Sunday, October 16, 2016

How I Putt (I)

A few weeks ago I mentions that I was practicing a lot for short putts and am getting REAL good at them. I’ve been putting in my back room since the middle of August, several times a day, and have refined my technique fairly well. The description that follows might get you thinking in detail about how you make your putting stroke.

First of all, I use my four-finger interlocking grip. This grip prevents one hand other other from dominating the stroke. Both hands work as one unit. My grip pressure is very light -- just enough to keep the putter from flopping around in my hands.

The ball is about two inches inside my left heel. I don’t pay much attention to where my feet go, but they almost always end up perpendicular to the target line, with the right foot more forward than the left by a inch or two.

Because I haven’t found the placement of the feet to be important, I place them before I aim the putter. I don’t want to aim the putter and then have the aim altered when my feet move.

I aim by placing the putter in front of the ball and aligning the face using a mark I drew on the topline of the putter.

I make sure the putter shaft and my forearms make a straight line. This causes me to arch my wrists upwards a bit. The effect is to make it easier to take the putter straight back and through. When your wrists are lower, you take the putter back and through in an arc, which is a less accurate stroke in my opinion.

Once I’m aimed, I put the putter behind the ball and make my stroke right away.

The takeaway is slow. That way I keep the putter swinging on line. I know that face angle is more important than swing path, but swing path still counts for something. By keeping the putter on the right path, I ensure all the more that the putter face stays square.

I also imagine that it is the sole of the putter that is being taken away from the ball. This make the takeaway smoother, preventing me from jerking the putter back.

The stroke is fairly short, straight back and straight through. If you hit the sweet spot, you don’t need a long backswing to get the ball to the hole.

I do what Gary Player wants us all to do -- keep your head down and not lift it to look as soon as the ball has been struck. Believe, me, this helps.

I am in continuous movement. The entire procedure, from setting my putter in front of the ball to aim it to hitting the ball, takes less than ten seconds.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Right Way to Create a Golf Swing

There is a basic approach to the swing that many golfers take because it seems so obvious to do. And yet it is the wrong approach and is what prevents them from doing with the ball what they set out to achieve.

Percy Boomer, in his essential book, On Learning Golf, calls it Golf Bogey No. 1. It is “the natural urge to act in an obvious way to achieve the desired result.”

He takes a phrase from F. Matthias Alexander, who calls it end-gaining. This is thinking about what the desired result to the exclusion of the best way to attain that result.

How does this relate to the golf swing? It comes out as making movements which we feel will put the ball in the fairway off the tee, or on the green from the fairway. And they never work.

In golf, Boomer points out, the obvious way (to us) is seldom the right way. Very little of the golf swing is natural. The golf swing is a learned art, which must be trusted to deliver the desired result.

This is why you see so many weird-looking swings out there. People are trying to hit the ball with the club in a way they think will work and it does just often enough that they mistake luck with skill.

Golf is not about hitting the ball. It's about making the right swing with a ball in the way.

You don’t play well by thinking about what you have to do to hit the ball in a certain direction or a certain distance. You play well by thinking about how to make the right swing. You must concentrate on the means, not on the end.

So when you are on the practice tee and not hitting the ball too well, do you say to yourself, “Maybe if I try this,” and two indifferent shots later you think, “How about trying this?”, getting yourself deeper and deeper into trouble because you’re trying to guide the club into the ball. That's end-gaining.

Instead of being in control of where the ball goes, we must be in control of what our swing does. Then, when we sweep the club through the ball in the proper way, it will go where it is supposed to go.

What then is the proper way to swing the club? It’s most likely what your pro taught you in your last lesson (you do take lessons, don’t you?). Learning my Six Fundamentals won’t hurt you, either.

Let me try to seal the argument this way. Do you remember the shots you made, and I know you’ve made them, that went long and high and straight and it was because your mind went blank for a moment and you just swung the club? You weren’t thinking about how to make the ball go to a certain place, it just went there?

That’s what I’m talking about. If you can take that momentary lapse in concentrating on the wrong thing, and make that your habit, and combine that with good technique, good golf will be yours.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Annual Swing Rebuilding Project

Every year, when golf season is over, I work on my swing, starting over from the start. I go through my bag, from 9-iron to driver.

If you have seen some of my recent videos on YouTube, you know I have a little practice station in my back yard. I went out to my practice mat with my 9-iron, and hit just that club. Over and over. When I get 3 out of 5 shots just right consistently, and the other two aren't bad, I’ll move up to the 8-iron. And then one club at a time when I’m ready for it.

I probably won’t be up to the driver before the rainy season hits. We’re having warm weather with clear skies, but in Oregon that won’t last too long this time of year.

I’m dedicating myself to building the Six Fundamentals into every swing. I review them all before I hit a ball. One thing I’ve added is to sweep the club through the ball, and not to hit at it. That is making a world of difference.

Aside: If you get the latest Golf Digest, with Beef Johnston on the cover, you’ll find an article inside by Bob Toski about swinging with your hands, and not with the big muscles that is so much in vogue nowdays. This is exactly what I said in SF. I advise you to get this article and read it carefully. A lot of what pros say about the risks of your hands being in charge of your golf is baloney.

But back to my program. If you want to be better ball striker, take the swing you have and work your way through your bag, one club at a time. When you get the strike you want 3 times out of 5 and the other two are serviceable you can move up to the next club.

The other part of getting my game back in order is hitting two to four-foot putts in my back room. I am getting REAL good at these. Sinking these putts is how you avoid three-putt greens or not getting up and down.

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Arnold Palmer Reminisce

Arnold Palmer's passing is the biggest golf story of the year. There are articles today in every newspaper about who he was and what he meant to the game. I won't go over any of that. This post is about my personal recollections.

A number of years ago I posted my story about the one time I met him, when I was ten years old, getting his autograph. That was the start.

The Golden Age of Sport was whenever you were between the ages of about nine and fourteen. You're old enough to know what's going on, and young enough to still have heroes. That's exactly where I was during Palmer's rise, and he was my hero. I reveled in his victories. When he lost the 1966 U.S. Open I was despondent for days.

All my friends I golfed with liked him best. Really -- who else was there to have as a favorite compared to the likes of Arnold Palmer?

Yes, he was charismatic. Yes, he was telegenic. But he was more than that. We learned (eventually) to admire Jack Nicklaus. We respected Gary Player. But Arnie was one of us. He never hid himself from us. The more attention he got from his fans, the more he thrived. The phenomenon of Arnie's Army has never been duplicated -- no other golfer has ever commanded than kind of attention. For a while there was Jack's Pack, but it never got off the ground like the Army did.

In an time when most Tour pros had an idiosynchratic, home-grown golf swing that was recognizable two fairways away, Palmer's was the the most recognizable and the most exciting. He didn't swing at the ball, he attacked it, forcing it go where he wanted. Though a long hitter, he wasn't that long, but he was very straight. The shots he took that looked like gambles generally weren't. He knew he could pull it off and he did.

In the really 1960s Palmer won many times each year. It was said once that your tournament wasn't a real success unless Arnie won it. How he won was exciting, too. It seems no other golfer could withstand his onslaught once he put his mind to winning.

But if that's all there had been, he wouldn't have been The King. It was his touch with people. A nicer man never walked the Earth. His warmth and charisma touched people on a personal level. His fondness for people was genuine. Given his status, he could have been anything he wanted, but in the end he never retreated from treating everyone he met with courtesy and respect, and if it were his pleasure to have met you.

We've had lots of good golfers over the years. But there has been only one Arnold Palmer. Long live The King.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Arnold Palmer (1929-2016)

Arnold Palmer, The King, died today, September 25. A longer post will follow.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Make More Short Putts

Short putts are between two feet and four feet long. There is no reason you can’t sink them at professional rates. Here are four ideas on how to meet that standard.

1. Practice them. Hit putts from two to four feet over and over again. You can do this at home every day on a carpet. Hit ten putts or so. That will take you two minutes, tops. Put your putter down, come back a half hour later, and hit ten more. Repeat every half hour.

This is the “little and often” method that is used so effectively in foreign language learning. Do a little bit, but repeat it often.

2. Putt at an object. Do you have a water bottle that is about four inches in diameter? You can get one at an outdoor store.

In my first book, Better Recreational Golf, I suggested that you putt at a positive object rather than a negative hole. Putt to hit the water bottle. It is so easy you just can’t miss.

You’re training your mind to see a bottle rather than a hole. When you play, hit the ball against the imaginary bottle, and the ball goes in the hole, simple as that.

3. Start the putter back slowly, gradually. By starting the stroke very slowly you keep the putter under control. The face stays square, the putter goes straight back and naturally comes straight through.

There’s no need to rush your short putting stroke. On the other hand, don’t be deliberate. The entire stroke doesn’t need to be slow, just the start.

4. Take the putter straight back and bring it straight through. This keeps the putter's face square at all times. The short putting stroke is short enough that you can do that without having to manipulate the club.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't Let One Bad Hole Get You Down

You're cruising and up comes a blow-up hole. The round is trashed. For the rest of the day you can't get over what happened.

The mistake is that you were thinking about how well you have been playing up that point, and getting an inflated opinion of your true ability. You forget that even though your game can get you around the course looking pretty good for a while, it’s not so good that an X can’t pop out every now and then.

In golf, you get what you deserve. If you go fairway, green, putt, putt, you deserve that because you’re good enough to have earned it. Sometimes you get into a situation you just aren’t skilled enough to handle, and you deserve the score you get there, too. You have to accept your weaknesses along with your strengths.

So, when you write a few pars on your scorecard, don’t think you have become a par golfer all of a sudden. Learn how to write “par” on the scorecard when you get one, and then forget about it. That hole is over. Once you can do that, you can write an X on your scorecard and forget about that, too, and go back to enjoying yourself.