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Sunday, October 31, 2010

No History This Weekend

Well, it doesn't look like I'm going to get the history I wanted to see this weekend.

Juli Inkster, at the time I'm writing this, is five shots behind leader Song-Hee Kim. It doesn't look like we'll see the oldest winner in the history of the LPGA yet.

Likewise, it appears that Martin Kaymer will not leapfrog over Lee Westwood to take #1 in the world rankings... at least, not unless he discovers the secret of Pia Nilsson's VISION54 and shoots something in the 50s during the last round. He's nine strokes behind leaders Graeme McDowell and Gareth Maybin. (In his defense, Valderrama is playing really tough this week -- only 6 players are under par.)

So I guess I'll have to settle for the smug knowledge that I'll be able to start work on the Limerick Summary earlier on Sunday, since the PGA event in Malaysia is well into the fourth round as I'm writing this.

Of course, there's still one possible bit of excitement ahead. As I said, only 6 players are under par at Valderrama... but guess what? Sergio is one of them! Maybe, just maybe he's starting to get his game together...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Blonde Bomber Secrets

No, not Brittany Lincicome. I'm talking about Cristie Kerr.

I remarked in an earlier post that Cristie was extremely long for her size -- she's only 5'3", yet she's 18th on the LPGA in Driving Distance. Well, for those of you who didn't see the Friday tape-delayed broadcast of the tournament, the commentators actually made mention of why she's so long off the tee.

The secret? Cristie cocks her wrists very late in her swing.

Photo of Cristie Kerr near the top of her swingI've been looking for some slo-mo footage of her swing for a while but can't find any. (Well, I found some once and bookmarked it, but it's apparently been taken down.) Hopefully YouTube'll post a copy of what they showed on Golf Channel's broadcast, but at least I managed to make a freeze-frame of her swing from a regular-speed video that's good enough to show you what it looks like. That's it just over to the side there.

I did some posts last year about Jim McLean (who just happens to be one of her teachers) and his research into the "V-Gap," which he said was the key to most of the big hitters' power. You can find the series I did on it on the "Some Useful Post Series" page; it's called "One-Piece Takeaways, Coils & the 'V-Gap' Technique."

At least this picture is good enough to show what's happening. As you can see, Cristie's arms are just past 9 o'clock in her backswing. By this point most players have the club shaft pointing straight up and down, making a right angle with their arm. Not Cristie! Her club is still pointing outward, away from her... and because the video was actually taken from more in front of her than face-on, the club looks more upright than it really is!

I wanted to show you this to clear up a possible misconception -- namely, that your wrists don't cock until the very last moment during a late cock. The later you cock your wrists, the more you can load the shaft... but it also puts more strain on your wrists. The real difference between an early cock (which most weekend players tend to make) and a late cock (which the big hitters use) is just a matter of degree:
  • In an early cock, the wrists begin cocking almost the moment you start taking the club away from the ball; and the wrists are almost fully cocked by the time your arms are parallel to the ground.
  • In a late cock, the wrists don't start to cock until your arms are almost parallel to the ground; and they don't reach their full cock until your hands reach the top of your backswing.
I hope that makes it clear for those of you who are looking for more distance and have decided to try using a late cock.

One other thing that may not have been clear in some of my earlier posts about the one-piece takeaway is that you don't have to use a late cock just because you're using a one-piece takeaway. That's the traditional teaching, but you can use an early cock with a one-piece takeaway also. The one-piece takeaway is about getting the club on-plane during your backswing, not how you cock your wrists. It just happens that Cristie uses a one-piece takeaway (as do most of the pros) and a late cock (for more distance) together.

And she uses them very well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meanwhile, Back on the LPGA...

The LPGA has left Malaysia, but they're still over in Asia -- South Korea, to be exact -- which means the Golf Channel coverage today will actually be a tape-delayed summary of what's happening Thursday night. I've got the scoreboard up on my computer as I write this, looking to see what sort of interesting match-ups are shaping up in the various end-of-year battles. Only a few players have finished but it looks like everybody's at least halfway through their rounds.

Jimin Kang, who hadn't won on tour for a while until last week, jumped from 99 to 49 in the Rolex World Rankings with her win. She could move up some more this week as she's currently 3 off the lead of -5, held by Song-Hee Kim. Vicky Hurst (finished) and Amy Hung are at -4, and So Yeon Ru and Na Yeon Choi follow at -3.

Hurst, Kim, and Hung's names may sound familiar, Kim's in particular. Kim is #8 in the world (has been right around there most of the year), but she's a good 3.5 points behind current #1 Cristie Kerr so she's unlikely to make any major ripples this year. She's had a lot of Top 10s this year -- 2 Top 3s in majors --  but she hasn't been able to break through and win. Unless you're Suzann Petterson, you've got to win if you hope to crack the Top 5.

A player who made a move last week -- and I missed it -- was Paula Creamer, who squeaked back into the Top 10. A good finish this week could jump her as high as #7 (where Michelle Wie currently is, 1 point ahead of her). Creamer's currently even for the round.

I mentioned Choi at -3. I don't think she can take #1 with a win, but it would put her really close. Cristie Kerr is leading a pack of players at -2 who are trying to get that #1 position. The group at -2 is big (8 players as I write this) and I suspect it will get bigger by the end of the first round. Ai Miyazato and Yani Tseng skipped this week, while Kerr and Petterson are in that logjam with Shin a single stroke behind... and all have about the same amount of holes left to play.

And Juli Inkster is playing well again this week -- she's also in the logjam at -2.

This could end up being a good tournament. I'm pulling for Juli to win it this week and make history as the oldest winner on the LPGA. The tape-delay broadcast is on TGC at noon today, and you can check the scores here at the LPGA leaderboard.

Before that, I'll see if Kaymer can get into the mix on the European Tour and sneak past Westwood for #1. The only German ever to hold that title was Bernhard Langer... for a full 3 weeks. We could see some history on both tours this week, folks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Malaysia, Home of Limited Fields

I must admit that I'm a bit confused. (What's new, right?) So much is being made of the various tours expanding into Asian markets but all I'm seeing are limited-field events. What's up with that?

Last week the LPGA played the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. It "boasted" a 60-player field at a time when many LPGA players are struggling to keep their cards.

This week the PGA makes its first trip to Malaysia for the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia. It has a massive 40-player field, also at a time when many PGA players are struggling to keep their cards.

Am I missing something here? Isn't this counter-productive?

At least the LPGA event drew most of the big names -- not just because the World #1 ranking is up for grabs, but also Player of the Year and some other races. Since LPGA players must earn their way into the World Golf Hall of Fame and these titles can earn them points that help them do it, there was a built-in reason for them to show up. Still, if you want to "build the game," a full-field event makes more sense to me.

The PGA has no such incentive. Only one of the Top 10 players (that would be Luke Donald) even bothered to make the trip, even though the WGC-China event falls in the following week. The Malaysian event pays as much as the Memorial (which has a larger field), so it's not a question of money. Apparently most of the big names just don't care.

So why not open it up to more players? With a bigger purse than any of the Fall Finish events, it would be one heck of a draw for the rank and file. Some of the decisions being made by the tours seem questionable to me, especially given the current economic climate.

I guess I'll be watching the Andalucia Valderrama Masters (to see if Kaymer can nab the #1 World Ranking instead of Westwood) and the Nationwide Tour Championship (with those 25 Tour cards up for grab) this week. At least the results at those tournaments will mean something.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Tempo Experiment

Yesterday Court left a comment that I am all too familiar with. He was lamenting the fact that when he hit one of those awesome shots that keeps you coming back despite all the bad ones, he couldn't remember what he did that gave him that great feel and great result.

Well, I began working on my next golf book about a month ago and that's one of the problems I'm hoping it will address. I want to identify the few simple "intangibles" that make a swing feel good and give consistently good results... and I'd like all of you readers out there to help me. The beauty of it all is that by helping me you should also help your own game. Sweet, eh?

What I want you to do is help me determine whether some simple swing thoughts and tips can improve your consistency by simplifying your game. The ball positioning tip from yesterday is a good example; can a very simple guideline like that improve your ball striking consistency by eliminating confusion over where your ball should be placed? Obviously I'd like you to leave comments on the post and tell me whether it does or not.

Today I'm going to try and simplify some problems with tempo. In the last couple of weeks I did a few posts about how tempo has traditionally been taught and how the mechanics work... but how do you condense all of that into a single swing thought that you can use on the course? There are a lot of suggestions, most of which involve some sort of counting, whether it's a simple "one - two" or the more creative "boom - boom" from Heather's now-infamous post at Real Women Golf.

The one problem I've seen with all of them is... well, you can use them and still have poor tempo. It's not just a simple matter of back and through, even though that's better than nothing. For example, you may remember I referred to a book called Tour Tempo in my tempo posts. Author John Novosel studied scores of pro swings and found that the "personal metronomes" of the players may have run at different speeds but they had consistent ratios between the time it took to make the backswing and the time it took to make the downswing. That ratio is roughly 3:1 --  the backswing takes three times as long as the downswing.

Furthermore, Novosel found that there was a fastest swing time and a slowest swing time -- the fastest took .93 seconds, the slowest took 1.20 seconds. (A middle time, 1.06 seconds, was also common.) Now, although it may seem contrary to common sense, the speed of the swing didn't determine how far you hit the ball. He found short hitters at both ends of the time range, and he found long hitters at both ends as well.

But these two aspects of tempo -- backswing-to-downswing ratio and total swing time -- are considerably more involved than you can capture with a simple "one - two" swing thought... so I've been looking for something that might help you keep track of both of them easily without taking a ridiculous amount of brainpower.

I think I've found it... and I'd like you to help me test it.

Were you ever taught how to count seconds when you didn't have a watch? You simply count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three..." If you have a quicker swing -- one around the one-second mark -- just use the phrase "one-thousand-one" to count it as you swing. Even better, remember that 3:1 ratio? There are four syllables in the phrase! So if you start your swing on the first "one," reach the top about the time you say "sand," and then hit the ball right around the second "one," both aspects of your tempo should be about right. (A personal note here: If you're like me, you'll tend to emphasize the "thou-" syllable and the second "one" syllable most. You might find it easier to use these two syllables as your keys. In that case, your left arm -- if you're a righty -- will be parallel to the ground or just moving past that when you say "thou-".)

Based on Novosel's figures, two of the most common speeds -- .93 seconds and 1.06 seconds -- should both work with this phrase; the times are so similar, I bet you'll automatically adjust your count so your hit falls on the second "one."

And if you have the slowest speed? Use the phrase "one-thousand-one-and." This one is less exact, of course, but you should still reach the top of your backswing at about the "wuh" sound of the second "one" and hit the ball on the final "and." (Or you can focus on the "sand" syllable. At this speed, your left arm -- if you're a righty -- will probably be parallel to the ground or just moving past that when you say "sand". Just emphasize the "sand" and "and" syllables as you swing.)

If you're like me, you'll probably find that you have to speed up your swing a little The "one-thousand-one-and" phrase was too fast for my swing originally; I tended to reach the top of my backswing just before the final "and"! I won't be surprised if a lot of you have that problem. After a dozen swings using the "one-thousand-one" phrase, my swing felt much better and I seemed to be getting through the hitting zone much more consistently. (That is, I stopped moving around so much over the ball during my swing.)

An interesting note: Although I couldn't find where I read it, I remember hearing that your tempo should be consistent on every shot... which means putts and chips should take the same length of time and fit the same ratio as the full shots. My experiments so far indicate that it is indeed true! My short game has always been good... and it fit the tempo phrase from the first time I tried it.

So here's what I'd like from you. Give this tip a try and, while I'd like to know if it helps your tempo, I'm also very interested in how it affects the intangibles of your swing. Can you hit the ball farther? Are you straighter? Do your shots feel more solid? Do you feel more or less confident when you swing? Did it force you to make other changes in your swing? These are the kinds of things I'd like to know.

Maybe we'll discover some useful information for weekend golfers out of this. I'll be interested to know how it affects your game.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on Ball Position

I was watching Michael Breed on The Golf Fix Monday night and he was focusing the entire show on how to hit a driver. What particularly caught my attention concerned his view on ball position. I really liked what he said, and immediately decided it was a perfect launching point to discuss my own "low-maintenance" approach to positioning the ball for any type of shot.

The wrong ball position can screw up an otherwise perfectly good golf shot. For most of us, the problem is one of extremes. We've been told the ball should be placed in different positions for different types of shots and even for different clubs, and that advice is correct... as far as it goes. Why don't we eliminate the confusion right here and now?

First, I want you to forget anything you've heard about placing the ball at a specific spot in your stance. Your stance is an unreliable gauge for placing the ball because your stance is changing all the time. What happens if you're on an uneven lie, or conditions require you to take a wider or narrower stance? All your rules go right out the window! We need a consistent measuring stick, something that doesn't change from shot to shot, something that will always give us the same results.

That measuring stick is the triangle formed by your hands and shoulders. Let me teach you how to simplify ball placement using this handy measuring tool.

When playing your driver, Michael Breed said you should place the ball under the logo on your shirt... which, if you aren't wearing a shirt with a logo, works out to be halfway between your breastbone and your armpit. (I've sometimes heard teachers say the driver position should be beneath your armpit, but that's an extreme forward position. Breed's recommendation is more likely to be correct for most players.) That's the standard position for a drive.

And the standard position for a wedge? Take your grip on your club and let your arms hang down naturally, in your standard setup. Now just place the ball directly under your hands. This is a a good "neutral" position; it will let you strike slightly downward on the ball, but it's neither too far forward or too far back in your stance. I think this is also a good position for your ball when you putt; I'll discuss why in another post.

So now you have a range of ball positions, which for most people is only about six to eight inches at the extremes. No matter what club you hit, all of your standard shots should be in this range of ball positions. Why is this a better way to determine ball position? Simply because your swing is centered from your spine position (between your shoulders), not your stance.

Let's say you set up with your weight a bit forward because the wind is blowing. If you use your stance to determine ball placement, it's likely you'll put the ball too far back in your stance... which will cause you to lean the club shaft too far forward and change the way you contact the ball. By using your arms and shoulders to determine ball placement, the ball will move forward with your weight shift, which moves your spine and hence your arms and shoulders forward. You'll contact the ball as you would normally, so you're more likely to get the results you expect.

Now you know your ball position for standard shots. But what about special shots?

For sand shots, you want to hit a couple of inches behind the ball. Simply determine your normal wedge shot position and place the ball a couple of inches ahead of it. That's simple enough.

Shots where you need to hit the ball a little lower than normal are just as easy to figure out. In most situations you need only move the ball back slightly to hit it much lower. Simply figure out your normal ball position for the club you intend to hit, them move the ball back a single ball width; that should be about right. (Again, only in extreme situations would you need to move the ball back two ball widths.)

And if you need to hit the ball higher, move the ball a single ball width forward. That's enough to let you hit the ball higher, but not so far forward that you're likely to hit it fat.

Using this method of determining ball position should help you become much more consistent in your ball striking because you will be contacting the ball at the same angle of attack and same club path more often. And it's very simple to determine the best ball position, no matter what your stance is like.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Timberlake Shriners Open

Winner: Jonathan Byrd

Around the greater world of golf: Young amateur Matteo Manassero won the CASTELLĂ“ MASTERS Costa Azahar (yes, they spell it with all caps like that), becoming the youngest winner ever in European Tour history by a full year and beating Seve's record as the youngest full European Tour Member by 12 days; Fred Couples ripped up the field at the Champions Tour's Administaff Small Business Classic, giving himself an outside chance at the Schwab Cup; Donald Mathis won the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open, the Nationwide Tour's last full-field event before the Tour Championship; and Jimin Kang won the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, preventing Juli Inkster from becoming the oldest LPGA winner in history. Both the Constructivist and Hound Dog have more details on the LPGA tournament. In fact, Hound Dog has a second post on the event, if you're interested.

Jonathan Byrd gets trophy in VegasOk, this is just getting silly now. First Rocco went nuts at the Open, holing out four times in as many days -- one hole-in-one and three eagles from the fairway. It was exciting, but it was back to business as usual this week, right?

Au contraire, mon Capitaine! The madness had only begun! (Click the picture for reactions.)

By Sunday afternoon the Vegas tournament had indeed become a roll of the dice. With so many players near the top of the leaderboard -- and all playing extremely well, I have to say -- it finally came down to a three-man playoff between defending champion Martin Laird, veteran Jonathan Byrd, and rookie Cameron Percy. (As you know, all players must have a title. If they are good players and over 40, they get "The xx-Year-Old" as a title. Golf truly is a game of tradition.) The playoff was also well-played, with no one making any mistakes and each making some amazing shots and putts.

But it was getting dark, and after three playoff holes the PGA officials gave them the choice of stopping. All three decided to go on to the par-3 17th, hit their tee shots, and then see if they could see well enough to putt.

It ended up being a moot point as Jonathan Byrd, the first up, calmly struck his ball 204 yards dead-center into the cup. He couldn't even see it go in.

Of course, neither Laird nor Percy was able to duplicate the feat, and Byrd got his first win since 2007.

Unlike Byrd and Laird, Percy needed a win to guarantee his Tour card for next year. It's only a consolation prize, but his T2 moved him up to 144, giving him one more chance to make it into the Top 125 on the money list next week at Disney. He'll probably need around $200,000 to do it.

And then again, maybe he'll hole out for the win next week. Doesn't everybody?
Well, it happened again—have you heard?
This week’s ace in the playoff by Byrd
Left the players all muttering
“Who needs a putter?” and
Shaking their heads. It’s absurd!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Just Hitting the Ball

Dexter put up another post about his golfing adventures with his new swing. He's learning to just hit the ball, which is what we all should be trying to do. After all, the practice tee is the place to think about technique. On the course, we should just hit the ball.

I posted a comment there to help him figure out where to hit the ball, and decided it might be something the rest of you would find useful too.

See, Dex has been plagued by the eternal bane of our existence -- the part of our brain that pops up and tells us where NOT to hit the ball. That little guy (I think he's a bureaucrat in a tiny suit and tie who has no time for such a stupid game as golf, ahem, ahem) grabs the microphone connected to our nervous system and starts chanting a little mantra: "DON'T hit it there, DON'T hit it there, DON'T, DON'T, DON'T hit it there..." DJ Skrooz It Up joins him with a little scratchy backup, and together they manage to take over the golf ball guidance system. (It would never make a hit single, and it makes sure we never get a hit either.)

The way you beat these guys is to pick the smallest target you can find in the area where you want your ball to land. Pick a tree trunk way out at the end of the fairway (the skinnier the better) or roadkill from the beverage girl's cart or that vulture staring at you from the middle of the fairway (because he's certain you won't hit him there). You might even want to pick the flag on the green if you can see it from where you are.

If you think about it, you'll realize that you've heard players tell you this time after time on television; just listen when they're asked what they're aiming at. (You'll probably hear about the tree or the flag more often than the roadkill or vulture, but those players aren't on municipal courses.)

Why does this work? I think it's because we tend to lock onto things and become oblivious to everything else. The smaller the target is, the more we focus on it (perhaps our brains want more detail and a small target is harder to see) and we tend to block out everything around it. I remember being taught something similar way back in Driver's Ed; the instructor told us that we would tend to steer the car in the direction we were looking. It's not something we do intentionally, but we seem to do it naturally.

So learn how to play "target golf." (How many times have you heard players use that term? Dexter uses the term "visualization." It's the same thing.) Pick out a small target in the general area you want your ball to go, and then try to hit that target. It's amazing how much better your ball striking becomes once you stop worrying about where you don't want the ball to go.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Duval's in the Details

Photo of David DuvalDavid Duval made his 11th cut of the year Friday. That's less than half of the 25 tournaments he's entered.

For most players, that would be terrible news. For David's fans (like me) it's encouraging.

He missed the first 2 cuts in the Fall Finish, now he's made it in numbers 3 and 4. Last week at the Fry' Open he was T6 and made only his second six-figure check of the year. (The other was at the AT&T Pebble Beach back in February, where he finished T2 and cashed a check for over half a mil.) That second check put him at #99 on the money list, well inside the 125 who keep their Tour cards.

He's currently T20 (-8) at the Timberlake Shriners Open after a second round of -7, and he's projected to finish at #98. It looks like he's going to play two good tournaments in a row! Best of all, this is David's first time inside the 125 since 2002... and again, that's encouraging news.

Why has David struggled so much? At this point, it's just inconsistency... and given the small number of current swing videos available, I haven't been able to spot anything conclusive. My best guess is that his change of direction isn't always the same. David really slides his hips forward during his swing, as you can see in this video (all of these videos are from this year, btw):

I wouldn't recommend that "reverse C" David has, but he's had it a long time so it's just a given. (And, as you can tell, Rick Kent seems to like it... we have a difference of opinion there.) I think the problem is how this move interacts with another move of David's...

If you read any of my Route 67 posts, you know I started a series on what I call the "Secret Move" -- the different ways people get their wrist cock from the top of the swing down to the hitting area. I've done three so far, but one I haven't gotten to yet is David's method. Some teachers call it "laying off the club." Here's David doing it with his driver:

If you look at his hands from :22 to :26, you'll see that they drop almost straight down from above his head to shoulder level. Compare that to this video of the same swing with an iron:

Not quite as visible from this angle, but you can still tell that it's a smaller drop. That makes sense because the swing is a little shorter with the iron. Now compare that with another iron shot that didn't come off right (we know that because he lets go of the club at the finish):

Now compare these three videos at :33 (driver), :11 (iron), and :12 (flub). David has a very strong grip (as pointed out in the Kent video). I mentioned in a previous swing analysis (I think it was the post about Bernhard Langer's swing) that players with strong grips have to get their bodies turned quickly if they want to keep the ball going where they want it to go. In the flubbed shot, David's hips and shoulders clearly haven't gotten anywhere near the same position as the two good shots.

I think that's caused by a combination of the "drop move" with the hands and the "reverse C" with the lower body. David generates a lot of power, but when his timing is off just a little he gets out of position. That causes him to push or pull shots.

Maybe he's finally found some consistency the last couple of weeks. I certainly hope so -- David would be a great addition to the storylines for next season.

At least it looks like he'll be playing a full schedule again. Hooray! ;-)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Comes Early for the LPGA

Well, I tried to stay up late and get the scores for the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia tournament. Friday came early in Malaysia, but not early enough for me! It's nearly 2am as I'm writing this, so I'm going to have to give up and go to bed.

But I can let you know (before the tape-delay coverage comes on Golf Channel at noon today) that this isn't shaping up to be the big battle we all expected.

I thought maybe Laura Davies would have a good chance at this tournament. She's played well overseas this year and since she only needs one major or two regular LPGA wins to get into the World Golf Hall of Fame, this seemed a prime week for her -- a 54-hole tournament in her back yard, with only 60 players to contend. Instead, it looks like she'll finish her first round +2, which isn't good with only two rounds left.

How about the race for #1 among the Top 5 in the Rolex World Rankings? Petterson's at -1; and Shin, Tseng, Miyazato, and Kerr all sit at +1. The leader is currently at -5 and the Top 5 are only 9-11 holes into their rounds, but they're going the wrong way.

Perhaps the big surprise here is Michelle Wie. Only 10 holes into her round, she sits at a bogey-free -4. (Not bad for a part-time golfer!) The other players around the lead are nearly finished. Less than half the field is at even or better; about a third are under par.

And there are big numbers out there. The worst I've seen hammered amateur Diana Tham, who carded a 12 at the par-5 12th. Ugh!

I'll be interested to see the TV broadcast just to see whether these scores are a function of bad weather or jet lag. But one thing's for sure... Saturday probably won't come soon enough for most of the ladies.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adding Wrist Cock to the Tempo Drill

For those of you who didn't hear, the end of the world has been postponed. This means you'll have plenty of time to practice your swing tempo! Isn't that great news?

Of course, I assume you've already been working on the traditional tempo drill I wrote about last week. Now you're ready to learn how wrist cock changes the feel of that drill.

And it does change it. One of the problems we face with drills is that most of them focus on a single aspect of the swing... which means they ignore other equally-important aspects. I'm going to tell you how to add a "late cock" to the drill, which is also a traditional way of doing it. I believe this is the simplest way to feel the correct tempo.

If you prefer to use an "early cock," where you start cocking the club almost as soon as you start your backswing, you'll still find this post to be useful. I was originally taught an early cock (and it does have some advantages, I'm not saying it's a bad thing), and the main difference is that the "cocking pressure" of the club isn't as strong. That just means you'll have to pay more attention to what you're doing in order to get your tempo right. Otherwise it all works the same way and you'll get the same benefits from the drill.

If you've worked with the tempo drill and gotten to where you can do it with a club and no "string aid," you're probably making a nice rhythmic pitch-length swing. And you've probably noticed that there's almost a pause at the top of that little swing; that's caused by the club slowly coasting to a halt at the top of the backswing, then slowly gaining speed as gravity pulls it downward. I'm not so sure that "pause" is a good word to think about here, since too many people will try to literally stop the club at the top. It's more accurate to call it a moment of weightlessness, where the club isn't going up but it isn't going down either. It's almost too short to feel.

Well, what makes that moment of weightlessness feel like a perceptible pause to most people is their wrist cock. The wrist cock starts just before the club reaches that weightless moment, and the cocking action is an upward motion. When the backswing stops, the wrists are still cocking and they prolong the feeling of that moment. It's important for you to understand this: It isn't that the club has paused and is staying in place; rather, the wrists start cocking just before that moment of weightlessness and cover it up. It just seems like the club pauses.

The problem with adding wrist cock to the tempo drill is that it makes the top of the swing harder to detect. People who can make a swing with beautiful tempo when they don't cock their wrists sometimes lose all their timing once they add that wrist cock. If you could watch your swing in super slow-motion, you would see that the club starts down just a split-second before your wrists finish cocking.

So what you want to feel is the moment your wrists finish cocking; that's when you start down. The club will actually already be moving down, so you won't be as likely to jerk the club from the top. And you can feel this moment when your wrists stop cocking because the weight of the club makes some pressure where your thumb and your wrist meet. Fortunately I posted a diagram of this a little over a year ago, and here it is again! The pressure point is labeled 'b.'

Diagram of a late wrist cock
When you feel that club pressure at 'b,' that's when you want to start your downswing. And you can see why an early cock can be more difficult to feel than a late cock, since the club doesn't have quite as far to travel after the early cock (that angle labeled 'a' in the diagram) and thus it creates less pressure on the wrists. I suspect the idea behind the early cock is that you will be swinging faster, which should help the club create more pressure.

Whichever way you cock your wrists -- early or late -- that pressure between your thumb and wrist is what you're trying to feel. If you start down when you feel that -- and you keep your wrists relaxed, so you aren't fighting the club's natural movement through all this -- your wrists will stay cocked until your hands are down around waist level. That means you'll "hold" your wrist cock longer, which means you'll release the club's stored-up power later in your swing and hit the ball farther.

So why do the pros spend so much time doing weights? The stronger your wrists and forearms are, the faster you can swing the club without messing up your tempo -- that is, the sequence and relative timing of each of the movements in your swing. But you don't have to do lots of weights to have good tempo and develop a lot of clubhead speed -- Ai Miyazato is a prime example.

So the key to adding wrist cock to your tempo drill is to try and feel the pressure that the club creates between your thumb and wrist at the top of the backswing. That's your key to start your downswing. If you "wait" for that moment, you'll tend to make a swing with good tempo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pressure Comes from Inside

Cartoon of pressure cookerJust a quick post on the mental game today.

After watching Big Break Tuesday night, I was reminded how easy it is to beat yourself. We talk about learning to handle "high-pressure situations," but that's not really the key to playing better. If you want to deal with pressure, you don't need to manage it; you need to eliminate it.

The key is to realize that pressure comes from inside. (The cartoon is originally from this site.)

Unless somebody's literally holding a gun to your head or something like that, you create the pressure you feel when you step up over that little white ball. You are the one who decides that this shot is worth so much that your hands are shaking. You are the one telling yourself that you simply have to hit this shot perfectly or all is lost.

It's all a creation of your own mind. Presumably, you have at least some say-so over what you think about! If you can't handle the pressure, then tone it down or eliminate it completely.

I know, I know -- that's easier said than done. But that's why some players self-destruct and others don't. I'm not saying that some shots aren't worth more than others... but some players let that perceived worth control them, and some don't.

Look at Rocco this past week. In his own words, he was about to lose his job. That's pressure, isn't it? Not really. Rocco had already sent in his entry fee for Q-School; if he didn't make the Top 125 or win before then, he was all set to go. In a sense, Rocco had already handled his pressure so all he had to do was go out and play golf.

That's what you have to do. Before you step onto the course, think about the worst possible outcome of a poor game... and then decide just how bad that outcome really is. Is it the end of everything? Of course not. So don't tell yourself that it is.

Turn off the heat to your internal pressure cooker before it boils over, and you won't have to worry about pressure on the course. Let your opponents do the worrying. ;-)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Swing of the Hole-Out King

Of course we have to take a look at Rocco Mediate's swing! How can we ignore a guy who holes out four days in a row?

Seriously though, I think Rocco is a great example for weekend golfers. Why? Because Rocco is one Tour player that most folks can relate to. He fights back problems, and he's never been a power player -- his Tour driving average is a whopping 278 yards (168th on Tour), which isn't that long for a guy who's 6'1" tall. That means he has to find other ways to score.

He's always been considered a ball-striker, and his stats bear that out as well --  his Driving Accuracy is 67.96% (35th on Tour) and his GIR is 69.15% (31st on Tour). Both of these exceed my Rule of 67 -- that you can be better than the average Tour player if you score better than 67% in Driving Accuracy, GIR, and Scrambling. Rocco has struggled because he's only 56.99% in Scrambling (115th on Tour), and that's been largely because of his putting. His real breakthrough last week was in putting, and that was enough to put him over the top.

Even with the poor putting, his scoring average has been 71.10 thus far this year. Most weekend players would just love that! So let's see what we can learn from the Rock. This YouTube footage is actually from last week's Open:

The first thing to note here is that Rocco has a "closed" setup, which means his feet are on a line pointed to the right. This not only helps him create his signature draw, but it helps take pressure off his back. With his hips "pre-turned" toward his backswing, he can get a full shoulder turn without putting stress on his lower back. It also effectively gives him a longer backswing, so he picks up a little extra distance. In addition, it looks to me as if his weight is set a bit more on the left side, which keeps him from moving so far away from the ball on his backswing. (More on this in a minute.)

Rocco stands taller to the ball and he stays taller throughout his swing -- again, taking some pressure off his back. That's also why his left elbow is bent slightly, his right elbow "flies" a bit (that is, it goes higher than normal at the top of his backswing -- Jack Nicklaus did the same thing), and his swing is more upright. Each of these little moves takes a bit of pressure off his lower back.

Although it looks like he sets up with his weight toward his left side, he does make a weight shift to the right on his backswing. I want to call attention to this move since it trips up many players who want to use a closed setup. Although Rocco moves to the right on his backswing, he does NOT move backward away from the ball. His left knee moves on a line that is almost parallel to his target line, which keeps his body relatively centered in his stance.

He dips his head and shoulders a little when he starts his downswing, which helps him start moving back to his left side. Remember, his stance is closed, so his tendency will be to hang back; he has to move forward, toward the ball, so he can transfer his weight properly. He doesn't drive his right hip like most players -- again, this is because of his back. His hips are pretty much parallel to his target line when he actually hits the ball, but that's still a good hip turn when you consider that his right foot is farther from the line because of his closed stance. And of course he finishes with his back as straight as he can.

Rocco moves quite a bit in his swing, but he still hits the ball very accurately. That's because the extra movements don't stop him from staying centered over the ball. Rocco has found a way to move that relieves the pressure on his back without moving him off the ball.

And here's a driving tips video Rocco did:

What I particularly want you to pick up from these tips is that Rocco doesn't try to stay behind the ball when he drives. That's a standard driving tip, but Rocco -- one of the best drivers on Tour -- doesn't do it! Staying behind the ball can put extra stress on your lower back, something Rocco wants to avoid at all costs. Sometimes the right way for most players isn't necessarily the best way for you. (And remember when you watch this video that Rocco is using a closed stance. That ball is positioned farther forward in his stance than it may at first appear.)

I can't promise that copying Rocco will make you a hole-out king. But you could find much worse models to use as a pattern for your swing... especially if you have a bad back.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Open

Winner: Rocco Mediate

Around the greater world of golf: Padraig Harrington won the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour, his first win on any tour in two years; Sun-Ju Ahn won the Fujitsu Ladies on the JLPGA, her fourth win of the season (she beat Jiyai Shin by seven, guaranteeing that Shin won't be #1 in the world this time -- the Constructivist has the details); Richard Green seemingly came from nowhere to win the Portugal Masters on the ET; Jason Gore won the Nationwide Tour's Miccosukee Championship; and rookie Beatriz Recari won her first LPGA event at the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge. (Hound Dog has more details on this event.) Cristie Kerr finished T5 -- not enough to grab #1. And Carling Coffing (from Big Break) had a rough final round and posted T53 -- still, a respectable finish for her first-ever LPGA event.

Rocco Mediate photoHe had led for three days... and holed out for eagle on each. Appropriately, he had a three-shot lead. It almost looked like a done deal for Rocco Mediate to get his first win in eight years. (Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Going +5 in the first 12 holes of his last round Sunday put an end to that fairy tale, however. The cold and rain came with a vengeance... just the sort of thing a guy with a bad back doesn't need to see. If Rocco wanted this one, it wasn't going to be easy.

Perhaps smelling blood (or was it just Ben-Gay?), all the young sharks began circling. Kevin Stadler and Graham DeLaet made the first runs at our man Rocco, only to drop back. Then Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt, Alex Prugh, and Chris Tidland began their charges... and they didn't drop back. Rocco found himself fighting a several-way tie for the lead at 12-under until Fowler posted at -13, setting the mark.

Rocco finally made a birdie (his first of the day) at the par-3 16th to tie Van Pelt and Fowler at -13... and then it happened. Lightning struck again as Rocco holed out for yet another eagle on the drivable par-4 17th. That meant Rocco had holed out every round this week:
  • a hole-in-one on the par-3 3rd Thursday
  • a hole-out from the fairway on the par-4 4th Friday
  • a hole-out on the par-5 15th Saturday
  • a hole-out on the par-4 17th Sunday
An eagle each round! WOW! Apparently shocked by the turn of events, Van Pelt three-putted for par after a great tee shot on 17, while Prugh made his eagle. The threesome left the 17th with Rocco at -15 and the other two at -13.

Then, on the par-4 18th, Rocco missed his birdie putt to win. Both Van Pelt and Prugh sank their birdie putts to force Rocco to par... which he did! The gallery was rocking big time at the finish. As the announcers noted, Rocco is so popular that it's easy to forget this is only his 6th win on Tour.

So it looks like Rocco will keep his Tour card for another two years... just about long enough to make it to the Champions Tour. And Rocco will tell you that's fine with him... and then he'll head off to sign some more autographs before he starts celebrating. So let me hurry up and post the Limerick Summary before he goes:
Job pressures on Tour were alleviated
By the victory Rocco appropriated.
A hole-out a day
Sent a Tour card his way—
By Monday I’ll bet he’s inebriated. ;-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Eagle-itarian Sport

Egalitarian (adj): Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. (Definition courtesy of

Bald eagle photoThe powers-that-be spend a great amount of time and money trying to prove that golf is for everyone. Today I shall (hopefully) wax eloquent about a blight threatening this aspect of our sport, one that might destroy the very nature of the game and besmirch the names of our best players.

I refer of course to the apparent belief on the professional golf tours that eagles, though no longer an endangered species, are fair game for their players despite remaining protected by Federal law.

For example, Rocco Mediate has shot no less than three of the defenseless creatures in as many rounds at the Open -- a hole-in-one on #3 Thursday, a hole-out from the fairway on #4 Friday, and another hole-out on #15 Saturday. (That's one on a par-3, one on a par-4, and one on a par-5, for those of you keeping track.) His brazen disregard for our feathered friends has given him a three-shot lead over his nearest competitors, all of whom seem unwilling to risk imprisonment. (Alex Prugh, five shots back, accidently shot one on #17 Saturday, but was seen talking to a lawyer afterward.)

The LPGA has shown even less concern for the legal implications of their actions. Three players are tied for the lead at the CVS... and all three of them are guilty! Beatriz Recari shot one on #11 Friday, Il-Hee Lee on #11 Saturday, and Michelle Redman had the nerve to kill one right on #18 Saturday in full sight of the gallery! Even Cristie Kerr succumbed to the slaughter, nailing yet another one on #11 Friday. (Is there a nesting area on that hole? Where's the Audubon Society when we need them?!?)

Even Asian eagles aren't safe. At the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour, Padraig Harrington -- yes, my friends, dear sweet wouldn't-hurt-a-fly Paddy Harrington -- has slaughtered three of these innocents... and he's got his clubs out now, even as I write this!

Ironically, the lowest scores of the week are massacre-free rounds. Brittany Lincicome's 61 on Friday spared our national symbols. And at the Portugal Masters on the European Tour, where a 59 watch was launched early Saturday (so early, in fact, that the TV cameras didn't even catch it), Jeppe Huldahl calmly carded his own 61... and not so much as a single eagle died in the process.

However, this fact seems lost on the great unwashed masses of the professional circuit.

Whatever are we to do, dear readers? How many senseless avian deaths will we see in today's final rounds? There is but one thing left for us to do -- we must all gather around our TV sets today and catalog the names of every offender on every tour who dares to smite these poor avatars of freedom, merely for the sake of a number on a scorecard.

It appears that equal rights are not for the birds, my friends, and we must act now to demonstrate the eagle-itarianism of our sport before they rejoin the endangered species list! The very future of the game may be in our hands!

I wonder how many viewers will phone the networks to report this travesty of justice? ;-)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

imMediate Impact

Photo of Rocco from

As in Rocco Mediate. (You should be smiling, big boy!) Just when it looked like Brittany Lincicome was going to steal the show this week with her record-setting 11-under 61 on Thursday (unfortunately, she followed it up with a 4-over 76 Friday), the Rocco Show came back on the air after a two-year absence. Unlike Brittany -- who admittedly had to try and follow a personal-best score (bested by 3 strokes, at that!) -- Rocco followed Thursday's 7-under 64 with a 6-under 65.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who's been battling the putter for quite a while. He's back to the short putter, in case you hadn't heard -- and he's using it like he was born to it. After 27 putts in Thursday's round, he took a mere 23 putts on Friday! He's drained more than a few long putts as well. He credited the turnaround to a little help from fellow player Scott Piercy, who snapped a chalk line under his putter and showed him he was "outside, open and up," as Rocco put it. (For those of you who are interested, having a square putter at impact, making a long low stroke, and avoiding a "cut putt" are three of the seven things I found that most great putters agree on. You can check the full list of basic putting principles here.)

Rocco also got some help learning to cut the ball from Lee Trevino earlier this year. (He usually hits a draw.) That's helping him get his wedges closer... so he can make even better use of that rediscovered putting stroke.

It's nice to see Rocco back in contention... but that's not all. Tied for third, only four strokes back, is none other than David Duval. After posting 68-65, David is in position to make a run at a win. Despite hitting only 57% of his fairways, David's hit 75% of his greens and made it count by taking only 27 putts in each round.

Nothing like a couple of flashbacks to perk up the late season golf scene, is it? Although I'm extremely interested to see if Cristie Kerr can snag a win this week and retake the #1 position in the world rankings (a feat Jiyai Shin could pull off if she wins in Japan and Cristie doesn't finish high enough), the leaderboard is loaded with all kinds of good stories this weekend. Fortunately, Golf Channel is showing them one after the other...

Looks like another couch potato weekend. ;-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tournaments So Far

While I was working on the tempo posts, golf was still going on around the world... so I thought I'd better take a quick look at where those tournaments stand.

Over on the European Tour they're playing the Portugal Masters. Robert Karlsson (from whom we haven't heard much lately), Johan Edfors, and Maarten Lafeber are tied at -8... but I suppose the biggest news is that Martin Kaymer isn't playing this week so he can't win a fifth tournament and take over #1 in the world rankings. (A personal rant here: I couldn't believe the Golf Channel's 19th Hole guys were arguing that Kaymer was just "hot" and should not be #1. Let's see... he won no tournaments in 2007 and 2008, then won 2 tournaments in 2009 and 4 tournaments -- one a major -- this year. His Top 10s have improved pretty much every year, as has his stroke average. Just what does he have to do to establish himself as the best player right now? It's not as if the OWGR tells you who is the best player -- it just tells you who's playing best. And that's Martin Kaymer. At least Frank Nobilo could see it.)

On the PGA Tour, the big news is that Rocco Mediate is leading the Open at -7. He was -5 in his first 7 holes, then cooled off. Since this is the first time the Tour has played this course (CordeValle Golf Club) it's supposed to make this a "flat playing field" for everybody since nobody has previous knowledge. I'm not sure I buy that argument, what with experienced caddies checking out the lay of the land and the pros getting two or three practice rounds... but that's what they say.

The Miccosukee Championship on the Nationwide Tour has two tied at -8 (a popular score Thursday!) -- Andrew Svoboda and Brandt Jobe. This is an important week for both of them, as Svoboda is barely within the Top 60 (to keep his card) and Jobe is barely in the Top 25 (to get his PGA Tour card)... and there is only one more tournament after this one to qualify for the Nationwide Tour Championship. Almost anything could happen there.

Ironically, the big news was on the LPGA at the CVS Caremark LPGA Challenge, where Brittany Lincicome shot an 11-under 61, putting her 4 shots ahead of everybody. I don't think she broke the course record, but it was a tournament record by 3 shots. (It also beat her best score by 3 or 4. What a nice way to spend your day...)

As I said, the next closest player is Wendy Ward at -7, which is pretty newsworthy because she hasn't played particularly well since 2005 when she got the last of her 4 wins. Also newsworthy was Carling Coffing's T23 at -2. Carling won the last Big Break series -- she's supposed to tee it up in Lorena Ochoa's tournament next month, as part of her prize -- but she was offered a sponsor's exemption into this tournament basically because she played so well on Big Break. Carling has diabetes and has to wear an insulin pump. She didn't play particularly well on the Futures Tour this year (I think she's a third-year pro), but a good showing here and at Lorena's tournament could give her some more options.

And that's where we stand going into Friday. I'm particularly interested in the ladies, simply because they're barely into a 6-week stretch that goes from Alabama (last week) and California (this week) to Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and Mexico before it ends in mid-November. The Tour Championship is in early December and, in the meantime, the races for Player of the Year and World #1 are changing weekly. But a lot of players are playing to keep their cards on all the tours, so this month should be interesting for everybody.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Traditional Approach to Learning Swing Tempo

It's probably no surprise to learn that the search for simple ways to teach proper swing tempo is an ancient quest indeed. And while you can buy many devices -- both mechanical and audible -- that claim to teach proper tempo, teachers have been using an extremely low-tech training method for many years. If you have my putting book you'll recognize it, since I use a variation of this technique to teach distance control.

Shoelace and keysThe original used a penknife and a piece of twine, but you can get the same results using anything similar. In my book I used an old shoelace and a few old keys. (In fact, this illustration is the very one I used in the book. Don't worry about copyright infringement; I gave myself written permission to use it. ;-)

The traditional way to use this device is to grasp the end without the keys, let the keys hang down, and try to get a pendulum rhythm going by swinging your arms back and forth. You want to swing your hands from waist-high to waist-high, and there's no wrist cocking involved. (Obviously, if you tried to swing this limp little pendulum on a longer arc, the keys would fall back toward your body... just the way a child's swing does when it gets above the top bar.) And you want to try to keep the string in a straight line with your hands and arms, just as the club shaft would be.

This isn't the whole drill by any stretch of the imagination, but what this little exercise does is give you some idea of just how fast (or slow, if you prefer) a gravity-powered swing feels. Now, as you'll remember, Bobby Jones's downswing was measured at just a little faster than gravity, which is a little faster than what our drill does. Still, this gets you in the ballpark.

Now we add a club to the mix. We take our regular grip on the club, but we hold the key-free end of the string against the rubber handle of the club, and we try swinging them both together just like we did with the string/key rig alone. We want the keys to swing alongside the shaft. It may take you a few moments to get the hang of it, but it won't take long.

Personally, I don't think this drill is enough to develop a good tempo because it doesn't include a wrist cock. However -- and this is really important -- it will teach you the basics of how the change of direction feels. That's where most of us screw up our tempo.

When you reach the waist-high position on your backswing, you simply can't jerk this club to start your downswing and keep the weighted string swinging beside the clubshaft. What does this change of direction feel like? It's as if your hands coast to a stop, then start falling toward the ground.

I'd almost be willing to bet that this feels unfamiliar to those of you out there in Blogland. We just get too determined to hit that ball hard, so we rush the change of direction. When you read the Bobby Jones quote that says, "No one ever swung a golf club too slowly," this is the part of the swing that he's referring to. It's also why some players have described the change of direction in words similar to this: "It's as if you have all the time in the world."

While we'll add a little to this drill later on, this traditional approach can still help you make progress toward a better tempo. After trying this drill with the club and weighted string, try to duplicate the feel of the change of direction while making a full swing with just a club. Pay particular attention to both how it feels in your hands and how it feels in your head. I think you're going to find yourself feeling frustrated by a perceived lack of power. That's part of the mental game, and it's why good tempo eludes so many players.

Good tempo isn't just about good mechanics, but about how you perceive the effect of those mechanics.

Play around with this drill and become familiar with your reactions to the change of direction. I'll be interested in knowing how you react, so drop me a comment on this post. I'll give you a few days to try it, then I'll come back to it next week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

That Tricky Change of Direction

First, let me save myself some typing. When you see "COD" that stands for "change of direction."

It might seem a bit strange to tag this as a "mindset" post, but there's a very real mental aspect to the COD. Tempo is largely what you think about during the swing, which is why we have so many ways of referring to it. That ephemeral aspect of your swing that you call "feel" is really all about tempo; when your tempo is good, your swing "feels" right. It's an interaction of mechanics and feel. We sometimes call it "timing" because that feel tends to be felt as an unconscious tick-tock, which is very much a mental thing.

It's fair to say that tempo really is a "head game."

I've written some about the mechanics of the COD already. If you pop over to the "Route 67 Posts" page and look for the posts about the "Magic Move" (and that series isn't finished, folks -- I'll be picking up on it again as the year winds down), you can learn about some of the different ways the mechanics can be accomplished. That's part of why tempo is so difficult to get a handle on -- the mechanics often vary from player to player, so any description of tempo that includes mechanics will vary also.

For that reason, I'm going to try and focus on the mental side of tempo in this post. However, since it's almost impossible to separate tempo from mechanics, I'm going to use the simplest mechanics I can -- in this case, a deadhanded swing like Steve Stricker uses. (I've done quite a bit on the mechanics of that too -- just check on the "Some Useful Post Series" page.) There are no attempts to get great distance or do anything fancy; all we do is cock the wrists about 90 degrees at the top of the swing and try to get most of that down to the hitting area.

Good tempo is the key for performing this desirable little bit of mechanics.

Actually, we don't actively cock our wrists as much as we just let momentum cock them for us. That's why we're always told to keep our wrists and forearms relaxed during the swing. If you don't have relaxed wrists and forearms, you won't have good tempo. Your wrists need to be relaxed so they can feel the tension in those muscles change at the point where you change direction at the top of the swing.

And what exactly are you trying to feel at that COD?

When you feel the COD, what you feel is the pressure of the clubhead's weight continuing to move in the same direction as the backswing after your hands and arms have stopped. The weight of the clubhead causes the shaft to bend or "flex" slightly, increasing the pressure on your wrist joints. Relaxed muscles are much more sensitive to this pressure.

You can make this pressure easier to feel by using softer shafts in your clubs. Extra flex exerts more pressure against your wrists as they bend slightly, making it easier to feel that pressure. In a sense it slows down the COD so you can feel it easier. But here's the trick: If they're too soft, it's hard to control your ball flight. You can get the same effect by increasing the swingweight of your clubs -- in fact, players like Lee Trevino have recommended the practice for a long time. Heavier swingweights make it easier to feel the COD, but they also make your clubs a bit heavier. In practice, clubfitters use a little of both -- they help you find a shaft flex soft enough to feel but stiff enough to control, then fine-tune the clubs using swingweight adjustments.

This is also why some teachers recommend a late wrist cock, where the wrists stay pretty much at the same angle they had at address until the club is nearing the top of the backswing (and the COD). A late wrist cock creates more pressure, making it easier to feel that moment when your hands stop at the top but the clubhead tries to continue going back.

Feeling that pressure is your cue to start your downswing. You don't want to jerk it down; rather, you want a smooth start. (Remember that Bobby Jones created 113 mph by swinging downward just barely faster than if his hands were free-falling. You don't have to be fast at the start -- so long as you're fast at the end!) Because the clubhead is still trying to continue the backswing as your hands start down, it causes your relaxed wrists to stay cocked. Sometimes they even cock a little more!

How do you know how fast to start down? If it hurts you're probably swinging too fast, and if you don't feel any pressure keeping your wrists cocked then you're swinging too slow. That's the simplest description I can give you. When your tempo is correct, the feel of the COD is a gentle pressure against your wrist joints and the club feels almost weightless as you swing it down. Why weightless? Because "weight" is gravity pulling against a body "falling" at a different speed; when you fall with the same acceleration as gravity, you don't feel much weight at all.

By the time your hands are back down to waist level, the clubhead has "caught up" and started to fling outward because of centrifugal force. At this point your tempo is already established -- all you think about is finishing the swing and hitting the ball.

Tomorrow I'll show you how to start developing a feel for the correct tempo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Those Amazing Relaxed Swings

Ernie Els. Ai Miyazato. Vijay Singh. Fred Couples. Se Ri Pak. You can probably think of others -- golfers with syrupy-smooth swings. They pound the ball down the fairway, but they look as if they were just pitching the ball from 50 yards out.

Dexter Francois, who writes the Golf Tips & Quips blog and refers to me as his virtual coach, has been looking for some keys to developing one of those deceptively powerful swings. You would think it's simply a matter of swing speed... and you could be excused for that misconception since tempo is most often described that way. Dex is trying to sort through some of that stuff, so I told him I'd try to do some posts on tempo.

Let's see if we can find any useful facts that we can use as a starting point.

I have a book called Tour Tempo by John Novosel that comes with a CD to help you learn the three most common swing speeds used by successful pro golfers throughout golf history. His book begins with the famous quote from Bobby Jones, "No one ever swung a golf club too slowly," and then reveals his conclusion that most weekend players -- even the good ones -- actually do swing too slowly. He suggests working with the CD until you find the most comfortable tempo for you, then working to incorporate it into your game.

If you happen to read Novosel's book or just look up some of his findings on the Net, you'll find he has some weird numbers to describe swing speeds. For example, Fred Couples has a 25/7 tempo, while Annika Sorenstam had a 20/7 and Bobby Jones was a 26/9. These are simply counts of how many frames of videotape elapse during the swing; Freddie's backswing takes 25 frames and his downswing takes 7. It's very straightforward... it just looks odd.

The CD helped me during a tough time when I completely lost my swing, although ultimately I found I needed more mechanical knowledge to maintain a good tempo. Here's our First Useful Fact: Unless you understand how a swing with good tempo works, you'll find it difficult to keep it. Tempo is not just about rhythm; it's about the mechanics of your swing. If you make the right moves during your swing, in the right sequence, you'll tend to keep a good tempo.

Novosel provides us with a couple of other useful facts:
  • Second Useful Fact: The best players seem to have a backswing-to-downswing ratio of 3:1. In other words, the backswing takes about three times as long as the downswing. This may surprise a lot of you, who knew the downswing was faster but didn't think it was that much faster. Many teachers suggest saying a phrase like tick (start backswing) tock (start downswing) while you hit the ball. Of course, you generally hit the ball before you finish the tock, which can make this a bit difficult to repeat consistently. I suspect most people would expect the downswing to be twice as fast as the downswing.
  • Third Useful Fact: Swing tempo does NOT necessarily match temperament. The common wisdom is that slow, deliberate players have slower tempo swings. Novosel found that to be false. The most glaring example? Notoriously-slow Bernhard Langer had one of the fastest swings he checked. Most pro swings tend to be between .93 and 1.20 seconds; Langer times out at .933 -- only .003 seconds faster than the short fast swing of Nick Price!
Someone else who can help us here is Jim Flick. Some of you may remember a post I did over a year ago called "Could Bobby Jones Have ‘Cut It’ Against Today’s Pros?" In that post I referred to some info Flick put in his book On Golf about research done by a Dr. David Williams using some video to determine just how much clubhead speed Bobby Jones created. I'm going to quote a few paragraphs from that book, then pick out some more useful facts:
The tape shows Jones hitting with his driver 250 to 260 yards. Williams, focusing on the speed of Jones's swing, calculated that from the top of his backswing to the point of contact with his ball Jones's hands and arms were accelerating at a rate of just over thirty-four feet per second per second.

What makes that interesting is that if you were to extend your arm and drop a golf ball, its acceleration rate as it fell to Mother Earth would be just over thirty-two feet per second per second. See where I'm going with this? It means that in the beautiful golf swing that propelled a ball 260 yards with a hickory-shafted driver, the great Bobby Jones did only a little more than let his arms fall out of the sky.

Bobby Jones depended on gravity to build his golf swing.

No, I'm not telling you that if next Saturday you stand up on the first tee, announce, "I'm going to do the 'gravity swing,'" and drop your arms, your ball will go 260 yards. You must have a hinge, and you have to tap into centrifugal force.

Jones did have a hinge--a couple of them--and he did make great use of centrifugal force. But he didn't exactly jump out of his shoes trying to slug the ball; his hands and arms were accelerating at a rate only slightly faster than gravity's pull. And yet at impact his club head was traveling at 165 feet per second per second--or 113 miles an hour (page 54).
So what useful facts can we draw from Flick's observations?
  • Fourth Useful Fact: Hand speed and clubhead speed are not the same thing. Although Jones's hands were moving only slightly faster than if they were falling, the clubhead was traveling much faster. His hands traveled at 34 ft/sec², but the clubhead traveled at 165 ft/sec². That's about five times faster! Obviously, the mechanics of your swing play a big part in your tempo.
  • Fifth Useful Fact: The "tempo-related" mechanics of your swing can be reduced to a couple of hinges controlled by centrifugal force. The two hinges (as Flick calls them) are your wrists and your shoulder joints. Clubhead speed is created by keeping those two hinges as relaxed as you can, and allowing a downswing slightly faster than gravity would naturally cause to exert centrifugal force on them. Just for the record, this isn't a complex mechanical motion.
Now, taking all of this together, I'm going to give you a quick explanation of how the experts say we create one of those syrupy-smooth swings:
If we keep our wrists relaxed when we swing to the top of the backswing, and then we speed up our hands enough to make the downswing roughly three times faster than the backswing but only just faster than the pull of gravity, the mechanics of our swing will create a swing tempo with enough centrifugal force to generate some seriously fast clubhead speed.
Well, that's clear as mud, isn't it? Let me put it in plain English for you:
The key to a relaxed but powerful swing tempo is making a proper change of direction at the top of your backswing.
There! That's better, isn't it? The change of direction is probably the most crucial part of your swing, because it can totally destroy all the good work you did getting to the top of your backswing... or it can save an otherwise ugly backswing by putting the downswing on track. And all of that mumbo-jumbo in the "expert" explanation is actually useful when viewed from this simpler perspective.

Tomorrow I'll focus on that change of direction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 McGladrey Classic

Winner: Heath Slocum

Around the wider world of golf: Martin Kaymer won his fourth tournament of the year (third in a row) at the ET's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship; Mark O'Meara finally got his first solo Champions Tour win (he already had a team win) in a playoff at their last major, the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship; Sun-Ju Ahn also won in a playoff at the JLPGA's Sankyo Ladies (the Constructivist has details); Scott Gardiner won the Nationwide's Chattanooga Classic in yet another playoff; and Katherine Hull won the Navistar LPGA Classic on the LPGA.

Martin Kaymer picFirst, a note about Martin Kaymer: When Kaymer won his third European Tour start in a row Sunday (four if you count the Ryder Cup), he became the first player to do so since Tiger did it back in 2006. (I believe Nick Faldo was the last to do it before Tiger, back in 1989.) While I make allowances for injuries, Lee Westwood's performance this week paled beside Kaymer's, although I hear he'll earn still earn enough points to dethrone Tiger by the end of the month. I'm only officially updating the Ruthless Golf World Rankings once a month, but given that Kaymer did this after a Ryder Cup party that seems to have slowed all the other team players down to a crawl, that he won at a tournament playing both St. Andrews and Carnoustie, and that his OWGR will jump from #6 to #4 today, I'm moving Martin Kaymer to #1 on the RGWR, since I think he's playing better than any other male golfer on the major tours. He now has six wins in two years -- one of those a major -- and ten other Top 10s on the ET in the last two years, making him the winningest male golfer this year. (Ai Miyazato still reigns with five wins on the LPGA.) The RGWR Top 5 now looks like this:
  1. Martin Kaymer
  2. Lee Westwood
  3. Steve Stricker
  4. Graeme McDowell
  5. Jim Furyk

Heath Slocum pic
This week marks the first playing of the McGladrey Classic, filling an empty spot in the Fall Finish. The Seaside Course at Sea Island GA ended up playing much harder than the players expected -- predictions of a -20 or -22 winning score never materialized, even though the weather remained cooperative. Other than a -8 posted by Charles Howell III, no one could post anything low enough to challenge 3rd-round leader Heath Slocum.

That doesn't mean that nobody tried, of course. Slocum's main rival turned out to be Bill Haas, hot off his 2nd win of the year at last week's Viking Classic. Haas posted a -13 final score and waited while Slocum apparently struggled a bit with his nerves on the back nine. I don't think it was so much about fear of losing the tournament -- and certainly not losing his Tour card -- as it was about having a chance to get into the majors next year. A bogey on the final hole gave Slocum a one-stroke win at -14 and lifted him to #29 on the money list.

Slocum was noticeably emotional after the win, but he's one of those players who has been steadily improving over the last few years. This is his second win -- you may remember his first win at the 2009 Barclays caused some to say the "volatility" of the playoffs was too volatile. That may have made this second win more important to him as well -- if someone needed to "validate" their first win, you could argue that Slocum was that player.

He doesn't have to worry about that anymore.

And with this win he enters that rarified air breathed by players who have received two -- count 'em, two -- of my Limerick Summaries. Ah, success!
McGladrey’s quite happy, I’m sure;
They’ve proven their stop has allure
And victor Heath Slocum
Proved he’s not just hokum
By posting a win twice on Tour.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Girls Gone Wild in Prattville

Cristie Kerr bio pic from LPGA.comWhile looking for a good story for today's post, I found myself drawn once again to the LPGA. I didn't get to watch it today but, after reading the Constructivist's summary of round 3 at the Navistar, I knew I had my story. Cristie Kerr actually reached Lorena Ochoa's tournament record of -18 only halfway through the third round! She got to -20 before a double and a bogey in the last four holes dropped her to -17, which is still 3 shots clear of Katherine Hull and Na Yeon Choi.

I keep saying weekend golfers can learn more by watching the women than the men. I want to use some of Cristie's numbers to show you what I mean.

The course the ladies are playing in Prattville AL measures 6607 yards. Many naysayers say these short courses prove the women's game is inferior. I don't know where you play, but many of the public courses where I live are right around this length. Already we have something in common!

Cristie is driving the ball just over 274 yards this week. Of course, we all know that drives are usually measured on only two holes (that's pretty much the same on every tour), and typically they try to get one with the wind and one against the wind in hopes of getting a decent average. I'm assuming this course is playing fairly hard, since Cristie is only averaging 257.5 yards for the year. I'm going to use both figures here, but I'd like to point out that Cristie is just over 5'3"... and many of you only wish you could hit it as far as she does. How you expect to play like the men who routinely drive it over 300 is beyond me!

But here's the irony of the situation: When I figured out how far Cristie is hitting the ball proportionate to the length of the course, she's actually quite a bomber! I wondered how far Cristie would hit the ball if she hit it the same relative distance on a longer course. I chose 7200 yards, since I figured that would be a typical "long" public course.

Cristie's 274 yard drives on a 6600-yard course would be nearly 299 yards on a 7200-yard course -- that's longer than many of the men! Using her year-long average of 257.5 yards against this 6600-yard course, she would smack it about 281 on the 7200-yard course.

My point here is that the women are playing courses just as long as the men, proportionally speaking.

Paula Creamer bio pic from LPGA.comPaula Creamer, whose year-long average is just over 240 yards, is a proportional 262 on this hypothetical 7200-yard course. And Paula's 5'9", by the way -- half-a-foot taller than Cristie. I told you Cristie was a bomber!

In fact, comparing some of the shorter (in stature) hitters like Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin, I found that they all tend to be at least as long as Paula... if not longer.

Lesson #1 for the weekend player: Height does not guarantee length, and lack of height doesn't necessarily prevent length.

Here's Lesson #2: If you can't hit it farther than the ladies, you're unlikely to learn more about managing your game from the men. The women are playing courses whose length is typical of what most weekend players are facing. You'll learn more usable strategy from them.

And finally, here's Lesson #3 (which is enough for today, I think): Since the ladies are getting more distance from smaller bodies, doesn't it make sense that you'll gain more length by copying them than you will by copying those PGA players standing 6'1" and taller?

Take some time to watch the girls go wild in Prattville today. You might learn something useful!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Golf with Phineas and Ferb

Well, it's time for one of my occasionally bizarre breaks from normal golf. Today we focus on the putting game with Phineas and Ferb... and a cool rap song from another P&F show.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, here's your 30-second orientation:

Phineas and Ferb is a Disney show about two step-brothers who are obsessed with getting the most fun possible out of each day of summer vacation. (Phineas is the triangle-headed one.) Their big sister Candace spends all her time trying to bust them, but somehow Mom never gets to see what happened. And what happens is usually BIG -- like the day they added Candace's face to Mt. Rushmore for her birthday, or the day they built the biggest roller coaster on the face of the planet, or the day they became "one-hit wonders", or the day they built several Phinedroids and Ferbots so they could accomplish more of their plans. Oh yeah... their pet platypus, Perry, is actually "Agent P," a secret agent with OWCA (the Organization Without a Cool Acronym) who routinely thwarts the plans of the evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz.

Believe it or not, the cartoon is actually aimed at an older audience, not unlike the old Warner Brothers cartoons. A classic example: Candace ends up starting a breakdancing craze in the park when a bratty kid puts squirrels in her pants. This is from the episode "Comet Kermillian", where Phineas and Ferb were planning to use a laser to carve their faces in a comet as it passed by Earth. Here's the music video:

Don't you wish you could hit a golf ball as accurately as little Suzy hits that acorn?

Ironically, YouTube won't let me embed the golf cartoon. But here's the link to Phineas and Ferb's classic "Put That Putter Away." I wish we had a miniature golf course like that around here! (The air golf hole is especially cool!)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: October 2010

Today I'm introducing the Ruthless Golf World Rankings. These rankings are totally unscientific and, while they make use of the OWGR and any other information I think is relevant, they represent what I and I alone think. Since it's my blog, that's really all that matters around here anyway. ;-D

However, note that every player on this list won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. I think if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC, and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
This year, the Ryder Cup gives you extra credit if you did something special there. Most Americans are Top 10 on the Tour money list; most foreign players are Top 10 in the ET's equivalent, the Race to Dubai. I also put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness.

So here are my post-Ryder Cup choices for the best players in the world, based on their play over the last year with special emphasis on how they seem to be trending now:
  1. Lee Westwood: He has only one PGA win and no ET wins this year but he played well in the majors. He's #3 in the Race to Dubai despite playing only 11 events (most players have 17 or more events unless they're PGA members, which Lee is not). He reached #2 in the OWGR without even playing for 2 whole months, and a win at the Dunhill this week will make him #1. And when he came back for the Ryder Cup, he didn't miss a step. Westwood is pretty much a no-brainer for my #1.
  2. Steve Stricker: He picked up two PGA tour wins this year (winning at Riviera is big-time prestige), he's #5 on the money list, and will probably miss getting the Vardon Trophy for scoring by a paltry .02 strokes behind Matt Kuchar. (And he will miss; I think we all know he's gone hunting by now!) But I don't think there's any question that he's the best US player right now, which lands him in my #2 spot.
  3. Graeme McDowell: McDowell's been a bit erratic this year, but he's shown up at the big moments. He has two ET wins (yeah, our US Open counts as an ET win), he's #2 in the Race to Dubai, and his performance at the Ryder Cup was just unbelievable. (Yes, in addition to winning the Cup for Europe, I say he carried Rory McIlroy.) I believe he's joined the PGA Tour for next year; he could be a breakout player here as well.
  4. Martin Kaymer: With 3 big ET wins (yes, the PGA Championship counts as an ET event), a standout performance at the Ryder Cup, and being #1 in the Race to Dubai, Kaymer's the real deal. The heir-apparent to Bernhard Langer, he just may eclipse Langer's record with that gorgeous swing of his.
  5. Jim Furyk: Three wins -- including the Tour Championship -- second on the money list, and won the FedExCup trophy. Despite a poor week at the Ryder Cup, I don't think there's much question that he's the second-best American on tour right now.
  6. Dustin Johnson: At #4 on the money list and two wins (and very nearly four), D-John's two major near-misses -- and prompt bounceback performances -- are signs of great things to come. His singles match beatdown of Martin Kaymer didn't hurt his cause here.
  7. Miguel Angel Jiminez: He doesn't get any love from the OWGR (he's only #25 there) but he won 3 prestige events -- Dubai, the French Open, and the European Masters -- putting him #8 in the Race to Dubai, and then he showed up big at the Ryder Cup. Oh, and did I mention he's 46?
  8. Hunter Mahan: His year's been erratic like McDowell's, but Hunter's won twice on Tour this year -- one of them a WGC -- he's #10 on the money list, and he put on one heck of show in the final singles match at the Ryder Cup. He fought his way back from 3 down to 1 down before the pressure finally got him -- as Darth Vader would say, "Impressive. Very impressive." I expect him to play big next year.
  9. Luke Donald: He won the Madrid Masters on the ET, played extremely well through the FedExCup playoffs, got to #7 on the Tour money list and #13 in the Race to Dubai, then beat Jim Furyk in singles (a little revenge, perhaps?) and remained undefeated in foursomes at the Ryder Cup. He finally seems to have gotten over his wrist problems; I expect him to win on the PGA Tour next year.
  10. TIE:
    • Louis Oosthuizen: Although he's cooled off in the second half of this year, he's got 2 ET wins (one being the Open Championship) and he posted a 4th at the KLM Open just before the Ryder Cup. Slumps aren't unusual for first-time major winners, so he gets a pass for a couple of slow months. I expect him to get it going again soon, simply because (like Kaymer) he has such a simple effective swing.
    • Phil Mickelson: To be honest, Phil makes this list because of the Masters; I just don't see how I can leave a major winner off. It might be different if he was an unknown, but Phil has proven that he's not just a flash in the pan. Despite his so-so play, he's still #6 on the money list. His performance in Monday singles at the Ryder Cup tells me that the problem isn't his game, so I'm assuming he's still getting used to his arthritis meds. I'll reassess his position later on, but I know it can take several months to find an acceptable treatment.
That's right, folks -- no Tiger Woods and no Rory McIlroy. I'm encouraged by Tiger's improvement since he hooked up with Sean Foley, but with no wins this was a lost year for him. (Remember, I require a win to make my list.) And although McIlroy won the fairly prestigious Wells Fargo event and made a nice bounceback after that second round 80 at the Open Championship, he simply didn't play well enough to warrant a position on my list. (I'll say it again -- McDowell carried him during the Ryder Cup. And he could only halve against Cink in singles after Cink virtually gave him the match with a couple of missed putts. He'll get better, but he ain't Top 10 material yet.)

I seriously considered Ian Poulter and Zach Johnson (both had PGA wins -- Poulter's was a WGC -- and played well at the Ryder Cup), as well as Matt Kuchar (who will probably win the Vardon -- I think that's important -- but who didn't show up in Wales). But with only one win each, Phil's Masters easily beat them out. Several other players, like Ernie Els, played well early but fell off at the end of the season. Luke Donald also beat them out because he finished the season so strong.

I think my Top 5 are pretty much self-evident, although I'll admit there's some room for debate about 6-10,  I put D-John ahead of Jiminez because, although Jiminez had 3 prestige events to D-John's 1, D-John played much better in the majors. But I wouldn't be adverse to flipping the two, since 3 prestige wins is a big deal in any comparison.

Westwood, Stricker, McDowell, Kaymer, and Donald were Ryder Cup standouts, and Jiminez was a standout as a role player. I make no apology for giving Mahan serious props for heart at the Ryder Cup; I can't begin to say how impressed I was with him. People can say you've got to expect the unexpected, but that bomb McDowell lipped in at 16 would have crushed just about anybody's hopes. (Ok, maybe not Rickie Fowler's, but I thought Fowler's overseas experience at the Walker Cup was seriously undervalued by just about everybody except Corey Pavin. Fowler clearly demonstrated that he's made of different stuff than most team players... but just give Hunter time. I think this Ryder Cup will give him that extra "something" as well.)

So that's my first Ruthless Golf World Rankings. If you think I should have included something else in my "figgerin," just leave me a comment. I'll consider it in my next rankings...

Or maybe not. It's my blog, after all. ;-)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How to Play Ryder Cup (for Americans)

In yesterday's post I looked at what the point totals might tell us about how to successfully play Ryder Cup golf and suggested that the strategy might be a little different from Presidents Cup. Today I'm going to throw out some observations I've made over the past few years and see if they might give us any ideas about what's missing in the US Ryder Cup approach.

It's certainly not talent, although the Euros have certainly fielded a world-class group of golfers in the last couple of decades. It's just a matter of how we apply our talent to the game.

I first got interested in Ryder Cup strategy a few years ago during a Ryder Cup broadcast when I heard Johnny Miller and Mark Rolfing discussing why the US had so much trouble. Miller had just said that the "secret" was having two birdie putts on every hole... and then Rolfing got Westwood on the mic right after he and his partner had polished off another US team. How did Westwood say they won? By "ham-and-egging" it, which he explained meant that one of them was always in the hole. If one player hit a shot into trouble, his partner made sure that his own shot stayed out of trouble.

The result? No big numbers on any hole. If you're losing holes when the other team makes a par, you're screwing up.

My own observation was that on many of the teams, each player had a special role. I called them "rockstars" and "roadies." Rockstars are the flashy players who rip the ball over the corners of doglegs and shoot at those hard-to-reach pins. Roadies are the plodding, put-it-in-the-fairway-and-on-the-green players. The roadie took care of par so the rockstars could take free runs at eagles and birdies. As a general rule, two rockstars don't score well because they get in too much trouble, and two roadies tend to shoot too many par rounds. Neither tends to win a lot of matches.

That's why I think the Tiger-Phil pairing never worked. It's not that they don't like each other, but you don't put two rockstars together. (If they really hated each other, do you think they could dominate at ping-pong together?) Rather, it's a rockstar problem: Is either of them is going to lay up just because the other is in trouble? Forget it! And I believe this is also at the root of the US problems with fourballs. Fourball is basically each team playing 2 singles at once, and singles are our strength; it's way simpler than foursomes, so we should be great in that format. Yet the US is better in foursomes than fourballs! I think it's because foursomes force players to play safer shots, while fourballs don't... and US players seem incapable of playing a layup when necessary. All the camaraderie in the world won't change that! That's just understanding the strategy, then doing it.

There's also a third category of player that I nicknamed the "super-roadie," a player good enough to play the rockstar role and push the scoring but also capable of taming his ego and playing roadie to a rockstar. Some of Europe's biggest point getters are super-roadies, like Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer.

By comparison, Seve was a rockstar; so is Monty. Monty doesn't have the typical wild rockstar game, but he has the swagger. Super-roadies rarely swagger, which makes them more dangerous because you underestimate them. Lee Westwood has been Europe's most prominent super-roadie for a while, and Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, and Luke Donald all show signs of joining the ranks. It's no surprise they were leading point getters at this Ryder Cup.

If you ask me, you can trace much of the recent US success solely to the rise of Steve Stricker, who may be the first real super-roadie we've ever had. We have some promising possibles on the horizon as well -- I think Hunter Mahan will be one, and Jeff Overton's got some real potential too. Anthony Kim is a borderline rockstar, but his ability to team up with Phil at Valhalla shows he could go either way. Super-roadies don't have to be super-long though they tend to be longer than regular roadies, and they need accuracy and a good short game to pull off the role. (They tend to become major winners as well.) But super-roadies aren't cultivated over here the way they are in Europe, thus many potentially good super-roadies end up on the tricky path to rockstardom... and an overabundance of rockstars is not the way to win Ryder Cups.

Conspicuously absent from the Euro team were any bombers at all. It's not that they don't have any over there -- think about Alvaro Quiros, for example. But those players generally don't make the Euro team -- bombing is better-suited to an American game than a European one, hence the course was set up to make bombing less effective. It seems to have worked!

When a bomber goes to a Ryder Cup in Europe, he has to change his mindset about bombing. His length is a great advantage... but not because of the driver. The bomber's advantage there is his ability to hit shorter irons from a longer distance. He needs to hit shorter clubs to put himself in the fairway -- a necessity in bad weather and an advantage shorter players don't have -- then use his distance with mid- and short-irons to attack the pins. Our guys spent too much time hacking out of the hay because of poor tee shots.

If we can take any solace from it, it appears that the younger Euros like Rory McIlroy don't understand this principle either. American golf breeds rockstars, European golf breeds super-roadies. I suspect this was part of the reasoning behind Monty's to take captain's picks who played more in Europe. By comparison, most of the countries involved in Presidents Cup tend to mimic the American rockstar style; that's why we can better hold our own against them.

As for the groupings themselves: I don't think the Euros are nearly as methodical about pairings as we think they are. As I pointed out in yesterday's post, they were as willing to put two guys together and let them play every match as a pair (McIlroy-McDowell, the Molinaris) as they were to swap partners (Westwood, Donald, Kaymer, and Poulter all played several different combinations both among themselves and with other players).

Azinger's pod system captured a little of this dynamic, but it was actually a poor copy of what the Euros are doing. I'm not saying anything is wrong with the pod system, but pods are about life-and-death business and the Euros, for all the talk about Ryder Cup being a religion there, are about a game. Pods are organizational, but the Euros are organic. They use what works, and what works varies from day to day, so they just go with it. Sometimes it backfires, but that's how life works; when it does, they just reshuffle and play another round. In fact, even if it worked yesterday, they may reshuffle today just because it sounds more fun to do so!

So, here's what I see as the keys to the US becoming more competitive at the Ryder Cup:
  1. Learn to think about both balls, and make sure one of them is always in scoring position. If you can't do that, either pair up with someone who can or sit until the singles!
  2. Adjust your game to the course. If the course demands accurate play, don't expect bomb-and-gouge to work. And if you can bomb it and the rough isn't too high, then let the big dog eat... as long as you obey the first key!
  3. Encourage the development of more super-roadies. These guys really are the key, because they are the primary weapon in this format. They provide maximum flexibility, and they are the "horses" that the Euros are "riding," as Brandel Chamblee so quaintly put it.
  4. Don't get so caught up in a methodology that you lose your flexibility. Don't get stuck in pods, but don't tinker just to be tinkering either. If Woods and Stricker want to play every match together, let them... but don't make the other guys "marry" a partner if they don't want to.
  5. You know, there's no rule that says tour players can't play some informal "Ryder Cups" each week during their practice rounds. And the pros know who's most likely to make the team... so they could take some time to learn each other's games and play some FOURBALLS for practice. Learn to keep at least one ball in play at all times. DUH! Here's a practice tip: Choose a score you'd like to win by -- say, 3&2 -- and see if you can do at least that good. It'll add some extra pressure to the game and force you to consider alternate options for scoring.
  6. Remember it's just a game. Play it the way you have the most fun!
These keys aren't complicated, but they'll work. They've been working for the Euros for nearly two decades now. Don't you think it's time we tried them?