Getting Ready For Spring

About a month ago, I posted some suggestions for your winter practice. I was following that plan at the time, but you know how my mind wanders, so I thought I would let you know what is going right now.

It’s hard to practice approach putting when it’s raining so much and the practice greens are soaked, so most of my putting practice goes on in my back room on a very short-pile carpet–perfect for the task.

I am firmly committed to the two-putter plan. That has me practicing up to ten-foot putts with my face-balanced putter, at least nightly, and whenever I’m home with nothing important to do (which is all the time when I’m home).

When I go to the the range, I bring my sand wedge and my pitching wedge. I pick out a target on the ground and try to drop a ball right on top of it. I don’t pitch to an area. I pitch to a spot. Most of the time it’s a ball lying out there somewhere.

I have been doing this for years at the range, and have developed a sense over that time of what a distance feels like and what I have to do to hit the ball there, just by looking at it. Sometimes I get the ball so close it’s scary.

Not bragging here. If you practice something often enough you get good at it.

As far as the swing goes, I am deep into a new (for me) mental approach to it.

I have written about Gabrielle Wulf’s work on the benefit of external focus (in golf, the club) rather than internal focus (the golfer) in learning, improving, and performing.

Now let’s combine that with the Ernest Jones method of “swing the clubhead.” To me, that is an early expression of external focus. By swinging the clubhead, the body will automatically do the right thing.

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it is on the right track.

I swing a Titleist 20.5° fairway wood (975J) in my back room. I take the club back slowly with a gentle push by the left hand. Slow is important because I want to feel the clubhead throughout the swing. If the start is too fast, that feel will not emerge.

The backswing is nothing more than feeling the clubhead move back and up. The forward swing is the same. I feel the clubhead move down, around, and through.

My mind is on nothing else than the clubhead moving. I mentally follow its movement back and forward again. I really have no concept of what my body is doing, because my mind is on something else, so getting stuck on technique is out the window.

I can’t think about hitting the ball, hitting it a long way, hoping I will hit a good shot, or any other irrelevant and destructive thought. It’s just, follow the clubhead.

The results I’m getting are very good. I’m hitting good shots easily.

If you want to try this, I suggest you begin with a sand wedge, because its weight makes the clubhead easy to feel throughout the swing. There is no need to bend way over when you swing it. Stand up in your driver stance and pretend your sand wedge is a short driver.

I have been through a lot with my health in the past six years. I am unable to play golf the way I used to, but that doesn’t mean I can no longer play good golf. It means I have to find a different way. I have growing confidence that this is the way.

My Golf Predictions for 2018

Here we are at the top of a new season. Those of you who live in sunny climates can start it right after you read this post, but the rest of us, who live in the other 80% of the country, will have to wait until about April to start playing the golf we know we are capable of.

It’s also a time for predictions for the new year. Here are mine. I guarantee they will come true.

1. Somewhere in Michigan a golfer trying to break 90 for the first time will finally leave his driver home, and shoot 88.

2. Golf writers will start worshiping Tiger as if they were 10 year-olds (actually, it’s already started, and in the golfing press it’s already all Tiger, all the time).

3. Jim Nantz will continue to be the sappiest announcer on the air. Johnny Miller will retire after the end of the year and by March 2019 everyone will miss him.

4. Golf courses across the country will start selling partial rounds, depending on the layout of the course, to serve people who do not have the time to play nine, let alone 18.

5. Gary Player will do 36,500 sit-ups.

6. One day you will play your usual game from tee to green, but putt the lights out, and beat your best-ever score by five strokes. From then on you will spend more time on the practice green than you ever have, and reap the rewards.

7. You will slow down your swing and learn to live with the extra distance you get.

8. Manufacturers will come out with new clubs that cost a LOT of money, and promise you the moon. You will decide to take half that amount of money, spend it on lessons and green fees instead, and become a better golfer with the clubs you already have.

9. The Recreational Golfer will continue to be the best unknown golf blog in America, but it’s OK if that one doesn’t come true (the unknown part).

Play well, and have fun in 2018.

How to Practice Hitting the Ball First, Ground Second

We all know that when the ball is on the ground, we should hit the ball first and the ground second. The wrong way to make that happen is to deliberately guide the club into doing that with your hands. That just interfered with my swing as it went through impact when I did it that way.

So I’m trying something else now. I get a fairway wood, and set up, drawing a line in my mind where the leading edge of the clubhead is on the ground. Then I take a swing and make the effort with my swing, not my hands, to let the sole of the clubhead thump the ground in front of that line.

You most likely will have to adjust your swing slightly to make that happen. I couldn’t begin to describe how my swing got adjusted, so I’ll leave it up you to figure that out for yourself.

I like to use a fairway wood instead of an iron, because outdoors, I don’t make a mess on the ground with divots and get my club dirty, and I can do this indoors without damaging the carpet.

I’m still working on this, the adjustments aren’t automatic yet, so I can’t say if the effort will actually pay off. But the idea makes sense to me, so I’ll invest in it.

The Journeyman Pro

I don’t spend much time at all on this blog talking about professional golf. That’s because there’s so much of it online that you don’t have to find it. It finds you. No, wait. That’s porn. Oh, well…

I came across this fascinating post written by Phil Blackmar about how good Tour golfers are.

You have to be really good even to think about it. Then you have to be really, really good to be in position to get there. Then you have to be 3r good to get on, 4r good to stay on, and to be a champion is beyond my comprehension.

There’s a list of all the players who have been in 250 or more PGA Tour tournaments since 1980, including one who has made over 800 starts. There are many names at the top of the list you would not think to see there.

This all puts my single-digit handicap earned on fairly easy public courses in perspective, as I needed it.

A Few Odds and Ends

I was looking through a notebook I keep that contains notes from golf lessons I have taken. The last playing lesson I took emphasized the tee shot. My note says, “Tee shot is paramount to making par. Work on these.” So work on your driver, but work on hitting it straight, not far. If you can hit your irons straight, but not your driver, get a lesson. You’ll never figure it out yourself.

There are several other notes that pertain only to me, but another general note is, “Make your targets very precise from the tee and the fairway.” Think not only of which direction you want the shot to go, but on what spot do you want the ball to land. And it’s a spot, not an area.

You know the bottom of your swing needs to be ahead of the ball. How do you do that? I practice this indoors with a fairway wood. I set up and take note of the place where the leading edge of the sole is. Then I make a slow-motion swing and try to lightly tap the rug with the sole of the club ahead of that place when I swing through. Hint: if you’re not getting your weight to the left in the forward swing, and early in the forward swing, you won’t be able to get the club out there.

I’ve been playing around with a short stroke for short putts this past week. It started out as the old pop stroke, but I quickly found out that the rapid stroke and percussive hit the word “pop” suggests is the wrong way to go about it. I’m finding success with a rhythmic stroke that nudges the ball to the hole. That might be a better starting point for you if you want try this out. I should also mention my upper arms rest against my sides for security. The advantage of a short stroke (about six inches for a 10-foot putt) is that the clubface stays square throughout. I’m only using this stroke for short putts I think I can sink. For longer putts, I go back to my sweeping pendulum stroke and the TAP method.

I read a tip in a current golf magazine that I thought might help. So I went out and tried it. The results were terrible. What I realized very quickly is that I was already doing what the tip suggested. In trying to follow the tip I did more of it and that was too much. Beware of tips you read in golf magazines.

Fixing the Fed Ex Cup – II

A few years ago I wrote about how to fix the FedEx Cup. The way points are rigged and adjusted during the four-tournament competition is too confusing for anyone to follow, and players can sit out a tournament and still be in it. The last thing we need to generate interest at the end of a long season is four more four-round stroke play tournaments. You might want to read my brilliant plan before you read this brillianter one.

Here goes. You start off with a 144-man field, composed of the top 144 golfers in FedEx points acquired during the year. The golfers are seeded, high to low. The first tournament is a set of matches according to standing. #1 plays #144, #2 plays #143, etc. The 72 pairs of golfers would play four rounds of stroke play, but only against each other. Four days of man-to-man competition against the same man. The winners of these 72 micro-tournaments move on to…

…the second tournament, a collection of 36 two-man mini-tournaments in the same format–two golfers playing four rounds against each other, stroke play, the pairings seeded by season-long FedEx points earned. No adjusting of the points. The 36 winners move on to…

…the third and final tournament. FedEx Cup points are thrown out, and the 36 remaining golfers play four rounds against the field straight up, winner gets the Cup.

What do you think?

The idea here is that to win the Cup, you have to win all along the way. FedEx points give you an advantage in the first two tournaments, but you still have to WIN to advance.

Could a long shot win? Could the #144 golfer win it all? Yes, but let’s go back to the Tiger Woods era to see clearly what would be required. #144 would have to play Tiger man-to-man four straight rounds and beat him. Then he would move on and play, say, Phil Mickelson four straight rounds and beat him. Then he would have to play against 35 very good golfers and beat them.

Maybe #144 could do one of those, but all three? Those are long odds. L-o-o-o-ong odds.

The FedEx Cup has become a snooze. Actually, that’s what it has been since its inception.

My plan solves three problems. First, four tournaments are too many. It becomes three. Second, fans would understand the format. I say again, does anybody understand how the points are adjusted, or why, and why someone can lose the Tour Championship, or even sit out a tournament, and still win the FedEx Cup, and is that right?

And finally, it would be DIFFERENT. You want to generate interest? Do something DIFFERENT. The four-round stroke play format is really kind of boring. This new format isn’t.

Tim Finchem made a game effort to keep professional golf relevant after the PGA Championship and before the Ryder/Presidents Cup by creating the FedEx Cup. But the current format ain’t doin’ the job. This one might.

(But then what do I know? I’m just a recreational golfer.)

What I’m Going to Do This Winter

Well, the rainy season has landed on western Oregon with a vengeance. It’s either too wet to play, or when it isn’t raining the courses that don’t drain well are too soggy to play–standing water covers the fairway or tee shots bury themselves in the fairway upon landing.

What’s a golfer to do? I think daily practice at home is the key. The practice I’m going to be doing isn’t about improvement, but consistency. I know what my best swing is. I know how to chip and putt. It’s just that those strokes are not automatic, therefore, inconsistent.

I want to get it right the first time, every time, instead of most times. Is that too much to ask? Not if you put in the work.

So today I’m going to do this, in the confines of my house:

1. Swing a golf club a number of times
2. “Hit” pitches and chips
3. Putt across the carpet.

These are the things I want to make automatic:
1. Handle leads the clubhead; rhythm is right and tempo is appropriate; the swing is connected–no bumps or jerks; clubface square to club path; be totally relaxed at address and do not add tension while swinging.
2. The sole of the club brushes the ground every time, at the same depth every time, on the same spot every time.
3. Align the putter face, then myself, square to the staring line; make a smooth, rhythmic stroke; keep the putter low going back and low going through.

4. In all three areas, think no technical thoughts–just feel the stroke.

All that might take maybe ten minutes a day.

It is one thing to say “I’m going to do this every day,” and another to actually do it. The way to get it done is to make a series of one-day commitments. In the morning, commit yourself to doing it today. The next day, do the same. It will also help if you practice at the same TIME every day. Adding to the commitment makes it easier to honor the commitment.

So here it is. The four basic strokes of golf. Join me in performing them today. And again tomorrow. And the next day, one day at a time until the rain has stopped and the courses have dried out.

Perhaps you live in a part of the country where you can play in sunshine and warm weather all year round. Lucky you. But I still invite you to join our daily performance. We’re doing it because we don’t have a choice. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Deal?

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