The Saudi International

The Saudi International Golf Tournament starts later this week in Saudi Arabia, sponsored by a government that:

Murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi, an act, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, that with “high confidence,” was carried out with the approval of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“High confidence” is term a intelligence agencies use to say, “We’re certain of this, but we don’t like to say certain. But we’re certain.”

Is prosecuting a proxy war in Yemen that is needlessly creating a major humanitarian crisis, the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni citizens.

Arrests, tortures, gives excessive prison sentences to, and even executes political dissidents.

Kidnapped the Lebanese Prime Minister in 2017.

Exfiltrates from the U.S., Saudi nationals studying in Oregon, arrested and facing criminal charges, flouting U. S. laws.

Yet, these golfers are signed up to play: Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, and Bryson DeChambeau. You can see the full field here.

Rose commented, “I’m not a politician.”

Johnson commented, “Unfortunately, it’s in a part of the world where most people don’t agree with what happened, and I definitely don’t support anything like that.”

Most people would not agree with all this, Dustin? Most people? How about anyone in their right mind?

Sorry, guys, this isn’t about politics or what you don’t agree with or support.

Politics is about what federal income tax rates should be, or whether a wall should be built along our southern border. You can agree or disagree, support or not.

What’s happening in Saudi Arabia is different, It’s criminal. It is the crime of the state against individuals, and in the cases of Khashoggi and the Oregon exfiltrations, crimes against the concept of international sovereignty as well.

Mohammed bin Salman is a young man drunk on his own power, not only turning his country into a toxic state, but exporting its terror beyond its borders.

THAT is why playing in the Saudi International is a mistake that the participants have no good answer for.

I don’t expect professional gofers to be experts on current affairs or international relations.

I do expect them to be able to see outrageous behavior clearly and respond appropriately.

The money they say they are playing for?

In the fall of 2018 the Saudis sponsored a conference of world business leaders called the Future Investment Initiative. Following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, these companies and individuals pulled out (not a complete list):

Uber
Fox Business Network
JP Morgan Chase
Blackstone Investment
AOL
Y Combinator
Google
Viacom
NY Times
LA Times
CNN
BlackRock
Ford Motor
The Financial Times
Bloomberg
Siemens
MasterCard
British Trade Secretary Liam Fox
PNB Paribas
Credit Suisse
HSBC
Standard Chartered
Société Générale
The Economist
CNBC
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

These are business that stood to make LOTS of money in Saudi Arabia, and they washed their hands of partnerships for the time being.

But there’s money to be had, so golfers are going. Tell me, how much money is Jamal Khashoggi’s life worth to you?

You guys stand to make more money in one week than the vast majority of people in the world will make in their lifetime, yet you want more.

If what the Saudis are doing is not where you would draw the line, then where is it?

I would also ask, could the winning golfer, in good conscience, stand next to the Crown Prince for a photo at the end of the tournament? Would he really not know what stain that would place on his public image?

Leave the Flagstck In or Take It Out?

The latest sideshow on the PGA Tour is watching the greatest golfers in the world play like they never heard there were any rules changes, and then saying how hard it is to remember to drop from knee-height instead of shoulder height.

Rocket scientists, they ain’t, apparently.

But rule causing the most discussion is the repeal of the two-stroke penalty for hitting the flagstick with a ball putted from the green.

That penalty was adopted in 1968. I started playing in about 1960, when you could leave the pin in, and no one seemed to mind. If you have access to old All-Star Golf videos you can see pros putting while the pin is still in and not being tended. I can’t find the reason why the rule was changed in 1968, but it’s history now.

The USGA alleges that keeping the pin in can speed up play. I would agree with that to some extent. When I play a solo round, I never take the pin out. It speeds up play considerably by not having to walk up to the pin, take it out, lay it (not drop it!) on the green, and walk back to my ball to hit my approach putt.

It’s true that for long approach putts, you get a better sense of how far away the hole is, but you got the same sense in the “old” days by having someone tend the pin. It’s just now you don’t have to take the time to ask. Just putt.

In a foursome, though, what if some players want the pin left in and others want it taken out? Catering to each player’s desires, which they have every right to insist on, could end up taking MORE time when putts get shorter.

As far as scoring goes, leaving the pin in helps you considerably in two ways.

First, it gives you something positive to aim at. Aiming at a hole is trying to hit something that isn’t there. In Better Recreational Golf, I discuss this point on pages 54-55.

Second, the pin acts as a backstop. This is where the controversy lies.

Recently, Edoardo Molinari, brother of 2019 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, did a series of experiments testing the effect of the pin on putts of different lengths and different speeds. His answer is, it depends.

As you might imagine, Dave Pelz also weighed in. He thinks you should always leave the pin in when you putt.

I agree with Pelz, mainly because my putts don’t approach the hole like a freight train. Any putt of mine that hits the pin will go in, not bounce away.

At what distance to the hole does it become silly to leave the pin in? I don’t think three feet is too close, especially if the putt is a downhill breaker. Again, having something positive to aim at makes a bigger difference than you might expect.

What I would suggest is to leave the little pin in the hole on the practice green and find out for yourself if you benefit or not.

Finally, if you play with someone who is a real stickler for leaving the pin in, and you think it’s being carried too far, show some respect and go along with it. It’s their golf, it’s how they want to play within the rules. What we really want to get out of golf is having fun with friends and making everyone glad that we played with them. Right?

[Update] See this site for some solid data on the subject–the verdict is, leave it in.

How I Hit the Golf Ball Straight

I’m going to tell you about a few key elements in how I hit the golf ball straight. Straight means it doesn’t curve. Accurate means the ball goes where I aimed it, and that’s a different post.

For the ball to go straight the clubface has to be square to the club path at impact.

This can be difficult to achieve, since there is so much time and so many ways for the clubface to get out of whack.

The first thing is for your hands to lead the clubhead into the ball. There I go, beating that drum again. But it’s true. If you try to hit with your trailing hand, the clubface will lead, and it is very difficult then to keep the clubface square.

Leading the clubhead into the ball is only part of what the hands need to do. They still have to stay aligned.

At address, you square up the clubface to the target and assume your grip. That fixes a relation between orientations of the trailing palm and the clubface. That relation stays the same throughout the swing. They will always face the same direction, unless your hands slip. Where that palm goes, the clubface goes. The trick is for the palm not to go anywhere, that is, turn.

Pick up a club and take your grip. Notice the FEELING of your trailing palm being oriented in a certain direction. The ball will go straight if you return that palm to impact with the same feeling of orientation it had at address.

Read that paragraph one more time to make sure you understood what I said.

Hold the club so it is pointing straight away from you, parallel to the ground. Now rotate the club very slightly clockwise. Do you feel your palm is oriented in a different direction?

Go back to neutral and rotate the club very slightly counter-clockwise. Again, you will notice that your palm is now oriented in a different direction.

Of course, the palm IS oriented in a different direction each time you rotate the club, but do you FEEL that difference in your palm? That is the important thing.

What we want is for the feeling in your trailing palm at impact, your neutral feeling, to be the same as it was at address.

The best way to start getting this into your swing is with slow half swings, back and forth. Do not force your palm to stay oriented or guide it, rather let it stay oriented.

It will help if you think of your hands merging into one unit, instead of holding the club with two different hands. I go into this point in more detail in Six Fundamentals, number Two.

An earlier post gives you a different way of feeling your trailing hand, but with the same concept of the address feeling not changing.

Hitting the ball straight (without curvature) isn’t that hard to do if you play attention to these details.

The Slow Golf Swing

This conversation occurred between me and my wife after I got back from hitting a golf ball around the big field near my house with a 6-iron.

Me: I learned something today, for the umpteenth time, and maybe this time I’ll remember it. But I’m never sure.

Wife: And what would that be?

Me: We, and by that I mean every golfer living, wants to hit the ball a long way.

Wife: What’s wrong with that? I would want to do that if I played golf. Which I don’t.

Me: But which you will someday, knock on wood. The thing is, we keep thinking to hit the ball far, we have to hit hard. That means swing hard. In reality, all we have to do is put a swing on the ball, with the distance the designer built into the club, and we get all the distance we need.

Wife: In other words, stop trying so hard to make it happen.

Me: Yep.

Wife: And you’re still learning this after having played golf for how long?

Me: Sixty years this coming June, but that’s beside the point. It just seems natural to want to hit hard, We try not to, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s like we don’t trust the swing and the club to get the job done. It’s so effortless when you do it right that we really can’t believe it.

Wife: So why don’t you just say to yourself you’re going to swing easier, then do that?

Me: I do. And I suppose other golfers do, too. I take the club back easy, but when I finish my backswing and am about to start the club forward, I think, “HIT THE BALL!” and all my self-restraint goes out the window.

Wife: Maybe you could tell yourself something at that point other than “Hit the ball.”

Me: That’s right, and that’s what I did. Right before I started the club forward, I said to myself, “Center of the clubface.” Or rather, I thought that, because it’s quicker to think that than to say it. But it worked out the same. In this shorthand way, I replaced one conscious thought with a different conscious thought. You have to be thinking about something, and it’s just as easy to think about the right thing as it is the wrong thing. What this did is prevent me from adding that little extra something that doesn’t add, but subtracts. Now my swing was slower, but it wasn’t deliberately slow. I let my unconscious mind take over and it made me swing only so fast that I would be able to get that center hit, which is slower than my “hit” instinct wants. But, boy, did it work. Straight, great ball flight, and all the distance I want out of my 6-iron. It turns a power swing into a finesse swing that has power.

Wife: So you finally have it figured out? This time for sure?

Me: Yes, at least until the next time I hit golf balls. When I’ll have to “discover” this all over again. And I’ll come home and tell you all about it like it’s the first time. Again.

Your 2019 Guaranteed Swing Improvement Plan

There are roughly 25 million recreational golfers in the United States. Thus, there are 25 million different golf swings. I try to put things in these posts that can be used by the greatest number of golfers, but I have no illusions that every swing will benefit from a particular post.

Except this one.

I promise you, no matter who you are, if you work on these two things, which can fit into ANY golf swing, you will see greater improvement than by working on any other swing thing.

Long-time readers of this blog already know what I’m going to say, but if you’re one of those and you haven’t worked on them yet …

If you’re new to the blog, read carefully. Magic coming up.

First: Get your tempo right. Swing tempo is the overall speed of the swing—how long it takes the clubhead to get from takeaway back to impact.

➙ Swing the club only as fast as you can to hit the ball consistently on the center of the clubface.

If you swing faster than that, golf is just one mishit after another. You lose distance and you lose accuracy.

You might have to slow down your swing a bit to get to the center, but that will be more than made up for because the key to distance and accuracy is (drum roll) hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.

Second: The clubhead must approach impact properly, and there is only one way for that to happen.

➙ Your hands must be ahead of the clubhead at impact. Your hands must lead the clubhead into impact. The hands must pass the ball ahead of the clubhead. However you want to say it.

Every good golfer does this. No bad golfer does it. It’s as simple as that.

See this post on learning how to do this.

If you spend a few months learning these two points, and get good at them, it will be like you’re playing a different game.

Ben Hogan said, “The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing he [and “she”] should do.”

This is what to do.