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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Stat of the Game

Nope, that’s not a misprint. We’re looking at tour stats today, and I think they’re pretty revealing. We tend to see the top players as having incredible stats, and we look to see which stat is most responsible for their success. As you’ll see, nobody is really that good… at least, not in the way we expect.

First, let me give you a couple of tables. Here are your 2009 top 5 money winners, along with each one’s rank in driving distance, driving accuracy, GIR, scrambling, and putts per round:

Tiger Woods21T86161T22
Steve StrickerT10453T572T8
Phil Mickelson13179127T109T69
Zach JohnsonT14310283152
Kenny PerryT4849361389

...and your top 5 in the world rankings, same stats:

Tiger Woods21T86161T22
Phil Mickelson13179127T109T69
Steve StrickerT10453T572T8
Lee Westwood377311--163
Padraig Harrington1061711751110

Westwood didn’t play enough on the American tour to get official rankings. Although the Tour does list some for him, scrambling isn’t one of them; hence the “--“. You can find these stats (in more detail) as well as others at

No surprise that three of the top 5 in each list are the same; the difference comes because the money list is for one year, while the world rankings cover two years. World rankings therefore indicate better play for a longer period of time, although their more recent finishes carry more weight.

Just for comparison (followed by tour average):
  • your longest driver, Robert Garrigus, averages 312.0 yards off the tee, TA 287.9 yards;
  • your most accurate, Joe Durant, averages 74.09% of fairways hit, TA 62.91%;
  • most GIR goes to John Senden, at 70.89%, TA 64.70%;
  • scrambling champ Tiger Woods gets up-and-down 68.18% of the time, TA 57.52%; and
  • putting whiz Brad Faxon takes only 28.00 putts per round, TA 29.20 ppr.
Your worst stat holders in these tables are:
  • Distance: Zach Johnson, T143 (281.2 yards)
  • Accuracy: Phil Mickelson, 179 (52.21%)
  • GIR: Padraig Harrington, 175 (61.20%)
  • Scrambling: Phil Mickelson, T109 (57.53%)
  • Putts/Round: Lee Westwood, 163 (29.78 putts)
Notice that only in driving distance, driving accuracy, and GIR is any of the top players noticeably worse than average. That should tell you something right there. If you want to play well, you need to putt and scramble well.

Phil's stats are skewed, probably because of Amy's cancer battle; he's usually really good in the short game categories. Zach, at 281 off the tee, is 7 yards BELOW the Tour average, yet his accuracy with that drive allows him to compete with the big guys as long as he is close in the other three stats. Note also that Westwood was pretty accurate with his approach shots, hitting more greens than Tiger.

Ball striking DOES still mean something, but we obviously have an unrealistic idea of what a good ball-striker is doing. In driving, the most accurate players still hit less than 75% of fairways; the most accurate of the guys I listed, Zach Johnson, was #10 and hit just under 71.5%. The best players are only hitting about 2/3 of their greens in regulation, then putting really well; and when they miss, they also get it up-and-down about 2/3 of the time. That’s why the putts per round figure is so low—they’re only taking one putt when they miss the green. Let's assume you two-putt most of the time. Twelve greens hit, that's 24 putts; one-putt 4 of the remaining 6 greens for 8 more putts. That’s 32 putts to shoot par-72, but the Tour average is 29 putts and a round of 71. That putting discrepancy means they're making a big number or two as well.

(Let me explain the logic of that, in case you missed it: If 32 putts gets you a 72, then 29 putts should be for a 69, correct? But the 29 actually results in a 71; therefore, they wasted 2 shots somewhere. And if they hit one or more par-5s in 2, they wasted even more shots.)

See? Here’s what the average Tour player is doing, according to Tour stats:
  • Regardless of length, hitting 67% of fairways or less (mostly less);
  • Hitting less than 67% of greens in regulation;
  • Getting it up-and-down less than 67% of the time when they miss (way less);
  • Taking 29 putts per round.
Anybody can learn to putt, and the rest isn’t really that impressive, is it? Only 49 players hit more than 67% of their fairways. This isn’t a game of perfection, people—it’s a game of two-thirds! Get to that point and you're better than the average tour player. We’ll work on that in 2010.

And that’s enough golf for this year. Go out and have a great New Year’s Eve!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Much Has Technology Changed the Game?

I have a new friend named Bob (if you see any comments from market-maniac, that’s him) who just discovered my blog and has been reading some of the older stuff. We had an enjoyable conversation over the “Why Tom Watson Almost Won” post I did. He didn’t agree with me—I don’t have a problem with that—but it got me thinking about how the “bomb-and-gouge” game has influenced weekend golfers. So I’d like to spend the last two or three days of 2009 looking at just how much the game has really changed over the last few decades.

Bob is a true purist, who still plays with persimmon woods and forged blades. (One of the best players I know still plays with them; trust me, you don’t want to challenge these guys! They can hit the ball pure.) He hates the way technology is making the old courses less challenging to the pros, and he’s afraid that pure ball-striking is becoming irrelevant now that players routinely drive short par-4s. He’s not alone in those fears, not by a long shot.

But I don’t think the picture is as bad as all that. I believe good ball-strikers can still compete, win, and even dominate the modern tour. And I’d like to show you the 2009 stats, as well as some other facts, that demonstrate a simple truth: We weekend golfers have trouble improving simply because we are judging ourselves by an unrealistic yardstick. Hopefully, we can develop some more realistic criteria that will help us improve our games more quickly next year.

The first thing we should look at is the technology itself. Has it really ruined the game? Is it responsible for the ridiculous distances some players are hitting the ball these days? Or is there more to it than that?

When I wrote the post “Could Bobby Jones Have ‘Cut It’ Against Today’s Pros?” (which Vince Spence so kindly included in his “Best of” year-end list), I quoted some of Jones’s own notes about his experiments with club design. In 1923-24 Jones built a modern-sounding driver design from persimmon and what I now believe was a bamboo shaft (I believe Vince may be responsible for that tidbit as well!), with which he hit a standard 1920s golf ball as far as 340 yards. Given the specs of the driver, I’m guessing a lot of that was roll… but that's no different from today. Still, it reminds us that design and technology aren’t the same thing; better design can give us improvements even without better technology. With 110+ mph clubhead speed (many pros can do this and, remember, Jones has been put at 113), drives over 300 yards don’t require special technology.

But how do you develop that kind of clubhead speed? The easiest way is to create a bigger swing arc, and the easiest way to get bigger arcs is… bigger players. Here are your 2009 top 5 driving leaders:
Robert Garrigus 5' 11"
Bubba Watson 6' 3"
Dustin Johnson 6' 4"
Tag Ridings 6' 1"
Gary Woodland 6' 1"
And here are your top 5 in the world rankings:
Tiger Woods 6' 1"
Phil Mickelson 6' 3"
Steve Stricker 6' 0"
Lee Westwood 6' 0"
Padraig Harrington 6' 1"
Padraig’s a bit of a shocker to me. I just didn’t realize he’s that tall!

Tall players have longer arms, so they have bigger arcs, which can mean increased clubhead speed even without extra strength. (Granted, some tall players don’t hit it farther, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to do so.)

I don’t doubt that improvements in technology have given us a bit more distance. I suspect most of that comes from the golf ball, but not as much as most people think; maybe 15 yards, I’d guess. Club technology has allowed us to lose less distance when we hit it off-center, but that’s not the same as increasing our distance; players who hit it pure generally won’t gain much. (Yeah, I’ve seen that commercial where Nick Faldo claims he’s hitting clubs 25 yards farther. But how do I know his club specs are the same?)

And that’s the last piece of the puzzle. Today’s 9-iron isn’t the same as the 9-iron of 30 years ago. Here’s the simple truth: Today’s 9-iron is yesterday’s 8-iron. Today’s 9-iron has a shaft that’s 1/2-inch longer (1 inch if it’s a graphite shaft) and 4-6 degrees stronger loft. That’ll make you anywhere from 10-20 yards longer without any other technology change beyond a graphite shaft.

Give that club to a taller player who’s done a strength training program optimized for golfers, and he’s 30-35 yards longer even without a high-tech golf ball. Technology hasn’t ruined the game, folks; our best are just getting bigger and better…

But from a scoring standpoint, not as much as most weekend players think. We’ll look at that tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Annika Sorenstam Talks About Breaking Through

I don't have to tell you who Annika is. When people who have never met you know who you are just by hearing your first name... well, nothing else need be said.

These quotes come from Annika's book Golf Annika's Way, and I had a lot of trouble choosing them. The reason might surprise you: The book is just so darn practical! Most authors take a lot of time sharing their thoughts about the game (yeah, have to include myself there)... but not Annika. Her book is basically "I do this" and "I do that." Great for learning the game quickly, horrible when you're looking for a blog quote.

In the end I chose these two related quotes from her chapter about Vision54™ (the belief that it's possible to birdie every hole):
The key to achieving excellence is to be unafraid of it. If you dare to be the best, you need to have the courage to do whatever is necessary to see your vision through, even if it means doing things differently than others. (p.235)

The more time you spend thinking about the negative consequences of your actions, the more likely you are to make those thoughts real. If your last thought before taking the club back is, Don't hit it in the water, then then your brain will focus on the water, not your target. Instead of stressing about the water, try carrying a single positive thought or image into your swing, such as, follow through to a complete finish. You'll be surprised how easy it is to be brave. (p.237)
Sometimes you hear psychologists talk about fear of success, but I think that's just a misnomer. Rather, people often sabotage their attempts at success because they fear something that may happen as a result of their success. I think Annika gets at that here. She talks about fear of excellence, but all the examples of fear she gives are of what she calls "negative consequences." She urges us to ignore the possible negative consequences and choose instead to think of a positive thought.

In other words, don't think about possible failure. Instead, choose to think of something that will help you succeed. If you do, perhaps someday people who have never met you will know who you are just by hearing your first name.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Limerick Summary: Final Thoughts on 2009

Winner: Yet-to-be determined

So we come to the final limerick of 2009, a retrospective of the year. With so much happening, it was hard to compress it all down to five lines. I felt that the two biggest stories of the year centered around Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. It feels strange that those two stories could basically be reduced to a putt that was missed... and a fire hydrant that wasn't.

Such is life, I guess.

A couple of days ago I quoted Shakespeare; today I add to his thought. To wit: the past is prologue; the rest is commentary. Despite the downer ending of 2009, I'm excited about next year, and I could give you many reasons. I'll settle for two: Phil Mickelson and Michelle Wie.

Whether you like Phil or not, hooking up with Dave Stockton has given him a swagger he hasn't had in some time. If Phil continues to putt the way he did the last few months, I expect him to make a run at the #1 spot over the next two or three years. (Tiger's indefinite leave will depend totally on what Elin does. If she stays with him, we won't see him for quite a while; if she leaves him, I expect he'll be back sooner. In either case, with Tiger not playing, Phil could make up some serious ground.)

As for Michelle... well, I've been a serious fan of hers for some time. Say what you may, the fastest way to improve - assuming you're tough enough to deal with the losses - is to play against people who are way better than you are. Michelle did that by playing with the men, and the strategy has paid off. I believe the main mistake she made was trying to play through injury; that's the main reason for her problems the last couple of years. But Michelle had to deal with far more than most people who choose the steep learning curve. She had to put up with constant public condemnation of her choices.

Guess what, folks? Many golfers have had their careers derailed or destroyed by one big loss or one big public outcry. Michelle has taken every single shot that's been thrown at her... and she's still getting better. I think she may be mentally stronger than anybody in golf... anybody, even Tiger. Mark my words, you haven't even begun to see what that girl's gonna do.

I think other players will stand up next year as well. And when Tiger does come back, the fireworks will fly! So I leave you with the last summary of 2009:
We saw legends sniff records, and then
We saw legends reduced to mere men.
Though the year ends in shame,
I don’t fear for the game –
‘Cause new legends will rise in O’Ten.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Golf Channel Segment on the Mental Game

A bit of a change today: Here's a filler segment Golf Channel did earlier this year. It led into a show featuring Annika, and while it talks specifically about her mental approach to the game, it also touches on some of the other mental monkey wrenches we have to deal with.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nancy Lopez Talks About Short Memories

Here’s a book you won’t see very often: The Education of a Woman Golfer by Nancy Lopez. She wrote that book at the ripe old age of 22, just after her rookie year where she won five times in a row, in addition to nailing the Big 4: the Vare Trophy (low scoring average), money title, Rookie of the Year, and Player of the Year awards. (You may recall that Jiyai Shin came close to winning that “Slam” this year.) Nancy won only three majors – all of them LPGA Championships – but she is still regarded as one of the greatest (and most popular) women players ever.

Her thoughts concerning how you deal with loss are especially poignant, considering her heartbreaking disappointments in the U.S. Women’s Open, where she finished 2nd four times:
The first thing I do after losing, regardless of whether I lost a close one because of a silly lapse or simply was snowed under by a rival running on a hot streak, is to forget it. I take a look at my calendar and start thinking about where we’ll be playing next week, and I’ll show ‘em then! Remember the lyrics in the song “Many a New Day” from the show Oklahoma? The show was long before my day, but the movie is always being revived and the girl tells about not ever looking back, but always looking ahead. She sings that she never asks an August sky what happened to last July.

That’s me, and that’s a substantial part of my education in philosophy. (p.129)
Musicals aren’t my thing, but I really like that line. Never ask an August sky what happened to last July. It’s a good way to play golf. (It’s a good way to live, but that’s another post.) Learn from your mistakes and move on.

That’s a really good thought to carry into your 2010 golf game. As Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue”; the past is merely the opening act, not the play itself. Play this round to the best of your ability, and forget the past bad ones.

(And for those of you interested in such things, you can check out the context of Shakespeare’s original quote here.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Nope, no post today. I'm celebrating with friends and family... and you should too! We have plenty of time for golf the rest of the year.

Here's wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Push Away Drill

It's Christmas Eve and, if you're like me, it's time to visit family. My aunt is the quintessential country cook; when she cooks, she cooks everything! I've known her to fix three long tables full of food, and then have several cakes and pies for dessert. And they're all made from scratch. Ummmm!

Some of you will be depressed for weeks after these holidays, just because you ate so much. I have a special exercise just for you.

The push away drill is exactly what you think it is. Feel free to eat and enjoy yourself over the holidays... but push away from the table before you stuff yourself into misery. There's absolutely nothing wrong with eating all that stuff you don't get the rest of the year (my aunt makes this killer coconut cake...!); just use a little restraint. Just a little. It'll make your attempts to get back in shape after the first of the year a little easier.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Greg D'Andrea Talks About Slope

I've been posting a lot about the mindsets of great golfers this month, because I hope that seeing how they think about their games can help us weekend golfers improve our thinking out on the course... and help us shave a few strokes in the process.

Well, Greg D'Andrea over at From the Rough doesn't claim to be a great golfer. (Of course, with Tiger out of the picture for a while, that may change.) However, his post "What the Crap is a Slope Rating?" is something every weekend golfer should read. While slope isn't a difficult concept, what I like about Greg's post is that he tells you how to use it to help prepare mentally for a round.

By all means, check it out. The more weapons you have in your mental arsenal, the better.

The Atlas Pushup

That's Atlas as in Charles Atlas. Yes, you remember the guy - at least, you do if you ever read comic books. There was always an comic strip-style ad in the back of the comic about a guy at the beach. A bully came along, kicked sand in his face, and then stole his girl. Horrors! What would the poor guy do?

Why, he'd send off for Charles Atlas's Dynamic Tension bodybuilding and fitness guide, that's what! And before long, he'd be muscled up; he'd head back to that beach, punch out the bully, and take his girl back. Oh, and he'd become the hero of the beach, too.

Maybe in January - when we're all starting new fitness programs - I'll take a look at the Atlas Dynamic Tension system and why you should consider using some of his techniques to get stronger and more flexible. (And no, I don't have any connection to him or make any money off him. The techniques just work; I don't have patience with stuff that doesn't.) But today I'd like to teach you the most basic exercise in his program. Although Atlas called it the "dipping" exercise, I've heard it called the Atlas Pushup, so that's what I'm calling it.

You know how to do a pushup, right? Well, this one is done the same way EXCEPT you use two chairs placed about 18 inches apart. You put one hand on each seat; now your hands are on the seats and your feet are on the floor. Got it?

Now you do pushups. Pushups done with your upper body this high above your feet are much easier to do than regular pushups (again, I'll talk about that next month), but it also allows you to let your chest down lower than your hands. You can't do that on the floor, of course; the Atlas Pushup lets you stretch the chest muscles by going lower. You increase your range of motion while increasing your strength. Cool, huh?

Atlas said this should be done in the morning and at night, and he did a lot of reps. But you don't have to let it take over your life! I would just suggest doing what feels comfortable; the idea is to get stronger and more flexible, not kill yourself. I would also suggest doing it slowly; if you don't get a lot of momentum going, the muscles work a little harder without risking so much strain.

And of course, all disclaimers apply. Do this at your own risk, yadda yadda yadda. I am not a doctor, although I used to watch Quincy on TV. (Wait... Quincy was a coroner. That may not be the best example...)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Betsy King Talks About Perspective

Sometimes it's hard to find material written by female golfers. I know the stuff has been written, because I find references to their books in other books, but I can only assume that the books either didn't sell well or are by golfers who no longer play. That's making it a bit difficult to find some decent quotes for my "Talks About" posts this month. (Yes, I have Annika's book. I just haven't decided on which quote to use.)

One book many people might overlook is The Way of an Eagle, which was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and examined the Christian beliefs of some of the golfers of the mid-1990s. The book is actually a mix of inspirational and practical thoughts on golf, and (important for this series) has the advantage of being in the players' own words.

I was drawn to the chapter on Betsy King, who has always maintained a fairly low profile despite winning so many tournaments, including 6 majors. Ironically, while each chapter concludes with a "tip" section, I found Betsy's most interesting thought in the main interview:
Sometimes when you're looking in from the outside, you think that if a player doesn't win on the Tour, then they have no reason to stay out here. When everybody first comes out, they think, Oh, I'm going to win. If I don't win in the first year, I'm not successful. By the time I finally won, I was thinking, Well, I might never win out here. But I'm still going to make a nice living and I'm still going to stay out here and work to be the best player I can be, whatever that is.

And as soon as I decided that, I started winning. (p.112)
That isn't what you hear on TV week after week, is it? The guys and gals who make up the vast, non-winning majority of players on the tours are routinely put down for just trying to make a living playing a game they love. Hell, you don't even hear one of these players called a "journeyman" anymore unless they win! But Betsy decided not to judge herself by that yardstick. Instead, she decided that she would just work to be the best player she could become... and that decision gave her the freedom to play the best she could.

In her case, that meant she started to win.

Not everybody would have that result; it's the nature of the game that one player wins and the vast unwashed masses lose. (No offense meant to the vast unwashed masses, of course; they're my homies!) But pressuring yourself to get results that you can't completely control is emotional suicide. I could play the best golf of my life, yet someone else (or ten or a hundred someone elses) could also play their best... and beat me like a drum. But my best is still "my best"... and no one can take that away from me.

So take a tip from Betsy King: Ignore the TV commentators with their "winning is all that matters" talk. Add some perspective to your game, and you just may find yourself playing at a higher level.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2010 South African Open

Winner: Richie Ramsay

Although I thought about reviewing the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge (which the women won – I keep telling you that you should pay attention to them!), the fact remains that the event was played a month ago and we've known since then that the women won it. Where's the fun in that? I could have written that limerick weeks ago.

Instead, I've decided to review the 2010 South African Open. (I still can't get over that whole '2010' thing. I understand the European Tour plans to get their years together soon.) Richie Ramsay became the first Scotsman to win the event, after Indian player Shiv Kapur only tied him on the last hole of regulation play and then pulled his tee shot into the bushes on the first playoff hole.

While this was Ramsay's first win on the ET, I felt that Edoardo Molinari's T4 finish was the biggest news, as this vaulted him into the Top 50 in the world rankings. Can you say 2010 Masters?

Anyway, here's the last tournament summary of the year...
Though Ramsay caught up to Kapur,
The playoff result was unsure
Till Shiv pulled his shot
And Richie did not,
Thus getting his first win on tour.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Golfer's Guide to Shoveling Snow

After all the "shoveling" the media has done over the last few weeks, I suppose it's a relief to have plain old snow to deal with. But it occurred to me as I dug out the driveway today that too many golfers have back problems... and not enough know the correct way to shovel snow. This post is a quick lesson in the art of shoveling. (Snow, that is. Media types are on their own.)

Since you can shovel left- or right-handed (wow, just like swinging a club!) I've chosen to use the terms front and rear for this lesson instead of right and left. This seemed to be the easiest way to describe it since you'll be switching from one side to the other during a shoveling session; that's part of the way you avoid straining yourself. Just remember that your front foot is on the same side of your body as your front hand, and your rear foot is on the same side as your rear hand. Got it?

Ok, the keys to avoiding back injury when shoveling are:

Use a wide stance with both knees bent. You want at least 24 inches between your front foot and your back foot, and you want most of your weight toward your front foot. In fact, your front shoulder should be located over your front foot; this puts you in a strong position to make the most painless use of your muscles.

The back hand holds the shovel grip (at the end of the shovel), and the front hand is close to the head of the shovel. I don't like to have my front hand more than about 8 inches from the shovel head, and I'll slide it even closer if the shovelful of snow is particularly heavy. Doing this will give you a long lever between your hands, and put the snow's weight very close to the fulcrum (your front hand). This gives you maximum power with minimum effort.

Don't bend your front elbow. This is where most shovelers mess up. Bending the front elbow forces you to use upper body muscles in a way that strains your back. Use your back hand and arm to raise and lower the shovel, while your front arm remains steady. Try it; you'll be surprised how little effort this takes.

Use your legs to lower and lift the shovel. Your legs are the strongest muscles for the job. I like to squat slightly as I push down on the handle with my back hand and arm (remember, the front arm remains steady), then I lift the loaded shovel with my legs. You won't feel much pressure on your back at all.

Dump the shovel by turning your back hand, not your front. Use your legs (not your arms) to turn your body, then use your back hand to tip the shovel sideways so the snow will fall off. (Let the shovel just rotate in your front hand. Trust me, by using the front hand and arm as little as possible, it takes a HUGE amount of pressure off your back.) If you need to throw the snow, don't use your upper body. Use your legs to swing back a little, then use that momentum to swing the shovel forward and twist the shovel as you reach the end of the "arc." The twist gives the throw a little extra "oomph" on the end.

Change sides every few minutes. This will give some of your muscles a break while fresher muscles take over. I like to take a minute to straighten up, walk around a little, and stretch before resuming work.

The key that you're getting too tired to continue is tired legs. When you need to narrow your stance in order to keep working, you need a break.

And don't forget to consider wind and temperature. Breathing cold air constricts the air passages in the lungs, which affects how soon you get tired, which affects whether you might strain yourself. Today, the temperature got up to about 38 degrees here, which was warmer than expected, and there was little or no wind. I was dressed warmly enough that I worked up a sweat, but I didn't get chilled and I didn't have trouble breathing. If the conditions had been bad, I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much done.

Trust me, this works. Shoveling is no fun, but this technique makes it much easier. I'm 51 and not in as good a shape as I'd like to be, but I shoveled out an area about 10 feet wide and 30-35 yards long today. My upper back is a little tired, so I'll sleep good tonight, but I don't ache and and I don't hurt. In that sense, a good shoveling swing is like a good golf swing; repetition shouldn't hurt unless you do way more than you should.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowhere to Go

I'm writing this late Friday night, and it looks like we've had about 5 inches of snow so far.

Quite frankly, I'm having trouble thinking about golf tonight!

For those of you who are in warmer climes where golf can be played with a white golf ball and no boots, you can look back over the last few weeks of posts if you need something "golfish" to think about...

I'm taking the day off. I think I'll just watch a little golf on TV and (pardon the pun) chill out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A-Wrist-ed Development

Sorry, but I couldn't resist the joke.

This is another Practice BRAINge drill, although you can do it with a club also. In fact, if you have enough room to do it inside, I'd advise using a club. You don't need room to swing it, per se; just enough room to move it around a little. What we're going to focus on is grip pressure.

Here's all I want you to do: Take your stance, gripping a club as lightly as you can. (A wedge is fine; not only is the shaft short, but the head is heavier.) After you take your stance, try to move the club around without tightening your grip anymore than necessary. Tilt the club up and down; bend your elbows so the club shaft is over your shoulder, like you're chopping wood; even swing the club like a baseball bat if you have room. (Don't break anything!) While you do, consciously try to relax your grip as much as possible without losing control of the club.

Don't try to do anything fancy. All we want is to build a habit of holding the club as gently as possible, even when we're moving it around. If you do this until spring, it should help you form a mental habit of gripping the club lightly.

No room to swing a club? Then use your imagination... and your remote. You're probably just vegging in front of the TV anyway, aren't you? Or find something roughly grip-shaped and heavy. Just grip it like a club and make some "swings" with it.

It's a simple thing, but too much grip pressure is a major problem for weekend golfers. This is a good way to get a grip on the problem.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mickey Wright Talks About Expectations

Another good thought from Hall of Famer Mickey Wright. This one may hit home for a lot of you!
The most important thing is to get the ball into the hole to the best of your ability.

It used to bother me terribly that I could hit two beautiful shots to a green and two putt for a regulation par, whereas my playing partner could drive to the left rough, send her second shot to the right rough and skull an iron onto the green ten feet from the pin, then sink it for her par.

Demoralizing? Yes. But not any more. Now, no matter how I get there, I'm happy to be there. I try to get there in the most nearly perfect way, but if I don't, I don't chastise myself, nor lose any time or concentration in self-recrimination. (p.27)
I think this is the main reason Tiger has beat so many players so badly for so long. If you ever listen to what most players say about their chances, they talk about the need to play perfect golf in order to beat him. They're wrong, though; all they really need to do is post a lower score, and low scores aren't always pretty. Look at most of the people who have beaten Tiger, and while you may remember a great shot or two (like Y.E. Yang's hybrid over the trees on the last hole to win the PGA), look at the whole round and you'll see some pretty sad shots in there. (Like Yang's three-putt on 17, followed by a poorly-placed drive on 18.)

Low scores matter. Looks don't. Remember that, ok? You'll take pressure off your game and play better.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

See Mickey Swing

I said yesterday that most of us haven't seen Mickey Wright's swing, even though Ben Hogan said it was the best swing he'd ever seen. So I hunted a little and found this clip. It shows several of her swings (the first one in slow motion), and I think it's pretty impressive.

I suspect a lot of men will be jealous of this swing!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mickey Wright Talks About Feel

So far this month I've given you a lot of thoughts from great male golfers. Now it's the ladies' turn... and I can think of no one better to start with than Mickey Wright.

Mickey Wright will be 75 in a couple of months, so most of us are a bit young to have seen her play. But she's 2nd in all-time wins with 82 LPGA wins (just 6 behind leader Kathy Whitworth) and 13 majors (just 2 behind leader Patty Berg). Ben Hogan reportedly said she had the best swing he'd ever seen. This is a woman who knows a little about hitting a golf ball!

Back in 1962 she wrote a book called Play Golf the Wright Way. The book is slim and loaded with pictures, but the text is an interesting look at a woman who might have been the John Daly of her day. She believed in hitting the ball as hard as she possibly could, a task she undertook with what she called "jaw-clinching determination." I plan to share several of Wright's thoughts on the game because she just isn't talked about like the other legends. Today I'd like to look at something she said about feel:
When I was twelve years old, I was given a copy of Patty Berg's golf book. Every night when I went to bed, I'd study the illustrations of Patty's swing and try to imagine myself in the various positions.

How does she feel when she does that? I'd ask myself. Then I'd visualize myself swinging and feeling the same way. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was forming a "good study habit," for subconsciously I was conditioning my mind and my muscles to react in a given circumstance. (p.9)
This pretty much a standard method for improvement these days, and you may note that it's similar to what I've been recommending you do. What amazes me is that this was the instinct of a 12-year-old; that would have been 1947. (Wright was born in 1935.) Is it any wonder that this child became one of the game's greats?

For most of us, it's too cold to go out and play. That doesn't mean you can't take Mickey Wright's advice and hit the mental practice range. Look what it did for her!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Shark Shootout

Winners: Steve Stricker & Jerry Kelly

Maybe Tiger stole the headlines again, but we had another week of really good golf. Robert Allenby won for the second week in a row down in Australia, grabbing his 4th Australian PGA win; Pablo Martin finally broke out of his rut and won the 2010 Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa (that "2010" thing just cracks me up!); and In-kyung Kim won the Dubai Ladies Masters, with Michelle Wie putting in another great 2nd place finish while also posting a high finish at her exams. This is another week that really deserves several limericks, but right now I only promise one... and that is for what I suppose is the last PGA tournament of the year. (Well, I guess I could count the yet-to-be televised Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, but that was actually played a month ago.)

Today's limerick is for the Shark Shootout, the team event Greg Norman puts on every year. Norman didn't play this year because of shoulder surgery, but that didn't prevent this from being another pretty good event. You gotta love a scramble! The tournament came down to a Kentucky/Wisconsin battle, with Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes facing off against Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker, and it went right to the last hole. Kelly had dubbed the team "Cheddar & Better" early in the week, and I couldn't let that go unnoticed. In fact, since the whole tournament is just a fun event for charity...
Though Kentucky was long off the tees,
Strick and Kelly drove both to their knees.
But the two are a wreck
‘Cause they can't cash the check:
Seems it's made out to some guy named “Cheese”…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good News from Tiger’s Camp

I know what you’re thinking. How can it be good news that Tiger’s stepping away from golf indefinitely? Are you CRAZY?

But, in keeping with my attempts not to touch the Tiger fiasco unless I find something that helps weekend golfers improve their games (that’s what my blog is about, after all), I see Tiger making a couple of good moves here… moves that weekend golfers should learn from.

In last week’s post about Tailgate I said that Tiger’s “fall from grace” didn’t tell us as much about his character as his actions after his “transgressions” had been exposed would.

Then came Friday night’s new statement. (Wouldn’t it be nice if, when your life got screwed up, you could just “issue a statement” and go back into hiding? Ah, the luxury of celebrity!) The media immediately went to work dissecting it, and will probably continue to do so, but here’s what I see that I think is good about it and what weekend players can learn.

The biggest thing to me isn’t that Tiger is taking things off, but that he actually used the word “infidelity.” The media is saying that perhaps this indicates Tiger is finally coming to grips with what he’s done, but I think it’s even more basic than that. We all know people who can’t admit they’re wrong, and we know how hard they are to get along with. Nobody can get anywhere until they learn to be honest with themselves. This is what I see here. The easiest person to fool is yourself, and the fact that Tiger is finally naming the sin indicates that he’s not trying to sugarcoat it to himself anymore. He’s not trying to hide it under fuzzy terms that allow him to tell himself that it wasn’t that bad and that people shouldn’t be so judgmental about it. To name the sin is to take responsibility for it; it doesn’t change the situation, but it’s the necessary (even critical) first step. After all, you can't solve the problem until you can admit what it is.

The other good news really is that Tiger is stepping away from the game for a while. It shows first of all that he really is being honest with himself; if the problem is of his own making, then fixing it is his responsibility, not the responsibility of his management team or his PR guys or his mom. And second, I think it shows a return to balance. Some will say that Tiger had put too much emphasis on his golf and not enough on his marriage, but I disagree. I don’t think he spent too much time golfing; after all that time working for Jesper’s family and being around the Tour, Elin certainly expected the best golfer in the world to spend a lot of time on his game. Tiger apparently just didn’t think his marriage was important enough to take care of it; how else can you explain such a blatant disregard for her feelings? Tiger lost track of what’s important in life; stepping away is a way of saying he intends to rectify that. Most of us wouldn’t be able to make a move that drastic, but that’s a benefit of being rich. (Quite frankly, given the apparently high number of women involved, I’m not sure such blatant abuse can be dealt with any other way. He’s going to have to find some way to make it obvious to Elin that she’s the only woman in his life if he wants to keep her. Pardon the pun, but this Tiger will have to voluntarily wear a short leash and make sure she always has a firm grip on it, which won’t be easy in his line of work.)

So what can weekend golfers learn from this?

You need to keep things in balance. Golf is not more important than other aspects of your life; if you aren’t making a living at it, it has even less importance. It can be a great outlet for frustrations, a way to deal with stress and hang out with friends, and something that can make you a better person… but you can’t let it take over and keep you from dealing with more important things. Ironically, if you use it to hide from those more important things, it will only end up ruining your golf as well.

And achieving that balance means you’ll have to be honest with yourself. You’ll have to accept the fact that you may never be a great golfer because you don’t have the time or energy to put into it, and you’ll have to accept that as your own choice and not take your frustration out on others. If you’re honest with yourself from the start, you may not have to face the painful kind of honesty later on.

That’s something all golfers – even Tiger – need to learn. And if we’re lucky, Tiger will be able to save his marriage and get his golf career back on track. It seems as if he’s finally making the right choices.

Good luck, Big Cat and Elin. I hope the healing comes sooner than later.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hamstring Stretches

I hate stretching my hamstrings. It's way too easy to strain them. I mean, how do most people do them, anyway? They stiffen their legs dead straight, then try to bend over and touch the floor. Of course, there's a good chance they can't touch the floor, so they start bouncing. OUCH!

I know a lot of people say that's how you increase your range of motion. They're wrong; that's a good way to injure yourself. Remember what I said a couple of days ago about the nervous system and how it protects your muscles by limiting your range of motion? Bouncing is an attempt to overcome that protection. Bad mojo, mon!

Let me teach you a hamstring stretch that's less likely to cause damage.

Spread your feet about 24 inches apart, with your toes pointed straight ahead. Then bend forward and place your hands on the floor, maybe 10-12 inches apart and maybe a little farther in front of your toes. You might only be able to put your fingers on the floor in this position; that's ok. And yes, you will bend your knees to do this! Bend your knees as much as necessary to get in this position without strain. You'll probably find that it feels better if you stand with your weight on the insides of both feet; that makes your knees and legs form a straight line between your feet and your hips.

Hamstring stretch setup

If you've done this, your upper body is supported mainly by your arms, rather than your hamstrings. Now all you have to do is straighten your legs.

It's not easy, is it? Don't worry if you can't do it; just straighten them until you feel a little stretch and hold it for a few seconds, then relax. Your upper body may have to move a bit forward when you do it, and that's ok too.

And here's how you adjust the difficulty: Widening your stance makes the stretch a little easier, narrowing it makes it more difficult. I suggest 24 inches as a starting point simply because most people can spread that wide without difficulty, but if you can, you may want to start with your feet further apart. (Personally, I find about 30-32 inches to be easier.) As you get more flexible, you may eventually get to the point where you can do this with your feet together.

But if you don't, that's ok; the goal is just to become more flexible than you are now, not reach some pinnacle of pretzelitude.

This is the least damaging way to stretch hamstrings I know. Of course, all medical disclaimers apply; try this at your own risk. (But I still think it's less risky than any other method I've seen.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tommy Armour Talks About Simplicity

Many of you may not have heard of Tommy Armour; the name is familiar to you because of his grandson, current player Tommy Armour III. The original, known as the Silver Scot, was a contemporary of Bobby Jones and won 3 majors: the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship, and the 1931 British Open. He also taught the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

The Silver ScotIn a twisted turn of fate, I think it's also cool that he holds the record for the highest score on a single hole in PGA history, a record also set in 1927: a 23 on a par-5. That's 18-over on a single hole! According to Wikipedia, this is called an "archaeopteryx" (15 or more over par).

The first lesson: Take heart, folks! This game can bite anybody!

Jack Nicklaus said that Armour "earned even more fame as a teacher than his fine playing record won for him." And one of Armour's books, How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, is still very popular. Ironically, the book is pretty thin, and Armour said it took some effort to make it that way. But he had his reasons:
While trimming my manuscript down to the form in which it now reaches you, I often thought of men and women who might have been great champions had they only been able to master the simple and indispensable elements of good golf I have set forth in this book. The frustrated ones lost their way to glory by wandering in a maze of detail.

That never has happened to any of my pupils, and it never will, whether the pupil is a beginner or one who already has won national championships. (p.3)
Simplicity. The frustrated ones lost their way to glory by wandering in a maze of detail. Armour laments that high-speed cameras break the swing down too much, showing too many things that don't really matter. (You might find it interesting to know that the book was written in 1953! Obviously this is not a new problem.)

There are only a few things that really matter when you swing that club. Remember that most of golf's greats had what were considered "funky" swings at the time; it was only after they became dominators that others tried to copy them.

Don't over-complicate your swing. You'll play better and have more fun.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Relationship Between Strength & Flexibility

It occurred to me while I was writing yesterday’s post that some of you may be a bit confused. Why am I posting strengthening exercises, but categorizing them under “flexibility”?

A few years ago, a friend of mine fell and broke her arm. Because the doctor who tended her (and I’m being extremely kind here) “botched the job,” her arm had to be re-broken and reset. It doubled the healing time and made her lose a lot of strength and flexibility. She couldn’t even straighten her arm when she started therapy.

But here’s the interesting part. When the therapist held her arm with a secure grip, the therapist could extend her arm to its full length without causing her any pain.

The reason is that your nervous system has an involuntary reaction that prevents muscles from stretching to a position they aren’t strong enough to reach safely. (I can’t remember what it’s called. If I find it again, I’ll add it to this post.) Basically, this means that if you want to increase your flexibility, you need to strengthen the muscles.

I found a post at that talks about Olympic swimmer Dara Torres’s stretching routine. She uses something she calls “resistance stretching.” The post says:
The inside secret to resistance stretching is that the routine combines strength and flexibility training, so it develops both, explains Tierney [Anne Tierney, one of the certified trainers at Innovative Body Solutions who developed her workout].

"Resistance stretching is the eccentric phase of weight training (lowering the weight). Focusing on the eccentric movement will give a swimmer more strength than concentric weight training."

With resistance stretching, the swimmer starts the exercise where the muscle is as short as possible and contracts the muscle while taking it to where it is as long as possible—while resisting throughout the entire range.

Most swimmers don’t realize that it takes twice as much force to stretch the muscle as to strengthen the muscle, says Tierney. So if you do a traditional bicep curl with 60 lbs, then it would take 120 lbs. to actually stretch your bicep.
You don’t have to use free weights to get this benefit. You can create the same effect just by working one set of muscles against another, or by using gravity as part of an exercise. For example, you can both stretch and strengthen your chest muscles by doing “lower-downs” instead of push-ups. Take what most people call the finish position of a push-up – with your arms straight – and lower yourself very slowly until your chest is just above (but not touching) the floor. If you have trouble doing regular push-ups, you can do sets of lower-downs to develop your strength. (To get back to the straight arm position, just use your hands and knees, then resume your push-up position.)

Anyway, that’s the reason I combine strength and stretching under the flexibility category. You don’t need to do separate routines, which means half the workout time. That’s something that every weekend player can be happy about.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Really Simple Ab Strengthener

It's not often that I find a usable golf tip in People magazine. To be honest, I can't give you much in the way of specifics about it. I don't remember exactly when I saw it, but I'm pretty sure it was part of an article about LL Cool J's workout book called LL Cool J's Platinum Workout, and I'm pretty sure it was a tip given by his trainer and coauthor Dave "Scooter" Honig. I'm guessing the article was from 2007, because I found this short article from that time in the People online archives. The online article includes a four-exercise ab program, but they don't include the tip that Honig gave in the magazine.

It's a shame, really. A lot of people might actually be willing to try the tip. And just what was that tip? Simply this:

You can strengthen your abs just by tensing them for 20 seconds every hour you're awake.

That's it. Unbelievable, isn't it? But imagine doing a sit-up, then stopping halfway up and holding that position for 20 seconds. That would be a lot of work, wouldn't it? This tensing exercise isn't quite as difficult, but it can give your abs a decent workout... especially if you do it once every hour. In essence, you make ab strengthening a part of your daily routine.

Wow. I hope this incredibly complex ab workout doesn't tire you out too much.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arnold Palmer Talks About Attitude

I think Arnold Palmer was a pretty fair player in his day, don't you? So when "The King" talks about what it takes to win, I want to hear what he says.

Back in 1970, Palmer wrote a book called Situation Golf. It was a book with diagrams of 9 different golf holes... and Arnie "played" each of the holes as three different players: a 7- to 12-handicap, a 12- to 18-handicap, and an 18+ handicapper. He showed how each player should approach the holes, based on each's individual strengths and weaknesses. And in the introduction he said:
...One thing I do know is that what separates the great players from the good players or the 15-handicap player from the 20-handicapper is often not so much ability as a whole host of factors which have to do with brainpower and emotional equilibrium.

I can tell you this: once the fundamentals of golf are mastered, about 90 percent of the game depends on judgment and attitude. On the pro tournament level, I'm inclined to raise the figure to 95 percent. (p.3)
How often do you get down on yourself after a bad run of holes? How often have you asked yourself, "Why did I do that?" when you know good and well it was just because you were frustrated? And why were you frustrated?

Because you let the bad shots get to you. And Arnie says that's the difference between good players and bad players. "Emotional equilibrium," he called it.

If you want to improve your game, one of the quickest ways is to improve the shots you haven't hit yet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Chevron World Challenge

Winner: Jim Furyk

There was so much good golf this weekend, what with Robert Allenby becoming the first Aussie to win the Nedbank and Adam Scott's impressive return to the winner's circle at the Australian Open, not to mention the PGA and LPGA Q-Schools (which are still going on), that I may do several days of limericks this week!

Of course, the official Monday limerick had to be the Chevron. Jim Furyk broke a two-year winless drought (way to go, Jim!) by surviving last minute runs by Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell. (And congrats to Graeme for pretty much guaranteeing his way into the Masters!) Unfortunately, while I've avoided Tailgate as much as possible this week, there's no way I could summarize this tournament without referring to Tiger. Hopefully this will be clever enough that it won't seem to be trivializing what's happened:
A late-season problem with driving
Kept Tiger from even arriving.
A vict’ry for him,
Unlike our man Jim,
Won’t be just a case of surviving.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Raymond Floyd Talks About Distance

Ah, yes... everybody's heard about the stare. It's that look Raymond Floyd gets in his eyes when he knows he's in contention. He's something of a legend, with that loopy swing that looks like it might send the ball anywhere.

Unfortunately for his competition, "anywhere" was usually the hole. Floyd won four majors – a Masters (1976), a US Open (1986), and two PGAs (1969 & 1982).

In his book The Elements of Scoring Floyd talks about how to score with the game you've got, rather than the game you wish you had. I'm going to share a few of his tips this month, simply because they are both so basic and so often ignored by weekend golfers.
Not on a downwind, wide-open par 4 with a baked fairway, but under normal conditions, how far do your reasonably (not perfectly) struck shots carry through the air with each club?

This is a bugaboo of mine, because I see so many amateurs, particularly higher handicappers, underclub...

In the pro-ams I play in, I've hardly ever seen an amateur hit a shot long. (p.29)
Floyd has always been considered someone who got more out of his game than you would expect. If he says underclubbing is a major problem, maybe we should pay more attention to this part of our game.

This is a tip that doesn't even require any practice. All you have to do is note how far you actually hit the ball with each club and then use that info when you stand over a shot, rather than picking a club based on how far Bubba Watson hits it.

I think a tip this simple is worth trying.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Doorway to Flexibility

This flexibility exercise is so simple, you won't believe you haven't tried it. It stretches your chest muscles, and all it requires is one handy-dandy doorway.

Lift your arms up to shoulder height, extended straight out to your sides. (Pretend you're an airplane.) Turn your palms to the front so they're perpendicular to the floor. Got it? Then step up to the doorway and let your upper arms touch the door jambs.

Now... just lean forward. You don't have to push or force things here; it's a very gentle stretch. Just let your weight leaning against the doorway stretch your chest muscles.

You may want to let your arms "droop" a little; for some of us, that takes some pressure off the neck and shoulders and makes the stretch more comfortable.

Simple, huh? You might be surprised at how much it can help relax your upper body. Besides the benefits to your golf swing, it might even help you breathe better.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tailgate and the 2010 PGA Season

I’ve avoided the whole Tiger fiasco of the last week, primarily because this blog is concerned with helping weekend golfers play better golf. I don’t see how the sordid details of Tailgate, which change almost hourly, can help anybody play better. (Why is Tailgate my preferred name for this train wreck? It’s a combination of the busted-out rear window in the Escalade and that whole “got a Tiger by the tail” thing.)

However, I do think it’ll have an effect on the 2010 PGA season… but not for the reason anybody else might think.

Will the media pressure on Tiger when he finally emerges next year affect his game? Probably, at least for a while. It’s hard for me to believe that, if things are as bad as the media says they are, Tiger didn’t see this coming. His uncharacteristic displays of frustration this year would then make sense. When you see your life spiraling out of control, it’s a natural reaction to tighten your grip on the things you feel you can control – in Tiger’s case, that’s his swing. But if that’s true, the fact that he still won so many tournaments after the layoff and rehab tells me that it won’t affect him for long.

No, the real effect will be seen on the other players.

I’m not excusing Tiger for what he has apparently done, or the pain he’s caused Elin and the kids. (Having to live with that will be more punishing than anything the media can dish out.) But given the repeated comparisons to Bill Clinton, complete with “Slick Willie” comments, I feel I should point out that many other famous people have failed miserably in their family lives. King David comes to mind – considered the greatest king Israel ever had, and described in the Bible as a man “after God’s own heart.” He is also a man who slept with another man’s wife (that man being a hero in his own right), got her pregnant, tried to fool the man into thinking it was his baby and then, when that failed, had him killed. How could such a man be called a man after God’s own heart?

The point is that otherwise good men sometimes do horrendous things. David was a man after God’s own heart because of the way he dealt with his sins after they were exposed. We often talk about how good Tiger is at recovery shots; it will be his recovery from this that tells us what kind of man he is, not the fact that he has shattered his superhuman image.

But that shattered image is what I believe will affect the other players in 2010.

Some media people have said for years that most players are afraid of Tiger. I don’t buy that; rather, I think Ben Hogan was right when he said most golfers underrate themselves. (See my last post, if you missed that.) The other players on the Tour simply believed Tiger was better than them… not a better player, just better. He seemed to have everything under control, and I mean everything. How can you compete against a superhuman? I don’t think I’m overstating the case; while not all players say they are “bad people” when they don’t play well, the things they say about Tiger often go beyond just believing he’s a good player.

But I think that’s about to change. Tiger is clearly human; he has failings. He can screw up big time. (And yes, that’s the right choice of words.) Many of these players who have stood in awe of Tiger are going to see him in an entirely different light. Come on, if he can make mistakes this bad off the course… These players will get a boost of confidence from this newfound revelation that perhaps the beast can be slain. It will elevate their play.

I also suspect some of the players will start to see themselves as better than Tiger – not a superiority in skills, but in morals. They won’t say so in as many words… but they will think it, just the same. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that feeling superior is the same as having confidence, nor that it’s a good attitude to have. But I think it will be there, and for some of those players, it will elevate their play also.

And who is the person with the most to gain from Tailgate? It has to be Phil Mickelson. I know a lot of you don’t like him – you think he’s a fake, that he plays the camera, and that his image is contrived. But measured against the sometimes self-righteous standards that Tiger has been judged by in the past week, Phil is a saint. I understand the anger and resentment we feel when an idol lets us down, but you can’t have it both ways; if you’re going to label Tiger as evil incarnate, then Phil at least deserves a halo. You Phil-haters owe him some serious props for his family life, no matter what other faults you may think he has.

While I don’t expect Phil to be the “superior” type – for any family man, this whole debacle is heartbreaking – I do expect him to come out feeling pretty good about himself and his game. Say what you like about Phil’s attacking style, he feels that his game is in its best shape in years… and he smells blood. Like Arnold Palmer, he’s not afraid to attack. And if he gets off to a good start early, Tiger could end up on the defensive and the two could start pushing each other the way we’ve all been hoping they would.

The application for weekend players?
The “Tiger Effect” – intimidation by mere appearance – gets to many weekend players. They’re beaten before they step onto the course by players who seem to be better than them. I’m echoing Ben Hogan’s words here: Don’t underrate yourself. Make your opponent beat you. Don’t just roll over and say, “I have no chance.”

The application for the Tour? Well, next year should be interesting, as I suspect the “Tiger Effect” will be lessened. But I’ll really be paying attention to the Phil/Tiger duel. Depending on how things play out, by 2012 we may see the end of the [golfing] world as we know it…

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ben Hogan Talks About Confidence

Ben Hogan is one of those golfers surrounded by a mystique. He reshaped the modern concept of the swing, and his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf still influences golfers today.

Hogan was known for "digging it out of the dirt" – that is, practicing for hours at a time to get his swing exactly right. So it might come as a surprise to read this in his best-known book (I'm only quoting part of the passage, because it's pretty long):
I see no reason, truly, why the average golfer, if he goes about it intelligently, shouldn't play in the 70s – and I mean by playing the type of shots a fine golfer plays. Somehow most average golfers get it into their head that they can't play a "long shot" correctly, that they haven't got the skill or coordination to execute a full swing. Putting or chipping, that's another story. The average golfer feels he can cope pretty successfully with those parts of the swing – all they require is a short swing. In my opinion, the average golfer underrates himself. He has all the physical equipment he needs to execute the full golf swing and hit full shots. A full swing is nothing more or less than an extension of the short swing. (p.15)
In my opinion, the average golfer underrates himself. This, from a man who described himself as "demanding," an opinion shared by the many players he intimidated both on and off the course. Perhaps this is part of the reason behind his apparent disdain for others:

Maybe Hogan just had no respect for people who didn't believe they were good enough to play the game.

Look again at that first sentence. He reiterated it in his book just a couple of pages later, this belief that almost any average golfer was capable of building a repeating swing and breaking 80. I love his logic! Almost any player can play short shots, and "long shots" are just longer short shots. I've said that the full swing is just a big version of the putting stroke, and that if you can putt, you can swing.

Ben Hogan agrees. He says the average golfer underrates himself. You don't have to make the same mistake.

It's time to believe in ourselves, people!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jack Nicklaus Talks About Fundamentals

I really wanted to include a swing thought or two from Jack Nicklaus this month. Regardless of which side you take in the great "Jack vs. Tiger" debate, there's no doubt that Nicklaus is one of the top five golfers in history. (No, Jack and Tiger aren't the only great players. Sam Snead had 82 PGA wins, and Gary Player has over 160 worldwide wins. Neither Jack nor Tiger has matched those totals yet, so I'm unwilling to say that they're the top two. It's my blog and my opinion; live with it.) At any rate, when Jack Nicklaus talks, it pays to listen.

Problem is, Jack has written so much (and been quoted so much) that picking just one or two thoughts is tough. But I think this thought kind of sums up a lot of his mindset, and it's a thought that most weekend golfers can really profit from. It's actually the first paragraph in his classic book Golf My Way:
I am not a believer in "methods." I'm a believer in fundamentals. Whatever any golfer does with a golf club should have only one purpose: to produce correct impact of club on ball. If he can achieve that consistently, the manner in which he does so doesn't really matter at all. (p.15)
There are so many methods being taught these days, and I've mentioned some of them in this blog. But any method, no matter who teaches it, is only as good as the fundamentals that it's built on.

I really try to focus on fundamentals in this blog. I don't claim to be some great teacher; I just hope that what I say is so basic to the game that anybody can use it and improve. But it's up to you to do the thinking, to pay attention to your game and understand what you have to do to hit good shots.

I remember, years ago, playing behind a guy who had a pronounced over-the-top swing. Most people will say that's a fundamentally flawed swing; but he was a weekend player, not a pro, and I think the fundamentals can be a bit different – especially when you don't have 8 hours a day to practice. Anyway, I ended up being kinda jealous. This guy may have had a slice, but it was controllable; it always landed right where he was aiming. And he hit it solid. He hit almost every fairway and every green.

My swing may have looked better, but head's-up he would have beat me silly.

Don't listen to anybody who judges your swing; just listen to your scorecard. That's where consistency shows up, and consistency comes from sound fundamentals.

At least, that's what I hear Jack saying... and he didn't do so bad.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Forget Tiger – Be a Panther

Over the next month, in addition to the thoughts of great players, I want to share some simple exercises to help increase your strength and flexibility. I generally prefer exercises that don't use any weights other than your body or the resistance you can provide with your own muscles, simply because you're less likely to hurt yourself. Best of all, there are no weights to drop if you just run out of juice in the middle of your workout!

This particular exercise came from a book called The Miracle Seven by John E. Peterson and Wendie Pett. Each has their own book of exercises, but they did this book together and combined some of their favorites. This one is called a Panther Stretch Push-Up, and it's pretty easy to do even if you have trouble with regular push-ups.

Your arms remain straight throughout the movement. That's right, no "push" like a regular push-up. You raise and lower your hips, which alternately stretches and tightens your abs like one of those expensive ab machines they advertise on TV; the great thing about this move is that it isn't as hard, so you're less likely to strain yourself. Since your arms remain straight, your shoulders get a rotary workout. The diagram below shows the start and halfway positions; you then return to the start position for the next rep.

Push Up Diagram
This is a simple exercise, but don't be fooled. This little baby can really give you a workout; since your hips never touch the floor, there is constant tension on your abs, but it's a gentle tension. Because of that, it's easy to say, "Oh, it's not doing very much." If you do that, you'll overdo it.

Build the number of repetitions slowly. After a month or two, you'll be able to tell a difference in your ab strength as well as your flexibility.

Oh, yeah, one other thing: I guess I should add that I'm not a medical doctor and if you follow any of my suggestions, you do so at your own risk. That's an exercise in covering my own ass, so there you go.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup

Winners: Italy (Eduardo & Francesco Molinari)

Molto bene, Italia! The Molinari brothers became the first Italians to win the World Cup, as well as the first brothers. (I guess that also makes them the first Italian brothers to win. Just being thorough.) You can get a full lowdown on the tournament from Ryan Ballengee at Waggle Room; I’m just going to give you some background for today’s limerick.

Turin (in Italian, Torino) is part of the Piedmont area of Italy. (By coincidence, I live in what is known as the Piedmont area of North Carolina.) The Piedmont is perhaps best known for producing some of the best wines in the world. Turin has also been a capital for chocolate production since the 16th Century. (You gotta love that! Unfortunately, I found no room for that tidbit in the limerick. I always feel bad when I have to ignore chocolate.)

Of course, you all know who Antonio Stradivari is, so I won’t bore you with details. However, for those of you who saw the History Channel special Little Ice Age, Big Chill and heard the theory that Strad violins sound unique because of special atmospheric conditions during Stradivari’s lifetime, you might want to check this blog post. It seems that scientists believe they may have found a way to duplicate Stradivari’s work.

And now, here is today’s limerick:
Francesco and Ed Molinari
Played more like the great Stradivari.
With fine Piedmont vino,
The pair from Torino
Downed rivals like fried calamari.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Julius Boros Talks about Swing Keys

Over the next month (yeah, I’m gonna be lazy over the holidays) I thought I’d do some posts featuring things that great players have said about their swings. Hopefully these posts will show just how varied the approaches of successful players have been, and maybe they’ll inspire some improvement in your game for the coming year.

Julius Boros was a 3-time Major winner (1952 & 1963 US Open, 1968 PGA Championship). That last major, won at age 48, made him the oldest player ever to win a major – a record that still stands, since Tom Watson fell just short at this year’s Open Championship. Boros was a very “handsy” player, and he wrote something in his book How to Swing with an Effortless Swing that fits in very well with our recent discussions about feel (as you read this, remember that Boros is righthanded):
Some people feel that the “key” in golf is the left shoulder. Others talk about the left hip. I prefer to emphasize the hands. Proper hand action is my big key. If my hands work correctly everything else falls into place. While I cannot see my hands at all times in the swing, I can feel what they are doing much more easily than I can feel, say, my left shoulder or hip. (p.55)
I don’t quote this to try and prove that hand action is important. Rather, I want you to key in on that last sentence. Why does Boros say that he keys in on hand action?

Because what his hands are doing is the easiest thing for him to feel during his swing. Since he can always know what his hands are doing, his hand action is his primary swing key.

What aspect of your swing you can feel most clearly? Is there something that feels good when you swing well… and feels bad when you swing poorly? Maybe this is a clue to finding a useful swing key for you. Finding this key helped Boros win three majors; it might help you as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Falling into Your Shot

This is another Practice BRAINge image, but it’s extremely simple and more helpful than you might expect. The first time you try it, though, you may want to have a golf ball handy. And just what are you going to do with that golf ball?

You’re going to drop it.

That’s all, just drop it. From shoulder height, to be exact.

What I want you to do is get a feel for how long it takes the ball to drop from shoulder height and hit the ground. You don’t even have to look at it; no, you’ll know when you let go of the ball… and you’ll hear when it lands.

Just listen. Feel how long it takes the ball to cover the distance from shoulder to ground… then imagine your downswing taking the same amount of time. Feel your muscles moving from the top of the swing and down to strike the ball during that time. Let your lower body start the motion; feel your arms start down slowly, then gradually speed up until they blast the clubhead through the golf ball and send it screaming down the middle of the fairway. Feel the club start down just a split second before your upper body starts to uncoil. Imagine that you have all the time in the world to get the club from here to there, and just let it happen.

That’s the image, and it will help you learn to feel how fast your swing should be. It will internalize the speed of the motion, so you can focus on just swinging. It will particularly help you stop jerking the club at the start of the downswing. And you won’t need a club to practice it, so you can do it anywhere, anytime.

It’s perfect for winter practice sessions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Complete Series List

As promised, here's the complete listing of all the posts (in order). This will give Brian an easy way to look back over all the things we talked about, and maybe it'll help the rest of you with your games as well.

And I'll repeat this once more: The comments are always open. If you have a question about a particular post, just leave a comment on it. I'll find it and give you a response. (Hopefully a helpful one!)

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 1 (Some Basics)
  1. Introducing The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor
  2. A Look at Brian's Grip
  3. Fanning the Club Open on the Way Back
  4. The Dreaded Chicken Wing of Death
  5. Swinging in a Barrel
  6. Feeling the Start of the Downswing

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 2 (Leg & Hip Action)
  1. Some Further Thoughts About Leg Action, Part 1
  2. Some Further Thoughts About Leg Action, Part 2
  3. Why Hip Action Matters
  4. Doing the Bump
  5. The "Feel Drill" Revisited
  6. More About That Lead Leg

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 3 (Hand & Arm Action)
  1. Learning to Feel the Swing
  2. The Full Motion Punch Shot
  3. Why We Start with a Punch
  4. That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 1
  5. That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 2
  6. Swing and Sweep
  7. Tie It Together

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tie It Together

Ok, I've talked about the sequence of movements that start the downswing, the importance of the arms starting down just before you uncoil, and about feeling the pressure in your hands and wrists when the club reaches the end of its travel to the top of the swing.

Now let's tie it all together. Brian, this should answer most of your questions about what's happening at the change of direction and the first move down. I won't promise that it'll solve all your problems, but you need to understand what you're trying to do in order to find a way to do it consistently.

While replanting your right foot and starting that knee moving is the first move in the downswing (and remember, you'll have to determine how you feel that movement), you could argue that feeling the club's pressure against your wrists is the actual start of the downswing. As you become more sensitive to that pressure, you'll get to where you can anticipate it. That will allow you to choose when you start the downswing:
  • If you want to make an approach shot to the green, where consistency of distance is important, you'll make the first move of your downswing just as you feel the pressure in your hands. This way, your wrists uncock in a fairly predictable and therefore consistent manner, and you can be pretty sure how far the ball is going to go.
  • If you want to drive the ball as far as possible, you'll make the first move of your downswing just before you feel that pressure. That way, you'll be able to carry as much wrist cock as possible into the swing as long as you can. I don't care what you may hear, you don't "hold" your wrist cock; rather, wrist cock is delayed automatically if you start the club down at the right moment. However, because you're anticipating the pressure, there's guesswork involved; so you never know exactly when the wrists will fully uncock, and therefore you don't have any idea exactly how far the ball will go. That's why we only use this method when the exact distance isn't important.
Once you decide when you want to start down, you replant your right foot, the right knee starts to move, the hips turn slightly, and the arms drop a little. That's the sequence, but it happens so fast that you'll probably find it easier to think of it all as a single move. Once you are solidly into that move, then you uncoil and the swing happens really fast after that!

And with that, I'll call this the end of the Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor post series. I'm going to do one more post just to put together a complete listing of all the post titles, complete with links, so individual posts are easier to find. As usual, though, the comments are always open; anybody (not just Brian) who has a question can add a comment to any post and I'll find it. Once I do, I'll do my best to give you a helpful answer.

I hope this series leaves you with a clear understanding of what happens during the swing and how to solve some of the most common swing problems.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swing and Sweep

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Brian asked me several weeks ago if there was a way to feel the resistance at the top of the swing as strongly as you can with the feel drill. I’m not sure anything could give you a feel that strong short of swinging a steel pipe; however, this post should help you learn to feel the club’s weight better.

A traditional method of learning about the golf swing involves a piece of twine with a weight on one end. Also traditional was the use of a penknife for that weight; I suppose it was something most people carried with them back then. Because you can’t force a weighted string to make a swinging motion by muscle alone, teachers used it to teach students what a true swinging motion feels like.

The drill actually has a lot of applications for learning the golf swing. I spent an entire chapter on it in my book Ruthless Putting, where I used it in tandem with a putter to teach distance control. In today’s post, although we won’t use a weighted string, I’m going to show you how a similar technique can help you learn to feel the change of direction. I call it the swing and sweep. You can use either a short broom, if you have one, or a wedge for this drill.

Take your normal grip on the wedge (or broom handle) and keep your hands, forearms, and shoulders as relaxed as possible without letting go of the club. You don’t have to ground the club and it doesn’t have to touch the floor at any point during the drill, so you should be able to hold it pretty lightly. What you want to do is swing the club back and forth, not letting your hands go higher than waist-high but allowing your shoulders to turn freely. The head of the club will probably go about shoulder-high at either end of this abbreviated swing. Just swing it back-and-forth like a pendulum, and pay attention to what you feel.

You’ll probably notice some unusual sensations, like how fast the clubhead seems to be moving. This is a surprise to most people; they think it’s going to move very slowly, but they end up moving their hands faster than anticipated in order to keep up… which causes the club to pick up even more speed. (I’m not saying it’s going to go so fast that it flies out of your hands, folks – only that it moves faster than you may expect.)

What I want you to focus on during this drill is the end of the backswing, where your hands stop but the clubhead is still moving. Try to feel the pressure on your wrists when the clubhead finally stops going back. This may or may not be easy for you, but keep trying. It’ll come. This pressure is not quite as strong as it is during a full swing, so if you can feel this, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the regular swing.

Since the swing is short and the club doesn’t have to hit the ground, you can probably find someplace to do this drill inside during the winter. You don’t have to spend a lot of time practicing, either; spending 30-60 seconds a couple of times a day would probably be considered working hard. But if you use it regularly for the next few months of cold weather, you should have developed a lot of sensitivity to your swing by spring.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 LPGA Tour Championship

Winner: Anna Nordqvist

Oh, you lucky people... TWO limericks in one week!

Of course, the PGA season is over, so I'm having to seek out other tournaments for the weekly limerick. The problem this week was... well... there were TWO big tournaments: The final European Tour championship (which I "poeticized" yesterday) and the final LPGA tournament, which finished today. Being a huge fan of the LPGA, I couldn't ignore this one.

Some of you may remember that my last LPGA summary was a sonnet. I'm sorry, that was just too work right now, what with all the other things I have going on. So, a limerick it is.

And what a limeri - er, tournament it was! Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin literally went down to the last putt, with Shin barely missing a birdie to give Lorena "Player of the Year" honors by a single point! (For those of you who don't know, the LPGA awards are given on the basis of a point system. Personally, I much prefer a system like this, which is based on achievement, as opposed to the PGA, which prefers to play favorites. I mean, really – no Comeback Player of the Year Award, simply because they didn't want to give it to Tiger? Come on!)

For those of you keeping score, Ochoa got POY and the Vare (scoring) Trophy; Shin got Rookie of the Year and the money list title. All poor Anna Nordqvist got was the WIN, but nobody seemed to notice. For the record, other than Ochoa and Shin, who each won three times, Nordqvist is the only other player with multiple wins this season. She also won the McDonald's LPGA Championship; that's one major and the Tour Championship... and she hasn't even been a pro for a full season yet! She should have gotten more attention for the win today.

At any rate, the LPGA's wild year drama and intrigue is over now, and here's my tribute:
The LPGA’s been a drama queen
This year – highs and lows, with no inbetween.
Ochoa beat Shin for
The POY (that’s four),
Then Nordqvist beat both… but she made no scene.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Dubai World Championship

Winner: Lee Westwood

All the talk this year has been about the young guns, of whom Rory McIlroy seems to be the "alpha male." Well, the alpha male slipped up this weekend.

Don't get me wrong. I really do like Rory McIlroy. He's an extremely talented player, and he seems to have his head screwed on straight. But I'm tired of this mindset that says it's a young man's game and, once one of them plays well, it's just a matter of time before Tiger is trembling in his billion dollar shoes. No matter how well the older guys play, it seems that nobody wants to admit they still have a chance.

So it did my heart good to see Lee Westwood win both the tournament and the season-long Race to Dubai. After falling nearly 200 places from his heyday early in the decade, he's finally worked his way back to the top and, best of all, finally seems to believe he belongs there. That's good news, not just for European golf, but for American golf as well. Westwood had some legit chances at the majors this year, and now he's got to be part of the discussion in 2010. Way to go, Lee!

All that is to say... I hope you Rory McIlroy fans will forgive me if this limerick has a bit of a chip on its shoulder...
“In the Race to Dubai,” said the purist,
“Rory McIlroy’s win is the surest!”
But the Westwood resurgence
Squelched Rory’s emergence;
The first-class flight ended up tourist.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 2

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Yesterday was kind of a “theory” post, looking more at how you think about the change of direction. Today we’ll look at Brian’s other questions, which are more about the actions themselves:
  • What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?
  • I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jamb drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?
First, the “bump” and the door jamb drill are the same thing – namely, a movement where the hips move toward the target during the downswing. After that, it gets a little complicated.

See, here’s the problem: Both questions are about the same thing. How do I start my downswing? Believe it or not, the answer is the same for everybody; it’s just that everybody feels the downswing differently, so it seems like there are a hundred different answers.

A number of things happen in sequence during the downswing:
  1. If your right foot came off the ground at the top of the backswing, you replant that foot firmly on the ground, which starts your right knee moving. If your foot is still flat on the ground at the top, the knee move happens first.
  2. The right knee begins to swing around as your hips turn ever-so-slightly to the right, which creates a very slight “bump-and-slide” to the right.
  3. Your weight shifts from your left side to your replanted right foot. (It doesn’t really shift – that’s just how you perceive changes in muscle pressure – but this is an easy way for most people to understand it.)
  4. Your arms pivot downward a little at the shoulder joints. (These first four items feel almost simultaneous, but they happen in this order.)
Now, this sequence of events causes two other sequences to happen simultaneously:
  1. The right foot rolls onto its outside edge as the right knee continues to swing around and straighten slightly, which causes the right hip to move up and back. (This is the opening of the hip everybody talks about.) This, in turn, pulls the left hip around, which pulls the left leg up and around, and that makes the left foot roll and pivot up on the toe. (The left leg does actually push a little, and some players feel that push more than the pull on the right side.)
  2. The arms continue to move downward as the upper body turns back to face the ball. The arms straighten and square the club as the wrists uncock. The momentum of the upper body causes it to continue turning through contact to face the target, and the momentum of the arms causes them to swing up and finish over the shoulders.
Of course, these two sequences are feeding on each other, each helping power each other. The hips and legs are pulling the upper body around, but the arms and club are making it easier and easier for the lower body to turn. (In fact, near the end of it all, the lower body is actually acting as a brake, slowing down the rotation of the upper body.)

Obviously, the first link in the chain is the right foot/right knee move, so that’s the move that starts the downswing. However – and this is VERY important – because all four of those actions I mentioned happen so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous, a player might feel ANY ONE OF THEM as the way the downswing starts. One teacher says it’s a weight shift to the right, another says it’s a bump-and-slide to the right, a third focuses on the slide, a fourth says you need to drop your shoulder, and still others might focus on the elbows. In the late 80s, I think it was Golf Magazine that ran a cover story on Davis Love III and his “power move,” which (I’m paraphrasing here) they described as pushing the hands away from the body at the start of the downswing to increase wrist cock. That's how Davis felt the combination of actions that started his downswing; Jim McLean’s “V-Gap” is almost exactly the same thing, yet it’s described in entirely different terms… and different feels.

That’s why so many players are confused, and why there are so many teachers apparently saying different things. And it’s why I call it the “fuzzy” feeling at the top; it’s hard to give a definitive answer to how it feels, because everyone’s different.

If you try the first four moves I mentioned above in slow motion, you’ll see how each one causes the next so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous. And you’ll see that they ALL have to happen when the swing starts; it’s simple physics. But which of these moves you FEEL when you start down is different from player to player, and THAT FEEL is what most players are referring to when they talk about the first move of the downswing.

So Brian, the answer is… the right foot/right knee move is the move that starts the downswing, but you may feel that move in any of several different ways. The starting move is the same for everybody, but the feel of that starting move is what differs… and only you can determine how it feels to you. What I’m trying to do is teach you how the moves are done, so you can do them and find out how they feel to you; then you can use that feel when you make your swing. The goal is to learn the correct mechanics, then identify how they feel to you so you can forget about mechanics on the course and just play golf by feel.