Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Putting Drill

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a 4-foot metal ruler. It’s just a couple bucks.

Lay the ruler down on the floor and put a golf ball in the center of the ruler at about the 40-inch mark or so.

Now putt the ball down the length of the ruler so it stays between the numbers on each side.

Try not to manipulate the ball down the ruler. The ball staying between the numbers is an indicator, not the goal.

Just staying on the ruler doesn't count. The ball has to run the length of the ruler in the center.

If you need to make a correction, do, but when you hit the ball, trust your stoke and see what happens.

The practice green, is for learning pace and green-reading. Develop your stroke at home. This is a good way to do it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The human body, especially the lower spine, was not designed to withstand the stresses the golf swing places on it. As a recreational golfer, there is no sense in letting your pastime harm your health.

Stress on the back in golf is caused by leaning forward, twisting, and bending to the side. There is also compression, which is the weight of your upper body bearing down vertically on your spine.

You can’t eliminate these stresses, but, except for compression, you can minimize them. Here are a few ways to do that.

NOTE: If you have low back pain right now when you play, something is wrong. Please see a doctor to find out what that is. Continuing to play golf could be making a problem worse.

1. Slow down your swing, including the part where you swing through the ball. All the forces being applied to your back multiply when you swing through the ball, and they the faster you swing, the more force they load onto your lower back.

2. Stand a little closer to the ball. Not a lot, just a few inches. This will put you in a more upright posture and reduce the unsupported mechanical stress that leaning forward places on your lower back. The lie angles of your irons might need to be adjusted, depending on how much closer you set up.

3. Turn your left foot out. To get more hip turn, turn your left foot out 10 degrees or so. Not too much, because you will create problems for yourself on the throughswing. But do not leave that foot square, like Ben Hogan wanted you too.

4. Take a narrower stance. This frees up the hips to turn more, reducing the amount you twist your spine. This point also helps minimize lateral bending, since your right side is now closer to the ball.

5.Play the ball in the center of your stance when it is on the ground. If the ball is too far forward, you will need to put more lateral bend in your back to go get it.

6. Take a shorter backswing. Use the backswing you would use for an 80-yard pitch. This will prevent you from twisting your spine too much, too. Jim McLean wants you to have a big X-factor so you can hit the ball a long way. Your back does not like a big X-factor.

7. Let the right heel float. If it comes off the ground, fine. If it stays there, fine. Just don’t glue it to the ground. Let it do what it wants to do.

8. Let the left leg straighten on the backswing. I know, everybody these days wants you keep the angle in it you had at address. Allowing the left leg to straightening lets you turn your left hip back more, reducing your X-factor. This will not hurt your ball-striking once you get used to it.

9. Keep your weight balanced through impact. Let your weight go right after you have hit the ball, but not before. Putting the weight right early creates excess lateral bending, because while the lower body is going left , the upper body has to stay back where it was until you have hit the ball. There will always be some lateral bending at impact. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Swing the club with your hands, both hands equally. Swing like you one have one clump of hands on the club, not two separate ones. This not only a better way to swing, for technical reasons, but it will prevent you from trying to hit with your left hand, which can induce lateral bending.

11. Finish upright. Your torso should be straight up and down at the finish, not learning toward the right. A line running down the front of your torso and right leg should be straight -- no bending your torso backward, or bowing your right leg.

This article explains in detail the relation between golf and low back pain. (Accessed July 4, 2016.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of the nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo -- 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they found out who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Break 100, 90, or 80

Breaking a milestone scores is a major event in a golfer’s life. It signals improvement and gives assurance that going lower still is a possibility.

There are books written on how to break each of these three scores, filled with technique. If you’re a few strokes away, you already have the technique. Think instead about how you plan your round. It makes a difference.

Breaking 100

If you got a double bogey on every hole you would shoot 108. So you can get a double bogey on just nine holes, a bogey on the rest, and there’s 99.

What is killing your score now is not a lack of pars and bogeys. It is the triples and quads. At your level your job is not to take fewer strokes on a hole, but to avoid taking extra ones.

Do that by shoring up your play at each end of the hole.

First, leave your driver at home. Leave your 3-wood at home, too. Tee off with a hybrid iron, one that gets the ball out there 175-180 yards but in the fairway.

Second, from 50 yards and in, just get your ball on the green in the same area as the pin. Do not get cute and try for the pin.

You’re not that good yet. Just get the ball on the green and take your two putts.

Nine bogeys + nine doubles = 99

Breaking 90

Now you have to start making pars. I would still leave the driver at home. Use the longest club with which you can reliably get the ball in the fairway from off the tee, to be on offense from the start.

You also have to get better around the green. Eliminate down-in-four from 50 yards in. You should be getting down in two from just off the green half as often as not.

Get your pars by parring one of the par 3s, one of the par 4s and two of the par fives.

You might say, if I get four pars that gives me an 86. Yes, but you’re still going to have some doubles and maybe a triple.

Your game is in the middle where you’re capable of making pars, but still capable of making big scores, too.

Four pars + eleven bogeys + three doubles = 89

Breaking 80

Now you have to play well all around. Seven over sounds pretty tough, but that’s more wiggle room than you think it is.

Your goal should be to have a putt for par on every hole. Sometimes that putt will 45 feet long, not two feet, but the ball is still on the green and your putt is for a par.

At your level, par is a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes on your course. For those few holes, go for bogey, but give yourself a chance for par. Don’t go all out for par and end up with a double.

Get your pars on two par 3s, five par 4s, and all the par 5s.

Eleven pars + seven bogeys = 79.

In reality, you have to throw in another par somewhere, because going 18 holes without a double bogey is really hard for an 80-shooter to do. Birdies are still happy accidents at this level.

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.