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.