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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Charlie King on Relaxing into Your Drives

If you follow this blog, you know I'm a big believer in staying relaxed when you swing. Here's another way to approach it, this one courtesy of Golf Channel Academy Lead Coach Charlie King:



Any martial artist worth his black belt will tell you that relaxed muscles can move oh so much faster than stiff ones. (Good martial arts instructors teach their students not to tense their muscles until an instant before impact, in order to properly convert that speed into a powerful strike.) Charlie's image of a rag doll swinging a club is a good one to help you reach that ideal.

And like a good martial artist, you'll want to tighten your grip a bit at impact. Most people do that instinctively.

Let me answer a question that I suspect many of you -- especially Hogan devotees, but anyone who tries to maintain connection during their swing (and yes, I am in that second group) -- are probably wondering about. How do you maintain connection during your swing if you're trying to stay relaxed?

Simply put, it's just a matter of practice. Martial artists practice tightening some muscles while loosening others; it just takes a little time. You can do the same thing with simple exercises like holding your club and keeping your grip tight while trying to consciously trying to relax your shoulders and arms. That's a drill you can do while sitting in a chair and watching TV. It won't take as long as you think.

Then just try swinging the club with your grip, arms and shoulders relaxed while maintaining connection between your upper arms and chest. Start with half swings and gradually stretch them out to three-quarter swings. (The arms and chest always separate slightly at the top, then reconnect onthe way down. That's just basic Hogan.) Don't worry about hitting balls; you're just trying to get used to controlling the tension during your swing.

Again, it's just a matter of practice and it will come more quickly than you expect.

Before long, you'll be able to take it out to the course and hit drivers; you'll probably gain some distance in the process. And if you practice that hand tightening - shoulder relaxing drill enough, you'll get where you can do it with irons and wedges as well. When you do, your touch around the greens will improve tremendously.

And that's when golf gets to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Joel Beall Tries to Put Jordan's Year in Perspective

Since we'll be talking about what Jordan has done this year for quite a while, I thought I'd post this link to Joel Beall's Golf Digest post about what Jordan accomplished. It's not long but it does a good job of summarizing some of the most important things he did, as well as offer his opinion on who we should be comparing him with.

Jordan at THE TOUR Championship

There is also some interesting trivia in the post. For example, did you know that Jordan averaged over $3600 per shot? (Considering how long some of his putts were, they probably should have been worth more.)

As Beall sums it up in his post,
Spieth had the type of season -- highlighted by wins at the Masters and U.S. Open -- that constitutes a good career.
Again, it's a short post but it's an interesting place to begin. And as I said yesterday, I'll be taking my own shot at putting Jordan's year in perspective later this week. (I doubt my shot will be worth $3600 although I can wish...)

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 TOUR Championship

Winner: Jordan Spieth

Around the wider world of golf: Andrew Loupe won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship on the Web.com Tour; Esteban Toledo won the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach on the Champions Tour; Alex Rocha won the Aberto do Brasil on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Bryden Macpherson won the Cadillac Championship on the PGA TOUR China; Céline Herbin won the Lacoste Ladies Open de France on the LET; Jackie Stoelting won the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout on the Symetra Tour; K.T. Kim won the Asia-Pacific Open Mitsubishi Diamond Cup on the Asian Tour; Thongchai Jaidee won the Porsche European Open on the ET; and Junko Omote won the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Women’s Open (bangkokbobby has details). 

Jordan Spieth with both trophies

What can I say? Jordan did it again, and in his familiar unbelievable fashion.

He only shot a -1 round on Sunday, but it was enough. The guys close enough to challenge, like Henrik Stenson, couldn't get it done; and the guys who put together a run were ultimately too far back to really make a challenge.

Perhaps I can try to put Jordan's season in perspective in a later post, but I can sum up the season pretty simply:
  • 7 worldwide wins (don't forget the Australian Open and Hero World Challenge -- they were wins, whether they were official or not)
  • 2 majors -- the Masters and the US Open
  • Top4s in all four majors
  • Youngest to win THE TOUR Championship and the FedExCup
  • Broke the single-season money record -- something over $12mil
  • Finishes the season as #1 in the OWGR
What more can I say? Just this: "Jordan, here's your latest Limerick Summary."
It’s official—he came out on top.
The debates about Jordan can stop.
Beat’em all, won the Cup,
Snapped the POY up…
And to World Number One he’ll soon hop.
The photo came from this page at progolfnow.com.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Spieth Strikes Back

Queue the symphony orchestra with the dramatic John Williams music...

Yes, it looks like the can't-miss kid who spent the last month struggling against some dark Jedi mind tricks has stepped up his game once again. But there's one final battle left to fight, and the outcome is still in doubt. Can the kid do the improbable and come through just once more?

I could compare the fairways of East Lake to those Death Star trenches they flew the X-wing fighters through in the movie, but I'll spare you that. However, I'm sure the cups aren't going to look near as large as that exhaust port the X-wings were trying to hit.

Jordan Spieth

Will this kid really prove to be the Chosen One, aka the Player of the Year? Yeah, probably. Jason Day knows he'll need to "Try not. Do. There is no try" if he wants to win it all today. In fact, he's got his hands full just trying to make up that 8-shot deficit and get back in the tournament.

Henrik Stenson -- who's big enough to be Darth Vader although he's got a much better sense of humor and breathes more quietly -- stumbled Saturday and will have to focus his formidable powers if he hopes to win it all again.

And Rickie Fowler -- who I picked as my favorite to win this week -- did an excellent job of positioning himself during the third round. But I have no idea what Star Wars character I could possibly compare him to, although after the little prank exchange with Danny Lee, I seriously considered Jar-Jar Binks. ("Meesah win the Cup, Master Anny. Meesah gonna be the champion!")

Anyway, you can check out the final round permutations for winning the FedExCup right here at this PGATOUR.com link. For some of the potential winners, like Paul Casey, it's gotten pretty complicated.

But it's all in Jordan's hands now and if he pulls it off... well, there's that big medal ceremony afterwards. I just hope they don't try to hang that FedExCup trophy around his neck. I don't care how well you command the Force, that's gonna throw your back out.

And the orchestra strikes up the music one more time...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Tale of Two South Africans

It's odd how two players can end up in such different circumstances, especially when those two players are friends and their games have been linked for so long.

Such is this week's change of fortune for two South Africans -- Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. Both burst onto the scene at around the same time. Both have won majors -- Louis won the 2010 Open Championship, Charl the 2011 Masters. But their careers seem to be out of phase lately.

Charl Schwartzel

This week, after struggling to find some consistency in his play, Charl has kicked it into gear at the Porsche European Open in Germany. And "kicked it into gear" is the right phrase, not just because Porsche is the title sponsor but because the leaderboard looks like the players are racing. The cut was -3, with a real jam of players at -3 and -4, while the three leaders are only at -10.

Charl is one of the leaders. Here's what he told ET commentator Jay Townsend after the round:

Ah yes, those putting problems. It seems like everybody has them, doesn't it?

Everybody except Louis. He's been putting lights-out this year, even posting consecutive runner-up finishes at the US Open and Open Championship this year, and looked to be on point for a good TOUR Championship... but he's started having physical problems again. PGATOUR.com talked to him about this turn of events.

Louis Oosthuizen

Tuesday Louis discovered a lump in his left wrist. It turned out to be something called a ganglion cyst, which isn't cancerous and hospital personnel near the East Lake course were able to drain it. He hoped that would solve the problem, and it did...

The wrist problem, that is. He had been having some hamstring problems in his right leg since Sunday, and during his first round Thursday it became bad enough that it started affecting his swing. After 13 holes he withdrew, perhaps hoping -- like Jim Furyk, who withdrew with right wrist pain last week -- that he can get well in time for the Presidents Cup in a couple of weeks.

It's good to see Charl scoring well again; it's been nearly two years since he last won a tournament and it would be nice to see him back in the winner's circle. And it's been good to see Louis back in contention, given the injuries he's faced sporadically over the last few years.

But it sure seems as if the South African duo just can't catch a break lately. Maybe Charl can change their luck with a win this week and some of it will rub off on Louis.

We can all hope.

Friday, September 25, 2015

An Unusual Drill to Improve Pitching from the Rough

This drill from Golf Digest Teaching Pro Josh Zander is one of the most unusual pitching drills I think I've ever seen. It's part of an article called Practice in the Rough, where Josh says practicing from the rough will really help your ball-striking.

The article itself focuses on maintaining connection and a grip that's firm enough to get solid contact. But this drill is just crazy! Basically you're using a 6-iron to hit a flop shot...


You'll recognize some of the techniques as those being used for certain sand shots -- opening the club face dramatically and lowering your hands much closer to the ground than usual. (Of course, this entails squatting down quite a bit as well.)

But it's the wrist action that will really get your attention. Josh wants you to "throw" the club head at impact, getting the club shaft in line with your trailing forearm. That puts your hands WA-A-A-AY behind the ball when the club head slides under the ball.

It looks very unorthodox but I can see how it would help you learn to control the club head better, to learn the difference between what it feels like when you want to use the leading edge of the sole versus the bounce. It should certainly improve your ability to play flop shots. This is the kind of shot Seve routinely practiced, and it certainly helped him become a real wizard around the greens.

And if nothing else, you can impress your friends with your newly-gained short game prowess.

And just a head's-up: I'll be traveling during the weekend so the Saturday and Sunday posts may show up a bit early or a bit late, especially on Facebook. But the posts WILL be posted, one way or the other.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at THE TOUR Championship

It feels a little weird picking five players this week since there are only 29 in the field. (Jim Furyk withdrew with wrist pain, you'll recall.) That means I'm picking 17% of the field, which is considerably more than normal!

The

Still, with a field this small and all the crazy permutations that are possible when the point totals get added up, almost anything could happen this week. So I'm going to pick five players but limit myself to ONLY ONE player from the Top5, and make my other picks from the rest of the field. That way I hope to get some of the randomness I would get from a normal-sized field.

Bear in mind that I'm only trying to pick the winner of THE TOUR Championship. I won't even try to sort out the points for the FedExCup itself. I'll leave that to Steve Sands.
  • For my Top5 player, I can't get away from Rickie Fowler. Rickie is coming off a win and a T4 in his last two Playoff events, and don't you think he's got something to prove with all that "Big Three" talk? THE TOUR Championship (and FedExCup since he's in the Top5) would be the perfect bow for a great season, even without a major.
  • Zach Johnson finished 21st last year but T7 the year before. After becoming the Champion Golfer of the Year at St. Andrews, I think he's more likely to play well than not.
  • Rory McIlroy has something to prove and, really, all he needs is for his putter to heat up a little. He's pretty well gotten the rust off his game.
  • Hideki Matsuyama has been trending very well since missing the cut in Greensboro. Last week's T7 at Conway Farms bodes well for a course like East Lake that demands accuracy.
  • And finally, my flier pick -- once again -- is Kevin Kisner. I can't help but feel that he's right on the verge of a win, despite his T41 last week.
I may regret not taking Jason Day as my Top5 pick this week. He's the hot player right now, so many feel he has to be the favorite. Still, I feel compelled to mention that Jason has yet to win two tournaments in consecutive weeks, and since he won last week he'll have to break that trend in order to win this one. I think that may be asking too much after the incredible run he's had.

And in case you wonder about the mathematical probabilities of each player in the field winning the $10mil prize, you can look up your favorite player in this article from PGATOUR.com and learn the sometimes long odds of success.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

But Suppose It's Jason's Breakout Year?

The debate has been gathering steam for a few weeks now: Is Jordan Spieth the unqualified Player of the Year, or does Jason Day have a chance to beat him out for the award?

Jordan Spieth and Jason Day

Each side is passionate in their beliefs but the argument seems to center around one idea: As a general rule, players who win two majors in one year have won the POY award. The argument is that choosing Day over Spieth is a travesty that violates some basic law of the universe. I've even heard it argued that, if Spieth doesn't get the award, future generations will look back at us and question our intelligence. (And yes, the arguer put it in almost those exact words.)
Just to be clear, as of today -- Wednesday, 23 September 2015 -- I don't think there's any question that Jordan Spieth IS the Player of the Year. BUT -- and this is important -- the vote isn't taken today. We need to ask ourselves... could there be anything more spectacular than Jordan winning two majors, complete with all the attendant records?
There are two big assumptions being made in this argument about Jordan over Jason that need to be questioned, so please stick with me for a few moments. I need to explain some things I've been considering lately so you can see where I'm coming from.

The first is simple: Is a major more important than anything else?

Before you immediately say "yes," stop and think a minute. Next year, an Olympic gold medal will be available. That medal hasn't been available for a century and it will be available only once every four years going forward -- at least, it will for as long as golf is in the Olympics this time around. Will a major, four of which are played each and every year, be worth more than that gold medal? (Or the silver medal, or even the bronze medal, which fall into the same category?)

I know you're tempted to argue that the Olympic medals aren't available this year, but it still matters. If there is something that will be more important than a major next year, how can you be so sure that a major is the be-all and end-all of golf now? Likewise, the World Golf Hall of Fame considers THE PLAYERS to be a suitable substitute for a major, no doubt based on the strength of field. (As I have argued before, THE PLAYERS has a stronger field than at least the Masters.) If THE PLAYERS carries the same weight as a major with the WGHoF, why should a major be the determining factor in POY debates?

And we do have the historical precedent of Tiger winning the POY in 2013 without any major at all, but on the strength of having won THE PLAYERS, a WGC and three other prominent events.

Which brings me to the second assumption, the one that I think prompted the "future generations" argument I mentioned earlier but which is less obvious because so many people simply assume it's true. I think everybody has decided that this is Jordan's "breakout year," the year that launched his superstar-to-be career, and that future generations will think we were blind not to recognize it if Jordan doesn't get the award.

But is this automatically Jordan's breakout year simply because he won two majors?

What if it's Jason's breakout year? I think this question isn't being considered seriously enough.
Okay, before I go any further, let me make this clear: My thoughts from this point on are based on the possibility of Jason winning THE TOUR Championship this week. If Jason doesn't win this week, I think Jordan should definitely get the POY Award. Are you with me so far? Good. Then let's proceed...
Let's make sure we've got all the pieces on the gameboard, if you know what I mean.

If Jason wins this week, he also wins the FedExCup. Among other records he would set, like becoming the first player to win three of the four Playoff events, he would also become the first player ever to win a major (in record-setting fashion btw), win the FedExCup and become #1 in the world ALL IN THE SAME YEAR. And he did this coming from behind Jordan -- bear in mind that, on July 11, Jordan was #2 in the world and Jason was #9. That's a lot of points to make up.

Likewise, let's give Jordan credit for the full wraparound season. While Jordan only has four PGA Tour wins in 2015, he also won the Emirates Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge -- and the latter is included on the PGA Tour's tournament list, even though it's not official money. That would mean both players have six worldwide wins during this season. (Again, remember that winning both the FedExCup and the Race to Dubai helped the players give the POY Award to Luke Donald in 2011. They do consider worldwide wins.)

If it matters, Jason would have six official PGA Tour wins and Jordan only four. However, the Australian Open and the Canadian Open (which Jason won) both began in 1904 and both are considered premium tournaments. This would give Jordan three premium events -- the Australian Open and two majors -- and Jason would have three as well, since THE TOUR Championship has always been a premium event on the PGA Tour.

Jordan did all of his winning before the Open Championship; his last win came at the John Deere. Jason's first win this season was in February so -- despite the illness -- his wins came over roughly the same period of time as Jordan's.

Bear in mind that Jason amassed this record while fighting vertigo. It's easy to forget that Jason was tied with Jordan on Saturday night at the US Open at -4 despite the vertigo, and could barely play on Sunday because of the treatment. He still shot a +4 round to finish T9. Otherwise the US Open might have had a different ending. (I'm not saying he gets credit for almost winning. I'm saying his year was seriously hampered by illness, which makes what he's accomplished even more impressive.)

Also bear in mind that, should Jason win THE TOUR Championship, he would have won three out of four of the Playoff events -- as I said, that's never been done -- while Jordan didn't even make the cut in two of them. And the fields in these events are the guys who played well enough to be fully-exempt in 2016... and all of them feel they have nothing to lose, so they're playing aggressively. Four weeks of the full Tour roster throwing everything they've got at him because they all want that $10mil.

Maybe -- just maybe -- 2015 will ultimately be remembered as the year Jason Day became the decade's dominant player.

Look, I'm not saying that Jason Day should win POY if he wins THE TOUR Championship. I'm just saying that, if he does win this week, maybe his year has been much better than we're willing to admit. If you pay attention to my Ruthless Golf World Rankings over there in the sidebar, you know that Jason's been #1 there for a few weeks. My rankings focus on only one year and give a lot of weight to recent form and wins. For me, one more win means Jason would give Jordan some serious competition in the POY race.

I'll be very interested to see if he can get that win and stir up the pot a little!

The photo came from this page at foxsports.com.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Some Final Thoughts on the Solheim Cup

Obviously, as an American I'm extremely pleased that the US team won the Solheim Cup on Sunday. But with all the controversy that surrounded it, I also have a few thoughts of my own.

2015 US Solheim Cup Team

First of all, it may surprise many of you that I don't really have a problem with Suzann using a little gamesmanship during the matches. While I personally wouldn't want to win using it, it's a valid technique that has been used for decades at the Ryder Cup and probably for centuries if you want to include all the informal matches that have been played since golf was invented. It's common practice in every sport.

I think there were two reasons that this instance caused so much controversy. The first is simply that Suzann wouldn't admit that's what she did. Regardless of your feelings about gamesmanship, you probably have a problem with dishonesty and, if you're ashamed to admit you play mind games, you probably shouldn't play them.

But the bigger problem is who became her target. Alison Lee made a rookie mistake, but that's the whole point. She WAS a rookie -- not just a Solheim Cup rookie, but she's in her rookie year as a pro. Bear in mind that she didn't even declare as a pro until after she successfully made it through Q-School last season, so she hasn't even been a pro for a full year. Using gamesmanship on a rookie like Alison simply comes across badly, and I suspect that's why it drew such harsh criticism from even European players like Laura Davies.

Credit Suzann for being the kind of woman who can honestly reflect on her actions and then ask for forgiveness. And she should get it too. We keep saying that we want our sport to teach values, and the ability to recognize that we're all human and that a sincere apology -- which Suzann issued Monday morning -- deserves to be accepted is definitely one of the values we want to pass on.

In case you missed it, Tripp Isenhour made a case on Golf Central that the official on the spot mishandled the whole affair and that The Decisions on the Rules of Golf would have allowed Alison's ball to be replaced and putted without penalty. Here's a link to the Monday Golf Central show if you'd like to hear what he said. The show began with the controversy and Tripp's explanation begins at around the 5:10 mark.

Of course, the whole situation pointed out a real danger of gamesmanship: The target may find new motivation in what he or she sees as a cheap trick and then lift his or her play as a result. Suzann may have won the point in that match, but the backlash likely caused the loss of several points in singles. If you saw the team huddle after it happened then you heard the team consoling Alison... and you heard Stacy Lewis tell the team to use it as motivation. If you're someone who likes to use gamemanship, that's a caveat you should take to heart.

Another thought: Juli Inkster was a Hall of Famer before, but she's going to be a legend now. Think about how Ben Crenshaw and Jose Maria Olazabal are regarded in Ryder Cup circles; Juli joins them as the only captains to coach their teams back from 6-10 deficits. The younger players already think she's amazing. Now, given her own record in Solheim Cup play, plus her seven majors and 30-something total wins, this is just going to raise her popularity to a level that borders on reverence.

Are there any US players whose careers may suddenly get a boost from this Solheim Cup? Gerina Piller and Lizette Salas are likely to get the "Solheim bump," coming through under pressure the way they did. Alison Lee might also, given how she rebounded from the controversy and won her singles match.But I wouldn't be surprised if Angela Stanford got a bump as well; she had the worst record coming in (3-11-3) but she's the one who took down Suzann by making two critical birdies on 15 and 16 after Suzann's run on 11, 13 & 14 squared the match.

Lexi Thompson was already playing well but her performance definitely gave her a new position as a leader on future teams. I don't know that it will have any immediate effect on her game but she should gain some confidence from this. And perhaps Stacy Lewis will look at her struggles in these matches and realize she's got to make some mental adjustments to her game -- I know she feels she needs pressure to perform but she's clearly putting more pressure on herself than is healthy. Her game is just too good for the results she's been getting lately.

As for the Euros, Karine Icher and Mel Reid should have taken some real encouragement from their play, and I think Anna Nordqvist and Carlota Ciganda are in the same situation as Lexi Thompson. I'm not sure how the losses Sunday will affect the rest of the team since they were so overwhelming that they may feel more like a blip in the road once the initial shock wears off.

Overall, a tight competition always helps an event like this. And after this incredible finish, the Solheim Cup should be a much bigger source of interest when 2017 rolls around.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 BMW Championship

Winner: Jason Day

Around the wider world of golf: After an insane round of singles play, the US team came back to win the Solheim Cup 14.5-13.5 on the LPGA; Rikard Karlberg won the 72° OPEN D’ITALIA on the ET; Chez Reavie won the Small Business Connection Championship on the Web.com Tour; Jason Millard won the Freedom 55 Financial Championship on the MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR Canada; Mitch Krywulycz won the Volvo Colombian Classic on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Vicky Hurst won the Garden City Charity Classic on the Symetra Tour; and Ha-Neul Kim won the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Jason and caddie Colin

Jason Day got himself a "twofer" on Sunday. He not only held on to the #1 spot in the FedExCup rankings, he also snagged the #1 in the OWGR -- a dream he's had for quite a while, and he becomes the youngest Australian ever to hold that position.

It was just another record he has set in his run to the top over the last three months or so. For example, he's now won four of his last six starts; in the last 20 years, only Tiger (10 times) and Vijay (in 2004) have pulled off that feat. And the BMW makes it five wins for him in 2015 -- not a record, of course, but more than anybody else on Tour has this year. I'll have more to say about such things in the next couple of days, since the debate over whether there's a real Player of the Year race now may have to be taken seriously.

In the meantime, it appears that Tiger was right to take Jason "under his wing" and try to help him get over the major hump. I don't believe "floodgates open" just because you get a win at a certain time in your development, but his RBC Canadian Open win certainly did something special for Jason. The term "torrid" comes to mind when I think about this performance streak. 
(With all apologies to Jordan Spieth, I think Jordan's own struggles after a prolonged stretch of high finishes proves that even the best players rack up wins in streaks. Even Tiger periodically had events where he didn't perform as well as usual. That's just part of being human.) 
At any rate, Jason Day has now won two of the three FedExCup events played thus far. Can he make it three out of four and take the FedExCup as well? We'll find out in another week... but in the meantime, here's yet another Limerick Summary to tickle Jason's fancy while he prepares for the last event:
The Man from Down Under’s on top!
He ran up the rankings non-stop
And he’s reached Number One—
Plus, his club-wielding son
Might win ten million bucks with old Pop!
The photo came from the tournament news page at PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Planning a Golf Outing or Charity Event

I'm not going to pretend that this post will appeal to most of you... but for those of you who need it, it could be a lifesaver.

Golf Digest has just posted a guide on how to organize and host a golf outing, be it just a fun event or a full-blown charity event. I knew such guides existed but I'd never seen one before, and this one breaks things down into small manageable steps.

Golf ball teed up in a pile of money

For example, you may not realize that most of the money for a charity event comes not from entrance fees but from sponsors. This guide tells you some of the basic ways to attract sponsors and how they create a cash stream for an event.

It gives you some tips on how many people you need to have on your event-running team and what sort of tasks they should do to make sure the event runs smoothly and successfully.

The guide even gives you some direction on how to choose a suitable golf course and a tournament format that will match the skill levels of your intended attendees.

Clearly a single article like this won't tell you everything you need to know in order to run a golf event like an experienced pro. But it will point you in the right direction and give you an overview of what you're getting yourself into. Just having a clear vision of what you'll be facing might make the difference between a successful event and a disaster.

By all means, choose to make your event successful and read this guide!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Some Stuff Happened Friday

A number of things happened Friday which I'd like to mention but none of which compels me to write a full post about them -- including a neat putting tip from Jason Day. So, just to make sure you're aware of them all, let me just give each a brief mention.

First off, the legendary Italian golfer Constantino Rocca played his final competitive round on Friday at the 72° OPEN D'ITALIA. (The ET puts it all in caps so I will too.) For American fans, Rocca is probably most famous for his duel with John Daly at the 1995 Open Championship. He retired on Friday at his home tournament. I think that's a pretty cool way to go out.

Constantino Rocca

We also learned that Tiger had another microdiscectomy on Wednesday to relieve some pressure one of his discs was putting on a nerve. The word is that it was completely successful, he'll make a full recovery and hopes to play again in early 2016.

This little bit of news explains the occasional awkwardness we saw between shots at the Wyndham -- you know, the ones he blamed on age. Given that he had already committed to the Frys.com tournament next month -- an appearance that he's had to cancel -- he really must have thought that was all it was. I just hope he doesn't try to come back too early, the way he did last time. Perhaps this was a side effect of that.

Although the first day of the Solheim Cup isn't officially finished as of this writing, I've seen enough to make me ask a question: Why are the US teams, both male and female, struggling so much at fourballs? Since that's basically how they play golf every time they tee it up -- they play their own ball, after all -- it doesn't make sense that fourballs would be such a problem...

Unless they're all just trying too hard and making bad course management decisions, the kind that they don't make during regular tour events. I'm beginning to think that may be the best explanation for their struggles. And, as with most things in golf, I think it's cyclical. The Euro players struggled with it until the late 1980s-early 1990s and now it's the US players turn. Like everything else, it will right itself in time.

In the "what do I know about golf?" department, Jason Day tied the all-time 36-hole PGA TOUR scoring record at the BMW... after I didn't make him a favorite and said that I didn't think the course fit his game. Of course, I didn't figure on so much rain making the rough a non-factor. (That still doesn't make sense to me but the scores bear that out.) I also didn't count on Jason being mentally sharp after expending so much emotion over the last couple of months. Apparently he's doing a better job of managing it than Jordan Spieth has.

Finally there's the putting tip from Jason Day I mentioned. I'm guessing you saw that bomb he dropped on the 18th green (after all the other bombs he's made this week). Well, Jason told GC that the key is simply that he was trying to make the putt instead of lagging it close. He said that sort of putt is such an unlikely make that he figures he might as well try to make it.

That sounds a lot like Jordan Spieth's "aim small" approach to his long game. It would appear that picking small targets is the way to go if you want to score better, folks.

And that's my wrap-up of interesting Friday trivia. Now let's see how the second day of the Solheim Cup goes...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Butch Harmon on Getting a Bigger Turn

Here's a quickie tip from Butch Harmon on how to get a bigger turn, courtesy of Golf Digest. I'll add a couple of thoughts after the video:



First of all, "right pocket back" is clearly a thought for right-handers. I'd amend it to say "trailing pocket back" since that's good for lefties as well.

And second, there's an added advantage to turning that trailing foot outward a bit. I know you keep hearing how it increases your ability to turn, and it does. But it also does something else -- it helps overcome a sway.

Forget golf for a moment and just think about how you keep your balance. If you start to lean a bit forward, you can stabilize yourself by merely putting a bit more pressure on the balls of your feet. It allows you to "push back" without a lot of tension in your legs and hips.

The exact same thing happens when you turn your trailing foot outward a bit at address. When you begin your turn away from the ball, you can stop a sway by simply pressing down with the ball of your trailing foot, and it works without having to tense your lower body -- especially your trailing hip -- so much.

Give it a try if you're fighting a sway. You might be surprised at how much it helps.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

So Who's Favored at the Solheim Cup?

The Solheim Cup begins tonight -- at least, it'll be night here in the US -- and so I thought I'd post a few of my own thoughts before things get underway.

European Solheim Team

As far as who will be the favorite this time, I'm not sure that's a simple question. I have trouble believing that any team trying for a three-peat isn't the favorite! But there are a number of factors at work this time and it just depends on how you look at them:
  • At last week's Evian, both teams had four players who failed to make the cut and each team has one prominent player struggling with her game -- Paula Creamer for the US and Caroline Hedwall for the Euros. The fact that Lexi Thompson and Alison Lee finished in the Top10 while a total of five Americans and only one Euro (Karine Icher) finished Top20 might seem to favor the US.
  • You always have to give an advantage to the "home team." Since the matches will be in Germany you have to give that one to the Euros.
  • There are heavy rains at the course and there's a possibility the first day will be rained out. How you interpret this depends on what you look at:
    • The rains will make an already long course play longer. Since the Americans have more power players, this would seem to favor the US.
    • But the Euro players are far more used to playing in messy conditions while dealing with rain gear and such. Chalk this one up for them.
  • There are no rookies on the Euro team so no one has to be "brought up to speed," as it were. This could favor the Euros.
  • Of course, there's only one rookie on the US team -- Alison Lee -- and she made the team while only having half the time to accrue points. Plus she's played on two successful Jr. Solheim Cup teams. She could have an invigorating effect on the team.
  • Then there's the culture difference. The Euro players grow up playing foursomes much more than their US counterparts, so that should favor the Euros.
  • The captains themselves are wild cards. Will the more reserved style of Euro captain Carin Koch or the super-relaxed style of US captain Juli Inkster be more effective? Likewise, Koch seems to be freewheeling with her pairings, saying that just about any of her players can play together, while Inkster has indicated that she's using a variation of the pod system adapted by successful Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger. Very different approaches!
  • And finally you have the pressure question. Who feels more pressure -- the Americans looking to break a string of losses or the Euros seeking a three-peat at home?
In the end I'm not sure there IS an answer. We'll just have to watch and see what happens.

The opening ceremonies are scheduled for GC today at 11am ET, while the first round of matches -- assuming they aren't rained out -- will be televised starting at 2am ET Friday morning. We're talking 10 hours of coverage on Friday if the rain doesn't mess things up! How cool is that?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Quick Look at Byron Nelson's Swing

Byron Nelson was the first golfer to figure out the key to what we call the modern swing -- that is, a swing that was capable of loading the stiffer steel shafts enough to let a player get some distance with the club. Nelson wasn't a particularly long hitter, he was better known for his accuracy. But the way he started his downswing -- which is the key to loading that steel shaft -- would be harnessed by long hitters like Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer with impressive results.

Here's an extremely slo-mo video of Nelson's swing. We're going to focus on the legwork here because it's different from the way Hogan did it (and considerably easier on the back) but it's a very effective way to get distance with accuracy.



First, note that Nelson sets up with more of his weight on his lead foot, even though he's hitting a driver here. I suspect this is why Nelson didn't hit it as far as other players. This setup makes him hit down on the ball, even off a tee. (As you've no doubt heard until you can repeat it in your sleep, you want to hit upward on the ball with a driver.)

When Nelson takes the club back, he moves behind the ball BUT his hips never move past the inside of his trail foot. This isn't a sway; his trail knee is well-braced as he makes his backswing.

But I also want you to note that his trail knee straightens quite a bit as he moves back. This is a move common to power hitters like Snead and Palmer. How does this create power? It's because it sets up his downswing move. And what is that downswing move? He keeps his trail knee relatively straight as he starts his downswing -- that's why the gap between his trail and lead knees seems to widen on the way down -- then lets the trail knee bend as his lead knee takes the force of his weight shift.

You may think that Hogan does the same thing, but he doesn't. Hogan shoves his lead hip forward so his upper body leans backward slightly. (At least, it's "slightly" if it's done correctly.) This also causes his lead knee to straighten dramatically.

By comparison, Nelson is moving his entire body forward so his upper body remains more upright. Yes, his hips move forward but he's not DRIVING them forward; it's more like he's FALLING toward the target and he lands on his lead foot. Because he's "landing" on his lead foot, the lead knee remains bent and his upper body doesn't tilt backward as much or as soon during his downswing. (That's part of the reason he, as well as other players using his technique, was more accurate and didn't stress his back as much.)

Many of you, when you try to use Hogan's move, do exactly the opposite of Nelson: You bend your trailing knee as you start back and then straighten it as you start your downswing. That's why a lot of you come over-the-top. Nelson's move is a bit more natural, helps you stay on plane, and also helps you hit down on the ball without trying to do anything special. After all, this move gets you moving down from the very start of your backswing!

Now if you decide to try this, you should know that at impact you CAN straighten your lead knee and push upward; Snead and Palmer made the same move as Nelson but pushed up at impact, and they both created a lot of power. There are plenty of Snead videos on YouTube that you can watch and learn the timing from.

But I can tell you this from experience: This downward move to start the downswing is much easier to repeat than Hogan's forward drive, and a lot of you may find it solves several of your swing problems all at once.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at the BMW

Ebb and flow. It's just the nature of things in life, and golf is no different.

And so it is, as we enter the penultimate FedExCup Playoff event, that I'm trying to base my choices more on the ebb and flow of human emotion and endurance. The Playoff events follow hard on the tails of a tough major season, and now we've had two high-pressure events and a week off. With this week's picks I'm guessing how that may affect the remaining players.

Players like defending champion Zach Johnson, who shocked everybody with a win at the Open and has had an up-and-down season on both sides of that victory. Does he have enough gas in the tank to make another run at the Conway Farms course? Read on to find out...

Sorry, I couldn't resist that. In fact, I'm not so sure he does. Even a grinder like Zach has to crash and burn eventually. I suspect he'll make it to East Lake but this may be a tough week for him.

Zach Johnson, defending champion at the BMW

As you probably already know, there is no cut at the BMW Championship this week. That, of course, is not a gimmick but simply the way things have worked out. We normally cut to 70 and ties for the weekend... but there are only 70 players in this week's event. There's no need for a midway cut!

But after four rounds the field will be cut by more than half since only 30 move on to East Lake. That pressure may have an outsized effect on the guys as they tee it up this week.
  • Jim Furyk shot a 59 last year when Zach won. I see a bit of an up-and-down pattern in his play this season, and I think he'll follow up his T4 at Deutsche Bank with a high finish this week.
  • Rickie Fowler is far more erratic than Furyk -- he either has a high finish or a lackluster one. I'm gambling on a high finish this week 'cause I think he's had just enough time (with that one week break) to get the adrenaline back under control so he can focus.
  • Yes, Jordan Spieth is back on my radar. (Ironically, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy aren't. I don't like this course for their games.) After a week hanging out at football games I suspect he'll be fresh and ready to go.
  • Henrik Stenson may seem like an oddball pick, given that I'm looking for players that haven't spent a lot of energy lately. (Rickie, for instance, missed the cut in round one, won round two, then had a week off.) But Henrik's bout with illness earlier in the year meant that he simply didn't have the energy to expend early on. I think he's still on the upswing after two runner-ups and I think his 3-wood play alone would be a good reason to pick him, although his record on this course isn't so hot.
  • My flier pick was a tough one because the two guys I like here -- Kevin Kisner and Russell Knox -- are both on upswings and have identical finishes in the last two events. In the end I decided to go with Kevin Kisner because I think he just needed a recharge from being in contention so often in the early months of the year.
So there you have it. I've gone all touchy-feely with these picks but I think Conway Farms lends itself to certain kinds of players. The favorites don't seem to play particularly well there, so I'm thinking Kisner may have a better-than-average chance to break through and get his first win this week.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Evian Championship

Winner: Lydia Ko

Around the wider world of golf: Thomas Pieters won the KLM Open (that's the Dutch Open) on the ET; Annie Park won the Prairie Band Casino & Resort Charity Classic on the Symetra Tour; Henrik Norlander won the Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour (with a 10-under 62!); C.T. Pan won the Cape Breton Celtic Classic on the Mackenzie Tour–PGA TOUR Canada; Ricardo Celia won the All You Need is Ecuador Open on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica; Eugene Wong won the Ping An Bank Open on the PGA TOUR China; and Teresa Lu won the Konica Minolta Cup on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Oh yeah, and the GB&I team won the Walker Cup 16.5 to 9.5. Don't want to forget that!

Lydia Ko with first major trophy

The Kobra strikes again -- this time, she put the bite on the field at a major. She did it by shooting a bogey-free final round of 8-under 63 when the best score all week had been 65. And at the tender age of 18 years, 4 months and 20 days she has become the youngest-ever major winner.

Yeah, I know they say Young Tom Morris was only 17 when he won the 1868 Open Championship. According to Wikipedia there were only a dozen players in that field and Young Tom won with three rounds of 51-54-49. (I'm reasonably sure that means they weren't playing 18-hole rounds.) For some reason I don't really see how that's more impressive. But in the interest of historical accuracy I guess I should say that Lydia's the youngest-ever female major winner.

At any rate this puts Lydia in a class of her own and, as Paige Mackenzie said on Golf Central, she will likely be the standard for generations of players to come. Let's ignore her amateur wins for the time being (although I'll mention that, among others, she won the 2012 US Women's Amateur). With the Evian she now has 13 professional wins (nine on the LPGA) -- four won as an amateur, with one of those being a successful title defense -- and one of them a major. She has a 3-0 record in pro playoffs -- yeah, Lydia's record is perfect there. She's also the youngest player, male or female, to become World #1.

I guess that means -- for the fields she plays against, anyway -- that seeing her name on a leaderboard will be as unsettling as seeing Jack's, Tiger's and Annika's were. What else can I say?

Probably nothing, so I'm not even going to try. Instead, I'm just going to give a Limerick Summary to the LPGA's newest major champion... and my condolences to the fields that have to face her going forward:
She made not one final round blunder;
Thus far, her career is a wonder.
When Lyd’s game is humming
And the field hears her coming,
Her footsteps must rumble like thunder!
The photo came from the photos page at LPGA.com, but you'll have to hunt to find it once the next tournament starts.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Problem with Wet Rough

Today's post is short but it's a subject that doesn't get talked about very much, even though it trips up even the best golfers. It affected several players at the Evian on Saturday but it was most noticeable with Minjee Lee and Morgan Pressel.

That problem is how unpredictable wet rough can be. Both Minjee and Morgan drove their balls in the rough on 18, then inexplicably tried to go for the green despite seeing a huge pond fronting it. As a result, both posted double-bogey 6s.

As Judy Rankin said during GC's broadcast, those are shots the girls could probably have made without a problem if the rough was dry. But a lot of rain got dumped on the course very quickly, much of it while they were playing, and those normally routine shots became dangerous risks.

What exactly happened? Even though both players are pretty strong -- and Morgan has a fairly upright swing plane that lets her dig the ball out of the rough better than most -- the extra water in that thick rough made it almost impossible to make good contact with the ball.

When rough is wet, the ball doesn't behave as you might normally expect:
  • In thick rough that's dry, you worry that the grass will wrap around the hosel of the club and flip it over. When that happens, the ball can duck-hook pretty quickly and will often travel farther than the player expected.
  • But in thick rough that's wet, the hosel may slide right through the grass (because wet grass clumps together) and leave the clubface open. Combine that with thick wet grass that gets between the ball and grooves and prevents the ball from spinning, and you end up with a knuckle ball -- a low-flying shot that shoots out like a push and drifts even farther away from you.
That's what happened to both women. The ball squirted out farther to the right than either expected, flying low without enough spin to keep the ball aloft in the damp air, and then plunged into the pond I mentioned.

And unlike Minjee, who was aiming at the pin and thought she could carry the water, Morgan was aiming AWAY from the pond. Her plan was to leave it short and to the left of the pond, opening up the green for an easier pitch shot. But the ball squirted out low and right anyway, curving into the water and leaving her a difficult pitch across the pond to a pin set close to the water.

The safest play when your ball is laying in thick wet rough is to pitch it out safely into the fairway, on the short grass where you can get a clean clubface on the ball... and that's true whether you're a weekend player or a Tour pro. Don't try to be a superhero and expect to play the shot as if the grass was dry. It just ain't gonna happen, no matter who you are.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Kinder Gentler Evian... NOT!

It's often said that US Open venues were toughened up after Johnny Miller shot a 63 at Oakmont during the 1973 US Open. What you may not realize is that 63 is the men's record at a major, not the women's record. Last year Hyo Joo Kim shot a first-round 61 at the newly-toughened up Evian course on her way to claiming the 2014 Evian Championship.

It appears that the Evian folks didn't care for that record.

Shanshan Feng at Evian

Although the course had been softened a bit by rain this week, players noted after the first round that some of the hole positions had been Sunday positions last year. Likewise, the rough is much thicker this year, the fairways seem a bit narrower and the already tricky greens are running fast, even though the course is playing shorter than it says on the scorecard.

It's certainly played havoc with the scores. (Bear in mind that par is 71.) While the lead after two rounds is -9 -- last year, the winning score after four rounds was only -11 -- players are definitely struggling with the layout. A total of 77 players made the cut at +5, but a number of big names -- including some Solheim players, all of which were there this week -- missed the cut badly:
  • Brittany Lincicome and Caroline Hedwall shot +6
  • Angela Stanford shot +7
  • Mel Reid, Caroline Masson and Brittany Lang shot +8
  • Paula Creamer shot +10
  • Azahara Muñoz shot +11
Inbee Park managed to post a 69 on Friday... but even she had to work for it. After a strong front side she made the turn with a bogey-double bogey, and things didn't get any better until late in the round. She's currently -1, T20.

You may be surprised to know that Michelle Wie is also at -1, T20. After playing poorly for a round-and-a-half she started finding her form again. That's sure to make US Captain Juli Inkster (who made the cut at +2, T37) happy.

In my Brooke Henderson watch, which you can find updated daily this week with the Rolex Rankings in the sidebar, you'll see that Brooke made the cut but lost ground Friday. She eagled the final hole to finish at +2, but she's got her work cut out for her if she hopes to qualify for the Asian Swing. Remember, she'll probably need a Top4 finish this week to do so.

As for the leaders, Morgan Pressel is at -8, only one shot off Mi Hyang Lee's lead, and those two will play together in today's round. As best as I can tell, Pressel's 65 on Friday is the low round of the week, though Lee shot 66-67 her first two rounds.

It will be interesting to see how things go this weekend. More rain is expected by Sunday and light winds (around 10mph) may make those dramatic elevation changes more difficult to gauge.

One thing that we can say for sure is that Evian's commercials aren't very truthful this week -- at least not where the players are concerned. After four days around this monster, I can assure you that they won't feel all that young.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Patrick Reed on Flagging Your Short Irons

Golf Digest has posted an article by Patrick Reed on how to hit your short irons close. There are two things he said which are closely related and I want to call your attention to them.

Patrick Reed short iron setup

First, Patrick says he tries to feel that his hands are "inside his chest" during his backswing, which is just another way of saying he tries to keep his hands "in front of him." In case you aren't familiar with those terms, let me give you an image that might help you understand.

Suppose you were standing between two parallel walls, and they're just far enough apart for you to stand between them with one shoulder touching each wall. That's a 'U' shape -- each wall is at a 90° angle to your shoulders, and your shoulders are the bottom of the 'U' just like this [_], with the open side of the 'U' facing the ball. Got it?

Then imagine that, as you make your backswing, the walls move with your shoulders so you always have that U-shaped wall-shoulder-wall unit turning together. At the top of your backswing, you make a 90° shoulder turn and the open side of the 'U' faces away from the target.

Now, what Patrick says is that he tries to feel as if his hands are always 'between the walls' during his backswing. At the top of his backswing his hands will actually be a little bit outside 'the walls,' but he's trying to keep them from getting too much outside. That would cause problems during his downswing because his legs are much stronger than his hands; if his hands fall too far behind during his downswing, he'll leave the clubface open (the common term is 'get stuck').
A quick word of explanation: I know some of you don't understand how this works. In a few words... if you keep your hands 'in front of you' then you tend to keep both arms reasonably straight for a longer time, which means you don't bend your trailing elbow as much. And if you don't bend that elbow as much, you don't twist your forearms as much, which means you don't open the clubface as much during your backswing.
Second -- and this is related to the first -- he tries to feel that he isn't rotating his forearms during his downswing. As Patrick puts it:
You also have to control clubface rotation. If you keep your arms in front of your body during the downswing, the face will square up, then close after impact.
If you've followed this blog for very long, you know I make a big deal of trying to feel that you don't rotate your forearms regardless of whether you're going back or coming down. That's because the bending and unbending of your elbows will automatically take care of the necessary "rotation" as you turn back and through.

This is a big deal to Patrick Reed, and you know how he can stripe it when he's swinging well. (And how he can hook it when he doesn't!) Many of you are having trouble squaring up the clubface because you're rotating the clubface much more than you think -- you open the clubface too much on the way back and then you have to work extra hard to close it on the way down. The only way to fix that problem is to stop opening the clubface so much during your backswing.

So take a lesson from Patrick and stop trying to open the clubface on the way back. Instead, let your natural body motion automatically rotate the clubface properly all the way through your swing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Web.com Tour Playoffs Begin Today

There is no more PGA Tour Q-School, there are Web.com Tour Playoffs. And this year they added a new wrinkle.

One thing that didn't change is that the season's money winner got a Golden Ticket -- a fully-exempt PGA Tour card. That man is Patton Kizzire (pictured below), who beat everybody else by around $200k or so. You can learn more about Patton at this link.

In the meantime, let me bring you up to speed on what's about to happen, just in case you are new to this.

Patton Kizzire, leading money winner on the Web.com Tour

Instead of the previous Q-School which basically meant you played six straight rounds and good luck to you, the Web.com Tour Playoffs give you 16 rounds in the form of four tournaments. (The first one, the Hotel Fitness Championship, starts today.) Instead of just trying to shoot the six lowest rounds you can and then hoping you shot low enough, now there's a week-by-week competition with monetary awards. At the end of the four tournaments, the top winners on that money list get Tour cards.

Unlike the previous system, one bad week doesn't necessarily kill you if you play well during the other three. In many ways it's a much better indication of how players will do on the Big Tour.

In this system, the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and numbers 126-200 from the PGA Tour -- that is, the first 75 guys to have missed the FedExCup Playoffs -- plus a few special exemptions will play in these four events. You can read that list here.

There are 50 cards up for grabs, 25 of which have already been awarded. They went to the top 25 players on the season-long Web.com Tour money list. Patton Kizzire got the best one, as already mentioned, but the other 24 guys are thrilled also. The twist this year is that those 25 players get to keep their money totals from the year, which will put them way ahead of the other players. But why not? They aren't going to lose their cards. All they're doing is jockeying for position -- that's right, the holder of card #25 can move up if he plays well!

Numbers 26-75 on the season-long Web.com Tour money list are guaranteed Web.com Tour cards, no matter what. But they and the 75 PGA Tour players will all be playing for the other 25 cards -- again, determined by being the top money winners during these Playoffs.

Then, the cards will be alternated -- that is, Patton will be #1, then the winner from the bigger group will be #2, then the next Web.com Tour card holder will be #3, then the next from the bigger group, etc. They'll alternate down to the final card. (I believe I've explained that correctly. Again, here's the Web.com Tour's explanation of how it works.)

So there you go. The final scramble for playing privileges on the PGA Tour begins today. The first round of the Hotel Fitness Championship will be on GC starting at 3pm ET. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at the Evian

The final women's major of the year is upon us. (That sounds ominous, doesn't it?) This time it's the Evian Championship, held at the Evian Golf Club in Evian-les-Bains, France, which has been an LPGA major for only two years. The two past champions are Suzann Pettersen (2013) and Hyo Joo Kim (2014).

Past champions Suzann Pettersen and Hyo Joo Kim

As usual, Tony Jesselli has done a preview of the event which you can read by clicking this link. If for no other reason, check it out for a complete schedule of the broadcast times. GC's coverage is split into two broadcasts each of the first two days, a single broadcast on Saturday, and another split between GC and NBC on Sunday.

Anyway, let's get down to business. You're curious about who I think might win this thing, right?
  • Of course, I'd be stupid to leave Inbee Park off this list. She has won 6 of the last 14 majors and 2 of 4 this year, including the most recent one. Yeah, I think she's gonna be a favorite this week.
  • Sei Young Kim has never played the Evian. I'll be very interested to see how she does, as she has been off-form since the KPMG but has a T3 and a T9 in her last two starts. She definitely has the game for this mountainous course.
  • So Yeon Ryu has been close most of the year but has had trouble closing out events. However, with four Top5s in her last 6 starts, her game is definitely right there. And although she had a DQ after one round last year, she had a T4 in 2013. I really like her chances this year.
  • I'm taking two fliers this week. My first is Alison Lee. She's the only rookie on the US Solheim Cup team... and she qualified on points in only half the time the rest of the team had! Add two T8s and a T5 in her last 4 events (a lot of good players like Alison got cut at the RICOH) and I think she may surprise a few people.
  • Finally, as my second flier I'm taking Brooke Henderson. As noted in the sidebar, Brooke will likely need a T4 this week to qualify for the Asian Swing events. But the young Canadian player has shown a real talent for rising to the occasion in big events, having posted two T5s in majors this year. Some of the analysts say this course fits Brooke's game; I guess we'll find out!
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I didn't pick Lydia Ko or Stacy Lewis, for example, mainly because I think they're trying too hard right now. I think the revamped Evian course is a bit too tricky for most of the power hitters at this point; they just haven't figured out where they need to throttle back yet. And while Karrie Webb may have something to prove after last year, I think she's a bit too far off-form right now.

Of course, I know I've been wrong before. My ability to choose badly is legendary! But as someone once said, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Surely I'll get one right eventually...

And just to make sure you don't miss the opener, GC's two broadcasts on Thursday start at 5am ET for three hours, then return at 9:30am ET for another three hours. I assume Morning Drive will fill in between the two.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Limerick Summary: 2015 Deutsche Bank Championship

Winner: Rickie Fowler

Around the wider world of golf: Lee Slattery won the M2M Russian Open on the ET; Nicole Broch Larsen won the Helsingborg Open on the LET; Caroline Westrup won the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge on the Symetra Tour; Christopher Ross won the Wildfire Invitational on the MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR Canada; and Bo-Mee Lee won the Golf 5 Ladies on the JLPGA (bangkokbobby has details).

Rickie Fowler with Deutsche Bank trophy

Wasn't it just a few months ago that some anonymous poll of pro golfers said that Rickie Fowler was overrated? Apparently pro golfers aren't as knowledgeable as we have been led to believe. (Remember that next time you're tempted to copy your favorite pro and change instructors, okay?)

I found myself really torn on Monday. You see, I'm as big a fan of Henrik Stenson as I am of Rickie. (Henrik has come back "from the depths" in much the same way Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker have, so I can't help but pull for him. And it's really good to see him finally back from that illness he had in April.) But Rickie has taken that poll personally and... well, I'm enjoying the way he's making his detractors look like idiots now.

This is three worldwide wins for Rickie this year, all big tournaments and all won in fairly spectacular fashion:
  • THE PLAYERS... well, they'll be talking about that finish for years.
  • The Scottish Open... drilling that driver on 18 and sticking that wedge when everybody wanted him to lay up was just impressive.
And now we add Deutsche Bank, where the spectacular aspect wasn't the finish quite so much as the final 36 holes. He went -4 on the front 9 Sunday, hitting every green without hitting a single fairway. He hit only four fairways total on Sunday, then snap-hooked it off the first tee Monday. But he managed to stay close to Henrik until the big Swede finally made a mistake... and then, somehow, Rickie found his driver and forced Henrik to step up or get beaten.

We all know what happened. Rickie Fowler may not be the most consistent player in the world but you sure don't want to face him down the stretch when he's got a chance to win.

Rickie's win vaulted him to #3 in the FedExCup rankings and #5 in the OWGR. (I take some solace for Henrik, since he still managed to snag the #4 spot in the FedExCup.) And, if I might be so bold, he takes the #1 spot in the "Don't Make Me Mad or I'll Kick Your Ass" rankings that have become so popular on Tour these days. For that reason, Rickie gets a special Limerick Summary suitable for a man starving to win:
Poor Rickie—he’s hungry to score:
“Got two this year. Still, I WANT MORE!
Let’s win Deutsche Bank,
Give my critics a spank,
And then make that Big Three a BIG FOUR!”
The photo came from this post at the tournament page at PGATOUR.com.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Blair O'Neal on Escaping from a Fried Egg Lie

Now that Blair O'Neal is co-hosting GC's School of Golf while Sara Brown is out on maternity leave, I guess we have to take her golf tips even more seriously, don't we?

Well, let's get started right now. Here's another of her Sexiest Shots in Golf videos, this one demonstrating how to get out of a plugged (also called a fried egg) lie in a bunker.



Your primary thought is to use the bounce of your sand wedge, not the leading edge. Sounds easy when she does it, doesn't it? Here are her keys:
  • Stand a bit further away from the ball
  • Lower your hands by squatting a bit more
  • On your backswing, hinge your wrists aggressively
  • On your downswing, make a descending blow through the ball
  • Finish aggressively (keep your swing speed up)
You're using the bounce by making a flatter swing, making sure the shaft is nearly vertical -- not leaning forward -- when you hit the sand, and swinging fast enough to move the sand as well as the ball.

Like I said, sounds easy when she does it. You probably just need a little practice.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Euros Begin Their Ryder Cup Race

At the time I'm writing this, the final round of the M2M Russian Open hasn't begun -- Lee Slattery has a two-stroke lead, in case you're interested -- but it will likely be underway by the time you read this post

13th Fairway at the Skolkovo Gofl Club

However, the M2M Russian Open isn't a huge event. It doesn't have an all-star field. It doesn't have a huge purse.

What it DOES have are the first Ryder Cup points to be awarded to European Tour players.

Now, here in America that may sound a bit strange. For example, Jordan Spieth already has 5,306.789 points (he's our leading points getter so far) after 8 events. Dustin Johnson is in second place with 2,396.366 points. I don't claim to understand why we have points calculated to three decimal points, but there it is. My point is that we've already been awarding Ryder Cup points for quite some time now.

Yet the European team -- which most Americans believe eat, drink and sleep Ryder Cup -- is only beginning to award points this week. And when you realize that several of the events coming up are Race to Dubai playoffs -- which means only certain European players will compete -- it becomes clear that the Europeans approach Ryder Cup qualifying much differently than we do in America.

Is there any evidence that one approach yields a better team than the other? Not necessarily. Although the Euro team has played better over the last few Ryder Cups, I think that's just a matter of the US team wanting it too much. But it does raise an interesting question: Do you get a better team by accruing points over a longer period or a shorter period?

And here's something else to consider.
  • The Ryder Cup European Points List only provides four of the participants. Another five come from the Ryder Cup World Points List, which is based on OWGR points gained globally, and the other three are Captain Darren Clarke's wild card picks.
  • The US Ryder Cup Points List is based totally on the PGA Tour Official Money List (one point for each $1000) with an early focus on the majors. Nine players come from that, and the other three from Captain Davis Love's picks.
Perhaps the US team might want to put more value on having team members who play around the world rather than just on the PGA Tour. Perhaps playing on a variety of course conditions in many countries might be better preparation for an international competition where half of the events are played in other countries on a variety of course conditions.

Especially since this plan of attack hasn't helped the US team very much, even when playing on our own turf.

And perhaps that's why the Euro team takes five of its members from the OWGR, which includes events played in other parts of the world where their own tour doesn't go, and only four members from events played on its own tour -- which is also why they can afford to accrue points over a shorter time and begin at a smaller venue like the M2M Russian Open.

I'm just saying...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Yes, Jordan Still Crawls

I knew that would get your attention... and yes, I mean Jordan works out with actual crawling movements.

Golf Digest posted this video on Friday. It features Jordan's fitness trainer Damon Goddard demonstrating three exercises that use crawling as a golf exercise.



The three exercises he demonstrates are:
  • Half Bear Crawl
  • Half Crab Reach (a rotation move)
  • Lateral Bear Crawl
These three movements focus on working the opposite sides of your body, which is how most human motion works. (This is Physics 101, folks -- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If the upper left side of your body moves forward, the lower right side also moves forward, and so on.) By working your body this way, they help increase your core and shoulder strength as well as your balance and coordination.

The key thing to remember is that your knees do NOT touch the floor.

I've seen much more elaborate methods of doing these exercises but this is the first time I've seen them done in a small area. But don't let the simplicity of these movements fool you. A useful side effect is that they'll also help your endurance -- trust me, these exercises are harder than they look.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My "5 to Watch" at Deutsche Bank

Yes, here we go again. The fields are slowly getting whittled down as we near the Tour Championship, and this week I only have 100 players to choose from. (Well, technically only 98 as neither Sergio nor new father Francesco Molinari will tee it up.)

Hole #1 at TPC Boston

At this point in the proceedings, anybody could conceivably win this week. Unlike The Barclays or BMW Championship (next week's event), the Deutsche Bank is played at the same venue each year -- TPC Boston -- which means almost everybody is familiar with the course. If a player has planned his strategy well and is on his game... well, these guys are good.

But because we have a history at this course, we can also see how players have done in the past -- "horses for courses," as it were. And that's where I'm going with my picks.
  • Jason Day is certainly on a hot streak lately, winning three of his last four events. And he also has a good streak going at TPC Boston -- he's never won but he had a T2 in 2010, a T3 in 2011 and a T7 last year. You have to think he'll play well this year.
  • Rory McIlroy is a similar story. The winner in 2012, he also finished T5 last year. Having just regained his #1 rankings, I suspect he'll be ready to roll.
  • Henrik Stenson finally seems to have gotten over the effects of his illness back in April. The 2013 winner holds a piece of the tournament scoring records for both aggregate and relative-to-par. This has been something of a lost season for him due to that illness and I think he'll draw on 2013 this week to try and redeem it.
  • Louis Oosthuizen hasn't played here much, largely because of his streaky play over the last few years. However, he was runner-up to Rory in 2012, and the winning score that year was just two strokes off Stenson's record. He's been in good form this year and I expect that to continue.
  • And my flier pick for the week is Paul Casey. Casey is 21 in the FedExCup rankings and has done everything but win this year. How, you may ask, is a player so high in the Cup rankings a flier? Because he has NO history at TPC Boston, at least as far back as 2007, that's why! I like his chances this week to make some history.
And yes, I can hear the shocked gasps all the way here in North Carolina. I have NOT chosen Jordan Spieth as a favorite this week. In my opinion, he's running a bit low on energy and will likely contend but not get over the hump and post a win.

Of course we'll have to wait until Monday to find out who gets it done this week, and I have no doubt the winner will have his work cut out for him. Perhaps that's why they finish on Labor Day!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jason Day on Hitting the Ball Higher

Golf Digest did a short article on how Jason Day hits the ball so high on his approach shots to the green. On the outside chance you don't know, there are two main ways to get the ball to stop quicker when it hits the green:
  • Put a lot of backspin on the ball
  • Hit the ball on a higher trajectory
The second one is actually easier for most of us because we don't have to be as strong to get results -- plus, too much backspin can be even harder to control than too little. By hitting the ball higher, it drops down onto the green at a steeper angle, without as much forward momentum, so it doesn't roll forward nearly as much.

Jason at setup to hit it higher

Jason's article, Shoot for the Sky, gives you a few useful tips on different ways to get a higher trajectory. I'm just choosing to mention one that you don't hear very often.
Picture your hands above the ball's position, not pushed forward, at impact. It can help to set the clubshaft in a vertical position at address—straight up and down. Good players often lean the shaft toward the target to compress iron shots. They can still hit it high because they've got a lot of clubhead speed, but most amateurs need to hit with the shaft more neutral to achieve a higher trajectory.
The beauty of this tip is that it's often just a matter of ball position and a bit of practice. You move the ball slightly forward so you catch it at the bottom of your swing arc, and you practice catching the ball at the bottom and not on the way up, which would result in a thin or "topped" shot. Also, please note that you probably won't take much of a divot (if any) when you do this; you're "picking" the ball off the ground.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bobby Jones on "Playing by Feel"

Periodically I browse through some of my golf books, especially the stuff that was written a long time ago. I'm afraid we're falling into an obsession with mechanics and numbers that blinds us to the simpler aspects of the game, and I re-read these old books with the hope that I won't lose these little gems of knowledge.

One of my favorites is Bobby Jones because he played back in the days of hickory and, although he wasn't adverse to a modern approach (check out my post about his views on using video to improve your swing to see what I mean -- they did have slo-mo film back then, you know), he approaches the game with a less technical view.

With all the debate over players like Tiger and Yani Tseng "losing their swings" -- and just this past week, with Jordan Spieth suddenly losing his while Jason Day has "found something" and now can't seem to miss -- I thought a Jones article called Maintaining the "Feel" from his book Bobby Jones on Golf was appropriate.

Apparently Jones had been asked how great players could inexplicably lose their ability to play when they had been so good before. He was asked, "Is it because he [the player] can't play while he is thinking about his swing?" That's what we hear teachers and analysts on TV say all the time, isn't it? Here are a few of the things Bobby Jones had to say about the matter:
    It seems to me that this question implies that the better player, or expert, is able to play golf without thinking of anything at all except where he wants the ball to go. I know a good many fine young chaps engaged in big-time competition who would be highly pleased if this were so.
    Unquestionably, there are times when first-class players can play the game subconsciously. But the average player should remember that the most accomplished golfer can lose the touch as suddenly and for as little apparent reason as anyone else, and that, although at times he can immediately discover and correct his fault, there are also times when he is entirely at a loss for a remedy.
    This does not mean that the expert does not know how he should swing the club. But golf is a difficult game to play consistently well because the correct swing is not a thing the human body can accomplish entirely naturally. To hit the ball correctly the golfer has always to be under restraint. I have always, in my own mind, likened this restraint to that under which a trotting or a pacing horse must labor in a race when he must hold to an artificial gait although every urge must be for him to run like blazes.
    So any golfer may for a while have the feel so that he may think he can go on playing in that way easily and naturally; but the trouble is that the moment some mental implulse or physical necessity suggests to one of his muscles that it do something else at a particular time, it is likely to yield, because the thing it is doing is not the thing it can do most easily. (p10)
I think his explanation of why this is so is quite interesting. "The golfer has always to be under restraint." When I read that I think about teachers who say we should teach kids to swing as hard as possible and just straighten them out later. Somehow I don't think Jones would have agreed with that philosophy!

Anyway, he then phrases his answer to that original question this way:
    The answer to the question that started all this is, "Not because he can't play while he is thinking of the swing, but because he isn't sure what he ought to think about, and what he ought to try to do. (p10)
He muses that some people might have a great swing concept and still be incapable of performing it properly, but that such a situation doesn't alter the fact that
...the man who has the muscular control and sense of timing cannot play consistently well unless he knows what he is doing.
    But I think the nature of the problem is indicated when we realize that even the man with the control, the sense, and the knowledge finds intervals when his game is off and he can't find the reason. There are so many places to look and so many checks to make -- and sometimes the trouble is found in the simplest and least obvious locations. Golf is a game that must always be uncertain. (p10-11)
"Golf is a game that must always be uncertain." In an age of biomechanics and Trackman, this is a truth that rubs us the wrong way... but truth always has a way of doing that, doesn't it? On some days, some weeks, and even some months, our bodies simply won't repeat our golf swing no matter how hard we try -- and that's true even for the best golfers in the world.

I remember, back when Tiger first hooked up with Haney and he was recovering from knee surgery, he joined NBC's golf team in the booth and Dan Hicks asked him how he managed to get enough practice while his knee was recovering. Tiger's answer stuck with me; he said that the better he understood what he was trying to do, the less practice he seemed to need.

Maybe we've become too obsessed with our games. Maybe we've made the golf swing so complicated that we no longer understand what we're really trying to do. Maybe it's time we spent a little less time focusing on the science of the golf swing and spent more time just learning to have fun swinging the club and hitting the ball. And maybe we should realize that on some days our bodies simply aren't going to cooperate... and that those days are just part of the process.

Maybe we should just accept the fact that we're only human, get over it and try again tomorrow.

It's a thought, anyway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Yani Tseng Is Smiling Again

Nobody is saying she's back -- after all, she had another runner-up finish back in February at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open. But Yani's T2 in Alabama this past weekend seemed different.

She was smiling this time. All week.

Yani at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic

It made news on Thursday when playing partner and friend Stacy Lewis remarked to her that it was good to see the old Yani back. It wasn't just that Stacy said it, but that Yani was touched enough by it to comment on it in interviews.

And on Sunday afternoon, as she tried to run down eventual winner Kris Tamulis and saw the putt that could force a playoff lip out, she was still all smiles. "I feel like I'm finally getting very comfortable on the course and enjoying the golf again."

This is big news from a former World #1 whose fall from the top was a dramatic as Tiger's, although it wasn't publicized quite as much. Yani had reached five career majors faster than anyone in history, male or female  -- age 22 -- and had dominated the Rolex Rankings for 109 weeks. But she says she wasn't ready for the pressure of being #1 and she let it get to her. The game ceased to be fun... and soon the game simply vanished.

But then she started working with instructor Claude Harmon III and sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, and slowly things have started to change. There have been signs during the year -- like that runner-up in February -- but she's missed a lot of cuts too. It has to be frustrating for someone who once made golf look so easy.

On Sunday she was making it look pretty easy again. She blasted her driver around the course as if she didn't care where it went. She told GC that she wasn't afraid to hit her driver or hybrids or any club anymore, and that her short game and putting were still good. And despite coming up short, she was still smiling and talking about how good it felt to be in the mix again.

Yes, it looks like Yani Tseng has finally rediscovered how to have fun playing golf. And if past history is any indication, that could be very bad news for the players at the top of the Rolex Rankings. After all, Yani is still only 26 years old... and the PGA Tour has taught us exactly what 26-year-olds are capable of.

The photo came from an article about Yani's week at ESPN's ESPNW site.