A Putting Drill

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a 4-foot metal ruler. It’s just a couple bucks.

Lay the ruler down on the floor and put a golf ball in the center of the ruler at about the 40-inch mark or so.

Putting ruler

Now putt the ball down the length of the ruler so it stays between the numbers on each side.

Try not to manipulate the ball down the ruler. The ball staying between the numbers is an indicator, not the goal.

Just staying on the ruler doesn’t count. The ball has to run the length of the ruler in the center.

If you need to make a correction, do, but when you hit the ball, trust your stoke and see what happens.

The practice green, is for learning pace and green-reading. Develop your stroke at home. This is a good way to do it.

2016 PGA Championship Preview

This year’s PGA returns to the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, site of 15 USGA championships and this the second PGA.

Official website.

The club was founded in 1895 on the site of farmland once owned by Baltus Roll. The original course was plowed up when architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to build a second course. The Upper and Lower courses were the result.

This year’s PGA will be played on the Lower Course, which is shaped something like a dumbbell. After a tight cluster formed by the first four holes, the 5th and 6th take off to connect another cluster of holes, 7 though 16. The 17th and 18th lead straight back to the clubhouse parallel to 5 and 6.

Two holes of note on the course, which will play to 7,462 yards, are the 4th and the 17th.

Baltusrol 4th hole

4th hole, Baltusrol

Robert Trent Jones toughened up the course for the 1954 U.S. Open. Members thought he had made the 4th hole too tough. So Jones went to the 4th tee with club pro Johnny Farrell, the club president, and the chairman of the Open committee. After the first three had hit, Jones teed up, hit on, and the ball rolled in for a hole-in-one. “As you can see, gentlemen,” Jones said, “this hole is not too tough.”

The par-3 hole plays at 196 yards this week.

Baltusrol 17th hole

17th hole, Baltusrol

The 17th hole is likely (I don’t have the data) the longest hole in major championship golf, at 650 yards, uphill at the end. A series of cross-bunkers challenge the second shot, which can be carried only following a long tee shot. Most golfers will lay up short of them. Reaching the green in two will be possible, but who besides the likes of Dustin, Bubba, or Tony Finau might try it?

In general, the course is straightforward. Hit fairways, hit greens, and you’ll be all right. The greens have subtle breaks, a little here, a little there, but are not easy.

The bunkers come in many shapes and depths, are not too plentiful (see Oakmont), but seem always to be in the right place.

The first three major championships of the year all have their devoted followers who say their favorite is the best one. Hardly anyone says that about the PGA. But it’s played on top-quality courses, it has arguably the best field of the four majors, and it has a strong list of past champions.

Maybe the mark against it is that it also has a longer list of what’s-this-guy-doing-winning-a major champions in modern times than any of the others.

Who will win? I know Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson will get a lot of support in the press. The easy way to write an article like that is to be a front-runner.

I’m going to pick Bubba Watson. If it were the U.S. Open being played here, forget it. But it’s not the U.S. Open, it’s the PGA, and the course will more forgiving, the kind Bubba needs to win on. It’s long and so is Bubba.

There’s the limb I’m out on. Make your pick, watch, then rest up for Olympic Golf in two weeks.

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of the nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo — 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they realized who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

[April 2018 note: Now that The Golf Fix is no longer on the air, it’s even more important that you read this blog, because where else are you going find instruction that speaks to your game?]

2016 Open Championship Preview

Winner: Henrik Stenson by three strokes over Phil Mickelson

The oldest and most respected major championship in golf begins this week at the Royal Troon Golf Club, on the west coast of Scotland in the town of Troon, which is near no place you’ve ever heard of unless you live in Scotland. But that’s what Google Maps is for, so do look it up.

See the official Open Championship website.

This the 145th Open Championship, and the 9th at Troon. The last three winners here have been unexpected champions, Todd Hamilton in 2004, Justin Leonard in 1997, and Mark Calcavecchia in 1989. Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf won before that, but Arnold Palmer defending his title here in 1962 played a large role in elevating the status of the tournament such that American players began to regard this trip abroad in July as a requirement.

The links course will play at 7,190 yards to par 71. It is designed in an out and in style, with the 9th green and the 10th tee located at the farthest points on the course from the clubhouse.

The 6th hole, at 601 yards, is the longest hole in Open championship golf. Two holes later comes one of the shortest, the par-3 8th, called “Postage Stamp,” because of the very small green, at a mere 123 yards.

Like the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 12th at Augusta, and the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, this hole is a simple short iron in length, but watch that landing! Deep bunkers surround the tiny green, and shots that are a hair off will roll into one. It would take no effort at all to walk off the green with a 5 without having hit a bad shot — just not enough good ones.

Royal Troon eighth hole

8th Hole — Postage Stamp

Overall, the first three holes are unchallenging, providing players with a comfortable warm-up. The next three holes feature two par fives surrounding a demanding par 3. Holes 7 and 10 run through a series of sandhills, and then begins the test. From 11 to the finish, excepting perhaps the 12th, a golfer is taken to the limits of his or her technical skills and composure.

The course was, without coincidence, built next to a rail line. Expect to see trains race by as players play the 11th hole, with the tee and green right next to the rack. Something like Chambers Bay last year.

As the course is separated from the Firth of Clyde by only a thin strip of sand dunes, the wind plays a prominent role, coming generally from the northwest. It will be behind the players going out, and against them coming in.

Who will win? It’s easy to pick the popular stars, but I’m going with Branden Grace. He has won twice this year, once on the European Tour and once on the PGA tour. He has three top five finishes in major championships since 2015. A victory here should not be a surprise.

Because of the Olympic Games, the PGA Championship will be played only two weeks after this one, at Baltusrol Golf Club on New Jersey. A golfer who gets hot and stays hot could win both!

A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The human body, especially the lower spine, was not designed to withstand the stresses the golf swing places on it. As a recreational golfer, there is no sense in letting your pastime harm your health.

Stress on the back in golf is caused by leaning forward, twisting, and bending to the side. There is also compression, which is the weight of your upper body bearing down vertically on your spine.

You can’t eliminate these stresses, but, except for compression, you can minimize them. Here are a few ways to do that.

NOTE: If you have low back pain right now when you play, something is wrong. Please see a doctor to find out what that is. Continuing to play golf could be making a problem worse.

1. Slow down your swing, including the part where you swing through the ball. All the forces being applied to your back multiply when you swing through the ball, and they the faster you swing, the more force they load onto your lower back.

2. Stand a little closer to the ball. Not a lot, just a few inches. This will put you in a more upright posture and reduce the unsupported mechanical stress that leaning forward places on your lower back. The lie angles of your irons might need to be adjusted, depending on how much closer you set up.

3. Turn your right foot out. To get more hip turn, turn your right foot out 10 degrees or so. Not too much, because you will create problems for yourself on the throughswing. But do not leave that foot square, like Ben Hogan wanted you too.

4. Take a narrower stance. This frees up the hips to turn more, reducing the amount you twist your spine. This point also helps minimize lateral bending, since your right side is now closer to the ball.

5.Play the ball in the center of your stance when it is on the ground. If the ball is too far forward, you will need to put more lateral bend in your back to go get it.

6. Take a shorter backswing. Use the backswing you would use for an 80-yard pitch. This will prevent you from twisting your spine too much, too. Jim McLean wants you to have a big X-factor so you can hit the ball a long way. Your back does not like a big X-factor.

7. Let the left heel float. If it comes off the ground, fine. If it stays there, fine. Just don’t glue it to the ground. Let it do what it wants to do.

8. Let the right leg straighten on the backswing. I know, everybody these days wants you keep the angle in it you had at address. Allowing the right leg to straightening lets you turn your right hip back more, reducing your X-factor. This will not hurt your ball-striking once you get used to it.

9. Keep your weight balanced through impact. Let your weight go left after you have hit the ball, but not before. Putting the weight left early creates excess lateral bending, because while the lower body is going left , the upper body has to stay back where it was until you have hit the ball. There will always be some lateral bending at impact. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Swing the club with your hands, both hands equally. Swing like you one have one clump of hands on the club, not two separate ones. This not only a better way to swing, for technical reasons, but it will prevent you from trying to hit with your right hand, which can induce lateral bending.

11. Finish upright. Your torso should be straight up and down at the finish, not learning toward the right. A line running down the front of your torso and left leg should be straight — no bending your torso backward, or bowing your left leg.

This comprehensive but somewhat technical article from the medical literature explains in detail the relation between golf and low back pain. It would serve you well to read it. (Accessed July 4, 2016.)

[August 2019. In the comment section, I refer to Natalie Gulbis, whose back-unfriendly swing led to back surgery. As of this date, she has had four back surgeries.]

A Driver Drill That Works

OK, OK. In spite of all the times I have said to leave your driver at home if you aren’t breaking 90 yet, you bring it anyway. So ignore me.

But only if you do this drill so you can learn to actually hit the [expletive deleted] thing.

Go to the range with just your driver (like half the other people there do). Get your bucket of 60 balls and do exactly this when you hit each ball. The same thing every time. No deviation.

Take your hands back, slowly, to the height of your shoulders. Or to where your left arm lies parallel to the ground. Now make a smooth, SLOW, rhythmic pass back through the ball, like you’re hitting a gentle lay-up. Remember to swing the club through the ball with hands ahead of the clubhead.

If you do this right, you will hit the ball squarely on the center of the clubface. THAT is the key to hitting your driver.

Do not be concerned at all about how far the ball goes or even in what direction. That is totally irrelevant. Be concerned about one thing only — making contact on the center of the clubface.

If that’s not happening, try slowing down your swing a bit more. If there’s still no joy, make sure your hands are ahead of the clubhead at contact.

Do not manipulate the club to get the result we’re looking for — smooth out your swing instead. Once you get the idea, keep doing it. Over and over. Same thing. Do not think, “I’ve got it!” and start pounding the ball with your full swing. Keep making these slow mini-swings to pound the sensation of a centered hit into your unconscious mind.

When you’re finished, you will have hit 60 balls with a driver and maybe none of them went over 150 yards. But most of them were struck on the CENTER of the clubface.

With this driver drill you are getting expert in the one thing you have to do with this cub — hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

Keep at this drill, and once you get VERY GOOD at it, you might speed up the swing a LITTLE BIT and make the swing a LITTLE BIT longer. But not much. Add to what works in tiny increments.

What about playing? Well, if you wanted to use this swing when you play, could you live with being in every fairway? As you get better at the drill and extend your movement, gradually, without getting greedy, the distance will come, and you’ll still be straight. The driver might become your favorite club in your bag.