The perfect backswing

“You don’t hit the ball with your backswing,” Stewart Maiden is said to have said to Bobby Jones. What he meant at the time was there is no need to rush the club to the top. But I’m talking about the obvious fact.

A good backswing puts you into a position to hit the ball with much less effort than a bad one does. Bringing the club down into the ball is difficult enough. Having to compensate for being out of position is an unnecessary complication.

Contact is the rage nowadays, and everyone is concentrating on that, forgetting that you have to do step one correctly before you can do step two.

Here’s a drill that you might have seen recently, but is quite old. It’s even described in Ben Hogan’s first book, Power Golf, and I’m sure it’s older than that. It is designed to show you what your perfect backswing position is.

Set up to the ball as in photo 1.

Now hinge your wrists upwards, keeping everything else still, as in photo 2. Notice that my hands are in the same place.

Now make your turn, letting your body carry your arms around, as in photo 3. You might have to lift your hands a little bit to elevate the club above your shoulders.

Where you are now is exactly where you need to be to bring the club into the ball simply and powerfully.

Do this exercise repeatedly to memorize what the position of your perfect backswing feels like. After a while, you will be able to swing up to this position from your standard address position, without hinging your wrists first.

Any work you do on your swing from this point on will be much, much easier.

What I learned at the range – 7

1. I have this problem with hooking the ball off the tee. Not the classic draw that all the pros say recreational players should learn how to hit.

It’s more like a hook that looks like it’s turning down even as it’s rising off the ground, if it even gets that high. Low left, aim at the right edge of the fairway and hope it doesn’t run out into the rough on the other side.

All in all, a useless shot, and I’ve had enough. If this shot is yours, too, pay attention.

I teed the ball lower, aimed a bit left, squared the clubface to my aim line, and took the club back a bit outside. I brought it into the ball a bit outside, too. Not a lot, a bit. It doesn’t take much of a change in impact geometry to make a big difference.

The result is a shot that takes off along the aim line, gets good elevation, turns a bit to the right and stays in the fairway. Love that last bit.

And it stayed in, shot after shot. Try this if low, running hooks with your driver are making you crazy.

2. They say “14 clubs, one swing.” (Well, maybe not your putter.) I don’t agree. The swing I described to you above works with my hybrid irons, too, but not with my irons, especially my short irons.

The swing I find more productive with those clubs is my standard swing, which brings the clubhead into the ball low and on line. I can keep the clubface square with my irons more easily than with the longer clubs, so it all works out.

That means I have two swings, one for the big-headed clubs, and another for the small-headed clubs.

3. Want to know how to hit that wedge shot that flies low into the green, bites once, and stops? It’s easy.

Hit it with a sand wedge by taking the clubhead back very low and letting the wrists hinge. As the clubhead comes back into the ball, let the wrists hinge back to where they were at address as you meet the ball, but at that point arrest the hinging. Keep the back of the left hand in a straight line with the left arm as you follow through.

Important! Keep the clubhead very low in the follow-through, and keep the clubface aimed at your target. Do not let it rotate over.

All this will put lots of spin on the ball. It will hit and stop within a few feet of where it lands.

Use this shot if you have to chip from, say, twenty yards to a pin in front with no room for roll-out. You get that a lot, and if you can hit this shot, you’ll get up and down at last.

Anchoring ban forces PGA players to examine options

Several PGA Tour players are “exploring their options” regarding the recent ban by the USGA on the anchored putting stroke.

A group of nine players has retained Henry L. Manion III of the law firm of Cooley Manion Jones. The group includes Tim Clark, Carl Petterson, and Adam Scott.

On the one hand, courts are reluctant to say that the governing body of a sport cannot make its own rules. On the other hand, if this rule prevents a player from pursuing his livelihood, a case could be made for eliminating the rule.

The rule, 14-1b, which is not based on any evidenced competitive advantage, but on cosmetics and an odd conception of golf’s traditions, takes effect in 2016.

Challenge the hole

You will hit more greens if you add five yards to the distance you’re going to play the shot to. Most touring professionals say that a major mistake amateurs make is not using enough club when hitting into the green. That’s how to correct it.

Adding five yards builds in a margin for error that we are likely to end up needing.

We never hit the ball as well as we think we will. We might hit a little fat, or a little off center. We need to plan on hitting the kind of shot we hit most of the time, not the best shot we hit some of the time.

The general advice you get is to figure out the club you want to hit and then add one more. I would not recommend you follow that advice. It’s going in the right direction, but it can set up doubt since it is a rigid rule that does not take the course in front of you into account.

Don’t think you run the risk of flying the green. Most greens are quite deep. Walk five paces onto a green, which is where the ball lands most of the time. Now walk ten more paces. That’s one more club. Walk another ten paces. That’s two more clubs from the first spot, and you’re still on the green with plenty of room left.

Only if the pin is in back of the green should you not apply this 5-yard rule, but you would want to play short of the pin in that case anyway.

Another benefit of playing long in this way is that you are encouraged to make a gentler stroke. There is no need to hit the ball hard because you don’t need to. Even with a slight mishit you’ll get the ball to the green.

A third reason why playing long is best is that trouble around the green lies most often in the front. By knowing you shot will carry the ball comfortably over all of it, you can hit your shot with confidence.

Remember, no one is impressed with what club you choose. Rather they are impressed by what you get out of it. Use enough club, hit lots of greens, and they’ll think you’re really good. Nothing wrong with that.

Consistently good golf

Most golfers say they want to be consistent, little realizing that they already are. What they want to be is consistently good, a claim few golfers can make.

Today’s post was written twelve years ago by Bob Madsen for the defunct website, lessonsingolf.com. Madsen is a PGA pro and currently Director of Instruction at the Sycuan Golf and Tennis Resort in El Cajon, California.

It is the best piece I have ever read on what it takes to become a consistently good golfer. Honest, straightforward, and valuable.

Here is “Do the Reps and Work Your Way Up,” by Bob Madsen:

“One of the many things my students are asking for is more consistency. ‘I just want to be more consistent’ comes the cry.

“Well, this seems a valid request as we all know how much fun it is to do well repeatedly. Better worded though, we might all be asking for more ‘repeat ability.’

“Repeated success gives us a feeling like, “Hey. I can really do this!” Isolated success does not. Being able to repeatedly, for example, hole out putts from four feet brings joy and refreshment, not to mention lower scores.

“Anytime we can really do it and do it over and over and over again it feels good. And isn’t that what we all want – to feel good?

“Repeat ability is therapeutic. As you gain in your ability to repeat a skill – like being able to get out of a bunker – you will just plain be better off out there. You will be more relaxed, friendly, fun to be around and full of confidence. Repeat ability really is the source of trust.

“So, we have a few concepts here that I urge you to get a grip on. Consistency really is just repeat ability. And repeat ability will give you trust and confidence.

“Now for the kicker. How do you get more repeat ability? There is only one way and that is by repetition. You must spend time doing the reps. You will not become more consistent while reading Golf Digest or watching the Golf Channel.

“You are not going to be more unfailingly skilled by going off of the latest tips and pointers, band-aids, and quick-fixes. You will not find more consistency while you are in line at Starbucks. You will also not get better if you are out there on the range flailing and failing over and over again with the latest big head driving club.

“The only way to get more consistent and really be able to repeat success is with lots of repeated success in practice. For example, if you want to hole more putts, you have to go spend hours and hours sinking putts. I am talking about starting six inches from the hole if you have to. Hole 100 in a row. Then, move back an inch.

“Here is the recipe. Find something you know you can do and do lots and lots of it. Then, go for a LITTLE, tiny bit more.

“If you want more repeat ability so you can dazzle your friends and really leave the golf course refreshed, practice succeeding. Succeed over and over and over again.

“I promise, before you will ever be able to hit the driver consistently, you will have to be almost tour caliber with a seven iron. You’ve got to work your way up. You’ve got to earn consistency. It is well worth the effort.”

Thank you, Bob, for your permission to reprint this tip.

USGA adopts the anchored putting ban

The R&A and USGA announced earlier today that the proposed anchored putting ban would be put into effect beginning in 2016. A jointly-issued report explaining the decision was issued.

At 40 pages, and reading like a legal brief, the report tries to backfill a position that boils down to, “It looks funny.”

The basis of their position is that the anchored stroke is not in the tradition of the game, which is that the golf ball must be hit with a freely swinging club. In the entire 40 pages, is always comes back to that.

Let’s look at what golf is. The essence of the game is simple. You put a ball on the ground, at a designated spot, and try to hit it into an associated hole, which lies at some remove, in as few hits as you can. That’s it!

To make golf a game, two other principles were established. You have to have to hit the ball. You can’t scoop it or push it. Also, you have to play the ball from where it lies.

Every rule is designed either to support those concepts, or to provide guidance when unusual circumstances arise (for example, what do you do when you hit your ball into a pond?)

There is a large book of decisions, which is essentially a casebook, that shows how the rules are applied to specific instances, and prevents players from taking undue advantage of a rule.

An appropriate analogy would be that the rules are the statutes of golf, and the decisions are the administrative rules that implement the statutes.

Golf’s two governing bodies, however, decided to create a new tradition, which is that the club is always freely swung.

Of course, you have to freely swing a driver. If you want to anchor your driver, go ahead. Maybe you could hit the ball 100 yards that way. Or if you want to anchor your sand wedge for hitting in a bunker, please do, but good luck getting the ball out.

Those strokes require the club to be freely swung. That’s not golf; it’s physics.

Putting is different, though. You can anchor your club and still strike the ball effectively given the demands of the stroke. That’s physics, too.

A legalistic argument establishes the authority for making such a rules change. On page 21, the report lists examples of rules changes made in other sports for the good of those games. This is to say that the USGA has the right to change rules for the good of the game.

– in American football that restricted the “bump and run” technique and eliminated or altered many other established techniques of using the head, hands or body in blocking, tackling or running;

– the lowering of the pitching mound and changes in the size of the strike zone in baseball;

– the creation of the three-point shot in basketball and various rule changes limiting the use of hands and altering other defensive techniques;

In the case of football, some rules were changed to remove dangerous practices that caused player injuries. In all three of these sports, rules were changed to introduce more scoring due to advances in defensive strategies. The games were getting boring for spectators, without whom the sport would really not exist.

Golf is not a spectator sport. It is a recreational game. Rules are not needed to protect us from being injured by our playing partners, or from boring the thousands of fans who don’t watch us play.

The entire argument centers around the notion that banning anchored putting is in the best interests of the game, but we are never informed exactly what those interests are.

Perhaps the silliest argument, and one I can’t believe they even bring up, regards bifurcation.

– An integral part of the game’s appeal is that golfers of all levels can play the same courses with the same equipment and under the same Rules, enabling even the casual golfer to compare his or her performance to that of the most elite players and, at times, to play as good a shot as the elite player.

First of all, do full-grown adults still think “I’m, Rory McIlroy,” when they’re about to hit a wedge to a tucked pin? I thought you stopped doing that when you were 12.

And second, let me compare you to Tiger Woods once and for all. If Tiger were to play your course twice, so he could learn it, he would play from the tips and never shoot over 62 thereafter. Any questions?

And, yes, I have sunk a 30-foot putt. That in no way made me think I was ready for the Tour.

They say,

– The USGA and The R&A are committed to the principle that a single set of Rules for all players of the game, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths.

So what is softball all about? What is flag/touch football all about? What is no-check hockey all about?

Bobby Jones, the force behind banning the croquet-style putting stroke, said, “There are two kinds of golf — just plain golf and tournament golf.” How true that is.

Just as there are two versions of the three sports I mentioned, so are there two kinds of golf. I’m out there to have fun with my friends. I’m not trying to win a major competitive championship.

Here is a one-page set of rules that would be all that’s necessary for an honorable and enjoyable game of golf. The the pro’s dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

And while we’re on the subject, bifurcation exists right now. I reference the groove rule.

There are many other arguments in the report that I could respond to, but this post is long enough already. With all due respect to USGA President Nager, a high-powerd attorney, I hope he never takes arguments as flimsy as this into the Supreme Court chambers. He wouldn’t last two seconds.

To conclude my rant, the report keeps referring to the long-term good of the game without really saying how anchored putting would adversely affect it.

Golf is a recreational game. We just want to have fun. If you want to anchor your putter, that’s fine with me. I still have fun. My golfing experience is in no way diminished in the presence of someone who anchors.

Just as the guy I played with once who beat this weed near his ball into submission so he could have an unobstructed chip doesn’t bother me. If that’s the way he wants to play golf, it doesn’t take anything away from the way I play.

The USGA has no authority over my game that I do not give it. There is no need to quit playing because you can’t anchor anymore (or beginning in 2016), or even stop anchoring because the USGA has a rule.

The solution is to sever your relation to the USGA. Just go out and play. Forget about having a handicap. Yes, that means forgoing tournaments, and there would be some loss in that. But golf is your game, and you can choose your own approach to it.

I played golf for over 40 years without having a handicap, and I did just fine. Had lots of fun. I have a handicap now, but it will be frozen from this day forward. I’m not turning in any more scores. When my USGA membership comes up for renewal, I will decline.

I just want to play golf.

And so you know, I don’t anchor. I tried it once and found it to be too much bother.

The unbroken flow of moments

“The world we live in is characterized by change. Every day we wake up a bit different than we were yesterday. Each passing moment gives us a new world to live in. We do not live in the same world we lived in yesterday, one minute ago, or even one second ago. The nature of the world is change. To be one with that world, your mind needs to be in tune with the present moment, not with the moment before this one, nor the moment to come. The concept of the present moment is necessarily dynamic.

“As soon as this moment arrives, it departs and a new one takes its place. The present moment is continually being renewed. It cannot be held on to, for as soon as you try, you are operating in the past. That moment is now part of the world as it was, not as it is now. To live wholly in the world, the mind must be moving along with the movement of the world. In other words, live with what can be called a ‘moving mind.’

“Most of the time, changes are so slight that they are imperceptible. You might say, “I can stand beside my golf ball for as long as you want me to, and it’s still going to be 174 yards from the green, on a downhill lie, with a pin on the left next to a bunker. None of that is going to change.” I would agree with you, but that is only one way to interpret what you’re seeing.

“You are not projecting a golf shot into a still image, like a painting or a photograph. You are hitting the ball into an environment that is changing in subtle ways which are noticeable if your perception changes with it. The course ahead of you will accept many different shots. By allowing your perception of the course to change moment by moment, you’ll find the shot you need to hit.

“As each moment comes, the golf course tells you its story, creating an impression with you. As another moment comes, a new story is told, creating a new impression, continuing on until the right choice presents itself clearly. I found the hybrid shot in a crosswind when I stopped trying to figure it out logically, and let the course reach into my thinking and put the shot together for me.

“When your mind is moving, impressions get created in your mind that permeate themselves into your body. The physical execution of the shot will be in accord with, and a physical expression of, your mental feeling of the shot. The physical feeling you are experiencing is the mental feeling made material. Wherever you are, there is a positive shot you can hit. Looking with a moving mind is the way to find it.”

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

What I learned at the range – 6

Yesterday I went to the range with my 60-degree wedge and my putter. I started with the wedge.

1. Chipping off a downhill slope. I had no luck trying to finesse the ball downhill by sliding the clubface through the ball with the face open. Next I tried setting up with the ball just outside my right foot (that’s WAY back in the stance) and using a normal chipping stroke. That worked a lot better.

If you have a good way to hit this shot, please comment below.

2. Short pitches to tight pins. Open the clubface, set up to the left of the pin, aim the clubface at the pin, and slide the club under the ball, swinging along your stance line, keeping the clubhead low on the follow-through. Opening the clubface more or less will send the ball shorter or longer, respectively, with the same swing.

All that took about 45 minutes. On to the putter.

3. Practiced distance control using six balls. First, the short stroke, that goes about 15 feet. Hit all six without looking up. They will end up in a tight cluster if your stroke is consistent. Then a medium stroke, ~25 feet, and a long stroke, ~35 feet, again, hitting six balls into a cluster without looking up until the last ball is hit.

4. Practiced with my knitting needles. This is a good way to learn to square your putterface to the line and to make a stroke that goes along the target line.

5. Two-, three-, and four-foot putts with four balls. I measure this by hooking the putterhead inside the cup, laying the putter on the green, and placing a ball at (a) the end of the shaft, (b) the end of the grip, and (c) the end of the grip plus one shoe-length. Putt four balls laid down at N, E, S, and W. Repeat with balls laid down at diagonals to the first setup – NW, SW, SW, and NE. That’s 24 putts in all.

6. Breaking putts, using the Vector Putting method. 12-foot and three-foot putts to a hole on a slope, using the same scheme as in #5.

7. Lag putts, using a completely intuitive method of getting the speed right. I stand behind the ball, swing the putter back and forth, letting the green inform me what the right stroke is. Sounds odd, but once I know the speed of the greens, I can’t go wrong with this method. Figure it out for yourself, because there’s no way I can explain it more than I just did.

8. In all of this, I’m practicing my pre-putt routine: find the speed, find the line. Step up to the ball and place the putterhead in front of the ball, square to the line. Step into the putt, parallel to the line. Bring the putter around (not over) the ball, place it behind the ball, wait one beat, and go. From the time I place the putter head in front of the ball to takeaway requires seven seconds.

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

Slow play on the Tour

I don’t normally devote a column to professional golf, but I thought I would talk about an article by Jaime Diaz in the May 13, 2013 GolfWorld that many of you might not have access to. It explains why the pace of play on the PGA Tour is so slow and what can be done about it. It’s not as simple a problem as you might think.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about how slow the Tour is. Five-hour rounds are common, and despite the slow play penalty given to young Tianlang Guan at the Masters earlier this year, Friday afternoon threesomes took 5 hours and 40 minutes for complete their round.

It should be noted, regarding the penalty given to young Guan, that he was asked four times to speed up, but playing slowly is a habit he could not break.

Chinese journalists were asked if they thought he had been singled out, and they said, “On, no, He’s really slow. He needs to speed up.”

Diaz lists seven reasons why play is so slow, not making excuses for any of them.

1. Firmer and faster greens require more careful study.

2. Courses are longer and more difficult.

3. Players who hit the ball longer are waiting for the green to clear on par 5s instead of hitting a second shot short and moving on.

4. Sports psychologists encourage longer pre-shot routines.

5. Yardage books and green charts are more involved.

6. Players precisely align their ball when they putt, often even for the shortest ones.

7. There are longer and more frequent discussions with their caddies.

Each of these little things adds up.

The current slow play policy is to give players in a group that is out of position, more than one hole behind, 40 seconds to hit their shot. A player going over this limit is warned, and if it happens a second time while the group is out of position, the player is given a one-stroke penalty.

The last time this policy was enforced was in 1995, when Glen (“All”) Day was nicked.

If the group is not out of position, a player may take as much time as he wants to.

What to do?

A lot of it has to to with peer pressure and awareness. Many slow players don’t think they’re slow, and get upset when you tell them they are. I’ve talked about that before. Slow is many people’s normal speed.

The policy could be changed to eliminate the warning and go directly to the penalty.

Another would be to speed up play in developmental competition. The AJGA has time stations at several places around the course, and the average time is 4:19.

Things slow way down in college golf, though, where most of the new Tour players learn to play at high levels. They come to the Tour having learned to take lots of time.

Change is possible, though.

A notoriously slow player named Richard Johnson was in the first twosome of the final round of a tournament, which had tournament officials quite worried. He could set back the entire field.

Johnson assured them he would not dawdle because he had an airplane to catch. He finished the round in under four hours, shot a 64, and vowed never to play slowly again.

Most people, and even touring professionals are people, find that when they play faster, they play better, and golf is much more enjoyable.

As for the Tour aggressively speeding things up, that won’t happen until there’s enough motivation to build a consensus among the players. That might take a while.

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

Don’t ground the clubhead

When you’re ready to hit the ball, it’s natural to rest the clubhead on the ground just behind the ball. Let me suggest that you not do this. Instead, hover the clubhead just above the ground. Why? How about six reasons?

1. Hovering the club makes it harder to squeeze the club with your hands. Light grip pressure is one of the keys to better ball-striking. This method makes you more sensitive to how firmly you are holding the club.

2. Your posture will be better. That is, you will stand up straighter, not getting yourself hunched over. When you bend over to rest the clubhead on the ground, there is a tendency to settle a bit more after the clubhead gets there. Hovering the clubhead prevents that tendency.

3. Your takeaway is smoother. It’s hard to snatch the clubhead away from the ball when it is already in the air. You have to start off the swing slowly and gently, which leads into a swing controlled by your best tempo and rhythm. It helps maintain your balance throughout the swing, too.

4. Because you’re starting the swing slowly, you’ll turn rather than sway off the ball. The center of your swing stays over the ball instead of shifting to one side, meaning your swing will find the ball again instead of the ground behind it.

5. This is a big one — cleaner contact. One imperative of the strike is ball first, ground second. When the club is already in the air behind the ball, it’s in the position it needs to be at contact from the very start. If you rest the club on the ground at address, you have to raise it up a bit through impact. When you hover, just bring the club back to where it started out. Much easier.

6. You avoid a penalty. When you set the clubhead on the ground behind the ball, you have addressed it, according to the rules. If it moves before you hit it with your stroke, you could be penalized two strokes. By hovering the clubhead, you have never addressed the ball. Now if it moves, there is no penalty.

It doesn’t take very much practice at all to get used to hitting the ball with this adjustment. Remember that all you need do is keep the clubhead off the ground. It doesn’t have to be way up in the air. Half an inch will do.

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