Gene Littler, winner of the 1961 United States Open and 28 other PGA tournaments, and owner of the smoothest swing in the game during his prime, died on February 16 at the age of 88.
I was talking with my son last week about golf and his problem hitting the ball straight.
My son said he could hit the ball straight sometimes, but too often hit a huge banana slice, and the conversation went from there straight into talking about lag.
Lag is the Holy Grail of recreational golf. The more the better. Get that clubhead way behind you and whip it into the ball and your tee shot will go for miles.
I’m a right-to-left player, and when I hit a huge slice it’s because I forget myself and do what I just described. Only when I do it, my body gets way ahead of my hands and arms and the clubhead gets left too far behind. It has no chance to square up and comes into the ball wide open. Hello, adjoining fairway.
You see, when you TRY to create lag, creating it artificially, bad things can happen.
Lag is created by the hinging of your wrists, and the flexibility of your wrists in the process.
You want all the lag you can get at the top of the backswing, and maybe starting down. But once your hands get to about hip height on the way into the ball, the lag starts disappearing NATURALLY and the hands lead the clubhead by a few inches.
Trying to hold on to your lag for too long doesn’t work.
Many of today’s touring pros have with their body way out in front at impact, but they get away with it, because they don’t out-swing their arms. We’re not them and we can’t get away with it.
Forget about lag. Just pretend you never heard the word. If you hit the ball with the hands leading the clubhead in the way this drill teaches you , you will have all the lag you need and can use.
Last week a new paper was published describing the effects of the modern golf swing on the lumbar spine. The effects are not good.
The article states that professional golfers generate “about 7500 N compressive on the spine during the downswing.” One N (newton) is the amount of force needed to move one kilogram at an acceleration of one meter per second per second.
No one’s back is designed to stand up to 7500 of those.
Then the article takes on the X-factor, without mentioning Jim McLean. But I will. The greater the angle between the hip line and the shoulder line at the end of the backswing, the more power can be generated on the downswing.
However, this position sets up the golfer to deliver a huge load of lateral bending and torsional axial moments (twisting of the spine) right before impact.
More distance = more back damage. Thanks, Jim.
Exercising the core muscles, and muscles in the back that support the spine, which golfers are told to do, do not help matters. Stronger muscles create stronger swings, which place more force on the spine, not less.
If you read the article, which you should absolutely do, there are some technical terms in it. This little glossary should help with a few of them.
acromion – a bony process (portrusion) on the shoulder blade that hooks over the front to make a joint with the collar bone.
facet joint – joints that allow vertebrae to slide over each other when the back goes through various movements.
spinal erector muscles – a set of long muscles that surround the spine and govern certain movements of the back. When these muscles are engaged they exert longitudinal compression on the spine which raises intradiscal pressure.
disc annulus – the outer portion of the pulpy mass between the bony vertebral bodies.
So. What does this mean for you?
First of all, study Justin Thomas’s swing carefully. then do not do what he does. He is a case study of the scary swing identified in this article.
Second, remember that the pros need all the distance they can get to be competitive. You don’t if you play from the appropriate tees.
Again, though the X-factor that Jim McLean identified might well be true in terms of hitting the ball farther, it is murder on a golfer’s back. Don’t go there. Don’t force your backswing. Get your distance from hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.
Fourth, do the things I mentioned in this post about building a back-friendly golf swing.
Seven years ago to this day, I was in my living room in a hospital bed we had rented for me to stay in following back surgery I had had two days earlier. Since I wasn’t going anywhere soon, I watched a lot of television.
I watched all the Dollar westerns, and Once Upon a Time In the West.
I also watched a lot of golf, including the Waste Management Open, the very one being played this weekend. All four rounds.
When you have nothing else you can do but watch, you can’t get up and wander into the kitchen to get a snack, for example, you really watch.
This is what I saw.
Whenever a player played a chip or a short pitch, they ROLLED the ball up to the hole. There was no flying the ball up the hole and making it stop on a dime.
Now that’s a spectacular shot, and it has its place, but it rarely ever gets done what a touring pro wants to get done—put the ball in the hole.
You see, the pros aren’t trying to get these shots close. They’re trying to sink them. It’s a rolling ball that will go in.
I had never noticed that until I saw a steady diet of it over four days.
The next weekend I was still housebound and I saw it again at the next tournament, the AT&T at Pebble Beach.
Roll the ball to the hole, don’t fly it there.
So when I was able to get up and around, but not able to swing a golf club, I had a lesson on chipping. From the ground up, learning how to roll the ball.
That, and lots of practice, changed me from an indifferent chipper into a very good chipper. Chipping is one of the strengths of my game.
So when you practice around the green, if you’re not doing so already, practice that way. Roll it.
The January 2019 edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online.
The new text is in blue, though there isn’t much of that this month. I hope you like it.
The Saudi International Golf Tournament starts later this week in Saudi Arabia, sponsored by a government that:
Murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi, an act, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, that with “high confidence,” was carried out with the approval of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“High confidence” is term a intelligence agencies use to say, “We’re certain of this, but we don’t like to say certain. But we’re certain.”
Is prosecuting a proxy war in Yemen that is needlessly creating a major humanitarian crisis, the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni citizens.
Exfiltrates from the U.S., Saudi nationals studying in Oregon, arrested and facing criminal charges, flouting U. S. laws.
Yet, these golfers are signed up to play: Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, and Bryson DeChambeau. You can see the full field here.
Rose commented, “I’m not a politician.”
Johnson commented, “Unfortunately, it’s in a part of the world where most people don’t agree with what happened, and I definitely don’t support anything like that.”
Most people would not agree with all this, Dustin? Most people? How about anyone in their right mind?
Sorry, guys, this isn’t about politics or what you don’t agree with or support.
Politics is about what federal income tax rates should be, or whether a wall should be built along our southern border. You can agree or disagree, support or not.
What’s happening in Saudi Arabia is different, It’s criminal. It is the crime of the state against individuals, and in the cases of Khashoggi and the Oregon exfiltrations, crimes against the concept of international sovereignty as well.
Mohammed bin Salman is a young man drunk on his own power, not only turning his country into a toxic state, but exporting its terror beyond its borders.
THAT is why playing in the Saudi International is a mistake that the participants have no good answer for.
I don’t expect professional gofers to be experts on current affairs or international relations.
I do expect them to be able to see outrageous behavior clearly and respond appropriately.
The money they say they are playing for?
In the fall of 2018 the Saudis sponsored a conference of world business leaders called the Future Investment Initiative. Following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, these companies and individuals pulled out (not a complete list):
Fox Business Network
JP Morgan Chase
The Financial Times
British Trade Secretary Liam Fox
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
These are business that stood to make LOTS of money in Saudi Arabia, and they washed their hands of partnerships for the time being.
But there’s money to be had, so golfers are going. Tell me, how much money is Jamal Khashoggi’s life worth to you?
You guys stand to make more money in one week than the vast majority of people in the world will make in their lifetime, yet you want more.
If what the Saudis are doing is not where you would draw the line, then where is it?
I would also ask, could the winning golfer, in good conscience, stand next to the Crown Prince for a photo at the end of the tournament? Would he really not know what stain that would place on his public image?
The latest sideshow on the PGA Tour is watching the greatest golfers in the world play like they never heard there were any rules changes, and then saying how hard it is to remember to drop from knee-height instead of shoulder height.
Rocket scientists, they ain’t, apparently.
But rule causing the most discussion is the repeal of the two-stroke penalty for hitting the flagstick with a ball putted from the green.
That penalty was adopted in 1968. I started playing in about 1960, when you could leave the pin in, and no one seemed to mind. If you have access to old All-Star Golf videos you can see pros putting while the pin is still in and not being tended. I can’t find the reason why the rule was changed in 1968, but it’s history now.
The USGA alleges that keeping the pin in can speed up play. I would agree with that to some extent. When I play a solo round, I never take the pin out. It speeds up play considerably by not having to walk up to the pin, take it out, lay it (not drop it!) on the green, and walk back to my ball to hit my approach putt.
It’s true that for long approach putts, you get a better sense of how far away the hole is, but you got the same sense in the “old” days by having someone tend the pin. It’s just now you don’t have to take the time to ask. Just putt.
In a foursome, though, what if some players want the pin left in and others want it taken out? Catering to each player’s desires, which they have every right to insist on, could end up taking MORE time when putts get shorter.
As far as scoring goes, leaving the pin in helps you considerably in two ways.
First, it gives you something positive to aim at. Aiming at a hole is trying to hit something that isn’t there. In Better Recreational Golf, I discuss this point on pages 54-55.
Second, the pin acts as a backstop. This is where the controversy lies.
Recently, Edoardo Molinari, brother of 2019 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, did a series of experiments testing the effect of the pin on putts of different lengths and different speeds. His answer is, it depends.
As you might imagine, Dave Pelz also weighed in. He thinks you should always leave the pin in when you putt.
I agree with Pelz, mainly because my putts don’t approach the hole like a freight train. Any putt of mine that hits the pin will go in, not bounce away.
At what distance to the hole does it become silly to leave the pin in? I don’t think three feet is too close, especially if the putt is a downhill breaker. Again, having something positive to aim at makes a bigger difference than you might expect.
What I would suggest is to leave the little pin in the hole on the practice green and find out for yourself if you benefit or not.
Finally, if you play with someone who is a real stickler for leaving the pin in, and you think it’s being carried too far, show some respect and go along with it. It’s their golf, it’s how they want to play within the rules. What we really want to get out of golf is having fun with friends and making everyone glad that we played with them. Right?
[Update] See this site for some solid data on the subject–the verdict is, leave it in.
Please see my post on arrival, which I have just updated.
Some of the greatest female golfers in the world are all in a tizzy because they now have to line their own a**es up. No caddy daddy to help them, and it’s about time.
And the strange thing, it’s so easy to do!
All they have to do is read this post and the ones it links to, practice a few times at the range, and they’ve got it!
I’ll be happy to teach any one of them how to do it, for no charge. All they have to do is pay my expenses.
Am I a great guy, or what?
Are you reading, Lydia?
I’m going to tell you about a few key elements in how I hit the golf ball straight. Straight means it doesn’t curve. Accurate means the ball goes where I aimed it, and that’s a different post.
For the ball to go straight the clubface has to be square to the club path at impact.
This can be difficult to achieve, since there is so much time and so many ways for the clubface to get out of whack.
The first thing is for your hands to lead the clubhead into the ball. There I go, beating that drum again. But it’s true. If you try to hit with your trailing hand, the clubface will lead, and it is very difficult then to keep the clubface square.
Leading the clubhead into the ball is only part of what the hands need to do. They still have to stay aligned.
At address, you square up the clubface to the target and assume your grip. That fixes a relation between orientations of the trailing palm and the clubface. That relation stays the same throughout the swing. They will always face the same direction, unless your hands slip. Where that palm goes, the clubface goes. The trick is for the palm not to go anywhere, that is, turn.
Pick up a club and take your grip. Notice the FEELING of your trailing palm being oriented in a certain direction. The ball will go straight if you return that palm to impact with the same feeling of orientation it had at address.
Read that paragraph one more time to make sure you understood what I said.
Hold the club so it is pointing straight away from you, parallel to the ground. Now rotate the club very slightly clockwise. Do you feel your palm is oriented in a different direction?
Go back to neutral and rotate the club very slightly counter-clockwise. Again, you will notice that your palm is now oriented in a different direction.
Of course, the palm IS oriented in a different direction each time you rotate the club, but do you FEEL that difference in your palm? That is the important thing.
What we want is for the feeling in your trailing palm at impact, your neutral feeling, to be the same as it was at address.
The best way to start getting this into your swing is with slow half swings, back and forth. Do not force your palm to stay oriented or guide it, rather let it stay oriented.
It will help if you think of your hands merging into one unit, instead of holding the club with two different hands. I go into this point in more detail in Six Fundamentals, number Two.
An earlier post gives you a different way of feeling your trailing hand, but with the same concept of the address feeling not changing.
Hitting the ball straight (without curvature) isn’t that hard to do if you play attention to these details.