The Ball-Bound Golfer

Raise your hand if you feel relaxed and focused when you take your practice swing.

Keep your hand in the air if you feel the same way when when you’re swinging at the ball.

Hmm. I don’t see anyone’s hand still up.

A few weeks ago I was hitting balls off grass and I noticed that my practice swing divot and my “hit the ball” divot right beside it were not in the same place. All the time.

So I went online, putting “ball bound golf” in the search window. I got two videos by Bobby Clampett about being ball-bound. He said he is, and demonstrated it in the same way. One practice swing, one swing at the ball, two divots.

His practice divot lay about two inches ahead of the ball divot. That’s almost exactly what I was getting when I was checking my own swing.

Both of us, and we’re not the only ones, allow the presence of the ball to change the way we swing the club. In mild cases, you can still hit playable shots. In severe cases, you have no idea what’s going to happen.

I don’t think along the lines of, Well, if a pro does it too, I guess its OK so I won’t worry about it.

It’s not OK for anyone. Instead of accepting* it, there has to be a way to change it–to make the two divots be the same.

My assumption, based on a sample size of two, me and Bobby Clampett, is this is a universal tendency, but not a universal absolute. There IS a way to avoid doing it. We just have to find it.

A few years ago, I brought up the matter tangentially in another post and suggested that instead of looking at the ball when you swing, look at the ground about an inch in front of the ball because that is what you’re trying to hit with the club.

But really, we need to find a better solution. We have to go back to the real origin of the problem.

When you take a practice swing, all you’re thinking about is swinging the club. You get ball-bound because you step up to the ball and the thought becomes, “Hit the ball.” That is the fatal error.

The solution is to address the ball and tell yourself, “Swing the club.” Tell yourself like it’s an order to DO it. Be firm with yourself that that’s what you’re going to do.

Then as soon as you have finished saying the word “club”, the INSTANT you have finished saying it, start your swing. Don’t give yourself a moment of time to insert another thought into your head, because you know what that thought will be.

“Swing the club” is not set in stone, though. It is merely one way of putting a thought into your head that is different than “Hit the ball,” or “Make good contact,” or something else like that.

One method I use with great success is to think of the butt end of the handle moving to the left from the start of the forward swing through contact with the ball. This takes my mind off the ball completely and I hit many good shots that way.

That is another example of something that takes your mind away from the ball.

This is a mental problem, and if you have it, you solve it by training your mind to do something other than what it is doing now. Your conscious mind is always talking to you. You have to give it the right thing to say.

* or, giving in.

Golf’s Prime Fundamental

This is a new way of calling everyone’s attention to my favorite subject—the handle leads the clubhead into the ball. I can’t wait to see what the search engines do with that title.

Notice I’m saying “handle” instead of “hands” like I used to. If you think of what the club is doing rather than what you are doing, you are much likelier to get it right.

If you do get it right, and at the right tempo*, you will find the center of the clubface much more often and hit better shots much more often.

Over the years I have given you several methods for doing this. They all work, one is not better than the other. Here, now, is a collection, with links, so you can see them all at once and make your choice.

Try one and if it doesn’t work for you, keep looking. But once you find the one that clicks, keep at it. Don’t go off and try something else. If it works, it works. Spend the rest of your time perfecting it.

Here they are, seven ways to get the handle ahead of the clubhead at impact.

1. Hold the angle – this is my earliest method.

2. The handle moves in harmony with the clubhead – focusing on the club, not on you.

3. The left arm never stops moving – sometimes it does.

4. Throw the club away – or at least swing like you would.

5. The end of the handle moves left – Imagine in the forward swing that the butt end of the club is moving straight across your body toward the target, and let that motion take your swing where it needs to go.

6. Swing the club with one hand – This is a drill really, making a half swing with a sand wedge, with one hand then the other. Unless you are incredibly strong and deliberately want to make the clubhead lead, the weight and momentum of the club will cause the handle to naturally go first. Apply the lesson of the drill to your two-handed swing.

7. Swing the club forward with your arms – Anatomically speaking, the arm is the upper limb between the shoulder and the elbow. That is what is meant here. Think of that meaning of the arms swinging the club forward, a concept championed by Manuel de la Torre.

Gary Player once said something along the lines of, Show me what you think is a fundamental of golf and I’ll show you a championship golfer who doesn’t do it. Maybe so.

Except this one. They all do this one.

* The fastest speed you can swing and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.

Breaking X0

There’s a class of golfers who are on the cusp of breaking what I call a milestone score—100, 90, or 80. (If you’re trying to break 70, you don’t need my help.)

I’ll tell you right now, that if you’re flirting with that 99, 89, or 79, you’re already good enough to get there. What’s keeping you back is not be coming a better shotmaker, but a better player.

Golf is a game you play. Good shots get you in the ball park you want to be in. The right shots bring you home.

Example. I was playing a few days ago and my second shot on a par 4 ended up on a mound about five feet above the level of the green, maybe 30 feet from the hole. I took out my sand wedge and pitched on. The ball landed about three feet from the hole, but rolled about ten feet past.

That sounds all right, maybe, but it was the wrong shot. I had released to clubhead, that is, let my hands turn over. That puts a moderate amount of spin on the ball, which is why it ran so far past.

I was playing solo, so I dropped another ball and this time held off the release so at the finish, the clubface was still facing to the sky. That puts a lot of spin on the ball. The ball flew the same, landed close to the same spot as before, but rolled out less than one foot. Tap-in par.

The first shot was a good shot. It was just the wrong shot, which added a stroke to my score, whereas hitting the right shot would have kept my score down.

Now there’s a difference between the wrong shot and a bad shot. We all miss shots, make bad ones, even if they were the right shot. That’s why we’re handicap golfers.

But the more you know about how to play the game, the lower your score will be with the same skills.

Raymond Floyd wrote this in his book, The Elements of Scoring, which I highly recommend: “If somehow I was given your physical (golf) game and we had a match I would beat you 99 times out of 100, because I know how to play the game better than you do”

Got that?

Here’s another example. Earlier in that round, I was on a sharp upslope in front of the green about 40 feet from the pin. Since an upslope adds loft to the club, I chose a 52-degree wedge to chip on with. I hit a good shot that finished about 15 feet past the hole. So I tried another shot, with a 56-degree wedge. Same stroke, different club. The ball finished about four feet past the hole.

In the first example, it was the right cub, but the wrong stroke. In the second example, it was the right stroke, but the wrong club.

Do you see what is going on here? These little things are what can add strokes to your score that you don’t reflect your skill level. Your score doesn’t reflect how well you hit the ball so much as how well you play.

In that nine holes, there were four occasions where I hit a wrong-shot do-over that saved a stroke. The bad shots I let lie. All that turned a 42 into a potential 38.

Four shots in eighteen holes is a lot, but four shots in nine holes is enormous.

I strongly recommend that you find time, on occasion to play a solo round when the course isn’t busy and do what I did. You will learn a ton about being a better player, which is all you need to be to break that milestone score.

How to Hit Your Irons

With an easy hit. That’s how to hit your irons. Hit ‘em easy. The ball will go straight and land on the spot you were intending. Can you ask any more than that?

Yes, we all want to hit the ball long way. Distance is good. The longer you can hit the ball, the more options you have. The more you get out of the same effort.

But if you’re in the fairway 154 yards from the pin, instead of trying to force the ball up to the green, take out a club that will send the ball that far with an easy swing.

That’s why you have so many irons in the first place. Just pick the one that will carry the ball the distance you need with an easy swing. If you think you have to hit your best shot to get the ball there, you have the wrong club in your hand.

This is all predicated on knowing how far each iron carries the ball. However you determine your iron distances, determine them with an easy swing. If you accidentally (and it will be an accident) nuke one, treat it like the one you chunked 20 yards short. Leave them both out of the calculation.

At the range, use your bucket to find the joy in making one well-struck shot after another. Hang how far they go (in an absolute sense). If they’re well-struck, they’ll go far enough.

While you’re there, make sure you don’t pick up bad habits. If there’s a flag at 150 yards, don’t take out your 145 club to see if you can get that much more out of it. Take one more club and fly the ball 150 yards with a easy swing.

Now what is an easy swing? It is the swing made (a) at the tempo that lets you strike the ball on the center of the clubface consistently, and (b) begins going forward at the same speed that it went back—none of this easy back, then WHAM!

Swing the ball, not whack the ball. Swing easily. The only person who cares what clubs you use is you.

A Day With the LPGA

Yesterday I went to the Cambia Classic in Portland, a new sponsor for the longest-running non-major tournament in LPGA golf. Here are a few of my observations.

– It had been about a dozen years since I saw the women play. It is very different now. They hit the ball hard. 250 off the tee isn’t long. It’s not even the middle of the pack. It’s not your mother’s LPGA any more.

– Brooke Henderson is not very big. She takes the club back slowly, then WHAM going down. She’s the 9th longest driver on the Tour.

– I saw both Anne Van Dam and Angel Yin, the two longest hitters on the Tour, who both average over 280 yards off the tee. Ouch. Poor golf ball.

– Even Morgan Pressel, who topped out at 235 in her early days, now averages almost 260.

– They all pay very careful attention to their setup. They set up deliberately, precisely, and each follows her setup procedure the same way every time.

– Remember the suspension point? With the exception of a very few golfers who launch their lower body into the forward swing, EVERY player kept her suspension point still. EVERY player.

– Most of the players pick the ball cleanly off the ground. The sound is a gentle crack. Lexi Thompson, however, hit the ball hard and the ground hard. It was loud, and after a day of relatively quiet strikes, startling.

– Most, but not all, of the players started getting ready for a shot from the fairway while someone else was hitting so when it was their turn, they were ready. Only one player, Suzann Pettersen, did this on the putting green as well.

– They hold the club firmly, but gently. No choking the handle. Their hands look like they were made to hold a golf club.

– They have the pin positions scoped out, and they put the ball on the green on the spot where they want it. Would that we were that good, too.

– All that said, man, were they slow on the putting green. Real slow. I wasn’t impressed by their greenside chipping, either. I hate to be negative, but those things were true, too.

– You know what I liked most? It was quiet. I go to baseball games and football games. Lots of noise. The only sounds we heard all day were golf balls being hit and putts dropping. Otherwise, quiet. I like that.

It was a good day. It’s enjoyable to watch people play golf who are that good, shot after shot.

Fixing the FedEx Cup – III

About ten years ago, I wrote a piece on how to make the FedEx Cup more interesting and more fan friendly. That is, get rid of the point system and re-adjusting of the points that no one understood at that time or since.

No one listened.

Two years ago I had another go at it, with a more complicated but more fun way of paring down the list to the final 30-man tournament.

Again, no one listened.

So, here I go again, a voice of reason proposing a system that is so obvious and so simple that again, it is unlikely that anyone will listen.

Except you, my loyal readers.

Take the top 30 players on the year’s money list and there’s your field for the Tour Championship and the $15M prize. Best players for the year, one tournament, done.

The current points are handed out based on the order of finish in a tournament, which is the same way money is handed out. Points and money track each other closely, so why not take the obvious step and go with money, which everyone understands?

Since the FedEx Cup is a Tour championship, I would make two exceptions. Do not to include money won in major championships and WGC tournaments in the FedEx money rankings because those fields are not open to everyone with a Tour card. The major champions would get in, though.

Last week’s field was pretty much the top 30 money winners. There were only four exceptions (with money list rank on parentheses):

In – Abraham Ancer (32), Lucas Glover (36), Louis Oosthuizen (37), Jason Kokrak (44).
Out – Shane Lowry (20), Francesco Molinari (22), Tiger Woods, (24), Ryan Palmer (29).

The point system that we still don’t understand, and the two extra tournaments to get to the final 30 at a time of year when the guys are kind of tired of playing, served only to put four players into the Tour Championship in place of four others who had a better season.

And on top of that, two of the year’s major winners, Woods and Lowry, were excluded.

If the FedEx Cup is a season championship event, the participants should be selected purely on their season performance. They should not have to re-qualify. They already qualified.

Will the powers that be listen? I have the nagging suspicion that The Recreational Golfer flies unnoticed in the golfing skies.*

So next year they will tweak some more, get it wrong again, and say, “We are studying it and hope to do it better next year.”

But what the heck. This blog is about recreational golf. Every now and then, though, I have to rant when I see something so SIMPLE made so complicated.


*Where on earth did that metaphor come from?

What Relaxation In Golf Really Means

You know how to swing the club. Your mind tells your body what to do, but the body will carry out those directions only if it is in a state to accept them. This is possible only if the body is relaxed. And the body can be relaxed only if the mind is relaxed.

If there is any tension in the body, muscles have to fight through that tension to get to the next place where they are supposed to be, but never get there, being locked in place and passing through those positions in the wrong way.

Tension makes the body work against itself and is the ruination of what ever it tries to do in golf or anything else.

Golf is a game of positions, only not as it is normally presented to you in swing sequence photographs. There are not eight or nine positions you have to hit to make a correct golf swing. There are an infinite number of positions, because the golf swing is a flow.

This is why you must play golf with a moving mind. That allows your body to move through the positions that you cannot possibly comprehend yet are needed for your best swing to emerge.

When you are relaxed, your body moves naturally, your joints move freely, and your swing flows.

This is why swing thoughts are so paralyzing. By focusing on one aspect of your swing, you emphasize it to the exclusion of every other position that is just as important, adding tension to your body to ensure that none of it goes right.

Let me give you an example of how relaxation can be made part of your swing. It has to do with rhythm.

I write over and over that the rhythm of the golf swing is 3 up, 1 forward to the ball. 3:1, like clockwork. Only, if you make it like clockwork, it won’t work. The golf swing can become stiff and mechanical.

A golf swing has to be alive. It has to breathe. Your expression of the 3:1 rhythm has to be like that, too, and it will be if the mind, and thus the body are relaxed.

So that’s all good, but just how do you relax? It’s very simple.

As you stand over the ball, take your mind away from whatever it is thinking about, and think, “Relax.” Feel the tension drain from your body, head to toe. Let the air out. Feel your body softening, the tension releasing.

Now you are ready to take the club away.

Don’t Play Faster, Play More Efficiently

Slow play on the PGA Tour has blown up in the past few weeks. Brooks Koepka (rightly) called out Bryson DeChambeau for taking two minutes to line up and hit an eight-foot putt, which he missed.

(No one seems to have commented on the irony that both B.J Holmes (who plays like he owns the course) in the British Open, and DeChambeau, in the Northern Trust, were paired with Koepka, who would be Death To Slow Play if he could.)

I don’t care a flying fig if Tour players are slow, but I do care about moving it along when I play my recreational game.

What it comes down to, to me, is playing more efficiently. Everyone saving a few seconds every time they do a particularly thing adds up to a significant time saving over eighteen holes. Or even nine.

Here are my suggestions, taken from Bob’s Living Golf Book.

– Take clubhead covers off and leave them off. Fiddling with them takes time, and they get in the way of finding the iron you want. The clubheads won’t get damaged if they’re left bare.

– Know where everything in your bag is so you can get what you need without delay.

– Play from the right set of tees.

– When someone is teeing off and it’s your turn next, stand beside the tee box, ball, tee, and club in hand, ready to go, rather than way over there by your cart, empty-handed.

– Don’t wait for the group ahead of you to clear if you really can’t hit into them. On the tee, consider letting shorter hitters tee off first (if they can leave their egos at home).

– When someone is hitting from the fairway and you’re next, start preparing so you can hit when it’s your turn. Don’t wait until the other player hits before you even start to get ready (J.B. Holmes). This is probably the best way to save time in recreational golf.

– You get one, and only one, practice swing.

– Step up to the ball and hit it. Standing frozen over the ball for the longest time or taking endless waggles or looks at the target does not help you in any way.

– Recreational golf is a social game, but chat when you are walking, and not when you should be getting ready for your shot.

– Always check the ball you’re about to hit to be sure it’s yours.

– After you play your shot, clean your club and put it back in the bag only if you are waiting for someone else to hit. Otherwise, start walking right away. Carry your club, and put it away when you get to your ball. If you’re riding in a cart, get in the cart with your club and go.

– If you have hit the ball five times and it’s not on the green, pick up your ball and drop it on the green when you get there. If you have hit the ball eight times and it is still not in the hole, pick it up and cease play on that hole.

– When looking for a ball that might have gone into high grass, remember that the ball is always 20 yards farther back from where you think it is. (I’m not joking about this, either. You know it’s true.)

– If someone else’s ball might be lost, play your ball first, then go help them look.

– When you get to the green, put your bag or cart on the side of the green nearest to the next tee.

– Read your opening putt as soon as you get on the green instead of waiting until it is your turn to putt. Don’t spend too much time reading the green. Your first impression is most likely correct.

– If you use an alignment mark, don’t spend too much time tweaking the mark, especially if the putt is a long one for which distance is much more important than line.

– Leave the pin in the hole.

– After your approach putt, putt out if it’s a tap-in.

– Falling behind the group ahead of you? To catch up, the first two players to hole out should go to the next tee and tee off, leaving the other two to putt out and handle the pin for each other (if necessary).

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play