Playing Standards for 2010

Every year I set goals for the coming year, and organize my winter practice based on how much work I need to do to be ready to attain them when the new season starts.

The goals are based on the number of holes green-high in regulation, percentage of par saves from greenside (<5 yards), and percentage of par saves from beyond greenside (5-20 yards). I have a putting index, explained below, and I keep track of the number of mental errors. A mental error is an occasion when your mind was thinking about the result during a shot rather than feeling the process, forgetting a pre-swing fundamental, or two, or making bad choices about what shot to hit or what club to hit it with. Green-high in regulation is a concession to my recreational golf swing. It’s not good enough to let me hit a lot of greens–the pros can worry about greens in regulation. I measure instead how many times I can at least be chipping for par. My goal for 2010 is 16 or more. There are two par save stats because within these two distances you would be using a different stroke, and you should monitor how well you do with each one. My goals for 2010 are 80% and 50%. Putting index is a thing I came up with. It’s the combined length of all putts divided by the length of all non-first putts. For example, if on three holes you had putts of 23 and 2 feet, 8 feet, and 47, 6, and 1 foot, the total length of all putts would be 87 feet. The total length of non-first putts would be 9 feet (2+6+1). You putting index would be 87 divided by 9, or 9.67. My 2010 goal is to be over 10.0. Mental errors are more difficult to quantify, but if you examine a round objectively, I would bet you could identify at least four strokes you lose every time out because your mind let you down. My 2010 goal is 0. Leave some comments about what your standards are. We’d all be interested to read them.

New Year’s Wishes

We had a good Christmas at our house, visiting family and being visited. Christmas should be on Friday every year. It gives us a nice long lead-in to The Big Day followed by two days off right away.

New Year’s is resolution time–the time we resolve to do things differently, to improve the parts of our life most meaningful to us. Even though we can start making positive changes at any time, January 1 makes nice separation between two golf seasons. We have enough time to wind down from one and get ready for the one to come.

So here are my golf resolutions for 2010.

1. Play harder courses more often. Play courses that make me hit better shots, think more clearly, and have a tighter game overall.

2. Stop trying to improve my swing and just get better at repeating the one I have.

3. Talk to my pro to develop an overall improvement plan and take a lesson every two/three weeks to carry it out.

4. Enjoy the fun and fellowship more and get caught up less in making good scores.

That last one might sound like a contradiction to the first three, but it’s not. Since we spend so much of our precious leisure time playing golf, we might as well play it as well as we can. But golf is also our recreation, our relaxation, our sanctuary. We should certainly enjoy the good rounds, and resolve to improve our bad ones, but the most important skill is to come home happier than when we left.

Otherwise, why play?

Thank you for following me in 2009. Be looking for the unveiling of therecreationalgolfer.com in March 2010.

Christmas Wishes

Another golfing year is coming to a close. My instructional book came out, and is selling slowly but steadily. The left-hander’s edition is doing even better.

I started out the season with a 10.2 handicap and saw that go up to 11.4, not the direction I intended, but my father died at the end of March and I didn’t have the emotional energy to devote myself to progressing. That weight is lifting, and I’m making great strides in all phases of the game, at least on the practice ground. So in 2010, single digits, here I come.

Since there is still one shopping day left, here are my suggestions for the golfer on your list, and that can include yourself:

Bridgestone Tour B330-RX golf balls. Expensive, but they stop on a dime around the green.

A new sand wedge and a new lob wedge. Or two. Square-grooved clubs cease being manufactured on January 1, so load up now.

Golf lessons–preferably putting lessons.

New golf shoes. The ones you’re wearing now have pretty much had it.

New golf shoe spikes. OK, your shoes still look good, but the spikes are worn down to the nub.

A wide-brimmed hat that actually does, instead of pretending to, keep the sun off your face and neck.

A new driver. Just kidding. You really don’t need this. Learn to get the one you have in the fairway and use the $400 to pay for golf lessons.

Better Recreational Golf, by yours truly. Applying the information in this book will help you shoot lower scores.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and good golfing in 2010.

Time For PGA Tour Pros to Start Earning Their Living

Tiger is gone for an indefinite period. Most commentators think he’ll miss a big chunk of the 2010 season. Quite frankly, I don’t think he’ll miss anything. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

It’s the rest of the guys on the PGA tour. They’ve had a cushy ride on Tiger’s coattails for about ten years now. All they’ve had to do is show up, play decent golf, let Tiger win, and collect a handsome pay check. When the 91st player on the 2009 money list earns over $1M, why bother to do much else?

Party’s over. Tiger is damaged goods. We need other players who can move the needle for the Tour to maintain its profile.

Once we had Arnold Palmer, Doug Sanders, Julius Boros, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf. If these guys had been actors, each one would have been a leading man. Now the tour is full of supporting players and extras.

Who out there gets you excited about watching golf on TV? Who would you pay to see if the Tour came to your town?

All I can think of are Phil and John Daly, although Daly’s attraction now is more about his pants than his golf.

The PGA Tour is in more trouble than Tim Finchem wants to admit. 2010 will not be an easy year, and unless things change, 2011 will be worse. Professional golf could become a niche sport.

It’s time for players to step up and step out. We need interesting personalities out there, guys we can root for. We need players we care about.

Part of the problem is that too many of today’s players came out of college, where they played team golf. Being an individual wasn’t encouraged or even necessary, so the current breed of golfer doesn’t know how to be one.

We also need players who care about winning. I heard one guy last summer interviewed after he choked away a win say that he’s disappointed not to have won, but he played well overall and has a lot of positives to take away from the week. Incredible!

These days marketing is about establishing a brand. The brand that needs to be established is not for the Tour in general, but for each player, one by one. Professional golf lets fans get closer to the players than any other sport does, so it should be easy for golfers to make themselves known. But it’s the golfers who have done the worst job of it.

Time to change that.

Ben Hogan Golf Clubs–A Love Story

I play Ben Hogan Apex 50 irons. They are the Rolls Royce of blades. They have wonderful balance, the solid hits feel great, and they are so beautiful you can take one out and just look at it–just admire it. And now they’re history.

In 2003, I was taking a golf lesson using my Wilson irons from 1962 (!) and the pro said, quite plainly, that I had to get new equipment. Period. That’s a lot of money to spend when I could still hit them, but I suppose he had a point. You should upgrade maybe every 40 years.

So I went to a pro shop and tested about nine different sets of irons. The Hogans felt like they were made with me in mind and they were so beautiful! Modern irons are amazing technological feats, but they look like they were designed by scientists. Not the Apex’s. Such simple elegance in a tool that is so supremely functional.

The set came as 3-E and for some reason I ordered a 2-iron as well. Just had to have one, I guess.

What’s an E? Hogan called his pitching wedge his equalizer since he because he believed the wedge completed or “Equalized” the set.

Every now and then on the course, someone will see them and sigh. A deep sigh. And they’ll say, “I had those once,” as if they wish they still had them.

As for how they play, the ball works in a partnership with the club, and the square hits feel buttery. That’s the only word I can think of, but ask anyone who plays Hogan irons and they’ll use the same word, unprompted. It’s a wonderful feeling in your hands.

There was a period in the early 2000s when the Hogan playing staff was a pretty good set of golfers. Monty, Tom Kite, and Justin Leonard played them, and I think Jim Furyk did, too.

But I noticed that one by one, Hogan staffers were switching to a different brand of clubs. I was reading articles in trade magazines about financial difficulties with the Hogan brand and that the product didn’t appeal to today’s recreational golfer. After all, manufacturers don’t make their bucks from the pros, but by selling their clubs to you and me.

Callaway purchased the Hogan line in 2004, and stopped making the clubs in 2008. These magnificent clubs are now in the past, but you can go on the web and still find new sets of Apex Edge irons for sale. Good luck finding the Apex model.

The Hogan influence is still with us, though. I went to a Nike demo day last summer and the rep asked me what irons I played. I told him the Hogan Apex’s, and he gave a 4-iron and said, “Try this one.”

Amazing. It felt just like my Hogans. When I mentioned this to him, he said, “I thought you’d like it. The guy who designed it used to work for Hogan.”

So if my Apex’s ever wear out, I know where I’ll go for my next set. The trouble is they’ll have the feel, but not the look–that classic look that belongs in a museum of fine art.

Sigh.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Improve Your Putting Stroke

You had a six-footer all lined up and you missed it. You thought you had it in the bag and it just didn’t happen. What went wrong? Did you make a bad read? Was it your stroke? Maybe a bit of both? How do you know which?

Well, you can’t know, but you can make sure it wasn’t your stroke by getting your stroke schooled to the point where every putt directs the ball exactly where you want it to go. Let’s mention a few little things that will help you get it right.

Posture. Stand up to the ball, bent over comfortably at the hips, lower back straight. Hang the putter straight down with the end of the putter grip in front of your left eye. The shaft should cover the ball. This ensures your eyes are directly over the line of the putt.

Aim. Find a no-break putt on the practice green. Lay a club down in front of the ball, pointing at the hole. Lay another club down parallel to it, about a foot away on the side where you’ll be standing. Pick up the first club. Line up your feet and shoulders parallel to the second club. Your stroke is now aimed at the hole.

Alignment. Draw a line around a golf ball’s equator. Put the ball on the ground with the line running right through the pole of the ball, i.e., not tilted to one side. Putt the ball. If the line does not wobble, your putterface was square and aligned at impact. This is a critical point.

Sweet spot. Impact on this spot transfers all the energy of the putt to the ball, in line with the stroke. Tap the putterface with your fingertip rapidly back and forth along the face until you find the spot were the putter does not rotate when tapped. Practice hitting the ball on the sweet spot. When so hit, the ball will leap off the face, your hands will feel no shock of impact, and the ball will make a distinctive sound.

Path. The putter should be swinging along your starting line for short putts. Rock your shoulders back and forth when you putt, and have a feeling of the right upper arm continuing forward on the follow-through.

Stroke. If you think of the putting stroke as a movement back and a movement through, that’s two things, and your mind can stop in middle. Even though the stroke changes direction, think of it as one movement, not two. This is calming to the mind and body.

One Correction. I see golfers all over breaking their left wrist in the follow-through. None of ‘em can putt worth a lick. Enough said.

After you get your stroke fixed up, getting the ball in the hole is up to your read and the vagaries of the imperfect ground the ball rolls over, but that’s another lesson.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

How To Hit Crisp Iron Shots

There’s a difference between the iron shots that very good amateurs and pros hit, and the ones the rest of us hit. Our irons shots lift off the club face like they were thrown off it, and make a lazy arc through the sky. At least the good ones do.

Those other iron shots, the ones we don’t hit, seem to take off like they were shot from a gun and fly toward the green like a pin-seeking missile.

That’s not a shot we have to admire from afar. You can hit your irons like that, too. The whole idea is for the clubface to still be moving downward as it contacts the ball. Hit the ball first, the ground second.

You might have heard about hitting down with your irons. That can be interpreted as making the downswing more vertical, as if you were chopping wood, but that’s not what hitting down means. Rather, it means to hit the ball with a swing that bottoms out after the ball has been struck.

When you hit a golf ball you have to aim at something. I don’t mean the green ahead of you, for example. I mean something on the ground, something right in front of you that want the clubhead to hit.

Most people aim for the back of the ball. When you aim there, the downward arc of the swing will bottom out at that point so the clubface momentarily travels parallel to the ground. The club sweeps the ball into the air and the result is one of those lazy fliers we think are good shots.

To hit that crisp iron shot, do two things.

First, shift the swing arc forward so it bottoms out at a spot in front of the ball. An easy way to accomplish that is direct your attention to a spot about one inch in front of the ball once you’re ready to swing. Ignore the ball, and aim your strike for that spot.

Second, make sure your hands get to the ball before the clubhead does. The idea of dragging or pulling the club through impact is helpful.

To be avoided is the thought of pushing the clubhead through the ball with the right hand. That is what makes the hands slow down. Impact becomes a flicking motion, with rarely leads to a clean strike.

Having done both these things, you’ll catch the ball cleanly, trapping the ball between the club and the ground as the club heads down to the bottom. The result will be that breathtaking ball flight, straight, high, and far.

Take some time to work this out at the range. You might start by aiming for a point directly underneath the ball, and as you get the idea, gradually move the aim spot forward until you find the spot where you get the best results.

As far as leading the clubhead though with your hands goes, that starts the moment you bring the club down from the top of the backswing. Keep your hands and wrists in the position they’re in until the momentum of the swing releases them.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

Quotes

“The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing what he should do.”

Ben Hogan

“To improve your golf the first stage is not necessarily to change your swing, but to learn to do your best swing more often.”

Vivien Saunders

“It is true that if you cannot putt you cannot win, for no hole is won until the ball is down—but good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.”

Percy Boomer

“I can outhit many men, much to their embarrassment, for suddenly they are pitting…their strength against mine. That’s foolish. They aren’t competing with my strength; they’re competing with the efficiency of my swing.”

Mickey Wright

“The average golfer’s chances of developing good judgement are better than his chances of radically transforming his golf swing.”

Raymond Floyd

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com