Sunday, April 24, 2016

How to Play Par 3s

Par 3s are golf without the driver. As from the fairway, the key to a good score is choosing the right club to hit off the tee.

That means, first of all, you have the right club in your bag. I have room in my bag for either a 21-degree or a 19-degree hybrid. I look at the scorecard of the course I'm going to play and take along the one that suits the longest par 3 best.

Base your club selection on the listed yardage plus seven yards. That's the yardage to play the hole at regardless of where the pin is, unless it's a deep green. Say it's a 148-yard hole. Your 150-yard club will be short. Take one more club to get hole high.

Tee up the ball. Never hit it off the ground. The height of the tee should be no more than a half inch. Less than that is better. All you're trying to do is give yourself a good lie.

The green on some par-3 holes is surrounded by hazards - mounds, bunkers, high grass. Most of that will be in front of the hole or to the side. Forget the pin. Take enough club to land the ball on the green beyond the trouble.

Unless you hit the ball pretty straight, consider deliberately playing short and chipping on if it takes more than 5-iron to reach the green. Such a long par 3 is more likely to be a bogey hole than a par hole, and laying up like this could keep a double bogey off your card.

If the green you're hitting into has no safe place to bail out to, hit a knockdown shot. Take one more club, and swing it back three-quarters. Think of keeping the clubhead low on the follow-through and continuing straight toward the target after contact. Finish with your hands in front of you.

If there is water in front of the green, find out exactly how long that carry is and take TWO more clubs from there. Grip down halfway and swing normally.

When you miss the green, think carefully about the chip. Start by finding a spot to chip to from where you can easily two-putt, and zero in from there.

Final thought: the night before you play, spend some time with a pencil and paper and practice writing 2s. Nice, clear, florid 2s. This is mojo that will pay off the next day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Swing

I write posts to help you play golf better. I try as hard as I can to make it clear what I think works and how you can do it, too.

This post is different. This is my personal instruction manual. These are my notes on how I swing the golf club. Parts of it might not mean anything to you, but all of it makes sense to me.

There are 230 words on the setup, 140 words on the swing. And I have't left anything out. Here goes!

[Modified for left-handed golfers]

Setup
You are in complete control of your setup, so there is no excuse for making a mistake here.

Get your mind moving before you start.

Use the cathedral grip.

Hold the club with the leading edge of the clubface vertical. Do not disturb that alignment when you apply your hands to the handle.

Turn your hands toward each other so the right thumb presses lightly against the pocket in the palm of the left hand, but not so much that you feel tension in your forearms.

Envelop the handle with a light grip pressure.

Hold the club at its balance point.

Check your aim before every shot.

Ball position: fwd-back, ball on the ground, center; driver, graze the inside of the left heel. Away, where a free swing delivers the clubhead.

Stand straight as you can with each club, with a feeling that your hips are high, and your upper torso is high and open, not sunken inward. Bend forward from your hip joint. Do not let your abdomen collapse, or your hips sag, when you bend. Your knees will bend a bit, but you should feel tall. Your shoulders and arms hang naturally from the suspension point at the back of the neck.

Your posture should be a comfortable position you look forward to getting into. You should feel in it the potential for powerful movement.


Swing
Rhythm is 3:1 from takeaway to impact. Tempo is the fastest you can swing and yet feel unhurried.

The backswing is a reaching movement, taking the right arm straight to a position where the hands are beside the head and far from it. The body turns as the arm reaches. This automatically takes the club back to the control point. There is no guessing. Nor does the right wrist change its shape at any time.

The downswing is a simultaneous combination of the hands dropping straight down and the body turning. Because nothing is forced, two key principles, the hands lead the clubhead into the ball, and the left knee must break forward, are observed.

Think from the start about following through to a finish, not about hitting the ball.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Swing Speed

A few days ago, I was on a course which in one spot has the tee boxes for consecutive holes right next to each other. One is a par three, which you play, then walk back to where the next tee is, a par five.

There was a group on the tee of the par five, so when we got the other tee, we waited until they finished teeing off, sitting down on the bench to watch the show.

One guy tees off with a long iron (there’s a pond across the fairway such that if you have even moderate length, you’ll hit into it), takes a vicious swing, and cold tops a 40-yard dribbler. You’ve never seen so much effort deliver so little result. Well, maybe you have.

Anyway, he says, "I’m going to hit another one.” I think to myself, “Yes. Please. Hit another one.”

So he tees up another one, puts this graceful swing on the ball and just kills it. Beautiful, powerful shot, straight down there.

He picks up his tee and says to his buddies, “You know, it’s amazing how well you hit the ball if you just slow down your swing a little bit.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion -- do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger -- no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead -- no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

2016 Masters Preview

Every time I write about the Masters I get in trouble. One time at The Sand Trap I tried to defend my contention that the Masters does not deserve to be considered as a major championship. After politely brushing aside one irrelevant invective after another, the forum owner locked down the thread.

Last year, when I wrote in this space that Augusta could become obsolete within a decade or so, people at The Hackers Paradise responded as if I were advocating kicking stray dogs and knocking down old ladies.

I just don’t get it. For so many people this tournament sits at the right hand of their supreme being of choice. So if I haven’t stepped in a big enough cow pies already, let me move onto this year’s tournament and try to offend people in newer ways.

Right off the top, it does no good to predict a winner. Bubba Watson is halfway though Arnold Palmer’s run of winning four times in consecutive even-numbered years, but Bubba has too much competition now. And Bubba is not Arnold Palmer.

Jason Day? Probably not, especially if the tournament committee has the cajones to give him slow play penalties like they did to some kid from Asia three years ago.

But since they didn’t flinch when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop on the 15th hole several years ago, Jason can take all the time he wants to visualize his shot.

Jordan Spieth? He’s enough off his game right now that he can contend, but not quite get there.

Rickie Fowler? Really.

How about Phil? Will Tiger show up and try to play? Arnie won’t make a ceremonial first tee shot. Gary will hit one and then do 400 crunches on the spot. Jack will split the fairway without even trying hard.

But what I really want to talk about is the thuggery that lurks behind The Perfect Tournament.

We all know that the Committee puts up with no nonsense. Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker were bounced from the premises permanently after using phrases like “bikini wax” and “mob” on the air.

Then there is the tournament’s own brand of Sharia law.


Golf writer John Hawkins said he was almost removed from the premises once when he stood on a golf cart to try to see above the mob. Sorry, gathering of fans. Sorry, patrons. What he was removed from, physically, was the golf cart.

This month’s Golf Digest has a column by The Undercover Pro about all this. About players. Cell phones on the practice tee? “...it’s not worth the potential aggravation.”

His coach took a video of TUP’s swing with a Blackberry and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights of downtown Augusta.

To make a long story short, TUP’s Dad tried to use his phone on premises to check on a credit card that had been declined. “...two guards [!] grab him by the shoulders and usher him out...into a small room and I have to go and get him...there’s no sense of sorry for any misunderstanding.”

Then there’s the killer finish. “Tons of players have stories just like mine, I’m sure. Nobody talks about them because life’s easier when those stories don’t get out.”

As long as I’m digging myself a hole here, I might as well dig all the way. I would love to see the numbers on how many people attending the tournament are ejected and for what transgressions. But that’s a more closely guarded secret than which Tour players have been fined for profanity.

What I would also like to see is, just once, for the USGA to set up the course in U.S. Open style and see how it would hold up. I mean, it no longer plays as it was designed, so why not? You know. Rough? Narrow fairways? Pins you don’t dare shoot at?

As for me, I’ll watch the final few hours of the broadcast on Sunday afternoon. Something historical could happen. But on the other days, I’m going to worship at the golf course of my choice, and it ain’t Augusta.

Can’t hardly wait for the U.S. Open in June.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A New Way of Practicing

Does this happen to you? You go to the range and get loose. You hit a few balls and they’re perfect. Or you go to the practice green and the first few chips you hit end up right next to the hole, or the first few putts go right in.

And after that, you can’t do a thing right. You hit ball after ball, trying to get back the magic you had at the start, and you never quite get there. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try.

James Sieckmann has a new book out, titled, Your Short Game Solution. In addition to invaluable short game advice, Sieckmann spends a little time talking about the difference between block practice, which you do a lot of, and random practice, which you probably don’t do at all.

Block practice is hitting the same shot over and over again. Random practice is where you have a shot for the first time, and you hit it. Then you pick a different shot and hit that one.

Sieckmann suggest that you spend a only few minutes in block practice, then the rest of the time in random practice - hitting different shots to different targets with different clubs. The reason is that you train your brain much better that way.

He refers to an article in the blog, The Bulletproof Musician, that says our brain is wired to respond to change. It gets dulled by repetition.

What about practicing to perfection? Again, that’s not how our brain works. It was designed to improvise, not do the same thing over and over again, according to the work of Stanford engineer Dr. Krishna Shrenoy.

Sure, you do have to practice a golf technique (the RIGHT technique) enough to have learned how to do it. That means a lot of repetitions. But you don’t pile up those repetitions. You do them over time, along with other techniques you’re learning.

Along the way you spend lots of time giving yourself problems to solve with each technique, even as you’re learning it.

So here’s what I would recommend. It’s how a practice session goes for me.

I get a small bucket of balls, 33. I’ll warm up with dry swings (no ball), then hit a few 9-irons, a few 7-irons, a few 5-irons, a few hybrids, and a few drivers. Back to the 7 or 5 and hit few fades and a few draws. I’ve hit about half the bucket.

This part is just to remind me how my swing works, to keep the feelings fresh.

Then I take out my wedges and hit to random distances. I’ll play with trajectory next. When maybe three or four balls are left, I’ll go back to the long clubs and hit a driver and a few irons. Done.

At the practice green, I’ll drop four balls and chip them to different holes. Or, I’ll pick one hole and chip to it from four balls different places around the green. This goes on, hitting different shots all the time, until I’ve gotten all four balls up and down twice in a row.

Finally, putting. Eight three-footers in a circle drill to a cup that is on slanted ground. Then a dozen or so 20-footers to different holes and from different directions -- never hitting the same putt twice. Four balls to the same hole on the same line from 35, 15, 45, and 25 feet (in that order) until all of them go down in two. End with five straight-in two-foot putts, to go home with success in mind.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Adventures With The Golfing Machine

This is a post I was going to have to write sooner or later. I thought I would wait until I had some idea of what The Golfing Machine says instead of none. The “none” meant trying three ties to read it and getting nowhere.

But with help from a few online blogs, and a careful re-reading, I can finally talk to you about the book without being completely ignorant. Just unignorant enough.

A comprehensive overview would take the length of three blog posts, so I’ll just allude to a few highlights, and hope you’ll hunt up a copy and see what you make of it.

The Golfing Machine (TGM), by Homer Kelley, is not really an instruction book. It’s a compendium of swing features and components, broken down in a way that allows a golfer to build a swing from the very start, based on the particular physical characteristics and movement preferences of that individual.

It does not teach one swing. Someone calculated that if all the possible combinations of catalogued features were considered, TGM offers 446 quadrillion possible swings. One of them is right for you.

Actually, that’s not where the book goes. All the book is meant to do is take the way you swing, eliminate the parts of your swing that work against you, and substitute a different part at that same point that is compatible with what you do in the rest of your swing.

Instead of learning a new swing, you take the swing you have and make a few changes here and there so the whole thing works together. Who could argue with that?

It sounds so good that you want to pitch right in, but the problem is first you have to know what those parts are that need altering, and then you have to know which alteration to make with anywhere from three to fifteen variations per part, and after you have figured all that out, it really gets complicated.

You might need professional help with that, and there are certified TGM instructors if you want to go that route. But you can do it yourself if you consider matters carefully.

My swing is now emphasizing a matter I have brought up in the blog, the hands leading the clubhead, too much. My left arm and hand are now almost completely out of the swing. TGM is helping me put the left side back in without disturbing what I have accomplished with the right. That's what this book can do for you.

Jim McLean wrote a article on TGM, praising it in general, but saying this about it. It is good for beginners and intermediate golfers, but Tour pros who latched onto it regressed. That would mean TGM is ideal for recreational golfers, but the problem with that is the book is so hard to read that you need to have a fair grounding in swing theory already to understand it and pick out the parts that might apply to your swing.

TGM is something of a cult book. If it was the be all and end all, every teacher would be using it and every pro would be teaching out of it. Clearly, that's not the case.

You might want to hunt down a copy, though, to find out what all the fuss is about. You might find some bits of wisdom that help you tremendously. The rest of it you can forget about, and that's all right, because that would be just what the author intended.