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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Quicken Loans National

Winner: Justin Rose

Around the wider world of golf: Bernhard Langer won the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship, the third major on the Champions Tour; Greg Owen pulled off an unexpected win at the United Leasing Championship on the Web.com Tour; Stacy Lewis got her third win of the year at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on the LPGA; Fabrizio Zanotti won the BMW International Open on the ET; Florentyna Parker won the Ladies Italian Open on the LET; and Miki Sakai won the Earth Mondamin Cup on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details).

Justin Rose

The joke was that they were holding the Quicken Loans National when a US Open broke out.

As it turns out, the joke was on the field.

When the US Open was held at Congressional 3 years ago -- you know, the one Rory won by blitzing the field -- Mother Nature was the big player. Rain reduced the normally tough course to a huge Pitch'n'Putt. The folks at Congressional weren't pleased and, even though nobody was ever stupid enough to believe that Congressional is easy, these days they rarely ever make the course play any which way but hard.

In essence, Congressional is in constant US Open mode.

So is it any surprise that it took a past US Open Champion to tame it? Okay, "tame" is a strong word... maybe "survive" is better. Between the super-thick rough on the rolling slopes, the large trees, and the incredibly firm greens, the final round became a war of attrition. Who would give up the fewest strokes to par? Who would hang on long enough to take their chances at the peninsula green at 18?

In the end, only Justin Rose and Shawn Stefani survived -- Stefani with a par at 18, Rose with a scramble for bogey after running it into the water. Ironically, it was the water surrounding 18 that finally gave Rose the victory when Stefani also ran a shot into the water during the first playoff hole.

This gives Rose the start of a collection. He had a trophy from his win at this tournament in 2010 when it was held at Aronimink, and now he has a trophy from Congressional. I wonder how many more he'll collect, now that there will be a rota of courses?

In the meantime, Justin adds yet another Limerick Summary to his collection.
The island at Sawgrass? A cream puff!
Congressional’s eighteenth? Now THAT’S tough!
And though he got dampened,
It’s Rose who’s the champion—
He played the nineteenth from the dry stuff.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Working a Hybrid Off the Tee

I found this video tip from Golf Magazine Top100 Teacher Jim Murphy over at golf.com. It's a tip on how to hit a hybrid off the tee. Murphy says you can hit a hybrid almost as far as a driver if you do it right...

But it's his warning about how NOT to do it that I think many of you will be more interested in!



Murphy says that the correct way to hit your hybrid long and straight is to tee it very low, so the tee almost doesn't show above the ground, and make the same swing (a level to slightly downward sweeping blow) you'd make from the fairway.

That's if you want to hit it long and straight. Teeing it high, as you would with a driver, is a mistake...

Unless you WANT to hit a hook with your hybrid!

If you tee the ball high -- that is, with about half the ball above the top of the hybrid -- and make your normal upward driver swing, Murphy says YOU'LL HOOK THE BALL. So if you need to get a big hook off the tee, you could aim for a hook and make your driver swing.

And it follows that if you adjust how high you tee the ball -- teeing it just a bit lower, for example -- you should be able to turn that big hook into a smaller draw.

You may have to play with this a bit to get the exact result you want. And if you're a chronic slicer, you may have to work on your weight shift a little so you don't reverse pivot and cut across the ball. But for many of you, this could be just the thing for that dogleg tee shot that's been giving you trouble.

And as usual, if the video didn't embed properly, you can find the original video here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tiger Isn't Worried. Why Is the Media?

Once again it's Rant Day here at the Ruthless Golf blog. Buckle in, folks!

As you know by now, Tiger missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National. And for two days now we've heard everybody and his (or her) brother analyze why Tiger's swing didn't work quite right.

To be honest, I'm sick of it. The man hasn't played competitive golf for over 3 months. He's only been swinging his driver for two weeks. This brief foray into competitive golf -- a last-minute decision that he admitted he wouldn't have done if the event hadn't benefitted the kids his foundation helps -- was a test. He said Friday after his round that he hadn't even been sure how he would feel when he woke up after one round.

But to listen to the media, you'd think that Tiger was supposed to look like a finely-tuned machine instead of a recovering back patient. Really?

Tiger at Congressional

I've heard complaints that Tiger wasn't honest, that he "doesn't tee it up unless he thinks he can win." I've listened to or read a bunch of critiques of his "new swing" and why it's not going to work. And I've heard constant gripes that he really should tee it up next week at the Greenbrier so he can get in some more reps.

First of all, I'd like to know who doesn't change over the course of 15 years. Are you exactly the same you were a decade ago? If so, I feel sorry for you... even dead people decompose.

Perhaps I missed something but in the presser I saw, Tiger was asked if he thought he could win. He replied, "The goal is always the same..." but then he grinned and added "...but it'll be a lot tougher this time." That sounds to me like someone who thought the question was unrealistic and answered it with a joke. But apparently Tiger isn't allowed to change OR to joke.

Does anybody truly believe that Tiger's swing on Thursday and Friday is a finished product? Excuse me, but are two weeks of full swings after Tiger couldn't even move for a while enough time to completely figure out what changes are needed? As I recall, Tiger made a grip change on Wednesday during the pro-am. And on Friday he said his back didn't hurt but other muscles were sore from disuse. It's one thing to try and figure out what sort of changes Tiger and Sean Foley are trying out, but isn't it a bit early to be critiquing their efforts?

As for playing again before the Open -- the event he and his doctors were originally shooting for -- someone announced earlier in the week (I think I heard it on GC, but it could have been ESPN) that Tiger's doctors had OK'ed him for one week only. Sounds sensible to me, given the circumstances.

And given that this week wasn't originally in the plan and that presumably the doctors would like to evaluate him before he tees it up again, wouldn't committing to next week be a bit... well, STUPID? It amazes me how everybody could keep saying that they hoped Tiger would be smart and not move too fast, only to complain that he isn't moving fast enough!

With Tiger missing the cut this week, the doctors might have enough time to evaluate him and, if they believe it's safe, he would still have time to commit to the Greenbrier by cutoff time this Friday afternoon. But that's if they believe it's safe -- not the fans, not the sponsors, and certainly not the media.

Of course, given how often Tiger has fixed his swing without playing extra tournaments... does he really need to play more, just because the media says so? I understand he's taking his kids on vacation. Clearly the media's opinion worries him!

Tiger doesn't need me to be his apologist, and I haven't signed up for the job. But isn't it time to realize that Tiger Woods is a human being and treat him like one? He'll figure out his golf swing eventually and all will be right in the golf world again.-- he always does, you know.

But I for one am just glad he finally feels well enough to tee it up again. Couldn't we just celebrate that for a change?

OK, rant over. I don't know about you, but I sure feel better!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Golf.com's Michelle Wie Interview

Yes, yes, guilty as charged -- I was way too excited over the US Soccer Team surviving the "Group of Death" Thursday to really focus on golf. As a result, I'm just going to post something many of you may have missed -- the interview golf.com did with Michelle Wie earlier this week:



It's only about 6 minutes long but it has some interesting moments... like when Michelle is asked how she feels about "taking so long" to win a major when Mickelson took even longer but wasn't criticized as harshly. Interviewer Jessica Marksbury definitely deals more with Michelle's mental approach to the Open than most of the other interviews I've heard.

It's different enough from those other interviews to be worth a listen.

And as usual, in case the video didn't embed properly, here's a link to the original.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Now Playing... Tiger!

Yes, the golf world can finally exhale. Tiger is back and, based on his play in the Quicken Loans National pro-am, he's healthy. His swing may need a bit more work, but he's healthy.

And that's the good news we were all waiting for.

Tiger at presser on Tuesday

I guess every golf reporter on the planet was eager to see how he played at the pro-am, and by most reports he was just what he said he was... rusty. Sean Foley was on the course with him in case he needed help. He lost several shots to the right early on, but "found something" during his second nine and started playing better. (According to ESPN, he said his grip had gotten a bit too weak. Simple fix.) His short game was apparently very sharp.

The biggest worry for most fans was what would happen when he hit balls in the rough, which Tiger is wont to do quite frequently. We all got the answer pretty quick -- Tiger hit a few into the thick stuff and pounded them out without any bad reactions at all. More good news!

Tiger goes out early today -- at 8:12am ET -- which will give him the max amount of rest between the first two rounds. Was that just a fortunate coincidence? I doubt it. I think it's fair to say that the organizers have done everything they can to make Tiger's unexpected early return as easy on his still-recovering body as possible.

And, I might add, I don't think anybody minds if he gets a little extra star treatment this week. Not even his fellow competitors, most of whom seem thrilled to see him back and healthy. GC reported that a large number of pros came up to say "hi" to him on the range Wednesday, and they saw him talking for quite a while with Jason Bohn, who has had the same surgery.

As for what changes he and Foley have made to his swing -- in his presser Wednesday, Tiger said they weren't particularly noticeable to the naked eye -- I haven't seen enough footage to be sure. It's pretty clear that he's shortened his swing for now, and it looked to me as if his finish might be a bit higher than before. That makes sense to me, as a more upright swing would allow him to rotate a bit less while using his lats a little more to make up for the lost power. (Those are the big muscles on the outside of your back that give you a V shape, in case you don't know.)

In addition, one of GC's analysts said Tiger's hips are sliding more toward the target during his downswing -- a move I suspect will become less blatant as he gets used to the changes. (My best guess? He's trying to get his right shoulder around a little higher at impact and his leg drive hasn't quite adapted to the slightly different motion.)

All-in-all, if these three changes are accurate and not just inconsistent moves because he's rusty, they should help him stand taller throughout his swing and not "crunch" his lower back.

At any rate, we should get to see some of his play today although it will probably be replay footage. (He'll be finished today before the broadcast window.) And tomorrow we should get plenty of live Tiger. GC begins their broadcast at 2:30pm ET today and tomorrow.

The photo came from this golf.com article.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As Promised - Anna Rawson's Checked Wedge Shot

Sunday I posted a video from Golf Digest's The Sexiest Shots in Golf -- Blair O'Neal's tips for hitting a stinger -- and I promised to post Anna Rawson's checked wedge shot from the same series. Here it is:

And here's a quick summary of Anna's keys to playing this shot:
  1. Choose a lofted club (usually a wedge)
  2. Clean your grooves
  3. Play the ball back a bit in your stance (Anna appears to have hers just back of center)
  4. Make a wide, shallow swing
  5. Be sure to hit the ball first
A quick note about that fourth key: You expected it to say "make a steep downswing," didn't you? I bet "make a wide, shallow swing" was the LAST thing you expected to hear if you want backspin! Anna says it's to create a lower finish, but there's even more to it than that. According to Mark O'Meara on Champions Tour Learning Center this week, deep divots make it harder to control your distance with a wedge. Shallow divots guarantee cleaner contact and therefore better control. That combination of lower finish and cleaner contact creates more spin so you get that "two hop and stop" shot that Anna promises.

Now, get out there and spin those wedges like you mean it!

And just in case the video didn't embed properly, you can find the original video here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Michelle Did "Wrong"

There's a popular belief in our culture -- a very dangerous belief, in my opinion -- that there's just one correct way to raise a prodigy, that child who seems gifted far beyond the rest of us in some area. Fans and the media debate this issue whenever a child star appears to burnout, become self-destructive, or in some other way fails to meet the expectations we had for them at the start.

Michelle Wie with US Women's Open trophy

Does anybody ever question what constitutes a realistic expectation for a prodigy? Better yet, how would any of us know what it is? Most of us have no experience being one, yet we all think we're accurate judges of how they should perform!

Probably no golf prodigy has been more maligned than Michelle Wie. Huge expectations were heaped on her, then criticism that bordered on child abuse, then she was treated like a circus sideshow, and finally she was written off by many in the golf media as well as by some fans as a lost cause. Yet, here she stands, holding the US Women's Open trophy, having won on arguably the toughest track any women's major has been contended on -- after all, it was the same course the men played their Open on just a week before -- and she doesn't seem to be at all bitter about what she's gone through to get here.

Perhaps it's time we re-examined the things Michelle supposedly did "wrong."

DIDN'T DEVELOP A HABIT OF WINNING

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at Michelle is that she didn't "develop a habit of winning." She didn't dominate the amateur ranks before she turned pro, and she didn't dominate the women's game before she tried teeing it up with the men.

It's easy to say she should have played more amateur events when you aren't the one paying the expenses. Everybody knows that Lizette Salas virtually lived in a pickup truck while she played amateur tournaments, but nobody seems to put 2 and 2 together. It's expensive to play the amateur circuit! And as Mark Rolfing has noted, Michelle was already beating all the amateurs in Hawaii. Add the travel expenses back and forth from Hawaii. If you say she should have just moved to the mainland, can you show me how that's any cheaper? How else could she afford to keep getting better except by turning pro?

As for playing with the men... well, the LPGA allows 7 exemptions for a non-member. She was already trying to get exemptions on the other women's tours. If the men would let her play, why not? Makes sense to me.

I also think you can argue that there's a downside to this "habit of winning" argument. It can result in an obsessive approach to the game, one that breeds a sense of entitlement, that you not only CAN win but that you SHOULD win. Is it possible that Tiger's scandal started because he felt he was entitled to anything he wanted, because he had "a habit of winning" at everything? Is that the source of all those repeated F-bombs he and other players are notorious for dropping after poor shots? (Yes, Michelle was also guilty of that once, in 2012 when she was playing so badly. She did apologize for it.) Is this the reason so many players define their self-worth by how well they score?

LPGA.com did a wrap-up about Michelle's win and noted that:
Wie admitted there were times she doubted herself and doubted this moment would ever happen. No matter how hard she worked, she didn’t feel she was getting any better for a stretch. She wanted to be perfect, carrying the weight of a golfing world that had watched her accomplish things no one her age ever had before. Her instructor David Leadbetter kept telling her over and over that results sometimes took years to show, but not for her she thought. Everything had come so easy and so early with the game to have patience for improvement. (my emphasis)
Hmmm... and Michelle was struggling with this despite not having a "habit of winning"? Isn't this why players win majors and then try to change their games in an effort to get better? Could developing the "habit of winning" actually be counterproductive? Could it be teaching them that they have to be perfect?

A few weeks back during a golf broadcast Nick Faldo said "Second place is first loser." I'm afraid that, all too often, this is the attitude of those with a "habit of winning." I suggest an experiment: Pick any player who "did it right" and count how often in one year they express gratitude for the opportunity to simply compete. Then compare it to how many times Michelle expressed her gratitude just last week. I bet Michelle wins that one easily.

Which habit do you prefer?

PLAYED TOO MUCH WITH THE MEN

Besides the necessity of getting a chance to play, there was the learning curve. If you can handle steep learning curves, you can learn a lot more and learn it faster. Learning to compete with the men in the conditions they play under clearly helped her become better faster.

Even when compared to Lexi Thompson, who grew up competing with her brothers, Michelle demonstrates the advantages of having played under PGA Tour conditions. Michelle played 14 men's tournaments around the world -- 8 of which were PGA Tour events -- and the shots she learned clearly gave her an edge over Lexi at Pinehurst. Despite Lexi's power and those deep divots, she simply can't stop the ball the way Michelle can. That's not innate talent, folks -- that's experience with the conditions, pure and simple.

I should note that Annika -- who played with the men once, you'll remember -- said that Tiger told her she should play more than one tournament in order to get used to the conditions. Annika didn't... but Michelle did.

If Tiger "did it right," shouldn't his advice count for something?

HER PARENTS MISMANAGED HER

I'll let Michelle handle this one, from an interview she did with Golf Digest in early 2012:
Wie relished the growth, from struggling through an engineering class on "Nanotechnology" to thoroughly enjoying a class on "Virtual Reality." She lived in on-campus dormitories for four of the five years, learned to become more self-sufficient and no longer fears she will act like a needy high-school kid in her 30s and 40s, dependent on her doting parents
That counts as one of the most significant ways her time at Stanford shaped Wie, to hear her tell it: her relationship with her parents. They moved to Northern California when Wie arrived at Stanford, taking the concept of hovering parents to another level and prompting rampant skepticism and snickering in golf circles
Wie insists she's fine with their involvement, saying they gave her space in school and help manage her career. And now, after realizing she could join her friends on Senior Pub Night and still show up at 9 a.m. sharp for practice the next day, they trust her judgment--a far cry from her freshman year, when they called her dorm room practically every night. (B.J. talked to Golf World for 20 minutes by phone but declined to be quoted in this story.
Asked how the college experience changed her, Wie steers the answer toward her relationship with Mom and Dad
"I'm a completely different person," she says. "I feel like I'm a lot more mature. ... In college, you have to fend for yourself. That's what I learned, just taking care of myself without having to rely on my parents so much. I feel like we've become more partners in our golf, our business, everything
"They respect what I say. Not that they didn't before, but when you're kind of little and haven't really done anything by yourself, they obviously don't listen to you as much. They kind of want to baby you and protect you. I feel like we have a lot more respect in our relationship. They trust me more."
Okay, maybe they were over-protective. (I know my parents were, and I wasn't a prodigy at anything.) And I suspect it got a bit worse later on because of the media attacks -- a logical reaction from over-protective parents. But this sounds like a fairly normal parent-child relationship to me, a relationship where Michelle knew she was loved.

Bear in mind that, when she was interviewed right after her win Sunday, she said there had been times when she doubted she would ever win... but she credited her parents for helping her through those times. She still feels comfortable having them around -- they were there for the win -- even though it's not particularly "cool" for a young adult to want the old folks around. And it looks to me as if Michelle has grown into a fairly well-adjusted adult who avoided most of the self-destructive tendencies of other prodigies.

Perhaps more prodigies would be better off with horrible parents like Bo and B.J. Wie.

IT TOOK TOO LONG

GC showed when some of the most dominant recent players got their first majors. Annika was 24, Lorena Ochoa was 25, Stacy Lewis was 26.

I'll add a few more: Morgan Pressel won a major at 19; it's been 7 years, with only one LPGA win since. Yani Tseng won 5 majors by the age of 22, but is now struggling worse than Michelle ever did. Paula Creamer got a major 4 years ago at age 23 and went winless until early this year, despite a strong career before that major.

Michelle is 24. Winning quicker is no guarantee of staying power.

But I saw something Sunday that you rarely see among golfers, successful or otherwise. After taking that unplayable on 16, getting down for double-bogey, and seeing her lead dwindle to a single stroke with only two holes left, Michelle looked at her caddie and smiled. No panic, no frustrated gestures... just a smile. The LPGA.com piece I mentioned earlier says "Internally, she was saying 'words you can’t say in public' as she left the green. Externally, she giggled and stalked her way to the 17th tee with a one-shot lead." But this was a woman in control of herself, one who has finally learned it's okay to be less than perfect.

Then she stepped to the 17th tee, hit the green, and nailed a 25-foot putt dead in the center of the hole for a two-shot lead going to the final hole. Her reaction told you how much that putt meant to her.

After all, two years ago Michelle was one of the worst putters on any tour. Last week, the woman everyone wrote off played four rounds at Pinehurst #2 without a single 3-putt. Not one.

Perhaps she's done everything wrong in her career, like her critics say. Perhaps she shouldn't have played with the men so much. Perhaps her parents wrecked her career and she just doesn't realize it. Perhaps she didn't develop that "habit of winning" everybody is so convinced is necessary for success. Perhaps...

But it seems clear to me that Michelle has developed something better -- the knowledge that, no matter what life throws at her, SHE. WILL. NOT. BE. BEATEN.

If that's doing it the wrong way, I wish more people would screw up like Michelle Wie. Well done, girl.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Travelers Championship

Winner: Kevin Streelman

Around the wider world of golf: Behold, scoffers! Michelle Wie rocked the golf world by making her first LPGA major the biggest in the women's game, the US Women's Open at Pinehurst. Also, Tom Lehman won the Encompass Championship on the Champions Tour; Sebastian Cappelen won the Air Capital Classic on the Web.com Tour; Joel Dahmen won the Syncrude Boreal Open on the PGA Tour Canada; Mikko Ilonen won the Irish Open on the ET; Camilla Lennarth won the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open on the LET; Nicole Vandermade won the Four Winds Invitational on the Symetra Tour; and Jiyai Shin won the Nichirei Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details).

Kevin Streelman kisses trophy

I confess. The Travelers Championship was pretty low on my priority list Sunday. First I was watching the US Women's Open as Michelle Wie finally broke through in the majors. (After all, GC was going to replay the Travelers later; if I didn't watch the Open live, I'd miss it.) And then the USA-Portugal game in the World Cup came on just as the Open finished. (Again, I had to watch it live or miss it.)

But I got to see enough of Kevin Streelman's performance to enjoy it. Nobody in PGA Tour history had ever birdied the last 7 holes in the final round to win an event before Kevin did it. (Ironically, the fact that he shot 64-64 on the weekend seems to have slipped under the radar!) And he did it with some serious firepower right on his tail the whole way.

Wait a minute... it was Kevin who was on the tail of the serious firepower to start the round. And only leader Ryan Moore, Michael Putnam, and Scott Langley went backwards with 71s. Sergio and K.J. Choi -- the two men in the chase with the most wins -- both tied for second, just a stroke back of Streels.

In a way it's a shame that Kevin picked this week to grab his second win. On almost any other Sunday he would have been the big story in golf. But I doubt that he really cares; this was a huge win for the Streelman clan. After all, there was a time when this seemed like an unattainable goal.

And besides, he still gets the coveted Limerick Summary this week. Surely that counts for something!
After four cuts that Kevin had missed,
TPC River Highlands was bliss!
His birdie barrage
Was no dreamer's mirage;
It was more than the field could resist.
The photo came from espn.go.com.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blair O'Neal on Tig-- uh, Michelle's Stinger

Golf Digest is doing a series of videos called The Sexiest Shots in Golf with Blair O'Neal and Anna Rawson. Since Michelle Wie has gotten herself in contention at the US Women's Open in large part because of her 3-wood stinger, it's a good time to learn how it's done. Blair is showing how Tiger does it, but the technique is the same.


Here are the 6 steps Blair lists:
  1. Choose a long iron (or hybrid)
  2. Low tee height (just above the grass)
  3. Ball to rear of stance (not way back, but back of center)
  4. Open stance
  5. Three-quarter swing
  6. Hands ahead of clubhead at impact
Like I said, the technique should also transfer just fine to a 3-wood. Just don't move the ball quite as far back in your stance.

In this series Anna Rawson has a good video on hitting a checked wedge. Maybe I'll post that one sometime next week.

If the video didn't embed properly, you can see the original video here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Golf Gods Giveth...

But the USGA did the taking away.

Michelle Wie at 16

Pinehurst #2 was a bit longer on Friday -- one of the par-5s was 100 yards longer -- and it played much tougher. That seemed to work out just fine for Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson... but perhaps Stacy Lewis shouldn't have said her Thursday round was easy.

The USGA never likes that.

In Thursday's round Stacy had 3 birdies. She did that again Friday, which was great. It was the 6 bogeys that wrecked her round.

Meanwhile, Michelle Wie posted a second 2-under 68. It wasn't the back-to-back 65s Martin Kaymer managed last week, but Michelle seemed happy just the same:
“I can’t complain. End of the day yesterday I was thinking if I just did this again, that would be nice. But always finishing with two birdies is always great. It’s a grind out there. It’s not easy. Really grateful for the par putts that I made and some of the birdie putts that I made. I can’t complain, I’ll take it.”
And when asked about Saturday's round she said:
“I’m just going to go out there and have fun. I’m really grateful for the opportunity that I have. Being in contention, having the clubhouse lead for now, I’m just really excited for the weekend. I’m really excited that I have a chance and I’m going to have a lot of fun this weekend.”
Stacy, please take note: Michelle bowed and scraped like a good little victim. She specifically said "It's a grind out there, it's not easy." Nothing about how great she played, although she did say she and her caddie managed their way around the course pretty well -- and noted that she ended up with 50-foot birdie putts as a result.

That's how you make an offering to the golf gods and their agents of vengeance, the USGA, Ms. Lewis. You don't have the best of records in the US Women's Open, so you can't afford to tick them off. Please, please make note of this for next year!

I took a quick look at the leaderboard and didn't see any scores better than 68; Michelle, Lexi, and Sakura Yokomine (T7) had those. Amy Yang (T3), Catriona Matthew (T14), and Se Ri Pak (T22) posted 69s, and a number of players posted par 70s... but it got nasty after that.

And if the men's Open is any indication, it's going to get worse.

As you may remember, the USGA declared war in the third round last week. Players claimed they had never seen so many tough pins in a single round before. The survivors then found a "getable" course setup on Sunday...

At least, it would have been getable if it mattered by then. With Martin Kaymer so far ahead, nobody could get enough to catch him.

But this week could be a different story. Michelle is only 3 strokes ahead instead of the 6 or 7 Martin enjoyed, and that could easily fall away if she shoots 71 today. This major is far from over.

Unless, that is, somebody forgets to appease the golf gods -- and especially the USGA -- again. Just remember the three magic words, ladies... it's not easy.

Or if you prefer, bow and scrape. I suspect those will do as well.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tiger Is Back Next Week!

Just a quick update... ESPN2 just announced that Tiger plans to tee it up next week at the Quicken Loans National event. I don't know how well he'll play, but I suspect he wants to test his back out and maybe give Tom Watson a chance to see that he's seriously trying to get back in time for the Ryder Cup.

Here's hoping his back does well.

Lightning Strikes Twice at Pinehurst

When the men played Pinehurst last week, it rained Thursday night and the USGA decided to make the course longer to offset the more receptive greens. That didn't phase Martin Kaymer... but it hit the rest of the field like a thunderbolt.

Guess what happened Thursday night? As USAToday put it:
Play was suspended at 7:12 p.m. ET as brief showers and lightning rolled through the area (30 players have to complete their round Friday morning).
However, USAToday added that "...a good drenching... will help the players." The USGA's actions last week may indicate otherwise.

And that could make things very interesting today, for everybody from leader Stacy Lewis on down.

Stacy Lewis

Thursday's round was full of surprises, perhaps none greater than Stacy Lewis's declaration that "It was such an easy day." I know, you're going to say that she clarified that statement and said that the course was hard, she just had a good day. But here are some of her comments from LPGA.com's first round notes:
“I’m very happy,” said Lewis. “It was such an easy day. I played really, really solid, other than I had to make a few par putts, I ran some putts by, got them above the hole. But other than that I didn’t put myself in too bad of spots and made a few birdies, which was nice.”
“I liked watching the men’s last week because I think I played a lot -- I like to hit a cut a lot like Kaymer does,” said Lewis. “So on a lot of those holes, it was cool to see the plan I had laid out in my head, he was kind of doing the same thing. So it was nice coming into the week, knowing that my plan was going to work on this golf course.” 
“I thought that somebody like the guys, somebody can run away with this,” said Lewis. “If you’re hitting the ball well enough, you can definitely run away with it. At the same time you have to know par is a good number and keep grinding away.”
Hmmm... I wonder who she thinks might "run away with it"? Add all that to her early tee time, before the heat index rose to 102 degrees, and I'm pretty sure that, if there really are any golf gods, they have officially put Stacy square in their sights!

Meanwhile, down in the "what the hell course was she playing?" depths of the leaderboard is where Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Lydia Ko languish. All shot between 76 and 78; all have their work cut out for them today. I don't think anybody even imagined all three would have so much trouble.

Personally, I was a bit shocked by Paula Creamer's strong finish at even par. Perhaps she's found something that's helped her putting -- or perhaps, like Michelle Wie at -2, the extreme speed of the greens helped her. (Michelle's main putting problem this year has been leaving the ball short, and the speed of the greens was why I thought her putting wouldn't be an issue this week.)

I don't know exactly how much rain Pinehurst got around the time they called play Thursday, and I don't know if they got more rain during the night. (Obviously I'm writing this late on Thursday.) But weather.com was predicting showers overnight and scattered T-storms today, and if the USGA decides the course is too soft and they need to lengthen it...

Stacy Lewis might be right. Lightning just might strike twice. But if it does, the real question is who gets hit?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Now Even the Greens Have COR

Finally! The US Women's Open at Pinehurst gets underway today, and I thought I was prepared for almost anything.

But I'll admit that I didn't expect the USGA to be adjusting the Coefficient of Restitution of the greens.

Golf ball bouncing

COR -- or the Trampoline Effect, if you prefer -- is a scientific term that refers to how a collision between two objects affects their relative speed. Until this pair of Opens, I thought it had one specific meaning when golfers used it -- namely, the "bounce" between a golf ball and the face of a golf club.

Then Wednesday I heard that the USGA is setting the COR of the greens. Yeah, I know greens can be firm or soft... but the USGA actually has a device that measures firmness, much the same way as a stimpmeter measures speed. (And yes, it bounces a ball off the green and they measure the bounce.) Plus they can set the firmness and speed independently. Supposedly, the USGA is making the greens at Pinehurst a bit less bouncy to compensate for the reduced spin the women create.

Is it just me, or is the use of technology approaching the absurd? I can only wonder how soon it will be before the fairways are tested -- balls bounce on them too, you know.

If only they could find as clear a way to differentiate between bunkers and waste areas! ;-)

Although we don't know what the COR of the greens will be, we do know that they'll be stimping at a speedy 13 -- the same as the men saw last week and faster than the women typically see at any event. Again, this is supposed to give us a better comparison between the women's play and the men's... and some wonder how the women will measure up.

In fact, the media asked Cristie Kerr that very question, and I like her take on whether the comparison is a losing proposition for the gals. She just laughed and said “I don’t think it’s a losing proposition, I think we’re better looking."

One other note, for all you Juli Inkster fans out there: Juli has announced that this will be her last major, so you'll want to be sure and catch this one! ESPN2 will have the first and second rounds from 3pm-7pm ET today and tomorrow.

The photo came from this cool blog post on the physics of golf at the ยต-sings on Physics blog. And for those of you who didn't catch the Greek joke, that's pronounced Musings on Physics.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lee Westwood's Flop Shot Technique

This is the "extra" that GC did for last night's Playing Lessons show. Lee Westwood shows Holly Sonders how to play a flop shot... and I'm posting it because his technique is a bit different from other players I've seen.



Westwood plays from a wide square stance, rather than the narrow open stance preferred by many players. I guess this is because he wants to make sure he's steady as he swings; if you want to pull off a successful flop shot, accurate contact is essential.

Although he doesn't mention it, it appears that Lee has the ball just slightly ahead of the center of his stance. It's almost (but not quite) under his lead ear. I grabbed this image from the video; it appears that he sets up with the shaft vertical and pointing at the ball and his lead ear (remember, the club face is open so he's probably hitting this shot slightly off the toe of the club). His weight is slightly on his trailing side.

Lee Westwood flop ball position

Otherwise Lee is pretty orthodox, playing with an open face, a waist-high swing, and catching the ball at the very bottom of his swing arc so the club face is pointing almost straight up to the sky. You do NOT want to hit down on the ball when you flop. If you do, you'll get a rocket over the green!

This shot will certainly take a little practice to learn but Lee's method looks very simple.

If for some reason the video didn't embed properly, you can find the original here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My 5 to Watch for the US Women's Open

The boys' playtime is over. Time for the girls to commandeer the playground!

Martin Kaymer and Sandra Gal

Initial reports concerning the condition of Pinehurst #2 are good. Apparently, earlier worries that the course would be riddled with divots after the men's major are unfounded; the USGA's plans for staggering tee boxes appear to have worked. I believe it was Mark Rolfing who said that if there were any problems, they would show up in the "stuff." The relatively pristine natural areas the men saw are now filled with divots, footsteps, hacked up vegetation, etc.

However, given how much more accurately the women generally drive the ball, I don't think that will create any real problems this week.

Choosing my "5 to Watch" has proven to be more difficult than expected. Having seen the problems faced by the men, it's hard to transfer that knowledge over to the women. While much has been written about Kaymer's power and putting, the fact remains that Martin won the tournament on Thursday and Friday when the course was damp. (In fact, just one of those rounds would have been sufficient.) And if the women see some rain this week -- it's a real possibility -- I have trouble believing that one of them will run away from the field like that; things have been too competitive on the LPGA so far this season.

In addition, the friendships that exist between the men and women play a part as well. You may have heard that around 90 of the women were following the men on Sunday, and perhaps 30 of them had "inside the ropes" passes. You can bet that Martin Kaymer and Sandra Gal (pictured above), who grew up playing junior golf together, have discussed the course. Jim Furyk's caddie Fluff is going to be looping for Lydia Ko this week. Michelle Wie has the yardage books of both Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler... and according to Scott Rude at GC, Michelle was cracking up over comments Rickie wrote down for her. And Lucy Li is good friends with Erik Compton.

As a result, the scores at the Women's Open will probably look much different from the men's. Trying to factor all those variables into my choices has made this a real challenge, and given how well I did with my picks last week... oh well, here goes!
  • Karrie Webb is probably my favorite this week. Although I'm not so sure the similarities between Pinehurst and any Australian courses will be a big deal (didn't help Adam Scott much, did they?), I think overall experience WILL count for a lot this week. Plus Karrie is driving well, putting well, and just plain scoring well.
  • Michelle Wie has a lot of experience that the younger big hitters lack. Although she doesn't putt as well as some of the ladies, I think her short game, accuracy and consistency could be enough to get it done.
  • Inbee Park is terribly consistent and, although her putting has been slow to come around, she's been putting better over the last couple of weeks. And as the defending champ, I think she has something to prove.
  • Lydia Ko is a bit of a flier pick... and my reason for picking her may surprise you. I like the fact that she isn't a power player. I think she'll be more likely to hit the kind of shots that run up close to the hole, rather than trying to land them close. And she's got Fluff on the bag -- that's a major bonus!
  • And I'm picking Gerina Pillar to step up this week. Yeah, she's a real flier pick but she's a birdie machine and, to be blunt, I think she's due. Breaking through with a major seems to suit her style.
I know... you wonder why I didn't pick Stacy Lewis or Suzann Pettersen. Suzann simply hasn't putted well enough and Stacy gets down on herself a lot; that won't work at Pinehurst. And after much debate I picked Gerina over So Yeon Ryu simply because So Yeon isn't as long and doesn't make as many birdies (though she makes a lot).

So there you have it. Let's see if my picks do a bit better this week than last.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 U.S. Open

Winner: Martin Kaymer

Around the wider world of golf: Most of the golf world was quiet while the US Open played out. Xin Jun Zhang won the Earls Beijing Open on the PGA TOUR China; Morgan Pressel's little sister Madison got her first pro win at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic on the Symetra Tour; and Sun-Ju Ahn won the Suntory Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has the details).

Martin Kaymer finishes the job

NEWS FLASH: Martin Kaymer has won the Family Slam -- an event on Mother's Day (THE PLAYERS) and an event on Father's Day (the US Open).

And of course he set some records in the process. First of all, he's the first player ever to win THE PLAYERS and the US Open in the same season. He became the first player to shoot 65 in the first round of a major... and the first player to shoot 65 in each of the first two rounds. He set a bunch of other records as well -- so many that I can't remember them all!

But this was a dominating performance, so much so that Rory said it was better than his own 8-stroke win at Congressional and Keegan Bradley said his first two rounds were the best two rounds of golf he had ever seen. (My gosh, only 2 other players even broke par for the week!) It's not often that you see a player win wire-to-wire in consecutive events, let alone events of the stature Martin won.

They haven't posted the new world rankings as of this writing, but Martin is currently 28. I suspect he'll be 12 or even 11 when the new rankings come out today. But he's already taken the #1 spot in my RGWR -- nobody else has won two events as big as Martin has in the last year, let alone the last month! At this rate, it's only a matter of time before the OWGR catches up to my rankings.

In the meantime, Martin Kaymer tops my list of favorites going into the Open Championship next month... and gets a well-deserved Limerick Summary this week:
For World Number One let me nominate
Martin Kaymer, who stepped up to dominate
The Open at Pinehurst.
He made the field feel worse
By stomping ‘em all when he romped in eight.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Intent of the Architect

"The intent of the architect" is a phrase we've heard often this week. There's been a great deal of talk about how Coore & Crenshaw restored Pinehurst #2 to the way original architect Donald Ross intended it to play. I don't question that at all, especially since much of the restoration was done using actual aerial photographs of the course taken during its heyday during the 1940s.

View at Pinehurst #2

However, I have to question whether the USGA has really kept that intent in mind -- especially after watching the 3rd round of the US Open on Saturday. The players are saying all the right things, but I have a friend who used to be a Tour caddie and still talks to Tour caddies. He tells me the players are, shall we say, "less satisfied" with the setup than they're saying in public.

Am I saying the course setup is unfair? No... but I'm not so certain this is a question of being fair or unfair.

It's a question of intent.

You see, the USGA has "intent" of its own. It has its own ideas about what kind of conditions are necessary to create a suitable test of golf, a test adequate to determine our national champion. Traditionally, their intent is to create a course where par is the winning score -- they can say it isn't, but we all know better because we see how the course setups change when someone "goes too low" -- and, to that end, they typically incorporate the following methodology:
  • Fast but narrow fairways (to test driving accuracy)
  • Hard greens that are extremely fast (hard, to test the precision of approach and short game shots; and fast, to test the player's putting touch)
  • Extremely thick rough around greens and fairways (to create a substantial penalty if a target is missed)
  • Prominent hazards (to intimidate players, thus testing their nerve)
The net effect of this methodology is to challenge the players' ability to strategize and just generally make good decisions. And there's nothing wrong with their intent.

But the architect employs a methodology of his own in order to achieve HIS intent. During the TV coverage we've been shown the sign Donald Ross erected on the first hole of Pinehurst #2; no doubt you've seen it:
I sincerely believe this course to be the fairest test of championship golf that I have ever designed. It is obviously the function of the championship course to present the competitors with a variety of problems that will test every type of shot which a golfer of championship quality should be qualified to play. Thus, it should call for long and accurate tee shots, accurate iron play, precise handling of the short game and, finally, consistent putting.
At first glance, Ross and the USGA appear to share the same intent. The big question, however, is what happens when the USGA's methodology interferes with the architect's methodology? What happens when intents collide?

In this case, I think Donald Ross lost out. I'll give the USGA credit for making some concessions to Ross in this championship... but ultimately, they ignored his intent in favor of their own. As a result, we haven't seen Pinehurst play as Ross desired.

The USGA accepted some of the Ross methodology:
  • Wider fairways with hard edges meant that wilder drives got worse lies and worse angles into the greens. ("...it should call for long and accurate tee shots...")
  • The "stuff" that took the place of the thick rough is a concession to Ross, who clearly believed the penalty for a missed fairway at Pinehurst shouldn't be a hack out but rather a less-than-desirable lie. Players can still advance the ball but may not be able to play the shot they really wanted... or needed. ("...accurate iron play...")
  • The hard ground surrounding the greens leaves players with difficult recovery shots ("...precise handling of the short game...")
Rather than a harsh penalty that automatically cost the player shots, Ross set up his course to allow players to make great recovery shots to compensate for the poor shots and thus still turn in a good score.

It's on the greens that the USGA made a mockery of Donald Ross. Martin Kaymer told reporters that any shot within 25-30 feet of the pin was a good shot, and that the pin on 18 was the only one he could attack. Ironically, Phil Mickelson said basically the same thing:
“Pins were very difficult. The only birdie pin I thought was 18. But the greens were receptive; it wasn't unfair,” Mickelson said. “I kept waiting. Well, I can't get to this one, I'll get to maybe the next hole. Can't get to this one, I'll get to the next hole. Finally, we got to the 18th and I'm like, ‘I can get to the pin.’”
Does anyone truly believe that such shenanigans were the intent of Donald Ross? At the time Ross designed Pinehurst #2, stimp speeds of 8-9 were common so his greens were designed with that in mind. The greens were contoured so that well-struck approach shots would stay somewhat near the hole while poorly-struck shots would ricochet off.

It's one thing if a well-struck shot has to be stopped somewhere near the center of the green in order to hold that green. It's one thing if a well-struck shot can be stopped near a pin in the middle of the green but not near a pin on the edges of the green. It's one thing if you place the pins near the edges of the greens where, if a putt from the center of the green is struck too hard, the ball can roll off the green.

But I'm pretty sure that having 25-30 foot putts on almost every green, even if the pin is well away from the edges of the green, does NOT qualify as the "consistent putting" Ross claimed his course called for. And I'm even more sure that having to land the ball in an area the size of a kitchen table just to get that ridiculously long putt isn't what Ross had in mind when he called for "accurate iron play."

This is a case of the USGA ignoring the obvious design of the golf course in order to "protect par." (Don't even get me started on that rant!) Stimping those greens at anything above 10-11 is criminal. And making it impossible to attack pins -- by forcing players to play away from most holes just so they can hold the green -- is not what I call "competition." Why don't we just penalize players for making birdies and be done with it?

Yeah, I know everybody had to play the same course; that's why I'm not saying the setup was unfair. As far as I'm concerned, whether Pinehurst #2 was a "fair" test on Saturday is a question for someone else to debate. But I'm pretty sure that the setup of the greens was nowhere near the "intent of the architect."

The photo came from the Pinehurst #2 page at golfclubatlas.com.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How Martin Kaymer Mastered His Driver

Martin KaymerAlan Shipnuck has done an article over at golf.com about how Martin Kaymer became the player he is. Mostly it talks about how he has performed in the past, and how that foreshadowed the way he closes out rounds and tournaments now.

But the third paragraph includes an interesting note about how Martin learned to control one of the clubs that really distinguishes him from the rest of the pack -- namely, the driver:
Kaymer grew up in Dusseldorf playing the Mettmann Golf Club, which was close enough to home that he and his older brother, Philip, would occasionally ride their bikes to the course. Almost from the beginning, their father, Horst, compelled the boys to play from the tips on a 6,700-yard course, and he forbade the use of a tee even when they were wielding drivers. “He wanted to make it more challenging for us, so when we were allowed to use tees in tournaments hitting the driver would seem easy,” says Martin.
Although this goes against the advice of most instructors and the top players like Jack Nicklaus, who say you should always use a tee if you can, there's a certain logic about it. If your practice is more difficult than what you do in your games, you should find it easier to get the job done during a game. If you can hit a driver off the deck in practice, hitting it off a tee during a match should seem very easy indeed!

While you probably wouldn't want to do it all the time, it might be worthwhile to try hitting a few drivers off the deck when you're at the range.  If you do, just remember to position the ball where you would for a fairway wood -- after all, you want to hit down on the ball to get it up in the air. You don't want to swing up when the ball isn't on a tee!

However, I have to include this disclaimer: Practicing this way is no guarantee that you'll shoot back-to-back 65s like Martin did on Thursday and Friday. I just want to make that clear...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Better Than Most

The grand experiment we'll call Pinehurst 1943 has begun... and it's looking better than we expected.

Martin Kaymer

Although we still don't know how the #2 course will play over the weekend when it's running hard and fast, it's pretty clear that classic-style golf courses can still challenge the best in the world.

Even with the course slowed down a bit -- primarily because the USGA wants the women to get similar conditions next week and not something resembling the Sahara Desert -- the lack of rough didn't make the course noticeably easier than it was in either 1999 or 2005. (True, the lowest score was lower but there were fewer players under par this time.) And wasn't it nice to see players go for the green when they missed the fairways, rather than just chipping out sideways from the rough? It wasn't like it made scoring any easier; it just required players to think for a change.

The cut at the US Open is usually Top60 and ties. After the first round, that would put the cut at +2 and quite a few big names would miss it -- Adam Scott and Bubba Watson among them. And although Martin Kaymer set a Pinehurst scoring record with his 5-under 65, the 3-shot difference between him and the players at -2 means this is a much closer US Open than usual.

And again, we haven't seen this course hard and fast yet. The best may be yet to come...

But now I know one thing for sure. I hope that the Coore & Crenshaw restoration of Pinehurst #2 encourages course designers to create more new designs that embrace the "natural" look -- relative to the surrounding area of the course, that is. (Sandhill designs like Pinehurst are great for us here in NC, but they probably won't work in a lot of places.) I suspect that this event will prove that courses can be more natural -- and perhaps much less expensive -- to build and maintain. That will benefit all of us golfers, not just the pros.

I'm really looking forward to the weekend and to next week's US Women's Open. This could truly be the start of a shift in future golf course designs.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

If This Is Headed for Pinehurst...

This will be a short post because we've lost power and my laptop battery won't last long.

Tuesday night we had some serious T-storms, complete with thunderclaps that set off car alarms in the neighborhood. Wednesday morning I learned that several local businesses had lost power -- big businesses like Walmart -- and roads had been obstructed by falling branches. You could hear the cleanup crews and their chainsaws at work.

And now it's Wednesday night and we've had more T-storms. This time our entire neighborhood has gone dark.

Why is this a big deal? Because I live in the Triad Piedmont area of North Carolina, about 2 hours west of Pinehurst... and these storm fronts appear to be headed that way.

If Pinehurst gets the wind and rain we've had, play will almost certainly be interrupted Thursday and the course will get quite a bit of rain. That means softer greens and fairways, which will favor the long hitters over the short hitters.

We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I'm going to call it a night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Martin Hall's "X Marks the Spot" Knee Drill

Today I've got one of those extra videos that Martin Hall and Holly Sonders do for School of Golf. This one is a drill to help understand what correct knee movement looks like. See the X in the screen grab below? That's just two clubs laid on the floor.

Martin Hall's X drill

The shafts of the clubs show you how your knees should move during your golf swing. Here's the video:



If you're having trouble with your forward weight shift or a reverse pivot, this drill can help you identify where the problem is and give you a visual aid to correcting the move. Not bad for such a simple drill.

If for some reason the video didn't embed properly in this post, you can find the original here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My 5 to Watch at the US Open

It's time for me to choose my "5 to Watch" for this week's major. But these are the hardest picks I've made in quite a while, primarily because Pinehurst #2 -- only about 2 hours from where I live -- presents a challenge unlike anything the modern PGA Tour has seen at a US Open.

Phil Mickelson

The restoration of Pinehurst #2 by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore has set the Wayback Machine to 1943, only 5 years before architect Donald Ross died and during the peak of Pinehurst's legendary status as a Tour stop. It's no longer built for the "target golf" played on most American courses; now it's being described as an American inland links course, more like a cross between Augusta National and Carnoustie.

When you add in the possibility of bad weather -- the same front that hit Memphis last week -- it's not easy to guess how today's pros will perform on such a classic venue. Do I pick players with good records at the Open Championship? At the Masters? Or is classic Pinehurst a different animal altogether? I'm not sure...

I've eliminated Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, and defending champ Justin Rose because of their injuries. I'm uncertain how difficult the "rough" at Pinehurst will be, but I can see a very real chance for these players to re-injure themselves with a bad shot or two. (Yes, I know Justin says his shoulder is fine... but I've had shoulder injuries before.) And all of these players have had a tendency toward wild shots recently.

Rory's still too inconsistent for my tastes, as is Henrik Stenson. And I question Adam Scott's putting on Pinehurst's tricky greens.

I like Sergio and Jim Furyk, but despite their recent good play I just can't see either of them getting it done here. (I hope I'm wrong; I'd be really pleased if either of them won this week.) I think Zach Johnson DOES have a good chance here -- he's gotten his ball flight up a little -- but I just can't bring myself to call him a Top5 pick. However, I don't feel good about Matt Kuchar on this course at all.

So here, with some reservations, are my 5 to Watch:
  • Phil Mickelson: As usual, everything seems to be against Phil getting into the mix this week... and to be honest, I'm not so sure he will. But this is exactly the kind of drama that seems to get Phil going and we all know what he can do when that happens, so he makes my list.
  • Jordan Spieth: This isn't about Jordan being a wonderkid or anything. Rather, Jordan makes my list because NOBODY knows exactly what to expect since the course has been changed so much. I think that gives Jordan a level playing field... and he's been playing very consistently this season, with 5 Top5s and a runner-up at the Masters. Jordan's good on unfamiliar layouts.
  • Bubba Watson: Another player who I normally wouldn't pick as a US Open favorite. But Bubba is long, has a good short game, and putts well. And, with "rough" that could give him something resembling a decent lie, his ability to recover from bad shots could give him an edge.
  • Webb Simpson: Webb is a bit of a flier for me. Still, he's from the area and he's been playing better lately, with a T3 in Memphis last week. He'll put a lot of pressure on himself (everybody wants to win a US Open in their home state) but I still think he can do it.
  • Miguel Angel Jimenez: Believe it or not, the Mechanic is my favorite to win this week. It's not just that he's playing well; it's that he's playing well around the world. I think the classic Pinehurst setup is just the kind of course that he's used to. And while he's far from the longest player in this bunch, Bill Coore said something Monday night that struck me: He said that this restored Pinehurst is very friendly to shorter hitters. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a surprise winner!
Now let's see how modern players deal with classic layouts!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 FedEx St. Jude Classic

Winner: Ben Crane

Around the wider world of golf: Yet another busy week in golf! Inbee Park got her first LPGA win of the season at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic (Stacy Lewis is still #1 in the world); the team of Fred Funk and Jeff Sluman won the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf on the Champions Tour (Jim Colbert and Jim Thorpe won the Legends division); Steven Alker won an 11-hole playoff at the Web.com Tour's Cleveland Open; Josh Persons won the Bayview Place Island Savings Open on the PGA TOUR Canada; David McKenzie won the Lanhai Open on the PGA TOUR China; Mikael Lundberg won the Lyoness Open on the ET; Thaworn Wiratchant won the Queen’s Cup on the Asian Tour; Ryan Fox won the Tahiti International on the Australasian Tour; Min Seo Kwak won the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship on the Symetra Tour; Misuzu Narita won the Yonex Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has details); and the American gals won the Curtis Cup 13-7.

Ben Crane cheered by crowd

The SnakeShaker hasn't been shaking it lately like he used to. First it was hip problems, and those led to serious back problems. Then he made swing changes that allowed him to keep playing... but the game just didn't seem to be there. It all forced him to consider hanging up his golf career last year. As he told Sean Martin at PGATOUR.com:
“This has been a really tough year,” he said. “I had to finally become OK with golf not being in the picture. I just felt like things were going in that direction and so I just got to the place where I said, ‘Lord, if it’s not golf, I will love You.’ But if it is, that would be really fun.”
Apparently God heard his prayer... and decided to remind Ben that He has a sense of humor as well.

And so, out of nowhere, Ben won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in wire-to-wire fashion. After needing on-course treatment during his best finish earlier in the year, he won a tournament plagued by stop-and-start weather delays -- just the kind of thing you'd expect to wreak havoc on his back. And on top of it all, his putter -- usually the strongest club in his bag -- deserted him during his final round and he shot a birdie-free 3-over round.

It was enough.

Of course, lifting heavy trophies is rough on the back too. I'm guessing he'll let his caddy take care of that.

If you'd like a play-by-play of the Golf Boy's week -- as well as the skinny on some of the other contenders -- you can check out the wrap-up at PGATOUR.com. But if you want the really important stuff -- Ben's new Limerick Summary -- you can only find that here:
After dodging a great deal of rain,
FedEx brought a fifth win to Ben Crane.
Though Ben’s back didn’t hurt, he
Could not make a birdie…
And the field’s hopes STILL went down the drain!
The photo came from the tournament's "upshot" page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Unconventional Is Good

Today I just have a link for you. Golf Digest has posted some interactive swing sequences for six different pros with, shall we say, unconventional swings.

Various pros with unusual swings

The six pros are:
  • Jim Furyk
  • Natalie Gulbis
  • Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Lee Trevino
  • Bubba Watson
Each swing has a series of photos you can click through at your own speed, along with commentary explaining what makes the swing unusual, why it works, and what you can learn from it.

The sequences aren't necessarily new -- Furyk's and Natalie's are from 2001 and 2002, respectively, while Tommy's and Lee's are from 2013. But it's a convenient way to access information about a number of odd swings in one place.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Desperate Case

According to catholic.org, St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases. That's probably why Danny Thomas named his children's hospital after him -- they focus on saving children struggling just to survive.

It's beginning to look as if the FedEx St. Jude Classic deserves his attention as well. This photo tweeted by John Picozzi, showing the cartpath to the 18th green, says it all:

TPC Southwind underwater

And according to PGATOUR.com's report, only 32 players had finished both of their rounds by Friday evening.

With the US Open next week, the Tour is faced with some serious questions. While they would certainly like to finish this event on time, reality could step in and force a shortened tournament. There's supposed to be a 50% chance of rain and storms today; that goes up to 60% for Sunday. In fact, Memphis is under a flood watch until Sunday morning... and the least chance of thunderstorms is 30% on Monday. (It goes back up to 50% on Tuesday, according to weather.com.)

Depending on how things play out we could be looking at a 54-hole event, even with a Monday finish.

But perhaps St. Jude himself is sending a message to the field. After all the back problems Ben Crane has had over the last few years -- he's had to make changes to his swing just so he can play -- He Whose Leotard Can Not Be Tamed has taken a huge lead over the rest of the field. As he told PGATOUR.com in the report mentioned earlier:
“I certainly didn't expect to be here," said Crane, who’s 150th in the FedExCup. "If someone would have told me a couple days ago I'd be standing in front of a bunch of cameras, I would have asked, 'What did I do?'
“It’s been a really, really hard year. …You start wondering, ‘Am I going to get it back?’ ”
Wonder no more, Ben. Perhaps this is a week for desperate cases to do more than survive. Let's hope so, for everyone's sake.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Tale of Two Big Breakers

Let's get this straight up front: In the grand scheme of things, one round of golf doesn't mean a whole lot.

Having said that, it's tough when you only get two rounds to prove yourself. We saw two very different stories play out Thursday and, although it was only one round, we already know the end to one of them.

Jackie Stoelting

Tuesday I did a post about the two Big Break winners teeing it up this week. I said it would be interesting to watch because "one or both of them really could be getting a Big Break."

For Isaac Sanchez, one round did him in. For Jackie Stoelting, the jury's still out.

Isaac shot +16 Thursday -- no birdies, 7 pars, 8 bogeys, 2 doubles, and 1 quad. (The quad came on the 11th, a par-3 island green. Enough said.) The weather in Memphis was rough, as a storm came through and delayed play for over 3 hours. But although a number of players still have to finish their first rounds, it's unlikely the cut will fall enough for Isaac to make it. If Isaac shot 58 today, he'd still be +4.

With the leader at -7, it's hard to believe there won't be a lot of low scores on a wet course. Isaac is dead last on the leaderboard, 7 strokes behind the next closest player. I don't know what Isaac's plans are -- if he even intends to try and make the PGA Tour -- but it looks like this won't be the way he makes it.

Meanwhile, for Jackie the story is much brighter. She shot -1, posting 4 birdies, 11 pars, and 3 bogeys. She's T34, 5 shots off the lead. That's pretty good, given how windy the course was. But given the caliber of the names ahead of her -- for example, the top 4 are Michelle Wie, Hee Young Park, Shanshan Feng, and Cristie Kerr -- it's not likely that she'll win the tournament.

Not likely, but not impossible. Jackie's still very much in the mix. There are 20 players tied at -1, like Suzann Pettersen; and Jackie's ahead of Angela Stanford, Catriona Matthew, and Lydia Ko, just to name a few. But because the leaderboard is so crowded, she'll need to play a solid round to make the cut.

Not that it really matters though...

LPGA.com posted a story about Jackie and her plans for this season. Although she has some status on tour already, she's chosen to lock up a card next year by focusing on the Symetra Tour this year. Gerina Piller is quoted in the article, and she approves of Jackie's plan. (She tells why in the article. It's a good read if you want to know what players juggling tours have to deal with.) And it looks like Jackie will succeed, as she's #7 in their money list already.

It's likely that Jackie will end up spending the rest of this year on the Symetra Tour. (I wonder what happens if she makes it? After all, part of her Big Break prize was having all her 2015 Symetra Tour entry fees paid.) But no matter what happens today, it looks like Jackie's already succeeded in her Big Break.

It's amazing what a little confidence can do for a player, isn't it?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Rolex #1 Up for Grabs AGAIN?

Yes, a mere week after Stacy Lewis snatched the #1 spot in the rankings from Inbee Park, the top spot could change hands yet again.

But the threat isn't Inbee. It's Lydia Ko.

Lydia Ko

Alright, here's the deal: You might think that Inbee would have the best chance to retake #1 since she's closer to Stacy than Lydia is. Here are the current point standings:
  1. 10.33 -- Stacy Lewis, 55
  2. 9.52 -- Inbee Park, 59
  3. 9.21 -- Lydia Ko, 32
The trick is the second number beside each name, which represents the number of events each player has played in during the ranking period. Because Lydia counts 27 fewer tournaments than Inbee -- a loophole in the rankings caused by Lydia's short professional career -- any ranking points Lydia gains this week will be worth roughly twice as much as the ones Inbee gains. Within the year Lydia's tournament total should rectify this problem. (Bear in mind that #5 Karrie Webb only counts 43 events, so this isn't unusual.)

What this means is that Lydia can take over the #1 spot if she wins the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and Stacy finishes in 8th place or worse. However, I wouldn't bet on that. This is only the Manulife's 3rd year, and Stacy finished T5 and T6 in the first two.

Doesn't look that promising for Lydia... but that's why they play the tournament.

The Manulife will be broadcast on GC starting at noon ET today. Both of the previous winners needed playoffs to win and last year's winning score was -26, so this could end up being a real shootout.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Some Thoughts on Upswing Putting

You may remember a post I did about putting with negative loft. I'm on record as being "less than enthusiastic" about the concept, primarily because it doesn't allow a lot of room for error and consequently requires a lot of practice. I'm not against practice -- we all need some -- but I see no reason to use techniques that require hours of practice when a much simpler technique will do.

During the final round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic, we were treated to an excellent example of this when Stacy Lewis 3-putted the 17th from around 3 feet or so. Judy Rankin noted that Stacy is an upswing putter -- that is, she likes to catch the ball when the putter is swinging up into the finish -- and that this sometimes caused a problem. This past week, that problem made her miss. (I'll come back to this in a moment.)

Nicklaus putting at impactThe reasoning for upswing putting is similar to the negative loft concept. The idea is to create overspin on the ball, thus getting a smoother roll that (supposedly) tracks to the hole better. Golf Digest did an article some time ago that says Jack Nicklaus did the same thing -- and we can trust it since the late Jim Flick, who became Jack's instructor after Jack Grout died, wrote the article. As you can see in the photo at the right, Jack accomplished this by leaning the putter shaft forward at impact, swinging upward as he did so, and not letting the club head pass his hands until the ball was long gone.

Now, given how legendary Jack's putting is, why would Judy Rankin say this technique is problematic and why would I discourage you from using it?

Simply put, unless you do it the way Jack did, you won't become a legendary putter. You'll find yourself struggling at times, the way Stacy does.

You see, as Judy explained, when Stacy strikes the ball on the upswing, the path of her stroke is beginning to curve around her body and her hands start to close the putter face. As a result, she can get unpredictable pulls that miss the cup... unless she consciously holds the face open, which can cause a push.

How does Jack avoid this problem?
  • He addresses the ball in a much more bent over position than Stacy does. In fact, if you look at the photo, you can't help but notice how much this looks like Michelle Wie's tabletopping technique. What this does is make Jack and Michelle's stroke paths go less around their bodies than Stacy's; instead, the path is much more of a straight line.
  • The Golf Digest article also notes that Jack kept his lead arm and elbow close to his side. This minimizes the chance that the hands will rotate because they stay in the same relationship to his body all the way through the stroke. If his arm moved away from his side and past his body, his trailing hand would force his forearms to twist.
And if you check out my post on Wie's technique, you'll see that Michelle does both of these things.

So if you want to use upswing putting, you need to do it like Jack and Michelle, not Stacy. Otherwise you're adding unneeded complexity to your putting stroke. But be prepared to put in some extra practice time because this isn't the most natural way to putt. It took Michelle a year or more to get where it looks natural when she does it, and I imagine it took Jack a while as well.

If it was easy, everybody would do it!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Big Breakers Crash the Tours This Week

Yes, in addition to the normal big names warming up for the US Opens (both male and female) this week, we have some Big Breakers collecting their prizes.

Isaac Sanchez

First we have Isaac Sanchez from Big Break NFL Puerto Rico making his appearance at the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic. (Emily Talley, the female winner on that series, made her appearance last week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and missed the cut.) In case you don't know, Isaac's nickname is Sasquatch and he runs an annual charity tournament called "Swinging with Sasquatch." You can check out his tournament website here.
Jackie Stoelting
Then we have Jackie Stoelting from Big Break Florida making her appearance at the LPGA's Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. Jackie's a member on the Symetra Tour and is currently 7th on their money list, so she's on pace to get her LPGA card next season. (BTW, Emily Talley is 9th on that list.) Plus Jackie played in the US Women's Open last year... and made the cut.

Of course, success on Big Break is no guarantee of success on a tour. Kim Welch and Sara Brown are both still struggling on the Symetra Tour, and Kip Henley may be better known as Brian Gay's caddie.

But the Breakers have proven they can play, whether they won on the show or not. Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey became the first Breaker to post a PGA Tour win. Matt Every also has one, and several of the ladies have wins on the Symetra Tour, Mallory Blackwelder being the most recent. Despite having rheumatoid arthritis since childhood -- and having to undergo some surgery recently -- Kristy McPherson has managed to maintain an LPGA career for about 7 years, including a Solheim Cup appearance.

Probably the highest profile Breaker right now is Gerina Piller (she was Gerina Mendoza when she appeared on the show), currently #26 in the Rolex world rankings, 17th on the LPGA money list, 15th in their Scoring average stats, and 14th in the new Race to the CME Globe. She's also T5 in Solheim Cup points... after playing in the 2013 matches. Not too shabby for a reality show contestant, eh?

So you might want to keep an eye on Isaac and Jackie at their tournaments this week. One or both of them really could be getting a Big Break.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Limerick Summary: 2014 Memorial Tournament

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama

Around the wider world of golf: Stacy Lewis (the new Rolex #1) won the ShopRite LPGA Classic; Tom Pernice Jr. won the Principal Charity Classic on the Champions Tour; Thongchai Jaidee won the Nordea Masters on the European Tour; Joel Dahmen won the PC Financial Open on the PGA TOUR Canada; and Teresa Lu won the Resort Trust Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has the details).



I guess we've all been expecting it for a while now, although we may have expected Ryo Ishikawa to be the young Japanese star to break through.

Instead, it was Hideki Matsuyama who got his first PGA Tour victory. And my, it was a BIG one!

It looked as if Hideki would be an also-ran this week, with Bubba Watson leading and Adam Scott close behind when the final round started. But Muirfield Village has a sense of humor, and it was none other than Kevin Na who blasted through the lead pack with an 8-under 64 two hours before the leaders would finish.

And then the leaders began to stumble. Bubba's shots began curving in unexpected ways, as did Adam's. And Hideki went on a wild ride of his own; his final 6 holes went birdie, bogey, birdie, double, bogey, birdie. But that final birdie was his fourth birdie on 18 this week, and it was enough to send him into a playoff with Kevin... and then Kevin's tee shot curved into a water hazard. Hideki's par on 18 during the playoff was enough to get it done.

Although Kevin lost the playoff, he got a great consolation prize -- he doesn't have to play the US Open Qualifier he expected this week, as his runner-up finish got the job done.

In the meantime, Japan becomes the "Land of the Rising SON" as Hideki gets the trophy, the handshake, and Japan's first Limerick Summary all in one fell swoop. Omedetou gozaimasu, Matsuyama-san!
The back nine shook everyone’s nerves
And their shots started making HUGE curves.
But Hideki’s last stroke
Was a straightforward poke
For the vict’ry he clearly deserves.
The photo comes from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some Thoughts on Overtraining

If you were watching the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Saturday, you may have caught parts of a discussion about overtraining. I think it was spawned by all the therapy tape Michelle Wie was wearing on one leg -- she was wearing some during Friday's round, but Saturday it looked like a one-legged leotard -- and by Suzann Pettersen's back problems earlier this year.

Of course, injuries to Tiger Woods and other players were brought up as well.

There are some serious questions being raised about the amount of exercise a golfer really needs for peak performance. The issues aren't new; I read that former NFL coach and TV commentator John Madden once claimed that weight work was responsible for an increase in injuries among football players. I believe that was back in the 1970s, so this is a long-running debate.

With the number of fitness centers around the world, as well as the number of mail order workout programs and equipment you can order, it's worth understanding what all the fuss is about. You don't want to end up injuring yourself and ending your golf season early!

The debate isn't just about the intensity or number of workouts -- clearly, you can overdo anything and create overuse injuries -- but about the nature of the workouts. Madden singled out weight work because it isolates specific muscle groups, particularly when done with machines rather than free weights. What's the difference?

You can strap someone into a weight machine (Nautilus machines are one example) and that will enable them to work a specific muscle (or muscles) in an efficient motion. However, there are a number of smaller support muscles and tendons that help the joints remain stable during use, and the machines don't give those small muscles the same workout. As a result, you create muscle imbalances during your workout.

In effect, the joints, tendons, and muscles self-destruct when stressed on the playing field.

Free weights at least require you to stabilize the barbell or dumbbells as you lift them, so the smaller muscles do get some more use. But again, the movement might not stress those smaller muscles and tendons quite the way they'll be stressed on the playing field, so they still end up being weaker.

Add the compulsion to overwork that some players have, and you can understand why this has become such a hot button topic. (I heard Tiger say he used to run 30 miles a week. There are track specialists who don't do that much!) Are these injuries being caused by the types of exercises we do, the intensity and number of workouts, or some combination of the two? Or could there be some other contributing factor that we haven't identified yet?

There are a few simple things you can do to lessen the chance of hurting yourself while you increase your strength and endurance.
  • Diversify your workouts. By that I mean to mix different kinds of exercise into your overall program. (Crosstraining was a popular buzzword for this at one time.) Mix cardio work with strength work. When you do strength work, mix weights or machines with bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, and squats. (Bodyweight exercises use your body in ways that work all those small muscles.)
  • Vary the intensity of your workouts. You don't have to do the same amount of work at each workout. Some days you can do longer workouts, and other days you can do shorter ones. Do strength workouts on different days from cardio workouts, or schedule strength workouts across two days. (Bodybuilders frequently do this by working their upper bodies on one day and their lower bodies on a different day. And cardio workouts rarely need to be done more than 3 or 4 times a week to be effective.)
  • Schedule off-days. When you first start your workouts and aren't pushing very hard, you can do something everyday if you want. But as the workouts get tougher, you should do them less often. For example, you might schedule this way (and this isn't the only way you could do it):
    1. Monday: Upper body workout
    2. Tuesday: Lower body workout & light cardio
    3. Wednesday: off
    4. Thursday: Upper body workout & light cardio
    5. Friday: Lower body workout & light cardio
    6. Saturday: off
    7. Sunday: medium cardio
    If you're trying to improve at some sport, the off days become good days for your sport.
  • Use good judgment and be flexible. Some days just aren't good days to work out -- perhaps you're ill, or maybe there's a schedule conflict. You can work out on a different day and, if you're sick, you can skip a day or two. Just remember to ease back into the workouts if you miss time due to sickness; otherwise you might hurt yourself.
Overtraining might be an occupational hazard for the pros but it doesn't have to be for us weekend warriors. Think about that when you see your favorite pros wrapped like mummies in therapy tape. You will gradually learn how much work it takes to keep you in shape if you just shelve your ego and use some common sense.

Remember: You don't have to train like an Olympic athlete to be in shape.