The Ball Makes No Difference

I played golf with my grandson (15) yesterday. He is getting the hang of things, hitting the ball long and straight on occasion. Much of the time, though, he hits it fat — ground first, ball second — the opposite of what is supposed to happen. So I did a bit of looking.

Note: he plays left-handed, so this analysis will read backwards for most of you.

I stood behind him and held up a golf club in front of me so it bisected his body vertically as he got into his address position for a rehearsal swing. He shifted a little bit to the left of the golf shaft on the backswing, and handsomely to the right of it on his follow-through. His clubhead brushed the ground just like it should. So far, so good.

I watched again when he stepped up to the ball. Same thing on the backswing, but on the through swing and follow-through, he didn’t move at all. When he finished his swing, his body was still bisecting the shaft, proving that his weight had remained on his left side.

In addition, his swing slowed down a bit. Not much, but enough to be noticeable.

What this means to me that his mind was on the ball. Now there is something for his club to hit, everything changes. He wants to be sure he doesn’t miss it, and that’s what he ends up doing.

Like I said before, there are times when he hits a beautiful-sounding shot that goes long and straight, and you can’t do that by luck alone.

A lot of things go through a golfer’s mind, and on the occasions when nothing much does, we succeed.

But when we think the purpose of the golf swing is to hit the ball, it all falls apart. When we try to get the ball in the air, we don’t. When we try to make sure of contact, we mishit or miss altogether.

There is nothing about having a ball in front of you that should change anything you do with your golf swing.

Yet only the very best players, the low single-digit handicappers and better, manage to play like that. The rest of us remain ball-bound.

There are two cures for this. My grandson applied one on the eighth hole, which slopes upward to the green. With the ball on an upslope, you do not want to swing along the upslope, but swing into the hill. I showed him the difference and he did just that.

The result was him hitting the ball first, the ground second, and he got the cleanest strike of the day and the most powerful, straight shot out of it. Now just do that on flat ground and he’s got it.

The second cure is more difficult, because it has to do with your mind. You need a new conception of the golf swing. You can only get so good by thinking that the swing is about hitting the golf ball, and it will take you along time to get there if you do.

The correct conception is based on the feel of a good golf shot. The best players know before they step up to the ball how it all should feel. Lesser players become aware of the feeling after the shot has been made.

You can start playing this way right now if you want to. There is no rule that says you have to be a 5 before you do. Here’s how to do it: instead of your technique leading up to impact, it should lead you to a satisfying follow-through.

Tiger Woods, Media Critic

Well, just when golf is getting non-existent at the recreational level (see: weather) and boring at the professional level, Tiger comes to our rescue, as we always hope he will.

This time, it’s his prickly (putting it mildly) response to Dan Jenkins’s mock interview with Woods that is on the newsstands in the December edition of Golf Digest.

Jenkins is a serious golf writer whose side job is as a devastating satirist of the sports world. All Jenkins did is (a) ask Woods a few questions, questions we would like to ask Tiger ourselves, and since Tiger wasn’t there to answer the questions, (b) made up Tiger’s answers.

These answers are not, of course, what Tiger would have said had he actually been asked the questions, but they are the real answers to the questions.

Which upsets Tiger greatly. Mark Steinberg, too, but more on him later.

I think it’s a really funny interview, and any other subject would too. But not Tiger. The Woods image, or what is left of it, is sacrosanct and is not to be trifled with without his permission.

But Jenkins went ahead anyway, the little imp.

Now assuming you paused at the top of this post to read the interview (go ahead, the link’s right there, I can wait), please tell me what is off? What doesn’t hit home?

About the only thing we don’t know is for real is the comment about what a lousy tipper Woods is. But if that’s it, what is all the fuss?

Like Woods writing a 600-word invective (OK, I just assumed Tiger wrote it). In a moment of great irony, Woods said “the concocted article was below the belt.”

Below the belt, yeah, but it wasn’t Jenkins’s article that was below the belt. It was you and Rachel Uchitel, Jaimee Grubbs, Jamie Jungers, Mindy Lawton, oh, you get the point.

Like Steinberg, his agent, releasing a letter complaining about the abysmal journalistic standards GD sunk to by printing the “interview” and demanding a formal apology.

Good grief. Woods and Steinberg still think when they say “Jump,” people are still saying “How high?” All that was over in November 2009.

You know the irony of all this, that Woods and Steinberg are just too self-righteous and opaque to get? That if they had ignored it, there would have been no controversy and in two weeks the interview would have been lost to history.

But just like Jennifer Lawrence, who made a stink about the nudes of her being published online so everyone would know they could be found and went to stare at them for an hour, while the other three women who also had nudes posted of them by the same hacker and said nothing and I’ll bet you don’t even know what their names are, W&S elevated Jenkins’s work to the front pages. They did his PR work for him!

Talk about a pair of boobs.

Tiger Woods. I just love this guy. He so doesn’t get it. He’s grist for every writer’s mill.

The Importance of Lie Angle

The golf club’s shaft runs down to the hosel, which takes off at an angle to the clubhead. That angle, called the lie angle, contributes to the direction the ball goes when you hit it, and more.

Golf club manufacturers build standard lie angles into their mass-produced clubs. There’s a good chance the standard lie angles do not fit your physique and swing, just like a suit off the rack in your size fits sort of, but not quite right. Just like you would get that suit tailored, part of a club fitting is getting the lie angle right.

Here’s why lie angle is important. If your clubs are too upright (the lie angle is too large), the club will be tilted toward you at impact, causing the clubface to face to the left of its address position, and the ball will go left. Conversely, if your lie angle is too small, the lie is too flat and you will tend to hit the ball to the right. (See drawing)

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The more lofted the club, the more pronounced this effect is.

In addition, a club with the wrong lie angle will tend to strike the ball with a glancing blow. That will cause you to lose distance, the ball will fly lower and have less backspin, and the strike will never feel solid.

There’s an easy way to check whether the lie angle on your clubs is right for you. Get a Sharpie with a wide tip and draw a line on the ball. Put the ball down so the line is perfectly vertical and against the clubface when you address the ball. Now go ahead and hit the ball.

If the lie angle is correct, you will have a vertical stripe of ink on your clubface. If the lie is too upright, the stripe will lean toward the toe. Too flat, toward the heel. If there’s something wrong, get it corrected. This is a simple adjustment on a loft and lie machine.

The reason you want to get wrong lie angles corrected is that if you don’t, you have to introduce a compensation into your swing to make the ball go straight. It’s a lot easier to fix the club than to adjust your swing.

Get the lie angle on your irons checked every year if you play a lot of golf. Repeated impact against the ground can cause this angle to change.

You can use the theory of lie angles to help you play a shot from a sidehill lie. Imagine the ball being above your feet. When you address the ball, the bank raises the toe of the club, making the clubface point left of the swing path. So, aim right to compensate.

The opposite is true when the ball is below your feet. The clubface is now facing to the right, so aim the shot to the left of your target.

Repeat Your Last Golf Lesson

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago about golf. Big surprise, right? He said he had taken lessons but wasn’t hitting the ball any better. He still didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing.

I asked him whether he had hit the ball better at the end of the lesson than he was at the start. He said, “Oh, yes.” But then a few days after the lesson, he was back where he started.

This is a common problem with a simple cause. In the thirty minutes or hour of the lesson, he had not internalized everything the instructor taught. Say he was taught ten, but he might have picked up only three. So most of the lesson still eludes him.

And no wonder he doesn’t hit the ball any better. He could DO it at the end of the lesson, but he didn’t KNOW it. It hadn’t become his own knowledge.

The solution, like the problem, is simple. Repeat the lesson. Go to the pro and ask for the same lesson over again. Just say, “I didn’t get everything and I want to go over it one more time.”

That’s not saying you’re stupid, quite the contrary. It’s being pretty smart. It’s saying to the pro, “Work with me until I understand it.” That’s real smart.

Maybe there are a few things you can learn the first time. Maybe others will take more than one lesson, or two. A good teacher will give you all the time you need to get it. You don’t exasperate a teacher when you say, “Tell me again.” What you do is show the teacher here is someone who truly wants to learn. Teachers appreciate having students like that.

If this is you, if your last lesson just isn’t clicking, don’t blame the teacher and don’t blame yourself. Keep working with the pro until you get it all down.

Look, the touring pros do the same thing. They have their swing coaches who cover the same stuff, over and over again. If the best golfers in the world do this, why wouldn’t you?

2014 Winter Improvement Plan

The rainy season has landed on the Pacific Northwest with a vengeance. The last good day to play golf was a week ago. We’ll have a few good days here and there, but if you’re in a rainy climate, too, spend your golfing getting better for next year.

Here is a practice program for winter of 2014-5.

Swing. Learn to hit the ball straight. All good golf depends on this. My Six Fundamentals show you how to do that.

Chipping. If your ball is three feet off the green and the pin is 30 feet away, do you routinely leave the chip tap-in close? There’s no reason you can’t learn to.

This is the easiest shot in the game and expectations are so low. You don’t have to get the ball in the hole, just close to it.

I’m serious about this now, get a lesson and have the pro teach you the shot from start to finish. I did a few years ago. I was a pretty good chipper, but I told the pro, “Pretend I’ve never chipped before. Teach me how to do it.”

What he showed me was entirely different than what I had been doing, and much more effective. It will be for you, too.

Pitching. If you’re from 30 to 90 yards from the green, can you guarantee getting the ball on with one shot? You might be surprised, if you counted, how many strokes you lose if you can’t guarantee that simple result.

This winter, when you’re at the range, buy two buckets. One is for your full swing, the other is for pitching. Only for pitching. Learn the shot, calibrate your wedges to hit the ball to pre-determined distances. Pitch every time you visit the range.

Do not take this shot for granted. When you start getting up and down from 60 yards, you’ll thank me.

Trouble shots. Learn how to hit the ball off uneven lies. I have YouTube videos on all of them.

Learn how to hit the ball low, and how to hit it high. Learn how to draw the ball, and fade it, intentionally. Learn how to hit out of rough.

I’ll be making videos of those skills come the first sunny day. Once you have the idea, they don’t take much practice at all.

Putting. Learn to make 3-foot putts by doing the circle drill. Go all around the hole hitting 3-footers, the length of your putter. Take ten putts to get around the circle.

Memorize the feel of hitting a 30-foot putt. Learn how to adjust for an uphill putt and a downhill putt. Do this every time you visit the range.

Then go play putting games that you make up. I won’t tell you what mine are. Have your own fun on the practice green, and stay on it putting for at least twenty minutes.

Thinking. All those skills won’t help you as much as they could if you can’t use them effectively on the course. That comes down to your state of mind when you’re hitting the ball. My book, The Golfing Self, shows you how to make sure you are mentally ready for every shot.

You spend lots of time training your body, why not train your mind as well?