All posts by recgolfer

Two Fine Points

In the golf swing, just like anything, it seems, the devil is in the details.   I want to let you know about two details that seem to be working well for me lately.

The first one has to do with the golf club.  That’s what we swing to hit the ball with.  So far, so obvious, but it’s not always made to be that simple.

You have teachers who say you swing the handle.  Eddie Merrins comes immediately to mind.  Then there are others too numerous to mention who say you swing the clubhead. We could go on.

But what you’re really swinging is the golf club–the entire thing.  All of it.  You don’t swing the handle and leave the rest of it behind, do you?

When you think of swinging the entire club all at once, even though you are holding onto a small part of it, everything changes.  At least it does for me.

In several of my posts, and in my Living Golf Book, you will find me to be an advocate of the concept that swinging the club correctly tells the body what to do.

That only makes sense if your mind is on the club.  Not just part of the club, but all of it.  Handle, shaft, clubhead, not three parts, but all one thing.

Now this is a feeling in your mind and feelings are notoriously difficult to describe.  The best I can do is to suggest that even though your hands are holding only the handle, it has to feel as if they were holding the entire club.  I hope you can take it from there.

The second fine point is more technical and is something you can put your swing right away.  I read about it and James Sieckmann’s new book titled, Your Short Game Solution.

We all should know that the shape of your left wrist at the top of the backswing should be the same as it was address.  This goes a long way to keeping the clubface square.

In this book, Sieckmann adds the obvious point that the wrist should be in that shape throughout the backswing.

What I played with that idea, I discovered my wrist was getting out of shape along the way then back in again at the top.  That didn’t seem to affect my full swing all that much, but I discovered it went a long way toward explaining why I occasionally shank short pitch shots.

I had been bowing my left wrist outward, which shoves the entire club outward.  The short swing did not give me enough time to get the wrist back in shape so the club could be pulled back in.  That meant when the club came back to the ball it was not the clubface but the hosel that would do the hitting.

By keeping my left wrist angle constant, that problem, which I have tried so many things to solve and failed, is now a thing of the past.

Better yet, I find this point makes it very easy to do what I suggest above, which is to swing the entire club.

So that’s what I’m working on right now.  You might give them a try to see if they make any sense to you.

2018 PGA Championship Preview

The 100th PGA Championship will be played this coming weekend at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.  Missouri.  August.  Maybe the best reason why the PGA is being moved to May beginning next year.

Bellerive has hosted a major championship only two times before.  In 1965 Gary Player won the U.S. Open to become the 3rd player to win the career slam, following Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.  In 1992, Nick Price won the first PGA played here.

Official website.

The 7,329-yard par-70 course is built around a creek that winds through the grounds.  Water comes into play on eleven holes.  The championship course normally plays at 7,547 yards par 71, but 54 yards were shaved off the par-5 4th hole, turning it into a 521-yard par 4.

The 10th green is shown below.

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The PGA lacks an obvious identity the other major championships possess.  The Masters has a fine course everyone recognizes.  The U.S. Open takes a difficult course and turns it into an impossible one.  The Open Championship takes a fine course and lets it stand on its own, which it never fails to do.

But the PGA? Its identity is subtle.  It has the finest field of the four majors, club pros notwithstanding.  Winning it is difficult because there are so many players in the field who are capable of winning.

So who are my picks?  Justin Thomas can repeat.  Tommy Fleetwood is due.  Xander Schauffele plays well in majors.  Jordan Spieth needs this one to win the career slam.  Dustin Johnson hasn’t gone away.

What this tournament means to me is this.  Starting next year, golf ends in July with the Open Championship.  I’ll just take a break from sports for a few weeks afterward nd then get ready for college football without my attention being divided.

Aim Your Golf Swing Visually

You have no doubt heard of aiming your golf swing by sighting from your target backwards to the ball and aligning yourself using that imaginary line.  But you can still go wrong with that method.  You need a way to check it before you start your swing.

When you are in your stance and ready to start the club back, you might well take one more look at the target.  Use that glance to check your aim.

Looking downrange you will see a picture that contains your target.  Where that target lies in the picture tells you where you have aimed yourself.

The two pictures below show what I mean.  The first picture shows you what you would see if you stood facing the flagstick and looked straight at it.

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The second picture shows you what you see when you are in your stance and turn your head.  The flagstick is considerably to the left of where you saw it when looking straight on.

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When you practice your aim at the driving range, get into a setup you know is properly aimed and pay special attention to where the flagstick lies in the picture you see when you turn your head.  That image is what you want to remember.  It won’t take more than a few practice sessions to learn it.

To help you fix that location, notice when you turn your head and look to the left, you will see an out-of-focus image of the bridge of your nose framing the picture on its left edge.  The flagstick will be somewhere near that image, the exact location depending on how flexible your neck is.  

(Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at altering images to include this frame on the photograph, but if you look to the left only by moving your eyes you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

During play, if you see the flagstick more to the left of where it should be, you are aimed too far to the right.  Or if you see the flagstick more to the right it means you are aimed too far to the left.

To make this check on your aim work, you must be sure to turn your head the same amount every time so the target will show up in the same place when correctly aimed at.

I watch the people I play golf with set up.  Every so often, one of them hits a beautiful shot that goes ten yards to the right of the green.

“How did that happen,” they ask in vain. “It happened because that’s where you were aimed,” I say to myself.

The Full Bag Drill

I’ve been doing this drill lately to build an identical swing with each club.  It pays off throughout the bag, but especially when you get to the driver.  It also takes a lot of discipline.

You’re going to go through your bag, from the most-lofted club to the least lofted (probably your driver), and hit a good shot with each club, using the same swing with each club.  You only get to hit one shot with each club.  Thirteen swings.  No do-overs.

By the same swing I mean the same movement, same rhythm, same tempo.  THE SAME.  This is the whole point of the drill.

The only thing that will change is your posture as the club shafts get longer.

This is a very difficult drill.  First of all, you want to hit 13 good shots and you only get one chance with each club. Hitting 13 good shots in a row isn’t easy.

Second, as the clubs get longer, the temptation to swing harder or to get the clubhead on the ball in a different way is great.  But you can’t do that.  Each swing has to be the same.

The reason you want to have the same swing for every club is that one swing is easier to learn, easier to rely on, and makes golf easier to play, than two or three swings do.

You will also learn to trust the design of the longer clubs to get the distance you want from them.  As clubs get longer, they have a lengthier shaft and less loft.  That alone is enough to send the ball father and farther.  You don’t have to make extra effort.

Do this drill (one time) at the driving range.  Doing this drill in your pre-round warm-up might be a good idea, too.

2018 Open Championship Preview

The USGA takes difficult golf courses and makes them even harder for the U.S. Open.  And you know how that’s working out.

The R&A takes difficult golf courses and leaves them alone.  Welcome to the Open Championship, which this year is being played at Carnoustie, one of the hardest golf courses in the world.  See the Open Championship website, click on Spectators/Course Guide, for a hole-by-hole description of the course.

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(Click to enlarge)

This amateur course guide features photographs. Not all the holes are reviewed, but the photos give you an outstanding look at the course and make you wish you could try your hand at it.

By the way, the name of the course is Car-NOOSE-tee.  Car-NASTY was clever the first three million times we heard it, but has become as tired as “Get in the hole!” or “You da man!”  Please don’t say it that way.

The fairways are baked out and hard.  Some players have said the fairways are faster than the greens. During a practice round, Padraig Herrington drove into Barry Burn (creek) fronting the 18th green, which is well over 400 yards from the tee.  Were it not for the burn, the 499-yard par 4 would be drivable for more than a handful of contestants.

That means players have to decide how much roll-out they are willing to have lest the ball rolls into places it shouldn’t go.  For example, Jockie’s Burn fronts the 3rd green on a 350-yard par 4, and can easily be driven into even on a layup.  And the fairways are not flat. A ball catching s slope can roll out 20 to 40 yards farther than planned.

Might it be that length off that tee will not be a factor this year, because course conditions mean everybody has it?  If so, players who control the ball off the tee wisely should have lots of short irons and wedges into the greens.  If the weather is benign for four days, the winner should have a very low score.

But let’s not leave out mention of the wind.  The course does not lie on the ocean, but the sea is only a 5-iron away.

Carnoustie will be brutally hard this week, and no one can blame the setup.  It’s all Nature’s doing and that’s the way golf should be.

Notable holes include the 248-yard par-3 16th hole (see photo).  You think the 12th at Augusta is hard?  Try this one on for size.  The green is domed, which can throw errant shots off to the side.  The green is also long and narrow, making it a difficult target.  The hole often plays into the wind, making a back pin difficult to get to.  The 16th gave up the second-fewest number of birdies the last time the OC was played here, in 2007.

Another hole to pay attention is the 580-yard par-5 6th.  This is the famous Hogan’s Alley hole.  In 1953, Hogan chose the line between the bunkers and the out of bounds stakes on the left–a narrow target, but the best line for a clear shot into the green.

One of the courses quirks announces itself at the very start.  The green for the first hole is not visible from the tee, and not even from some parts of the fairway.  A tall pole marks its direction.

Players complained last month about Shinnecock Hills being different in the morning and afternoon on Saturday’s third round.  It is not unusual in the OC for a storm to wipe out the chances of groups playing in the morning, with clear, calm weather prevailing in the afternoon.  Or vice versa.  That’s one of the things I like about this tournament.

Get up early and watch golf played in a way like no other tournament requires. Whatever you think of the other major championships, this one is the most fun to watch.

Revised USGA Rules For 2019

A complete re-write of the Rule Book and Decisions that takes effect in 2019 has been announced. It is too extensive for me even to begin talking about here.

See this summary for starters. I am sure you can find others if you browse the Net.

Best news of all: An optional Local Rule has been added that allows a player whose ball went OB to drop near the point where it went out, taking a two-stroke penalty. It’s about time!!!!!

Why Golfers Don’t Improve

I recently read a piece in the GolfWRX newsletter about why golfers don’t improve.   It goes in several directions, but fails to mention the main reason.   Almost everyone who takes up the game does it the wrong way.

Let’s talk about learning to play the piano.   You would start out with easy pieces and basic skills.   You would play within your capabilities because that is all you could do.

Over time, you would become more skillful in your technique, but to become a pianist your focus would have been all along on being a musician, technique being a means to that end.

Learning golf should be the same way: start with easy, basic skills and work up as you go along, playing on courses that your skills make you capable of playing, and using those skills to be a golfer all the while.

But what normally happens is that amateurs tackle the full game from the very start, get in way over their heads, and continue to try solving advanced problems instead of starting off small and working up.

They are like beginning piano players try to start off trying to play this:

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instead of this:

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People who never went through a process of getting into the game gradually, but rather tried to take it on all at once will find improvement difficult and time-consuming because they never created a foundation from which significant improvement can emerge.

Until they build that foundation, no amount of tweaks at the back end will help very much.

Every year I go through a re-learning process.   I get back to basic putting: hitting a lot of 2- and 3-foot putts.   Hitting 30- and 40-footers.

I re-learn my chipping stroke and re-calibrate my chipping formula. I re-learn my pitching stroke and re-calibrate my pitching game from 55-100 yards.

My swing? I get a refresher lesson with a 5-iron, and another one with a driver.

In short, I become a beginner again.   I re-create a solid foundation.

And that, I believe is what every golf who is stuck should do—start over.   It doesn’t matter if you are trying to break 100, or 90, or go from the high 70s to the low 70s.

If you’re stuck, start over with the small strokes.   Play most of your golf on par 3 courses for a while.   That’s golf without the driver, and if you can’t score there, you can’t on the big course, either.

Get really good at shots that are technically easy before you move on to shots that are technically difficult.

Honestly!   Life is long.    Taking out three or four months months to build a foundation for your future in a game you will play for the rest of your life is such a minimal investment that will pay off huge rewards.

And if you say, well, thanks for telling me this in the middle of July when I want to be out flailing away at 6,400 yards of heartache, I’ll say, why not spend a few weeks tuning up your game, then a few months honing it on smaller courses on which you will have a shorter outing and have more fun and become a better golfer, and this is the IDEAL time of year to do it.

But that’s just how I see it.

Your Setup–One Key to Consistent Contact

A friend of mine told me while we were playing one day, that someone looked into how it is that Justin Thomas, who isn’t a very big guy, drives the ball so far.

One of his keys is that he hits the ball on the center of the clubface.  Every time.  It might have been on impact tape or something, but the impression after a good number of drives was about the size of a quarter.

How does he do that?  I can’t say how his swing makes that happen, because I don’t know.  But I can say for sure that one thing which makes it happen is his setup.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that he sets up the same distance from the ball every time, the ball is in the same place in his stance every time, his posture is the same every time, his hands are in the same place every time, and so on.

I would also bet that if you took a picture from the same spot every time and overlaid all those photos on top of each other, you wouldn’t see much leakage, if any, around the edges, if you know what I mean.

By starting out in the same place every time, in every respect, Thomas gives his swing every chance to return the clubhead to the ball in the same place every time.

Here’s an example taken from the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing.  It shows the variation in foot position in a 24-handicapper and a professional golfer.  The pro is consistent, and the amateur is all over the place.

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Was else I can tell you for sure is that a major cause of inconsistent ball-striking is an inconsistent setup.  I would go so far as to say you should practice your setup as much as you practice your swing.

Let’s drill in on this point.  Say you hit a tremendous drive.  On the next hole, you unknowingly set up with the ball one inch farther away from you than it was on the last hole.  If you make the same swing, you will miss the sweet spot on the clubface by an inch.

But you won’t make the same swing, because you’re reaching out a little bit farther than you did last time and that is enough to change everything.  Your unconscious mind knows you’re out of position and will try, in vain, to compensate. You won’t hit anywhere near as good a drive and then wonder what happened to your swing.

What happened was that an inconsistent setup forced that good swing out of existence.  Simple as that.

My instructor had me buy a four-foot metal ruler to practice my setup. With this, you can ensure your feet are the same distance apart, and the ball is in the same place.  Being consistent with these two things alone will by themselves improve your ball-striking.

We practice our swing to make it as much the same as we can every time, but what’s the use of having a repeating swing if your setup is all over the map?

And when you’re trying to develop a repeating swing, you might keep correcting this or that when your swing is just fine and it’s your setup that needs work.

So here are a few things to think about in your setup, all of which make a difference:

Grip alignment (orientation of Vs)
Grip pressure
Where on the handle you place your hands *
Clubface alignment (open, square, closed)
Distance from the ball *
Location of the ball in your stance *
Posture of your back
Amount of bend in your neck
Amount of bend in your hips and knees *
Shape of your arms
Distance between your elbows
Height of your stance *
Distribution of weight across the feet (front-back, side-side)
Amount that your toes are turned out
Alignment of feet
Alignment of shoulders
The feeling that you are “in the slot”

* This will vary by the club used, must be the same per club.

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.