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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More About Phil’s Putting Change

A few days ago I talked about the changes Phil Mickelson made to his putting stroke. Since then, more info has come out, plus I was able to watch Phil putt over the weekend. I think now’s a good time to look at the change in more detail.

Specifically, I want to look more closely at that hand position. The original info I had was that Phil was leaning the putter shaft forward, more toward the target. There’s more to it than that.

Phil is, in fact, using a classic technique often called a forward press. Phil isn’t just setting up with his hands more over the ball; he’s actually moving his hands forward to begin his putt. If you think of a typical modern stroke as being a two count, where you take the club back on one and strike the ball on two, then Phil’s stroke is a three count. He moves his hands ahead of the ball, leaning the shaft toward the target on one; then he takes the club back on two, and strikes the ball on three. Understand that the clubhead doesn’t move on one; only the hands and the club handle move, with the clubhead resting on the ground as a pivot point.

This move isn’t used as much today, because modern players tend to keep the wrists firm throughout the stroke. But the forward press has two uses in a putting stroke:
  1. It eases the player into the stroke, making a smoother stroke possible because the player doesn’t have to go from standing motionless directly into the swing. (Some players use this move on their full swing as well, for the same reason.)
  2. It serves a rhythm device, helping a player create a rhythm to the stroke before actually taking the club back.
The interesting thing to me is that Phil says he used to do this, but stopped. He specifically said he was able to see results so soon because it was just a return to his old putting style. Why would he change something that worked so well? Probably because he started working with Dave Pelz, and Pelz didn’t do it. Some of the things I heard Phil say indicated that he felt his forward press was wrong somehow, and that Dave Stockton was the first person to convince him it was ok.

This may be the most important thing you can learn from Phil’s “new” putting stroke, and it’s something I harp on constantly: The best putting stroke for you is probably the one you already have. If you apply the Basic Principles of Good Putting to your existing stroke, you’ll probably find that it works really well without requiring a lot of effort from you. Always go with what’s natural for you unless there’s something really wrong with it… and then change it as little as possible to get the results you want. You’re more likely to see consistent improvement if your stroke is one you feel comfortable with.

A late minute addition to this post: On Tuesday night Dave Stockton spoke to Golf Channel's Scott Walker about the changes to Phil's stroke, and he said the biggest change he caused in Phil's game was getting him to look at the hole longer as he set up, because he wanted Phil to be more aware of the line on which he intended to start the ball. Stockton said that Phil is now looking at the hole for as long as 7 or 8 seconds as he takes his practice swings and "steps into the ball." Obviously Phil is seeing the line better now; he was bogey-free on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Basic Principles of Good Pitching

This is the next step up in my progression of how you carry the good practices you learn in a putting stroke into your full swing. We’ve moved from putting to chipping to punching… and now to pitching.

These are basically the same as the Basic Principles of Good Punching. The principles in italics are the ones that have altered slightly as the stroke lengthens and new techniques are employed.
  1. The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
  2. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, the club should be held in a slant-parallel grip where both palms are parallel to each other but the grip is turned slightly strong. This allows us to keep the wrists firm through impact without tensing the hands and forearms.
  3. The club should be held no tighter than necessary, without tension in the arms or shoulders or hands.
  4. The club handle should be held more in the fingers, so that the wrists can cock freely. Some people will still keep the forearms close to parallel with the shaft, but this becomes less important. The uncocking action at impact, coupled with the length and speed of the swing, governs the actual position taken at setup.
  5. Unless making a specialized stroke, the club should never follow an outside-to-inside path (a cut stroke).
  6. The clubhead should travel on a slightly upward path on the backswing and more downward on the downstroke, in order to trap as little grass as possible between the ball and the clubface.
  7. The lower body should not be rigid, neither should it be consciously moved. It should move no more than the natural execution of the stroke requires.
Principle 4 changes because the pitch also adds a new technique to the swing: Cocking the wrists, which adds power to the shot. In order to get the maximum advantage from cocking the wrists, we move the grip from the palms down into the fingers; this also allows us to hold the club more firmly during a longer swing without having to tighten the grip much.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 FedEx Cup Playoffs, Complete

This simply pulls the complete Limerick Summary for the entire playoff series together into a single post for easy reference. (I know you're all going to be re-reading these often!)

The Barclays Championship
Winner: Heath Slocum
When the Barclays was won by Heath Slocum,
Did it prove that the playoffs are hokum?
Beating Els, Woods, and Stricker
May make some fans sicker―
But who cares? We all saw Heath smoke ‘em!

The Deutsche Bank Championship
Winner: Steve Stricker
With a game that at times waxed Shakespearean
On a course that could be Luciferean,
Though he’s been tempest-tossed,
His was no Labor lost―
Plus, it made Stricker’s wins trinitarian.

The BMW Championship
Winner: Tiger Woods
Well, at last, the Big Cat crashed the buffet!
And his manners were horribly gruff, eh?
After fasting for weeks,
He devoured the golf geeks
Of whose prattle he’d had quite enoughet.

The Tour Championship
Winner: Phil Mickelson
It only felt like forty days and
Forty nights of high tides raisin’
Over East Lake―
That was his wake.
Man, Phil’s play was just amazin’!

The FedEx Cup
Winner: Tiger Woods
Though the Championship welshed on their tryst
And he needed Phil’s help―what a twist!―
Tiger won the ten mill…
And the FedEx Cup still
Doesn’t know what it’s like to be kissed!

The Limerick Summary: Tour Championship & FedEx Cup

Oh, you lucky people―you get TWO limericks today!

The one for the Tour Championship has a different rhythm than most of my limericks. You see, limericks generally feel like they’re skipping along… but Phil was clearly marching over everybody Sunday. There’s a poetic term for the rhythm I used, but I have no idea what it is. Live with it.
It only felt like forty days and
Forty nights of high tides raisin’
Over East Lake―
That was his wake.
Man, Phil’s play was just amazin’!
Of course, Phil was too far back in the rankings to beat Tiger for the Cup. (I believe Tiger had to finish in 8th place or something like that, just for Phil to have a chance.) But there were others who might have taken the Cup away from Tiger, had Phil’s incredible play not ripped the field to shreds. As a result, Phil gets a mention here too:
Though the Championship welshed on their tryst
And he needed Phil’s help―what a twist!―
Tiger won the ten mill…
And the FedEx Cup still
Doesn’t know what it’s like to be kissed!
(At least, I didn’t see him kiss the Cup and, at the time I posted this, I couldn’t find anybody on the Web who said they did.)

And so ends the saga of the 2009 FedEx Cup race. More dramatic than last year, to be sure, despite our doubts as to whether this is a true playoff system; at least we got to see four good weeks of golf. And I believe Phil has now moved back into the #2 spot in the world rankings. Given his high spirits after this win, I can’t wait to see #1 and #2 tee it up together next year!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jack on Tom

I picked up the October Golf Digest today, the one with Tom Watson on the cover. There’s a lot of good stuff in this issue, and I’ll probably be commenting on some of it in the coming weeks.

But what immediately caught my eye was a short article called A Swing for the Ages: How Watson Got Straighter that Jack Nicklaus wrote. It’s accompanied by a foldout showing Tom’s swing in both 1980 and 2009, which is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Jack says the secret to Tom’s swing is his shoulder turn, which I generally refer to as a coil. His coil today is not quite as big as it was in 1980, but it’s very close. He also mentions that Tom lets his body react to the swinging of the club to generate power, rather than swinging to positions. Both are things which weekend players can learn from.

But what struck me most were the pictures comparing the downswings. You can look at the complete sequence here at the Golf Digest site, but I’ve clipped the two frames that caught my eye. (I hope they don’t mind!)

Tom Watson's wrist cock in 1980 & 2009These two frames are taken at the halfway-down point in the downswing. Look at how much more wrist cock Tom has at 60 than he had as a strapping young lad 29 years ago! This is why Tom Watson still pounds the ball out there with the young guys. This is part of what Jack calls “letting his body react to the swinging of the club.” He feels the change of direction at the top of the swing, then smoothly starts his downswing. As a result, the club uncocks later in the downswing without him trying to “hold the angle.” Tom makes it look easy… and for him, it is. He’s working with his equipment, not against it.

Don’t believe it when they say your game has to deteriorate as you get older. Tom Watson is proof that it doesn’t.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

And Now Phil's Getting into the Act!

Yes, Friday Phil Mickelson showed up at East Lake after having made some noticeable putting changes... and he putted noticeably better too. Both The Armchair Golfer and Golf Channel's Tour Insider, as well as others, have more to say on the topic, but I just want to look at what's different now.

One of Phil's changes is quite obvious: He's widened his stance. (I did a quick search of the Web trying to find before-and-after comparison pics, but had no luck at the time I wrote this post.) Before you rush out and make this change, bear in mind that Phil has been the poster boy for Dave Pelz's putting method for years, plus he's 6'3" tall. As a result, Phil bends over until his back is nearly parallel to the ground... he needs a wider base to keep himself in balance. Unless both of these are also true of you, a wider stance may not help you at all.

The Insider also says his hands are a bit more ahead of the ball, and some of the news outlets seem to feel that this is the more significant change. I agree with that; I've always recommend that weekend players lean the shaft forward so that their hands are either over the ball or in front of it. The reason? Improved contact with the ball; plus, if you have a problem with your wrists flipping over at impact and affecting the aim of the ball, leaning the club shaft forward a bit greatly reduces the possibility of this happening. This is a change that, if you don't do it already, it's certainly worth considering; it won't cause any major changes in your setup or swing, but you could see immediate improvement in your putting.

Again, as with Tiger and O'Hair, there seem to be fewer questions about the putting changes than about how this will affect Phil's relationship with Dave Pelz; apparently Dave Stockton is responsible for Phil's improved putting. Stockton has been well-regarded as a putting teacher for many years now—he also gets credit for Michelle Wie's improved putting as of late—and the reason is simple. He doesn't teach a single method of putting; rather, he looks at each player's existing style of putting and suggests changes that fit. (That's my preferred method also, and my approach in my book Ruthless Putting.) It will be interesting to see if Dave Pelz remains Phil's short game coach while Dave Stockton takes over the reins as his putting coach.

Oh, and in case you're interested, Dave Stockton has a DVD available called Putt to Win ($29.95) and a paperback called Dave Stockton's Putt to Win ($16.95).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tiger's Mystery Putting Lesson with O'Hair

Everybody's talking about the impromptu putting lesson Tiger gave Sean O'Hair Wednesday... just before Sean took the lead in the Tour Championship. Rex Hoggard at the Shag Bag Blog talks about it here. Apparently Tiger was just helping him release the putterhead a bit more (that is, let the toe of the putter swing past the heel as he strikes the ball) and, so I've heard, get a bit more loft on the ball at impact.

If you don't mind me plugging my book for a moment, "releasing" the putter is one of those things that sounds more complicated than it is. If you follow Principle 1 of my Basic Principles of Good Putting, you'll do this automatically, and my book Ruthless Putting shows you how it's done. Some putting styles don't release through impact, but Principle 1 works regardless. Why? Because release is simply a way of describing the putterhead's movement if you swing on an arc. If Tiger is consciously releasing through impact, that might explain why his putting game has been running hot and cold this year; conscious release complicates the stroke and takes way more practice than a simpler putting style would.

As for getting more loft on your putter, that's a simple club adjustment that a good pro shop can do for you. As a general rule, if you play a course with fast greens, you'll probably be happy with about 5-degrees of loft; on slower greens, you'll need a bit more.

You might want to check out Rex's post just out of curiosity. Seems there's less debate over what Tiger told Sean than there is over whether Sean should have repeated it to the press at all!

I Think Golf Digest Got It Wrong…

I’ve debated posting this for a couple of weeks, simply because people are going to say “Who is he to question the experts at Golf Digest?” But I think this is a case of over-analysis that could really cause weekend players some problems; and if by chance I’ve misunderstood the article, then I won’t be the only one.

The September issue (the one with Arnold Palmer on the cover) has an article called This Move Will Cure Your Slice, and it says that “the most significant difference between the two groups [that is, pros and amateurs] comes at the transition: Simply put, the pros tilt their shoulders downward; amateurs turn them toward the target (p.99).” The article then says that there are problems earlier in the backswing, specifically with the way amateurs coil their upper bodies, but that the key problem is in the transition. It then provides a drill to teach you how to drop your right shoulder to start the downswing.

THIS IS WRONG. I agree with them that the shoulder drops slightly on the downswing, but that drop is a reaction to a proper transition, not a cause. For most weekend players, trying to start the downswing with a shoulder tilt will only get them farther out of position and cause them to start the ball out farther to the right. This article is based on how the pros move in the downswing; bear in mind that, with few exceptions, the pros will tell you that they’re trying to eliminate the left side of the fairway because they constantly fight a hook. Most weekend players fight a slice and, especially if you’re following a teacher who advocates a single-plane swing, dropping your right shoulder will simply cause you to push the ball to the right. If you want some bad mojo in your swing, that will give it to you!

NOW LET ME TELL YOU WHAT IS CORRECT IN THE ARTICLE. They are entirely correct that the problem begins with a poor coil and that the key problem is in the transition. I’ll be dealing with the proper way to coil in future articles, but let me tell you that it’s not difficult to coil well; when Carl taught me how to do it properly, it took only one lesson and my banana ball immediately shrank to (on my worst days) a very controllable fade. There are other things that can cause massive slices, even when you’re coiling properly, but dropping your shoulder won’t fix them. Some time spent with my series on approach shots will help; just click on ‘approach shot basics’ in the Category list to find those posts.

So what is it in the transition that causes us to slice? We jerk the club when we start the backswing. I dealt with this problem in both the approach shot series and in the series about how to use a loop at the top of the backswing, which begins here. And this is perhaps the biggest proof that you shouldn’t try to start your downswing with a shoulder move: The jerk from the top IS a shoulder move. Even if you change the direction of that jerk, it’s still a jerk. The proper way to start the downswing is to feel the change of direction and start down smoothly. Your shoulder will then drop without any effort on your part; but focusing on the shoulder is a sure way to get the club off-plane and even increase your slice.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Well, Padraig Can Win the Cup If...

It occurs to me that others of you may be as confused as I am about the FedEx Cup points. I mean, if one of the Top 5 wins the Tour Championship, they also win the Cup... but it's not so simple after that. I found an article at the Charlotte Examiner website that will help you figure out how your guy can win (assuming your guy isn't Woods, Stricker, Furyk, Johnson, or Slocum.

Padraig can win the Cup if he wins the tournament and Tiger comes in 3rd or worse.

If Paddy doesn't win the tournament but comes in 2nd:
  • Tiger has to come in 11th or worse,
  • Stricker, 5th or worse, and
  • the other three, 4th or worse.
And if Paddy comes in 3rd or worse, he can't win the Cup at all.

(Of course, I picked Paddy to win, so the other scenarios don't really matter. But now I know... and so do you.)

So Who’s Your Pick to Win the FedEx Cup?

(Please note that today’s post is peppered with subcontext and subtle innuendo. This is my small but shameless attempt to help the struggling PGA Tour keep their so-called “buzz” about the FedEx Cup going. This took a great deal of effort on my part, so I hope you appreciate all the work I put into it.)

Today’s the day. (Finally!) The top 30 in the FedEx Cup race tee off on (or in, depending on how wet the tee boxes are) the East Lake course. To my great surprise, Tiger seems to be everyone’s favorite to win. (Note to readers: That was a tongue-in-cheek remark. I hope you caught it and showed proper appreciation for my great wit.)

Well, I’m going against the grain yet again with my pick. (The vogue these days is to refer to this as a “fantasy pick,” but I think he’s going to win so it’s not a fantasy to me. So there.) I’m choosing PADRAIG HARRINGTON, number 6 in the points race. I don’t know what the Top 5 have to do for him to win the Cup, but I think he can win the tournament. (Yeah, I know he let me down earlier in the playoffs when he chunked one coming down the stretch. But that was then and this is now… and I’m trying to build some EXCITEMENT here, for Pete’s sake!)

Anyway, I don’t think it matters. Paddy’s gonna take it all the way! (Hey, anybody who can get away with snatching the Claret Jug from Stewart Cink's locker ought to be able to win a simple tournament!)

(Whew! I’m glad that’s over. Now I can go watch the tournament and let the Tour worry about all this excitement stuff. Why can’t we just have a good tournament and let it go at that? The Tour just makes too much work out of a simple game…)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Memory of Bobby Jones...

(Note: This post has been updated with urls for the individual posts.)

Since this is the week the Tour Championship makes its annual return to East Lake, the course where Bobby Jones grew up and learned to play golf, several members of the golf blogging community decided to pay tribute to the legend. Ten different blogs are featuring posts devoted to the life and legacy of Bobby Jones, each focusing on an aspect of Jones' life related to his or her blog; you'll find the complete list below.

Before you watch the tournament, learn a few new things about the man who inspires it.
Gayle Moss over at Golfgal has posted My Favorite Bobby Jones Golf Tips. She writes, "His swing was a bit unorthodox, but no one can deny his amazing talent. Here are some of my favorite swing tips from the self-taught legend - Bobby Jones."

Art Murphy from LifeandGolf gives us ...We Play the Ball Where It Lies, a collection of miscellaneous quips and quotes about golf and golfers from Bobby Jones.

Vince Spence from The One-Eyed Golfer writes about An Affair to Remember - Bobby Jones and St. Andrews, as he looks at the affection of the champion golfer for the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland which started in 1921.

Greg D'Andrea at From the Rough talks about Golf's Proper Place. "Bobby Jones played competitive golf only three months of the year, always keeping in perspective the game's original intent - 'a means of obtaining recreation and enjoyment.'"

Charles Boyer from Me and Old Man Par has chosen Bobby Jones' Competitors: Many of Them Were Good, One Was Great. "It is often thought that Bobby Jones showed up and crushed his competition on the way to another victory," Charles says. "The truth is that he had many worthy competitors and one, Walter Hagen, stood above all the others as Jones' most worthy competitor."

Michael Green at Aussie Golfer tells about Searching for Bobby Jones, where a search for Bobby Jones in Australia finds remarkable similarities to modern day golf.

Jon Blackburn from The Common Golfer looks at Bobby Jones: Golf's Original Common Golfer. It's a celebration of Bobby Jones' life, and what made him unique amongst his golfing peers.

Apryl DeLancey at Women Like Sports features in her weekly Wild World of Wednesday post about how good friends Alexa Sterling and Bobby Jones continued to play golf during WWI in order to raise money for a good cause.

Ryan Ballengee from Waggle Room sends us a vlog from East Lake about how Jones' spirit influences the club and community today.

And here at Ruthless Golf you'll find Could Bobby Jones Have ‘Cut It' Against Today's Pros?, as I look at what science and Jones's own notes have to say about the debate.

Could Bobby Jones Have ‘Cut It’ Against Today’s Pros?

One popular topic for debate in most sports concerns how well great athletes from other eras would compete against today’s stars. That’s particularly true in golf, primarily because our equipment has changed so much over the years; it makes such a comparison very difficult.

But this isn’t the case with Bobby Jones; we can know for certain that he could have held his own against modern PGA players. The reason I can be so sure is simply this: Bobby Jones wrote a tremendous amount about the game of golf, and even more was written about him. More importantly, Jones filmed two series of short movies about how to play the game for Warner Brothers just after he won the Grand Slam. (These are available on DVD, by the way.) His swing and game have been analyzed more than just about any other golfer in history. Because his game is so well-documented, we can know with some degree of certainty how he would probably do.

And he would do well. Let me show you the evidence.

First of all, could he have putted on the glass-slick greens of the PGA Tour? Puh-leeze! We’re talking about the man who won three Open Championships and one British Amateur, on links courses where putting was paramount. We’re talking about the man responsible for Augusta National, home of the Masters and some of the slickest greens on the planet. We’re talking about the man whose stroke was so magical that even his putter was known by name: Calamity Jane. To put it simply, Bobby Jones could putt; consider this one a non-issue.

The biggest argument against the legends playing the modern game is often length off the tee. But while equipment may have changed, swing speed hasn’t; if we can make a reasonable measure of a player’s swing speed, we can tell a lot about how that player would play today. But do we know what kind of clubhead speed Bobby Jones could generate?

In his book On Golf, Jim Flick tells about studies of Bobby Jones’s swing done by Dr. David Williams (pp. 53-54). Williams fed videotape of Jones’s swing, taken from the previously-mentioned movies, into a biomechanical computer and made all sorts of measurements of the swing. The tape showed Jones driving the ball 250-260 yards, and measured his swing speed at 113 mph.

I did some searching on the Web and, while figures vary from site to site, the numbers that kept coming up put the average pro’s swing speed between 110 and 115 mph. Jones’s 113 is well within this range, and with the lighter equipment used by pros these days, it’s not unreasonable to think Jones might even gain another 1-3 mph. So it would appear that Bobby Jones could swing the club plenty fast to compete with modern players.

But using modern equipment… that’s always the rub in this debate, isn’t it? Equipment has changed so much…

Well, we can eliminate the difference in shafts. With modern graphite technology and puring techniques, not only could Jones match the feel of his original hickory shafts but he could make the new ones behave more consistently than his originals. That still leaves the rest of the technology though, and we’ll never know about that… will we?

Suppose I told you that we have records of Jones’s performance with an oversized, deep-faced driver?

Many of you may know that Jones was a lawyer, but you may not know he earned an engineering degree first. In fact, he got his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1922, and later helped design the first set of matched clubs for the A.G. Spalding Company. But in the winter of 1923-24 he began a special project, described by Jones researcher Sidney Matthew in a limited edition book called The History of Bobby Jones’ Clubs:
…Jones described his first attempt at clubhead design for a hickory-shafted driver as follows:

“I felt I was losing length and that the type of shot I was hitting was handled too freely by the wind, if any. So I tried out club after club, deeper and straighter in the face―a series of unhappy experiments which culminated in the winter of 1923-24 when I was at Harvard with the design of a driver which I fancied would be just the thing for me. I worked a long time at this design and when made up for me it was indeed an odd-looking club.

“The head was not of the so-called Dreadnaught type, which is long and wide and rather shallow, so the title promptly bestowed on my pet bludgeon, the Super-Dreadnaught, was entirely a misnomer. This head was little if any larger than the usual head, fore and aft. But there was a lot of wood in it just the same; as Virgil might have said, it was no small part of a tree.

“The face was 1-5/8 inches in depth, with a bulge of 3/8 inch, and virtually no loft at all. I suppose it was as near a 90-degree club as ever was used from the tee.”

With this design Jones achieved drives in the 340 yard range. Nevertheless, the shot had to be accomplished with “scrupulous precision” and smothering the ball was not an uncommon event (pp. 38-39).
Read that again: “Jones achieved drives in the 340 yard range.” Without the forgiving hollow-headed perimeter-weighted designs made possible by modern technology, the sweetspot must have been fairly small; “scrupulous precision” would certainly have been required to get a pure hit. As for smothering the ball, that also makes sense; using such a heavy head with so little loft would certainly have tended to overflex the shaft at impact, causing the head to “snap” into a shut position and result in a duck hook.

Such information causes me to question just how much extra distance modern technology really gives us, as opposed to simple design; after all, this club was built with hickory and persimmon, not lightweight modern alloys, and yet it could produce some very modern-sounding results. But here’s the point: If Bobby Jones could hit such a modern-sounding club as far as 340 yards, doesn’t it follow that he could have hit a high-tech, graphite-shafted club at least far enough to compete on today’s longer courses?

So in the end we find ourselves looking at a classic player who could putt with the best, whose swing speed was typical of modern players, and who could use equipment of a modern design with results similar to those of the best modern players. For me, there’s no more debate. Bobby Jones could do more than hold his own today―he could be a star all over again!

In fact, the only truly unanswered question is this: Would Tiger have run up such an impressive record if he had to play against Bobby Jones? Now that’s a real question for debate!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ruthless Golf gets Twitter-pated!

Slowly, surely, I'm moving into the 21st Century...

I started an account for the blog on Twitter a few days ago. I haven't said anything about it because I'm still learning the ins-and-outs of it, and my homepage is nowhere near being set-up (although I did manage to pimp out a temporary background from a pic of Hole #10 at Augusta National). Nevertheless, I've already been found, so I figure I might as well announce it...

My homepage is

I don't know when I'll start doing much tweeting; currently, I'm just getting together a little list of people to follow and trying to learn the ropes. I don't even have my cell phone set up for it yet! But when I do start chirping away, at least you'll know where I am.

The Basic Principles of Good Punching

This is the next step up in my progression of how you carry the good practices you learn in a putting stroke into your full swing. We started with putting, then chipping, and now punching.

Punching is the term I use for long shots, especially ones you want to keep low, that don’t use wrist action; in essence, a punch is a long, powerful chip shot. The following list is basically the same as the Basic Principles of Good Chipping; the principles in italics are the ones that have altered slightly as the stroke lengthens and new techniques are employed.
  1. The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
  2. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, the club should be held in a slant-parallel grip where both palms are parallel to each other but the grip is turned slightly strong. This allows us to keep the wrists firm through impact without tensing the hands and forearms.
  3. The club should be held no tighter than necessary, without tension in the arms or shoulders or hands.
  4. The club handle should be held so that the shaft aligns with the forearms. (Some people will grip the handle a bit more in the fingers when they chip, but the grip change in (2) will still keep the forearms pretty much parallel with the shaft.)
  5. Unless making a specialized stroke, the club should never follow an outside-to-inside path (a cut stroke).
  6. The clubhead should travel on a slightly upward path on the backswing and more downward on the downstroke, in order to trap as little grass as possible between the ball and the clubface.
  7. The lower body should not be rigid, neither should it be consciously moved. It should move no more than the natural execution of the stroke requires.
Principle 5 is the only real change from our chipping principles. On occasion, we need a punch shot to curve around an obstacle like a tree; in those cases, we may alter the path of the swing. Normally, however, we don’t want to alter this principle; the less we tinker with our normal swing, the more dependable it will be.

The punch also adds a new technique to the swing: Coiling the upper body, which adds most of the power to the shot. Chips and putts don’t require much coil at all.

Understanding how proper punching differs from chipping can make some shots, like the knockdown shot, much simpler to execute.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sonnet Summary: The Samsung World Championship

What? It’s Limerick Monday… and there’s no limerick?

Well, with the PGA taking the week off, I thought I’d take a shot at summarizing an LPGA event… but somehow, limericks just didn’t seem right for the ladies. Therefore, I’m going to try a sonnet summary.

When I mention sonnets, you may think of Shakespeare and his use of blank verse, which is by definition “unrhymed iambic pentameter.” For those of you who managed to avoid classical lit in high school, that simply means that, while the lines don't have to rhyme, each line of poetry has five stresses and usually ten syllables. (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM―simple enough, eh?) Actually, blank verse is pretty easy to write because it’s very close to the way we normally talk. Once you get the rhythm in your head, you can do it almost without trying.

Alas, sonnets are rarely done in blank verse (although they do allow a little variation in the rhymes). Fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, all utilizing peculiar rhyme schemes, are the norm… which is why you won’t be seeing many sonnets from me! Still, with the PGA Tour on a bye week, I figured "why not?" It’ll give the ladies something to talk about.
They came for battle; twenty was their number.
They came, determination in their eyes.
The giant, Torrey Pines, in peaceful slumber
Awaited their attack ‘neath tranquil skies.

Would Creamer overcome her viral demons
And toast their end with victory’s champagne?
Would Number One, Ochoa, maybe dreamin’
Of future plans, step up and seize the reins?
Might rookies rise again to steal the prize?
These questions swirled, and more―but no replies.

For days inside the crucible they battled;
Four days they strained the precious from the dross.
And in the end ‘twas Na Yeon Choi whose mettle
Proved pure enough to deal the field a loss.
Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What You Can Learn from Jiyai Shin

The LPGA is playing Torrey Pines South, the same course the PGA plays. Granted, it’s set up shorter―6721 yards, nearly 900 yards shorter than the men play―but it’s still a tough course and long for the women. And at this point, with one round to go, Jiyai Shin is one of only two women to shoot in the 60s in every round. (The other is Ai Miyazato.) She goes into the final round two shots back of Na Yeon Choi, who’s trying to win her first tourney.

I won’t bore you with a load of facts, but consider this. Shin is a rookie this year; she played her way onto the LPGA by becoming the first non-LPGA member ever to win three LPGA tournaments… and one of those was a major, the 2008 Women’s British Open. She’s got three more wins this year, as well as 23 other worldwide wins. She’s locked up the Rookie of the Year race and, with her win last week, she’s taken over first place on the money list and in the Player of the Year race.

This is interesting to me, because Shin just doesn’t seem to be the player you’d expect to be a dominator, but believe me, she IS a dominator. It’s hard to believe when you see she’s 91st on tour in driving distance… and this week, she’s more than 5 yards below her average. But check out these other stats: 2nd in driving accuracy, 2nd in birdies, 4th in rounds under par, T4 in putts per green, 6th in GIR, and T17 in eagles. These are incredible stats, especially when you consider that she gives up 15-20 yards against most of the other players in the field. Even Miyazato, who’s notoriously short, consistently hits it 7-8 yards past her.

So how does such a short knocker do it? (She’s SECOND in birdies, for Pete’s sake!)

First off, her stats say she hits the fairway. A lot. 82.5% of the time, in fact. Any player plays better from the fairway, but it’s vital if you’re a short knocker. (The rough will cut your distance stats really fast.) But guess what? Shin isn’t anywhere near her best this week; about 63%, if my figures are right. So as important as driving accuracy is, that’s not what’s doing it for her this week.

So I check her birdie count: 19 so far. She birdied more than a third of the holes she’s played! If it’s not her driving, where is it coming from?

It’s not her GIR. She’s normally 72.5%; this week, she’s a mere 54%. Scratch GIR as the reason.

Putts per round isn’t really a good indicator of putting, simply because if you aren’t hitting greens, you won’t need as many putts. Shin has taken 71 putts through 3 rounds, and she’s 13 under par. For all practical purposes, she’s only used 24 short game shots total in all three rounds; many of us use that many in just one! (Here’s how I figured that total: You’re allowed 36 putts per round; for 3 rounds, that’s 108 putts. She’s made no eagles, so she didn’t “cheat” by reaching a green in less than regulation. Subtract the 71 actual putts she used, and 13 putts for being under par, and that leaves 24 short game strokes.) That’s an average of 8 shots per round, which sounds about right since her GIR this week is just over 50%.

What this means is that when Shin makes a chip or a pitch, that shot is as accurate as any putt she makes. She’s just as comfortable from off the green as she is on it.

Can you say that?

That’s why Jiyai Shin is dominating longer and stronger players. It’s her short game that takes up the slack, even when she gives up 20 yards on her drive. The short game is something at which anybody can get better, and it’s one of the quickest ways to take shots off your game.

Take a lesson from her and work on your chipping and pitching a little. You’ll be glad you did.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Maybe I Jinxed Her…?

I really don’t know what to make out of today’s LPGA broadcast. I mean, the conditions didn’t really seem that hard, yet only three players broke 70… and one of those, Na Yeon Choi, had a personal best 63. The other two, Miyazato and Shin, both shot 68 (Miyazato’s third this week).

Cristie’s pretty much out of it. Choi may not play as well Sunday, as much because she’s after her first win as because of any apparent “rule” that it’s hard to back up a good round. But I don’t see Miyazato or Shin backing up much if at all; the two account for 4 wins this year and have been models of consistency.

I’ll have a bit more to say about Jiyai Shin tomorrow. I think weekend players can learn a lot from her.

Can Cristie Kerr Get It Done at Samsung?

Ok, I’m going on record that Cristie Kerr is my pick at the Samsung World Championship this weekend. Her play Friday looks like she’s found whatever it is that’s been missing. (Perhaps all it took was Jiyai Shin snatching the lead in the Player of the Year race away from her. Nothing like a little competition to get the juices flowing and the focus sharpened.)

Granted, Jiyai Shin is leading the tournament. Coming off last week’s win, she’s a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year with three wins in 2009 and, as I said, is now leading the Player of the Year race. She’s putting like a maniac, but she’s not hitting the greens; that’s a bad combination.

Based on two days of play, I’d have to say Ai Miyazato looks to be playing the best. Since winning earlier this year, she seems more… well, confident. She’s putting well and hitting greens, a deadly combination.

Lorena Ochoa is tied with Miyazato, one stroke back of Shin. Lorena’s got something to prove, I think, and is in good position to do it. But she’s struggling to hit greens, as is Shin.

Cristie Kerr wants that Player of the Year trophy. No American has won it since Beth Daniel (the 2009 Solheim Cup captain) in 1994. Plus, she's hitting greens, putting well, and only three shots back.

The Samsung will be broadcast live today on NBC, at 1:30 pm EST. (That’s the time here in North Carolina, where I live.) NBC plans 2 ½ hours of coverage, the leaderboard is tightly bunched, and it’s being played at Torrey Pines, so how can you lose? Given the pitiful lack of TV coverage this year, it’s a rare chance this year to see some quality women’s golf.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Should You Always Chip with a Wedge?

Tour players generally fall into one of two distinct lines of thought when it comes to chipping.

Some, like Phil Mickelson, prefer to use a sand wedge for almost all of their chipping. These players practice with one club until they can make the ball do almost anything with it.

Others prefer to use a different club for each chip, depending on how far they have to “throw” the ball to the green and how far it will have to roll after it lands on it. This too requires a lot of practice, because you need to have some idea how far the ball rolls with each club.

Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages. Most weekend players instinctively reach for the wedge, figuring the best way to get the ball close is to pitch it all the way to the hole and stop it. And sometimes the wedge is obviously the correct club to use; but while watching the LPGA players chip from the thick rough at Torrey Pines Thursday, I was reminded of a reason you might want to choose a different club… especially if you have some green to work with.

When the rough is really thick, the ball doesn’t always nestle down into the rough; sometimes it “floats” above the ground, suspended in the grass. Unless you swing the club through the grass at the correct height, using a wedge can result in going completely under the ball. This is a good place to use a short or even a medium iron. Why?

The longer iron has a taller face so it’s less likely to go under the ball and leave it in the rough. If the ball hits the upper part of the iron’s face, it will come out more softly… but it will come out and your next shot should be a putt.

You should try this shot a few times before using it, just to get a feel for how the ball behaves. But it doesn’t take a lot of practice, and it’s a percentage shot that’s useful if you're having trouble with your chipping.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time for Rolex to Help the LPGA

Golf Channel broke the news yesterday that Rolex, who has been a longtime supporter of the LPGA (they already sponsor the Rolex Women's World Ranking list and LPGA's Rolex Player of The Year Award), has stepped in to sponsor the LPGA Tour Championship in November.

This is a huge boost to the LPGA, as the year-end Tour Championship has the biggest purse of the year—$1.5 million dollars, with $1 million of that going to the winner. The host course will be the Houstonian Golf & Country Club, and it's the first time the LPGA has played at Houston in well over 20 years.

Things are finally starting to look up for the LPGA. This is yet another bit of good news for the Tour after losing 7 tournaments since 2007. The Rolex announcement follows the re-up of Wegmans and the renewal of the Jamie Farr Classic, both of which looked to be lost as recently as a few weeks ago.

One of the really smart moves that former commissioner Carolyn Bivens will be remembered for is the LPGA's new 10-year broadcast deal with Golf Channel beginning in 2010. The ability of their audience to actually know where and when tournaments will be broadcast, coupled with the renewed support of these sponsors, may finally give the LPGA the traction it needs to gain a wider audience. And to have a high-profile company like Rolex become an actual tournament sponsor may give the LPGA some extra capital in the eyes of the business community.

You can read more about the Rolex announcement here at the Golf365 blog, as well as in this post from the Houston Business Journal.

The Basic Principles of Good Chipping

Nearly three weeks ago I posted the Basic Principles of Good Putting from my book Ruthless Putting. I’ve been saying that I believe the best way to build a low-maintenance swing is to start with a solid putting stroke, then use that as the base for your full swing. And I’ve made some comparisons between the putting stroke and other strokes, like the deadhanded approach shot I covered last week.

Well, I’ve decided that I need to give you a fuller picture of how the putting stroke ‘adapts’ to the demands of longer strokes, so I’m going to do a series of posts over the next few weeks that will show how this adaptation happens. You’ll be able to find all of these posts listed together under the ‘Basic Principles of the Game’ category in the side column.

In this post, I’m going to cover the Basic Principles of Good Chipping. The principles in italics are the ones that have altered slightly as the stroke lengthens and new techniques are employed.
  1. The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
  2. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, the club should be held in a slant-parallel grip where both palms are parallel to each other but the grip is turned slightly strong. This allows us to keep the wrists firm through impact without tensing the hands and forearms.
  3. The club should be held no tighter than necessary, without tension in the arms or shoulders or hands.
  4. The club handle should be held so that the shaft aligns with the forearms. (Some people will grip the handle a bit more in the fingers when they chip, but the grip change in (2) will still keep the forearms pretty much parallel with the shaft.)
  5. The club should never follow an outside-to-inside path (a cut stroke).
  6. The clubhead should travel on a slightly upward path on the backswing and more downward on the downstroke, in order to trap as little grass as possible between the ball and the clubface.
  7. The lower body should not be rigid, neither should it be consciously moved. It should move no more than the natural execution of the stroke requires.
The chip shot doesn’t use the wrists much at all, so the changes from the putting stroke are minor. Most people can go from a good putting stroke to a good chipping stroke with very little difficulty. (And, in case you didn’t know, a ‘stronger’ grip is one that is turned more to the right for a right-hander, or to the left for a left-hander.) If you’re changing much more than Principles 2 and 6, you’re making the shot harder than it needs to be.

One last thing: If you're paying attention, you noticed a slight wording change to Principle 3. The club should be held lightly has become The club should be held no tighter than necessary. This doesn't change the meaning of the principle; it just acknowledges that a shot from the rough requires a firmer grip than one from a closely-mown green. You still want to keep your grip as relaxed as possible, as you’ll hit better shots that way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

College Football Can Be Deadly Business

One of the driving ideas behind my site is simply that weekend golfers have a life outside of golf. We golf bloggers have lives outside golf as well, and here's a good example.

Vince over at The One-Eyed Golfer forwarded me the following message from Jay Busbee of Devil Ball Golf:
Wanted to give you the heads-up that I'm working on a new, off-hours project these days -- a serial novel that I'm rolling out over the course of the fall. It's a murder mystery, set in the world of college football, and I'll be posting new chapters every week. Check it out, and if you're so inclined, spread the word:
Being a writer myself, I know how hard it is to get publicity unless your name is Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or John Grisham. So, although I know getting on my site isn't the same as making the New York Times Bestseller List, I want to do my part to help. I'm adding Jay's book to "My Other Blog List" in the side column; just look under "ONLINE NOVEL." Take a moment to pop over and check it out.

Good luck, Jay!

(And, just as an aside, while I don't really care for romance novels, Nora Roberts also writes murder mysteries as J.D. Robb. She wrote the Robb novels for a long time without divulging who she was, perhaps fearing she might alienate her regular readers... or that possible Robb readers would write them off as just more romances. Her site calls the books "futuristic thrillers," but I think a more accurate label would be "erotic scifi police procedurals." At any rate, if you like murder mysteries—like Jay's—and you're looking for something new to read, you might try one of the Robb novels as well. They're pretty cool.)

Par and the Weekend Golfer

Sounds like one of those old Love, American Style comedy skits, doesn’t it?

After my suggestion yesterday that the PGA Tour consider turning classic courses into par 67 layouts (in fact, Vince at The One-Eyed Golfer had David Fay declaring Merion a par 63 for the 2013 U.S. Open), based on my contention that par simply doesn’t mean anything anymore, you might wonder what more I could say about it.

Believe it or not, I brought this up because I believe par is ruining the game of most weekend golfers.

For those of you who didn’t check out the comments on that last post, Greg at From the Rough voiced an opinion shared by many golfers: “…the last thing we weekend hacks would want to see is a farther separation between pros and joe's - Par is now 67 for the pros?” And my response was “…almost everybody expects the pros to birdie the par 5s with a two-putt. Doesn't that mean they're already playing a par 68... and we all accept it?”

The question of whether par really means anything or not is at the base of our differing perspectives.

I think one of the best things we weekend golfers can do to improve our games is to forget about par entirely… or at least reduce it to a mere suggestion of what we might expect if we play well. Many definitions of par describe it as the result of ‘perfect play.’ (Which, presumably, means that a birdie is ‘better than perfect’ and an eagle is ‘pretty near godlike.’) But par was always determined somewhat arbitrarily, and no more so than today. When par3s can measure 265 yards, par truly has become meaningless for the weekend golfer.

The fact is, par changes from day-to-day, even on the same hole. Take that narrow 350-yard par 4, with the deep bunker guarding the front and thick rough behind. It may actually be a par3 for me when I’m playing well, the wind is down, and the hole is in an accessible spot on the green; but on a day when my swing is off, the wind is up, and the hole is tucked just over that bunker, 5 might be a great score. Not only that, but your high fade may be better suited to this hole than my low bullet draw.

So what is par for this hole… really?

In the end, the only way to get past unrealistic expectations for your game is to ignore the taunting of that arbitrary concept we call ‘par.’ The Scots played for a long time without any set score for each hole, and you’ll probably score much better if you just try to take the fewest strokes you can on each hole…

Whether that’s 3 strokes or 6.

Your own personal par can be a much more useful aid to your game than the par printed on your scorecard. If you want to improve, your personal par is the one you need to improve; the predetermined number on the scorecard won’t change, no matter how much you work at it.

But you’ll have to break your slavery to that often unrealistic concept of par before you can really get better. Inflexible numbers are tough masters.

And, except in comedy skits or S&M, tough masters and love don’t usually go well together.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Not a Par 67 Course?

I’m feeling contentious today, so I’m going to voice one of my pet peeves:

The PGA Tour complains that a lot of classic courses are no longer usable for tournament play. Why? Because they’re too short for modern tour players. The young guys hit it so hard and so far that they would just make a mockery of par.

But does par really mean anything? Let’s look at the facts:

There are two primary uses for “Par.” Number one, if you’re playing by yourself, it provides an imaginary opponent. “Hey, I took a 3 on that hole, and you took a 4, Par old boy. Up yours!” (I’m sorry, but I never liked that Par guy in the first place. He cheats. I mean, there’s just no way he could rack up some of those scores he posts!)

And number two, his more useful purpose is to help level the playing field between good players and bad players―that is, he helps determine your handicap. Even in this noble endeavor he is sadly wanting, as he needs the help of his good buddy Slope to make sure your 72 means the same as my 72 when we play on different courses.

So why should the PGA even care what par is for a given course? Is there a rule somewhere that par must be 72?

We all know the answer to that question: A big fat resounding NO! The Tour routinely plays courses at par 70 and 71, even an occasional 73, as well as the “standard” par of 72.

So why not expand the definition a bit and include some of those older courses… with par adjusted to the ability of the players? Nobody says a course has to have even one par 5 on it; so why not turn two, three, or even all four into par 4s? Then shorten a couple of the shorter par 4s to 3s as well. I think this would make a lot of classic courses useable again.

Take the Cherry Hills Golf Course, where Arnold Palmer and Andy North both won U.S. Opens (1960 and 1978, respectively). The Tour hasn’t been back since the 1985 PGA, and in the last 15 years the LPGA is the only pro tour to play there (2005 U.S. Women’s Open). Playing at a paltry 7,160 yards made even shorter by the altitude, maybe this par 72 course isn’t a real challenge for the big boys these days. But don’t you think even Tiger would find it a challenge to shoot 67 there every day just to make par? After all, nobody takes any real notice of the actual number of strokes taken; most fans register -5, not 67. And maybe the guys would try harder if that easy little course showed their 68 as +1 instead of -4.

I rest my case. We don’t need longer courses, we need smaller pars. And who knows―with less ground to cover, maybe slow play wouldn’t be such a problem.

Are you listening, PGA Tour???

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Limerick Summary: The BMW Championship

Wow, what a surprise…

After weeks of criticism from the media about how he was in a bad state of mind and playing conservatively, Tiger Woods finally pounced back into the winner’s circle with a dominating performance. This is his 71st win and 6th of the year, so it will probably lock up Player of the Year honors… maybe even Comeback Player of the Year, who knows? So it’s fitting that his summary be somewhat more defiant than most:
Well, at last, the Big Cat crashed the buffet!
And his manners were horribly gruff, eh?
After fasting for weeks,
He devoured the golf geeks
Of whose prattle he’d had quite enoughet.
For those of you keeping score, Sergio moved up in the FedEx standings but fell short of the Top 30 by 8 spots. Maybe now he can take a little time off from golf to get his competitive juices flowing again. We won’t talk about Brandt Snedeker’s momentary brain fart on 18 at all; that kind of thing happens to all of us.

And since the point system guarantees that any Top 5 player who wins the Tour Championship is guaranteed to win the FedEx Cup, here are your most likely winners:
  1. Tiger Woods
  2. Steve Stricker
  3. Jim Furyk
  4. Zack Johnson
  5. Heath Slocum
Lastly, since there’s no PGA tourney this week, I can watch the ladies play the Samsung World Championship (at Torrey Pines, no less!) without the slightest feeling of guilt.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Quick Cruise Around the Bloggerhood

I decided to take a Sunday off this week — my first since starting my blog — so I thought I'd take a quick spin amongst my golf blogging friends and see what's going on. Looks like everybody's been busy!

Neil over at The Armchair Golfer has uncovered the reason for Camilo Villegas's relatively poor play in the playoffs. Looks like he's been doing a little impromptu racing.

Heather over at Real Women Golf appears to be doing her own take on Desperate Housewives. What else could cause her to wonder if she's a worse influence than Tiger throwing clubs?

Perhaps she should talk to Vince over at One-Eyed Golfer, who thinks Tiger is more like Michael Jordan. (After the trashing MJ took over at Yahoo Sports, you shouldn't have to worry, Heather!)

Charles over at Me and Old Man Par got a tip from a little birdie — a tweet from Peter Kostis. (By the way, Charles, if you happen to read this, how about dropping by my profile and dropping me an email? I live just outside Winston-Salem, only a couple of hours away!)

Chris over at From the Rough ponders the off-day activities of pro golfers, while Patricia over at Golf Girl's Diary ponders what they might be wearing and carrying. (I don't really care for the pink bags, Patricia, but if they happen to have a Bugs Bunny head cover...)

For you techies, The Common Golfer has the scoop on Scotty Cameron's new system for analyzing your putting stroke.

And for you LPGA fans (like me!), Hound Dog LPGA has the stats on this week's P&G NW Arkansas Championship.

Meanwhile, I'll be back Monday with my limerick summary of the BMW Championship. I'm sure some of you are overjoyed by that news!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Step 3: Try It with an Iron

This is the last post on the deadhands approach shot, and I think you’ll find this was worth the wait. If you understood the first three posts, this one should enable you to make almost instant improvement in your ability to hit the green.

Before we start, let me remind you that your forearms don’t rotate and that you should use a relaxed grip. Those are the First and Third Principles of Good Putting, and they don’t change just because the swing gets longer. Don’t “clench” the club in a death grip; relaxed muscles remain in position and generate more clubhead speed with less work.

Below is another example of my amazing artwork. It shows several positions in a typical approach shot; numbers 2 and 3 are the critical ones for our discussion, so they’re darker. Position 2 is when your hands reach the end of the backswing; position 3 is when your hands start the downswing. The point labeled with that huge letter ‘A’ is the point where your hands change direction, and this is the critical point in the deadhand swing.

Deadhands approach sequence using club

The primary difference between the deadhand approach (accuracy shot) and the drive (power shot) happens at ‘A’. In the deadhand shot, point A is pretty much the same for both position 2 and position 3. In a power shot, the two are different; point A for position 3 moves down toward position 4. (This move isn’t shown in the drawing because we’re discussing the deadhand swing; but if you look back at my posts about using a loop to generate power and study the pictures there, you’ll see this difference immediately.)

Since this change of direction between 2 and 3 is the critical point, let’s look at it in more detail.

We reach position 2 as the hands stop at the end of the backswing. In essence, they coast to a stop at the top; we don’t sling the club back with a lot of force. The key is that the clubhead continues to move after our hands stop, and we feel this as a pressure in the wrists. Ever heard a teacher like Jim Flick or Bob Toski talk about “feeling the weight of the clubhead”? This is the sensation they’re talking about. You may also have heard it referred to as feeling the clubhead “drop into the slot”; again, this is the same thing.

The downswing (position 3) starts just as slowly. In the deadhanded approach shot, we’re trying to get accuracy, so we don’t want to jerk the clubhead off-line as we start down. Therefore, when we feel that pressure we start our hands moving smoothly, allowing them to accelerate gradually. The slow start down will cause you to carry more wrist cock into the hitting area, so you’ll hit it farther than you think you will. (Think about it: You feel pressure because the clubhead is still moving away from the ball. If you start down when you feel this pressure, the clubhead is resisting the change of direction and actually holds your relaxed wrists in that cocked position longer on the way down. You don’t have to try and “hold the angle,” as some teachers say; the club will do it for you!)

This is one of those things you can practice almost anywhere that’s convenient, at almost any time that’s convenient. You can do it in your backyard without having to hit any balls at all. What you’re learning is how to feel that pressure in your hands and wrists; since this is an unhurried shot, you’ll have plenty of time to do so.

This is not a power swing, but an accuracy swing; nevertheless, you should still get pretty good distance with it, and you’ll get longer as you become more familiar with the move and are able to relax more while doing it. With this swing, you can pretty much judge how far the ball is going to go by how far you take the club back; and because you aren’t trying to muscle the ball down the fairway, your distance control will be pretty consistent.

And that’s basically it. I could bore you with more technical info, but you don’t really need it. This is a simple swing; it’s easy to learn and it doesn’t take a lot of practice to get good at it… but it’s a deadly weapon in any player’s hands.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Step 2: Try It with Your Normal Grip

In the last post you became familiar with the feel of a deadhands swing by using a “neutral” putter grip. Today we’re going to take a normal full swing grip, as shown in the first drawing below, which is much “stronger” than the putter grip. I guess they call it “stronger” because it places your wrists in a stronger position to strike both the ball and the ground. You don’t want to injure yourself when you take a divot.

Normal grip at address

By turning your left hand slightly strong, you pre-rotate your left shoulder. This eliminates some extra movement at the top of the backswing; that means a simpler move to the top, so much simpler that you may even feel that you’re just raising your left arm straight up as you turn away from the ball.

But there’s more to it than that. This may be one of the great secrets of the old masters, so listen closely. Have you ever wondered why most teachers advise you to turn your hands so that the V’s formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand point at your right shoulder? It’s because if you do so and DON’T rotate your forearms on the backswing, your club should swing on plane automatically. That’s right; with the proper grip, if you don’t use your forearms to manipulate the club as you take it back, it should end up on plane without any extra effort from you at all! Even if your backswing isn’t perfect, it will be close enough that the club should find its way to the proper position without you having to think much about it. That’s the result of your relaxed forearms and the momentum of the clubhead and shaft on the backswing.

Look at the second drawing and you’ll see what I mean. The bending of your right elbow at the top of the backswing causes the glass to tilt just slightly more to the right, onto the proper swingplane. Do this in front of a mirror and you’ll see that the bottom of the glass is pointing pretty much at where the ball would normally be.

Normal grip at top of backswing

That’s a major reason why Steve Stricker plays so consistently now. He really just lets the club do most of the “thinking” for him. He sets up properly, then swings back without twisting his forearms, and the club goes where it should go. All he has to do is think about where he wants the ball to go after he hits it.

Try this in front of the mirror a few times until you’re sure you understand how this works. Set up and take the glass to the position at the top, then check it in the mirror. You’ll get comfortable with it really quick.

In the last post in this series, I’ll show you how it works on the course with a real club. The momentum of the head and shaft really smoothes this motion out. It just feels good to swing this way!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Arnie!!!

I just wanted to say that...

And many more!!!

Step 1: Deadhand It with a Putting Grip

Since the deadhanded approach shot uses the same basic movement as a putting stroke, we’ll start with that. That move, which is the First Principle of Good Putting in the list I posted from my book Ruthless Putting, is simply swinging the club without rotating the forearms. To help you more easily detect any forearm rotation, we’re going to “cock” the glass slightly so it’s in the position it will be at the top of a full backswing. If this was just a putting lesson, I would have you hold it so your thumbs are “on top” of the glass and its bottom is clearly visible because it would point roughly at your belly button; for this lesson, tilt the open end of the glass upward so you can see the side of the glass clearly and your thumbs are on the side nearest you, as my first drawing shows. If you're looking down deep inside the open end of the glass, you’ve cocked your wrists too much. If done properly, your forearms should feel very relaxed; this isn’t a stressful position at all.

Deadhands putting grip at address

Just swing your arms back and forth as if stroking a putt while keeping the glass in this position. The bottom of the glass will continue to point down at your feet, and your thumbs will remain on the side of the glass facing you. Just think about the glass as if it had water in it; the water wants to pour out of the top on the side that points away from you (if you don’t believe me, just put some water in and try it). What you want to do is keep from twisting your arms and "spilling" any more water out of the glass.

This shouldn’t be too difficult. If you tilt the glass back to an address position, with the bottom of the glass pointed at your belly button again and your thumbs staying on top of the glass, and you make this same stroking motion, you’re making a dependable putting motion. I don’t care what your putting stroke looks like, if you hold a putter this way and make this stroke, your ability to sink putts will improve automatically!

Back to the glass… Cock it back up as before, then swing it back to a backswing position a little higher than your shoulders. Except for being at a different angle, you should see the same view of the glass EXCEPT that it’s tilted just a bit to the side. This tilt isn’t caused by rotating forearms; rather, it’s a combination of your right elbow bending and your entire left (straight) arm rotating at the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint HAS to rotate; otherwise, the top of the glass would tilt back toward the “ball” and you’d feel a lot of strain in your shoulder. You really have to work to stop it from rotating… so don’t. Let your arms move naturally to the top of the backswing, and you’ll see basically what I drew in the second picture.

Deadhands putting grip at top of backswing

“Swing” the glass this way a few times, just to get comfortable with how it looks and feels. Obviously we’re not going to use our putting grip for a fairly full swing like this, but it’s a simple way to learn the basics of a deadhanded swing, PLUS it will do wonders for your putting stroke. Tomorrow I’m going to show you how it works with your normal grip… and you’re going to be amazed at how much simpler your full swing is about to become!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Steve Stricker’s “Dead Hands” Approach Shot

Johnny Miller said it should be called the “Ka-ching, I’m getting rich!” shot. Steve Stricker has used it so successfully that his cumulative score for all three FedEx Playoff seasons is lower than Tiger’s. That’s saying something!

Michael Breed talked about it on The Golf Fix Monday night after the tournament and, since I was already planning to do a series of posts about it, I wanted to see what he said. His use of a clothes hanger and a couple of clubs to teach it was the kind of thing I like to see, because I don’t believe you should have to buy expensive training aids to learn the golf swing. (At least, most of the time; I can’t rule out the possibility that someone may have a unique problem that requires one. Most people don’t, though.)

However, I think I can do him one better. I’m going to teach you how to do it using a single household item, and make it even simpler than he did.

And yes, as immodest as that sounds, I can do it. This isn’t rocket science, people; it’s one of the simplest swings you can learn to make and it requires no special training. If you can swing a putter, you can use this giant-killer swing with a minimum of practice.

In case you’ve forgotten (or just didn’t read my very first post), I believe that most people have it backwards. They learn to make a full swing, then attack the putting stroke as if it were a different animal. My belief is that the full swing is just a large version of the putting stroke; you make a few minor adjustments as the swing gets longer, but otherwise the techniques are the same. If you learn a proper putting stroke first, then it’s a simple matter to lengthen it to a chip shot, a punch shot, a pitch shot, an approach shot, and finally a drive. This way, working on one aspect of the game improves them all, which means you get more bang for your limited practice time.

In other words, you get what I call a low-maintenance stroke, a stroke so simple that you can play well with minimal practice.

Anyway, Steve’s approach shot uses a common move that turns up in virtually every good putting teacher’s list of basics. It’s no surprise that his putting is as good as his approach shots… he's using the same technique for both! If you learn to use this move, not only will you be able to duplicate the Stricker dead hands shot, but your putting will improve as well. And if you already use this move in your putting stroke, you’ll discover that Strick’s shot is second nature.

Want to learn it? Then show up for class tomorrow… and bring a drinking glass. (Preferably empty; it’s less messy that way.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And the Picks Are In...!

Well, today Freddie and Greg made public their captain's choices for the President's Cup next week month.

Freddie chose Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan. Neither was really a surprise, as Freddie had already said that these two were the guys he would choose UNLESS someone did something special. (For example, had Scott Verplank won the Deutsche Bank this weekend.) Lucas is the reigning U.S. Open champion, of course, and Hunter has done everything but win this year. Freddie said in an earlier interview that Hunter's stats were actually better than Tiger's.

Greg chose Ryo Ishikawa and Adam Scott. These two may have been a bit unexpected.

Ryo (that's pronounced "yo") is not only an excellent choice from a "political" standpoint, but an extremely experienced player for such a young age. He's already won several times overseas, as well as being on the winning Royal Trophy team this year. (The Royal Trophy is a competition between Asia and Europe.)

Adam Scott is the more controversial pick. Scott's had a lot of well-publicized problems with his game this year, and Greg may be accused of favoritism for this choice. Personally, I thought Greg might go for Michael Sim, the Aussie who gained a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour after getting three wins this year on the Nationwide Tour. (Don't confuse Sim with Michael Sims, another Nationwide player from Bermuda.)

The President's Cup will be played at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco. Golf Channel will cover the opening ceremonies and the first two days; NBC will cover the last two days.

The Limerick Summary: Deutsche Bank

Before I unveil this week’s summary, let me address an issue that some of you may have with my first limerick. Purists may have felt that I cheated in my summary of the Barclays, because I used “smoked ‘em” in the last line rather than “smoke ‘em.” Traditionally, limericks will massacre a word if necessary to make sure it fits the rhyme scheme, and I unintentionally broke that rule. But even though that was my first limerick in a long, long time and it was done in a hurry, I won’t make excuses. Instead, I’m revising the Barclays limerick so that the last line is “corrected.”
When the Barclays was won by Heath Slocum,
Did it prove that the playoffs are hokum?
Beating Els, Woods, and Stricker
May make some fans sicker―
But who cares? We all saw Heath smoke ‘em!
Now, on to this week’s summary:

There were many interesting things that could have influenced this week’s limerick, such as Tiger’s last-minute run up the leaderboard, the attempted upset runs by Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson, Vijay’s failure to make the top 70 and Sergio’s strong finish to get in the BMW next week (it was good to see him smiling in the post-round interviews), and the late-round heroics of Padraig Harrington and Scott Verplank. We also saw some amazing putting exhibitions. There was a lot of good material from which to choose.

However, it was the atypical Monday finish that finally won out. Labor Day put me in mind of the play Love’s Labour’s Lost, which in turn put me in a classical, literary state of mind:
With a game that at times waxed Shakespearean
On a course that could be Luciferean,
Though he’s been tempest-tossed,
His was no Labor lost―
Plus, it made Stricker’s wins trinitarian.
Next week… the BMW Championship.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Apostle Paul’s Guide to Better Golf

Zen has become a very popular approach to the mental game nowadays, led by sports psychologists like Dr. Joe Parent, but the Bible is just as valid as a source for clear thinking. I want to show you a couple of things Paul said that have really helped me deal with my inadequacies with a golf club, and to learn how to enjoy the game no matter how I’m playing.

These two verses are from a short book called Philippians. It was written to Christians living in a town called Philippi, and it’s gained a reputation as a book about finding joy in life. (That’s a good start when you’re talking about golf!) Not surprisingly, it talks about goals and achieving excellence, but it also contains what some people might consider contradictory advice. It doesn’t, really; it just presents a way of dealing with the complicated problem of getting better. Follow along and you’ll find some real help for your game. (For those of you interested in such things, I’m using the New American Standard Version of the Bible; more of you may be familiar with the King James Version, but I think the NASV says things clearer for this post. And in case you’re unfamiliar with verse notation: The numbers after the quote are the chapter, followed by a colon, followed by the verse numbers.)

In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to follow Jesus. He uses himself as an example and says, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect; but I press on, in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:12-14). Let’s put this in the context of golf.

We all have goals. We all want to get better, but we know we aren’t there yet. I like the way Paul says it: Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect. Golf is a struggle sometimes, and it can be depressing when you keep messing up. But Paul gives us two tips to use in our pursuit of improvement; namely, he forgets about all the failures he’s had, and then he refocuses on his goal.

You can see how these two tips apply to golf. If you don’t let go of your past failures, they just build up and weigh you down. (Those are the "oughts" I was talking about in the last post.) You can see this happening with Sergio, who is still struggling with his near misses over the last couple of years. Don’t let that happen to you. Learn what you can from your mistakes, then chuck the bad memories.

But don’t just forget the past; move ahead toward your goal. Although Paul doesn’t say it here, let me focus this one for you: Pick one thing that you really need to work on, be it pitch shots from the rough, tee shots on dogleg left holes, greenside bunker shots, or whatever. Be specific (remember, small targets are easier to focus on) and don’t beat yourself up about the things you aren’t working on; you’ll get to those soon enough. This way, you carry an increasing load of successes with you; that’s a weight that can only help your game.

But I know what you’re going to say: “What about the rest of my game? It’s so bad, it’ll take me forever to see any progress.”

In the fourth chapter, Paul addresses this problem as well. He thanks the Philippians for some supplies they sent him, and he says, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (4:11).

How can he be content when he's in a bad situation and he just said he knows (1) he’s not perfect and (2) he’s struggling to improve? I think “content” is an unfortunate choice of words by the translators here; if you read the verses following this one, Paul talks about being hungry and doing without. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to stay in that condition.

It’s pretty clear to me that he means I have learned to accept where I am. He wants things to change, of course, but he’s not going to beat himself up just because he’s not where he wants to be. Everybody has to start somewhere; rather than berate yourself for being in a situation that may not even be your fault, accept the way things are. This is only your starting point; you’re not going to stay here, so you don’t waste energy over it. You will improve if you try; focus on that.

There you have it. This is the mindset that helps you beat insecurity in your game:
  • First, remember that nobody’s perfect when it comes to this game; everybody makes mistakes. Learn what you can from them, then ditch the bad memories and move ahead.
  • Second, pick one aspect of your game to improve, and focus on that; that’s the quickest way to make progress.
  • Finally, don’t beat yourself up just because your game isn’t where you want it to be. Accept where you are and take some pride in the things you do well. And remember: No matter what your game looks like, everybody has to start somewhere.
Play with Paul’s mindset and you’ll not only improve, you’ll enjoy yourself more while you do.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another Guest Post

For those of you who are interested, I chimed in on the debate over what some have called Tiger's lack of interest in the FedEx Playoffs. The post is over at Ryan Ballengee's Waggle Room blog, and it's simply called "Is Tiger Tired of Golf?"

Are You Sure You “Ought” to Be Better?

“Ought” is a nasty word in so many ways. I looked it up in my dictionary and here’s the somewhat convoluted definition:
(a verb) Used to indicate:
  1. Duty or obligation (You ought to try harder.)
  2. Prudence or advisability (They ought to have health insurance.)
  3. Desirability (You ought to have been there; it was interesting.)
  4. Likelihood or probability (I ought to finish soon.)
Wow! Even the definition is a guilt trip!

Welcome to what I believe is the primary source of our insecurity on the golf course… the dreaded “ought.” How many times have you tried to play a shot, screwed it up big time, and berated yourself with “What’s wrong with me? I OUGHT to be able to do this!”

Tell me, do you play that shot a lot? When was the last time? How did that one come out? (Someone once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different outcome. Ok, guilty as charged.) Maybe you did it well before. Other golfers don’t perform perfectly every time; what makes you better than the rest of us? Do you think that, just because you didn’t pull this shot off, you are somehow less valuable than you would be if you had been successful? Do you have something to prove?

Or is it, most likely, some self-destructive mixture of all of these?

“Ought” is one of the heaviest words in the English language. For one thing, it buries us under unrealistic expectations. Perhaps Tiger or Phil or those other pros can get away with that kind of reasoning; they spend hours every day working on their games. But you? You’re a weekend golfer; you probably can’t even guarantee one round a week. Where do you get off judging your game by how Tiger plays?

I bet you never thought poor play could be a positive thing! But where your mental game is concerned, it certainly can be. If you don’t get to practice or play much, then you have absolutely no right to burden yourself with the standard of play that a professional does. Just watch Tiger slam a few clubs after he makes a “poor” shot that most of us weekend players would have paid good money for. That’s why the pros spend a fortune on sports psychologists.

You and me, we don’t need a “sportshrink.” Tomorrow I’ll show you a more balanced mental approach to beating the insecurities you have about your game.

But for now, just lose the “oughts,” folks. Enjoy the game for a change.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Insecurity and the Weekend Golfer

A few days ago I did a guest post at Apryl DeLancey’s Women Love Sports blog about male insecurity and women athletes. (I mentioned that before, as you’ll remember.) It drew several comments, including some from golf bloggers like Art Murphy at LifeandGolf and Vince Spence at The One-Eyed Golfer. In fact, it apparently inspired Vince to do a related post about LPGA golfer Anna Rawson, who blitzed the field at the Canadian Women’s Open Thursday. (OK, maybe he just wanted an excuse to post her picture. I can live with that.)

But one interesting comment wasn’t posted; rather, I received it in an email. Greg D’Andrea at From The Rough sent me a link to “The PGA Tour is Giving Us a Complex,” a post he wrote nearly a month ago. In my guest post I said that men were not only intimidated by skilled women athletes, but by older male athletes who outdid them; Greg’s email added “there's such a vast degree of separation between most average golfers and the pros, that I tend to be intimidated by the men too!” In the post he suggested that a tour where bad players get together (a PGA of sorts―the Pitiful Golfers of America) and play for beer and steak; that, he said, might encourage more guys to take up the game.

I’m not so sure about that.

It reminded me of my first attempts at golf. Two close friends took up the game with me, but one gave up the game after only one round. Why? He was so self-conscious about his swing that he couldn’t bear to have anyone watch him try to hit the ball… even though the only two guys watching it were no better than he was!

Insecurity can hit any one of us at any time, especially since weekend golfers can’t always play enough to keep their games sharp. The results can be devastating to our game, but there are ways to overcome it. Over the next couple of days I’ll look at some of the causes of insecurity and how we can start getting past it, so we can make the best of the skills we have.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Limerick Summary: The Barclays

If you asked people who know me well, they’d tell you I have a sense of humor… at least, they would if they were feeling charitable. I lean toward the sicker forms, like puns and parody and such, as you may have noticed with the chupacaddie piece yesterday. (When I read that someone had claimed to catch the legendary chupacabra, it was just too good to ignore.) Since I intend this to be more of an instruction and encouragement site, I can’t really do many humor posts. (My friends are applauding wildly behind me.)

But there’s always a way, if you’re determined…

Much to my friends’ dismay, I have decided to try and do a weekly tournament summary… as a limerick. Since the playoffs began last week but I didn’t have the idea until today, it makes sense to post one for last week’s tournament, the Barclays. So, without further ado, here is the first example of my artistry:
When the Barclays was won by Heath Slocum,
Did it prove that the playoffs are hokum?
Beating Els, Woods, and Stricker
May make some fans sicker―
But I think you can say that Heath smoked ‘em.
An honorable mention must go to the following rejected contender. While I normally wouldn’t share a second-place choice, this one has its own charm:
Heath Slocum has climbed golf’s Mount Everest
But, with Woods just ahead, he can never rest.
Up from one-twenty-four,
Now he knocks at the door…
And perhaps that will pique Tiger’s “interest.”
I know you’re all looking forward to my next summary… but I'm afraid you’ll have to wait. Isn’t the suspense just killing you?

Do You Have a Filter?

One of the biggest problems a weekend player faces is the great wealth of good golf instruction available to us today.

No, really, I’m serious. There is so much good instruction out there, and it comes in so many easy-to-use forms like books, TV shows, and DVDs, that it’s dreadfully easy to lose your way. You see, there are a lot of different swing concepts, each with slight variations tailored to suit different body types and strategic considerations… and some of the techniques will work together, some won’t. How can you possibly sort them all out?

It’s simple, really. All you need is a filter.

And just what is a filter, you ask?

A filter is a single teacher whose methods have worked reasonably well for you. They may not work perfectly, but you've had some success using them and you feel comfortable using them. This teacher’s methods become the yardstick you use to determine whether a new technique will work with your existing swing. Everybody needs a filter.

This is even true for the “big boys.” Have you ever seen a pro achieve some success, change teachers in an effort to get better, lose their game, and then make a comeback by going back to their original teacher? They got away from their filter, and returning to it turned things around for them.

For example, my filter is a teacher named Carl Rabito. You may have seen Carl on Golf Channel; he’s one of 43 PGA Certified Master Teaching Professionals in the United States and one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers, and he works with many professionals, like Jeong Jang from the LPGA Tour. I met Carl nearly 20 years ago when he was teaching the Golf Studio at the Disney Inn in DisneyWorld. My swing was a mess at the time, and he literally revolutionized my game during that one lesson, giving me a few easy-to-understand basics that I still follow. Whenever I think about trying something new in my swing, I check it against the things Carl taught me; it’s saved me a lot of wasted effort.

A filter is one of the greatest assets a weekend player can have. If you don’t have one yet, take some time to find one. You won’t regret it.