The Full Bag Drill

I’ve been doing this drill lately to build an identical swing with each club.  It pays off throughout the bag, but especially when you get to the driver.  It also takes a lot of discipline.

You’re going to go through your bag, from the most-lofted club to the least lofted (probably your driver), and hit a good shot with each club, using the same swing with each club.  You only get to hit one shot with each club.  Thirteen swings.  No do-overs.

By the same swing I mean the same movement, same rhythm, same tempo.  THE SAME.  This is the whole point of the drill.

The only thing that will change is your posture as the club shafts get longer.

This is a very difficult drill.  First of all, you want to hit 13 good shots and you only get one chance with each club. Hitting 13 good shots in a row isn’t easy.

Second, as the clubs get longer, the temptation to swing harder or to get the clubhead on the ball in a different way is great.  But you can’t do that.  Each swing has to be the same.

The reason you want to have the same swing for every club is that one swing is easier to learn, easier to rely on, and makes golf easier to play, than two or three swings do.

You will also learn to trust the design of the longer clubs to get the distance you want from them.  As clubs get longer, they have a lengthier shaft and less loft.  That alone is enough to send the ball father and farther.  You don’t have to make extra effort.

Do this drill (one time) at the driving range.  Doing this drill in your pre-round warm-up might be a good idea, too.

2018 Open Championship Preview

The USGA takes difficult golf courses and makes them even harder for the U.S. Open.  And you know how that’s working out.

The R&A takes difficult golf courses and leaves them alone.  Welcome to the Open Championship, which this year is being played at Carnoustie, one of the hardest golf courses in the world.  See the Open Championship website, click on Spectators/Course Guide, for a hole-by-hole description of the course.

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(Click to enlarge)

This amateur course guide features photographs. Not all the holes are reviewed, but the photos give you an outstanding look at the course and make you wish you could try your hand at it.

By the way, the name of the course is Car-NOOSE-tee.  Car-NASTY was clever the first three million times we heard it, but has become as tired as “Get in the hole!” or “You da man!”  Please don’t say it that way.

The fairways are baked out and hard.  Some players have said the fairways are faster than the greens. During a practice round, Padraig Herrington drove into Barry Burn (creek) fronting the 18th green, which is well over 400 yards from the tee.  Were it not for the burn, the 499-yard par 4 would be drivable for more than a handful of contestants.

That means players have to decide how much roll-out they are willing to have lest the ball rolls into places it shouldn’t go.  For example, Jockie’s Burn fronts the 3rd green on a 350-yard par 4, and can easily be driven into even on a layup.  And the fairways are not flat. A ball catching s slope can roll out 20 to 40 yards farther than planned.

Might it be that length off that tee will not be a factor this year, because course conditions mean everybody has it?  If so, players who control the ball off the tee wisely should have lots of short irons and wedges into the greens.  If the weather is benign for four days, the winner should have a very low score.

But let’s not leave out mention of the wind.  The course does not lie on the ocean, but the sea is only a 5-iron away.

Carnoustie will be brutally hard this week, and no one can blame the setup.  It’s all Nature’s doing and that’s the way golf should be.

Notable holes include the 248-yard par-3 16th hole (see photo).  You think the 12th at Augusta is hard?  Try this one on for size.  The green is domed, which can throw errant shots off to the side.  The green is also long and narrow, making it a difficult target.  The hole often plays into the wind, making a back pin difficult to get to.  The 16th gave up the second-fewest number of birdies the last time the OC was played here, in 2007.

Another hole to pay attention is the 580-yard par-5 6th.  This is the famous Hogan’s Alley hole.  In 1953, Hogan chose the line between the bunkers and the out of bounds stakes on the left–a narrow target, but the best line for a clear shot into the green.

One of the courses quirks announces itself at the very start.  The green for the first hole is not visible from the tee, and not even from some parts of the fairway.  A tall pole marks its direction.

Players complained last month about Shinnecock Hills being different in the morning and afternoon on Saturday’s third round.  It is not unusual in the OC for a storm to wipe out the chances of groups playing in the morning, with clear, calm weather prevailing in the afternoon.  Or vice versa.  That’s one of the things I like about this tournament.

Get up early and watch golf played in a way like no other tournament requires. Whatever you think of the other major championships, this one is the most fun to watch.

Revised USGA Rules For 2019

A complete re-write of the Rule Book and Decisions that takes effect in 2019 has been announced. It is too extensive for me even to begin talking about here.

See this summary for starters. I am sure you can find others if you browse the Net.

Best news of all: An optional Local Rule has been added that allows a player whose ball went OB to drop near the point where it went out, taking a two-stroke penalty. It’s about time!!!!!

Why Golfers Don’t Improve

I recently read a piece in the GolfWRX newsletter about why golfers don’t improve.   It goes in several directions, but fails to mention the main reason.   Almost everyone who takes up the game does it the wrong way.

Let’s talk about learning to play the piano.   You would start out with easy pieces and basic skills.   You would play within your capabilities because that is all you could do.

Over time, you would become more skillful in your technique, but to become a pianist your focus would have been all along on being a musician, technique being a means to that end.

Learning golf should be the same way: start with easy, basic skills and work up as you go along, playing on courses that your skills make you capable of playing, and using those skills to be a golfer all the while.

But what normally happens is that amateurs tackle the full game from the very start, get in way over their heads, and continue to try solving advanced problems instead of starting off small and working up.

They are like beginning piano players try to start off trying to play this:

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instead of this:

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People who never went through a process of getting into the game gradually, but rather tried to take it on all at once will find improvement difficult and time-consuming because they never created a foundation from which significant improvement can emerge.

Until they build that foundation, no amount of tweaks at the back end will help very much.

Every year I go through a re-learning process.   I get back to basic putting: hitting a lot of 2- and 3-foot putts.   Hitting 30- and 40-footers.

I re-learn my chipping stroke and re-calibrate my chipping formula. I re-learn my pitching stroke and re-calibrate my pitching game from 55-100 yards.

My swing? I get a refresher lesson with a 5-iron, and another one with a driver.

In short, I become a beginner again.   I re-create a solid foundation.

And that, I believe is what every golf who is stuck should do—start over.   It doesn’t matter if you are trying to break 100, or 90, or go from the high 70s to the low 70s.

If you’re stuck, start over with the small strokes.   Play most of your golf on par 3 courses for a while.   That’s golf without the driver, and if you can’t score there, you can’t on the big course, either.

Get really good at shots that are technically easy before you move on to shots that are technically difficult.

Honestly!   Life is long.    Taking out three or four months months to build a foundation for your future in a game you will play for the rest of your life is such a minimal investment that will pay off huge rewards.

And if you say, well, thanks for telling me this in the middle of July when I want to be out flailing away at 6,400 yards of heartache, I’ll say, why not spend a few weeks tuning up your game, then a few months honing it on smaller courses on which you will have a shorter outing and have more fun and become a better golfer, and this is the IDEAL time of year to do it.

But that’s just how I see it.

Your Setup–One Key to Consistent Contact

A friend of mine told me while we were playing one day, that someone looked into how it is that Justin Thomas, who isn’t a very big guy, drives the ball so far.

One of his keys is that he hits the ball on the center of the clubface.  Every time.  It might have been on impact tape or something, but the impression after a good number of drives was about the size of a quarter.

How does he do that?  I can’t say how his swing makes that happen, because I don’t know.  But I can say for sure that one thing which makes it happen is his setup.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that he sets up the same distance from the ball every time, the ball is in the same place in his stance every time, his posture is the same every time, his hands are in the same place every time, and so on.

I would also bet that if you took a picture from the same spot every time and overlaid all those photos on top of each other, you wouldn’t see much leakage, if any, around the edges, if you know what I mean.

By starting out in the same place every time, in every respect, Thomas gives his swing every chance to return the clubhead to the ball in the same place every time.

Here’s an example taken from the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing.  It shows the variation in foot position in a 24-handicapper and a professional golfer.  The pro is consistent, and the amateur is all over the place.

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Was else I can tell you for sure is that a major cause of inconsistent ball-striking is an inconsistent setup.  I would go so far as to say you should practice your setup as much as you practice your swing.

Let’s drill in on this point.  Say you hit a tremendous drive.  On the next hole, you unknowingly set up with the ball one inch farther away from you than it was on the last hole.  If you make the same swing, you will miss the sweet spot on the clubface by an inch.

But you won’t make the same swing, because you’re reaching out a little bit farther than you did last time and that is enough to change everything.  Your unconscious mind knows you’re out of position and will try, in vain, to compensate. You won’t hit anywhere near as good a drive and then wonder what happened to your swing.

What happened was that an inconsistent setup forced that good swing out of existence.  Simple as that.

My instructor had me buy a four-foot metal ruler to practice my setup. With this, you can ensure your feet are the same distance apart, and the ball is in the same place.  Being consistent with these two things alone will by themselves improve your ball-striking.

We practice our swing to make it as much the same as we can every time, but what’s the use of having a repeating swing if your setup is all over the map?

And when you’re trying to develop a repeating swing, you might keep correcting this or that when your swing is just fine and it’s your setup that needs work.

So here are a few things to think about in your setup, all of which make a difference:

Grip alignment (orientation of Vs)
Grip pressure
Where on the handle you place your hands *
Clubface alignment (open, square, closed)
Distance from the ball *
Location of the ball in your stance *
Posture of your back
Amount of bend in your neck
Amount of bend in your hips and knees *
Shape of your arms
Distance between your elbows
Height of your stance *
Distribution of weight across the feet (front-back, side-side)
Amount that your toes are turned out
Alignment of feet
Alignment of shoulders
The feeling that you are “in the slot”

* This will vary by the club used, must be the same per club.

Grass or Mats?

The difference between golf and most other stick-and-ball sports is the ground.

In baseball your contact can be off by an inch but that only makes the difference between a single and a home run.

If you’re playing tennis you can be off by two inches still get the ball back over the net.

But in golf if you’re a half inch off, even a quarter of an inch off, you can hit the ground before you hit the ball your shot is ruined.

The ground is what makes golf hard.

But there is ground and there is ground.   What kind of ground do you want to hit the ball off of when you practice?

There are two choices at the driving range, grass tees or mats.   Both have advantages, both have disadvantages, and both have their advocates and detractors.

Grass is the real thing.   That’s what you’re going to be hitting the ball off of when you play, so it does make sense to practice hitting off the same surface.

Not to mention, you don’t always have a perfect lie in the fairway, so hitting off grass gives you the opportunity to learn how to hit off less than ideal lies.

The disadvantage of grass is that the tees are normally so chewed up that it’s difficult to find an ideal lie and you certainly want one most of the time.

A useful exercise on the grass tee is to take ten balls, give them a toss, had hit them off whatever lie they have come to rest.   But you don’t want to make that standard practice.

Mats, on the other hand, always give you an ideal lie.   I’ll admit if the mat is old and worn you only get to practice hitting off hard pan, but most ranges keep their mats in good repair and replace them when they no longer useful.

The main beef about mats is that you can hit fat and get away with it.   And that’s true. You can hit inch behind the wall and still get a decent shot out of it.

But that just means you have to be honest with yourself.    You know what fat contact feels like.    If you feel it, it’s up to you to admit to yourself that was not a serviceable swing.

But when you hit the ball just right, when you get that solid, ball first ground second contact that pinches the ball between the ground in the club face, you know it in a way you never would on the grass tees.

That much better feedback for the good shot is a huge argument in favor of hitting off mats.

There is another advantage of mats that you might not think of depending on where you live.

I was responding on a golf forum once to a person who said he hits off grass all the time and wondered why anyone would ever hit off a mat.

I replied that if you hit off the grass during winter in the rainy Pacific Northwest, after about three shots all you would have would be soggy mess.    He was from Southern California and hadn’t thought of that.

A minor argument but one that nonetheless applies to golfers who don’t buy new clubs every few years is the grit the golf club digs up when hitting off grass will eventually wear down the grooves on the clubface.

That’s why professionals get new wedges about three times a year.    Their wedges get used so often the clubface just wears out.

But for me, it comes down to this: good contact is everything in golf, and mats are the best teacher.

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.

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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.

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