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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thoughts About the Silver Decision

When something happens in one sport -- especially when that something involves a social issue -- it eventually has an effect on other sports. Golf isn't immune, so Tuesday's NBA drama caught my attention.

Adam Silver and Donald Sterling

For those of you who didn't hear, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (a basketball team, for those of you unfamiliar with the NBA, and Sterling is pictured on the right in the above photo) has been in the center of a scandal because of some racist remarks he made last week. Sterling has, shall we say, a "poor record" where race relations are concerned... but this time the remarks were taped and made national news. To say that this has caused some outrage is an understatement -- you can read this SI article for more details -- but let's just say that this issue struck a deep nerve in this country and was on the verge of erupting into something really ugly among the NBA teams.

The man who had to deal with this is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (on the left in the photo), who has been in office less than three months since the retirement of legendary commissioner David Stern. This novice found himself in the midst of a problem that would have given Stern and his 30 years of experience pause. Something had to be done and there was a lot of speculation about what the new guy would do. Most of the speculation I heard before his press conference Tuesday was that he would give Sterling an indefinite suspension. You see, the Commish works for the owners and it's not good to alienate your bosses.

But Silver did something that no one dared believe he would have the guts to do. He claimed every bit of power that the NBA bylaws gave him and proceeded to ban Sterling FOR LIFE, not only from the Clippers but from taking any part in the NBA. He gave him a $2.5 million fine, the largest he was authorized to give. And he announced that he was calling on the other owners to force Sterling to sell the team to someone else... and that he would do everything in his power to make sure it happened quickly. And perhaps most surprisingly, when asked how much trouble he would have getting the 75% support of the owners that he needed, he simply said he believed he already had it.

Now there are those who say this should have been done long ago, given Sterling's record. They're probably right. But this was Adam Silver's first chance to do something about it, and I think the real magnitude of what he did may have been overlooked.

You see, the players in any sport rarely trust the Commissioner because he is employed by the owners to oversee the owners' interests. You can see this in the NFL, where the players' union and the commissioner have a somewhat antagonistic relationship. Silver had been in constant touch with the NBA players' union over the last few days and, when his news conference was finished, the players' reps announced in no uncertain terms how pleased they were. They said (and these are almost the exact words) that Silver wasn't the NBA's commissioner, he was the players' commissioner.

There's a lot of talk about "bonding" within groups. In an elite group like NBA team owners -- the Clippers are estimated to be worth around $600 million, so there aren't many folks in that group! -- that bonding tends to join them pretty strongly. But Silver had been talking to owners as well, and by the end of his news conference some of the owners were already tweeting their support for what Silver had done.

Think about that, folks. A brand new commissioner successfully getting the players and the owners -- two groups who are usually at opposite ends of any issue -- to agree and pull together. That is an astounding accomplishment! And bear in mind that Silver is trained as a lawyer, so he is well aware of the potential problems of the course of action he has chosen.

But perhaps most surprising was how the fans reacted to all this. It seemed to resonate with everybody, not just the folks who are the typical targets. As Charles Barkley said, almost everybody has been the victim of some sort of prejudice, no matter what color they are. Sex, age, social status... you can discriminate in a lot of ways. And fans all over the country rallied around the players -- not just the Clippers, but all the NBA players.

Nobody likes to be left out.

Golf hasn't had anything resembling a scandal like this. However, the fact remains that if golf really wants to "grow the game," it faces some perception problems that will eventually have to be dealt with. The changes at the grassroots level haven't reached the powers-that-be at the top, the "players" who control the public face of the game. Up where the power is, it's still very much a rich white male's game. While the Masters Committee, the USGA, the R&A, and the PGA are trying to deal with some of these, a lot of the money players seem to have other ideas.

When Mike Whan called out Golf Digest for putting Holly Sonders and Paulina Gretzky on the cover while consistently ignoring players like Inbee Park and Lydia Ko who are making history, did anybody really understand what he was saying? There's still a belief that women's golf isn't "real" golf and that their real value in the golf community is as eye candy to sell magazines.

My skin crawls every time I hear golf described as "our product." I have no doubt that other sports have financial advisors who think in those terms, but I can't remember ever hearing baseball or tennis referred to as "product" during a broadcast.

And don't get me started about the expensive teaching aids sold to teach players (for example) how to "hold their wrist cock during the downswing" when all players really need to learn is how to keep their trailing elbows bent until their hands are down around waist level. (Wow. That's really hard. Probably takes all of 60 seconds to teach that.)

If I want to learn to play basketball, I can get a ball for $15 and a hoop for $20. I can bolt the hoop on a cheap scrap of plywood, mount it on the garage, and we're ready to go. I can get a good football for less than $20; all we need is a yard or vacant lot. How many players learned to play baseball with a ball and a stick in a city cul-de-sac? But I need several hundred dollars' worth of equipment plus greens fees to play golf, not to mention that I have to meet a dress code before they'll even let me on the course. Yeah, that's gonna encourage more people to play.

Tell me, what's wrong with this picture?

The more blatant prejudices may be fading somewhat -- or perhaps my patronage of public courses keeps me from seeing them as much -- but the image of golf as a sport for the rich and male is still far too prevalent. And we don't have a commissioner who can simply deal with the problems for us. They aren't going away on their own. It's up to us.

The big question is... how are we going to deal with them? Or will we ignore them until it's too late?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on Practice Swings

I have a book called Bobby Jones on Golf. It's a collection of instructional articles he wrote for various newspapers during the 1930s. One of those articles (on page 19) starts out like this:
One day when my father and I were playing together, he was driving last from the back of a very long tee. With a swing that could only be described as labored, he bashed the head of his driver into the turf so that the ball popped almost straight up, and dropped just in front of the teeing ground. As we started forward, he called to me, "Come back here a minute." Then, with as graceful a swing as I could imagine, he clipped a dandelion from the grass. Glaring at me, he said in a strangely challenging tone, "Now what's the matter with that swing?" "Nothing," I said, "why don't you use it sometime?"
I love that story, primarily because I think it's a familiar one for most of us. How often have we made a practice swing -- or two, or three -- with such superb technique that we could almost hear angels sing, only to follow it up with a wretched lash at the ball that sent it only God knows where?

Perhaps the problem is your practice swing rather than your "real" swing.

Does your practice swing really resemble the swing you intend to hit the ball with? For too many players, the answer is NO.
  • You swing much slower. It's much easier to make a good swing when you don't swing hard.
  • You make a different kind of swing. Many players make a classic-style practice swing when their normal swing is more modern. (I wrote about the differences between the two last week. The first of those three posts is here.)
  • You didn't have a target in mind. Any swing is a good swing when it doesn't matter where it goes.
  • You didn't practice from the same lie. While you don't want to swing too close to the real ball and unintentionally move it, you want -- as much as is possible -- the same thick or thin lie, the same ground slope, the same obstacles in the way for your practice swing.
A practice swing isn't just about getting loose before you hit your shot, it's a rehearsal of your shot. Take a moment and visualize the shot you intend to make, then make a practice swing that will create that shot. Your practice swing should be as much about your mental preparation for the shot as it is about your physical preparation. Don't waste your practice swing!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Zurich Classic

Winner: Seung-Yul Noh

Around the wider world of golf: There was a lot of golf this weekend! Alexander Levy won the ET's Volvo China Open; Lydia Ko got her first LPGA win as a pro at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic (the Constructivist has details); Marissa Steen won the Symetra Tour's Guardian Retirement Championship at Sara Bay; Anirban Lahiri won the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters on the Asian Tour; Andrew Putnam won the Web.com Tour's weather-shortened WNB Golf Classic; Ty Capps won the Roberto De Vicenzo Invitational Copa NEC on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; and Phoebe Yao won the JLPGA's Fujisankei Ladies Classic (the Constructivist also has details on this one).

Noh doubt who won!

He's not just another young player anymore, not just another member of the rank-and-file masses who fill out fields at PGA Tour events. No, Seung-Yul Noh is now a proven winner... and he did it under some really tough conditions.

Not the least of which was having a victory-starved Keegan Bradley breathing down his neck... and Keegan was not only paired with him but managed to tie him for the lead early on. That didn't last for long, however; Keegan went bogey-triple on holes 5 & 6, basically killing his chances.

Noh didn't flinch. He continued to post pars and birdies -- and only 3 bogeys -- with well-planned shots in the heavy winds that slashed TPC Louisiana on Sunday (gusting to 30mph), even when everybody from yet-to-win players like Andrew Svoboda, Robert Streb, and Jeff Overton to veterans like Robert Garrigus made runs at him. In fact, Svoboda and Streb's T2 finishes were their best ever on the Big Tour as well.

But only Noh got the trophy, the perks... and the customary beer shower from Y.E. Yang and Charlie Wi. What perks, you may ask? Well, he'll be at Quail Hollow this week and in THE PLAYERS the week after, for example. But I'm sure such paltry baubles of fame pale beside the knowledge that he has received the greatest reward of all...

This week's highly-coveted Limerick Summary. Congratulations on your win, Seung-Yul!
Though swirling winds started to blow,
They didn’t deter Seung-Yul Noh;
He kept the ball down
As he moved through his round.
He’s no longer just status quo!
The photo came from this page at espn.go.com.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Classic VS Modern Swing: Telling the Difference Part 3

Today let's look at a few golf swings and see if we can tell whether each swing is more of a classic swing or a modern swing. We'll use the criteria I mentioned in the last two blog posts as guidelines to help us. The reason we want to learn how to do this is so we don't waste time trying to copy players who don't swing the same way we do... or so we can find the best players to copy if we want to make changes.

Remember, the key thing we're looking for here is separation -- the hips getting ahead of the shoulders at the start of the downswing. The more a player is influenced by the modern swing, the bigger that separation will be; the more a player is influenced by the classic swing, the smaller that separation will be. Sometimes you can see it from any angle but sometimes it's clearer from one angle than another.

Before we start analyzing swings, I want you to see a true classic swing in action. This is the great Henry Cotton, way back in 1934 when he won the first of his three Open Championships. Cotton believed that the hands swung the golf club and that it was necessary to "educate the hands" if you really wanted to be successful. I read somewhere that Cotton was able to hit one-handed shots nearly 200 yards; I finally found this newpaper article on Cotton's training techniques that confirmed it. (It's in the fourth column of the scan.)



What I want you to see is how much the lower body can move with a classic swing. The legs aren't held as motionless as is typical in a modern swing, and the hips don't create a large separation from the shoulders. In fact, it looks as if the shoulders and hips start the downswing at almost the same time. And the upper body doesn't tilt backwards away from the target as much as in a modern swing. You can see why I say it's much easier on the back.

Now that you have a decent idea what a classic swing looks like -- you don't see the pure original version on Tour much these days -- we have something we can compare to our more contemporary players.

Let's start with the Machine, Annika Sorenstam. You can see her move clearly from almost any angle:



This is a classic-style swing. See how smooth her swing looks? There's a fair amount of knee movement, even though her stance is fairly narrow -- most modern swings use wider stances and less knee movement -- and her hips and shoulders seem to move together. Since Annika learned her game in Sweden and instructors in Europe seem more likely to teach a classic-style swing, that's not surprising.

By comparison, here's Tiger at the Honda Classic earlier this year. You can see the difference almost immediately, but the first slo-mo at :24 shows it very clearly:



This is a more modern swing. When Tiger reaches the top of his backswing and starts down (at the :28 mark) you can clearly see his hips and legs pushing toward the target before his shoulders start to turn at all. With some players, this move will look almost as if the hips jump forward before the shoulders move. Tiger's teacher Sean Foley teaches the modern swing but Tiger was using modern technique the very first time we saw him.

Here are a couple of interesting ones -- Ken Duke and Stacy Lewis. I wanted to look at these because both of these players have fought scoliosis, the back disease that causes a curved spine. Check out these slo-mo videos -- Ken's shows two views while Stacy's shows one:





Now these two players are interesting because... well, at first glance it looks to me like both players use classic-style swings. They have relatively narrow stances, even with woods, and their shoulders and hips don't show much separation. In addition, Ken's teacher Bob Toski is well-known for teaching classic technique. Yet I found video where Ken and Toski clearly seem to be working with modern technique (the error Toski describes at the beginning is the characteristic twisting action of an over-the-top swing, not classic technique):



while Stacy and her instructor are clearly working to minimize the separation, a more classic technique:



You can see that both players keep their shoulders and hips working together pretty closely. But Ken is clearly trying to be more modern -- he keeps his legs very quiet during his backswing and gets that little "hip jump" I mentioned to start his downswing, but with such a narrow stance it's apparently not big enough to bother his back -- while Stacy is clearly trying to be more classic. There's a lot of leg movement during her swing but if you look at the slo-mo near the end of that last video (right at the :55 mark) you'll see that there's no hip bump to indicate that she wants to create separation; rather, her shoulders and hips are turning almost in unison while her legs move her whole body slightly toward the target. (That's how she gets her weight shift.)

And while watching the Swinging Skirts event this week, I've noticed that Stacy's stance with the driver seems narrower than it is in that last video. But this video is around 16 months old, so Stacy could have gone to a narrower stance through the whole bag. It might explain why she's picked up some extra yardage off the tee in the last year -- less effort spent moving her body means more effort put into swinging the club.

Although Sergio Garcia occasionally gets help from Pete Cowen, who teaches what I call a "power classic" swing, there's no question that Sergio's dad taught him a modern move. Look at how fast his hips start moving but how slow his shoulders are to follow!



Sergio has a lot more leg movement during his backswing than many modern swingers, but I don't think he could get that huge shoulder turn or massive downcock in his wrists any other way.

And finally, let's take a look at Jack Nicklaus. This video shows Jack hitting a number of shots with different clubs, from wedge up to driver. While Jack's leg action is very classic, with a lot of knee movement, his basic action is modern. Unlike the Stacy Lewis footage above, Jack's legs are moving only his hips, not his entire torso. In fact, as the clubs get longer, the separation gets noticeably bigger:



Hopefully this gives you an idea how you can identify what type of swing a player is working with. And why is this important? Because some of the techniques that work for Annika wouldn't work so well for Sergio, and vice versa. Modern and classic swings share most of the same fundamentals, but that separation move makes each swing feel and behave a little differently.

So if you're a classic swinger trying to copy Sergio, you're going to make things harder on yourself than they really need to be. Learn to tell the difference and save yourself some grief.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Classic VS Modern Swing: Telling the Difference Part 2

In yesterday's post I looked at why we're starting to see more classic-style swings succeed on Tour. Today I want to focus on what really differentiates a classic-style swing from a modern-style swing, and tomorrow we'll look at some swing videos and see how to tell which is which. I'll warn you upfront that this is a long post, but there's a whole lot of important stuff in it that I haven't seen anywhere else.

As I wrote yesterday, "There's a whole spectrum of swings with the classic swing at one end, the modern swing at the other, and various permutations in-between." That's why I'm using the terms classic-style and modern-style more than just classic and modern. But it's helpful to know what the "pure" versions are... and what they aren't.

At their simplest, pure classic swings are arm-powered and pure modern swings are leg-powered. That means that the primary power source in the classic swing is your arms, and the primary power source in the modern swing is your legs... but that can be misleading.

Although I've said it numerous times on this blog, I need to repeat it here: ALL swings are started with your lower body. It is physically impossible to start a swing -- ANY swing -- with your arms. Without explaining the physics yet again, your feet have to grip the ground (create friction) and your legs have to brace themselves (so they can use that friction to push against the ground) in order to start your upper body and arms swinging the club in the downswing. In essence, your lower body pulls your upper body into your downswing.
And just for clarity, an over-the-top swing is also started by your legs. It's just that your legs -- especially your trailing leg --  create the friction by pushing UP rather than around. That shoves your trailing shoulder up and out as your upper body starts the downswing.
The difference between classic leg drive and modern leg drive is one of degree. In the modern swing, it's a forceful purposeful push of the legs; in the classic swing, the legs just respond naturally, without conscious thought, to the effort of trying to swing the arms. Some teachers will describe leg action in the classic swing as "your legs simply move beneath you." But again, this can be somewhat misleading.

Because the pure modern swing tries to minimize hip turn on the backswing and the pure classic swing encourages a free hip turn on the backswing, a classic swing may actually have more leg movement than a modern swing although the legs aren't driving very hard at all. And let's add some more confusion about what the arms do as well -- most classic swing instructors really want you to minimize arm tension while Ben Hogan, the man who virtually invented the prototypical modern swing, said he wished he had three right hands when he hit the ball!

And once you begin considering all the possible variations of these two types of swings... how are you supposed to know what any given player is trying to do? Each of these swings, classic and modern, has a very different feel. Is there nothing in a player's swing that tells us whether the swing is more classic or more modern?

It took me a long time to sort it out, but yes, there IS a way to tell. That key movement is what we call separation.

SO WHAT IS SEPARATION?

Remember what I said earlier? ALL swings are started with your lower body.  That means that your lower body gets a little ahead of your upper body at the start of your downswing. (And your upper body catches up by the time you hit the ball.)

Separation is what we call that little "head start" your lower body gets at the start of the downswing. All swings (except over-the-top swings) have some separation in them because ALL swings are started with your lower body. The difference is that classic swings only have a little separation while modern swings can have quite a lot.
Again, for clarity, over-the-top swings don't use your legs properly. In a proper swing, the lower body PULLS the upper body toward the ball. An over-the-top swing PUSHES the upper body upward so the upper body actually gets ahead of the lower body.
Maybe this will help you understand: Try taking your address position and make sure both knees are flexed. From that position turn your shoulders 90 degrees, like they are at the top of your backswing. Now push up (straighten your knees) and try to turn your shoulders as if you were making a downswing.
Here's what will probably happen: Your trailing knee will straighten out while your lead knee stays bent and your lead foot ends up on its toes. Your hips will barely turn at all but your trailing shoulder will get most of the way to the "ball." That's an over-the-top move -- very bad for golf.
I can hear you saying, "Yes, yes, I understand. Modern swings create more separation than classic swings. I get it." NO YOU DON'T! That little difference represents two dramatically different ways of creating club head speed in a golf swing! And that is the key to understanding how the two differ.

In a pure classic swing, the separation is small and the upper body catches up to the lower body quickly. The purpose of the separation is simply to get the upper body moving. Club head speed (which is our goal with any swing) is created by the swinging motion of the arms. Although the analogy isn't exactly accurate, you can think of the club as a pendulum that gains extra speed from the arms.

In a pure modern swing, the separation is large and it takes most of the downswing for the upper body to catch up with the lower body. The separation itself is how power is generated; club head speed is created by closing the separation. The club is no longer a pendulum (a single large lever) but the end of a whip (effectively, a whole chain of tiny levers).

York barbell plates The classic swing and the modern swing represent two entirely different methods of creating club head speed, which is why instructors have traditionally said that you couldn't combine the two methods. But the truth is merely that you can't do both at once, and it takes a tremendous amount of strength to even attempt to use both of them in sequence -- something that was unimaginable not that long ago. Bear in mind that weight training was discouraged until Tiger began handing players their butts on a plate -- a plate being what weightlifters call those round metal donuts you put on a barbell to make them heavier!

Each method has its downside. While the pure classic swing is perhaps the simplest way to get good results (at least, now that we don't have to deal with the problems hickory itself created), it requires really good timing at the change of direction to create substantial power. And while the pure modern swing doesn't require quite so much timing to create power, it does require a lot of strength and coordination to deliver that power accurately to the ball. For example, when Tiger says he "got stuck," what he means is that his lower body moved too fast and created more separation than his upper body could catch up with.

And I'll add another problem I see with excessive separation. Although I can't prove it, I find it interesting that we have very few records of chronic back problems among golfers during "the age of hickory" while it seems that almost every modern player suffers from them. I'm not saying that classic swingers never have back problems. However, it does seem that the more separation we try to create, the more stress we put on our backs. Since our hips have to move ever farther ahead of our shoulders to create ever more separation in the modern swing, we end up twisting our backs at odd angles while we put even more force on them.

Because the "pure" versions of both swings each have their own problems, it's no surprise that inventive instructors have been creating new combinations of the two in hopes of minimizing the problems. That's what good instructors do. For example, my books Stop Coming Over-the-Top and HIT IT HARD! both teach what are basically modern swings BUT with the separation reduced to minimize the amount of coordination and strength required for good results as well as minimizing stress on your back. Those are things I felt were vital for weekend players who don't have a lot of time to practice and who can't risk having a bad back put them out of work.

Many of your favorite players will sacrifice anything to get 20 more yards or to hit 10% more greens in regulation. Others make sacrifices to minimize back pain just so they can play. Some want swings that don't require much practice because they want to spend their time doing more charity work. For these and a dozen other reasons, instructors create new swings specifically tailored to those players... and some of those swings find popularity with a number of other players as well. That leads to a large number of hybrid swings for us to sort through.

But at least we have some clues...

SO HOW WILL WE TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

Tomorrow we'll look at some swing video and I'll show you how I sort them out. For now I'll just give you some of the criteria we'll use:
  • The amount of separation in the swing: Separation creates some telltale clues that I'll point out when we look at the video.
  • The player's swing coach: As I mentioned yesterday, players generally go to coaches who specialize in the type of swing they already have.
  • Nationality: This isn't a given, of course, but it's amazing how many of the classic swing coaches trained in Europe and how many of the modern swing coaches trained in America. Could it be an Old World mentality versus Ben Hogan's American-made swing? I don't know but it seems to be a real phenomenon.
  • Common problems: For example, Tiger's frequent "getting stuck" problem is a pretty clear indicator that he's using a modern swing.
Plus there are some other less-common clues. I'll show you tomorrow.

The barbell photo came from bodybuilderfitness.com.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Classic VS Modern Swing: Telling the Difference Part 1

Weekend players are always picking up tips from different sources. Some of those tips work, some don't. The reason is simple: While all swings are built on the same basics, some swings put more emphasis on one basic than another. And these differences generally show up in the full swing. Ironically, most teachers teach the same basic short game techniques. (That's a good thing to know, don't you think?)

A good example of this is the difference between the classic swing and the modern swing. I've been talking more about the differences lately, both because I've been experimenting with the differences on my own swing and because we're starting to see a greater variety of swing techniques among the pros. I started thinking, "Wouldn't it be helpful if we could tell what kind of swing each player was using at a glance? Then we'd have a better idea which players swing more like each of us does and would know who we might want to copy."

Well, it's not quite that easy. You see, different instructors have their own "swing blends," just like grocery stores have different coffee blends. But we can make some generalizations that might help us avoid wasted attempts to copy swings that aren't really like ours.

Hence, I'm going to do a post or two that might help you get a better handle on how to recognize what the best players are doing... and whether what they do is something you might want to try.

THE MOST BASIC DIFFERENCE
Shafts are at the root of swing evolution. In your golf swing, shafts act somewhat like springs. When you change direction at the top of your backswing, you cause them to bend or flex; we call that "loading the shaft." Then the shaft unloads when you hit the ball and adds its stored-up energy to the strike. If you use shafts that are too stiff, you can't load them enough to help you; but if you use shafts that are too weak, you won't be able to control the shot.

The classic swing was developed back in the days of hickory shafts. Hickory was extremely flexible and you had to be careful how you loaded the shaft. If you put too much force on it when you changed direction at the top of your backswing, it would flex too much. This is why the great Walter Hagen was so wild off the tee. If you look at footage of his swing, it looks as if the shaft bends 90 degrees on the way down. And if you read Tommy Armour's book How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, which teaches a classic swing using steel-shafted clubs, you'll find that he recommends getting shafts that are more flexible than you think you need.

The modern swing developed along with steel shafts. Steel shafts actually needed more force applied if they were going to load properly. Sam Snead once said that going from hickory to steel was the hardest thing he ever did. The key to making the change was how you used your legs. Byron Nelson figured it out first; compare his swing to other players of the time and you'll see him using his knees a lot more. Eventually Ben Hogan codified this new method as a hip movement driven by the legs.

The classic swing continued to be used long after hickory shafts became museum pieces. Certain well-known teachers focused on classic techniques -- for example, the late Jim Flick, who worked with Jack Nicklaus after his childhood teacher Jack Grout died; Bob Toski, who often taught with Flick and who is probably best known right now as Ken Duke's teacher; and Manuel de la Torre, who taught 2-time LPGA major champions Carol Mann and Sherri Steinhauer. But the modern swing was considered the way to go -- after all, who could argue with HOGAN??? -- and so it dominated most teaching over the last few decades.

So why are we starting to see more successful players who use classic techniques? I think you can blame Frank Thomas, the former Technical Director of the USGA and the inventor of the graphite shaft. For all practical purposes, graphite is synthetic hickory. It has all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks of wooden shafts. It can be tailored to a specific player's needs with far more control than steel can. Once again the classic swing has become not only a practical way to swing but, in some cases, a preferable way to swing.

As a result, the classic swing is making a comeback in professional circles. You could make a good argument that the best teachers in the world are Butch Harmon, Sean Foley, and Pete Cowen. Of these, Cowen (who once taught Lee Westwood and still teaches Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell, and Louis Oosthuizen among others) teaches a classic-style swing; Foley (who teaches Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, and Justin Rose among others) teaches a modern-style swing; and Harmon works with whatever style his student happens to use already. (As a side note, Cowen rarely shows up in "Top100 Teachers" lists because they focus on American instructors. Cowen is based in Europe.)

Yes, I used the terms "classic-style" and "modern-style" in the last paragraph. I'll come back to that in a minute. But first, I'll just say that if a player works with an instructor known particularly for teaching the classic or the modern swing, it's reasonable to expect that instructor's students to use the same techniques. (Duh!) So that's one key you can use to help you sort things out.

But, as I said earlier, not all swings are the same "flavor." Just as not all modern swing instructors teach exactly the same thing -- there's Hogan's two-plane swing, Hardy's one-plane swing, and Bennett & Plummer's Stack and Tilt, to name a few -- not all classic swing instructors teach exactly the same swing. There's a whole spectrum of swings with the classic swing at one end, the modern swing at the other, and various permutations in-between! So how do you recognize when you're looking at a classic swing and when you're looking at a modern swing?

Tomorrow I'll show you the keys I look for when I'm "sorting swings." It's really not that difficult when you know what you're looking for.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Skirts Swing to America

If the name of this week's "new" LPGA event sounds familiar, that's because it is. Many of the LPGA members have played in the Swinging Skirts tournament for years. I've had a little trouble tracking down the official history of the event (if some of you know it, just add it in the comments), but I know it was originally an event on the Taiwan LPGA's schedule, called the Swinging Skirts TLPGA Open in 2011. I think it was an invitational event in 2012, and then it became the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in 2013, a cosponsored event between the TLPGA and the KLPGA.

Now it's the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, and it's the first cosponsored event (between the TLPGA and the LPGA) ever on American soil.

Swinging Skirts media day

The event will be held at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco. The LPGA last had an event in the Bay Area back in 2010, the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge (Beatriz Recari's first LPGA win), so this is a return to a popular stop. And several of the players, like Paula Creamer and Juli Inkster, are from this area so they're doubly happy to be back!

This is sort of a homecoming for Michelle Wie as well, since Stanford University is nearby.

As usual, Tony Jesselli has a preview of this event at his blog. The most notable absence is Lexi Thompson while perhaps the most notable player to show up is Suzann Pettersen. Suzann has missed about a month of play while she dealt with a bad back (I heard it was a bulging disc), but Kay Cockerill on GC said that Suzann was going after her shots with full hard swings and seemed to be doing well. 

It will be interesting to see how Suzann does because Inbee has not managed to separate herself from the rest of the top players in the Rolex Rankings. Only 1.29 points separate #1 Inbee, #2 Suzann, and #3 Stacy Lewis so things could tighten up considerably this week.

Because of the time difference, we are once again treated to live golf in prime time. The 3-hour Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic broadcast starts tonight on GC at 6:30pm ET.

I suppose the only real question right now is whether it will still be an LPGA event next year. But here's a good bet: If it does move again, wherever it ends up it'll probably still be called the Swinging Skirts. The Taiwanese organization that started it -- the Swinging Skirts -- will see to that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Eliminating One Side of the Course

A lot of you may already know the stuff in this post, but a lot of weekend players don't. And since this is important to your strategy if you want to lower your score, I figured this was a good time to do a post on it.

If you watch any of the instructional shows on Golf Channel, it won't be long before someone brings up "eliminating one side of the course." Sometimes they specifically mention eliminating the left side of the course; that's because most of the right-handed Tour pros have a problem with hooking the ball when they goof up. It doesn't really matter which side you eliminate... but as a general rule, you want to eliminate the one that gives you the most trouble!

Here's the reason, and it's one I bet you've had some trouble with: You're having trouble hitting the ball in the fairway, but you miss it all over the place. Sometimes it goes in the left rough, sometimes it goes in the right rough... but the trick is that you never know which miss you're going to have THIS time. If you just knew which way the ball was going to go, you could aim so the ball had a better chance of landing somewhere that you could play from.

That's the idea behind "eliminating one side of the course." It's also behind the idea of having a "go-to shot," which simply means that you can hit that shot and know where the ball is going to go, even when you're under a lot of pressure and likely to screw up. A go-to shot may not be very pretty and it may not even fly as far as normal... but at least the player knows he or she will be able to find it and play it.

There are two ways to eliminate one side of the course, and both can work. You can either:
  1. learn to control your bad shot, or
  2. learn a foolproof way to hit the opposite shot.
That second one is what the Tour pros tend to try because they believe it's a more dependable strategy. They have trouble with hooking the ball, so they work hard to develop a foolproof fade. That's why you hear about so many pros working on "swinging left." As long as they can figure out a way to keep the clubface from closing at impact, they know the ball will fade. (And when they swing left but close the clubface unintentionally, they get what they call a "double cross.")

That's also why some players have really unusual swings. For example, Ben Hogan created what we call the "modern swing" because he fought a duck hook so bad he called it "the terror of the field mice." Lee Trevino's swing developed the same way.

The first choice -- learning to control your bad shot -- can be an interesting possibility. If your normal miss is a big slice and you can learn to control it, you may NEVER have to worry about the other side of the course. The trick becomes learning to control it so that it's always a fade and never a banana ball. You need a shot you can count on, one that you know will almost always be in play. If you can figure out how to reduce your current miss to something acceptable, you'll have a dependable go-to shot.

It's not the choice most players make, but I can think of one great player who did: Billy Casper. He won 3 majors (1959 & 1966 US Open, 1970 Masters) and 51 total PGA Tour wins (7th all time) with a big 50-yard hook.

Regardless of which route you decide to take, you have to learn why you hit the shots you hit and then you have to work out a way to get the ball to go the way you want. But the first thing you need to do is make sure you have good fundamentals: 
  • Check your grip. Make sure it's not too strong or too weak because that can cause hooks and slices even if everything else is correct.
  • Make sure you have good alignment at address. The ball tends to go where you aim. And I'd be willing to guess that this is a more common problem than most players believe.
  • Check that your ball position is consistent. Even the pros get careless with that sometimes.
And here's a good thing to try: Try hitting some balls with a full swing but don't try to knock the cover off the ball. (Think practice swing.) If you can hit it where you want it when you swing slower, then you're doing something wrong when you try to create more power. (That means it's not a setup problem. It's a movement problem.) And then maybe you can use your practice swing as a go-to shot!

You may need to spend some time with a teaching pro to learn how to do it. But like I said, eliminating one side of the course is an important part of your scoring strategy. It's worth taking some time to figure out how to do it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Michael Breed on Trajectory

On The Golf Fix Monday night Michael Breed talked about a number of things, including yet another way to control trajectory when you're hitting the ball off the ground rather than a tee. (The photo came from a YouTube video that doesn't really deal with this problem but the photo will be helpful later.)

The reason this caught my attention is because it doesn't involve changing the ball position!

Michael Breed

You may have heard of the "reverse K" setup position -- that is, your trailing shoulder is lower than your lead shoulder. Some instructors advise using the "rev-K" for hitting driver and a more level shoulder position for shots on the fairway. Here's a video of Michael explaining why the "rev-K" happens naturally with all clubs (if the video didn't embed correctly, the link to the original is at the end of the post):



BUT -- and this is what Michael talked about Monday night -- you can switch back and forth between the "rev-K" and the "flat shoulder" positions to control your trajectory!

The "rev-K" setup allows you to hit the ball higher because your lead shoulder turns back on a flatter plane, more level with your trailing shoulder. (If you look at the photo up top, you'll see that position.) This lets the club come in more parallel to the ground when you contact the ball. That sends the ball higher because you're using more of the club's loft, not unlike a driver swing which actually swings up on the ball.

With the "flat shoulder" setup position, that lead shoulder would be lower than your trailing shoulder as you make your backswing. When you do that, you have a steeper downswing and hit down on the ball, which makes it fly lower like a chip shot.

Because the "rev-K" moves your head more behind the ball, it has the same effect as if you moved the ball forward in your stance, which is the more traditional way to create a higher trajectory. On the show, Michael hit the ball 5 degrees higher with the "rev-K" setup than with the "flat shoulder" setup when using the same club. Obviously that could vary with different clubs, but you get the idea.

So now you have yet another technique for varying your trajectory. The more options you have, the more likely it is that you'll find one that works consistently for you.

In case the video didn't embed properly, here's the link to the video at golfchannel.com.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 RBC Heritage

Winner: Matt Kuchar

Around the wider world of golf: Several players returned to the winner's circle this week. Michelle Wie won the LPGA LOTTE Championship; Lee Westwood won the Maybank Malaysian Open on the ET/Asian Tour; Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Greater Gwinnett Championship on the Champions Tour; William Kropp won the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica's 83 Abierto OSDE del Centro; and Minami Katsu won the JLPGA's KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies (the Constructivist has details).

Kuchar holes out!

The streak has ended. Matt Kuchar must be extremely happy.

After 3 weeks -- including the Masters -- where he put himself in position to win and then went flatter than day-old soda, shooting par or worse in the final round, Matt Kuchar blistered the Harbour Town Golf Links with a 64 to lap the field. (And, incidentally, give Luke Donald his 5th Top3 there in 6 years.)

Instead of starting the day with the lead, he started 4 back, he shot a front nine 30 (-5) to take the lead... and then 3-putted the 17th from 4 feet to fall back into a tie with Donald. It looked like he was going to fall prey to "the curse" yet again, especially after he hit his approach to 18 into the front bunker.

Of course, when you hole out from the bunker on 18 to regain the lead, things look a bit different. It meant Donald had to birdie either 17 or 18 to force a playoff and, on those exposed holes and with so much wind, that just wasn't in the cards.

Kuchar now gets a couple of weeks off before heading to THE PLAYERS where he won in 2012. You can bet he's much more eager to get there now!

In the meantime, he can chill out and savor his brand new Limerick Summary:
After three weeks of losing his fizz,
From the bunker Matt played like a whiz.
He popped the ball up,
It dropped in the cup
And now Win Number Seven is his.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wie, Wie, Wie All the Way Home

Yes, Michelle Wie got her first win since the 2010 CN Canadian Women's Open (starting this year, it's now known as the Canadian Pacific Women's Open). And before you criticize my humor, consider the truth of it.

Wie with trophy

First of all, Michelle WAS home. She grew up in Kapolei, on Oahu. She grew up playing at the Ko Olina Golf Club, where they have a statue in her honor. In fact, she knew a huge number of the people who came to watch her final round... and Mark Rolfing said it may have been the largest crowd he'd ever seen at an LPGA event.

Second, this was Michelle's first-ever LPGA win on American soil. She had won the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the afore-mentioned Canadian Open in -- where else? -- Canada. (Her win at the 2003 US Women's Amateur Public Links wasn't a professional win, of course.)

But perhaps most importantly, the story really was all Wie, all the way to the clubhouse. Angela Stanford entered the final round with a 4-stroke lead and the wind blowing, which in and of itself had been a huge benefit to Angela in the third round where she posted a 67 to follow up Thursday's 64. (Michelle had posted 67-70 in those two rounds.) And Michelle has had trouble closing out final rounds.

The operative word is had. It was a different Michelle on the course Saturday. She was 3-under after 6 holes -- 3 birdies, no bogeys -- while Angela could manage only 1 birdie before bogeying the 6th. Suddenly Angela was only one stroke ahead... a stroke she lost on the 8th. After 9 holes Angela was +1 while Michelle was a bogey-free -3. The two were tied and the wind was increasing.

Michelle continued playing bogey-free golf. She birdied 12 and 13, then Angela birdied 15 to get within one. But Michelle's birdie on 16 put her two up with two to play... and then she did the Bubba, busting her drive across the 17th's dogleg into the wind, leaving herself a mere pitch to the 350-yard hole's green. Angela was forced to try for a birdie but could do no better than bogey, leaving Michelle 3 ahead with only the par-4 18th left.

Michelle bogeyed that hole, but it didn't matter. Her 5-under 67 was enough for a two-shot victory.

Will this be the catalyst to get Michelle on a run of victories? I don't know. And to be honest, Michelle didn't really seem to care. She told Jerry Foltz that she suspected it would help her confidence going forward, but was so excited that she was clearly dumbfounded when he asked her about getting her first win in the States. It hadn't registered yet!

Whatever the ultimate impact is, this can only be good for the LPGA -- just witness the turnout to see Michelle play. It will be interesting to hear what the ratings were for the final round broadcast and to see how it affects the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic next week in San Francisco, where Michelle is also in the field. But now Michelle has proven to herself that her new approach to the game can get the job done...

And that could make things very interesting for the rest of the ladies. Game on, Lexi?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Most Interesting Debut in Golf

In case you didn't hear, after setting a scoring record for 50-year-olds at the Masters, Miguel Angel Jimenez decided to squeeze in one more tournament before he took some time off for marriage and such. (He really did. He's getting married May 3rd.) He decided to make his debut on the Champions Tour.

I'm afraid most of the other players wish he hadn't. He has a 3-stroke lead after the first round.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

Vartan Kupelian posted an interesting article about the Mechanic's first senior moments on the Champions Tour at PGATOUR.com. You can click the link to read it, but I wanted to show you something Miguel said about his game. Kupelian wrote that when Miguel has questions about his swing, he usually looks to his brother Juan. However:
When Jimenez does consult with a swing guru, it’s “never to go into big things."
“I don’t let anyone come into big things,” he said. “Just only the feeling, the contour (shape) of the ball is not working properly, the ball is starting too far right, then what happened? Maybe the ball too far back, maybe too far forward, see the flight of the ball, tell you everything and you have to work with that.”
In other words, it’s about seeing and feeling what he does with the golf swing. It’s not overhauling the engine. It’s about fine-tuning it.
Are we seeing a pattern lately among the players who are starting to assert themselves on Tour? Guys like Miguel and Bubba focus more on feel and "small things" rather than trying to overhaul their swings to get them "just right." Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have been making progress working with Butch Harmon, but the changes seem to focus on tightening things up a bit rather than doing something new. Even Lee Westwood seems to be returning to his old form now that he's gone back to the basic principles he's played by most of his career.

This is about mindset, folks. This is about sticking with what you know works and keeping it in shape, only "fixing" things when there's really something that needs fixing. Don't keep looking for the next new thing, the next silver bullet, the next hot swing key. Focus on fundamentals. Usually when something goes wrong it's something simple, like alignment or posture or, as Miguel mentions in the quote, ball position. Take a tip from Miguel -- he clearly knows what he's doing.

Oh, and don't worry about his wife-to-be getting angry about some extra golf. It's amazing how those winner's checks can smooth over the little things!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Angela Stanford Blew Away the Field Then the Wind Finished the Job

It's not the full force gales that hit the PGA Tour in 2013 -- remember Dustin Johnson winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in a mere 3 rounds? -- but the LPGA LOTTE Championship is seeing some pretty strong winds.

Michelle Wie

I'm sure you wonder why you see Michelle Wie's picture instead of Angela Stanford's. It's simple -- the LPGA hasn't posted any photos from the 2nd round yet! Michelle is in 2nd place, one shot back, so I posted her pic because I found one. (If you wonder why it's hard to find pics of the other leaders, it's partly because Kapolei is her home so she gets even more attention than usual this week. But it doesn't help that the leaderboard basically flip-flopped since Wednesday either.) As I'm writing this, the LPGA hasn't even posted a 2nd round report yet. There should be something up by the time you read this.

It's a shame that it's taking so long though. Angela's 8-under 64 was far and away the best round of the day. The wind has been blowing pretty hard since before the first round and, although Michelle told GC that the wind wasn't quite as bad as Wednesday, it picked up again during the later part of the round. The morning groups had the best of the draw.

Nevertheless, only Angela's 64, Cristie Kerr's 66, and Michelle's 67 stood out during the pre-broadcast rounds. (Haru Nomura had the best round of the late times; she also posted a 67 and is in the Top10 on the leaderboard.)

The damage from the first round was terminal for many of the big names. The cut came at +4 and a number of favorites simply couldn't recover, Anna Nordqvist being the most obvious. (She shot 76-77 to miss the cut by 5.) Paula Creamer barely kept her cut streak alive, making the cut by one (+3).

I need to mention a couple of really great rounds that were played in the afternoon wave. Amateur So Young Lee posted a 70 to reach -4 at the halfway point -- she's not even as old as Lydia Ko (who is only at -1 after 2 rounds). And rookie Jaye Marie Green shot an 80 in the first round and somehow managed a 68 in the wind to make the cut right on the number!

So here's the Top11 on the leaderboard at the halfway point:
  • -8: Angela Stanford
  • -7: Michelle Wie
  • -6: Cristie Kerr, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim
  • -5: Ha Na Jang, Se Ri Pak
  • -4: Haru Nomura, Katie Burnett, So Young Lee
The weather report for the last two rounds calls for the wind to change direction slightly (NE to ENE) but to stay around 15mph both days. Should be fun... for us viewers!

If you want to see it, remember that GC is showing 4 hours of live golf starting at 6:30pm ET tonight.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bang It Out There Like the King

Did any of you see the 3-part series GC did on Arnold Palmer? It was pretty interesting, wasn't it? Many of you may not have realized just how much of a power hitter Arnie was in his heyday until you saw some of the old footage.

I'm sure many of you have also been wondering how to hit it "Bubba long." The fact is, Bubba has a big start on most of us since he's 6'3" tall. But Arnie was only 5'10" -- fairly average among men. Perhaps we might learn more by looking at the King's swing.

Here's a video from the Somax Performance Institute that analyzes Arnie's downswing when he was at the height of his powers. I'll admit upfront that while I find the analysis interesting and I suspect many of you will learn useful things from it... I'm not really using any of it. But this video provided a photo of the King at the top of his backswing, and that's what I needed for this post. So enjoy the video, then read on!



As I said, I'm focusing on the moment Arnie reaches the top of his backswing because I want you to see where many, maybe most of you are losing a whole lot of power. I want you to see a fundamental that should be part of every golf swing. In the next photo I've drawn a bright yellow line through Arnie's trailing knee at the top of his backswing:

position of Arnie's knee at top of backswing

Do you see where Arnie's trailing knee is? That line shows that his knee is still inside his trailing foot, not over it. And do you see where his trailing hip is? It's even more inside his trailing foot! Let me repeat that: Arnie's trailing hip is not OVER his trailing foot, nor is it OUTSIDE his trailing foot. It is well INSIDE his trailing foot!

Why is this? It's because he has braced his trailing knee so it doesn't move away from the target as he makes his backswing. And if you watch his swing in the video, you'll see that his knee never moves more toward his trailing foot than it is in this photo. This stability not only keeps him driving toward the target during his downswing, thus creating more power, but it stabilizes his swing plane so more of that power is applied accurately to the ball.

Now, in case you're curious, here's a photo of Bubba at the top of his backswing from a 2012 Golf Digest swing sequence. (This is photo #4, in case you want to know.) I've also drawn a bright yellow line through his trailing knee:

position of Bubba's knee at top of backswing

Why is Bubba's trailing knee OVER his trailing foot? There are two reasons:
  • Bubba's trailing knee is bent while Arnie's is straight. Although most instructors (and me too!) generally like for you to keep a little flex in your knees throughout your swing, that almost-straight trailing knee is pretty common in classic swings. (You can see it in Tommy Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf All of the Time, for example, and that was considered THE instructional guide before Hogan wrote Five Lessons.)
  • Bubba has turned his upper body -- and therefore his hips -- considerably more than Arnie has. Arnie looks like he has maybe 95-100 degrees of shoulder turn while Bubba easily has 110 degrees or more.
But notice that even with his body twisted so much that his trailing knee has moved over his foot, Bubba's trailing hip is STILL inside his trailing foot. Most of us mere humans won't get that much turn; if we get as much as Arnie, we'll be doing good!

This trailing knee position is a fundamental you should have in your golf swing. At worst, your trailing hip has to stay "between your feet" and not slide out over or past your trailing foot. If you want power, you've got to get in this powerful position.

If it helped Arnold Palmer drive the green on the 346-yard par-4 first hole in the final round of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills with a balata ball and a persimmon driver, it's got to help you get more distance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ladies Are Early. (Is It Sexist to Say That?)

Yes, the LPGA's LOTTE Championship starts today instead of Thursday, giving the ladies a jump on the PGA Tour and any other man thinking about tournament golf this week. Best of all, it's live prime time coverage!

Ko Olina Golf Club

The LOTTE is played in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei. It's one of the newer tournaments born from Mike Whan's efforts, a mere two years old. Ai Miyazato won in 2012 and Suzann Pettersen last year... but Ai isn't playing well yet this year and Suzann is still sitting out due to injury.

Tony Jesselli has a preview up at his blog, complete with a list of the main players not in the field this week. Of this year's winners only Paula Creamer and Anna Nordqvist are playing, potentially opening the door for someone new to join the ranks.

For the record, I like Michelle Wie's chances this week. (Tony and I agree on this one.) She's coming off a runner-up finish at the KNC and has finished no worse than T16 in any of her 6 events this year. I think she's due. And although she hasn't played well here either of the last two years, the shorter Ko Olina course may play into the more "conservative" strategy she's been using in 2014.

The first round of the LOTTE Championship broadcasts tonight on GC from 6:30pm-10:30pm ET.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is Jordan Spieth the Next Sergio?

It's one of the more interesting discussions engendered by the Masters: Is Jordan Spieth the "next big thing" or will he struggle the way Sergio has?

Jordan Spieth

I thought it was a bit strange that Jordan took so much flack for his emotional outbursts during the final round Sunday. Some people were apparently very offended because Jordan had a few minor "displays" when everything went wrong for him. I couldn't help but wonder why other players (Tiger comes to mind) don't get the same treatment when they drop the F-bomb -- very loudly -- because they had a bad lie in a bunker. And as I recall, Henrik Stenson's little tantrum during the FedExCup Playoffs last year was actually considered comical. Remember this one?



Or how about Rory's less violent but equally destructive wedge bending in 2013? "Grownups" do this all the time, but for some reason Jordan's rather restrained tantrum is unacceptable. Sounds like a double standard to me...

But perhaps this is part of what originally spawned the question. I first heard it when Frank Nobilo brought it up on GC's aftergame show.

And I suppose it's a fair question, given the expectations being heaped on Spieth so early in his career. You can certainly draw parallels between Jordan's performance at the Masters with Sergio's 1999 PGA performance at Medinah. The comparisons are equally glowing, as you can tell from this golf.com article reprinted from the Aug. 23, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated. Sergio could do no wrong back then.

The question is, what happens if Jordan suffers Sergio's fate and that first major doesn't come quickly? Isn't it possible -- even likely -- that Jordan's rosy future may get derailed?

Yes, it's possible... but I do think there's one major difference that's not being taken into account here. It's the very reason for this debate. Let's call it "the Tiger Effect."

At the time of his PGA win, the Tiger legend was still in its infancy. He had won a lot but the PGA was only his 2nd major and he hadn't even won his first WGC yet. (That happened a month and a half later.) The PGA was his 11th win in roughly 4 years, and he was just halfway through the first of those years with 8+ wins. As spectacular as he had been, we still hadn't seen Tiger in full flight.

And certainly 19-year-old Sergio had never seen, perhaps even imagined how a player could be so dominant. The full Tiger Effect demoralized most Tour veterans and destroyed a few more, let alone an impressionable young player trying to copy his idol Seve.

But now, 15 years later, youngsters like Jordan Spieth have grown up with the Tiger Effect. They've grown up with weight training and sports psychologists and media advisors... and million dollar winner's checks and multimillion dollar endorsement deals.

Consider this: Tiger's 12-tournament maiden season of 1996 (which included 2 wins and 4 other Top5s, plus an extra Skins Game appearance) netted him a mere $790,594. By comparison Tom Lehman, that year's money list winner, played 25 events (plus 3 unofficial) and won 2 tournaments including the Open Championship plus 7 Top5s. He took home $1,780,159.

My point is that young Jordan's world is much different from that of young Sergio. Jordan's expectations have been shaped by the superhuman performances of one Eldrick Tiger Woods. He knows what is possible... and, by extension, how devastating failure can be. He's been preparing for both. It seems a little naïve to assume that Jordan is likely to react the same way to adversity as Sergio did.

The "brave new world," the "paradigm shift" that Sergio faced is just the "way things are" for Jordan. So while I suppose Jordan's career could end up being a bust... I sure wouldn't bet on it.

By the way, this year's Open Championship will be at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where Tiger won in 2006. He only used about 4 drivers all week; he just strategized his way around. Jordan's pretty good with strategy. Just a head's-up...

The photo came from CBSsports.com.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Masters

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: The golf world always seems to come to a halt when it's Masters Week. Carlos Ortiz won the El Bosque Mexico Championship on the Web.com Tour; Min Young Lee won the KLPGA's Lotte Mart Women's Open; and Esther Lee won the JLPGA's Studio Alice Ladies. (The Constructivist has details -- just click the links.)

Adam slips the coat on Bubba

Sunday afternoon, 2014 April 13: Bubba Golf enters a new era as Bubba Watson proves he can control his emotions and still play with exquisite control... while simultaneously pounding his competition into little greasy spots.

Remember that date. We may be adding more major Sundays to it before long.

And it's not as if everybody else played so bad. We had players making history with their play during this Masters... and yet, it just wasn't good enough. Even Jordan Spieth -- who made more than a little history himself as Bubba's chief competition Sunday -- said he would never forget Bubba's tee shot on 13. All it did was fly 360 yards after clipping some trees. Bubba hit a wedge for his second shot on the par-5.

Then there was that shot from the trees on 15. Bubba had a three shot lead and only needed to chip out. Instead he curved it over the lake, nearly getting himself an eagle chance.

And this time he got to share it with his wife and son. Last time Caleb was too young for them to make the trip and see Daddy get his first Green Jacket.

The number of great performances will be remembered for a long time, with Jordan Spieth and Miguel Angel Jimenez leading the pack. But Sunday belonged to Bubba in a way that no one can deny.

Or maybe even believe.

Yes, Bubba Golf definitely proved itself Sunday. We don't know yet how he'll fare against a healthy Tiger Woods, but it's sure gonna be fun finding out! Until then, we'll have this Limerick Summary to tide us over:
Now Bubba’s gone two out of three
Just by busting it off of the tee,
Threading trees, crossing water…
At this rate he oughta
Win several majors like these!
The photo comes from the tournament page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Numbers Never Lie... Or Do They?

We've all heard the saying. It's popular enough that ESPN named one of their shows Numbers Never Lie. But here's the deal: Numbers are little more than trivia, basically meaningless in and of themselves. In sports, they tend to take on meaning only when they become statistics... and statistics are numbers that someone has interpreted to produce that meaning.

And interpretations are... well, a matter of interpretation. Interpretations can lie... and often do.

Most of my friends and I picked potential Masters winners based on stats. Our results were about as good as those of John Antonini at GC's Fantasy Central who, using a number of stats like GIR, number of wins prior to a Masters, and par-5 scoring, chose Phil as his favorite with Sergio and Zach Johnson close seconds. (All missed the cut.) And his choices for a possible first-timer were Harris English, Graham DeLaet, and Jimmy Walker. (Only Walker made the cut and sits at +2, T19.)

Miguel Angel Jimenez

I'm not sure any stats could have predicted today's leaderboard. Just look at the last 4 pairings:
  • (-5) Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth
  • (-4) Jonas Blixt, Matt Kuchar
  • (-3) Rickie Fowler, Miguel Angel Jimenez (pictured above)
  • (-2) Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood
Are there any numbers that might predict the eventual winner? Well, I've heard a few...

Apparently, in the last 27 years the winner has come from the Top12 at the 36-hole point. This year that group had 14 players and looked like this:
  • (1) Watson
  • (2) Senden
  • (T3) Bjorn, Blixt, Scott, Spieth
  • (T7) Couples, Walker, Furyk
  • (T10) Streelman, Gallacher, Henley, Stadler, Donaldson
I've also heard that most of the time the leader comes from one of the final 2 groups, and according to the Augusta Chronicle up until 2010 19 of the last 20 winners came from the final group. However, the last 3 winners have NOT come from the final group so this new trend could foreshadow this year's results.

If all of that's true, Jonas Blixt will win today because Watson and Spieth are in the final group and Kuchar wasn't in the Top12 at the halfway point. In fact, of the last 4 groups only Blixt and Furyk even have a chance despite a mere 3-stroke spread between those groups. Would you like to put money on that???

Let me give you a few facts and figures that won't lie:
  • Bubba would win his 2nd Green Jacket in 3 years.
  • Spieth would become the youngest Masters winner ever.
  • Blixt would become the first male Swedish major winner. (Remember, Annika already has 10 for the ladies.)
  • Kuchar or Westwood would leave the "best player without a major" list.
  • Fowler's following might start to resemble Arnie's Army. (Puma would certainly break out the champagne!)
  • Jimenez would become the oldest major winner ever.
  • Furyk would likely lock up entry into the Hall of Fame.
And that's only the final 4 groups!

If you need proof that numbers don't always tell the truth, just consider this: The TV industry is still waiting to learn what the Masters viewing numbers will be without Tiger in the field, and most assume they'll take a big hit from last year. I suspect they will, because most occasional golf fans only care about how Tiger does.

But if you think those numbers will adequately measure the significance of this year's Masters, think again.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to Stop Flipping, Part 2

Here, as promised, is another post on how to stop flipping your hands through impact. (The first post can be found here.) In case you've forgotten, Stephen left a comment on an earlier post asking for some help with the problem and, since it's a fairly common one, I decided this problem deserves some "blog time."

This time I want to look at some of the things that cause flipping.

Flipping can happen with any club -- many players flip their wrists when they putt, some when they chip, and some at impact during their full swing. Simply put, flipping is when the head of the club passes your hands before you hit the ball. The first post I did includes a video of Martin Hall showing how you want your hands to stay ahead of the club head; it's sometimes called "forward shaft lean."

There are a couple of things that most "flippers" do. One is using incorrect grip pressure; the other is stopping their turn through the ball too soon.

Most of you know that if you grip the club too tightly, you slow down your swing. But you also know you have to keep a good grip on the club so you don't unintentionally throw it! So here's your key thought: You want the tightest part of your grip to be the ring and pinky fingers on your lead hand. (Remember, the lead hand is the one closest to the target at address.) By focusing your grip in those two fingers, you get a firm hold on the club -- after all, those fingers are at the end of the shaft where it's easier to control it -- and it only tightens the muscles on the "bottom edge" of your forearm. It also creates more control with your lead hand while allowing you to really whip that club through impact.

Grip pressure is just a matter of practice, and you can practice while you're sitting in front of the television. Just hold the club and focus on tightening those two fingers while the others stay more relaxed.

The other problem, stopping your turn too early, needs a little more explanation. I'm going to give you a little drill using a one-piece takeaway. (I explained how to do that in this post from way back in 2010. Just use the instructions there to learn how to do one if you don't already know how.)

Got it? Good. Here's the drill:

A one-piece takeaway keeps both arms pretty straight (but not stiff) until your hands reach nearly waist high on your backswing. For this drill, you can swing from there back down through the impact area until your hands are around waist high into your finish. I don't want you to cock and uncock your wrists because that will just make it harder to tell when you make your turn correctly. This isn't a power swing, so don't feel like you have to swing hard. Just make a rhythmic swing.

Now, if you make a waist high backswing, pause slightly, then swing down and through to a waist high finish (your trailing knee will bend, just like in a regular swing), your wrists should stay in the same position all the way through without much effort on your part. The butt end of the shaft should point toward your body (if you want a smaller target, it should point at your belly button) all the way through. You can swing back and forth like a pendulum if you want; many of you will find that helpful in getting the feel of a complete turn.

Michael Breed has a special version of this drill he uses to teach this called the Lucky 7 Drill. Here it is (use the link if you can't get the embedded video to run):



The Breed version doesn't point the butt end of the shaft toward your belly button. Rather, it points it to your side. His version focuses on full swings while my version will help with "putter flipping" as well. Obviously both will help but his will hurt if you do it too badly. (If you need negative reinforcement to learn...!)

Lee Trevino used to use thick rubber bands to teach this same technique in chipping. He would have his student grip down almost to the steel of the shaft, then put a couple of thick rubber bands around their lead wrist to hold the club's handle against it. That way they couldn't flip their wrists at all.

Those are the two biggest causes of wrist flipping. If you work on these drills, you should start learning what a "non-flipping" swing feels like.

And if I find some more drills that I think will help, I'll do another post. ;-)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tiger May Be Glad He's Missing This One

The word is out that Tiger Woods is basically immobilized for a couple of weeks until his back goes through its initial healing phase. We also know that he's watching the Masters on TV.

He may be glad he has an excuse to miss this one. A number of favorites struggled on Thursday.

Bill Haas stripes one

Granted, Bill Haas shot the best round of his career at Augusta, a 68. Granted, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, and Bubba Watson -- two past champions and a "nearly was" -- posted 69s. Granted, a handful of first-timers and seniors managed to shoot 70s and 71s. In all, 19 players finished Round 1 under par.

But they're the exceptions. As Rory (71) noted, "It was a tough setup. I think that they [Augusta] really wanted to do that, they didn't want the scores to get too low."

No worries there, mate. Just to name a few casualties... Keegan Bradley shot 75, Mickelson and Rose shot 76, the Johnson boys (Dustin and Zach) shot 77 and 78 respectively, and Jason Dufner shot 80.

Many players were surprised by the unexpected late afternoon winds. Nick Faldo showed some surprise that a few Sunday pin positions turned up so early in the tournament, and you could almost hear the gasps from the various announcers as the scores went up.

On Thursday. On what is usually the easiest day of the week.

As picks go, mine didn't do so bad. Although Jason Day shot 75 and, as already mentioned, Mickelson shot 76,  my other choices fared better. Scott shot 69 and my first-timers Patrick Reed and Harris English shot an acceptable 73 and 74. Given that the field's average score was nearly 2.5 strokes over par, I'll take it.

We won't really know how things shake out until the end of today's round and we see if either draw got an advantage over the other. But after the first round there are two things I'm reasonably sure of:

(1) The absence of the Eisenhower Tree probably won't lower scores very much.

(2) Tiger will have trouble laying still while he's laughing so hard.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

For All You Shoppers Out There...

For those of you who might be interested, online golf clothing store Function 18 -- who have provided some fashion posts for me in the past as well as a Masters infographic a couple of posts back -- sent me a note that they're having a Masters sale that runs through Sunday.

Since they're located in the UK, the prices are in British pounds. They're offering 10% off all orders over £10 (at the time of this posting, my Google calculator says that's $16.78 in US dollars) and 15% off all orders over £100 ($167.81).

The press release said, "The promotion is available across all major golf brands available online at Function18 including Oscar Jacobson, Nike Golf, Puma Golf, Adidas Golf and Hugo Boss, and will run throughout the Masters tournament until Sunday 13th April."

You can find the sale at www.function18.com. Just click the sale button on the front page. Here's the graphic with the sale codes (GET10 and GET15, in case they don't show up clearly):

Function18 ad

Butch Harmon Ditches the 3-Wood... Sometimes

Found this new article at Golf Digest by Butch Harmon about 3-woods. Butch says that you should avoid using your 3-wood from the fairway most of the time and stick with shorter fairway woods unless you're positive you can reach the green with the big lumber.

photo from Butch's article

The article details exactly how to get the best results from any fairway wood -- lower body action, ball position, address position, etc. It's short, simple and to-the-point. Here's the video from the article:


Got that? Be choosy about when you use your 3-wood -- Butch's orders. Read the article and obey! You'll get better results from the fairway.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My 5 for the Masters

I've been hinting at some possible trends I saw as we neared the Masters but now that I'm ready to make my picks, I find those trends have made things difficult.

Let's face it -- most of the "chalk" choices are either injured and/or not playing OR they seem a bit off their games, and over a quarter of the field is first timers. (There are 24 noobs among the 97 players, in case you're counting.) Things like that really affect the potential outcome. And the odds makers are little or no help, since you can be sure they don't want people to bet on players that will cost them money!

Oh well. I'm going to give it a go anyway. This Masters is so wide open that it's hard to make a bad choice... but that means I can't pick all the players I'd like to pick. Angel Cabrera is one of those players who I really like at Augusta but I already have 5 picked. *sigh* Sergio's in that group as well. Anyway...

Jason Day

Back in February, back before his thumb got injured, Jason Day was my #1 choice. After much debate, he remains so. Day got a cortisone shot a couple of weeks ago and says he's feeling no pain, although he has his thumb wrapped as a precaution against hyperextension. I saw some video of him hitting full shots and he seems to be swinging normally... so I'm throwing caution to the wind. He's played well in the last few months, even when coming back from extended layoffs, and he's played well at Augusta.

I also like Adam Scott, despite the odds against him repeating. Adam's game remains rock solid and he's proven that losing a big tournament right at the end doesn't keep him down for long. How can I not take the highest-rated player in the field when he's given me no reason to doubt him?

And I have to take Phil Mickelson, who finally seems to be healthy. And in good humor, I might add -- when Todd Lewis asked him what finally clicked last week, Phil said, "Let's not go overboard, it was only a T12." The man's got 3 Green Jackets, for Pete's sake! Enough said.

With so many noobs in the field, I have to take a couple of them as well. I'm taking Harris English as one. Harry has played Augusta as an amateur at the University of Georgia, so he has a little knowledge of the course. He doesn't seem phased by big moments. His game is remarkably similar to Adam Scott's, and we all know how well his game fits Augusta! And as if that wasn't enough, Harry aced the 12th during a Sunday practice round. An omen, perhaps...?

Finally, I'm taking Patrick Reed. How many players win 3 times before they get to go to a major? Reed has more wins in the under-25 group than anyone except Rory (who I haven't picked because I think his game is still a bit off.) And he has a particular advantage over most of the first-timers -- like Harry, he played Augusta as an amateur. However, while attending Augusta State he played Augusta National several times. Granted, that's not the same as seeing it under tournament conditions, but it does give him a leg up on the other noobs.

I suppose I should explain why one particular player didn't make my list. It seems like Dustin Johnson is on just about everybody's short list except mine. I know what the stats say, but here's what the results say: Dustin hasn't figured out how to use his skills effectively yet. I know everybody says that it's just one bad shot that costs him tournaments, but here's the way I see it: When Phil hits a bad shot and it costs him a title, he finishes 2nd or 3rd. But when DJ hits a bad shot and it costs him a title, he finishes 8th or 9th or 15th. That's a strategy problem and I've seen no reason to think he's got it fixed. That 80 last week didn't help things. Therefore, no DJ on my list.

So here are my picks:
  • Jason Day (main pick)
  • Adam Scott
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Harris English
  • Patrick Reed
But Rory probably said it best. Except for some of the older players and amateurs who are there as invitees and won't be able to compete, just about anybody can win this week if they just put 4 good rounds together.

The photo came from the dailytelegraph.com.au site.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Need Some Masters Facts?

No doubt many of you are seeking useful trivia about the Masters so you can impress some of those folks who say all your golf is a waste of time. Well, here's help!

The folks over at Function18 came up with this neat infographic about the Masters. (Remember them? They provide me with fashion articles sometimes.) If you click on the graphic, you'll be taken to the original -- it's a bit large for me to show full width on my site.

Now, while you're having lunch with friends, you can casually tell them that green jackets take a long time to make. And please, try not to smirk as your vast knowledge goes to your head...

Infographic about the Masters

UPDATE: And here's another Masters infographic created by the betting website spreadex.com. It has entirely different information.

Spreadex Masters Infographic 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Shell Houston Open

Winner: Matt Jones

Around the wider world of golf: Although I thought her reckless style might cause problems in the final round, Lexi Thompson got her first major at the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship; Marco Crespi won the ET's NH Collection Open; Daniel Mazziotta won the Mundo Maya Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; and Sun-Ju Ahn won the JLPGA's Yamaha Ladies. (The Constructivist has the details.) And of course, Sunday was the finals of the first annual Drive, Chip & Putt Competition at Augusta. You can read about all the winners in this Golfweek article.

Matt Jones is a bit excited

You probably won't be surprised to learn that Matt won the Shell Houston Open.

You might be surprised to find out that it was Aussie Matt Jones, not tournament leader Matt Kuchar. Kuch continued his recent trend of leading tournaments right up till the end and then losing them -- not unlike other recent big name players of note.

But to say it was all about the Kuchar water ball at 18 would be doing a huge disservice to Matt Jones. Jones started his round 6 shots back and methodically ran Kuchar down. Amazingly enough, he did it even after making an unexpected bogey on the 17th when his ball ran all the way through the wet fairway and rough into a hazard. It was going to take something incredible after that.

So all he did was sink a 46-foot putt for birdie on 18 -- good enough to force a playoff after Kuch scrambled for bogey there -- and followed it with an equally long chip over a greenside bunker for a second miracle birdie. Shades of Greg Norman!!! (Well, sort of. I'm sure Kuch felt pretty down under after it was over.)

Kuchar will surely be kicking himself in Augusta this week. For the second time in as many weeks, Kuch has lost a tournament when all he needed was a 1-under round to take it. Will that affect his chances at Augusta? We'll have to wait and see.

But Matt Jones has no such problem. He makes his first trip to the Masters on the wings of victory, along with 7 other Aussies. (It would appear that Australia has decided that more entrants improve their chances of keeping the green jacket. Smart folks, those Aussies.) And to give him some reading material for his flight, here's a little Limerick Summary just for Matt -- Jones, that is:
On a tough track where Matt battled Matt,
It was Jones beating Kuchar. Now THAT
Wasn’t what we expected—
But it just redirected
This Jones to that other Jones’ track.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

That Elusive Major

(Some days time slips up on you. Sorry this post is late, but fortunately the ladies don't play until later today.)

No matter how good you are, some things are just hard to get... like a particular major. Even getting one major is amazing, but for those at the top of the game it can be that last major in a career slam that drives them nuts. Phil Mickelson's pursuit of the US Open is one example. Neither Arnold Palmer nor Tom Watson ever landed the PGA Championship. Nancy Lopez's heartbreaks at the US Women's Open also come to mind.



Few people think about Se Ri Pak's desire to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship. It's true that she never won the du Maurier Classic either, but that one ceased to be a major shortly after she joined the LPGA so she never really had a good chance. (It's still an event on Tour though. Now you know why the CN Canadian Women's Open is so important to the ladies.)

Today she gets what may be her best chance ever to capture the KNC. (Her best previous finish was T8 in 2012.) Of course, it's not going to be easy. At -8 she's 2 strokes back of leaders Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson -- two players who have found any major to be elusive, although Lexi hasn't had that many chances yet.

Let's face it: The odds aren't on Se Ri's side. As a general rule, the KNC winner comes from the final pairing. And while Se Ri's a fairly long hitter, her closest competitors are 3 of the longest hitters on Tour -- Michelle, Lexi, and Charley Hull, who's also at -8.

I don't know what will happen today. It should be interesting because we have 4 different approaches to the game fighting for this major. The main attention will be on Lexi and Michelle who, if they play to form, will attack the course very differently. Lexi will bomb her way around the course while Michelle will methodically dissect it. Bear in mind that Lexi's approach resulted in bogey on the 18th yesterday -- and bombing it on that hole gave her no advantage because she couldn't reach the green even with a good drive. If it comes down to these two players, I think Michelle has the advantage and, to be honest, I think she's going to win today.

That is, if everyone keeps a handle on their nerves. Being this close to something as elusive as a major can do strange things to people.

If those two stumble, which could happen if nerves get to their putting, Se Ri and Charley could steal this thing. Se Ri's "veteran perspective" could give her an advantage if she doesn't get ahead of herself. But don't over look Charley Hull. Kelly Tilghman called her a "wild card," but Charley is way more than that. She hasn't let her ability to bomb it get in the way of strategy the way Lexi has. If the other 3 get in their own way, I think Charley's "hit it and see where it goes" philosophy makes her the likely winner.

I wish they all could win but only one can grab that elusive major. We'll find out at 5pm ET on GC today. I think this win would mean more to Michelle and I'd love to see her get it... but I still have to say...

Good luck, Se Ri.