2019 PGA Championship Preview

Winner: Brooks Koepka by two shots over Dustin Johnson.

A major championship comes back to Bethpage Black in Long Island, New York. On May 16-19, the 101st PGA Championship will be contested on, what can I say, a ferocious golf course.

Official website.

I spent two days in 2010 walking around Oakmont. If you hit the ball straight and putt, you’ll do alright. I’ve seen the Pine Valley flyover on Youtube. Same thing. But Bethpage Black, that course scares me. Watch this.

The U.S. Open was played here in 2002, won by Tiger Woods by three strokes over Phil Mickelson. Woods was the only competitor to finish under par. In 2009, Lucas Glover on the Open by two over Mickelson, Ricky Barnes, and David Duval, in the most dramatic final round at the Open I have ever seen. Only those four and Ross Fisher finished under par.

The PGA likes birdies, though, and the rough will definitely not be U.S. Open style. I’m guessing the winning score will be -10.

Read this fascinating article about why The PGA at Bethpage will be different from a U.S. Open at Bethpage.

(Click to enlarge)

Moving the PGA to May was a stroke of, well, not genius, but of common sense. It was once a highly respected major championship, and can return to that status by being in the middle of the majors crunch instead of on the tail end. Playing it at the finest courses will help, too.

Patrick Reed has commented that this course challenges every club in the bag. I believe him. The winner will be determined by who makes the fewest big mistakes.

One thing everybody is hoping for is that Phil doesn’t wear these pants again. (Who dresses him???)

Today’s Round

I played nine today at an executive course in town. It has five par 4s, four of them over 300 yards, and four par 3s. I learned something on almost every hole.

On the first, I hooked my approach and had to pitch on. The green sloped away from me, so I opened the clubface to get more loft on the shot and have it stop quicker, but when you do that you have to hit the ball harder, which is counter-intuitive, and which I failed to do. The ball fell short of the green, so I chipped on and sank the putt for a bogey.

On the second, I hooked my iron into the green again, and chipped from thick rough. I got under the ball and just got it on the green. Two putts for a bogey.

Third, looong approach putt. I thought more about distance than line, and let a gentle break carry a ball hit with the right pace away from the hole. Three putts for a bogey.

Fourth, I air-mailed the green with my approach. The ball rested on a bare spot in the grass with no way to sweep the club through the ball. Also, the ball was below the green and the green sloped away. Playing the shot shown in this video, I chipped to five feet and sank the putt.

Fifth, a drive put me 64 yards from the pin. At my range, there is a post 66 yards from the mats, which I always hit to when I warm up. Oh, boy. Pitch to 12 feet, the downhill birdie putt stopped three inches short.

Sixth, air-mailed the green again, and had to chip across a slope to the pin. I left the ball four feet below the hole, which is golden. Uphill putts going straight in are really easy. Sank it for the par.

Seventh, a drive into the rough and a 9-iron into the green. I forgot to put the ball back in my stance, which you always do when hitting out of the rough. It gives you as steeper swing that puts less grass between the club and the ball. The approach landed in front of an elevated green with the pin in front. Normally this might be a little flip onto the green, but the grass was mown very short so I putted the ball on with a 24-degree hybrid to six feet. Sank the putt for par.

Eighth, iron on, two putts.

Ninth, dogleg right. I decided to fade the ball around the corner, but got set up wrong. You have to open the clubface and aim it at where you want the ball to start off, but I aimed it where I wanted the ball to end up. The ball went into trees and I had to chip out. The ball landed in rough, but this time I played it the right way. 9-iron onto the green to six feet and a downhill slider for par. I got too tentative and the ball didn’t hold its line. Bogey.

Go back and read the post on Your One Right Hand. That was working supremely well off the tee. Also, read this post on hinging your wrists. I’ll be posting a video soon on this subject.

Birdie at the Road Hole

Almost nine years ago, I wrote a small post about my small hole-in one.

In that post, I mentioned the birdie I had made on the Road Hole at St Andrews and said I would talk about that sometime later.

I guess nine years is sometime later, so here goes.

In 1968, I was between my sophomore and junior years in college. Spending a summer abroad was becoming the thing to do. My college roommate suggested the winter before that we do that. I made the pitch to my parents, and they said yes.

Now getting to Europe back then was a Big Deal, especially if you lived on the West Coast. You had to get to New York, then catch a flight over, and it wasn’t cheap. But we made it cheap.

I took a cheap flight to New York, and from there, flew on Icelandic Airlines to Luxembourg, with a stop in Iceland. The airplane was a four-engine prop that didn’t go very fast and made lots of noise.

From Luxembourg I took a train the next day to Paris, where I met up with my roommate, and we were off and running. After a few days in Paris, we headed to Jolly Old.

We stayed in London, did the town, in the middle of the Swinging Sixties, Soho, and the like. After a few days we hitchhiked to Edinburgh (which has four syllables, not three), which is really close to the town of St Andrews (Note that St has no period after it. This is correct.)

After a few days of seeing this town, we hitchhiked to St Andrews so I could play the famous course. Or tried to hitchhike. We had no luck getting a ride all the way, and had to catch a bus to complete the trip.

So there I was, at the home of golf, with an indulgent roommate.

Things were different in 1968. There was no lottery for tee times. In the middle of June, I walked up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fees, rented a half set of clubs, bought some balls and tees, and went off.

The starter said, “The first tee is over there, and when the group on it tees off, you’re next.”

It was that simple.

I have to say I didn’t know much about the course except that it was famous. It had never been on TV for a British Open because TV didn’t cover the British Open back then. All I knew was that it was famous and I had read about it when I was growing up making golf part of my life.

I hit a decent drive on the first tee, well placed for a shot into the green. I thought the best shot from where I was would be to take out a 7-iron and hit a shot short of the green that would run on. You know, still getting warmed up.

I hit the shot I wanted to, but when the ball got close to the green it disappeared. I didn’t think much of that, probably it ran down a hill into a hollow spot.

The closer I got to the green, though, the more of a bad feeling I had about the choice I had made. There was this dark line going across the fairway that kept getting wider and wider.

I got close enough to see that it was a ditch, and when I got up to it, I was introduced to the Swilcan Burn, with my ball in it. Fortunately the ditch was not that deep and I was able to get my ball back out.

I have vague memories of the holes after that. The greens were light years faster than anything I had ever played on. The double greens were (are) huge, and I hit the ball into the gorse a few times and didn’t try to play out of it.

At one point, I think it was on the sixth tee, all I could see in front of me was weeds. I had no idea where to hit the ball. Some guy coming inward saw that I was completely confused, came over to the tee, and said, “See the church steeple way over there? Aim for that and you’ll be alright.” The steeple was about a mile away, across the River Eden.

Coming in, I was getting the hang of things and having lots of fun, though you would think otherwise by looking at my scores. I might be having selective memory, but I do not remember once being in a bunker the whole time.

At last we came to the Road Hole. I knew about that. Hit your drive over the railroad sheds, hit on and get par. I was really geared up for this one shot, over the sheds.

Only the sheds weren’t there anymore. They had been torn down the year before when a hotel was built on that spot. The romance was gone, but the shot was still there, though. The hotel had built a screen that forced you to hit the same shot if you wanted to take the short line to the green.

Now I hadn’t been hitting my driver well all day, so I took out the 3-wood to make my play. I didn’t care what happened, I hadn’t made this pilgrimage to chicken out of the most famous shot in golf.

I have no idea how it happened, but I hit a brilliant shot, not even close to what I had been doing earlier, and the ball sailed over the screen with room to spare, straight as a string. I had hit the shot I had been waiting to face, nailed it, and the rest would be an afterthought, or so I felt.

I found the ball in the fairway, looking right at the green. I took out a 3-iron and took aim at a piece of the green sticking out into the fairway. There was this bunker a bit to the left that looked like you wouldn’t want to hit into. Little did I know I was looking at the Road Hole bunker, the most feared bunker in golf. In the picture of me standing on the 17th green, look how close it is to the pin.

But as you know, the Lord takes care of fools and small children. Trying a shot that makes professionals perspire just thinking about it, my second good swing in a row put the ball on the green with room to spare.

Getting to the green, my ball was about 20 feet away, and there wasn’t much to the putt. Getting it close for a par looked easy, so that’s the shot I hit. Except I didn’t get my par. The ball went in and I had birdied the most famous and arguably the hardest par 4 in the world.

Wowie! Just, wowie! I made some noise, not knowing the eighteenth tee was really close by and there were guys teeing off. Apologies from me and kudos from them.

I finished the round and couldn’t have been happier. What started off as a lifetime memory ended up as a lifetime achievement. I am one under par for life on the 17th. Not many golfers can say that. I think this is better than a hole-in-one.

Years later, in 1990, I was watching the British Open, on TV, being played at St Andrews. Nick Faldo was on the way to winning his second title. As he played the 17th on Saturday, I thought to myself, “He would give his eyeteeth to have my score on this hole right now.”

As would they all in the Opens I have watched come through my birdie hole.

Hit Hard With Your Right Hand

We all know about the three right hands Ben Hogan wished he had. If you don’t, read this post first.

There is nothing wrong with hitting the ball hard with your hands if you can do it correctly. If you know how, then why not?

So I’m going to tell you how.

Lead the club from the end of the backswing into the forward swing with your left arm—the upper arm, to be precise. Keep the left forearm out of it.

Do not rush the forward swing. Start down like you are going to lop heads off daisies.

As you near impact, make sure your hands are coming into the ball ahead of the clubhead. If they are not, what comes next will be your worst enemy, not your best friend.

There is a certain moment when the hands feel like they have passed the ball and that it is too late, you missed that chance, to apply any kind of hit. Actually, that is the moment when you can pour it on with the right hand.

I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. If you hit with the right hand while you have the feeling that your hands are still approaching the ball, that is way too early and the result will be disastrous.

So don’t get excited. Wait until the time is right.

Do not rush the forward swing. That works against this move. What you want is to make your normal swing and add speed with your right hand only at the right time.

Finally, the point is for the right hand to launch into the ball and hit hard, but not so much that it overpowers the left hand. This is what Hogan was teaching you how to prevent.

That is why you have to wait until the last instant to pull off this move, because by then it is too late for the right hand to do damage to what the clubhead is about to do.

There is no body acceleration, no arm acceleration, just your same ordinary smooth swing with a little right hand thrown in right before you hit the ball. Once you find the right timing it will all seem so easy.

When you start learning this move, be concerned only with making contact on the center of the clubface. Don’t be concerned about where the ball goes. Straight will come in time.

How do you know if you hit the ball on the center? By feel. You hit the ball so hard and it feels so soft. There is barely a feeling of anything in your hands. Oh, does that feel good. I know you know the feeling.

There is a different sound, too. Love that sound.

This move works best with the longer clubs. You might be able to take it down to the 5-iron, but shorter than that it doesn’t really add anything.

Practice it A LOT before you try it on the course. A great way to practice it to swing with no ball and literally apply the hit after it feels the club had has passed impact. Actually do it too late. If you do the same thing when the time comes to hit a ball, you will probably have it just right.

What’s In My Bag—April 2019

I love to play around with my set of clubs. Every time I make a change I think I have really got it this time.

Here’s the set I’m playing with now:

Driver (11.5 degrees)
Fairway wood (16.5 degrees)
Fairway wood (20.5 degrees)
24-degree hybrid
27-degree hybrid

The clubs from the 16.5 fairway wood to the lob wedge have fairly consistent gaps in loft.

I’ve really got it this time.

Today’s Round – Learning From Mistakes

Actually yesterday’s. I spent the day thinking about it. I played nine holes, and was two over par for six of them, and seven over, two doubles and a triple, for the other three. That will make you think.

Now there is no “if only” in sports. I shot what I shot. But looking over those three high scores, the pattern was that I lost four strokes because of bad decisions. The problem is that I have forgotten how to play golf.

Playing golf is not about hitting good shots. I can do that. Golf is about hitting as few of them as possible, and that’s a different skill.

So let me go over my errors with you so you can see if that will help you start thinking about how to shoot a lower score with the same skills.

The 5th hole is 505 yards long. A drive and a hybrid put me right in front of a wide-open green, between an eight and nine-iron. I chose the eight because I always want to have enough club in my hand. So far, so good. But I forgot what you do when you choose the longer club: grip down and swing fully. Gripping down takes about five yards off the shot. Instead I tried swinging a little easier, which makes bad things happen, and sure enough, I chunked it.

The ball was close enough to the green that par was still in play if I could chip on and sink the putt. But I forgot the Maxim of the Short Game: just get the ball on the green so you can start putting. I got too cute with the chip by going for the pin instead of the green and chunked it. One chip and two putts later, I’m in the hole with a DB.

The very next hole, a long par 4 into the wind, was a bogey hole that day. A drive and a seven-iron later I’m close to the green. Simple pitch, two putts, maybe one, and I’m happy. But I forgot to check the distance to the pin. Because of the wind I chose a stronger club to pitch with, but the pin was too close even for that, and I flew the green with my pitch. It took me three shots to get down chipping to a green sloping away from me. DB.

Three holes later, the ninth, I hit my drive into the right rough. I had been pushing my driver all day, but getting away with it. The ground rises dramatically to the green, and given my lie I didn’t want to try for the green, come up short, and end up with the ball on a severe upslope. So I played short, leaving the ball on a moderate upslope, which was all I could do.

This time I checked the distance to the pin, but didn’t evaluate the situation correctly. When you pitch off an uphill lie, the slope adds loft to the club. You have to club down to hit the ball the same distance. But I started my calculation with the club I should have ended up with, and once again had too much club in my hand. The pitch flew the green into a bad place and it took me four to get down from there. TB.

Three bad decisions cost me four strokes. I ended up with a 45 that could have been a 41 without playing any better, but just by thinking more clearly.

That’s how this game goes. This is clear evidence of what I call the Floyd Rule, which I take from Raymond Floyd’s book, The Elements of Scoring, and that is, “If I were given your physical game, and we had a match, I would beat you 99 times out 100 times because I know how to play the game better than you do.”

Let me give you one more example from that day’s round, by one of my playing partners. On the eighth hole, we both put our tee shots in the right rough (I ended up with a par). His ball was right behind a small tree trunk with about four inches to spare. He had the easiest shot in the world to chip 90 degrees back into the fairway so he could hit on.

What did he do? He gripped down and tried to hit the ball in the direction of the green, or as nearly as he could. With a swing featuring a four-inch follow-through, he bladed the ball about 15 feet and deeper into the rough. Oh, well…

So my question to you is, do you think about your mistakes? Write them down? Learn from them, so next time you know what to do? Not just think, “Why did I do that,” but know now what you should have done, and next time apply the correction?

I truly believe that if you concentrated only on playing the game better you could reduce your average score by over five percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but do the math.

Hint: most mistakes come from getting greedy. We won’t concede one lost stroke and end up taken two or three more instead.

My Chipping Stroke

In the summer of 2012, following two back surgeries earlier that year, all I could do was chip and putt. So I decided to start over with that and learn how to do them both the right way, not the way I had fallen into on my own.

I had a chipping lesson that June. I told the pro, pretend I’ve never hit a chip shot before and tell me how to do it from the ground up. That’s exactly what he did.

Whenever I have a golf lesson, I take notes afterward. I wrote down the points he made on chipping, practiced them a lot, because, remember that’s all I could do at the time, and I became a very good chipper.

I looked through the blog and found out that I had never posted the points he taught me. They don’t really substitute for a lesson, but here they are anyway. I hope you can make something of them. There are six.

1. Setup: The ball is in the center of your stance, weight is slightly left, the clubshaft leans slightly left. Light grip pressure, grip down to the metal for control.

2. The wrists break back slightly when the club goes back. Do not overdo this.

3. The shaft and the right knee feel like they are moving forward together.

4. The right knee continues breaking through the shot. The right heel comes off the ground.

5. The hips turn. There is no slide. The left hip moves straight back, not around.

6. The wrists are straight again at impact and do not break further (the right hand does not pass the left). The clubface ends up facing the sky.

As I have said earlier, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball, not so much on hitting down on the ball. There is a bit of that, but do not emphasize it.

If you perfect this stroke, and calibrate a number of chipping clubs, getting up and down from greenside will become your expectation.

Wristy Putting

Lately I’ve been trying a little putting stroke for short putts—under six feet. It’s a short, wristy stroke.

I figure the reason we miss short putts is that the putter wobbles at some point going back and forth before it gets to the ball. By then, the face is no longer aimed at the hole, and the ball slides by.

The key, then, is to keep the face square to the starting line at all cost.

So I started by taking the arms and shoulders out of the stroke. They can wander. Then I took the hands out of the stroke. They can twist and turn.

All that is left are my wrists. Just a slight bit of horizontal hinging is all I need to get the ball going. The putter goes back maybe thee inches and about that on the follow-through.

Since the only things moving are your wrists, and they can only hinge around a fixed axis (law of anatomy) there really isn’t much that can go wrong.

And with such a short stroke, the face stays square without having to deliberately hood the face going back, then undo that coming through.

If you have read the putt correctly and aimed the face square to the starting line, the ball will go in.

Now here’s the important part. This is not a pop stroke. It’s not a jab. It’s a relaxed stroke that takes the head back gently and brings it through gently, but with a little “hit” on the ball. Just a little. These are short putts, so you don’ t need much hit at all.

If you find yourself popping the ball anyway, hold the club very lightly. It’s hard to be poppy with such a light grip.

Try this on your carpet at home. Remember, wrists only, gentle back, gentle through, with a tiny bit of hit.

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