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Friday, March 22, 2019

Dustin Johnson on Practicing Wedges (Video)

I listened to DJ describe the logic behind his wedge practice and thought, "Hey, maybe this has some other applications for weekend golfers..."



The biggest surprise for me was that DJ says he does most of his practice with just one wedge. Although in this video he says he spends a half-hour each day practicing his wedges (plural), around the :40 second mark he says that it makes no difference what kind of shot he's playing or where he's playing it, "I use the same wedge" (singular).

DJ certainly wouldn't be the only player to do this. Phil Mickelson is another top player who uses just one wedge for most of his shots. And the logic makes sense: It's easier to learn how a single wedge behaves under various conditions than it is to remember the variations between different wedges.

And clearly, when the game is on the line, as long as that wedge will let him play the shot he needs, that's the wedge he's going to go to -- the wedge he has the most confidence in. He'll practice them all, for sure, but when the game is on the line, he goes with Old Reliable.

Weekend players aren't any different. And that's why, when I heard this video, I found myself wondering why that "go-to" club had to be a wedge...

Look, DJ is so long that he's just going to have wedges into a lot of holes. But for those of us who hit the ball like mere mortals, it's more likely that club will be a 9-iron, an 8-iron, maybe even a 5-hybrid.

So why can't we use the same strategy, but with a longer club?

The logic is simple. What club do you most frequently need for your approach shots to the green? Perhaps a better question would be "what club would cover your most frequent approach shots to the green?"

Here's an example:

If you play a lot 7-, 8- and 9-irons when you shoot for the green, choose the 7-iron. Then start experimenting with various length swings, just like you would with a wedge. How far do you hit a full 7-iron, a three-quarter 7-iron and a half 7-iron? Can you hit those partial 7-irons for the 8- and 9-iron approach shots? What can you do with your 7-iron from the fairway bunkers? How about low shots under tree branches?

I'm not saying that you never use the other clubs in your bag. But if you can learn to play that 7-iron with the same confidence that DJ plays his wedge, you're going to have a serious weapon for attacking the course and lowering your scores.

It's just a thought I had. But who says that wedges are the only scoring clubs in a player's bag?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Basics of Controlling the Shape of Your Shot (Video)

Instructor Joseph Mayo's short video on why you slice has some very useful info in it. But this info teaches more than you realize. Let's make sure you get the full value of it.



You can imagine the conditions at impact this way:
  • Although the ball doesn't fly exactly in the direction you aim the clubface -- unless your club path is also on that line -- the direction your clubface points is the primary thing that determines where the ball goes. But regardless of whether the ball is curving or flying straight, it will hit the ground -- make its first bounce, if you prefer -- on a line directly in front of where the clubface is aimed.
  • The path of the clubface at the moment of impact will determine which way the ball curves -- in fact, it will curve in the opposite direction of the path.
Let me spell that out for you.

Unless your club path matches the clubface aim (in which case the ball flies perfectly straight), the path always crosses the line on which your clubface is aimed. The following statements are true, no matter whether you're righthanded or lefthanded.
  • If the path is moving to the right of the clubface's aim, the ball will curve to the left.
  • And it the path is moving to the left of the clubface's aim, the ball will curve to the right.
The theory really is that simple. But let's make it even simpler...
  • The bigger the angle you create between the clubface and the club path, the more the ball will curve.
  • And the smaller the angle you create between the clubface and the club path, the less the ball will curve. That is plain enough, right?
But when it comes to stopping a slice (or a hook, if that's your problem), the amount of curve you put on the ball is IRRELEVANT. Do you understand?
It isn't the amount of curve you put on the ball that matters. It's just the fact that you put some curve on the ball AT ALL.
You don't have to get picky about your plane. If you learn how to aim the clubface where you want it to go (I guess I'll have to do a post or two about that, won't I?), the ball will ALWAYS curve toward the target as long as your club path crosses your aimline at least a little in the opposite direction that you want the ball to curve.

I'll revisit this topic soon. But this is enough to dramatically improve your game if you take the time to understand it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Back in the USA (Video)

I'm sure many of you are thinking about Green Day (a different song), but I'm thinking Chuck Berry (original, 1959) and Linda Ronstadt (cover, 1978)... and the LPGA, of course.



The ladies have finally returned to the West Coast for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. Tony Jesselli says this is one of the strongest non-major fields of the year (only two events last year were ranked higher).

It's hard to believe that this is the ninth holding of this event, and that the original had a "ghost" purse (no actual money awarded other than charity). It was a key move in Mike Whan's move to rebuild the Tour, bringing the LPGA back to Phoenix for the first time in years and inspired by the history of the 13 Founders who started the LPGA. It's come a long way since and it's an important event, as proven by the field strength.

Six of the former champions are in the field, including defending champ Inbee Park.

A late-minute scratch from the event is Paula Creamer, who gave no reason for the WD. However, given that she had wrist surgery during the off-season and stated that she was "optimistic that I will return to competitive play soon," you have to assume that it's due to an injury of some sort.

Oh, and in case you've never heard her, here's Linda Ronstadt's cover. She's no longer performing, due to Parkinson's Disease, but she was a superstar in the 1970s and 1980s. She had one hell of a voice...



The Founders Cup is yet another prime time event for US audiences -- except this time, we don't have to stay up all night. GC's coverage begins at 6pm ET on Thursday night. I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Twofer Tuesday: Valspar Championship

This week, Twofer Tuesday moves along the Florida Swing to the Valspar Championship, where -- at the time of this writing -- 87 of the 144 field played in THE PLAYERS last week.

Defending champ Paul Casey with Valspar trohy

The course? The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, a 7340-yard par-71 layout with tight driving holes and a noticeable elevation change from TPC Sawgrass. Probably no surprises in the weather -- dry and mostly sunny, although I won't be surprised if the Snake Pit sees a little wind. It usually does.

The defending champ? Paul Casey, who broke a nine-year PGA Tour win drought by beating Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed. Casey posted early and had to watch both players come down the stretch... and come up one shot short.

This year's Twofer Tuesday picks? Here they are:
  • My Top10 pick is Dustin Johnson. DJ hasn't played the Copperhead since 2010 but he's definitely playing well, having two worldwide wins since 2019 started and coming off his first-ever Top10 at THE PLAYERS. I admit that this was a tough pick for me; I can't help but feel that Jim Furyk is on the cusp of a win, and while the Copperhead may seem a bit long for him, its tight tree-lined fairways are custom-made for such an accurate player. (He did win here in 2010.) But I'm guessing that solo second last week took something out of him while DJ is probably on a high.
  • Ironically, my pick to win is Tommy Fleetwood. I say ironically because Tommy has been a bit wild with the driver over the last couple of weeks -- it cost him wins at both of his last events -- and the Copperhead is notoriously unforgiving off the tee. (It certainly bit Tiger last year!) But Tommy's struggles seem to be pressure-related and, after a couple weeks in that pressure cooker, I think he may surprise everybody. With that short game of his, he doesn't have to be perfect... just playable.
GC's coverage begins at 2pm ET on Thursday, while PGA TOUR LIVE's streaming coverage starts at 7:45am ET. The Valspar has tended to give us surprise winners -- I would say that in the last decade only Jordan Spieth's 2015 victory might have been predicted -- so this week will likely follow suit. That should make for good TV!

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Limerick Summary: 2019 THE PLAYERS

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Around the wider world of golf: Guido Migliozzi won his first ET title at the Magical Kenya Open presented by Absa; Diksha Dagar won the Investec South African Women’s Open for her first LET title; and Kelly Tan won the Florida's Natural Charity Classic on the Symetra Tour.

Rory McIlroy with new PLAYERS trophy

To start, here's my Tuesday Twofers update: I picked Francesco Molinari (T56) to win and Ian Poulter (T56) to Top10. Let's just say... not a particularly good week for me. My record for 2019 so far:
  • Winners: 2 for 11
  • Place well (Top10): 7 for 11 (4 Top5 finish, 3 more Top10s)
  • Overall Top10s: 13 of 22 (6 Top5s, 7 more Top10s)
This is twice I've picked winners but a week early. I picked Justin Rose the week before he won, and last week at the API I had Rory to win and J-Day to Top10. (That pairing would have netted me two correct picks this week.) So close and yet so far away...

Jim Furyk nearly stole Rory's thunder this week with that -2 run on 16 thru 18. But Rory knew when Jim posted -15 in the clubhouse, and matched his -3 on the back nine Sunday afternoon to beat Jim by one and make the finish one to remember.

Rory made a lot of history with this win, beginning with him becoming the first Irishman to win THE PLAYERS. But I'm sure the biggest thing for him is breaking that run of Top6 finishes without a win.

That and adding another Limerick Summary to his haul, of course.
St. Patrick is smiling, I’m sure,
‘Cause Rory at last found the cure
For coming up winless.
I’m guessing the Guinness
Will flow with a joy that is pure.
The photo came from this page at pgatour.com.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Bobby Jones on Using Your Legs

Some people believe that the "old" golfers who used hickory shafts played golf very differently from the way we play now. While it's true that there have been some changes -- primarily due to the stiffness of modern shafts -- most of the fundamentals haven't changed.

Today I thought you might enjoy seeing just how ancient some of the "modern" techniques of golf are.

Most modern viewers hear analysts and instructors talk about the rather dramatic upward leg action that many pros now use -- okay, let's call it a jump because that's what it has become -- and believe that this is a recent innovation. But this short newspaper piece Bobby Jones wrote back in the early 1930s puts the lie to that. It's from the book Bobby Jones on Golf and is simply called Using Your Legs. Make sure you notice the part that I've put in italics.
One often sees a player who habitually allows the right leg to cave in as his club approaches the ball. This gives his swing a sort of loose-jointed, haphazard appearance and, of course, reduces to zero his chance of controlling his stroke or delivering a well-directed blow. But the fault is equally apparent in the left leg, for there he has made the mistake of accentuating the bend of the knee and failing to straighten the leg as he nears the ball. Once he learns to handle his left side correctly, he will not likely have trouble with his right.

The two most important things to watch in the leg movement are, first, that in starting down the bend of the knees should not be sufficient to cause any appreciable lowering of the head and shoulders; and, second, that as the club nears the ball, the legs should be ready to produce the upward thrust that means so much to power. To all who have studied motion pictures of the golf stroke, the semisquatting posture at which the player arrives when his hands are about waist high on the downstroke is familiar. From that point on, there takes place a straightening of the left leg that culminates suddenly in a powerful upward thrust immediately prior to contact. Inevitably, this movement tends to straighten the right leg as well.

The correct use of the legs is as important as anything in golf, for the expert player makes much of his connection with the ground. A golfer is no exception to the rule in athletics, placing such a high value upon substantial underpinning. [p64-65]
Granted, Jones never jumped off the ground when he swung the club; that much effort would have been too much for those more flexible hickory shafts. But even then, the move was still powerful enough for him to describe it as "a suddenly powerful upward thrust."

And notice that he even talks about using the ground. You thought that was a new term, didn't you?

Many of the classic players set records that stand to this day. It's because they understood a lot more about the golf swing than we give them credit for. Never underestimate the legends of the game!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gary Alliss on Creating Backspin (Video)

This is the simplest demonstration of how to create backspin I've found. Gary Alliss from Golf Monthly really breaks it down here.



Note that you don't want to lean the shaft too far forward. Many players don't realize that if you deloft the club too much, the ball will fly too low and go nowhere.

Gary gives you two primary keys:
  • Ball position
  • Top of the shaft just on the inside of your lead leg
You can see a number of other things he's doing as well, like putting a bit more weight on his lead leg, opening his stance slightly and using a lot of wrist cock on this fairly short swing. (You'd need that wrist cock on a longer swing as well.)

But it's your setup that makes all of that work properly.

It's a bit difficult to tell exactly where the ball is positioned in Gary's stance because the camera angle seems to change partway through. But you can see that the ball is between the middle of his stance and his trailing foot -- to my eye, it looks to be closer to the middle of his stance. And Gary indicates that the position might change a bit, depending on the shot.

And the top of the shaft isn't in front of his lead thigh, but it would be just touching the inside of his thigh. The key thing you should notice here is that the shaft and his lead forearm do NOT form a straight line. That's because the ball is farther back in his stance, and creating that straight line would make the shaft lean forward too much.

From this position, you can create a lot of backspin with that wrist action.

This is something you can practice pretty easily because it doesn't take a lot of strength. It's all about setup and technique -- and it's a pretty simple technique, at that.

Now if the weather will just clear up long enough to get out to the range...

Friday, March 15, 2019

Ken Green on Playing Downhill Lies (Video)

Don't set your shoulders in line with the slope? I bet this video is very different from what you've been told.



Rather than setting your shoulders parallel to the slope, instructor Ken Green says you should set your knees parallel to the slope!

Here's how you do it:
  • First, you widen your stance. You don't want to make it so wide that turning is difficult, but your weight is going to be more on your downhill leg and you need to brace yourself.
  • Then you slide your knees downhill a bit. This sounds strange but it's simple if you just slide your hips downhill a bit. Not much -- just enough to get your weight more on your downhill foot.
  • Now you set up as normally as you can, which will put your trailing shoulder lower than your lead shoulder, just like normal.
If you were to drop a line straight down from your lead hip to the ground, your lead foot would be just slightly more downhill than your hip. There's a diagram with arrows showing the "slants" at around the 1:00 mark, but there's a really good picture of the correct setup at the 1:33 mark.

As you can see in that last picture, it looks as if your lead foot, lead leg and lead shoulder are almost vertically above each other in a straight line, as I've tried to show in the following screen grab.

Downhill setup showing lead side alignment

It may sound somewhat tricky, but I think you'll find that the position Green recommends actually makes you feel more balanced when you make your swing. Use that balance as your guide, and you shouldn't have much trouble setting up properly.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Martin Hall on "The Azinger Secret" (Video)

I know many of you use a very strong grip. This is a video Martin Hall did some time back, showing how Paul Azinger kept from flipping the clubhead at impact. This is one of Martin's Morning Drive videos.



The secret Martin talks about is keeping the knuckles on your lead hand pointed upward at impact. (Another way to think about this is, since the back of your lead hand is on top of the grip when you use a really strong grip, you want to keep it on top through impact.) The idea here is that, as long as the ball is gone before your forearms rotate -- and they MUST rotate eventually if you use a really strong grip -- as long as the ball is gone first, you won't hit a duck hook.

But for my money, it's equally important that Paul kept his arms and grip as relaxed as he could. If you don't do that, it's really hard to get any major distance with a strong grip. Tight muscles slow down the clubhead.

Now, to do both of these things, you have to let your body turn fully into your finish. Too many people are stiff in their lower body when they swing and, if your lower body and hips stop turning too soon, you're going to flip your wrists. You have to, because your upper body will stop turning and that means your lead arm is either going to flip your hands or tear up your lead shoulder. It's just simple physics.

So if you use a strong grip, you need the Azinger Secret. A good way to practice it is to use the L-to-L drill because it's a shorter swing -- which means you won't put so much pressure on your shoulders and arms if you do it wrong -- but it's a full motion for your wrists, so you get the practice at delaying that wrist flip until after impact.

Of course, that drill is good for your swing, period. But if you have a really strong grip, this drill is even more important to help you learn how to use it properly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Juli Inkster's Solheim Captain's Blog

Today is just a link to the first post of Juli Inkster's blog for the Solheim Cup. With the event coming up in just a few months, I thought some of you might be interested.

Gerina Pillar and Juli Inkster

I've looked to see how Juli has set the blog up -- perhaps on a separate site -- but at this point it appears she'll just be posting her entries as "Player Features" on lpga.com. (At least, that link currently works.)

Nor have I found any word on how frequently she'll be adding new posts, but this first one (dated for Monday) is a fairly long one. In it she talks about her approach to being a Solheim Cup Captain and why she keeps coming back.

One of the more unusual things she said in her post is this:
What I’ve learned is that you can’t lead everyone the same way and that I can’t lead them the way I like to be led.
I must admit, I'm wondering if the Ryder Cup team might be curious to read her thoughts on team play.

In any case, this could become a very interesting blog as the Cup gets closer.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Twofer Tuesday: THE PLAYERS

So I'm making my "pick day" official. This 'Twofer Tuesday' gives you my picks for THE PLAYERS.

THE PLAYERS trophy

TPC Sawgrass is legendary. Pete and Alice Dye's masterwork has distinguished itself as a 'fair' test, meaning that it doesn't require a certain style of golf in order for a player to be successful. Long hitters and short hitters alike have won here over the years, and the winner is often a surprise because no one is eliminated from contention -- at least, not for the same reasons they might fall away during a typical Tour event.

The defending champ, Webb Simpson, capped off an amazing comeback from the USGA's now-notorious 'anchoring ban' that eliminated the popular belly putting technique. Webb isn't the only one to find a new way to putt successfully, but he's the first to win a major-level tournament after beating the ban.

But this year, a new wrinkle -- actually two -- has been added to the mix. The return to a March date means that we have no idea how Sawgrass will play for the current crop of pros. While roughly two dozen players in this week's field have played a March PLAYERS before, that was over a decade ago. The newer stars have never seen Sawgrass under these conditions -- windy and overseeded.

Add in the myriad changes in equipment since THE PLAYERS was last played in March and you've got the makings of a wide-open tournament, the likes of which we've never seen before. This also means that past performance is NO indication of what we might see this week.

So who have I chosen as my winner and my Top10 picks?
  • My Top10 is Ian Poulter. Part of me wants to go with Tommy Fleetwood but he's been a bit erratic lately, while Poults has been playing well all over the world. In fact, he's number 2 in the Race to Dubai. And since most players say Sawgrass is tougher in March, I tend to think the Match Play Ninja will find this setup to his liking.
  • And I pick Francesco Molinari as my winner -- and not because he won the API this past week. Francesco hasn't played much this season but, with only three starts in 2019, he has improved in each event -- and I realized early in Sunday's round that his game seems to have already come around. Yeah, I know that no one has ever won THE PLAYERS after winning the week before... but there can always be a first time.
So there you have it. I'm an American and I've picked two solid European Ryder Cuppers to play well this week. I think I'm in safe territory.

GC begins their coverage on Thursday at 1pm ET, but PGA TOUR LIVE will be streaming at 7:30am ET that morning. There's also a bit of streaming at 5pm ET this afternoon and at noon ET on Wednesday. Everybody's fascinated to see how the new schedule will affect the players after a decade or so playing in May. Should be interesting!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Limerick Summary: 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Winner: Francesco Molinari

Around the wider world of golf: Justin Harding got his first ET win at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters; in her professional debut, Alana Uriell won the first-ever SKYiGOLF Championship on the Symetra Tour; Kirk Triplett won the Hoag Classic on the Champions Tour; and Meghan MacLaren won the Women’s New South Wales Open on the LET.

Francesco Molinari with API trophy and the Palmer red alpaca sweater

First, my Tuesday Twofers update: I picked Rory McIlroy (T6) to win and Jason Day (WD) to Top10. Not much I can do about an unexpected WD, and Rory's putting woes surprised me as well. Still, even with all the problems, I did add another Top10 finish:
  • Winners: 2 for 10
  • Place well (Top10): 7 for 10 (4 Top5 finish, 3 more Top10s)
  • Overall Top10s: 13 of 20 (6 Top5s, 7 more Top10s)
But there's no question the right man won the API. Francesco Molinari did what he's been doing for the last year or so -- just showing up at an event, hanging in there while everyone else struggles, and then putting together a great final round to get the job done.

During the fourth round, while so many of the big hitters were playing from the rough, Francesco calmly hit 12/14 fairways. From there he hit 14/18 greens and got up-and-down 2/2 times, posting eight birdies and NO bogeys in the final round. And it was his fourth final round of 64 since the 2016-17 season started; only Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland have as many.

I became a Molinari fan and started writing about his potential years ago. Now, with his fourth worldwide win in the last twelve months, Francesco has announced his intent to become a major force in the game -- as well as a major collector of Limerick Summaries. And who am I to argue?
Francesco was quiet all week,
Then Sunday he started to sneak
Through the field to the front.
From the rough came the grunts
Of respect from the bombers he beat.
The photo came from this page at pgatour.com.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Nick Clearwater on How to Draw EVERY Shot (Video)

Even Nick says this isn't the ideal way to draw the ball. But today we're talking CONCEPT, so let's take a look at this GOLFTEC video.



Nick is using four main keys here:
  1. Strengthen your lead hand grip
  2. At waist high on your backswing, point the clubface straight down at the ground
  3. At the top of the backswing, point the clubface straight up at the sky
  4. At halfway into the finish, point the toe of the club straight up at the sky
Of course, the idea here is that the clubface is NEVER open, not once, at any point during your swing. What that creates is a pull-draw, maybe even a pull-hook. And while Nick doesn't say so, it's probably not going to be the longest shot you can hit, not just because it could end up out-of-bounds but because you're fighting the natural movement of your hands and arms. That means you're losing the benefit of hand motion that creates extra clubhead speed.

The CONCEPT here, as I said before, is that the clubface is NEVER open. However, this is not the only way to keep the clubface from opening.

Carl Rabito showed me a simple drill decades ago that taught me how to square the clubface -- even close it for a draw -- when I wanted to. After perhaps 15 or 20 minutes practicing it -- on the day he first showed it to me, not weeks later -- I could start a swing, he would call out 'draw,' 'fade' or 'straight' when I reached the top of my backswing, and I could create that ball flight.

Here's the drill:
  • Tee up the ball. We used a 5-iron, although I don't know that you have to. He may have chosen it because the 5-iron was the hardest club in the bag for me to hit. But a 5-iron is a good club for this drill because it's an average-length club.
  • Carl also had me use a neutral grip, with my trailing palm parallel to the clubface. That way, it was easier to think of hitting the ball with the palm of my trailing hand.
  • At waist high on my backswing, I would cock my wrists 90° and make sure the shaft was pointed straight up at the sky.
A bit of explanation here: Please understand that, when you make a full-speed swing, you will automatically put the club on a tilted plane. Contrary to popular belief, twisting your forearms doesn't create this swing plane, it just opens the clubface. We'll come back to this later in this post.

As I was saying, the reason you slice the ball is because you twist the clubface open while believing that you are holding the clubface square. When you force yourself to point the shaft straight up, you will actually be holding the clubface square, just as it was when you addressed the ball. So be aware that it will feel a bit weird at first, and that's alright.

I bet you'll have some trouble doing this consistently at first. It drove me nuts, and that's why Carl had me practice it for so long during our lesson. But given the quick results it gave me, it was the best 15 minutes of drill work I've ever done.
  • At impact, Carl had me hit a soft bag. I tried to stop the club at impact and feel that the clubface was square again. That got me used to the feeling of a square clubface.
  • After that, it was just a matter of feeling that I "over-squared" (closed) the clubface when I wanted to hit a draw.
After decades of practice, I believe you can get the same sort of result by making sure you keep your lead elbow close to your side all the way through impact, which forces your arms and forearms to rotate and square the club. Most players don't realize that your shoulder moves forward (that is, it closes) during your backswing and, in order to get it back in the position it was at address, your shoulder joint has to rotate back open. It's this shoulder movement that creates your swing plane, not twisting your forearms. Otherwise, you've changed the square position of the clubface at address to an open position at impact.

If you want to see what I mean, just stand with your lead arm straight down by your side, then bend your lead elbow so your upper arm and forearm form an L shape. Then put your other hand on the front of your lead shoulder and, without letting your upper arm move away from your chest, swing your forearm across your chest and then swing it back. You'll be able to feel your shoulder move forward when your forearm is across your chest, and move back in position when you swing your forearm back to the start position.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I will because we often miss the obvious: If you "close" your lead shoulder joint on the way back, you have to "open" it again on the way to impact or you won't recreate the square position you had at address. That's clear, isn't it? Good.

Then, halfway through the finish, try to point the toe of the club at the sky or a bit behind you.

With a little practice, you'll feel as if you're hitting the ball with the palm of your trailing hand. When that happens, you'll stop thinking so much about mechanics and more about your target.

And when you start thinking about your target as you swing, that's when you'll start getting better at shaping shots.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Bobby Jones on "Courageous Timidity"

Here's a short piece from the book Bobby Jones On Golf, simply called Some Memorable Advice. After watching the golf at Bay Hill so far this week, I believe many of the pros should read it.
Two of the greatest golfers of earlier times were the English professionals Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor who, between them, won eleven British Open Championships. Among the many wise things both observed about the game, two especially impressed me. "No matter what happens," Vardon once said, "keep on hitting the ball." In effect, this is what I remembered and tried to do when playing a tournament round. Vardon was a man of immense gifts, not the least of which was his practicality.

J.H. Taylor made the statement that all the great golfers he had known had possessed a quality he chose to call "courageous timidity." That happy phrase expresses exactly the qualities a golfer, expert or not, must have in order to get the most from whatever mechanical ability he may have. He must have courage to keep on trying in the face of ill luck or disappointment, and timidity to appreciate and appraise the dangers of each stroke, and to curb the desire to take chances beyond reasonable hope of success. There can be no doubt that such a combination in itself embraces and makes possible all the other qualities -- determination, concentration, nerve -- we acclaim as parts of the ideal golfing temperament for the championship contender as well as for the average golfer. [p4-5]
Brave enough to keep trying despite disappointment, but timid enough not to tempt fate when faced with a shot that is unlikely to succeed. How often have we seen players fail to do these things -- sometimes the first, but especially the second?

When players talk about "losing their focus" on the course, I believe that's often a sign that disappointment has gotten to them. Sure, some days are just tiring and I acknowledge that, but it's no surprise to hear that phrase when a player is struggling. That's why we value players who are "mentally tough" and find ways to get their games back on track after a few bad shots or holes -- you know, the players who "turn a 73 into a 69."

And there seems to be a great fear among players -- all players -- of being thought of as "timid" golfers. We think that when faced with a shot we are unlikely to make successfully, we still have to take it, lest people think we aren't trying hard enough to win.

If we want to improve our own games, we need to learn "courageous timidity." We need to remember that the goal is to shoot the lowest score we can -- not the lowest score our competitors are capable of, but the best score WE can shoot.

There's nothing wrong with trying to improve, but we have to play with the game we have today. If that's 105, then we need to take pride in shooting 105 and not apologize for it. If we keep doing our best, we will eventually get better. But sloppy play caused by a weak ego won't help us.

And if the boys at Bay Hill expect to take the trophy this week, they'll need "courageous timidity" to survive the test. Some things never change, no matter what level you play at.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Rafa Cabrera-Bello on Swing Thoughts (Video)

After Rafa's amazing 65 at the API on Thursday, I thought it might be fun to take a look at his swing. But then I found this short video on how he approaches his game mentally, and it was so fascinating that I decided to share it instead. The video is roughly two years old, which is when he began to regain the form he showed earlier in his career.



Rafa's approach is so different from most pros! Players generally talk about searching for 'something' on the range, which is usually a swing thought, that they can take out on the course. But Rafa specifically says his swing thoughts are for the range, not the course.

So what does he think about on the course? He says
  • he thinks about the target and
  • tries to feel comfortable over his shots.
That's it. He thinks about where he wants the ball to go and he tries to set up so he feels that he can make that shot easily.

Isn't that refreshing?

But let's say you need a swing thought. What does Rafa recommend?

He says most of the errors he sees on the course are stance errors. Players line up too far to the left or right, or they have their shoulders aimed in a different direction than their stance is aimed. So he recommends thinking about your stance.

Rafa recommends a comfortable stance, of course.

This really does make sense. If your stance is comfortable, your swing is more likely to be repeatable. If it's repeatable, it's easier to trust it. And if you trust your swing, you're more likely to make good shots.

And what you'll be thinking about when you make those good shots is where you want the ball to go -- in other words, your target.

When he's playing with his mind uncomplicated by mechanical thoughts, merely thinking about where he wants the ball to go, are you really amazed when Rafa shoots a score like he did Thursday?

Sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tom Stickney's One Hop and Stop Wedge

There's a new article over at golftipsmag.com called Learn Those Sexy Golf Shots. In it, Tom Stickney actually shows the basics of nine different shots that give weekend golfers problems.

I want to focus on the very last shot in the series, the one hop and stop wedge.



The basics:
  • A good lie that's 30- to 70-yards from the flag
  • Ball slightly back in your stance
  • Spine centered but weight and hands forward (see photo 1 above)
  • Choke down on a 56° wedge
  • Just brush the turf
I didn't pick this shot because it's sexy. I picked it purely for Photo 3 above. Do you see the difference between "brushing the turf" (which is marked 'YES' in Photo 3) versus digging into the turf (marked 'NO' in that photo). If you're sticking the front edge of the wedge into the ground and taking a divot like the 'NO' example, you're not going to get the results you want!

I talk a lot on this blog about using the bounce on your wedge. And I know you're going to read those setup instructions, see the words "hands forward" and you're gonna dig that wedge's front edge into the ground. DON'T DO IT!

If you look at Photo 1 you'll see that your hands are just barely ahead of the ball, and you'll see in Photo 2 that the shaft gets vertical pretty quick after impact. If you set your hands just barely ahead of the ball, as in Photo 1, the thick sole on your wedge is going to sit pretty flat on the ground and the edge won't dig in.

You can't "brush the turf" if you take a divot. So make sure you set up properly, so you can use the bounce when you make your swing. If you do, you're going to get a lot of spin and that ball should behave like you sent it to obedience school.

Make sure you read the rest of that article at golftipsmag.com because it covers lots of useful shots. But I wanted to mention this one because, well, the one-hop-and-stopper is a shot that EVERYBODY wants in their repertoire.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Back in the King's Domain

Tiger may not be there, but the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a strong one.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion at Bay Hill, and many analysts believe he'll be leading the strongest field the event has seen in quite some time. For example, every API winner since 2007 (except Tiger, who won four of those) is there. There is a lot of excitement, even without Tiger (who we all hope gets better soon).

But for me, this is Twofer Tuesday -- just delayed a day because of the Rule 10.2b(4) post -- and yet another chance for me to make picks that don't quite pan out...

Alright, I guess I'm not doing too bad. While I'm only 2 for 9 picking winners this year, I'm 7 for 9 picking Top10s and, overall, a solid 2/3 of my 18 picks so far this year have finished in the Top10. That's much better than I have done in the past, when I was making five picks for the majors and big tournaments.

Let's see what I can do this week.
  • My Top10 pick this week is Jason Day. The 2016 API champ has been steadily getting his game back in shape this season -- he's only played three PGA Tour events this year but has improved with each event, and he's posted Top5 finishes in his last two events. I'm not sure he's ready to win quite yet, but J-Day has a tendency to cruise along under the radar and suddenly pick up a win. (Did you even realize that he had two wins in 2018? Probably not.) He's trending and I wouldn't be surprised if he won this week.
  • And my pick to win is Rory McIlroy. He's played four events this year, finishing T4-T5-T4-2 in them. He is, as I said, the defending champ at this event. And while I'm sure Brooks Koepka is the favorite for most fans this week because of that great finish at Honda, I still can't help but feel that Rory is overdue for a win.
This is a tough week to pick. There are a large number of players who could easily break into the winner's circle this week, some for their second wins this season.

It's a great week to remember the King, and a great event to watch as well. GC's coverage begins at 2pm ET on Thursday while PGA TOUR LIVE will start streaming at 7:30am ET. If you want to see golf, you can watch it all day long if you so desire!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Thomas Pagel, I Have a Thought..."

This is not a rant. Everybody agrees that caddies shouldn't physically line up their players before a shot. The problem is that the language of Rule 10.2b(4) is too vague for everyone to agree on when the rule has been broken.

The USGA made their first attempt at clarifying the rule a few weeks back at the Phoenix Open when Denny McCarthy was penalized for what few people saw as a violation. The penalty was rescinded and the language changed slightly.

Before that change, you could have argued that if a player lined up to test his aim, then ran around the ball three times before taking his stance and hitting the ball, he was still in violation of the rule.

But the new language, "begins taking a stance for the stroke," is still far too vague to be properly enforced. When has a player begun taking a stance? Is it when the player begins his or her pre-shot routine -- that's their preparation to make the shot, after all -- or is it when the player actually sets their feet and begins their swing?

For example, in the Adam Schenk penalty this past week at Honda I can see how you might argue both ways. Adam didn't move away from the ball after his caddie moved away, so you can argue that he had already taken his stance. But others could argue that Adam didn't really start taking his stance until he began working his feet into the sand.

Does "begins taking a stance" mean that you are getting ready to swing the club or merely that your feet are in the same place they will be when you ARE ready to swing the club? Or even that they are just in the same place they were before your caddie moved away, regardless of whether you would be standing in that same position to actually hit the ball or not?

The language in Rule 10.2b(4) doesn't define the phrase one way or the other. In fact, the clarification to the rule doesn't either. The clarification states that:
"The player begins to take the stance for the stroke that is actually made when he or she has at least one foot in position for that stance."
But as I said earlier, one could argue that Adam didn't really start taking his stance until he began working his feet into the sand, since he moved both feet from their original positions in order to work them into the sand.

As for "backing away from the stance" (which is the wording used in Rule 10.2b(4)), how much movement is required to adequately fulfill this requirement? Is it 36 inches, or 12 inches or perhaps just a couple? How far is far enough? How close is too close?

That's one source of confusion, this assumption that everyone defines terms and concepts in the same way. Nations go to war for less!

But more than that, how do you determine 'intent'? That seems to be the main point of contention in the Schenk ruling. Because of where the ball was and the amount of noise, Adam's caddie had to be where he was in order to discuss the shot. It seems pretty clear that his caddie had no idea that Adam was ready to play and was therefore not "deliberately" standing in Adam's line. There was certainly no intent to line him up. By that definition, there should have been no penalty.

In any case, the penalty may have cost Adam Schenk a chance to win.

So how can we clear up these inconsistencies and misunderstandings? How do we make the rule clear enough that the questions and disagreements disappear?

What Makes a Good Rule?


In a good rule, a game concept is clearly defined in an easy-to-observe way. Let's use 'out-of-bounds' as an example.

Out-of-bounds is a concept. It means the ball has left the field of play and the player has incurred a penalty. Knowing for sure whether a ball is out-of-bounds or not is vital to knowing whether a penalty has been incurred or not.

In this case, the concept 'out-of-bounds' is clearly defined by a boundary line marked off with physical white stakes. The line is easily observed by anyone -- on one side of the stakes, the ball is in bounds; on the other, it isn't. And the ball must be COMPLETELY out-of-bounds; if the ball is on the line, then it's in-bounds.

In this case, it's easy to determine whether there's a penalty or not. Anybody can see the line and recognize whether the ball is 'in' or 'out.' There is no gray area.

Not so much with Rule 10.2b(4). Who determines when the player "begins taking a stance for the stroke"? The rule, as written, doesn't give us any clear physical indicator that can be seen. Nor does it give us a clear physical indicator of when a caddie is "deliberately" on the line of play.

Everybody seems to agree with the purpose of the rule. What I'm suggesting is that the rule itself doesn't acknowledge that purpose. If it did, the clear physical indicators necessary to avoid penalty would be obvious.

So What Is the Purpose of This Rule?


In a weird way, for all the controversy regarding stances, Rule 10.2b(4) isn't really about when players take their stances at all. It's about WHY they take them. It's about caddies lining up a player's shot instead of the player lining up the shot. The stance is a secondary consideration because Rule 10.2b(1) says, in part, that:
"A player may have his or her line of play pointed out by having his or her caddie or any other person stand on or close to the player’s line of play to show where it is, but that person must move away before the stroke is made."
Presumably, the player is allowed to 'test' how this aim looks to him by taking a stance and practice strokes. So that's not a problem and Rule 10.2b(4) isn't intended to address it.

Since the caddie is already allowed to help the player line up a shot but is forbidden to stand "on or close to the player's line of play" at the moment when the stroke is made, the real problem is the caddie orienting the player's body at the last possible moment before the shot is made.

In other words, Rule 10.2b(4) is intended to address a specific abuse of 10.2b(1) -- a caddie may help a player choose a line of play but may NOT take an action to actually align the player on that line.

Or, to put it another way, the caddie can't help the player aim his or her stance.

It's a fine line between taking a stance based on your own aim and taking one based on your caddie's aim. That's why Rule 10.2b(4) is so controversial -- it's nearly impossible to enforce as written. Rule 10.2b(1) allows your caddie to help you pick a line, but (pardon the pun) when has your caddie crossed the line? Who determines "intent" and who wins out when the player/caddie team and the officials disagree?

What we need is the equivalent of out-of-bounds stakes. We need a clear physical indicator that the player is aligning his own stance, and not the caddie.

Rule 10.2b(1) already requires one clear physical indicator -- namely, that the caddie to move off the line before the player makes a stroke. However, this is insufficient to prove that the player is choosing his own line, and that's why we have to start tinkering with the player's stance. Having the player change his stance after the caddie moves is the only way we can be sure the player is doing the aiming.

But this whole "begins taking a stance for the stroke" rhetoric is useless. When a player begins taking their stance is irrelevant. What matters is that the player takes his or her stance after the caddie has moved, not before. 

What we need is a clear physical indicator that the player's stance is his own, not one aimed by the caddie... and when the player 'began' to take that stance is irrelevant as long as we can see that the player's stance is not the result of the caddie standing on his line to align his shot.

And it needs to be something the player can do and that, by doing it, the player -- and anyone watching, for that matter -- can KNOW, without doubt, that he hasn't violated Rule 10.2b(4).

My Suggestion for a Clear Physical Indicator


As I said, Rule 10.2b(1) already requires the caddie to move off the line before the player makes the stroke. We just need a clear physical indicator that shows the player's stance wasn't set by the caddie.

I suggest that the player take three steps back from the line -- not along the line, but backing away from the line. Here's a diagram to show what I have in mind.

Diagram for an easy-to-understand rule

The player takes three steps away from the aimline. (Obviously, they can start with either foot. And the third step doesn't have to stop even with the second step, but it needs to go at least that far away from the aimline.) At this point, the player has clearly stepped away from the aimline, and the three steps are easily viewed by fellow players, fans around the green and on any video footage the officials look at.

Why three steps and not just two? Because if you just took two steps, you could simply rock back-and-forth on the first foot and basically take your original stance again. With three steps, both feet will have moved away.

Players say they are currently terrified that they will accidentally break Rule 10.2b(4). With this clear physical indicator, that is no longer a problem.

And if a player takes these steps and his caddie hasn't moved yet, he just stands still and asks his caddie to move. It doesn't matter who moves first; as long as both player and caddie have stepped away from the line, the rule isn't broken. It doesn't even matter whether the player has 'begun to take a stance' or not, whatever that means.

Rule 10.2b(4) only requires that both player and caddie are not simultaneously engaged in any act that could be construed as the caddie aligning his player's stance. If both of them are away from the aimline at the same time, and then the player moves back in to make his shot, then Rule 10.2b(4) has not been breached.

One final thought: I realize that many of you will say that the current phrasing of the rule requires exactly what I described in the last paragraph... but you'd be wrong. Why? Because Rule 10.2b(4), as currently written, does not define clearly when the player has "backed away" enough to satisfy the rule, any more than it defines how much foot movement is necessary to say you changed your stance. (I mentioned that earlier when discussing digging your feet into the sand.)

Best of all, we eliminate 'intent' or 'deliberately' or any other subjective judgment from the rule. It's all right there in front of us. All the player has to do is take three very visible steps back from the line and stay there until his or her caddie has moved off the line, then they can start their routine or whatever without breaking the rule. And there will be no question that they did it properly because those three steps are easy to see.

So, Thomas Pagel, if you're listening, that's my thought on Rule 10.2b(4). I realize the USGA and R&A may want to use something different, and that's okay as long as you use clear physical indicators that we can clearly see. But I think this might be the clearest way to do it and, when you're talking about the Rules, 'clear' is definitely the way to go.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Limerick Summary: 2019 Honda Classic

Winner: Keith Mitchell

Around the wider world of golf: Sung Hyun Park won the HSBC Women's World Championship on the LPGA; Mark O'Meara won the Cologuard Classic on the Champions Tour; and Kurt Kitayama won the Oman Open on the ET.

Keith Mitchell holding Honda Classic trophy

First, my Tuesday Twofers update: I picked Justin Thomas (T30) to win and Rickie Fowler (T2) to Top10. I'm beginning to think JT is just tired -- either that or he doesn't like me. But I continue to do pretty well with Top10 finishes:
  • Winners: 2 for 9
  • Place well (Top10): 7 for 9 (4 Top5 finish, 3 more Top10s)
  • Overall Top10s: 12 of 18 (6 Top5s, 6 more Top10s)
I don't feel too bad about missing the winner this week, though. I doubt anybody had Keith Mitchell on their radar. He hasn't won on the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica or the Web.com Tour, although he's had some Top5 showings on both.

He got another Top5 this week at the Honda. It was just the best Top5 available.

You have to feel good for him about this win. He missed his final putt on the Web.com Tour last season, and that cost him a Tour card. Then on Sunday he started his final round with two bogies...

And shot four-under on the last seven holes (one-under through the Bear Trap!) to win the tournament outright and get that Tour card he has so desperately wanted. All he did was beat Rickie and Brooks Koepka, who were charging down the stretch themselves.

Yes, a feel-good story if ever there was one.

So now Keith gets a Tour card, a huge paycheck, a bunch of exemptions into big tournaments (can you say Augusta?) and, best of all, a shiny new Limerick Summary to commemorate the whole thing. Yes, definitely a feel-good story.
The Bear Trap was snapping all day
Till Mitchell proved he came to play.
Four-under in seven;
That must feel like heaven!
It’s how Keith put this one away.
The photo came from this page at pgatour.com.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Prayer (or Palm-Facing) Putting Grip (Video)

Tony requested this post in the comments a couple of days back, so here we go!

First off, there are a couple of versions of this putting technique. In one, the hands are perfectly even; in the other, one hand is just slightly lower than the other. Here's a picture of Vijay Singh demonstrating the latter on a belly putter, but he says he tends to use the same grip no matter how long or short his shaft is. Note that the index finger of his low hand curls around the handle while the other index finger curls around the first two fingers of the low hand. That's how his hands lock together.

Vijay using a palm-facing putting grip

And here's Paul Dunne using a version of the former. Note that both of his index fingers point straight down the shaft.

Paul Dunne using a palm-facing putting grip

Clearly there isn't just one way to use this grip. But there are some basic principles at work here, which I'll try to summarize in this post.

Let's start with the basic feel of the motion. I believe this grip gained popularity because of something called the "prayer drill," which Martin Hall demonstrates in this video.



In this drill you simply grip the putter handle between your palms without using your fingers at all. The putter is held purely by the pressure of your palms pressing together. This tension causes your wrists to lock in place, which creates the shoulder/hands triangle and the pendulum swing that Martin talks about in the video. The purpose of this drill is to teach the pendulum swing that many -- but not all -- instructors like.

Now, the reason for using this putting stroke is to get the shoulders as level as possible during the stroke. It also tries to keep the putter shaft in a straight line with your forearms, which means the handle settles into the "lifelines" in your palms. The combination of the two is supposed to minimize extra angles and nonlinear motion during your stroke.

Of course, if you're going to use this as your normal putting grip, you'll need to get your fingers into the act. Otherwise you'll end up using too much pressure in your arms and shoulders.

That means, first of all, a change to your equipment -- specifically, you'll need a thicker handle. I prefer round grips on my putter rather than the blocky ones most players use, so I use a jumbo round grip. That's plenty big for most putting grips, but I find it's still too small to use with this palm-facing grip. I have to use too much finger pressure to keep the putter from wiggling during my stroke. (Granted, a squarish grip like most players use may enable you to get a firmer grip with less pressure.) So you'll probably need to have a much larger grip installed on your putter.

If you use the very slightly offset grip that Vijay uses, you'll probably find that you can use a smaller grip than if you use the "even hands" grip that Dunne prefers. That's because when using the slight offset, the hands can fit together more easily.

Likewise, the slightly offset grip can use either hand as the high hand, meaning you can use that version of the grip in either a standard or crosshand style.

Regardless of which version of the prayer grip you use, all four of the fingers on one hand wrap around the handle. In Vijay's case, that's the high hand. But if you look at the picture of Vijay's grip, you'll only see three of those fingers. That's because his index finger is covered by the other hand. And you'll only see two fingers of the lower hand wrapped around the thumb of the high hand. That's because the other two fingers are curled loosely around the main part of the high hand.

In the offset grip, the fingers of the high hand provide most of the stability for the putter while the fingers of the other hand just "lock" the two hands together to get that pendulum motion.

In the "even hands" grip that most people will probably associate with the term "prayer grip," the fingers work a little differently. One hand holds the club, with all of its fingers gripping the handle, while the fingers of the other hand don't grip the handle at all. Rather, they just wrap around the other hand -- locking the hands together as they do in the slightly offset grip -- and both thumbs lay side-by-side on the handle. The exception to this is the version that Dunne uses, where both index fingers extend down the handle to add support and perhaps a bit more control to the stroke.

That's basically all there is to say about this putting method. To see if it's something you'd be interested in trying, you'll want to practice with the prayer drill that Martin demonstrates in the video above because, even when you grip the handle with your fingers, you're still applying more pressure with your arms and shoulders than in a normal grip. Using a thicker handle helps minimize the amount of pressure you need, but it's still a matter of trial and error to find exactly what works for you.

But that's the case with all putting strokes, isn't it?

So there you are, Tony. I hope this post gives you the answers you're looking for. And thanks for the post suggestion!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Several Teachers Comment on Ho-Sung Choi's Unique Swing

I found this new article at golftipsmag.com about Ho-Sung Choi and his, shall we say, interesting swing. The magazine's instructors all seem to like his swing, and I thought you might find some of their observations helpful.

Ho-Sung Choi at the end of his swing

First of all, they all seem to agree on one thing: Impact is what matters, and Choi creates a very solid, repeatable impact position. As Alison Curdt puts it:
I think one main reason his swing works for him is because he believes in it. The ball only knows impact conditions, so what happens before and after impact can be personal to the player. As long as impact has the right conditions, as Ho-Sung correctly does, then the shot can be successful.
Bob Grissett adds:
Ho-Sung Choi has found a way to create good impact alignments with great face/path control, with a swing that works under pressure for him. He actually achieves some very good body positions from start to impact.
I liked Bob Labritz's comment that Choi "understands the clubface." What he means is that Choi knows where the clubface should point at impact and he knows how to get it there.

Jim Roy says:
If you look past the antics, I think his motion is great. Hip to hip, his club is in real good shape. I love how his club has a slinging motion. You get the impression all he’s thinking is “target!” As Adam Bazagette [another instructor in the piece] said, he’s uncluttered.
Just a quick reminder: You can practice that hip-to-hip motion using the L-to-L drill which, you are probably tired of hearing me say, can be found in this blog post (among others).

Perhaps Deb Vangellow summed it up best when she said:
Golf swings don’t win tournaments, PEOPLE do. Anyone who shoots 67 under tournament play pressure has my respect — immediately.
So don't feel guilty if you enjoy watching Ho-Sung Choi play. You really can learn from him. He's not only very entertaining, but a solid player to boot!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Jill Scally on Swinging a Towel (Video)

GCA coach Jill Scally demonstrated this simple feel drill on Wednesday's Morning Drive, and I think it's a good one for you to know. After all, it costs nothing and you've already got the equipment!



This idea of wrapping a towel around your clubhead to increase your feel isn't a new one, but it's still a very useful one. And you've probably already got a towel on your bag.

While Jill mentions that the extra weight of the towel helps you to better feel the clubhead -- and it's important for you to note that you don't need a heavy weight on your club to get that improved feel -- it's also true that the "floppy bits" of the towel help as well.

The loose ends of the towel exaggerate the feeling of your swing plane changing from backswing to downswing. Ideally, you want to feel as little flopping around at the change of direction as possible. If the wind is blowing, you'll feel the changes even more clearly.

And that increased weight will also help you feel the cocking of your wrists on the downswing. That's a key to getting increased distance.

Again, this isn't a new drill; it's been around for a long long time. But it's always amazing how something this simple can really help you improve your swing.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Gambling Companies Finally Qualify for the Tour

With the Tour's announcement Tuesday about gambling sponsorships, it only makes sense to get you up-to-speed on what's involved. So here are a few links to articles on the topic, and a few of my own observations as well.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan

It may seem that I've limited these articles to golfchannel.com and pgatour.com, but the other articles I checked seemed to be referencing these articles as well.
This short excerpt from Hoggard's article sums up the basics of the announcement:
The new policy allows players to “have sponsorships by casinos and other legal gambling companies.” A player cannot, however, have an endorsement deal within the United States with a company “whose primary purpose is sports betting.”
The examples the Tour gave players involved daily fantasy companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. Although the circuit considers both “gambling companies,” neither company’s primary purpose is sports betting so endorsement deals with these companies would be allowed.
However, a sponsorship deal with the online gambling company Bet365 within the U.S. would not be allowed, although the new policy does allow players to sign endorsement deals outside the U.S. with a company like Bet365.
My main takeaway from this is that the Tour has decided that it wants to place itself in a very specific position for gambling. Note that players won't be able to sign endorsement deals with "sports gambling companies" based inside the US, but that fantasy golf companies are fair game.

Randall Mell talked to both Graeme McDowell and Billy Horschel, and notes that Billy had the same reaction I did:
Horschel was surprised that the Tour is classifying entities like DraftKings and FanDuel as “gambling companies,” rather than companies “whose primary purpose is sports betting.” That distinction will place fewer restrictions on fantasy sports companies wanting to sign PGA Tour pros to endorsement deals.
Horschel, however, gets it.
I get it too. The Tour wants a piece of the fantasy golf pie, figuring that's where it can most profit without a lot of sticky questions. And all those ShotLink stats are tailor-made for the "safer" kinds of bets; stats, after all, are compiled independent of anything the betting participants can do. In other words, tampering will be less of a concern.

One other interesting note concerns a non-gambling area. The announcement included a ban on sponsorships with companies that create marijuana products. Even though nearly two-thirds of the US have legalized certain forms of marijuana, it's clear the Tour wants to avoid any connection with that.

Again, it makes sense. In the past, criminal groups involved in gambling have often been involved in drugs as well. Appearances do count with the Tour, after all.

So that's the short version of the new Tour gambling sponsorship rules. It will be interesting how this plays out over the next year or so, and whether any unforeseen problems show up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Bear Trap Is Open for Business

PGA National may see fewer of the top players this week, but the Honda Classic's Bear Trap will nevertheless see plenty of victims. And the first leg of the Florida Swing should finally give us some decent weather.

Defending champion Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas is the defending champion -- note that this event was played before the WGC-Mexico last year. PGA National's Champion Course plays around 7050 yards, which is not so long but is incredibly tight, with a lot of water to navigate. In the last few years it has been the top players who tend to win this event; we've seen few surprise winners recently, but we have seen three playoffs in the last five years.

So let's get right to the Weekly Twofer. Although I see a number of players who I think can do well here, my choices were pretty obvious to me from the get-go:
  • My Top10 pick is Rickie Fowler. He won the 2017 Honda and, while he has only one Top10 this year -- and that was the Phoenix Open win -- I think getting back on a familiar track with Celebration Bermuda grass from tee to green will suit him. And maybe, just maybe, the presence of the Golden Bear himself will inspire him a bit.
  • And my winner is Justin Thomas. I know I've been riding JT hard for the last few weeks, but what can I say? He's in form. His five finishes this year are 3, T16, 3, 2 and 9. He's posted those finishes in hard conditions, and he's the defending champion here to boot. JT is due and, as consistently as he's playing, it's just a matter of time till he wins.
So those are my picks for the Honda Classic. I feel unrealistically good about them, which may be a bad sign! But I really believe that the only way I can miss this week is if Rickie wins and JT just Top10s.

GC's coverage begins Thursday at 2pm ET, with PGA TOUR LIVE starting their streams at 7am ET. Perhaps a number of big name players like Rory and Tiger are skipping this week, but there will still be plenty to see!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Last Call for LPGA Prime Time

Yes, it's the last week the LPGA will be overseas. Next week they return to Arizona here in the US... but this week we get the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore.

Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Michelle Wie

As usual, you can get the skinny on this event over at Tony Jesselli's blog. Last year, this was where Michelle Wie got her most recent win in dramatic style with a long putt on the final hole. This is her second week back on the Tour after hand surgery and, after a good showing last week, it'll be interesting to see how well she can defend.

Inbee Park also makes her first tournament appearance since the 2018 Evian. She'll be looking to pull one of Amy Yang's tricks, as Inbee won this event in 2015 and 2017.

And So Yeon Ryu is looking to get back into the winner's circle for the first time since 2018's Japan Women's Open Golf Championship on the JLPGA last September. Her last LPGA win came last June at the Meijer LPGA Classic.

This is another limited-field event -- only 63 players -- but Tony says the Top15 in the Rolex Rankings as well as 39 of the Top50 will be there. Jessica Korda is still out with an injured forearm but sister Nelly is teeing it up, as will Ariya Jutanugarn, Brooke Henderson and Georgia Hall, to name but a few. So we should see a very competitive event!

GC's coverage begins Wednesday night at 10:30pm ET. Singapore, here we come!

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Limerick Summary: 2019 WGC-Mexico

Winner: Dustin Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Amy Yang won her third Honda LPGA Thailand title; Martin Trainer got his first PGA Tour win at the Puerto Rico Open, the Tour's alternate field event; Marianne Skarpnord won the Pacific Bay Resort Australian Ladies Classic at Bonville on the LET; and Jazz Janewattananond won the SMBC Singapore Open on the Asian Tour.

Dustin Johnson with the Gene Sarazen Cup

First, my results from last week: I picked Tiger Woods (T10) to win and Justin Thomas (9) to Top10. While my winner percentage isn't great, I'm doing pretty well for Top10 finishes:
  • Winners: 2 for 8
  • Place well (Top10): 6 for 8 (3 Top5 finish, 3 more Top10s)
  • Overall Top10s: 11 of 16 (5 Top5s, 6 more Top10s)
I thought Tiger might make a run on Saturday but the greens caught up with him (as they did for almost everybody except DJ). Still, I feel pretty good about my record so far this year. I remember plenty of years where I didn't fare this well, even when picking five players at majors.

I can truthfully say that I didn't even have DJ in my sights at this event. I know he won back in 2017, but that's the year he was playing so well just before getting injured during Masters Week. While he's played well since -- six worldwide wins after that WGC win -- it didn't seem to me that he was quite back in that dominant form.

His performance this week has made me reconsider. He absolutely blitzed the field, even widening his margin over Rory in the final round (five strokes over second place, ten strokes over third). His own comments after the round confirmed that he believes his game is finally ready for the majors again. And although he probably won't say it, I suspect he is already planning to wipe that confident smirk off the face of one Brooks Koepka.

No, DJ hasn't forgotten that some think "Little Brother" is better than him. Don't you dare think he has!

With his 20th Tour win (and accompanying lifetime PGA Tour membership), his sixth WGC (second only to Tiger), the fact that he'll be retaking the #1 spot in the OWGR in a week or so (he's just .64 points behind Rose now), and his apparent return to his 2017 form, DJ has clearly put himself in the "major" contender position for the Masters. But in the meantime, he'll have to settle for a WGC Limerick Summary. We'll see if he can grab a bigger one in the next few months!
His sixth World Golf Championship win
And, soon, Number One once again—
That’s DJ. I’d wager
His eye’s on a major
Or two, to wipe off Koepka’s grin!
The photo came from this page at europeantour.com.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Why the Waltz Rhythm Is a Logical Approach

Many of you may have read yesterday's post and wondered why a waltz rhythm made any sense as an approach to golf swing rhythm and sequence -- and why it might be better than any of the other "counting" methods you've heard before.

Today I'll give you a quick explanation of the theory I believe is behind it.

Tour Tempo book coverAlthough Dr. Neal never says so, the whole idea of the golf swing being similar to a waltz rhythm comes from a book/CD combo called Tour Tempo by John Novosel. (That link takes you to Amazon, but it's just so you can see the actual book. I get no money should you decide to buy it.) I first found the book when it was released in 2004 and it really helped me when I was struggling with the tempo of my swing. Here's the basic idea:

Novosel was making a golf infomercial back in 2000 and was studying some videotape of Jan Stephenson's swing, checking the various positions in her motion. In the process he noted the frame counter on the videotape machine and saw that her backswing was taking 27 frames and her downswing to impact took 9 seconds. (In case you don't know, standard American broadcast video records 30 frames every second.)

That's a 3-to-1 ratio of the elapsed time of the backswing to the elapsed time of the downswing.

As time went on and he studied more swings for analysis, he discovered that most of the pro swings followed that pattern. For the most part, the fastest swings ran around 21/7 (Jack Nicklaus was one), the midrange around 24/8 (Phil Mickelson) and the slowest around 27/9 (like Stephenson's). A lot of them weren't exact, of course -- they would vary by a frame or two on the backswing or the downswing, but it was close enough (given the nature of videotape) to call it a 3-to-1 ratio.

Which, if you want to liken it to a dance, you can count as a waltz rhythm. OOM-pah-pah, OOM. That's 3-to-1.

Dr. Neal's approach -- with specific swing positions corresponding to the beats of the waltz -- may be a bit of overkill to most of you. But as I said in the post, you can focus on the two "OOMs" -- which is basically what Novosel's CD does in the book. It gives you click tracks that you can play while you practice to help you internalize the rhythm. That's what I did back in 2004.

But the waltz count is much simpler to use, simply because you don't need to stick earbuds in your ears. And -- always an important consideration for me -- since singing the rhythm doesn't require any equipment, the "OOM-pah-pah Method" is something you can use while you're actually out on the course.

Anyway, I just thought you might like to know why I did yesterday's post. It's just another tool, one that you can use if it helps and ignore if it doesn't. But most importantly, it doesn't cost a dime for you to find out.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Waltzing Your Way to an In-Sync Golf Swing

This is just a cool approach to golf rhythm that I found at the golftipsmag.com site. Dr. Nelson Neal suggests using a waltz count to get your golf swing in sync.

The first three counts of the golf waltz

Looking at this sequence of photos from the article, you might think this is a three-count... but you'd be wrong. This is a SIX-COUNT, with the first and fourth beats accented; these first photos only show half of the count. So let's start with the rhythm first. Printed out, it would look like this:

DA-da-da, DA-da-da

Or, using the count Neal uses:

ONE-two-three, FOUR-five-six

If you don't know what a waltz sounds like, musicians refer to it as 3/4 time (read that as "three-four time") and it's a very common rhythm in lots of songs, not just in traditional classical waltz music. You can hear in in children's songs like "Happy Birthday," religious songs like "Amazing Grace," or in pop songs like Seal's "Kiss from a Rose." Here, take a listen as the song starts:



Hear that "OOM-pah-pah, OOM-pah-pah" beat that the background singers are singing at the very beginning of the song? That's your waltz rhythm! It comes naturally to most people with very little practice -- again, we hear it in children's songs from an early age.

You'll note in those early photos that there is a half-beat between the second and third counts. I think Neal made it harder by not explaining how to count that. Each of your six beats takes the same amount of time because it's a steady rhythm: ONE-two-three, FOUR-five-six. You can add evenly-spaced "ands" in-between each of those counts, like this:

ONE-and-two-and-three-and, FOUR-and-five-and-six-and

If you count that out slowly, you can match the positions in the photos above -- and in the photos below -- to the counts. In fact, I'll print the count again under the next set of photos, but I'll put the counts in LARGE PRINT that coincide with the photos.

The fourth through the sixth beats of the golf waltz

Here's how those photos match up to the counts:

ONE-and-TWO-AND-THREE-AND, FOUR-and-FIVE-and-SIX-and

You have a lot of photos in the first few beats, not so many in the last three. That's because the downswing is much faster than the backswing. The "and" after the three beat is at waist high, the "four" beat is at impact, and the "five" beat is the top of your finish. Do it slowly as a drill, if you need to; if you match each photo to a beat, you'll get a feel for the rhythm soon enough.

But I suspect you'll get it quicker if you just focus on the rhythm of three of the main beats:
  • the ONE beat, as you start your takeaway;
  • the three beat, as you reach the top of the backswing; and
  • the FOUR beat, at impact.
After a little practice, you'll be able to just hum that "OOM-pah-pah, OOM-pah-pah" rhythm as you swing and get it right. The two stressed beats both happen right at the ball -- the ONE beat to start the backswing away from the ball, the FOUR beat as you actually hit the ball -- and the three beat at the top feels like the brief change of direction, when you should inhale in order to smack that ball on the FOUR.

In fact, you may feel as if you inhale on the three beat and exhale on the FOUR as you hit the ball.

I agree with Dr. Neal that this six-count waltz rhythm really does make a lot more sense than a two-count or a three-count. Turning your golf swing into more of a graceful dance rhythm can really simplify a lot of those hard-to-explain sequenced moves!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Paul Azinger on Connection (Video)

With Azinger well into his new NBC golf gig, I thought it might be nice to show you one of his swing videos -- especially so since it's about shotmaking and that's a skill that players in Mexico will be leaning on hard this week.



Ben Hogan is most "connected" with the fundamental of connection, but the truth is that all consistent players use it to some degree or other. And Azinger does a wonderful job of both explaining and demonstrating this simple concept in this short video.

And connection IS a simple concept. If your upper arms stay close to your rib cage most of the way through your swing, it will automatically keep your elbows pointed down to the ground. And if your elbows point downward at impact -- as they do at address -- you'll find it much easier to square the clubface when you hit the ball.

It doesn't matter whether you think of keeping your upper arms close to your rib cage, or of keeping your elbows pointed down at the ground. Either one will cause the other, so use the thought that makes it easiest for you.

One point I'd like to make here. While your lead elbow stays connected through the entirety of your swing, your trailing elbow does drift away during your backswing. You can see it happen a little in Paul's swing around the :50 second mark. It's not as pronounced in his swing because he has always had a very flat swing plane.

If you swing more upright, as the classic swingers and other upright players like Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman did, and as Phil Mickelson still does, your trailing elbow will separate more at the top of your backswing. Paul says not to do it around the :45 second mark, but bear in mind that his swing plane is flat and therefore it would be an error for him. An upright swing will look somewhat similar to what he shows as an error.

But don't misunderstand the concept. Some things stay the same, and you need to remember them.
  • No matter whether your swing is flat or upright, BOTH of your elbows continue to point to the ground throughout your swing.
  • If your swing is more upright and your trailing elbow moves away from your rib cage at the top of your backswing, THE FIRST THING IT DOES ON THE DOWNSWING is return to a connected position close to your rib cage.
  • And at the risk of repeating myself, no matter whether your swing is flat or upright, both of your upper arms stay close to your rib cage during the the bottom half of your swing, on both the backswing and the downswing. Waist high to waist high is always connected, just as in the L-to-L drill (this link goes to one of the many posts I've done about that drill).
Connection improves accuracy and, with a longer swing, can help you create tremendous power as well. And Azinger knows of what he speaks, as he was deadly accurate with his clubs. Just working on this one concept -- again, use the L-to-L drill because that's the easiest way to get used to it -- can work wonders in your game.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Watson VS Furyk? The Questions Continue...

After Steve Stricker held his presser Wednesday morning after the US Ryder Cup Captain announcement, the media still had a lot of questions. I'm going to try and answer some of them in this short post.

2020 US Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker

One that I didn't hear -- but deserves a quick nod because it affects the other questions -- is exactly when the US team began the changes that the team is now going through. Most think it was in 2014, when Phil Mickelson seemed to throw Captain Tom Watson under the bus for the US loss.

Actually the changes began in 2008, when Paul Azinger's team won. It was that victory that Mickelson referenced in the press conference that led to the establishment of the "task group" or "committee" or whatever you want to call it.

The PGA has tended to choose an authoritarian captain, one who would make all decisions and expect the team to just follow orders. And I suspect they viewed Zinger in that mold as well, as he has always been a bit of a rebel. But the team itself viewed Zinger as more of a facilitator, who tried to give the team members more choice while maintaining his right to a final veto if he felt they were going down the wrong road.

Zinger's pod system gave him a good way to do that, but neither Corey Pavin in 2010 nor Davis Love in 2012 were as successful in their attempts. As a result, the PGA of America gave another captaincy to Tom Watson, whose more authoritarian approach had worked well in 1993, and they hoped for a similar result. Instead, there was friction within the team that boiled over into the aforementioned presser after the loss.

I still don't believe Phil meant to blame Tom for the loss as much as he intended to make it clear that the team would no longer accept authoritarian leaders. The belief was that the Euro team had a better system and Zinger had come closest to duplicating that approach. The result was a wholesale change (for the better) to the US approach to the Ryder Cup, although it hasn't solved everything.

Let's be honest here -- US fans tend to believe their team just doesn't "jell" like the Euros while the entire US "power structure" believes the Euro system is some kind of special magic. It's worth remembering that the Euros also went through a similar process that took the better part of a decade or so back in the 1980s and 1990s, while the US not only has to deal with similar changes but the ego blow that came from no longer having such a huge advantage in talent.

The problem now, as I see it, isn't one of talent or desire or even "team spirit." Rather, it's a culture difference where the Euros grow up playing team golf from a young age and superstars have been traditionally discovered later in their development, while here in the US we focus on developing superstars from an early age and team play is something of an "add-on" in high school and college. That difference can be overcome but it's going to take the US a while yet.

Which brings us to a few questions that fascinated the media after Stricker's presser.
  • Stricker indicated that Furyk, as the past Ryder Cup captain, was expected to be a future vice captain as well. Why, they wondered, was Tom Watson left out of this loop?
    The answer is simple. Watson, as an authoritarian captain, was not viewed as fitting in with the new direction expected of future team leadership. He would have had to adjust his approach dramatically in order to fit in with the new plans. I suspect his age was also a factor -- the new process seems to be focused around a peer group of similar-aged players. But I think his input could still be very useful and I hope they do ask him for his insights (and other older captains as well), as they could still learn from them.
  • Much has been made of the fact that Stricker is the first US captain not to have won a major. Does this represent a new line of thought among the leaders?
    I sure hope so. To be blunt, the Euros have never cared whether their captains have won a major or not. Just to name a few recent captains, neither Sam Torrance, Paul McGinley nor Thomas Bjørn have won majors... but they've won Ryder Cups. Winning a major is no indication that you can win a Ryder Cup -- just ask Nick Faldo. The powers-that-be in the US have tended to see a captaincy as a reward for winning a major. That's NOT the kind of logic that wins Ryder Cups!

    To my way of thinking, this is just a case of finally realizing that you don't need a major to be an effective leader. You just need the respect of the team, some interpersonal skills and the wisdom to recognize your limitations (and pick assistants who can help you with them). It damn sure took us long enough to figure that one out.
  • The "Horschel Pick" has been dumped this time in favor of picking all four Captains choices at once on September 1, 2020. How will that help, since we might miss out on a hot player?
    As Stricker himself noted, while the late pick did help them discover Tony Finau, it didn't give them time to figure out how he fit in strategically. This time the team will have time to work out ALL the pairings before they go to Whistling Straits.

    Besides, had they made their final pick at the same time they made the other three picks, they still would have gotten either Finau or Schauffele. Don't see as either would have been a bad pick. Do you?
Finally, although the media never approaches this subject directly, I think it needs to be addressed. We need to recognize that team play is a strategic skill of its own. You don't need the most talent to win a team event, although that can certainly help you in singles. You can't send two alpha dogs out as a team and expect them to make good team decisions without some serious effort, because it's just not what they're used to doing.

When one alpha dog doesn't pull his shot off, the other alpha dog's reaction is to hit the hero shot because he believes he WILL pull it off. In a team situation, the proper response is to hit a safer, less aggressive shot that still offers opportunities. The problem is that fans will criticize players for making such a decision, and most alpha dogs believe they aren't taking things seriously unless they try the riskier shot.

Ask most players and they will tell you that there is a difference between stroke play strategy and match play strategy. But there is also a difference between team play strategy and solo play strategy, and my personal belief is that the US team won't consistently be a threat at every Ryder Cup until they learn that difference.

And that's the end of today's rant. I hope Stricks can get the boys to understand that there's more to winning a Ryder Cup than just having the "right" formula. Ultimately you have to play good shots -- not great shots, just more good shots than the other team.

The US team is capable of that. They just haven't realized it yet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My Picks for the WGC-Mexico

In the past I've done "5 to Watch" posts before each of the WGCs and majors, but this year I've been doing a weekly "two-fer" that many of you seem to enjoy. So I've decided to just do the "two-fers" all year and see how I finish the season.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson

Just for the record, here's how the Weekly Two-fer works. (I like that title. I think I'll keep it.)
Starting in January I began picking a winner and a Top10 finisher for each week's event, then upgrading my score the following week in the Limerick Summary post. What this does is give you my Top2 players for each tournament, which some of you may find helpful if you play fantasy... and merely funny (even embarrassing) if you don't.
I've learned that I debate whether or not to follow my gut each week. I'm currently making that choice based on the course itself, whether I think it allows for surprise winners or tends to favor particular players. Riviera favors a certain type but the bizarre weather threw a monkey wrench into the works last week.

The WGC-Mexico is played at Mexico City's par-71 Club de Golf Chapultepec, which is roughly 7350 yards long but also 7500 feet above sea level. That means the course actually plays pretty short -- by my calculations, more like 6700 yards (that's allowing for 10% longer ball flight) -- and that makes this a wide open venue for surprise winners. So this week I'll go with my gut.

And that makes for a couple of surprise choices.
  • My Top10 this week, like last week, is Justin Thomas. Given that JT's last two appearances here are T5 and last year's loss in a playoff to Phil Mickelson (something of a wildcard winner himself), and given his runner-up last week, you might wonder why I'm not picking him to win.

    Simply enough, it's JT's putting. And it's not because he had some three-putts last week -- come on, everybody did in those conditions -- but because JT himself voiced concerns about his putting. He said he's been having some problems with the flat stick. Given this course's reputation for bumpy greens, that sets off alarms for me. Maybe things change when he returns to a course he plays well, but my gut says to beware.
  • And my winner shocks even me -- I'm taking Tiger Woods to get his first win of the season this week. I am truly concerned about how tired he'll be after last week's marathon and how the altitude will affect his recovery. While technically he's won this event seven times, he's never won it on this golf course. And that means he not only has to learn the course but also figure out how the altitude will affect his shots -- something that I'm sure appeals more to Bryson DeChambeau than to Tiger.

    But Tiger finally seems to have control of his driver, and he's coming to a course where he can choose to play driver only when it gives him an advantage. His iron play, short game and putting all seemed to be in good shape last week, which will hopefully carry over to this week. And while he needs to adjust to the new course (I hear he used a Trackman to help him with that on Tuesday), the weather could make things physically easier for him and thus maybe give him an edge he hasn't had yet this year.
GC's coverage begins Thursday afternoon at 2pm ET, with PGA Tour Live streaming at noon. We'll see if Tiger can muster any motivation from Phil's win last year.