Monday, July 21, 2014

Why You Shoot High Golf Scores

(and what to do about it)

When I watch players who don’t break 100 (notice I didn’t say "can’t"), I see two reasons. One is that they hardly ever hit the ball straight. Two is that they don’t have a good idea of how to play the ball around the green.

I see two reasons why players struggle to break 90. One is that they don’t hit the ball straight often enough, and two is that they don’t have a good idea of how to play the ball around the green.

Let’s solve the hit straight thing first. I have lots of posts on this subject, under the label, golf swing. Look them up. They get specific. I’m going to stay general today.

The number one reason why you don’t hit the ball straight, if this is a problem for you, guys, is that you try to hit it too hard. That’s not the only reason, but it is the main one, especially if you’re under 40. Do two things for me. First, slow down your swing. Slower than that. You don’t have to belt the ball for it to go straight (and far). Centered, on-line contact is the key, and you get that by slowing down to control the clubhead.

Women, many of you need to do the opposite. You need to hit the ball harder. You don’t swing hard enough, and you lack control of the clubhead because of that. You can swing too slowly. Step it up a bit. Make an athletic swing.

Now the green thing. All I can say is this takes practice. I go to the range and see the tees lined with golfers and there’s just me on the practice green. I’m not kidding. Maybe someone will come along, throw down a few balls, hit some putts for five minutes, leave, and think they practiced.

As for chipping, I see all sorts of chipping strokes around the practice green, and none of them work. People spend their time trying to make an impossible stroke start working. I want so much to go up to them and say, “This is the easiest shot in the game if you know how to do it, but what you’re doing now isn’t it. Go into the clubhouse, sign up for a lesson and have the pro show you. You won’t regret it.” I won’t say that to them, but I’ll say it to you.

A putting lesson might be a good idea, too, come to think of it.

And then practice, like I said. I spend about 90 minutes when I go to the range, and an hour of that I spend around the green. Why? I’ll never have a great swing. Takes too much time to develop. But I have a good enough swing, coupled with a dynamite green game (chipping and putting) that lets me shoot some very respectable scores.

No reason you can’t either.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 Open Championship Preview

We go back to Hoylake this year, formally known as Royal Liverpool. The Open Championship has been played here eleven times before, with these winners:

1897 - Harold Hilton
1902 - Sandy Herd
1907 - Arnaud Massy
1913 - J. H.Taylor
1924 - Walter Hagen
1930 - Bobby Jones
1936 - Alf Padgham
1947 - Fred Daly
1956 - Peter Thompson
1967 - Roberto De Vicenzo
2006 - Tiger Woods

The British Amateur has been played there eighteen times, most recently in 2000. Royal Liverpool hosted a British Women’s Open for the first time in 2012, won by Jiyai Shin.

The course appears flat and featureless at first glance, but subtlety is its middle name. It will seem like the wind is always coming from the wrong direction. Gentle mounds, called cops, line the fairways of several holes. They are meant to keep rolling balls from going out of bounds, but will not aid a poorly hit shot.

In the traditional course routing, hole 1 is the dogleg right that lines the driving range, which is lined by one of the cops. Going over the cops into the range is out of bounds. Golfers trying to cut the corner had better win the bet. The cop runs all the way past the green and is hard to the right of it, so hitting two balls OB on one hole is not unimaginable.

This hole will be played as number 3 for the Open, so the concluding hole can be the 551-yard 16th. The traditional 17th and 18th, being played this week as 1 and 2, are too tame to be concluding holes for an event of this caliber.

Every hole deserves its due in this blog, but of special note is the par-3 ninth (new routing), lined by a cops on the backside. Over the cops, OB.

The course winds out to the sea from 10-14, heading back inland on the short 15th (pictured). Then the test begins. Three long finishing holes, with par of 5, 4, 5, do the sorting out. Number 16 is easily reachable in two, but pot bunkers on the left front and tall grass ringing the rest of the green require a supremely accurate second to get on in two, with the wind likely to against you.


Number 17 grazes the practice ground again (OB, remember?). Number 18 runs along the practice ground, turning right just beyond the landing area. A direct line to the pin flirts with OB. This hole could induce a contending golfer to attempt a dramatic all-or-nothing gamble in a last-chance effort to make up strokes. Roberto De Vicenzo did just that in 1967 to beat Jack Nicklaus for the title.

While the USGA loves drivable par 4s, there will be none at Hoylake. Also, the course is well-watered and lush. The strategy of teeing off with a 2-iron, which Tiger Woods used to such advantage in 2006 on a dried-out course, won't work this year.

The players? Forget about Tiger. His decision to enter is questionable, both for his recovery from spine surgery, and for his re-entry into competitive golf. There is no question of him winning or even contending.

Most eyes are on Martin Kaymer, and that’s not just front-running. He has returned to the fade that worked so well for him, and his two victories in high-profile tournaments this year demonstrate his mental toughness.

But winning another big one is asking a lot from him. Consider the other golfers who have been playing well this year and are lurking around the victory stand.

Rickie Fowler has a first-class record in majors this year, finishing 5th at the Masters and 2nd at the U.S. Open. Keep an eye on Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose. Angel Cabrera just won a Tour event, and he knows how to win major titles, too.

For me, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship rank 1 and 1A. I never can decide which one is which, though. If these were the only two tournaments I was allowed to watch on television all year, I would be content.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Right Way to Find Your Golf Swing Tempo

So many fundamentals, and I‘ve written about them all, many times. The ones I hear touring pros paying the most attention to are aim and tempo. I wrote about aim a few weeks ago. Today, let’s talk about tempo.

Several years ago, I watched a rebroadcast of a PGA Championship Champions Clinic on TV. At these clinics, past tournament champions teach shotmaking and playing strategies to an assembled audience. Every pro who talked about the full swing on this show said that what he was working on at the time was tempo.

Good tempo allows your swing to work like it should, like a tuned machine. Everything works at the right order and at the right moment.

The proper tempo allows you to play golf with a calm mind. In a world filled with technical instruction, it needs to be mentioned that a calm mind is what permits technical excellence to emerge.

A lot of what you read in instruction books about finding your tempo is pretty vague, saying your tempo should fit your personality. Easy-going, slow tempo. Fast-paced, quicker tempo. I have no idea where that connection ever came from, or what its basis is, or why champion golfers keep repeating it. It’s not how they did it. Let’s take another tack.

I will guess there are moments in your swing when your mind blanks out. Am I right? Somewhere between the start of the downswing and the follow-through there is a piece that happened too fast for your mind to experience. You were following your swing in your mind, and at some point it just disappeared. That represents your tempo getting out of whack.

To find the tempo that is right for you, slow down your swing until this blank spot disappears. Swing at a speed such that your mind can follow everything you’re doing, from start to finish. This is not so your mind can give orders, or critique your swing as it goes along. It’s so your mind can observe the whole thing. Nothing more. Once you find that swing speed, that’s the tempo that is right for you.

This speed might feel a lot slower than you’re swinging now. Don’t be concerned. The club will still be moving fast enough, and you’ll gain control of the clubhead. That leads to centered hits on a square clubface, which leads to straight shots and good distance.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Intuitive Golf

Your mind is your biggest asset on the golf course, but only if you use it in the right way. When you’re assessing your shot, thinking about it, weighing the options logically, is the wrong way, but that’s probably what you do. Instead, take a more intuitive approach. Let the part of your mind that knows what to do make your decision.

The problem a golf shot presents to us is how to project an action into a defined space. We’re doing something here that shows up over there. The question is, what should we do, and what is the easiest way to do it? Reverse that process. Look at the course without judging and let the course project a shot back to you.

Look at the course in the area of where your next shot should end up. Just look, without judging. In a few seconds you will become aware of the shot to hit, and how to hit it.

You won’t visualize it, like a movie. Your mind mind creates a wordless knowing, unaccompanied by an embedded or overlaid visual impression. That strong impression moves out of your mind to be literally felt in your body. It is also accompanied by great confidence.

I use this process with great success everywhere, but especially around and on the green, where there are so many options to choose from for the same shot. A few weeks ago, my ball was just off the green. I looked at the shot and said to myself, “9-iron.” But I usually chip with a sand wedge in this situation, so I got out my sand wedge.

I took a practice stroke, and thought, “No, it’s a 9-iron.” I put the wedge back in the bag, took out the 9-iron, stood over the ball and just let the shot come to me as i described above -- where to hit the ball and how hard. I hit a gentle chip, and the ball curved into the hole.

I could tell you many stories about driving, approaching, and putting where this technique has paid off famously. It doesn’t mean the ball will go into the hole from wherever you are, or that you’ll hit every fairway or every green. We are human, we make mistakes in execution.

But it does mean that you’ll play much better than you thought you could. Quiet your thinking mind to let your intuitive mind tell you what to do. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Interested? My latest book, The Golfing Self, gives you detailed instruction on how to train your mind to play this way. You’re a better golfer right now than you think you are. Find out how to let your true ability emerge by using your mind correctly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Play Different Golf Courses

Do you play one golf course all the time? Try going to different courses. You’ll get more fun out of golf, and you’ll become a better player.

Here’s what happens when you play the same course over and over. You get into something of a rut. You don’t have to think too much, because you know just what strokes to play on a particular hole to get your 4. The only challenge is to see if you can do it.

Even though you play a good course, it does not require all the shots you need to be a complete golfer. You never get the chance to learn something new.

And when you do go to a new course, you probably have to hit shots and use clubs you have little experience with, and you often hit the wrong shot because you haven’t learned how to read a hole.

A subtle danger is that you might be under-handicapped by playing only one course. Since you know it so well, you play it so well. A few years ago, a local amateur shot a 62 on his home course. I looked up his scores in the GHIN website and found that all twenty of his handicap scores were on the that same course. I wonder how well his handicap of 3 would travel.

I play on five different courses, each one of which demands different shotmaking from the fairway and around the greens. Playing well on one makes me a better player on the others, to boot.

I throw in a new course every so often, to keep my course-reading muscles flexed, and thus I feel I can go anywhere and play a creditable round of golf right off.

The golfer who has learned to adapt his or her skills to any course and still play his average game is getting the most out of this great sport. I would hope that’s the kind of golfer you want to be.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Swing the Golf Club With Your Hands

Let me tell you the easiest way to hit the ball straight and hard. Swing the club with your hands. Not your body, not your arms. Your hands.

This was once the way people played golf. Now you’re supposed to swing with your large muscles in order to have a consistent swing. But think for a moment.

When you pound a nail into a board, what do you swing the hammer with? Your hand! When you swing a tennis racket, you swing it with . . . your hand!

Get this: a few days ago I asked to the manager of our local minor league team how he teaches his players to hit the ball. He said, you’re hitting with your hands, just like driving a nail with a hammer.

It’s the same with a golf club.

Humans have evolved hands that are wired to do complicated and precise activities. Use them! That’s what they’re for! Getting the clubhead back to the ball headed toward the target and with the clubface square to the path, all at many MPH, is a task requiring the utmost precision.

Tasks of utmost precision are what your hands are designed to accomplish.

This is how to do it. Take the club away from the ball with both hands. That means your mind is on the movement of your hands, and no other part of your body. When you swing down into the ball, your mind is on your hands delivering the club precisely to the ball. More to the point, the right hand guides and the left hand delivers, both at the same time.

Really, that’s all you have to do. Swing with your hands and your body will follow.

A few caveats. This does not mean rear back and slug the ball. Far from it. You still use the golf swing you have now, but with your mind on what is really doing the work. You still need to have good pre-swing fundamentals (grip, stance, posture, alignment, ball position, aim). You still need good rhythm and tempo.

Also, you don’t hit at the ball. You swing through the ball, with your hands leading the clubhead into the ball. And you swing with both hands, not just your left.

They say your hands should be passive. Nice thought, but they never are. That’s because they want something to do. And if you aren’t paying attention, what they’ll do is usually wrong. Best to give them something to do that is the right thing.

Let them take over the swing. That’s what human hands are meant to do. Since I started doing this, I hit one straight shot after another. I’ve taken four strokes off a round (no kidding!), all because I’m swinging the club with the part of my body that was designed for this job.

Why not give it a try yourself?

Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 U.S. Open Preview

The greatest tournament in golf is upon us this week. One hundred fifty-six qualifiers will tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. As usual, the U.S. Open is all about the course. This year, the course is very different from any one in recent memory. Why? There will be no rough. None of the famous U.S. Open rough will be anywhere in sight.

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Golf course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the course in 2010 to the original Donald Ross design. They took out what rough there was and put back the original sandy waste areas bordering generous fairways. Wire grass that grows here and there will add to the difficulties presented by unpredictable lies.

Note to Dustin Johnson: read the rules sheet!

In addition, each hole is lined with trees that serve to isolate it from the rest of the course. The feeling is that where you are in all there is, isolated from the the rest of golf, maybe even the rest of the world. However. Errant tee shots running through the waste areas will end surrounded by trees, which will cause serious problems getting out with much more than a sideways chip.

The strength of the course is its greens, which have landing areas that could fit in a thimble. Shots mishit slightly will roll off the green to collection areas difficult to chip from. Subtle breaks in the greens mean getting down in two putts won’t be a walk in the park.

There are no holes in particular that stand out. Each one requires careful planning and precise play. One change that was made for this tournament is switching par on the fourth and fifth holes. The fourth, a short par five, is a long par 4 for the Open. The fifth, a long par four, the green of which is not receptive to a long second shot, has been lengthened to a 576-yard par 5.

Who will win? Phil Mickelson! The winner will need to be able to get up and down A LOT, and whose short game is better? If Phil can play to reasonable form from the tee and fairway, that might be all he needs to win the one he has just missed so often, and complete a career major slam.

The USGA always has fun with the groupings in the first two rounds. Here are a few of the notable ones:

Mickelson, Rose, Fitzpatrick - the traditional pairing of the reigning British Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur champions

Watson, Scott, Scharwtzel - recent Masters champions

McIlroy, Simpson, McDowell - recent U.S. Open champions

Els, Clarke, Oosthuizen - recent British Open champions

Dufner, Bradley, Kaymer - recent PGA champions

Goosen, Ogilvy, Glover - former Open champions who haven’t won much since

Stenson, Kuchar, Westwood - the best players never to have won a major

De Jonge, Stadler, Lowry - really fat guys

Donald, Casey, English - the first two are English, while the third isn’t, but . . .

Spieth, Matsuyama, Fowler - really good young guys

Holmes, Woodland, De Laet - this year’s Bombs Away group