Bob’s Books Are Now Free

In 2009 I published my first golf book, Better Recreational Golf, and its companion, Better Recreational Golf-Left-Handers Edition.

In 2013 I published my second book, on the mental game, The Golfing Self.

These books were only available on Amazon, but now I am making them available to you on the weblog as .pdf downloads for no charge.

Just go the the list of pages at the top of the page and click on:

BRG – for Better Recreational Golf (26MB),

BRGL – for Better Recreational Golf-Left-Handers Edition (26MB), and

TGS – for The Golfing Self (1.3MB).

I have long since earned back my production costs, and the revenue that trickles in is only complicating my income taxes.

So there they are, complements to Bob’s Living Golf Book, which has been free from the start.

(The two BRG files are so big because of the photos. TGS is text-only)

Play well, and have fun.

2018 U. S. Open Preview

This week the USGA will host the 68th U.S. Open that I have not played in (but I can say my name is on the trophy four times) at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.   This is the Number 1 tournament of the year and I can’t wait for it to start.

There are golf courses and there are U.S. Open courses, and Shinnecock Hills is one of the latter.  Though there aren’t really many hills to speak of on it.  But it does have wind.

Sited next to Long Island Sound, the wind will be a factor if blows, and every hole will be affected differently.  If all the holes were lifted and set down with the tees on top of each other like the hub of a wheel, every hole would be a spoke reaching out in a different direction.

 class=

In the wind, expect par to be a very good score.  If it is calm, low scores will abound.  The prevailing direction can be seen in the photograph as a line connecting the word Range and the number 14. (Click to enlarge)

Get a close look at all the holes at the U.S. Open web site.  You’ll easily see for yourself where things can go wrong.  

The par 3s are considered to be the best collection at any major championship site.  There are several short par 4s, but they play into the wind and the safe landing zone is not generous if a player wishes to take on the hole with one shot.

The course looks like it will be a throwback Open course.  Though it’s long, 7,445 yards, the big hitters had better be straight because the fairway is very narrow when the long drives land.  But then, the tee shot is the key to scoring here.  A short, straight hitter has a very good chance at winning.

Shinnecock Hills is one of the oldest course in the country, built in 1890 and hosted the 1896 U.S. Open.  At 4,423 yards and so little of a challenge, many players shot scores below 80.  A redesign in 1931 by Dick Wilson brought the course up the level it’s at today.

For some reason, the traditional 1st and 2nd round pairing of the reigning U.S. Open, British Open, and U.S. Amateur champions will not be featured.  They usually have quirky pairings, but I can’t find any references.  If I do, I’ll update this post later in the week.

Enjoy it.  This is the finest golf tournament on a real U.S. Open course.  Who do I pick to win?  Phil, of course.  I’ll pick him until he gives up trying.

The No-Backswing Putting Stroke

I went to the range a few days ago with my chipping clubs for my annual chipping formula tuneup.

I also brought a putter along, because why not, and because of something I tried while I was putting I’m going to write about putting today, not chipping.

Short putts are stressful.  You have to do four things right to sink one: get the right line, get the right speed, align the putter, and make a pure stroke.  The first three are purely intellectual, and are not terribly problematic from close in.

The stress starts when you stand over the putt, about to make the stroke.  Everything you’ve done so far has been thinking, but you can’t think the ball into the hole.  You have to deliver the goods with your body.  That’s when nerves kick in.

The solution to all this is to simplify the stroke to minimize the possibility of a physical error.  You do that by eliminating the backswing.

In the putting stroke, you start the putter moving, swing it back, stop, and reverse the direction of the putter.  At any of those four moments, you can introduce an error into the alignment of the putterface, or the swing path.

By taking out the backswing, you remove all four of those opportunities for error from the stroke.  There is nothing left but a pure forward motion of the putter along the starting line, with a square putterface.  

If you made the right read and aligned your putter correctly, the ball will go in.

Here’s how it works.

Draw an imaginary line on the green that goes through the ball toward your aiming point.  The line extends on both sides of the ball.

Set the putter down behind the ball, all lined up, then set it straight back about 4 inches behind the ball without disturbing the putterface alignment.  Now just swing the putter gently forward, through the ball, along the imaginary line.

Plop!

To keep yourself from jerking the club forward, pretend that you are compressing the distance between the putter and the ball.  I know the sounds kind of odd, but try it and you will see what I mean.

I find this method to work best for putts of eight feet at most, better at six feet and under, because you don’t want to have any power in the stroke.  Again, it’s just a gentle swing forward.

Do give this a try.  Work on it a bit a home first, the take it to the practice green.  

I can’t guarantee you will never miss a short putt again, but I think I can guarantee you’ll make more of them that you do now.

Carol Mann (1941-2018)

Carol Mann, winner of 38 LPGA tournaments, and star of the Tour in the 1960s and 70s, died on May 20 at age 77.   Read her obituary in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

In her early days as a professional, Mann toured the country with Patty Berg, giving on-course clinics.   I attended one that was held on the 10th fairway of the Eastmoreland Golf Course in Portland, Oregon, in roughly 1961.   It is a fond golf memory.

A Few Thoughts on Distance

After the USGA saved golf from the sacrilege of anchored putting, it is now fixing its sights on how far world-class athletes are hitting the ball.   It’s time I weighed in.   Everyone else has…

Everybody has stories about how much father the ball goes now.   There’s a 427-yard par 4 that when I played it in high school in the late 60s I would hit a driver and a 3-wood and still be short.   Now I get on with a driver and a hybrid iron.

On the GolfWRX forum a guy commented that thirty years ago he was a mini-tour player and a long hitter, but now in his 50s he hits the ball even farther.

Sounds like it’s all ball.   But here’s more to it than that.

In those earlier days we played with a balata ball, that spun like crazy.   That was great around the green, but off the tee, you don’t know what a banana slice is until you’ve seen a slice with one of those.

The woods, not so much the irons, were much smaller.   You had to hit the driver dead center to get anything out of the shot.   Off-center hits were not forgiven.

That meant the game was more about control than about power.   Our swing was more about controlling the club than letting it rip.   So naturally we didn’t hit the ball as far.   And I’m sure the balata balls weren’t designed to go as far, either.

What that adds up to is the ball has evolved.   Changing the cover of the ball from balata to surlyn, changing the innards from wound rubber to a solid composition, those changes are as natural as going from the feathery to gutta-percha.

And, yes, there’s the addition of big, hollow-bodied drivers in place of tiny laminated maple drivers.   They contribute to longer tee shots, too, especially on off-center hits.

With the evolution of the ball comes the evolution of the game.   It’s a power game now, certainly on professional tours, and to lesser but still noticeable extent in the recreational game.   There’s no going back, and there’s no need to.

There seem to be three problems with distance floating in the air.   The first is that golf has become a drive and wedge game.   Yes, it has, but mainly on the professional tours.   That will never be a problem for me, even if I move up to the forward tees.

The second problem is that old courses are becoming obsolete.   Merion (East) had to be tricked up beyond belief to make it a challenging venue for the U.S. Open in 2013.    The Old Course at St. Andrews is perhaps two more Opens away from having to retire from the Open rotation.    Augusta had to buy land from an adjoining course to lengthen the 13th hole, a formerly formidable hole that is now one of the easiest.

The third problem isn’t getting much attention from the powers that saved the game by banning anchored putting.   If distance is a problem, it’s a problem only for the people who run professional tours.   It’s not a problem at all for the 25M recreational golfers who will be tested the their limit at Merion or the Old Course or on the 13th at Augusta.

I still use all my irons, not to mention long hybrids, to hit into the collection of par 4s on any course I play.   If the powers that be want to return the professional game to that state, either build longer golf courses, or don’t, and just get used to the new game.

There has to be a balance achieved between what the best players can do and the courses on which they display those skills.   Right now, the players have jumped ahead, maybe too far ahead.    It’s time for the courses to catch up.

This is a lot like the delicate competition between predator and prey in nature.    There is a fine balance.    If the predator is too fast, then all the prey will get eaten and the predator will die out, too.    If the prey is too fast, the predator will starve, and so will the prey when it over-consumes its food source.

Distance is here to stay.   Either we accept it and adapt, or start doing stupid things.   And the powers that be have demonstrated clear talent for the latter.

I’ll finish with this quote from Judy Rankin in her My Turn interview:

“The debate about drivers hitting the ball too far doesn’t apply to women at all.  In fact, it doesn’t apply to most men.  Let’s say there are 25 million golfers in America and 25 million elsewhere in the world.  Of the 50 million golfers on the planet, excessive distance is an issue for maybe a thousand of them.”

A Few More Golf Thoughts

The golf swing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler (Albert Einstein?)

When your swing goes south during a round, re-group.   Play the next hole with your 8-iron.   8-iron off the tee, 8-iron down the fairway, then a lesser club to get you on the green, where two putts will get you a bogey.   On the next hole after that, go back to your usual game and swing whatever club you use just like you swung the 8-irons.

Close to breaking 100, or 90, or 80, but just can’t shed those one or two strokes?   Play a round from the forward tees once, and break through.   Now that you’ve done it, the monkey is off your back, and you can return to your regular tees and enjoy golf again.

Anything you want to do with a golf ball, hit it straight, far, curve it, spin it, high, low, anything, starts with hitting it on the center of the clubface.   That, is golf’s fundamental skill.

Ben Hogan said that in the forward swing, you can’t turn your hips too fast.   That is good advice as long as you do not swing out from under yourself.   The hips turn, but they must carry the torso with them and not leave it behind.

Try playing a round in which every shot into the green, from no matter from how far away, ends up past the flagstick, and see what that gets you.   If you think a 6-iron will do, take a 5, grip down an inch and swing away.   If you’re chipping, make sure the ball stops past the hole, not short of it.   You score by getting the ball up to the hole, not by sneaking up on the hole.

I really like 2s.   When you put a 2 on your scorecard, everyone knows exactly what happened.   A 3 could be several things, so could a 4, and a 5 could be a double bogey.   But a 2 means only one thing.   I like 2s a whole lot.

It is true that the less tension you have in your swing the faster the clubhead can go.   At address, you should be completely relaxed–not limp like a noodle, but have no tension anywhere.   Most of us are OK on the backswing, but when the forward swing starts is where tension can come in, especially if you want to hit the bill hard.   What you really want to do is hit the ball fast, and that means…no tension.   I have found in my swing that the place where tension comes in and slows down my swing is in the muscles of the upper torso.    If I keep this area relaxed, the clubhead screams through the ball with ungodly fury, yet it is still under control.    Try it.   Try keeping that part of your torso relaxed on the forward swing and see how much more clubhead speed you get.

Just before you take your putter back, lift it up so the sole is off the ground and just touches the top of the grass.   Now you can start your stroke.   The difference between starting the stroke by swinging straight back and going up a bit first then back, is significant.

Drawing and Fading

Look at the two pictures below.   Because there is a bunker near the pin, you really don’t want shoot straight for it.   It would be better to start the ball closer to the center of the green and curve it into the pin.   If the curve doesn’t come off, you’re still OK.

In picture 1, you see how to set up for hitting a draw.   Aim your stance at the target (yellow circle), aim the clubface to the right of it (blue circle), and swing through the ball toward a spot even farther to the right (red circle).

 class=

You may click the picture to enlarge it and see this more clearly.

Even though the clubface is open to the target line, it is closed to the swing line, and the ball will curve to the left.

To fade the ball, set up a show in picture 2.   Aim your stance to the left (red circle) of the target (yellow circle), and aim the clubface between the two (blue circle).   Swing through the ball toward the red circle.

 class=

The clubface will be open to the swing line, start off to the right of it, and curve further right toward the target.

In both cases, it is most important that you think of hitting the ball straight toward the red circle.   Do you see where the tree line in the background drops down to a low point behind the red circle?   That is where you should think of hitting the ball, in each case.   Your setup and swing path will curve the ball in the direction you want it to go.

If instead you have the target in mind, you could unconsciously try to steer the ball in the direction you want it to go, ruining everything.

Don’t get too caught up by the circles being unevenly spaced here.   They might or might not be the exact positions for your golf, but their relative positions and their proximity to the pin are.   Hit little draws, and little fades, not big ones.

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play