ball -- and his score started to drop within weeks. So give it a try and keep me informed on how it's going. Then we'll see if anything else needs to be changed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 John Deere Classic

Winner: Zach Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Roger Chapman double-dipped on the Champions Tour, getting his 2nd win of the year at the U.S. Senior Open; Jeev Milkha Singh took the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in a playoff on the European Tour; Jay Bayron won the Bii Maybank ADT Challenge on the Asian Tour; Caroline Masson won the LET's South African Women’s Open; Doug LaBelle II won the Utah Championship on the Web.com Tour; and Chie Arimura won the weather-shortened Stanley Ladies on the JLPGA. (The Constructivist has details.)

Zach poses after another good shot

Perhaps it's true -- maybe nothing runs like a Deere. But it looked like these deer got caught in headlights! The bright glare of that gleaming John Deere Classic trophy seems to have stopped all the contenders right in their tracks.

Steve Stricker came up short in his Deere hunting expedition. Uncharacteristic bogeys at 14, 15 and 17 -- normally the stretch where he mows down his competition -- left him pushing his tractor back to the garage.

Likewise, John Senden got himself into position but bogeys on 16 and 17 turned his hopes down under. (Note to self: Never play golf with the tiller attachment engaged. Deal with the rough after the tournament.)

And then there was the guy leading when the day started, Troy Matteson. A double on 15 nearly ended his hopes, only to have a looooong distance eagle on 17 put him in a playoff. (I guess that's the equivalent of a deer running across the road without getting hit by a car.)

Only Zach Johnson ploughed his furrow straight, posting 6 birdies and no bogeys to force Matteson into a playoff. And then both men double-bogeyed the first playoff hole. But Zach made an incredible 2nd shot from the bunker on the 2nd playoff hole, leaving him a tap-in for birdie and a win at the "hometown" tournament he's called his 5th major.

Don't cry too much for Matteson, however. He'll have plenty of time to gather himself on the plane over to Royal Lytham & St. Annes after qualifying for the Open!

This adds Zach to the growing list of two-time winners this year and should have him warmed up for the Open next week -- and given the weather forecast, he'll need all the warmth he can get!

So this week's Limerick Summary salutes the man from Cedar Rapids, Iowa... who, ironically, probably has very little use for the Deere tractor given to winners since he now lives at St. Simons Island, Georgia:
They say nothing runs like a Deere
But in headlights, the deer stops right here!
Not so with Zach Johnson—
Since Steve from Wisconsin
Could not win four, Zach won his first year!
The photo came from the tournament page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Importance for the Scottish Open

By the time many of you read this, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open will be completed... and the results may give us some important clues about next week's Open.

Here's the deal: The weather has been slowly changing at Inverness. According to the Weather Channel page for Inverness, the high will only be 58 degrees F, the winds will be 10 to 20 mph, and there's a 40% chance of rain. This just may give us some idea what next week holds for the Open.

And given how some of the better-known names are currently playing at the Scottish Open, this just might show us a potential favorite or two:

Phil Mickelson's unexpected good play -- for a second year in a row -- may indicate that he's finally found out how to play (and win?) an Open.

Luke Donald may not defend his title this week, but he's certainly showing some form.

Anders Hanson is only one off the lead, and his scoring has been very consistent this week.

Only one of the Molinari brothers made it into the Open this time. Fortunately for Francesco, it's him... and he's also leading the Scottish Open this week. Francesco is particularly interesting to me because 6 of his last 11 rounds -- that's his last 3 tournaments -- have been 68 or better, including a 64 and a 62.

Martin Laird is tied with Phil at T5, only 3 shots off the lead.

In all, 4 of the top 6 players this week -- and 6 of the top 10 -- are in the Open next week. I'll be watching the final round today with an eye to picking my favorites in a few days.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Some Early Open Thoughts

Although I'm not ready to pick my "5 to Watch" for next week's Open Championship, I don't think it's too early to look ahead at what we may be seeing.

First of all, the early weather report is for heavy wind and rain. Added to Royal Lytham & St. Annes' heavy bunkering and fairly narrow fairways, that's going to make this year's Open a real challenge. Ironically, I disagree with a number of commentators I've heard who say accuracy will be the big factor determining a winner. Rather, I think it will be creativity. Seve Ballesteros won on this course twice, and he wasn't particularly accurate with a driver.

This course has hosted the Open several times. It's interesting to note who the past winners have been. The asterisks denote playoffs:
  • 1926: Bobby Jones, 291 (should be about +5, based on Locke's score)
  • 1952: Bobby Locke, -1
  • 1958: Peter Thomson, -10*
  • 1963: Bob Charles, -7*
  • 1969: Tony Jacklin, -4
  • 1974: Gary Player, -2
  • 1979: Seve Ballesteros, -1
  • 1988: Seve Ballesteros, -11
  • 1996: Tom Lehman, -13
  • 2001: David Duval, -10
A wide variety of players with very little in common -- besides, possibly, a hot putter that week! Seriously, though, most of these players are multiple major winners... and many are multiple Open winners. Only Charles, Jacklin, Lehman, and Duval made this their only major, and only Seve won more than once at this venue. I don't know if that's a function of the course's difficulty or just the years when it was played more frequently.

Likewise, this course has been left out of the rota for over a decade, making it less familiar to the players. As best as I can tell, none of the previous winners at this course will be in the field. (UPDATE: Tom Lehman IS supposed to be in the field.) It will play as a par 70, the first time since 1962, and it will be close to 7100 yards, nearly 100 yards longer than 2001 (when it was a par 71).

Those of you playing fantasy golf might want to take those facts into account when you make your picks. I'll post my "5 to Watch" next week.

Friday, July 13, 2012

All About Pushes, Part 4

Today I'll just fill in a few bits and pieces of knowledge about pushing the ball. Knowing these little things may help you eliminate your pushing problem more quickly.

A quick note, just to make sure we're all on the same page: Rather than try to use left and right all the time when I have both left-handers and right-handers reading this, I simply use the terms lead and trailing. If you're left-handed, your left side is your trailing side; if you're right-handed, your right side is your trailing side -- and obviously your other side is your lead side. Got that? Good. Let's move on.

As I said, there are two primary mistakes that cause players to push shots:
  • Leaning away from the target during your downswing
  • Letting your lead elbow drift away from your side during your downswing
And of course you can do both of them at the same time, which will probably result in a push-slice. If you do both of them, you're more likely to twist your forearms and open the clubface on the way down.

In the third part of this series I told you how twisting your arms during your takeaway can cause your elbow to drift away from your side. Today I'll tell you about some of the mistakes that can make you lean backward during your downswing.

One thing you should do during your backswing is brace your trailing knee. You've probably been told this before, but you don't know why. If you don't brace that knee, your hips will slide away from the target. Then, when you start your downswing, you'll have to slide your hips back toward the target in order to make good contact with the ball. But you'll probably slide your hips too far forward and mis-hit the ball. And yes, when you slide too far forward, the clubface is open at impact and you either slice or push the ball.

The drill that most instructors recommend (and it's a good one) is placing a ball under the outside of your trailing foot. That forces you to push down with the inside of that foot... and that braces your knee. The idea is that a line dropped from your trailing knee would hit the ground inside your foot, no matter where in your swing you check it. Remember: The ball drill teaches you to keep your weight on the inside of your trailing foot.

If you're afraid you're sliding too far forward during your downswing, check out this swing drill video from an earlier post. If you're sliding too much, this drill will tell you really quick and the only equipment you need is a chair.

Another place you can get into trouble is when you start your downswing. When you come over-the-top you'll tend to straighten your trailing knee and that gets your trailing hip too high. The opposite often happens when you push the ball -- your trailing knee collapses and your trailing hip drops too much. You need to keep your trailing knee flexed at all times during your swing, but it shouldn't collapse. Your hips should stay level when you make your downswing.

The best drill for learning this is the "body movin' drill" from the More Indoor Practice post mentioned in the second post in this series. Since you don't have the weight of the swinging club to counteract the drop, you'll move your knees correctly.

I also wanted to explain how bending your lead elbow at the top of your downswing -- especially if you twisted your forearms on the way to the top -- can make you lean backward.

Your natural tendency, especially if you're trying to hit the ball hard, will be to use your lead bicep to create power. That also involves your back muscles, and once they get involved you'll try to brace your trailing leg and push with your trailing knee. And then there's only one thing that can happen -- your lead hip gets pushed forward. If you doubt this, just set up in a doorway in your top of backswing position, grab the doorjamb with your lead hand, bend your lead elbow, and try the move. It's almost impossible NOT to shove your lead hip forward.

If you keep your elbows pointing toward the ground at the top of your backswing and think about hitting the ball with the back of your lead hand, it will help you keep your lead elbow close to your side and also help you keep your address posture. It's basically the same feel as throwing a Frisbee™ or hitting a tennis backhand. (That's also a good thought if you have trouble with slicing the ball. Many players slice the ball simply because they twist their forearms away from the target on the way down, and this thought helps you avoid that problem.)

One last thing: I'm sure many of you have heard or seen some really good players who used a "reverse C" swing, which is basically all the things I'm trying to help you avoid doing. (Johnny Miller is one classic player I can think of who used it.) All I'll say is that (1) a reverse C can eventually cause some serious back problems because of all the stress it puts on your back and (2) you won't have any success with it unless you really twist your forearms hard toward the target during your downswing, which would cause a duck hook if you were making a normal swing. I don't recommend a reverse C, no matter how many players may have been successful with it, so if you want to do it you're on your own.

I think that pretty much covers everything. Like I said, if you have any questions, just leave me a comment and I'll try to answer them. And if you study and understand these last 4 posts, you'll have the knowledge you need to eliminate the vast majority of your pushed shots.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

All About Pushes, Part 3

Wow, you came back! You must be serious about not pushing that ball!

A quick note, just to make sure we're all on the same page: Rather than try to use left and right all the time when I have both left-handers and right-handers reading this, I simply use the terms lead and trailing. If you're left-handed, your left side is your trailing side; if you're right-handed, your right side is your trailing side -- and obviously your other side is your lead side. Got that? Good. Let's move on.

The first two posts dealt with what I think is the most common cause of a pushed shot -- leaning backward during your downswing. Today we'll look at the other most common cause of pushes.

That problem is letting your lead elbow drift away from your body during your downswing.

It makes sense if you just think about it. When you come over-the-top, your trailing elbow gets out away from your body during your downswing. That throws the club out over your target line and you end up pulling the club back across the line toward your body, which creates a pulled shot.

In a pushed shot you do just the opposite. Your lead elbow drifts out away from your body during your downswing, so the club starts the way you wanted but then it gets farther away from your body instead of curving around it.

There are several things that can make this problem even worse:
  • If you're leaning backward during your downswing, that tilts your shoulders and moves your elbow away from your body even more. If you're leaning backward AND your elbow drifts away from your body, you're probably looking at a huge push-slice.
  • If the problem's not real bad, it might just make you "chicken-wing" your followthrough.
  • Since this move can also make a slice worse, it might cause you to flip your hands and you end up with a big hook. This is a problem many of the pros fight against. Sometimes this is the problem they're talking about when they say they "got stuck," and you'll see them doing things like practicing with a glove stuck in their lead armpit.
But no matter what you do, if you try to fix this problem without understanding what causes it, there's a good chance you'll be fighting a push for a long time.

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you've heard me preach about one-piece takeaways until you're sick of it. But a bad takeaway is the place where this kind of push gets started, so let me quickly explain how it happens.

Ben Hogan correctly said that your elbows should point down at the ground throughout your swing. Too many people start their backswings by twisting their forearms to the side. In addition to all the other problems this can cause (there's a full technical explanation in my book Stop Coming Over-the-Top, complete with a load of diagrams, if you're interested), twisting your forearms causes your lead elbow to point at the target instead of the ground. When you reach the top of your backswing your lead elbow is still pointed sideways instead of down, and the natural way to start your downswing from that position is to pull sideways... which will cause you to bend that lead elbow and move it away from your side.

Hogan's solution to this was something he called connection, which I've also written about on this blog. When you're connected, your upper arms rest lightly against your chest the way they did at address. Basically, Hogan said that if you kept your elbows close to your side this way during your swing -- at least when your hands are not above your shoulders, because then your trailing arm has to move away a little -- your elbows will point down at the ground all the way through your swing.

That's why pros sometimes put a glove or a towel under their lead armpit. The glove (or towel) will fall to the ground if they get "disconnected." But unless you make a correct takeaway -- a connected one-piece takeaway -- you'll have your elbow in the wrong position from the start. Then you'll be struggling to twist your arms back into position on the way down. That's just doing things the hard way... which is a shame, because this cause is the easiest to fix.

I have a good explanation of how to perform a one-piece takeaway in this post, complete with drills. You can do the drills with or without a club so, like yesterday's drill, you can do them anywhere. I'll leave you to work with those today.

Tomorrow I'll try to wrap this all up and fill in any blanks I may have missed by tackling each problem separately -- things like why you might lean backward on the downswing and how a bent elbow can make it worse. After all, some of you may be making both mistakes at the same time!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All About Pushes, Part 2

Good morning, class. Welcome to our second session about pushing the ball.

A quick note, just to make sure we're all on the same page: Rather than try to use left and right all the time when I have both left-handers and right-handers reading this, I simply use the terms lead and trailing. If you're left-handed, your left side is your trailing side; if you're right-handed, your right side is your trailing side -- and obviously your other side is your lead side. Got that? Good. Let's move on.

We ended yesterday's class about the first of two typical causes of pushed shots with this:
The club swings in-to-out -- that is, pushes the ball -- because your trailing shoulder is lower on the downswing than it was on the backswing. And to lower your trailing shoulder, you have to lean away from the target. So the more you lean away from the target, the more in-to-out your swing will be... which means you'll get a bigger push.
Almost every instructor agrees that your spine has to angle back away from the target a little bit. That's because your trailing hand is lower on the club than your leading hand, so your trailing shoulder has to be a bit lower. The big question becomes how much tilt away from the ball is enough?

This is where so many people get tripped up. We need to approach this from a couple of different directions to understand what's going on.

Gary CoilmanFirst, let me refer you back to a post I wrote in October 2009, only a couple of months after I started this blog. The post was called Meet Gary Coilman and it involved a little prop made from popsicle sticks and cardboard. (Isn't he cute?)

The whole point of that post was that you don't have to move your shoulders up and down during your swing to get the appearance that they're moving up and down as you turn. (Remember, you're trying to hit down on the ball at impact, so most people think that means you have to bend forward and dip your trailing shoulder. Wrong!) You can read the original post to get the gist of it -- Gary explains it better in a few pictures than I can here in words -- but I'll just say that you don't have to lean backward at all to get some downward motion of your trailing shoulder.

The second thing we need to realize is that some of the backward tilt we see in a golf swing is an illusion. It's caused by the way our skeletons are built... and the incorrect image most of us hold in our minds. Here, take a look at this diagram. (Yes, this is a right-handed version. The left-handed version is a little farther down, after the next paragraph, in order to visually separate them.) In it we're looking down from above -- the wide oval is your hips, the smaller oval is your head, and the dark circle is your spine:

Imagined vs actual hip and spine construction for righties

Most of us imagine our skeletons look like the top three drawings -- that our spines are in the center of our heads and hips. They're actually constructed like the bottom three drawings -- our spines are near the back of our heads and hips. This means that our heads and hips appear to be offset slightly as we swing back and through, not centered.

Imagined vs actual hip and spine construction for lefties

I've added dotted lines to the images to show how what we actually see differs from what we expect to see. In the backswing position I've drawn dotted lines at the outside of the trailing hip and lead ear. Notice that in the actual position it appears that both have moved backward, away from the ball, when the spine position in the drawings hasn't changed at all. (The head has also rotated slightly away from the ball. This tends to happen automatically for most players.)

Likewise, in the downswing position -- I left the head slightly rotated away from the ball because most of the pros whose swings we study in the videos tend to do that -- it looks as if the hips have moved much more toward the target in the bottom picture. That's totally because of the spine not being centered in the head and hips; in these diagrams I haven't moved the spine at all. That's important. I merely rotated the head and hips around the spine in all the pictures, as if the spine was completely vertical... but it looks as if the spine should be tilted, doesn't it?

Now let's jump back a few days to the post that included a video of Na Yeon Choi's swing. I've taken stills from the video showing the same three positions in the previous diagrams, but I've added a straight line representing her spine position. The line runs from the position of her spine at the base of her skull all the way down through its position in her hips. Notice how, although her body appears to have moved a large amount, her spine actually changes its tilt very little either way from its address position:

Na Yeon Choi in same swing positions

NYC's spine gets a bit more vertical at the top of the backswing (middle pic) and tilts a bit more at impact (rightmost pic) than it was at address. But that's not much at all, is it? Because her hips are rotating and her head is still turned slightly away from the target, it looks as if her hips have slid much farther forward during the downswing than they really have.

Again, this is a lot to digest so this is probably a good place to stop for the day... but I want to give you a way to start learning what a correct turn feels like. To do so, I'm going to give you a drill from an older post, but with a twist. (Actually, it's more of a tilt.) And you won't even need a club to do it, so you can do it anywhere, anytime, at no cost! What a deal, eh?

I want you to go to a post called More Indoor Practice. It links you to a drill at the Golf Tips Magazine site that teaches you how to make a correct turn back and through without a club. (It says it teaches you to make a body-driven swing rather than an arm-driven one, but a good swing uses both in a balanced way. This drill is good for learning the body part, and my post explains why.) The idea is that you learn how the proper coiling action and footwork feels, then you can learn to do the move with a club.

But I'm going to make a slight change to the drill because I want you to learn the Gary Coilman position. Instead of crossing your arms and placing both hands on both shoulders -- which will make your shoulders level when you stand up straight -- I want you to place your lead hand on your trailing shoulder but put your trailing hand on your lead elbow. Let me give you those instructions specifically for lefties and righties:
  • Righties: Left hand on right shoulder, right hand on left elbow.
  • Lefties: Right hand on left shoulder, left hand on right elbow.
This change will cause your trailing shoulder to be slightly lower than your lead shoulder during the drill, just as in the Gary Coilman post.

What will this body turning drill do? It will teach you to make a full balanced turn with an automatic downward strike and good footwork all in one! The new arm position will probably cause your lead shoulder to push your chin away from the target -- just like NYC's head in the video. (In fact, at the top of backswing position, your shoulders will be almost parallel to the ground even though your spine is tilted toward the ball. You can see that in the drawings at the Coilman post.) And when you turn in the downswing, it's going to feel as if you're hitting down -- trust me on this one.

If you do the drill correctly, you'll be able to make a balanced "swing," both going back and coming down, and your head will stay just inside your trailing knee. If you do it wrong, your lead shoulder is going to force your head and spine too far away from the target, and your head will end up leaning over your trailing foot.

A quick note: The higher lead shoulder position you'll use in this drill is different from some swing methods, such as Stack and Tilt. I'm not saying that SnT (or other methods where your lead shoulder swings more under your chin) are wrong. But SnT was created to fix a problem that I'm trying to prevent from ever happening in the first place. If you already use a SnT swing, just use the drill exactly as the Golf Tips Magazine article suggests.

Practice this drill some today -- leave me a comment if you have any problems or questions -- and we'll continue our session tomorrow. Class dismissed!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

All About Pushes, Part 1

Today we're going to start looking at the mechanics of pushing the ball, as I promised Dmitri and his friends in Bali. Is everybody ready?

The first thing you need to know is that pushing the ball is the exact opposite of coming over-the-top. If you're doing one, you're not doing the other. I want to make sure everybody is clear on that so you don't get confused into thinking that you're doing both. That's a sure path to madness!
  • When you come over-the-top you pull the club across your body, so it travels from outside your aimline to inside your aimline. For righties, that means the ball starts to the left of your intended line; for lefties, it starts to the right.
  • When you push the ball, your club travels from inside your aimline to outside your aimline. For righties, that means the ball starts to the right of your intended line; for lefties, it starts to the left. Now that you know the difference, we'll focus on the pushes.
The ball may curve either way as it flies farther from you, depending on where the clubface is pointed when you actually hit the ball. Your push can be a push-hook, a straight push, or a push-slice. But...

The second thing you need to know is that the push part deals specifically with the swing path, so that's where we'll start.

And the third thing you need to know is that there are really just two things that cause a push. If you do only one of them during your swing, the ball might curve in any direction after you hit it. It just depends on how you manipulate the face. (Don't worry, we'll come back to that in a later post.) BUT if you do both of them, you'll probably hit a push-slice. That's because if you do both of them, you'll almost certainly twist your forearms and open the clubface.

Alright, those are the basic things you need to know. If you're clear about them, you're ready to learn about the two moves that can cause a push.

The one that I think causes the most problems is leaning backward away from the target during the downswing. That's because so many instructors over the years have taught that a proper weight shift -- or starting your downswing with your lower body -- means you move your hips noticeably toward the target. Some teach this as a slide, some a twist, some a combination of the two. A lot of this comes from the way Ben Hogan's teachings were interpreted.

Below you'll see drawings from Hogan's book Five Lessons. These drawings show Hogan's concept of how the hips start the downswing and -- very important -- how this tilts the downswing plane so it points out to the right for a right-handed player. In other words, the basic move Hogan used created a slight push. The reason he did this is something we'll come back to in that later post, but for now you just need to know that (1) he did it on purpose and (2) he did it for a reason.

(NOTE: You can click on the pictures to go to the webpages where I got these images, rather than scanning them from my own copy of the book. I don't know if the pages will help most of you, but I wanted to credit them for the images. I'll explain the important stuff as we go.)

Hogan's downswing hip shift

Hogan's downswing plane shift

The caption on that bottom picture with the planes says:
"The golfer gets on the downswing plane when he turns his hips to the left to initiate the downswing. The plane for the downswing is inclined at a shallower angle than the plane of the backswing, and its lateral axis points slightly to the right of the golfer's target."
I added the emphasis there because that's the important point -- the hip move that starts the downswing drops your trailing shoulder (and the club) below the backswing plane and gets you swinging a little bit in-to-out. That's a very slight push, and I stress the words very slight. Even Hogan uses the word slightly to describe it.

Although Hogan's swing is considered very modern, this particular little move is part of what is called the classic (or two-plane) swing. In a truly modern swing -- the so-called one-plane swing -- you don't make this drop under the backswing plane, so your weight shift doesn't cause this aim change. For some of you who have been reading a lot of golf books, this is part of the reason you're confused. This one little difference between the classic and modern swings has a huge effect on how you swing and the results you get.

If you study these pictures, here's the main thing you should get from them: The club swings in-to-out -- that is, pushes the ball -- because your trailing shoulder is lower on the downswing than it was on the backswing. And to lower your trailing shoulder, you have to lean away from the target. So the more you lean away from the target, the more in-to-out your swing will be... which means you'll get a bigger push.

This is a good place to stop today because this is a lot to digest. Tomorrow I'll get more into why this happens, and we'll look at Na Yeon Choi's swing to see what a good modern weight shift and hip move looks like.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 Greenbrier Classic

Winner: Ted Potter Jr.

Around the wider world of golf: Na Yeon Choi blistered the field at the LPGA's biggest major, the U.S. Women's Open; Kirk Triplett won the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach on the Champions Tour (Tyler Broach won the Juniors competition); Marcel Siem won the Alstom Open de France on the European Tour; and Marianne Skarpnord won the LET's Ladies Norwegian Challenge.

Potter and his new trophy

PGATOUR.com has a nice article about Ted Potter Jr. that compares him to Carl Spackler. It's called From Cart Barn to Champion, Potter's Patience Prevails. It's both encouraging and funny, and I'd definitely recommend you read it. Just to borrow a short section:
After learning the game without the benefit of formal lessons or a country club lifestyle -- Potter's dad was a golf-course maintenance worker and his mom a Walmart employee -- Potter dominated the Hooters Tour, where he won 14 times, was twice Player of the Year, and racked up $650,000 in earnings, an unusually high amount for a mini tour. 
In his first season on the Web.com Tour in 2004, however, Potter missed every single cut, a not-so-perfect 24-for-24, which meant it was back to the minors. 
He'd have to wait three years to get back to that level, and when he did, he didn't fare much better. Potter missed 15 of 20 cuts in 2007.
Potter is a rookie on the PGA Tour this year. Obviously he'll be playing there past 2012.

But watching him made me think more of Harry Potter than Carl Spackler. He wielded his clubs more like a set of magic wands, knocking out a 64 in the final round to give himself a chance to win. When it became clear that he would be going into a playoff, did he head for the practice range? No, he sat and watched, then casually walked out for a 3-hole playoff where he simply hit the shots he needed.

In the same way Harry Potter just seems to rise to the occasion -- I'm reminded of Hermione asking Harry if he was really that thick, to think he could just take care of things all by himself -- Ted Potter Jr. got his chance Sunday and just rose to the occasion. And as the evil Lord Voldemort, aka "He Who Must Not Be Named," discovered for himself, you don't want to be putting guys named Potter in a position where they need to come through.

They seem to have a tendency to do just that. PGA Tour players, take note!

So today's Limerick Summary salutes the Tour's newest wizard and his creative use of the Alohomora Spell -- which, in case you aren't a student at Hogwarts, is a spell used to unlock doors:
Tour players had better be wary.
As Voldemort learned about Harry,
He'll go the duration
And—though no relation—
Ted too can be quite mercenary.
The photo came from the Greenbrier's homepage at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hot Stuff from NYC

Please forgive the reference to the old Pace pecante sauce commercial -- I couldn't resist. Na Yeon Choi set the Blackwolf Run course on fire Saturday and, if she doesn't get ahead of herself today, could have an easy 18-hole walk to her first major. Her 65 tied the lowest third round ever shot in a U.S. Women's Open, but the wild part is that NYC is, well... a runt. She's 5' 5" tall but thin as a bamboo shoot. (I tried to find her weight listed and couldn't. Apparently she's so light that scales don't know she's there.)

I've decided to take a quick look at her swing today and try to help you understand why little NYC ripped up one of the longest U.S. Women's Open courses in USGA history. But I have an ulterior motive. Of course tomorrow I'll be doing the Limerick Summary...

But earlier in the week I received an email from Dmitri in Bali. Apparently a group of new golfers there is using my blog and books to help them learn to play. I'm always amazed at how people all over the world can read the same blog. (Apparently there aren't a lot of English-speaking golf teachers in Bali. So let me take a moment to say hi to all my readers in Bali!) Anyway, I'm going to be doing a couple of posts on Tuesday and Wednesday to deal with some questions Dmitri asked concerning pushes and push-slices... and I'll be referring back to NYC's swing.

So first, here's a look at Na Yeon swinging an iron. It's from late 2010, but her swing hasn't changed much except for getting better.



I feel that the most impressive point in her golf swing is at impact (that's the :13 point in the video) and I'll be coming back to that in the Tuesday post. But right now I'd like you to see how quiet her swing is. By that I mean that there's no excess movement when she swings back or when she swings through. If you drew a line from her heel straight through to the base of her skull, she stays right on that line all the way to the top of her backswing. (Her right hip is moving back away from the ball, but she doesn't move sideways.) There is no sliding sideways away from the ball or leaning backward. This puts her in a good position to start down.

Likewise, on the way down her movement is limited. It looks like she moves a lot as her weight shifts forward, but that's a little misleading. I'll be talking more about that Tuesday because I need to explain exactly why she looks like she's moving more than she really is. At any rate, take a look at how balanced she looks as she hits the ball. For now, if you just place your mouse pointer over the base of her neck at address -- if you place it where her collar buttons are, you'll be in front of her spine -- you'll see that her head doesn't move nearly as much as you might first think. That means she stays centered over the ball throughout her swing.

When you stay that steady over the ball, you're going to make good contact time after time after time. You're going to hit the ball at impact in the same direction you aimed it at address. It's that simple. Na Yeon outplayed everybody else at Blackwolf Run because she hit the ball where she was aiming it... and she hit it solidly in the wind.

Can she do that again today when the pressure's on? I don't know... but I bet the rest of the field hopes she can't. Because if she does, she might win by 10 or 12 strokes.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Welcome Back, Michelle!

To the leaderboard, that is. Michelle Wie's second-round 66 vaulted her into a tie for 2nd, a mere shot off the lead of Suzann Petterson. And that 66 wasn't just the lowest round in the field so far this week, but it was her lowest ever at a U.S. Women's Open... by 3 shots! To say it shocked almost everybody would be an understatement. And the fact that she did it in large part with her putting -- she had 13 one-putt greens -- really caused some talk. I thought some of what she said in her presser after the round was pretty revealing.

Michelle's photoMichelle's take on it all was pretty matter-of-fact:
Yeah, I'm pretty stoked to be back in contention and honestly not have to worry about the cut line.  It feels pretty good.  I'm looking forward to a good weekend it feels pretty good.
She's been working on her putting with Meg Mallon. (Meg's the next Solheim captain. That makes sense, doesn't it?) About her putting she said:
I went to the belly putter, the regular putter.  I haven't really changed putters since earlier this year.  And just been working on my confidence, really.  Just ‑‑ I know my stroke is good when I look at it on the cameras or any time I put a number on it.  It's perfect.  So I have to trust it.  And know that I'm a good putter.  That's what I talked to Meg with a lot, is that I think once everyone was like what is happening with her putting, it kind of got to my head a little bit.  I have to trust myself.  I know I'm a good putter. I've been a good putter, and I can be.
Likewise, she's been working with VISION54:
I worked quite a bit with Pia and Lynn of Vision54.  We worked on a lot of different drills and stuff.  And just believing in yourself.  Even when you're kind of not playing well.  Kind of try to look at the positives and at least bring out one positive, one good thing that you did and keep working on it.
I thought it was very interesting that Suzann Petterson simply told the media:
So she's a great player.  Michelle is a very ‑‑ awfully talented and has a lot of game.  I think you should give her a break. She just graduated, four years in college. That's pretty impressive to do that on the sideline of trying to compete out here.
So now it's obviously a little different world for her.  Now it's all about golf, and she has to kind of find her schedule, how to kind of work it out the best way for her.
I think that's something everybody has been overlooking. We don't seem too surprised when a player wins a major -- a one-week enterprise -- and then their game tanks for a year while they enjoy the accomplishment and take time to adjust to their new situation. And yet Michelle has just finished getting a college degree from Stanford -- a difficult multiple-year enterprise that very few young golfers even attempt anymore -- and we're all shocked that maybe, just maybe the last few months have been at least as satisfying (and disorienting) to her as they would be to a major winner.

Michelle was quoted in a Friday Golf Digest article (and it was mentioned during the ESPN2 broadcast as well):
"I don't know if anyone gave up on me or not," Wie said. "I'm sure some did and some didn't. But I never gave up on myself, and today was a good reminder to myself what I can do and I still have it."
I don't know if Michelle is "back" yet, and I don't know if she'll win this week's major. But it's nice to know that she's comfortable with who she is and what she's doing... regardless of what her critics think. To me, that says she'll have the last laugh.

BTW, the news page that I took these quotes from mentions that Morgan Pressel's WD -- both Friday and last week -- are due to a thumb injury. That would also explain some of the wild shots she hit.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: July 2012

There's been a revolution at the top of the RGWR! Even I didn't quite realize how much when I did my weekly update earlier in the week -- I had to change it when I did this month's full ratings. It's easy to forget how many different winners we'd had during 2010 and 2011 until everything over 12 months old dropped off and the "big boys" stepped up. Some of those "big boys" are familiar names while others are newer names. This month's ranking is pretty much all players I suspect will be setting the pace for a while. But I've labeled a few of the newer entrants as "big dogs"; I suspect they have more staying power than the other noobs. (Do I really have to label guys like Luke, Rory, and Tiger as "big dogs"?)

Here's a review of the RGWR 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), the latter often determined by the history and difficulty of the course
  3. other PGA and ET events
I put extra emphasis on recent form -- 2 wins separated by 6 months don't carry the weight of 2 wins back-to-back -- and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness. 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
  • Other wins: 1 point
I give full credit (not in point value, but they carry the same weight as "official" victories) for wins on the "minor" tours like the Nationwide and Australasian 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 field strength of a regular PGA or ET event.

I'm not counting the Grand Slam of Golf as a win in my rankings. I've decided that 4 players isn't a large enough field to give it the weight of a win against a larger field. However, I do take a win there into consideration in my rankings, much as I do money title or scoring awards. Other limited-field events (up to maybe 24 players or so) are counted as wins if the player also has an official win on the "big tours" but they only get a single point. The OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup (the 2-man team event) counts in this category.

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, although the point totals (and even the number of wins) a player has affects my rankings, they don't override my personal opinions. It's my ranking system, after all:
  1. Luke Donald: 4 wins (1 BMW, 1 prestige), 6 Top5, 35 points. Luke Donald is once again the "toppest dog" in the ratings. Rory's major dropped off last week -- I forgot that little detail! -- and now Luke's array of wins is both larger in number and more impressive. Oh yeah, he's still Numero Uno in the OWGR as well.
  2. Rory McIlroy: 3 wins (1 prestige, 1 other), 8 Top5, 25 points. If you compare Rory this month to Rory last month, you'll see just how much weight the RGWR gives to majors. Rory's bad patch of play didn't help him either. But he's still #2 in the Race to Dubai (Luke's a pitiful 10th this year), so I wouldn't worry about him too much.
  3. Webb Simpson: 3 wins (1 major, 1 prestige), 4 Top5, 26 points. At the beginning of the week I had Tiger as #3 and Webb as #3a because they were so close. However, I forgot one of Webb's other wins was a prestige FedExCup event. That, coupled with such a recent major, was actually enough to put him ahead of Tiger on points. Webb is officially one of my new "big dogs" on Tour.
  4. Tiger Woods: 4 wins (3 prestige, 1 other), 3 Top5, 22 points. I gave Tiger the advantage early in the week simply because he had won so much in a mere 2 months. (That wasn't just because he's Tiger; I did the same with Sergio last year and Branden Grace earlier this year.) Don't forget that Tiger had the World Challenge win back in December; since he won regular events this year, that one now counts. One of his Top5s was a runner-up at Honda. And he's now leading the FedExCup race. You can see why he and Webb are so close.
  5. Jason Dufner: 2 wins (1 prestige), 3 Top5s, 14 points. Although he cooled off a bit -- it was inevitable, wasn't it? -- the Waggler didn't just vanish the way some of our other winners have. He still picked up a runner-up at Colonial this past month. And he's still #2 in FedExCup points. He's another of my new "big dogs."
  6. Lee Westwood: 3 wins (2 others), 2 Top5, 19 points. I know it doesn't sound like much compared to where he was a couple of months ago, but Lee seems to be coming out of a funk. He won another ET event this past month and he's 3rd in both the Race to Dubai and the OWGR.
  7. Branden Grace: 3 wins, 4 Top5, 18 points. Branden's good play is finally getting him into some majors, and he's STILL #4 in the Race to Dubai. That, plus his 3 wins this year, is still good enough to keep him in my rankings.
  8. Rickie Fowler: 2 wins (1 prestige), 4 Top5, 14 points. These next two guys are neck-and-neck, and both have the potential to become "big dogs" although I don't think they're quite there yet. Rickie's 2 wins, both won head-to-head with Rory McIlroy, along with his Top5s in May, make him one of the hotter players. He beats out my #9 player by virtue of having more Top5s.
  9. Matt Kuchar: 2 wins (1 TPC, 1 other), 2 Top5, 13 points. I'm a little bummed out by Matt's lack of Top5s. I expect a "big dog" to be in the hunt more often, even if he doesn't always close it out.
  10. Dustin Johnson: 2 wins (1 prestige), 3 Top5, 14 points. This last position was hard to decide, and it's a side-effect of the re-emergence of some sleeping giants. Several players have about the same number of points, Top5s, and wins; there are even several with prestige events. Bubba isn't here because, in my opinion, he hasn't played enough post-Masters to validate the position. (I applaud him for his choice; if I had that new baby, I'd be AWOL too. But we're talking about rankings, not being a good dad.) I give it to DJ simply because he's managed to get into the mix with competitive numbers despite being sidelined with injuries for much of the year.
Players to watch:
  • I'm looking toward the Open Championship now, and I'm really liking what I see from Lee Westwood. He's played well in both of this year's majors, even though he never really factored in them. But if you combine that with the fact that he's the only big name to have won on the ET recently, I think you have to like his chances.
  • Don't overlook Justin Rose. Although he's been a bit erratic here in the States, he's leading the ET's Race to Dubai and he's #9 in the OWGR. I'm sure that's a function of trying to make sure he makes the Ryder Cup... but that also bodes well for him at the Open.
  • And I still believe in Jason Day. He's up and down right now, but I think he's close to getting things together.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ladies AREN'T on GC

Just a quick note to make sure you LPGA fans don't miss the U.S. Women's Open.  Although NBC will have the last 2 rounds on Saturday and Sunday, GC doesn't have the first 2 rounds.

Ironically, I think I heard GC announce that ESPN would carry it. That's not correct either.

According to the LPGA's site, the first 2 rounds will be on ESPN2 from 4pm to 8pm ET both today and tomorrow. Got that? It's ESPN2, not ESPN. You can find the TV info -- as well as keep up with the scores until the coverage begins -- at the LPGA's live leaderboard page.

One more time: The U.S. Women's Open will be on ESPN2 today and tomorrow.

As for my pick... I may be crazy, going against the crowd like this, but I think So Yeon Ryu is going to defend her title. She hasn't won since last year's win, but I really like the way she's been playing.