Category Archives: potpourri

Golf in My Backyard – II

A week or so ago I posted about a little plastic golf ball being stuffed in a hole in the big apple tree in my backyard.

This afternoon I was raking leaves and I saw – there was one in there again!

Someone, or something, picked up one I had left out on the lawn, most likely, and jammed it in there.

And I mean jammed. After I got it out, which isn’t easy, I put it back in again see how much work it would take.

The answer is, lots.

I pressed hard with my thumb, and that didn’t get it in, so I pressed with the heel of my hand and that did it.

I am just flummoxed.

Maybe I need to set up a night vision camera with a motion detector like the wildlife photographers use.

Golf In My Back Yard

My more recent videos were shot in my back yard. I would like to show a reverse view and point out things that happen when I am not looking.

The first picture looks from the house back to the mat (arrow on the left) where I stand during filming. I hit plastic balls off that all the time.

The arrow in the center points to a hole in the tree into which someone once stuffed one of my plastic golf balls.

And I mean stuffed. I had to use a scratch awl to get it out and it wasn’t easy.

That was last year.

Do you see something orange in the hole? (Click the image)

Here’s a closeup.

I thought the first ball had been stuffed in there by the guys who prune the tree every other year as a joke, but this orange ball was stuffed in there a few days ago and I have been the only person to go into the back yard, and I didn’t do it!

So! That means some THING, some critter, is doing this for some animal reason, and it must be a good one, and it must be a big animal, because it takes a lot of force to wedge that ball in there.

All I can think of is a raccoon or a opossum.

That’s golf in my back yard.

A Few Odds and Ends

Lexi Thompson
We know she can play. She’s the golfer Michelle Wie was supposed to have been. What I’m reading everywhere, though, is the remarkable maturity, poise, and grace that she has. Writers always follow that up with “…for someone who’s only 17.” Well, some people have had it from birth and she’s one of them. She meets the fans, signs autographs until no one is left, and genuinely enjoys it. She has a unique combination of thriving on engaging the public and being a top-notch golfer. You’re looking at the future face of the LPGA, a future which could start this year.

West Coast Swing
This is my favorite time of the tournament year. There are three distinctly different tournaments back to back. The Humana at TPC Scottsdale is a fan-fest, the AT&T (I still want to call it the Crosby) is played on three beautiful courses, and the Northern Trust is held at another old, classic, beautiful course. If the TV cameras showed us only the 10th hole at Riviera, a 315-yard par 4 where you have to work to get your par, and bogeys and doubles are there for the taking, I would have no complaints.

Rocketballz 3-wood
This club is getting heavy advertising on the golf broadcasts. Bloggers who review it just love it and report that this truly is a different club. My son tried out all the 3-woods in the pro shop and found that this one was in a class of its own. Easy to hit off the ground, the ball going straighter and longer, this club seems like a fantasy come true. You could even use this for your driver, losing only a little distance and getting much more accuracy. For once all the talk might not be just hype.

Banning the Belly Putter/Belly Putting
No one said two words when Sergio Garcia choked away the British Open in 2007 with a belly putter. But when Webb Simpson wins twice on the PGA Tour with one, and Keenan Bradley wins a major with one, now it’s a big problem. Get this. Because of two, yes, count ’em, two, golfers, the golfing authorities are in a tizzy about belly putters. The reaction to two golfers who won tournaments they might well have won anyway is endangering the use of this club for the many thousands of amateurs who also use one.

One of the big pushes by the PGA of America is to retain active golfers and get more people started. They have a program called Golf 2.0 for this very purpose, but their partner in this effort, the USGA, is looking askance at belly putters? Maybe incoming USGA president Glen Nager’s first official act should be to say, “The belly putter is fine. We have other things to do with our time,” and move on to more important matters.

2012 is the Year of Tempo
You might not have heard that before, but it’s because I just made it up. I’m calling on all golfers to practice nothing but their rhythm and tempo this year when they hit balls at the range. Tee up everything, even your irons, to take the ground out of play, and put one smooth swing after another on the ball. Many golfers who think they have good rhythm and tempo, don’t. In their head they do, but their conception is flawed. You might even want to get a lesson to check yours. One more thing: learn to align yourself. Many times what you think is a swing flaw is only a subconscious reaction to poor alignment. Get checked out on that, too, when you have your tempo lesson.

Bomb Your Driver
I saw a golf magazine on the rack with the headline Bomb Your Driver in large caps. That sounded like a good idea to me. I have this 8.5-degree driver with a stiff shaft that I bought just to find out what hitting a driver that’s way over my head felt like. You would think two degrees of loft wouldn’t make much difference, but a shot with my my 7-iron hits the ground farther away than with this club. So I got some C4 (do not ask me where), stuck a few dabs on the shaft and one big one on the clubhead, wired it up to a few detonators left over from another project that involved gophers, hid behind the shed, and let ‘er rip. Wow! Carl Spackler’s got nothin’ on me! Left a big hole in my back lawn, though, and the neighbors weren’t too happy. Maybe I should have bought the magazine to find out how the pros do this.


In Praise of Limitations

About a week ago, I mentioned that my back was acting up and a full swing is just not in the cards. That’s still the case, but yesterday I went out and played nine with my 6-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, and putter. It went really well.

There isn’t much I can do from tee to green except hit a giant chip, but if I do that, I get a much straighter shot than normal and I don’t lose as much distance as you would think. Normally the 6 goes 160 yards, and I got 140 out of it with that less-than-half swing.

All that wedge work is paying off in spades, and I get on the green and close every time. Not exactly one-putt close, but two easy putts and every now and then a makable try.

The thing that is working the best is contact. Contact is all the rage these days. Contact is what counts, and as readers of this space know, it is what I have been working on since a turning-point lesson last April. It is truly amazing what good, solid contact alone can do for you. You feel that solid thump as the ball gets pinched between the ground and the clubface, then you see the satisfying take-off as the ball shoots down the fairway. Or around the green when you think “Oh, no, I hit that one too hard,” when all you did is put untold amounts of spin on it and it lands two feet in front of the hole and comes to rest one foot in front.

The divots are things of beauty. They start in front of the ball, are about six inches long, thin, maybe a quarter inch thick at most, and as wide as the clubhead; not a chunk out of the fairway, but a slice of it, just the way it’s supposed to be.

I don’t care at all that I can’t hit the ball very far right now. When the back settles down again, . . . oh, gosh, I can’t wait.

“I’m playing 18 today, walking, I don’t need a cart. By the way what’s the course record here?”

You know, you can order Better Recreational Golf and still get your copy by Christmas.

Getting Back to Golf

I spent the summer getting in condition for a hike across the Grand Canyon — down from the north rim and out to the south rim. I made this same hike three years ago, and tried to play golf as well while getting in shape. The problem was, that the conditioning hikes made my legs too tired to play good golf, and playing golf didn’t let me rest between conditioning hikes. So golf went out this year.

My wife and I made the hike last week, and it’s now time to start playing again. I spent most of September at the driving range getting my swing back in shape, and also re-learning how to chip and putt. I was also having real trouble getting my driver off the ground, which is when I hauled out my old 2-wood and began getting the air that I was missing.

I have always thought that if you can hit the ball straight and you can putt, then you can score. So that’s what I’m working on mostly at the range. We have about one month of good weather for golf left in western Oregon, and I intend to take good advantage of it.

I was still hitting slap hooks, though, a problem that has plagued me for years. I finally found a solution, I think, by noticing that when I stopped at impact, my right elbow was sticking out. Sure enough this closes the clubface dramatically. Johnny Miller has a video called Johnny Miller’s Fixing Your Swing Golf Clinic, in which each section is about how to fix a particular ball flight flaw. Whenever something goes wrong, I watch this video and the solution is right there. In the hook section, he pointed out that if your right elbow comes out, you’ll close the clubface and hit those slappy hooks. That’s good enough confirmation for me.

So I’m working on keeping my right elbow tucked against my right side as the club comes into the ball. This is new, and as with everything new, it’s hard to practice a new thing without either overdoing it or forgetting everything else that I’m doing right.

You might think that by not playing golf that this was a lost year golfing-wise for me, but remember that in May I got started learning how to release the club through the ball, and now I have figured out about the right elbow. This could end up as my best year yet.


The Golf Season So Far

This happens every year. Just when I start to get my summer revved up, August is about to begin. We have short summers in Oregon, and this year it was especially short because of the long, wet spring we had. The parade of golf tournaments helps me keep track of how the year is passing by when the weather gives me false signals.

As far I’m concerned, the pro golf season ends with the British Open and i start thinking about college football. (See As you read in my recent preview, it’s one of my favorite tournaments of the year, though this year I was in Japan when it was being played, and didn’t get to see any of it because of the time zone difference.

The PGA Championship doesn’t really grab me. Sorry. . .

The biggest story of the year is that we’re in a transition from one era to another. The Tiger/Phil is coming to a close (no, Tiger, when he comes back will be a very good player, but no longer a great one), European golf is ascendant, and the distinction between tours is blurring. If professional golf were a free market, we would be seeing a shake-out on both the PGA and European tours and the establishment of a world tour.

But that might involve American players traveling to foreign countries, eating food other than they are used to, and speaking a language other than English, (can you just imagine Bubba Watson ordering snails en Francais?). So let’s not hold our breath on a free market.

What we will find is that the success of European players gives them the power to resist the demands the PGA Tour levies on participants in its tournaments. The absence of current stars because of parochial membership requirements will have to give way soon. That would establish a freer market, and the results would be interesting.

For the ladies, it will take an economic recovery for the LPGA to schedule more than 30 tournaments. They’re trying to hang on by having a fifth major, and by holding it outside the U.S., are taking clear steps to create a world tour. Bully for them. Fortunately we have on of their precious events in the Portland area every August. If you want to see how good the ladies really are, and how good you aren’t, try to catch an LPGA event.

As for my season, I described in an earlier post the swing change my pro gave me to work on, and I’m still working on it. It’s paying off handsomely around the green already, but with longer clubs, the results are slower coming.

Here’s a hint, though. Friday I played with my grandson and was in the rough with my drive, 193 yards from the green. I took out my 24-degree hybrid, which in spring was my 175-yard club, and launched a gentle draw all the way to the green, the ball resting about 20 feet beyond the pin. And that was all carry, folks. No bouncing off rock-hard fairways.

I haven’t played much golf, because I’m also getting in shape for a trans-canyon hike at the Grand Canyon at the end of September. The conditioning hikes don’t leave me the legs for golf. Come October, I’ll be back in force.

When I do play, I’ve been carrying only six clubs. There was a note in an old Golf Digest magazine I picked up that told of a men’s club that had a six-club tournament. Twenty-three of the twenty-five players shot their handicap or better, and one 12-handicapper shot a 74. Try cutting down on your bag. It’s more fun, and you will not lose a stroke.

One last note. I finally got to single digits this year. For all of you who are close, let me tell you. You don’t have to hit the ball great all the time, just well enough most of the time. The difference in how I’m scoring right now, when I play, is that I don’t throw away shots by not thinking clearly or by having nightmare holes. Every shot I hit is the best I can do at the moment. If you’re a 12, you’re good enough to be a 9. You just have to stop wasting shots, and that’s mental.


Assorted Thoughts

I played in our men’s club tournament this weekend, and played pretty well — shot my handicap, which, considering that is in the top 5 of my last 20 scores, is a good day on the course. The two things that worked were driving and putting. I put the ball in the fairway, and didn’t miss any putts.

Do those two things well, my friend, and you will score.

People say you only learn from your mistakes. Nonsense. The only thing I ever learned from a mistake is not to do that again. Didn’t learn a thing about what to do.

So when I make a mistake on the golf course, I come home and start the search for a better way. When I do something right on the course, I come home and practice it over and over so I won’t forget.

I am now thinking that all golf instruction boils down to a few simple guidelines. Here they are, courtesy of The Recreational Golfer:

1. Full swing, ball on the tee: think square face, center hit. That’s one thing, not two.
2. Full swing, ball on the ground: think ball first, ground second. Again, that’s one thing, not two.
3. Short game: (a) start with your weight on the left side and do not let one ounce of it shift right, (b) never let your right hand pass the left.
4. Putting: hit the ball on the sweet spot.
5. Course management: hit a shot, within your capabilities, to the spot from where you have the easiest setup for getting the ball into the hole in the fewest amount of strokes.

If you follow those rules you will revolutionize your shot-making and scoring.

Ridiculous penalty: stroke and distance for a ball out of bounds or lost. Should be distance only.
Ridiculous rule: players must sign for their score for it to be official. A player’s score should be officially recorded on the spot by a scorer assigned to the group, and that would be that.
End of rant.

The more hybrid irons you have in your bag, the easier golf is. Leave your ego at home.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.