ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

One Simple Golf Exercise You Might Want to Use

Here's my final exercise post of 2015 and it's an extremely simple exercise I found that could really help you finish your golf swing. It comes from a Golf Digest slideshow / article that has 16 core-strengthening exercises. This is slide #5.

The exercise is called a 'glute bridge' and it mimics your back and hip position when you push your hips forward during your weight shift and your belly button is facing the target during your finish. It works the glutes (that's your butt muscles, in case you don't know), hamstrings and lower back. I like it because it's simple and it doesn't require any special equipment.

Glute Bridges

I think the 'moving photo' above is pretty clear. You keep your arms laying out to your sides (palms up), your knees are bent, and you keep your toes off the ground throughout the move. (That's very important because raising your toes is what makes your hamstrings stretch. It's not dramatic but you can definitely feel it.)

Then all you do is push your hips up until your body is in a straight line all the way from your shoulders to your knees. Although Golf Digest doesn't say so, I think holding the top position for a second or two will help make you stronger without straining you.

Golf Digest recommends one set of 10 reps but I've taken this exercise out of a series of 16, some of which use leg bands and some of which use a medicine ball, so you can probably do more than that without much problem. Just adjust the number of sets and reps you do so it feels good when you incorporate this move into your own exercise program.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tiger Turns 40

Yes, it's hard to believe but Tiger hits 'the Big Four-Oh' today. It doesn't seem like that long ago when he was saying "Hello, World."

Tiger

You're going to read and hear plenty of retrospectives, critiques, predictions and eulogies for Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods today. Some of them will be optomistic, some pessimistic, some wistful and some downright mean. Tiger will get a number of tweets wishing him a Happy Birthday and a speedy recovery from surgery. We can also count on some tweets that are in bad taste and others that border on defamation; many people seem to believe that social media is a license to be cruel and that they have a moral obligation to do so.

And let's face it: There are a lot of unhappy people on this planet who get their jollies by watching the distress of folks who have had significant success in their lives.  Especially when that person has been a polarizing personality like Tiger Woods.

I've written plenty about Tiger over the years I've been doing this blog. (Ruthless Golf is in its SEVENTH year now, which simply amazes me.) And if you've read any of those posts, you know I tend to fall into the 'optimistic' category. I expect Tiger to recover enough to play some significant golf in the future, although I think it may take him a couple of years this time and I hope he's patient enough this time to do so. And while he's made some significant personal mistakes over the years, I think he's done a pretty good job of growing from them.

But today I'm not attempting to write anything particularly insightful nor critical about Tiger. All I want to do is tell him how much I've enjoyed watching him play golf over the years,and wish him a healthy New Year with his kids.

Happy Birthday, old man. I think you've earned it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Golf Exercises with a Stability Ball

Yes, it's another golf exercise video. This one is from fitness instructor Mike Hansen and focuses on using a stability ball, also called a fitness ball, a balance ball or a Swiss ball.



I'm not going to try and recap the exercises in this video since you really need to see them to understand how to do them. However, I can give you a few tips on using a stability ball.

First of all, don't let it freak you out when Mike talks about the diameter of the stability ball. I have one myself, and you buy them according to your height. When you get the ball, there should be a small chart on the box showing what size you need. The ball I have (it's from Gaiam, but the brand isn't critical) comes in small, medium and large:
  • Small (22" / 55cm): for 5'0" to 5'5" tall
  • Medium (26" / 65cm): for 5'6" to 5'11" tall
  • Large (30" / 75cm): for 6'0" to 6'3" tall
I imagine those are pretty standard recommendations but check the box for the ball you get. I've seen listings for 85cm balls, so I know they make bigger ones and I suspect you can find smaller ones if necessary.

And yes, stability balls come deflated in a box -- mine came in a box that's around 12"x10"x5" -- and it should come with a small pump. They aren't hard to pump up because they aren't under a lot of pressure; you can see how squishy they are in the video. And if you decide you don't want to use it for a while, you just let the air out. Stability balls are like oversize beach balls with really thick balloon-like skins.

A great thing about stability balls is that they don't take much room to either store or use. They don't make a lot of noise when you use them. And they're pretty easy to use in front of the TV set, if you can't make a lot of time for a workout. Stability balls are about as simple as exercise equipment gets, and they aren't that expensive. If you look around, you should be able to get a perfectly good one for less than $20... often considerably less.

Trust me, I wouldn't have gotten one to experiment with if I'd had to spend a lot of money!

Finally, you don't need weights to do exercises. Stability balls are about gaining stability, after all, so any kind of weight will do the job. You can use a book, a big can of beans, an old VCR or anything else that you feel comfortable handling. You won't need a lot of weight because it's tricky enough just keeping your balance on a ball!

In some ways, stability ball exercises remind me of Pilates work -- they're much tougher than they look. (In fact, some Pilates exercises use a stability ball.) So don't be surprised if these exercises are harder to master than you expect. Just keep working at them and you'll see results.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015’s Swan Song

Winner: The Fans, without Question!

Around the wider world of golf: There's no golf at Christmas, silly!

Jordan Spieth with FedExCup and Tour Championship trophies

As this is the final Limerick Summary of the year, I'll just note what we saw happen over the past year. Because while everybody is debating the best and worst of 2015, I see only one major trend of any significance.

Namely, we saw a changing of the guard -- the change that everyone was so afraid of. Who would take the places held by Tiger and Phil when they finally ceased to be the primary figures in the game?

While Phil isn't off centerstage yet, we definitely caught glimpses of Tiger's mortality. And while I don't think we've seen the last of him by any stretch of the imagination -- in fact, I'm probably more optimistic than most folks -- it's clear that he's going to need some time to heal, perhaps even a year or two.

The good news is that he's finally willing to take that time. (If he had been more patient before now, he might have only needed one back surgery instead of three.) The bad news was that the "who will take Tiger's place?" question suddenly became the BIG question.

And fortunately, the youngsters wasted no time giving us an answer. The Big Four of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler -- and let's face it, there are definitely four in terms of popularity if not yet in majors -- stormed the big stage in golf and made it clear that they can take the reins. Jordan made the first move at the Masters and the other guys just followed suit.

And then their peers stepped up and added their names to the "players of interest" list... with more in the wings, ready to snag their own piece of this new frontier.

So now we know that 2015 was the year when the new superstars of golf announced themselves. And with that in mind, I offer my final Limerick Summary of the year as a tribute to them.
With Tiger Woods struggling to mend,
The fans wondered who might ascend
And be golf’s newest “Best-Of”…
First Spieth, then the rest of
The young guys stepped up to contend.
The photo came from this page at usatoday.com.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exercises Golfers Might Want to Avoid

Okay, a slightly different approach today. I've done some posts in the last few days about exercises you might want to try to improve your golf game.

Today I've got some exercises you might want to AVOID. The chart below comes from an older post at the Golf Digest site and -- like some of the other ones I've linked to this week -- it comes from their fitness advisor Ben Shear. It shows some bad choices and some good alternatives -- at least, according to Shear. Different instructors might give different advice, of course, and I'm not going to say that Shear's advice is better than anybody else's.

However, I see a couple of things the exercises on this chart have in common.

Bad golf exercises VS good golf exercises

First, in exercises 1, 3, 4 and 5 his 'good' examples use your legs to PUSH your upper body AWAY from your lower body while his 'bad' examples tend to make you CRUNCH your upper body TOWARD your lower body. That's true even in #5 -- in addition to what he says, I've done upright rows before and your tendency is to either lean forward or jerk up and back. Neither is particularly good for your back.

Note also that his 'good' exercises tend to use less weight or just body weight. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are good examples. (Trust me, that kettleball in the bottom's up press is definitely lighter than the barbell in the upright row.)

In other words, Shear is recommending exercises that cause you to relax and stretch your body, rather than tighten and crunch it. Those seem to be good recommendations to me.

Besides, I hate crunches. That push-back plank looks like something I might be interested in myself!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Two Approaches to a Single Full-Body Exercise

With the new year just a week away I know many of you plan to start exercise programs. Here's yet another idea that might help you create a program that's easier for you to keep doing.

A couple of days back I did a post about eccentric exercises. In an eccentric exercise you use what exercise geeks call the 'negative' part of an exercise to get stronger. The example I used was a pull-up; an eccentric version uses the downward move to build strength. (Go back and check out the post if you don't understand how that works.)

Today I'll give you two different examples of full-body exercises -- that is, a single exercise that works all of the major muscle groups at once. I'll talk about why you might want to go this route in a minute.

Golf Digest's fitness advisor Ben Shear posted this full-body exercise he designed. I'm just showing the diagram below; he explains each step in the post. But you can see that one repetition of the exercise works many different muscle groups.

Full-body workout with one exercise

For comparison, here's an old standard that doesn't require any extra equipment at all. It's called a burpee, which is a ridiculously funny name for a really tough exercise. In this short video Kelsey Lee demonstrates one version of the exercise -- I've seen more complex versions -- and explains exactly how this exercise trains your whole body.



The reason full-body exercises are so neat is because you use a minimum of equipment -- or none at all with the burpee. Since you don't have to learn a lot of different movements, it's quick to learn and you can focus on doing the exercise properly. And because the one exercise gives you a full body workout, you can add one or two specific exercises if you find that you need to build some extra strength in one area of your body.

Full-body exercises tend to be harder than individual exercises because you don't waste time stopping between movements to change weights or reset machines. That also means that you can do shorter workouts and still get a lot of work done. But harder doesn't mean you have to hurt yourself. You can just do the movement more slowly if necessary.

The idea is to push yourself a little, not strain yourself a lot.

And with the burpee you can have an added advantage. In the beginning you can do them slowly and count repetitions... but as you get stronger, your endurance will increase and you can begin to treat them like an aerobic workout. That means you can change from a number of reps to a number of minutes. That's a true power workout.

There are a variety of full-body workout routines around. Some use four or five bodyweight exercises -- like push-ups and squats -- so you don't have to stop between sets. Others use a single complex movement like the ones I mentioned in this post. But either way, you may find that this approach is a good way to create an exercise routine you can stay with.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Using Reverse Exercises to Gain Strength

This Golf Digest post on eccentric training by fitness advisor Ben Shear is going to sound a bit weird to many of you, but this is a well-established technique among bodybuilders and strength athletes. The post includes seven exercises with instructions.

I decided to link to this article because it's specifically golf-related but you can do many other types of exercises this way. The photo shows "let downs" as opposed to pull ups. I'll explain why this is a great exercise technique below.

Let Downs rather than Pull Ups

The idea behind eccentric training is that you focus your effort on the part of an exercise movement where you often relax. For example, most people focus on the "pulling up" part of a pull up. However, you can get the same sort of strengthening by focusing on the "letting down" part. You're using your muscles the same way, working against gravity... but it's a bit easier.

The key here is that you slow down this part of the exercise. For example, if it takes a count of one to pulling up motion, you might try to take a count of FOUR for the lowering part.

This is a great way to develop strength to do tough exercises when you aren't particularly strong. For example, if you aren't strong enough to do pull ups, you could use a chair to get in the "up" position shown at the left of the above photo and then slowly lower yourself, then use the chair again and so on. This allows you to build up muscle without as much strain because you're using gravity to help you.

I've used the eccentric technique before and it really does help, especially for those exercises that are just too hard to do when you start. It's yet one more technique to help you get your New Year's exercise program off the ground.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Natalie Gulbis Shares Some Back Training Tips

Today I have a link to a video at Golf Magazine's site, with Natalie Gulbis showing five different exercises she uses to strengthen her back. As many of you know, Nats struggled with back problems for several seasons before getting her game back.

She uses these as warm-ups before playing but you can use them anytime.

Natalie Gulbis

The five exercises she demonstrates are:
  1. Hip Rotations
  2. Core Rotations
  3. Hip Circles
  4. Press-ups (she says this one is "the staple" of her tips)
  5. Lunge and Twists
Again, she suggests using these before you start a round but they're a simple set of exercises that you can do anytime to get your back -- especially your lower back -- stronger and more flexible.

With New Year's resolutions looming for most people, this might be something you'd like to make part of your exercise routine. It sounds like a 5-7 minute routine, so it won't push you too hard. But the variety of moves looks to give your lower back a good workout.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Jordan-Wan Kenobi

This is just... well, cute. Somebody over at SkratchTV took the video of Spieth's putt to win the Valspar and turned his putter into a lightsaber.


No word yet on when Scotty Cameron plans to make this model available to the general public, nor on the expected retail price.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Not-a-Limerick Summary for 2015

I found myself with an interesting problem this week. Perhaps it's just the way the holidays fall this year or maybe it has to do with changes in the tour schedules, but we have an extra week without tournaments. Next week I'll do the final Limerick Summary of 2015, and the first of 2016 the week after that... but what could I do THIS week? I hated to break the regular "Monday in verse" routine, especially when it's probably the only routine I maintain on this blog.

Since GC has spent the week doing debates about what made 2015 so special, and since the youth movement has been a huge part of that -- and let's face it, it's probably the biggest part of the 2015 story as so many young players broke through with wins -- I decided to do a brief verse about this apparent changing of the guard. But it was too big for a limerick, so you get my Not-a-Limerick Summary. Hopefully you'll get a laugh from it.
A major for Day and for Johnson,
A couple of majors for Spieth—
But Phil’s winless season and Tiger’s bad back
Left both players grinding their teeth.

Then Fowler walked off with THE PLAYERS,
The Scottish and Deutsche Bank too.
The young guns are coming,
     they've got their games humming…
So hey, what’s an old guy to do?

Perhaps we’ll see more guys like Davis,
Who showed up at age 51,
Or more of those guys in their forties who posted
Some Top5s. You see? They’re not done.

It looks like a changeover’s coming
But don’t write the oldsters off yet.
Come twenty-sixteen, they’ll be loaded for bear
And start teaching those kids how to sweat.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Byron Nelson Talks About the Grip

Since it seems that I'm reviewing basics this week, I thought I'd post this old video of Byron Nelson talking about how to create a grip that helps you square the clubface. It has bits and pieces from several clips Lord Byron had done before, so it's a great look at how his grip evolved.

Watch the video, then I'll focus on a few things that will help you create your own grip -- even if you don't do it exactly like Nelson.



First, I've taken a still from the video and added a white line to emphasize something you should know, no matter whose grip advice you take. Take a look:

Byron Nelson's grip

Do you see that white curve I added near his lead hand? He has the club handle leaning very slightly forward but there's still a pronounced curve from his forearm to his wrist. Some teachers do this, some don't. Whether a teacher does this or not affects all the other advice he or she gives you, so make sure you know whether they 'curve' their lead wrist like this or not. It's super important to know that if you want to get the results that teacher wants you to get.

In this case, even though Nelson says that the back of his lead hand is pointing at his target, the same way the palm of his trail hand is, it doesn't look that way when you see this picture. You need to understand that when the back of your lead hand is 'square' to the target, it may actually look as if your hand is at a slight angle. That's because most of us, when we stand with our hands at our side, actually turn our hands inward at a slight angle. Stand in front of a mirror and take a good look; you probably do it too.

That means that 'square to the target' means that your lead hand is at the same angle as it is when your hands hang at your side. Again, that's super important to know that in order to get the results you expect.

Finally, please note that Lord Byron says that the lead hand guides the club and the trailing hand provides both power and feel. He also says that your trailing hand shouldn't swing past the lead hand -- or, if you prefer, the trail hand shouldn't swing FASTER than the lead hand -- or you'll end up mis-hitting the ball. You are using both hands together, and that's why teachers emphasize relaxed forearms and wrists. If they are relaxed, they will travel at about the same speed and you're unlikely to flip your hands at impact.

I hope you find the video helpful, and also that the tips in this post help you get better results from whatever grip your teacher is teaching to you.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Classic Tiger and Butch Lesson

Golf Channel has re-posted some tips from back in 2000 when Tiger and Butch were working together. This particular clip is a general summary of the variety of changes they made to Tiger's swing after he won the 1997 Masters.

I want to point out a couple of the key changes that I talk about frequently on this blog and in my books.



It's interesting to note how many 'faults' that trip up weekend golfers Tiger was still using when he won the Masters.

One of them was that he took the club back to the inside too quickly. Butch taught him a one-piece takeaway to counteract that move. In my mind, that was his biggest backswing flaw. It made it easier for him to keep the club out in front of him -- something else I've written about -- when he made the other changes.

The other big flaw was in his downswing, what he calls the "Ole Swing." Tiger drove his legs way too hard to start his downswing. Sometimes I feel I'm on a crusade to stop exaggerated leg drive! I've written about the problem a number of times, but this post included a video where Martin Hall teaches about using gravity to move down into the ball. In that video Sara Brown tried it and ended up using less leg drive -- despite Martin's continued emphasis on leg drive -- and it stopped her from pulling her shots. Compare Sara's smaller leg drive with Tiger's 'ole swing' and the difference will be clearer.

Anyway, the Tiger and Butch video above is an interesting reminder that even the greatest golfer in recent history made the same mistakes that the average weekend golfer does. The difference is that Tiger had hours and hours of daily practice, repeated over years and years, to make it work... and Butch still says in the video that it was a swing that wouldn't last.

And remember, it was AFTER he made these changes that he ripped off the four major streak we now call 'the Tiger Slam.' Clearly Butch was on to something!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Ellie Day Injured at Cavalier's Game

In case you didn't see the NBA game between the Cleveland Cavaliers (that's LeBron James's team) and the Oklahoma City Thunder, there was an accident on the sidelines inside the final four minutes. LeBron James was going for a loose ball and fell into the crowd. He landed on a couple of women and their chairs collapsed; one of the women was caught under him.



When they showed the replay of the accident, you could see Jason Day sitting next to her. The injured woman was Jason's wife Ellie. The paramedics brought in a stretcher, strapped her in and secured her head, but she was apparently alert and talking. That's a good sign.

The TV people didn't realize who she was until the cameras caught Jason leaving right behind the paramedics and stretcher.

It's not unusual for extra folding chairs to be set up courtside. Those are where the VIPS get to sit. Of course, if you take one of those seats, you are RIGHT THERE as close to the action as you can get. Accidents do happen sometimes, but usually they're relatively harmless affairs -- you know, things like fans getting covered in beer and nachos.

In this case, Ellie and Jason were too close. LeBron is 6'8" and around 260 lbs, and this game was really tight. (The Cavs won, 104-100.) Players are going to go after loose balls when the game is that close... and when they do, they often end up in the bleachers. OFTEN. And a lot of those players are as big as LeBron. I don't care who you are, that's gonna hurt.

And while you don't see it in the video above, LeBron came back after the play and spent some time trying to find out how she was. Players usually do come back and check on their fans after the play is over. (I've seen LeBron do that many times.) But again, this sort of collision happens frequently during games and LeBron didn't know how bad this one was at first.

At the time I'm writing this, I don't have any further reports on her condition beyond her being taken to a local hospital for treatment. I got that from ESPN's Cavs reporter Brian Windhorst () and from this post at cleveland.com. According to that post, not only are the Days and the Cavs players good friends but Jason had been helping the Cavs with a promotion during a timeout. It also says that LeBron was "noticeably shaken" by what happened to Ellie, which is to be expected.

According to Windhorst, Jason and Ellie have a home in Columbus and regularly attend Cav games. But I'm guessing they may consider sitting a bit farther from the court once Ellie's healthy enough to attend another game.

LATE UPDATE: Scott Van Pelt on ESPN's midnight show said that, although there weren't many details, he could report that Ellie is apparently going to be okay but they were going to keep her at the hospital overnight for observation. Good news! 

MORNING UPDATE: LeBron told reporters that, after Ellie was on the stretcher, she squeezed his hand and told him she was alright. And the word is that she was released this morning and that she is indeed alright.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quick Adjustments for Taking Off Yards with the Wedges

I was reading my copy of Golf Magazine for January 2016 and found this neat tip in the Private Lessons section. (And no, this isn't on the website yet. You'll have to buy the mag to get these, I'm afraid.)

The Power Hitter lesson has some quick ways to take 5 or 10 yards off your pitches and approach shots. It recommends that you begin by spending some time on the range learning how far you hit each wedge with a full swing. (Duh!) The suggestions that follow assume that you'll still make a full swing -- at least, as full a swing as the adjustments will allow.

Whether you use all the tips for each yardage together or not depends on you. You'll need to experiment a bit to see what gets the job done for your swing.

To take off 5 yards:
  • Narrow your stance by two clubhead widths -- that is, twice the distance from the toe of the club to the heel -- and keep the ball in the center of your stance, as measured between your heels.
  • Choke down halfway on the handle.

To take off 10 yards:
  • Narrow your stance by three clubhead widths -- that is, three times the distance from the toe of the club to the heel -- and keep the ball in the center of your stance, as measured between your heels.
  • Choke down on the handle all the way to the shaft.
  • Open your stance so your the big toe on your lead foot is even with the heel of your trail foot. Golf Magazine says "That tweak alone should kill 10 yards."
Please note that when you narrow your stance, you aren't narrowing your stance TO two or three clubheads wide. You're narrowing your stance BY two or three clubheads -- we're talking about VERY narrow stances here.

And remember, you can combine these adjustments if you need to. It seems to me that you could create several different yardages with each wedge just by mixing and matching these adjustments.

And remember, this is in the January 2016 Golf Magazine if you want to pick up a hard copy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dom DiJulia on Making Better Contact

Here's a GC video from Golf Channel Academy Lead Coach Dom DiJulia on how to get more consistent contact with the golf ball. He has three setup keys. I'm posting this because he points out some basic relationships that, if you know them, they'll help you keep a clear understanding about how your address affects your setup.

All of these affect your distance from the ball.



Here are Dom's three keys... and the relationships you should learn from them.
  • Posture: This one's pretty straightforward. Do you stand tall? You'll stand closer to the ball. Do you bend your knees and back more? You'll stand farther from the ball.
  • Arm Hang: This one's pretty straightforward too. Do you stand tall? Your arms will hang closer to your body. Do you bend your knees and back more? Your arms will hang farther from your body.
  • Weight Distribution or Balance (Heel/Toe): This one's the tricky one (see below). Do you stand tall? Your weight will be more on your toes. Do you bend your knees and back more? Your weight will be more on your heels.
Now these are just general guidelines , and you may find that your personal preferences vary a bit. That's especially true of that last one -- your heel-toe balance -- because your posture and arm hang can affect your balance in weird ways. I said "see below," so read on.

First, find a comfortable posture and arm hang setup. Then use them to find your most stable heel-toe balance.

Here's how posture can affect heel-toe balance, in more detail:
  • More back bend and more knee bend = more weight toward your heels (your butt sticks out more)
  • More back bend and less knee bend = more weight toward your heels
  • Less back bend and more knee bend = more weight toward your toes
  • Less back bend and less knee bend = more weight toward your toes (your butt sticks out less)
In general, more back bend = more heel weight, and less back bend = more toe weight. Back bend is what pushes your butt out. More knee bend puts more weight on the balls of your feet (and thus toward your toes) because it's a more 'athletic' position, like you're going to jump. Ideally, your weight should be on the balls of your feet in any position, but we're talking about how it 'feels' here.

Then arm hang can affect heel-toe balance:
  • Hands farther out = weight more toward toes
  • Hands closer = weight more toward heels
So if you find how your posture affects your heel-toe balance, then modify it slightly based on your arm hang, you should be able to find a good "balance." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Put them all together and you should be able to create a consistent address position, from which to make more consistent contact when you swing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How Butch Harmon Does Ball Position

Last week I posted a ball position tip from Seve. Seve tended to move the ball around in his setup.

Today I'm linking to a Golf Digest article from Butch Harmon on ball position. Butch likes using the same ball position with all your clubs -- at least for full shots.

While I want you to read the article, at first I didn't realize exactly how he was determining where he wanted the ball. In this post I'm going to make sure you understand how he does it because he has two different reference points, and the first one helps you figure out the second one. The second one is the one you'll be using.

Butch showing ball position for three different clubs

You start with the driver. Butch's reference point for ball position with the driver is the logo on the left breast of your golf shirt. (You lefties will have to guess at that, I suppose, since most companies don't make left-handed golf shirts. Just pick the point halfway between your right armpit and your breastbone.)

Are you with me so far? That's the FIRST reference point.

Now you look down and see how far the ball is from your lead foot. For example, in the photo above Butch has the ball around two inches or so inside his lead heel. That's the SECOND reference point, and that's the one you use for the rest of your full shots with your other clubs. You move your trail foot to adjust your stance width, and that has the effect of moving the ball back in your stance. You can see how that works in the photo above.

You got that? You determine your basic ball position by using your shirt logo and driver, check where that ball position is relative to your lead foot, and then use the lead foot-to-ball distance you just measured as your ball position for every club in your bag.

Butch's article explains in detail how to find that distance, but at first reading it might not be clear that it's a two-step process. Now you know.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Omega Dubai Ladies Masters

Winner: Shanshan Feng

Around the wider world of golf: Jamie Donaldson won the Thailand Golf Championship on the Asian Tour; Adam Svensson won medalist honors at the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament; Matias Simasky won the Copa Diners Club Mitad del Mundo on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Jason Dufner & Brandt Snedeker won the Franklin Templeton Shootout (an unofficial PGA Tour event); and Lanny and Tucker Wadkins won the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

Shanshan Feng gets trophy from HRH Princess Haya

It's not often that we see history made on the LET. The LPGA and the various other women's tours tend to get all the attention. And on an individual leverl, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko tend to garner all the press coverage.

But Shanshan Feng did some pretty spectacular things this week at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, and I think we need to make sure we show her a little love.

To start with, she absolutely blistered the field at the Emirates Golf Club. Remember, the men play this course as well. But it was Shanshan who posted the largest winning margin on ANY tour this year with a 12-shot victory. And this was a truly mind-blowing performance, as she began the final round with only a 5-stroke lead. She shot 67-67-67-66 for the tournament. Bear in mind that, as this GC post notes, the rest of the field only managed nine 67s or better all week.

This course played hard, folks, and Shanshan made it look easy. In fact, this is her third win at Dubai in four years. Nobody has ever done that before. I think the word for that is dominance.

And while she didn't win on the LPGA this season, she won twice on the LET -- which, btw, was enough to help her win the Order of Merit. Bear in mind that Shanshan Feng is the first Chinese player to win the LET Order of Merit.

Like I said, we saw some history this week.

As I write this, Shanshan is #6 in the Rolex Rankings. However, she's only half a point behind #5 so she might move up by the time you read this. But no matter what else happens, she gets a nice new Limerick Summary to finish out her year. Way to go, girl!
We ought to say more about Feng.
The field has to feel they’ve been stung
When she goes up by twelve,
Gets more trophies to shelve
And makes hist’ry. This hero’s unsung!
The photo came from this page at the LET website.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Martin Hall on Hitting the Sweet Spot

Instructors keep saying that, if you want to get maximum distance, you have to hit the ball on the sweet spot. That's true whether you're using a wood or an iron.

I found this older clip from School of Golf where Martin talks about why some people miss the sweet spot and instead hit the ball off the heel. Let me sum up what he says, then you can watch the video below.

First of all, he says you can 'heel' the ball because you stand too close to it. So you can fix that problem by setting up with about one hand span -- that is, from heel of palm to tips of fingers -- between your thighs and the butt of the club handle.

But he also talks about 'heel confusion,' which is when you think the sweet spot of the club is in line with the shaft. That means you actually try to hit the ball with the end of the shaft. Obviously this means you hit the ball with the heel of the clubhead. You may not even realize you're doing it, since most other things that involve swinging something -- Martin names baseball bats and tennis rackets, but you can add hammers, flyswatters and other things as well -- have the 'sweet spot' in line with the 'shaft.'

Okay, now watch the video.



The drill is simple enough -- place a tee or something else beside the ball, flip the club upside down and try to hit the tee with the end of the handle -- but it will probably drive you nuts at first. Don't swing flat out when you try it! Make shorter swings, then gradually lengthen them until you're making full swings. After that, you can try to swing faster.

What this drill does is help you get used to seeing the end of the shaft pass between you and the ball when you hit the ball.

And for those of you who hit the ball off the toe of the club, this drill might help you as well. If you get used to seeing the end of the shaft passing close to the ball at impact, it might help you stop toeing your shots.

This may all sound a bit silly to you, but I've come to realize that many golf problems are really perception problems. We have faulty ideas about what we're trying to do but, since we don't realize the ideas are wrong, we keep making the same mistake over and over without ever knowing the reason why.

This drill is about correcting a wrong perception and if you find out you need it, there's no reason to be embarrassed. We all have these kinds of problems -- and not just when it comes to golf.

The only real embarrassment is in not taking steps to correct perception problems because we don't take them seriously. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nike Tries to One-Up TaylorMade

Remember back when we couldn't decide whether to call the new driver designs 'woods' or 'metals'? Well, that debate seems insignificant compared to what's going on with the newest clubs.

TaylorMade has been getting a lot of publicity with its M1 multi-material driver, but this new driver from Nike is one of the wildest designs I've ever seen.

Nike Vapor Fly Pro driver

Golf Digest ran a post yesterday about Nike's new drivers, fairway woods and hybrids in the Vapor line. You can find that post here, which includes the photo above. I did a little more searching and found some cool pictures of the most interesting driver -- including the exploded view farther down below -- over at the Golf Support Superstore site. That page is at this link, where you can see a bigger version of the photo below.

Several of the drivers, as well as the fairway woods and hybrids, are part of the Vapor Fly line. The two drivers -- the Vapor Fly and the Vapor Fly Pro (pictured above), both with 460cc heads --  are basically titanium woods with some neat additions. There are speed slots and thin crowns, among other things, although I thought those two support bars in the cavity were particularly cool looking. And all of that tech allows them to make the face even bigger.

But the one that really caught my eye was the Vapor Flex 440 (440cc head). Check this out -- the club is 60% carbon fiber reinforced with RZN, the same stuff they use in the core of the RZN golf balls. They say they can use it to make designs that are impossible in titanium, and that it lightens the club so much that they were able to make the sweet spot 45% bigger! The exploded view shows all the different parts. Isn't this a golf geek's dream?

Explode view of Nike Vapor Flex 440 driver

The Flex 440 is going to be the most expensive driver (of course). Golf Digest says it will retail for $500 and the other clubs will be under that, with the hybrids starting at $220. Everything but the Flex is supposed to be available late next month; the Flex is due in March.

If the Flex turns out to be popular, you can bet we'll be seeing even more 'creative approaches' to clubmaking going forward. But it looks like the "what do we call them?" arguments can begin in earnest now.

I think for now I'll just call the big ones 'drivers' and the others... 'not drivers.'

Friday, December 11, 2015

Davies Chases Feng in Dubai

Laura Davies in DubaiAlthough I'm writing this late at night -- at least, late in the USA -- the third round of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters has barely started. As a result, I'm using the second round results for this post.

But it's the final LET event of 2015 and it's turning out to be an interesting one.

At the midway point, defending champion Shanshan Feng is leading at -10. Laura Davies is two strokes back while Pornanong Phatlum and Caroline Hedwall are tied at five back.

For obvious reasons, I pull for Laura Davies when she gets in contention. At 52 years old she can still whack it out there with the young kids; it's just a matter of whether that streaky putter of hers is working or not. And this week it IS working. She has posted two 68s thus far (Shanshan has two 67s) and seems very relaxed on the course.

If her putter keeps working, things could get tight on Sunday.

The Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club is where the ET plays its Omega Dubai Desert Classic (in February), so this is a challenging course. And this is one of the few LET events that we here in the US get to see all four rounds, so it's special for that reason as well.

Feng and Phatlum have won this event the last three years -- Feng in 2012 and 2014, Phatlum in 2013 -- so Laura (or anyone else for that matter) will have their hands full trying to win this event. But if she keeps things going during the third round, Laura Davies could find herself with a chance to make some history.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Ball Position Tip from Seve

This will be a short post because it's a simple thing. But it's unlikely that very many of you will have heard it before. That's because it's a tip from the late Seve Ballesteros... but I found it in a book called The Bobby Jones Way by John Andrisani.

Ball position is one of those things that every teacher seems to have a different opinion about. However, some of those differences can be resolved if you just look at how those folks are addressing the ball.

For example, Andrisani talks about Jones setting up for drives and long irons with the ball opposite his left instep. Many teachers advise placing the ball just inside the left heel for a drive. Still others say that, if you dropped a vertical line from your left armpit to the ground, that's where you should place your ball for a drive. (Obviously these are all righties.)

But if you look at the setup of each of them, you'll see the ball is about in the same place -- under that left armpit. Jones has the ball so far forward because his feet are only about 12 inches apart, so his feet were more under his shoulders than most players.

And of course, as the clubs get shorter, you move the ball back in your stance. At least that's a pretty common teaching, although not everyone agrees.

Seve, being a feel player, had a much more flexible approach to ball position that's pretty neat. Seve based his ball position on how flexible he was on any given day. How does that work? Here's how Andrisani describes it in his book:
He [Seve] suggests that the ball be moved further back of its normal position on days when you feel flexible and swing faster. On days when your body and the club move more slowly than on others, he believes you should position the ball further forward to give your sluggish body more time to square up the club at impact. (p25)
I think you need to be very comfortable with your swing to make that kind of change from day to day. After all, most weekend players struggle just to make solid contact. If you changed your point of contact EVERY DAY... well, you just might go nuts.

But that does make some sense, doesn't it?

Look, I'm not advising you to change your setup every day. But if you're having trouble getting solid contact, perhaps your ball position is wrong for the speed of your swing. As I have been studying the basics of the classic swing -- the slower, soft-shaft swing of a century ago -- I have found that my ball position needs to be more forward in my stance than it does with the swing I've always used, which is the one I teach in the Quick Guides.

So maybe Seve was right. Maybe you should let your swing speed help determine your basic ball position. If you swing more slowly, try moving your ball position a bit more forward (with all clubs) in your stance. And if you have a faster swing, move it a bit back (with all clubs) in your stance. It might be worth a little experimentation on the range -- especially if you're having trouble making good contact.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Butch Harmon's Unusual Slice Cure

I saw this new piece from Butch Harmon and... well, it caught my eye because it's so unusual. Butch sees a lot of players who hit banana balls into the rough and can't stop. Guess what his advice is?

Stop trying to hit it straight. Instead, set up to hit a fade. Yes, you read that right.

Butch not hitting it straight

This is actually a cool mental trick. Butch wants to help you straighten out your slice by setting up to hit a fade! Here's how it works.
  1. Set up on the right side of the tee, next to the tee marker. (If you're a rightie, that is. Lefties set up on the left.) If you're gonna hit a fade, that's where you should tee up anyway.
  2. Pick out a target down the left side of the fairway. (Lefties, aim down the right side.) You need to start the ball that way if you're gonna hit a fade.
  3. Here's the key: Aim your clubface squarely at your target, then take your stance with your body lines aimed parallel to your aim line.
If you do this, you're actually in a square setup -- which you weren't really doing before when you tried to hit the ball straight -- and you'll hit the fairway. You may hit a slight fade at first but you'll be in the fairway.

I know it sounds strange but it makes sense if you think about it. Your problem is that you THINK you set up for a straight ball when you actually set up for a slice. This is both a MENTAL and a VISION problem because you can't recognize that your setup is wrong, even though you know what you should do. So since your eyes have trouble telling the difference between a slice setup and a square setup, Butch has you setting up so your eyes think you've set up for a fade but you're actually setting up square.

Eventually your brain will get things straight (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). But at least you'll hit the ball in the fairway until it does.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Raymond Floyd's Pitching Tip

Here's a pitching tip from one of the best short gamers ever to play the game, Raymond Floyd. Do you have trouble hitting your pitch shots fat? Ray's solution may surprise you.



Instead of technical tips -- change your ball position, don't fall back on your trail foot, use the bounce on your club -- Raymond Floyd says your pitching swing is probably too short and your grip is too tight. Or, to put it in short sentences:
  • Tight short swings are fast swings.
  • Fast swings don't give you time to get a smooth change of direction.
  • If your change of direction isn't smooth, your swing rhythm will be off and you won't make accurate contact.
And then he likens the pitch swing to an underhand softball pitch -- same flow, same rhythm, same general feel.

The short game is all about feel. If you can't feel your swing properly, all the technical work in the world won't give you that wizardry around the greens that you're looking for. You can trust Raymond Floyd here; he's one of the best.

I'm not saying you should ignore ball position, proper weight shift or using the bounce. I'm just reminding you that it's never just about technique. You've got to learn to trust your feel if you want to get better... and that's especially true in the short game.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Hero World Challenge

Winner: Bubba Watson

Around the wider world of golf: Sergio Garcia won the inaugural Ho Tram Open on the Asian Tour; Marc Leishman won the Nedbank Golf Challenge, co-sanctioned by the Australasian Tour and ET; Nathan Holman won the Australian PGA Championship, also on the ET; Japan won The Queens, a new match play tournament between the LET, KLPGA, JLPGA and ALPG; Simin Feng was the medalist at LPGA Q-School; and Ryo Ishikawa won the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup on the Japan Golf Tour.

Bubba with his caddie and pink driver

He didn't even plan to play because he didn't have a passport for new daughter Dakota. I guess it's a good thing his wife Angie didn't accept that as an answer.

For somebody who said early in the week that the Albany Golf Club course didn't fit his eye, Bubba certainly had no problem finding the hole. And finding the hole again. And again. And yet again. Rinse and repeat. There's a clear pattern here.

Bubba, my friend, PLEASE listen to me: Perhaps you should stop thinking so much. If this course didn't fit your eye, and yet you stomped 17 of the best players in the world, perhaps it isn't important whether the course fits your eye or not.

After all, you didn't make a single bogey all weekend until the final hole. You went all Godzilla on your buddies and stomped the field like it was a model of Tokyo. S-T-O-M-P-E-D, as in left little greasy spots where PGA pros once stood.

There's no other way to put it. You were AWESOME. On a course that didn't fit your eye.

Perhaps you should just go out and play, without any expectations, then see how you did once the week ends. Maybe your initial impressions of the courses you play aren't particularly accurate. Perhaps you should give these courses a chance before you decide they aren't your cup of tea. Or grilled cheese sandwich, if you prefer.

I'm just saying...

And in the meantime, you can print off a copy of your newest Limerick Summary, which I think fits my eye well enough for the both of us:
Throughout twenty-fifteen we’ve seldom
Seen one Bubba round quite so well done.
He chipped, drove and putted
And left the field gutted.
The Bubba Show’s done now. You’re welcome.
The photo came from the tournament wrap-up page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hitting High Soft Shots from the Rough

Today I have a short video from Golf Digest and Golf Magazine teacher James Sieckmann (he has his own golf academy as well). This video is on how to hit a high soft SPINNING shot from the rough... and Sieckmann says it works from the sand as well.



Sieckmann says the two keys are:
  • lower body stability
  • getting the speed from your arms and hands
Note that he's creating that lower body stability by bowing his legs a bit. That's not essential but it's a good way to learn how to turn your shoulders without excess leg movement. In swings this short, you don't need much lower body movement to create speed at impact. Also note that his knees DO move, but that's it -- they move, they don't drive. That's a key difference between proper use and overuse of the legs.

That second key is a classic swing technique -- most good short game players use classic technique in the short game because it makes it easier to get feel and control. Note that Sieckmann emphasizes that you have to start your downswing SLOWLY; speed happens late in the swing and is greatest JUST AFTER you've hit the ball. Also, as long as your shoulders continue to turn into your finish, you won't flip the clubhead with your forearms.

Creating clubhead speed in a short game swing should NOT take a lot of effort. If you're grunting when you hit a pitch shot, you're just trying way too hard!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Gerina Piller VS Hank Haney on Layup Shots

A few weeks back I did a post where I mentioned 4 shots Hank Haney says are no longer good choices. One of those shots was laying up to a favorite distance. Here's what Haney said in his Golf Digest article:
Laying up to a favorite distance is a myth that has probably come from selectively watching professional golf on television. You might see a tour player lay up on a par 5 to a preferred wedge distance, but 99 percent of the time if the pros have the opportunity to get near the green safely, they'll bomb it down there. Plus, stats don't lie. At every distance the PGA Tour measures, players hit it closer to the hole on average when they're closer to the target. I don't care how much you love having 7-iron into the green: Over the long term, you're going to shoot better scores if you try to cover as much distance as possible. It's always better to have a wedge in your hand than a longer iron. The only exceptions? When the longer shot puts you at risk of going into a hazard or deep grass, or leaves you with an awkward sidehill or downhill lie.
Personally I agree with Haney. I like to get the ball as close as possible to the green because I prefer chips and pitches to full shots when I want accuracy. But I also I have a problem with his statement that "stats don't lie." People love to say that numbers don't lie (and stats are numbers, after all) and I guess that's true enough... but numbers don't mean anything until they're interpreted, and interpretations lie all the time! I'm always cautious when I hear numbers treated like they're irrefutable.

In my post I said there are always exceptions to the rule. Today I thought I'd give you the other side of that argument, courtesy of Gerina Piller who certainly knows a thing or two about hitting it close to the green.



At first it may sound as if Gerina is agreeing with Haney. After all, he says "When the longer shot puts you at risk of going into a hazard or deep grass, or leaves you with an awkward sidehill or downhill lie" are the only exceptions.

But Gerina isn't saying that this shot will put her in an awkward lie. Rather, she's ALREADY in an awkward lie! It doesn't fit the shot shape she needs to play, and it's a downhill lie which makes hitting the longer club awkward. She's laying up with her second shot on a par5, not with her drive. It's her drive that's forcing her to lay up. If she tries to hit the long club here, she says the outcome will probably be bad. So she's laying up to a specific distance instead of just trying to get as close to the green as she can.

I'd go even a little further. There are good reasons for laying up off the tee. Perhaps you need to take a shorter club to avoid trouble that's in play with the longer club. Perhaps you need to put the ball in a specific part of the fairway and you're not that accurate with a longer club. Perhaps you're just having trouble with your driver today -- even the pros have that problem from time to time, and they hit a shorter club.

But you should also consider this: I've often seen long hitters like Dustin Johnson hit over a 600-yard par5 in two, then walk off with a par or even bogey while the short knockers wedge it on in three and walk off with birdie. Some guys are brilliant with their wedges while others are better with short irons or mid-irons, and sometimes the shorter shot is just a harder shot. (You'll sometimes hear analysts say that a player has hit the ball too close to the green to get the spin they need, for example.) You have to play to your strengths, whether the numbers agree with you or not.

Most of the great players in the game have had swings that don't fit the mold of "correct" swings. That's because everybody's different and numbers don't take that into account. So let me repeat this again: If you want to play your best, you have to play to your strengths, whether the numbers agree with you or not.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Golf Digest's Recommendations for GPS Watches

BONUS LINK: I didn't feel it warranted a full post but here's the link for
Tiger's interview with Time Magazine's Lorne Rubenstein.

With Christmas coming, it seems that everybody is doing Christmas gift-giving guides. I looked at a few and felt that most of them were pretty bland.

But this guide from Golf Digest tries to make sense of the GPS watches that are available and I know that some of you are dying to get one. If you're one of those folks, these are the eight watches that they rated most highly in their testing.

GPS watches

Be forewarned: None of these watches cost less than $200, which makes them a bit rich for my wallet. And the guide only shows you a picture and tells you what makes that particular watch unique, but it gives you enough information to eliminate the ones that just won't get the job done for you. Make sure to do some extra research before you buy!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Skinny on LPGA Qualifying Stage 3

Tony Jesselli plans to keep his post on the final stage of LPGA Q-School (which you can read at this link) updated as each new round is finished, but I wanted to call it to your attention and bring you up-to-date on some of the questions you might have after the first round.

LPGA Q-School sign

LPGA Q-School takes place in Daytona Beach FL and takes 5 rounds, and the first round was finished yesterday (Wednesday). If you look over the leaderboard -- which you can find at this link at LPGA.com -- you can cruise down through the listing and see how some of your favorite players are doing.

For example, Cydney Clanton, who just happens to be from Concord NC (near Charlotte and a little over an hour from where I live), is currently in 4th place.

The top amateur is Lorena Ochoa's protege Gaby Lopez, who is currently in a tie for 5th.

Tiger's niece Cheyenne is T35 (-1), 6 strokes behind the leaders at -7. But bear in mind that there are only 4 players at -5 or better, so she's not that far back.

Even Holly Clyburn from the LET is only 7 shots back, despite being T60, so the field is really bunched up after the first round.

One other thing that may confuse some of you: Tony has a note that Stage 2 medallist Nelly Korda isn't qualified for the final stage. Here's the deal: Nelly isn't old enough to try and get an LPGA card yet so she petitioned the LPGA for permission to compete in only the first 2 stages. By going through the first 2 stages only -- and making it through in style, I might add -- she gains status on the Symetra Tour next year as an amateur.

You can get Nelly's full story in this Golfweek article, as well as in this Symetra Tour article.

And you can keep up with all kinds of daily news updates about the event over at symetratour.com. The leaderboard is a real mix of veterans, higher-profile players who are trying to improve their status, and Symetra Tour players trying to get to the big tour. It could be a very interesting week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tiger Talks Rehab

Well, we finally know the story behind Tiger's last few months of "golflessness" and Ryder Cup questions. If you missed GC's press coverage, you can check out one of the videos from GC (there is more than one on the site) or read one of the articles like this one from the Augusta Chronicle. I'll give you a quick summary.

Tiger in healthier days

For me, the real confusion came when Tiger announced after Wyndham that he was planning to play at the Frys.com, only to back out after having back surgery. All I could figure was that the surgery wasn't planned.

We now know it wasn't. Tiger was having some hip problems at Wyndham -- remember when he said he was walking awkwardly because he was "just getting old"? -- or at least he thought they were hip problems. When he left Greensboro he discovered it was the back again and he had to have TWO more surgeries, all on the same spot where he had the original surgery. It's pretty clear he came back too early.

As for the Ryder Cup vice-captaincy appointment, it's clear Tiger doesn't know when he'll get to play golf again so he's making sure he can still stay involved. He says he hasn't even begun rehab yet; the doctors won't let him. When a reporter asked him what he was doing, he simply said, "I walk." And when the reporter, clearly expecting more, added, "And...?" Tiger smiled and said, "I walk... and I walk some more." He can't even play with his kids. He said about all he can do is sit and play video games.

When he isn't walking. Despite the jokes, it sounds like he's doing a lot of walking since that's pretty much all he's allowed to do. And while lots of people underestimate it, bear in mind that walking is one of the best low-impact exercises you can do if you're trying to recover from almost anything.

Most of what you'll be hearing focuses on these assorted statements from Tiger, made at various points during the presser (I've taken them from the Augusta Chronicle piece). You can hear the frustration, and that's what has the commentators talking.
  • “The hardest part for me is there’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward. It’s just taking it literally day by day and week by week and time by time.”
  • “I have no answer for that [when he might play again or even start rehab], and neither does my surgeon or my physios. There is no timetable.”
  • “For nerves, there are really no timetables and therein lies the tricky part of it. … It just depends on how the nerve heals and how it settles.”
  • “So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know, so that’s been hard. I had to reset the clock each and every day and OK, here we go. This is a new day and this is taken for what it is. I listen to my surgeon. I listen to my physios and we just take it day by day. Hopefully, the day-by-day adds up to something positive here soon.”
  • “I’ve had a pretty good career for my 20s and 30s. For my 20 years out here, I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hoping that’s not it. I’m hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it.”
  • “If I can get to that [healthy enough to play soccer with his two children], then we can start talking about golf. But let me get to where I can pass the time and really be a part of my kids’ life in the way that I want to be part of it physically, not just as a cheerleader.
The comment about having had a pretty good career -- which was a considerably more detailed answer than is quoted here -- is what really seems to have gotten folks' attention. It appears Tiger is coming to grips with the idea that he might be human after all.

The fact that this is a nerve problem, coupled with the fact that he's not going to hurry things this time around, may actually be good news. There have been a number of athletes to come back from serious nerve problems -- two in particular come to mind.
  • Payton Manning, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, came back from four surgeries to repair nerves in his neck. He has set several records in the last three years, despite being 39 years old in a sport where you get hit by 300 lb players. (Granted, he's been struggling some this season but that's been because of some foot and rib injuries, not his neck.) Payton has experienced some lost power to his throwing arm, but it hasn't stopped him from leading his team to a winning record in all of his seasons since he came back.
  • And then there's Davis Love, who had a bone fused in his neck but is still playing with the young guys. He won Wyndham at age 51 this year, remember?
Of course, the big deal here is time. Tiger has always been able to work to a timeframe for recovery, which he can't this time. Helplessness is a terrible feeling, especially when you're used to overcoming every obstacle in your way. Some are questioning if Tiger is losing hope.

As someone who is having to deal with getting older and not being able to do everything I used to -- even though I can still do a lot more than some people expect -- I understand his frustration. But as long as Tiger gives his body enough time to heal, I suspect he'll eventually be able to play golf again. And I won't be surprised if he is still competitive on the PGA Tour, even if it takes two or three years for him to get back there. After all, as a golf geek myself, I know there is more than one way to swing a golf club effectively. Since Tiger is a golf geek as well and he wants to get back and compete with his friends, unless his body is a complete wreck he'll probably be able to do it.

But for now he's got video games, a Ryder Cup vice captaincy... and walking. A lot of walking.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Nancy Quarcelino on Long Arm Pitching

Nancy Quarcelino is one of Golf Magazine's Top100 teachers and I found this video teaching what she calls "long arm pitching." She says the technique will cut your handicap in half by making 40- to 60-yard pitch shots easier.

And in case you wonder why I'm posting this, it's because it fits right in with my last few posts about Cristie Kerr and Inbee Park's golf swings, which I nicknamed the Hammer Swing. This is a classic example of a way to use it in your short game.

Quarcelino demonstrates long arm pitching

Here's a simple summary of her instructions:
  • Setup: Very narrow stance, weight slightly forward, hands slightly ahead of the ball.
  • Keep your weight on your lead foot during the swing.
  • Keep your arms extended without adding much wrist cock. (Your wrists always cock a little because your trailing elbow bends. If you don't understand why, go back to the 3rd Hammer Swing post last week.)
  • Keep your arms extended all the way through to your finish. With a swing this short, you'll stay very centered and feel as if you pivot around your lead leg. (Actually, both legs do move but you'll feel it mostly in your lead leg because that's where your weight is.)
If you're having trouble hitting your pitches cleanly, this is one very simple way the Hammer Swing can help you improve.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Emirates Australian Open

Winner: Matt Jones

Around the wider world of golf: Charl Schwartzel became the first South African to win the same European Tour event four times at the Alfred Dunhill Championship; Jung-Gon Hwang won the Casio World Open on the Japan Golf Tour; Xi-Yu Lin successfully defended her title at the Sanya Ladies Open on the LAGT/LET; Haimeng Chao won the Nine Dragons Open on the PGA TOUR China; and Jiyai Shin won the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup (bangkokbobby has details).

Matt Jones with Stonehaven Cup

To paraphrase an old commercial, Matt Jones earned his title at the Emirates Australian Open the old-fashioned way...

He EARNED it. (You're supposed to really stretch out the word EARNED but I have no idea how to make that readable.)

After coming in to the final round at -10, with a 3-stroke lead over his closest competitor, he proceeded to post a bogey, a double AND a triple, all on the front nine.

That gave hope to some of the players who thought they were out of the tournament. It started when Rod Pampling went absolutely nuts, shooting a course-record 10-under 61 to post at -6. That got everybody's attention!

Then Adam Scott shot a 6-under 65 to post at -7 as Jones struggled just to get back to par.

At least playing partner and defending champion Jordan Spieth cooperated with his golf buddy. Spieth had to work just to post a par round himself -- although he did give himself an eagle putt on 18 to force a birdie from Jones if he wanted to make a playoff.

Alas, it was not to be. Jordan could only make birdie himself, posting a par round which put him at -7 as well.

But Matt Jones would not be denied. Despite all his problems he managed to birdie that final hole for a 2-over round... and a final score of -8. Oh yes, Matt earned it.

It's only Matt's second worldwide win -- he does have a PGA Tour win, the 2014 Shell Houston Open -- but this is by far his biggest, especially since it's his national Open. It got him a berth in next year's Open Championship and will likely vault him into the OWGR Top50, which should get him into the other majors. But bear in mind that this event launched its last two winners -- Rory McIlroy in 2013 and Jordan last year -- into years that were mind-numbing in their dominance. Could it do the same for Matt Jones?

I don't know, but it's gotten him one of the last Limerick Summaries of 2015. Those are rare at this point!
Down under, Jones came out on top.
He beat Spieth and Pampling and Scott
With a four at the end.
Spieth had hoped to extend
The match just one more hole. (He could not.)
The photo came from this tournament summary page at pga.org.au.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cristie and Inbee's Swings... The Physical Side 2

Before I go on to today's topic -- the downcock at the top of Cristie and Inbee's swings -- I want to add a bit more to what I wrote yesterday. It may help some of you catch on to this quicker.

While the movements I wrote about yesterday are actually very natural movements, some of you may have run into the problem that Bobby Jones observed (and that I wrote about in this post) -- namely, that you may have unintentionally interfered with your natural movements while trying to learn the game, and now the natural movements don't feel so natural anymore. Learning to get out of your own way again can be frustrating.

Unlike a lot of modern swings which are based on angles and positions, this Hammer Swing is based more on feel and movement. (Again, that's why some TV commentators have trouble understanding how it works.) You really don't have to learn any positions -- but if you're looking for one, the closest I've been able to come is shown in this photo, which I put in yesterday's post:

Cristie and Inbee entering the impact zone

The important "position," if you can call it that, is the relationship of your hands and trailing elbow as you enter the hitting zone, which I wrote about at length yesterday. This is what happens during the move that helps you keep your wrist cock long enough to create a lot of clubhead speed at impact.

The irony here is that it's the same position you get into during a short game shot. It's just that you aren't swinging fast during your short game! And since you aren't swinging so fast, it's easier for you to be relaxed. If you're having trouble, it's tightness that's giving you fits -- you're too tight during your full swing.

So, for those of you who found that getting into this position was a little awkward when you made a full swing, try practicing it with a pitch shot. Just swing from waist high to waist high at a comfortable speed. As you start down, your trail elbow will be separated just a little from your side, then you'll just let it drop into the "position" in the above photo and keep swinging through to waist high for your finish.

Once you feel comfortable with that, lengthen the swing to shoulder height, keeping that relaxed feeling. Gradually speed up the swing while staying relaxed until you can swing quickly and smoothly. And then, when you're comfortable with that, stretch it out to a full swing and go through the same routine. It's just a matter of learning to swing relaxed rather than tight. You aren't lifting weights here, so you don't have to create "grunt" power.

NOW let's talk about the downcocking move. Please understand that this is a very personal move -- your natural tendencies play a huge part in how you do it. You don't just say "I want to make this move the way Inbee does" because her move may not be the way you instinctively do it. As a result, my instructions may sound a bit... well, sketchy. But there's more than enough here to help you find the way you do it best.

So let's get on with it.

I don't know if you've been watching the Australian Open but if you have, you might have seen long hitter Lincoln Tighe use this downcock move during Saturday's round. He had a very restricted backswing -- no longer than the photo position Cristie and Inbee are in at the start of this post -- and he used a version of the downcock to create more clubhead speed. (And he used it very effectively too!) This is a very versatile technique once you understand it.

The downcocking move can be fast or slow, long or short, with or without a pause, in any length backswing. It's this versatility that makes it hard for some players to understand. Way back when I started this blog I did a post showing the basics of the move using a flyswatter. I'm going to use that diagram again -- I'll put it just below this paragraph so you don't have to keep going back to the old post -- to help me explain how you use it and how the variations look.

Flyswatter diagram

In this diagram I showed a large downcock, as evidenced by the flyswatter "shaft" getting nearly parallel to the ground in Figure 3, because it was both easier to illustrate and more common when using a flyswatter. But regardless of how big or small the downcock is, there are two things that always happen:
  • The hand moves slightly in the direction the backswing was moving. That's the cock.
  • The elbow moves slightly downward just after the hand starts moving. That's the down.
The combination of these two moves creates a slight downward arc that moves in the direction of the backswing and lets the club continue to cock the wrist as the arm starts the downswing. That's what happens between Figures 3 and 4, as you can see by comparing the positions of those two images in Figure 4. Simple, eh?

Obviously it's a bit more complicated in a golf swing because both hands are holding the flyswatt--uh, I mean the club, and the lead elbow isn't bent. Otherwise we wouldn't need to talk about it -- it wouldn't be any different than swinging a tennis racket. But even when we take both hands and arms into account, it's really not as different as you might think. Why?

Because, as Inbee demonstrates, neither the cock nor the down has to be very large at all. The arms and hands work as a unit, and the moves may feel more like a flexing than a bending:
  • The wrist cock may be no bigger than a wiggle.
  • Your straight lead elbow doesn't have to bend; it only needs to give a little as you start down.
  • And while you may think a pause would happen before the downcock, it may actually happen briefly BETWEEN the cock and the down.
Because a swing like this is mostly a matter of feel and movement, there are no set positions to hit at certain points of the swing. You'll have to experiment to find out what works best for you, but here are some general guidelines that will help:
  • The bigger you make the wrist cock, the slower it will be. Likewise, small wrist cocks tend to be fast wrist motions.
  • It works exactly the opposite with the elbow drop. A big drop is usually a faster drop, a small drop generally happens slower.
  • Small wrist cocks generally work best with big drops, while big wrist cocks tend to work best with small drops. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but think about it for a minute. A small wrist cock would be lost too quickly if you dropped your hands slowly. And a big cock/big drop combo would probably throw you off-plane and off-balance.
  • Likewise, if your downcock move includes a brief pause, the pause is most likely to come IN-BETWEEN the cock and the down if you use a large wrist cock. The larger your wrist cock, the more time you'll need to "gather yourself at the top" and make a smooth change of direction. Small wrist cocks may not include a pause at all but, if they do, the pause will most likely come BEFORE the initial cocking action.
Remember, these are only guidelines to help you find your way more quickly. You may discover that your swing works better with that big cock/big drop combo. If so, go for it. Just make sure you try the more likely combos first. It may save you some time and frustration.

And remember that you can go back to the original post and watch both Cristie and Inbee's swings -- and find videos of Stricker's swing as well -- if you need to see the swing in action to get a feel for the rhythm. Each player uses a slightly different method for the downcock, so you'll get to see a variety.

An important thing to remember is that the length of your golf swing doesn't determine what your downcocking move looks like. Take mine for instance. No matter how long or short my swing is on any particular day, and no matter how flexible I may be when making my shoulder turn, I ALWAYS end up using a big slow downcocking motion. That's what's natural to me. If I try to make a short quick one like Inbee, it feels wrong and I simply can't make it work consistently.

The idea here is to make your swing feel as natural and easy to repeat as possible. And if for some reason you can't find a downcocking move that works for you, just stick with the regular Hammer Swing. Once you start hitting that ball consistently on the sweet spot, which that swing will help you do, you'll get more distance from your swing than you might expect.

And that should be enough to get you all going. If you have specific questions, just post them in the comments below or send me an email. I'll try to give you a helpful answer.

Just remember: this is YOUR swing. Take ownership of it and it will serve you well.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cristie and Inbee's Swings... The Physical Side 1

So far I've done a post about Cristie Kerr and Inbee Park's swings, which I've decided to nickname the Hammer Swing because it uses movements that are similar to driving a nail with a hammer.

Inbee at top of swing

I've also done a post about the mindset you need to use this swing effectively.

Today we get down to the physical act of making the Hammer Swing.

I'm dividing the instruction about the physical side of the swing into two parts. Today I'll give you the basic swing -- which, btw, you can team up with the material in my Accurate Iron Play Quick Guide to become much more accurate with your distance control on your approach shots. Tomorrow I'll cover the "extra" wrist move because there's more than one way to do it and, if you know your options, you can choose the one that works best for you.

Inbee's swing probably amazes most of you as much as it does GC's Tripp Isenhour, who frequently remarks that he simply doesn't see where she creates her clubhead speed. That's because we don't recognize all the angles that are created during a golf swing. After all, we cock our wrists, we bend our trailing elbow, we twist our shoulders, we drive our legs, etc. -- and we don't understand the cumulative effect.

Clubhead speed is NOT created by wrist cock alone. Let me give you a better appreciation for just how much you're doing without even trying. Here's Inbee at setup. When she actually hits the ball, the club shaft will be in line with her lead arm. I've added a white line to demonstrate how much wrist cock she gets just by setting up.

Inbee at setup

As you can see, she already has some wrist cock to start her backswing. Everybody gets some wrist cock at the start. It's natural and automatic.

You also get a lot of "cock" from bending your trailing elbow. If Inbee were to do that in her setup position -- without turning her shoulders, which adds speed in its own way -- the shaft of her club would point somewhere between straight up and back over her shoulder. That's important because your trailing elbow doesn't straighten out until just before impact, which gives it a major effect on how much effective wrist cock you have in the impact zone. We'll come back to that in a moment.

Your shoulder turn and natural leg movements also create clubhead speed. That can be hard to visualize, so just be aware of it. You'll also note that Cristie and Inbee have very upright swing planes -- Inbee's is extremely upright -- but that helps them create more speed as it's easier to use gravity that way. My point is that you have plenty of natural "wrist cock" in your swing to begin with.

Bear in mind that we want to stay as relaxed as we can when we swing. Relaxed muscles can move more quickly -- that's something any martial artist or track and field athlete can tell you -- and ultimately we're interested in creating speed here, not the "grunt" effort we equate with power.

Which brings us to acceleration. Most of you think acceleration means starting your downswing by jerking the club up-to-speed as quickly as possible. But think about this for a moment. Let's say you manage to create your maximum swing speed with that move (and without jerking the club off-plane). If you're already at max speed, how can you accelerate during your downswing? All you can do is slow down.

To accelerate the clubhead, you have to start down slowly -- which helps keep you on-plane -- and speed up as you get closer to the ball. To do that, you have to maintain that natural wrist cock as long as possible. How do you do that?

By keeping your trailing elbow bent as long as possible. Here's another quote from the Jeff Flagg article I mentioned in the last post:
WHAT AM I THINKING ABOUT WHEN I SWING? My only real thought is, Right hand and arm drive the swing. That's it. I'm literally trying to make a sidearm throwing motion—like a 3-6-3 double play in baseball. If more golfers swung with the same motion, as if they were skipping stones, they'd pound the ball.
Since Flagg is a rightie, his right arm is his trailing arm. And this is his key thought for developing speed. Why?

If you take your setup position -- with both arms straight -- and then bend your trailing elbow while keeping your lead arm straight, your wrists will cock. Straighten your trailing elbow and your wrists will uncock. Your wrist cock is controlled by the bend in your trailing elbow.

So if you want to create more clubhead speed, you need to keep your trailing elbow bent until you reach the impact zone. And you need to use your hands and arms in order to do that.

Here, take a look at Cristie and Inbee at impact, taken from the videos in my original post. Cristie's elbow doesn't look quite as bent but that's because it's bent more toward the camera while Inbee's is bent more toward the target. Everything about Inbee's swing seems a bit unusual, doesn't it?

Cristie and Inbee at impact

To create this move, your trailing elbow has to move slightly in front of your chest during your downswing. If you have trouble, I bet it's because you're trying to keep your elbow ahead of your trailing hand. DON'T! Look at both Cristie and Inbee -- their trailing hands are AHEAD of their elbows! Practice moving your hand and elbow together, so that if you stand in front of a mirror it looks like your hand is on a straight line between the mirror and your elbow. Here's another pic of Cristie and Inbee during the downswing, just as their shoulders turn square to the ball. See how their hands are even with their trailing elbows?

Cristie and Inbee entering the impact zone

Just to make sure you understand where their trailing elbows are in relation to their bodies... From this photo angle their elbows look like they're laying against their bodies, but those elbows are actually extended toward the camera. You could see that from a down-the-line view; it's not that different from their setup positions.

The easiest way to practice this is to get your arms up to the top of your backswing -- lead arm straight, trail arm bent -- and practice swinging your hands down to waist high without altering their positions. That includes keeping your elbows the same distance apart as they swing down. Don't turn your shoulders when you first try this! It will feel as if you're swinging your hands in a diagonal line from above your trail shoulder to your belly button -- almost like a slashing move with a sword. When you actually swing a club and your whole body is turning, this move will look like an arc.

One other thing to notice here. See how the upper part of Cristie and Inbee's leading arms are pressed against the side of their chests? This is connection, and Hogan wasn't the first to teach it; I've found it taught in a Harry Vardon book from 1907. You don't twist your forearms to square the club; you roll your lead shoulder. Here's how to learn what that feels like:
Stand up and straighten your lead arm against your side like you're standing at attention. Then bend your lead elbow 90° so your forearm points straight ahead of you. Now, while you keep your upper arm against the side of your chest, make a sweeping motion with your lead forearm back and forth across your chest from left to right to left to right -- you know, like you're backhanding something.
Once you get used to that, straighten your lead arm again and make the same motion but with your hand swinging up and down as your upper body turns "away from and then toward the target." Your upper arm "rolls" up your chest on your backswing, then "rolls" down your chest during your downswing and separates during your finish. (That rolling motion helps square the clubface during your downswing.) This is how your shoulder should feel as you swing the club through the impact zone.
It's much simpler to do than to explain. Combine that diagonal arm move with the shoulder roll and do them together as you make your shoulder coil; the result should feel pretty natural. The diagonal arm move won't "swing parallel" to your toe line until you combine it with the shoulder turn -- by itself, your hands will move out away from you at first, then in toward your lead hip as you near "impact." But if you get comfortable with the diagonal move first you'll find it's very easy to square your hands at the impact position when you add the shoulder turn.

And you'll wonder why it seems so much easier this way, so I'll tell you. Because you haven't added any wrist cock besides what happens naturally, squaring the back of your lead hand at impact also happens more naturally.

Because you're using your arms so much, you can use shafts that are a little softer. Exactly how much softer depends on how strong you are, of course, but back before Hogan became "the guy," most folks turned to a book called How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time by the legendary Tommy Armour, aka the Silver Scot. (He taught Babe Didrikson Zaharias, among others.) And one of the things that Armour advised his students was to get shafts that were a bit softer than they thought they needed because it would help their feel and rhythm. You can certainly play with stiffer shafts, but that's worth knowing.

Okay, there's plenty more I could write -- maybe I'll do a Quick Guide about it -- but this should be enough to get you started. This is a very natural way to swing, once you learn to trust your feel, and you'll find that the correct way for you is generally the way that feels best.

Tomorrow I'll teach you some of the ways you can add that little "downcock" move that adds some extra zing to your shots.