Sunday, July 17, 2016

Six Fundamentals Revisited

My multimedia essay on the golf swing, Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing, I outlined six principles that lead to a better swing and better ball-striking.

Last week I posted a link to a video by Vivien Saunders where she presents a different way of looking at the swing.

Instead of saying, Do these things with your body and you will swing the club correctly, she turns that around. Swing the club correctly and the body will respond correctly.
The club tells the body how to move, not the body tells the club how to move.

Let’s look at Six Fundamentals from this point of view to see how they are still relevant.

1. The First Fundamental is about rhythm and tempo (my favorite subject). Only if these two points are under control will you be abel to feel how the club is supposed to move, and can you let the club guide your movement.

2. Swing with both hands. Definitely you want to do this. The club transmits its directions to the body through the hands. If you start emphasizing the right hand (left hand, if you play left-handed) you’re telling the club what to do.

3. Take the club straight back to control. You still have to aim your swing, and if you take the club back only as far as the control point, you don’t introduce extraneous movment to the cub that it has to recover from.

4. The right knee moves left (or left knee moving right, for lefties). This is the essence of the pivot, which you will do correctly if you are letting the club be in control. A sign that you are not doing that is if your knee does not move and you hang back.

5. The hands lead the clubhead through impact. This the chicken and the egg part of the swing. You have to do this for the club to move correctly, and if the club moves correctly, you’ll be doing this. This is the moment of truth, your pass-fail exam.

6. Swing straight through toward the target. Why? Because that’s where the club wants to go. Just follow it there.

To sum it up, Fundamentals One to Three are what allow you to let the club guide you, and Fundamentals Four to Six are what happens if you do.

This new way of thinking about these Fundamentals might help you apply them to your swing more effectively.

Finally, here’s a tip. When you watch a good golfer’s swing, do not watch what they do with their body. Watch the golf club.

In this video, I‘m not asking you look like I do when I swing the club, but to move the club like I do when I swing. Big difference.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 Open Championship Preview

The oldest and most respected major championship in golf begins this week at the Royal Troon Golf Club, on the west coast of Scotland in the town of Troon, which is near no place you’ve ever heard of unless you live in Scotland. But that’s what Google Maps is for, so do look it up.

See the official Open Championship website.

This the 145th Open Championship, and the 9th at Troon. The last three winners here have been unexpected champions, Todd Hamilton in 2004, Justin Leonard in 1997, and Mark Calcavecchia in 1989. Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf won before that, but Arnold Palmer defending his title here in 1962 played a large role in elevating the status of the tournament such that American players began to regard this trip abroad in July as a requirement.

The links course will play at 7,190 yards to par 71. It is designed in an out and in style, with the 9th green and the 10th tee located at the farthest points on the course from the clubhouse.

The 6th hole, at 601 yards, is the longest hole in Open championship golf. Two holes later comes one of the shortest, the par-3 8th, called “Postage Stamp,” because of the very small green, at a mere 123 yards.

Like the 8th at Pebble Beach, the 12th at Augusta, and the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, this hole is a simple short iron in length, but watch that landing! Deep bunkers surround the tiny green, and shots that are a hair off will roll into one. It would take no effort at all to walk off the green with a 5 without having hit a bad shot -- just not enough good ones.


8th Hole -- Postage Stamp

Overall, the first three holes are unchallenging, providing players with a comfortable warm-up. The next three holes feature two par fives surrounding a demanding par 3. Holes 7 and 10 run through a series of sandhills, and then begins the test. From 11 to the finish, excepting perhaps the 12th, a golfer is taken to the limits of his or her technical skills and composure.

The course was, without coincidence, built next to a rail line. Expect to see trains race by as players play the front nine, with the 2nd and 4th tees right next to the track.

Separated from the Firth of Clyde by only the rail line and sand dunes, the wind plays a prominent role, coming generally from the northwest. It will be behind the players going out, and against them coming in.

Who will win? It’s easy to pick the popular stars, but I’m going with Branden Grace. He has won twice this year, once on the European Tour and once on the PGA tour. He has three top five finishes in major championships since 2015. A victory here should not be a surprise.

Because of the Olympic Games, the PGA Championship will be played only two weeks after this one, at Baltusrol Golf Club on New Jersey. A golfer who gets hot and stays hot could win both!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Driver Drill That Works

OK, OK. In spite of all the times I have said to leave your driver at home if you can’t break 90, you bring it anyway. So ignore me.

But only if you do this drill so you can learn to actually hit the [expletive deleted] thing.

Go to the range with just your driver (like half the other people there do). Get your bucket of 60 balls and do exactly this when you hit each ball. The same thing every time. No deviation.

Take your hands back, slowly, to the height of your shoulders. Or to where your left arm lies parallel to the ground. Now make a smooth, SLOW, rhythmic pass back through the ball, like you’re hitting a gentle lay-up. Remember to swing the club through the ball with hands ahead of the clubhead.

If you do this right, you will hit the ball squarely on the center of the clubface. THAT is the key to hitting your driver.

Do not be concerned at all about how far the ball goes or even in what direction. That is totally irrelevant. Be concerned about one thing only -- making contact on the center of the clubface.

If that’s not happening, try slowing down your swing a bit more. If there’s still no joy, make sure your hands are ahead of the clubhead at contact.

Do not manipulate the club to get the result we’re looking for -- smooth out your swing instead. Once you get the idea, keep doing it. Over and over. Same thing. Do not think, “I’ve got it!” and start pounding the ball with your full swing. Keep making these slow mini-swings to pound the sensation of a centered hit into your unconscious mind.

When you’re finished, you will have hit 60 balls with a driver and maybe none of them went over 150 yards. But most of them were struck on the CENTER of the clubface.

With this driver drill you are getting expert in the one thing you have to do with this cub -- hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

Keep at this drill, and once you get VERY GOOD at it, you might speed up the swing a LITTLE BIT and make the swing a LITTLE BIT longer. But not much. Add to what works in tiny increments.

What about playing? Well, if you wanted to use this swing when you play, could you live with being in every fairway? As you get better at the drill and extend your movment, gradually, without getting greedy, the distance will come, and you’ll still be straight. The driver might become your favorite club in your bag.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My Life in Golf So Far

My father had a canvas golf bag in the basement of our house with a few hickory-shafted clubs in it. I was 8. They fascinated me. I understood that you used them to hit a ball, but I didn’t know where you might do this, or what would happen if you did hit a ball.

A few years after that, I don’t remember which came first, lessons or TV. There was a par-3 course less than two miles from where we lived, that had a driving range and a pro. My father signed me up for a group lesson. I was a weird kid. I was there to learn, and when the pro told me to do something, that’s what I did. My reward was, it worked. I could hit the ball somewhat straight and in the air.

In those days there were shows on TV named All-Star Golf and Celebrity Golf. All-Star Golf featured two touring pros playing a match, the winner getting to play another challenger the next week. Celebrity Golf was Sam Snead playing a round with a Hollywood celebrity. I watched those shows all the time.

But all that set the hook, and I was a golfer.

I lived on the other side of the school from everyone else. There was no one to play with during summer vacation, so I hit golf-sized plastic balls in my front yard all day. There was an unused patch of ground between the front lawn and the driveway that I could chew up as much as I wanted to. The ball flew just about the length of our property.

Our telephone line came in from a pole across the street to the house at about 10-12 feet in the air, and close to where my practice station was. My favorite game was to take my wedge and see how close I could get to the wire and still hit a ball over it. All on my own, I developed this very wristy pitch that gets the ball high in a big hurry, and sits when it lands. I use that shot today, and guys I play with don’t really understand what they just saw.

I was the only kid in my grade school who played golf, so I played with my father. He could get the ball around the course, but he was out there mostly to see that I got a chance to play. He’s gone now, but I still thank him for doing that.

When I got to high school, I found out there really were other kids who played golf and some of them were pretty darn good. One of them named Ernie played at an exclusive private club in town -- if they want you to be a member, they’ll call. He was the gold standard until my junior year, when a kid named Mike Spang transferred into my high school.

Now I had been going to a tour event for the past few years and I had a very good idea what a professional golf shot looked like. During tryouts for the high school golf team (which I never made) I watched Mike hit and found myself looking at something very familiar. Mike tied for the NCAA Division II individual title in 1969. A few years later he made it through Q School in the class that included Tom Watson, Bruce Fleischer, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Melnyk, John Mahaffey, Forrest Fezler, and Gary Groh. About ten or so years ago, that class had a reunion, but Mike could not be located.

One year during team qualifying, I got serious about playing as well as I could and broke 100 for the first time -- 98. I still have the scorecard.

I spent about a month in Denver in summer the next year after that, staying with my aunt and uncle. I had my golf clubs with me and played the Willis Case golf course about every other day. You can hit the ball a long way in the thin air. I was getting on the green of a 195-yard par 3 with an iron. That made me feel pretty good. One day I went to the Wellshire course and got hot. Shot an 84. I still have that scorecard, too.

After high school, golf tailed off due to college and military service, though when stationed at NAS Jacksonville in 1971, I played on the very fine base golf course in the evenings. That was my last concentrated time on the course.

Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I went to Europe for the summer with my roommate. We got to Edinburgh for some reason, and while we were there, convinced him to indulge me with a day at St. Andrews, which we got to by hitchhiking, walking and bus.

Things were different then, 1968. I went up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fee, rented a set of clubs and bought a sleeve of Slazenger golf balls. The starter said, The first tee is over there. As soon as that group has played, you can go on. The course ate me alive, very fast greens, and I had no idea what I how to play a course like this. But I did know about the Road Hole. I got to the 17th tee and told myself I hadn’t come all this way to chicken out. So I hit a 3-wood over the corner, hit a 3-iron onto the green (Road Hole bunker? What’s that?) and sank the 20-foot putt. My claim to fame, better than a hole-in-one will ever be.

When I got out of college, I went into the service, and after that, graduate school, got work, got married, started a family, and in the next 30 years played maybe ten rounds of golf. No time.

But when the boys grew up and left home, there was time, and I began to play again. I wasn’t very good, as you can imagine, but I had foundation of having played in my formative years, so it didn’t take too long for a good swing to come around. The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to learn how to play golf is to start when you’re ten years old.

After I retired in 2004, I played much more often. I took a few lessons, and experimented endlessly with ways to get better. Along the way I wrote my two golf books and started up this blog.

I joined a men's club at a local daily fee course so I could get a USGA handicap. I wanted to be come a single-digit player. I heard one guy say once that you can't be a single-digit player if you only played once a week. Since that is all I could manage, I thought to myself, "Oh, yes you can."

Playing in the high 80s, I did two things: learned how to hit the ball straight, and got really good at approach putting and chipping. That got me to 9.5, playing only once a week.

In 2012, I had two spine surgeries which cut deeply into my playing time. Last year I started treatments for cancer, which continue to this day. One tumor is in my lumbar spine, so golf is out of the question for a while. I chip and putt, and swing few times, just enough to remember how to do it, but I haven’t played much golf since 2011.

Someone who doesn’t play once asked me what is so fascinating about golf. Rather promptly I said that golf is a puzzle to be figured out. There is a defined problem with every shot and the goal is to find a way to face any challenge the course can give you and have a solution for it. I have fun figuring out those things. Then there’s the part about having fun with friends in beautiful surroundings.

I started taking my grandson out to play when he was 8, and we went out regularly for the years I was able to play. Hopefully the hook has been set in another generation. My sons? They grew up in the Michael Jordan era and all they saw was basketball. They younger one plays now, but the older one realized his temper doesn’t tolerate bad shots, so he doesn’t.

I'm working gently on some new things that will make my swing productive, yet much easier on my back. I can't wait until 2017 to get back on the course and try them out. Of course, I'll let you know how it all goes.

That’s my life in golf so far.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

What I Learned at the Range - 12

I've been spending my time around the practice green lately. Here are a few things I reminded myself of.

1. Slow down your swing. This advice is generally stated in the context of the golf swing, but it applies with equal force to short shots. Poor contact on chip shots is too often caused (in my game) by making the stroke too brisk. Slow it down. Try practicing a few chips with a stroke that takes as long to make as your full swing does.

2. Chipping is pretty complicated. To get good at it, give yourself as many different shots as possible and figure out which club and stroke gives you the best results.

At the most basic, you can vary the distance from ball to green and green to hole. Mix and match long and short distances for both. You might be forced to hit over an obstacle. You can chip into a downhill slope or an uphill slope. You can have a cushy lie, a tight lie, or be in the rough. You can chip to a green that it elevated (common) or a green that is lower than the level of your ball.

3. From outside 10 feet, all that matters is speed. You can read the line well enough to get the ball close, but more important is to get the ball cozying up to the hole speedwise. That's how those 20-footers fall in.

4. When you address a putt, let the sole of the putter rest very lightly on the top of the grass. That way you can start the club back smoothly. If the putter rests with its weight on the ground, you have to subtly lift up the putter, then swing it back. That is enough to disrupt your stroke.

5. You get a better feel for how hard to hit a long putt by standing about 10 feet off the low side of the line, halfway between the ball and the hole, and taking practice strokes while looking at the ball when you swing back, and at the hole when you swing through. Your subconscious mind will give you the length of stroke that is right. This sounds vague, but play with it and you will see that it works.

Monday, May 30, 2016

How the Golf Swing Really Works

If you haven’t already heard of her, I would like to introduce you to Vivien Saunders, a great teacher who lives in the U.K.

In this video, she turns around everything you have heard about how to swing a golf club.

Swinging a golf club is not what happens when you do the right things with your body. It is what happens to your body when you swing the golf club correctly.

Watch this. (Unfortunately, there is no Embed option)

Swing the Clubhead

Now you don’t have to watch the Golf Channel anymore.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Play Par 5s

The par 5s on your course are the holes where you can get your pars more easily than the rest. Think of them as really long par 4s that you are playing for bogey, and you have the idea.

As with a par-4 hole, the key to the par 5 is the second shot, an advancement shot which sets you up for an easy shot onto the green. Of course, your drive has to put the ball in the right spot for that second shot.

A long hole does not automatically mean a long drive is needed. I did a survey once of the par-5 holes on eight courses I normally play. The average length was 485 yards, from the white tees. The longest was 525, the shortest was 460.

Let’s go with the average, 485 yards. Say you can get 200 yards out of a hybrid iron. Tee off with it. You don’t have to hit that short off the tee, we’re just seeing what happens if you do.

That third shot into the green needs to be a gimmee. The right second shot is how you get it.

You have two shots left to cover 285 yards. Divide by two, and that’s about two 7-irons. Or you could cover the same distance with a 5-iron and a pitching wedge.

Not bad. So let’s go back and tee off with a driver. That puts the ball in the fairway at 230 or so. Now you have two 8-irons to get the ball on the green. See how this works?

There’s no need to be a manly man when you’re 240 yards away from the hole by going for it all at once unless you are VERY good from that distance.

Of course you want to get as close to the green as you can for your third shot, but the number one priority is to hit the second shot, the advancement shot, with a club you handle well.

On your third shot, resist temptation to go for the flag even if you’re close to to the green. Just get the ball on the green inside 40 feet or so, and there’s your par. That’s a big target that I’m sure you can hit. You’re likely to get closer than 40 feet, too.

The idea of a par 5 is not to be concerned about distance. They give you an extra shot to get the ball on the green, so use it. Wisely.

Get the ball in the fairway off the tee, keep the ball on the fairway with your second, and just get it on the green with your third.