Slow Play on the Tour–Part 2

About six years ago, I wrote a post about slow play on the PGA Tour. That list of excuses Diaz put together is really quaint, isn’t it?

This year the Tour promises it is finally going to do something about slow play, yes sir, they’re really going to get tough.

You bet.

Here’s what an unnamed Tour player thinks could be done. It’s pretty honest, and funny.

And here’s the middling opinion.

What I think they need to do is:

– Hand out one-stroke penalties. That’s a good one. Keep that.
– Dump the fines, or make them huge.
Publish the list of slow players.
– Give no warnings. They KNOW what the time limit is for hitting a shot, and they KNOW they’re taking more time than that, so there is no need to warn them they are being slow. Warnings are like saying, “OK, we’re putting you on notice that the next time you hit the ball out of bounds we will give you a stroke and distance penalty.”
– Have a timing official with an air horn follow the group with a slow player, such official to sound one long blast at the 60-second mark. Not only will that get the offending player’s attention, it will get the attention of every other player on the course. Not to mention the gallery following the player. Point made.
– I am also thinking that Gary McCord in a clown suit would run out to give the offending player a pie in the face, but that might get ugly.

But you know, it’s professional golf, which affects my golf game about as much as NASCAR racing does, and which I care about just as much. Which, with no offense to you NASCAR enthusiasts, ain’t much.

My solution if I were playing on the Tour? I would bring a book and make no bones about reading it while I was waiting for a slowpoke I got paired with to hit his shot. It would be a masterful passive-aggressive statement, especially if my group was on television. War and Peace would be a good choice.

Slow It Down and Hit It Farther

The first week in January in the cold, rainy Northwest is probably the worst time of year to be writing posts for a golf blog. You can’t play, and it’s almost too cold sometimes even to go the range. But I always know if I do something golfy, I’ll get an idea.

So a few days ago the temperature was mild and it wasn’t raining, so I went to the field that is just a block away from my house. It’s the parking lot for the Oregon State Fairgrounds, which is out of view above the picture. My house is out of view about one block below.

I always go there with one ball and one club, hit the ball, go find it, and hit it back again, over and over. It focuses my mind, because if I make mistake and hit a bad shot, it’s a long walk to the ball to have a chance to get it right. So I try very hard not to make mistakes.

The yellow dot on the left is where I start hitting from. The yellow dot on the right is beside a telephone pole which you can see fairly clearly if you enlarge the picture. The pole is 139 yards from the opening spot.

I took my 6-iron that day. My first shot was up in the air, very straight, but got to about the pole. That’s not a long way for a 6-iron, but it happened because I hit the ball about a quarter-inch toward the toe. I did the same thing coming back, and the ball just barely got to the starting spot.

Another shot downrange ended up in about the same place, but this time had I hit it slightly toward the heel.

Fortunately, after three shots, all of them very nice looking and going right where I had aimed them, but all of them way short of where they should have ended up, my mind finally warmed up.

I realized I was swinging too fast, so I thought to myself, “Relax. Slow down your swing to a speed you can control.”

And what do you think happened? Of course! I hit the ball dead on the center of the clubface and it went to the green dot, 14 yards past the starting point.

By doing just those two things, which have nothing to do with swing technique, but everything to do with how you use your mind, I changed my 6-iron from a ~140-yard club to a mid-150s club.

(Want to get 15 more yards with your driver? Hint, hint.)

What I’m saying is the center of the clubface is your best friend. If you overpower your swing you’ll never make its acquaintance.

What I’m not saying is you should slow down your swing to the point of somnambulance. But if slow your swing down to control, or to comfort, or however you want to say want to it, you’ll be getting easy power and easy distance.

The World Golf Handicap

Beginning in 2020, that is, now, a new handicapping system has been installed worldwide. The intent was to bring six separate systems into one. It follows in great part the USGA system, but there are some new wrinkles.

In no particular order of importance, the major changes are:

– the best eight of your last twenty scores will be used to calculate your handicap, not the best ten as before.

– equitable stoke control had been replaced by Net Bogey: par + 2 + strokes allowed for the hole is the maximum hole score you can post for handicap purposes.

– handicaps will be recalculated daily instead of every two weeks.

– scores for a day’s round can be adjusted for temporary playing conditions, such as rain, wind, hole locations, and height of rough.

There is more, but it gets arcane pretty fast, and is of use only to the people who maintain handicaps at your club. The handicap guys at my men’s club attended a detailed workshop to learn what to do.

This web site gives you a good overview of the new system in the form of short, less than 1½ -minute-long videos. Please do watch them, but with the sound turned down. There is no narration, just music that gets annoying after a while.

Dean Knuth, the architect of the now defunct USGA Handicap system, wrote an article in Golfworld regarding his thoughts on the new system. There are some bugs that need to be worked out, and he should know.

All that said, long-term readers are well aware of my opinion of establishing a handicap. It is necessary if you compete in any fashion, but if you play only recreational golf, please don’t bother with any of this.

Ball First, Ground Second—The Drill

Everybody knows you should hit the ball first, and the ground second. Well, if you didn’t know that, you do now.

That means the bottom of your golf swing arc must be in front of the ball, not underneath it, and definitely not behind it (that’s called hitting fat).

These pictures show what that means.

Here’s an easy drill to learn how to do that. You need to be on a mat, without a ball. Merely set up, swing the club, and brush the mat with the sole of the club ahead of where it was at address. Over and over. Figure out how to make your swing bottom out ahead of its address position.

You need to do this on a mat because otherwise you would tear up a good bit of ground. Also, the club hitting the mat gives you aural feedback as well as visual feedback.

Chart Your Shots Into the Green

In an earlier post, I talked about arriving. A shot to the pin must finish past the pin. It must arrive. It doesn’t matter how good your good shots are. It matters that they arrive.

Your long game sets up your green game (short game and putting) if you have the habit of arriving. But you’ll never really know if that is a problem if you don’t see a picture of how you really bring the ball to the hole.

This blog post is about making that picture.

You might keep statistics as you play. Fairways hit, greens hit, number of putts, are the basics and you can get as detailed from there as you want.

I ask you to not do that the next time you play. Instead make a picture. If you never keep stats, you get to make a picture, too.

You know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s so true. Looking at a collective picture of where your shots into green end up will tell you in an instant what a row of numbers might only suggest.

What you do is draw a big circle in the center of a 3×5 card. As you play into each green, put a dot where the ball ends up, and draw a line from the ball to the approximate location of the pin. After nine holes, start in on a second card or draw a chart on the other side of the same card (eighteen holes on one chart makes too much clutter).

The picture below is my chart from the last round I played.

I was short of the pin four times, past it (way past!) once, and about even four times. Not bad. For the times I was short, it took ten strokes to get down. For the other five times, it took eleven strokes to get down.

Just nine holes doesn’t tell you that much. But if you get charts for four or five rounds, they should show a clear pattern of how you’re playing the ball into the green. I’ll leave it to you figure out what to do with that information.

The Center of Your Stance

This might seem like a small point, but it’s not.

I advocate, and many current instructors advocate, placing the ball in the center of your stance and keeping it there when you hit your irons.

But just saying “the center” isn’t really that specific.

The three photographs below all show a ball intersecting the center of a stance (yellow rod), but the ball is in a different place each time. Each ball is offset from the other by about 0.4 inches. This is not an insignificant difference. It is all the difference in the world.

You can’t have the ball here this time, there the next time, and someplace else the time after that and expect to make consistent contact with the same swing.

Experiment with where, exactly, in the center the ball needs to be for you to get ball first, ground second contact.

Once you have found that spot, memorize it and put the ball there EVERY TIME, at the range or on the course.

Three Valuable Greenside Shots

You don’t always get a garden variety chip when you miss the green. Here are three sticky situations and what to do about them. You will probably be using one of them every time you play.

1. Say your ball is on an upslope of some kind. You have to hit over the crest of the slope and have a significant way to the pin. Swinging parallel to the slope will turn your 54-degree wedge into a 64-degree wedge and the ball won’t go anywhere.

Instead, pick the wedge you want to use with to the distance the ball has to travel horizontally to get to the hole. Swing straight into the slope. There will be only a small follow-through. The ball will pop up and forward, and run softly to the hole. This is the shot that Fred Couples hit on the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta when he won the Masters in 1992.

(Actually, the recovery is not amazing. Any one of us could have hit that shot. What’s amazing is that the ball didn’t roll into the water.)

2. If the ball lies instead on a downslope, the fear is that you won’t get the leading edge of the club underneath the ball, and blade it across the green.

Take a wedge that is more lofted than you would normally use for the distance the ball has to travel. Put the ball back in your stance, so far back that it is well outside your trailing foot. You’ll have to reach back to get the club to the ball. Raise the clubhead up and chop gently down on the back of the ball, driving the wedge into the ground. The ball will pop forward with lots of spin. 

3. When you’re seriously short-sided and you can’t run the ball along the ground for any reason, hit a mini-flop.

Take a sand wedge and set up with the ball in the center of your stance and the club shaft straight up and down, that is, not leaning toward the hole. Take the club back low and bring it through the ball low and slow with no wrist action. Try to slide the club underneath the ball without disturbing it. You can’t do that, of course, but you will get a gentle hit that eases the ball forward with little spin. It will land and go nowhere. A cushion of grass underneath the ball is desirable. 

How Your Grip Affects Ball Flight

The way you place your hands on the club directly affects the flight of your ball—left-to-right or right-to-left. But I’m not talking about weak grips and strong grips, though they do contribute. There are two points that are much more subtle, yet just as important, and which rarely get talked about.

Most books tell you to put your hands on the handle with the palms facing each other, parallel to each other (left photo, left hand only shown). That can, though, encourage right-to-left ball flight. The reason is that the lower hand can easily push the upper hand sideways, turning the upper hand over, which closes the clubface.

To prevent that, there’s a simple fix. Rotate your upper hand into the lower hand so that it acts something like a buttress (right photo). You end up with a neutral lower hand and a strong upper hand.

The lower hand can push against the upper hand, but because that hand is angled into the lower hand, it’s more difficult for the lower hand to turn the upper hand over. You’ll hit it straight, or maybe get a fade out of it.

The other point regards the location of the thumb on the lower hand. Ben Hogan advised having that thumb and the side of the hand tightly pressed against each other (left photo). Doing this firms up your wrist, which again inhibits the the lower hand from turning over. Goodbye draw, hello fade. This is what Hogan was trying to achieve.

If, though, you leave a gap between the thumb and the side of the hand (right photo), that loosens up the lower wrist, making it more possible for the lower hand to turn over, encouraging a draw flight. Goodbye fade, hello draw.

[Note: In the right-hand photo it looks like the right hand has rotated. It has not. The camera angle changed slightly.]

These two features, the rotation of the upper hand, and the position of the lower thumb, can be used separately or in tandem. You have to experiment to find what works for you.

Let me go over this again:

To promote a draw, (1) place the upper palm parallel to the lower palm, and/or (2) have a gap between the lower thumb and hand.

To promote a fade, (1) rotate the upper hand into the lower palm, and/or (2) rest the lower thumb against the hand.

If you’re at you wit’s end trying to cure unwanted curvature, give these a try.

Golf in My Backyard – II

A week or so ago I posted about a little plastic golf ball being stuffed in a hole in the big apple tree in my backyard.

This afternoon I was raking leaves and I saw – there was one in there again!

Someone, or something, picked up one I had left out on the lawn, most likely, and jammed it in there.

And I mean jammed. After I got it out, which isn’t easy, I put it back in again see how much work it would take.

The answer is, lots.

I pressed hard with my thumb, and that didn’t get it in, so I pressed with the heel of my hand and that did it.

I am just flummoxed.

Maybe I need to set up a night vision camera with a motion detector like the wildlife photographers use.

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