Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Membership Has It's Privileges!

You're invited to become a member of GolfDash.com, "the intelligent golf directory". It's free and by becoming a member you receive some cool tools like:

1. "One Click Customization" - you can add your own links and personalize the layout

2. Customizable RSS Ticker - Track the latest news & sports headlines from your favorite sites.

3. Access the archives of the ‘Daily Headline’ and ‘Featured Site’ for a quick look at all the newest and most interesting golf web sites and feature stories.

4. Customizable Weather Center. Keep track of the weather conditions at your favorite courses. Very cool!

5. Many new, exciting tools to help you find, organize and manage your favorite golf information will be released soon!

Help us build GolfDash.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Duval Makes Cut!

David Duval has finally made a cut. He ended up tied for 60th at the Valero Texas Open this weekend. Started off with a very respectable 68, 69 and ended with a 70,74. These certainly seem like consistant scores to me. Duvall says: "It's a cycle that needed to be broken, but I've been playing a lot better than my scores have reflected for the last six weeks," Duval said after making the cut. "Each day I seem to hit the highest score I possibly could, the last six or eight rounds I've played. It's no different this week so far. I've hit it really well, just made a couple stupid mistakes." - Here's hoping Duvall is starting to feel and believe in his game again. It certainly would be one of the most dramatic comebacks in golf. I don't know about you but I'm secretly hoping there is more great golf within him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Driving Ranges Don't Cut It

Let's face it, most public driving ranges aren't much good. That's not to say that I don't use them and that I am not appreciative that they are there at all. Given the choices they are a blessing. But in the grand scheme of things, how nice would it be to have a range nearby with grass tees, lots of greens for targets at different yardages, bunkers and even places where you could work on hitting lies that aren't flat.

Unless you play at a private club, why is it that most ranges are thin little mats on concrete pads with a couple of flags stuck here and there. Is there no money in owning a range? There are even some private clubs with questionable ranges. And sometimes they don't let you hit off the grass if they do have it. They save it for weekends and tournaments. How does hitting a ball off concrete prepare you for hitting it off grass? I'm not sure it's ever helped me very much.

A good practice facility needs some acreage. It also needs decent grass to hit from. Now maintaining sod isn't easy, but is it so expensive that it's prohibitive in all but the high end clubs. Of course 'nice' greens out on the range are going to cost you extra, but they don't have to be real greens. Just push a little earth around to make a raised target. I have seen some very nice public practice facilities, but they are few and far between. I haven't tracked them over the years to see if they've stayed in business, but I'd like to think they have.

Here's my idea, build a nice enough practice facility that you could sell memberships to it, just like a club. Of course you'd let people walk in and use the facility, but they'd pay more for single visits. Maybe they'd only get to use part of the facility or maybe make them hit off mats. I'd join a facility if there was one like that around and it was reasonable. If I add up all the buckets of balls I've bought during a season, I know I'm spending more than $200, maybe considerably more.

I don't believe I get a lot better when I just play a round. You need to hit the same type of shot over and over to get it grooved. That only happens on the range. And you need to practice lots of different types of shots - uphill, downhill, above and below your feet. Let's face it, you need to practice every type of shot you're going to encounter on the course and that includes hitting from the rough.

How about the short game, where most of us take most or our stokes. How can you consistently hit good approaches from 20, 30 and 50 yards if you can't practice lots of shots like these under course like conditions. How many weekend warriors are really good at getting up and down from 30 yards? Now you don't have to be in great shape or even very flexible to be good from that range, you just need lots of practice.

If anybody out there owns a range, please let me know how it goes. I'm really curious. I'd also like to hear from anybody who owns or uses a nice public facility. Are there any out there? And has anyone heard of memberships to upscale practice facilities?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Faster Pussy Cat, Kill Kill - Ryder Cup Agida

Is it just me, or are golf 'Cup' competitions like the Ryder and Solheim becoming more aggressive. I haven't been to recent competitions, but to read the mainstream media you'd think golf was a full contact sport.

For tour events, you rarely ever get the sense that one player is out to beat the bejeesus out of another. Everyone wants to win, but the players that don't always talk about 'beating themselves'. You'll hear comments like 'so and so played great down the stretch, and I just couldn't make key putts'.

I've never felt like someone beat me in the men's league I used to play in. I beat myself. I didn't have my A game. I couldn't make a lousy 3 footer. I shanked that last chip. I was hitting it fat. That's why I lost. I've rarely seen animosity between two players on the course, the way you see it in a basketball game for instance.

Why then, has aggression been injected into the Cup matches? And I don't hear it from the international side. It seems to be an American thing. 'We're going to kick their butts'. Maybe it's the result of 'what an honor it is to play for my country' thinking. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a great honor, but is that thinking what puts so much pressure on the American players. If they loose, are they forced into thinking they've let their team and country down. Because of that, do they figure aggression will help them play better? If the recent Ryder Cup competitions are any indication, then this attitude doesn't help you win.

Because the Europeans are from many different countries, does that take some of the pressure off them? It's not 'their' country against another country. So if they lose, the local press isn't clamoring what a dark day it is for Spain or Ireland. Because their side is a collection of countries, maybe that spreads the blame around so no one really takes it personally.

Or maybe we Americans are just more aggressive. If there's a war going on somewhere in the world, it's a good chance the Americans will be there. We were all raised on cowboy shoot-em-up movies. Hey, if you've been done wrong you do the manly thing - strap on a six shooter and take it out in the street. And when we take it to the links for team competition it's us against them, a fight to the death - no quarter to the enemy.

Golf isn't an aggressive sport and it never seems to be you against the other guy. It always you against yourself. So what's with this 'we're going to kick the stuffing out of those guys' attitude? It surely doesn't help American teams win in golf. Yes, the US ladies did win the recent Solheim Cup, but I think it was in spite of the tough talk, not because of it. Golf is great at showing ones true character. Wait until you see your friend miss an important 3 foot putt to find out what they're made of.

I've got some advice for the President's Cup team. Go out and enjoy yourselves. Feel good that you've played well enough to make the team. Be glad you're alive with most of your body parts working. And look at the 'office' you report for to work. Don't go obscuring all that because a few media folks are calling for blood. Wear some more 'fun' clothes, joke with the crowd and somewhere during the match do something nice for the guy you're playing against. It certainly didn't hurt the Europeans to do this in last year's Ryder Cup and I'd say most fans really appreciated it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Final Word On Playing Better Golf

I promise this is the last word I'm writing on how to be a better golfer - at least for a little while!

Beyond technology, beyond teachers, beyond mindset and beyond understanding mechanics there are two important issues that limit our ability to get better. I'll even go out on a limb and say there are none more important.

First, our flexibility. Look at today's professionals. They are more athletic and better conditioned than ever before. They run, lift weights and stretch out. Like great swimmers, the best are extremely flexible. The flexibility gives them a range of motion that allows them to create tremendous power while maintaining key body positions. Think about that last idea - create power while maintaining key body positions. Once you turn, rotate, stretch or twist beyond your flexibility you end up destroying a key body position. And once you've lost the body position the body mechanics no longer work.

We all want to hit the ball farther. We are never satisfied with the current distance we get with a particular club. In the back of our mind we are always looking for another 10 yards. So we reach back a little further and destroy our good body mechanics. And we all know what the result is. Flexibility is extremely important to high level golf. Swinging within our flexibility limits is crucial for playing good golf at every level.

Lastly, what holds us back as much as anything are good practice facilities. Most golfers don't belong to a private club. Even then, many private clubs have so so practice facilities. Hitting off mats is not good for your game. I believe it was Lee Travino who said 'Never hit off a mat'. Yet most weekend warriors have no alternative. It's hit off a mat to warm up or don't warm up at all.

And mats are only the tip of the iceberg. I've been rereading Pelz's book on the short game. By the way, if you want to improve your play around the green (read if you want to reduce your handicap) get this book. It's factual and will really open your eyes about how to build a pressure proof short game. The key to Pelz's approach is ultimately to practice - practice on real grass to real greens hitting hundreds if not thousands of shots. Better golf is about repetition under real conditions. Great golfers warm up before they play and practice after they're finished. They always hit off grass and they practice under 'course like' conditions. They chip and pitch to greens of all different yardages. The hit balls out of traps on to real greens.

Unfortunately, good practice facilities are generally not available to the average amateur golfer. Until they are, golfers aren't going to get better, regardless of the club and ball technology available or the skill of their instructors. In a future blog I'll look at golf practice facilities in more detail. Tomorrow let's talk about the increase in aggression in international cup events such as the Ryder and Solheim.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Ingenious little product - GolfRound towel

Doug here, another member of the GolfDash team. I will be focusing on the latest and greatest new and cool golf products and accessories. Stay tuned - it's going to be fun. And please share your comments, suggest a product or accessory or ask any questions.

I just recently found this GolfRound product when I was playing in Myrtle Beach. It is a small round piece of material that has a water repellent outside and a terry cloth inside. All you do is wet the terry cloth portion fold it up and put in your pocket. Makes life much easier when you are trying to clean a golf ball or a club - no racing back and forth to your bag for that big horsey towel.

The Golfer That Has Himself For A Teacher Is..

..A fool? Maybe not. In the end, we all teach ourselves. Who else is going to get us to the right teacher, make us practice and give us the drive to get better? Maybe we just need a little help.

As I've said before, our knowledge of the golf swing is changing. I think we're starting to understand the real mechanics of a good swing for the first time. Sure, there were great teachers who had a feel for it, and players that could capture it for brief periods, but I think we are close to having tools that will give us the real mechanics. But that in itself doesn't make us better golfers. Even if you know the mechanics of a perfect baseball swing, that doesn't make you a .400 hitter. There's a lot more to any sport or game than just mechanics.

It will take time for a new breed of teachers to adopt the new tools, but it will happen. I still think there's some magic in the game that needs to be uncovered. The golf swing is very complicated when you look at mechanics, what amateur among us can learn the game that way. I think we're more likely to learn by understanding some key imagery that will put our minds in the right place for our bodies to execute.

That's a bit obtuse, so I'll try to explain it with an example. Let's say the correct image is of throwing a golf club towards your target. Think of a clock around your body while you're swinging. 12 is over your head and 6 is where the ball is. The image is to swing your club like your objective is to throw your club when it gets to, say, 8:30. Only you have to hold on. Maybe that's the way to learn golf. (I do recall in the far reaches of my brain that someone was actually having their students throw clubs.) Perhaps the mechanics only come in when trying to correct small things.

I envision a machine that is able to capture all your mechanics on a good swing. There are video tools out there now that go a long way in this direction already. When your swing goes off, they'd plug you into the machine to see what small things might be out of wack. Most often I think they are in the setup - grip, stance, alignment and posture.

Or maybe you'd just go back to your 'image' again and practice that. Throw the club. Forget everything else. Leave the mechanics for a 'tune-up' teacher. You'd be your teacher for the basic imagery. I had a decent 'arm' as a kid. I could throw pretty hard and was accurate. I never thought about mechanics, I just thought about a throwing image. If only I could hit a golf ball as consistently as I could throw a baseball, there'd be hope for me.

If anyone out there has a key image that works for them, please write in. I need some help!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Good Teacher For My Horse

If I had a horse, I'd trade him for a good teacher. But only if the price of gas goes below $3.00 again. So we've decided that there are at least a few good teachers out there. I'll posit that most are where the serious money is - teaching the pros and opening up golf schools. That way they can stay away from us, the pitiful golfing public. I mean, they tell you to do one simple thing, give you two weeks to practice and you still can't do it when you return. That's got to wear you down. You tell a pro to practice something, most of them are going to do it at least 6 days a week since it puts the food on the table.

And why won't we practice? Because you have to practice a lot to get a little bit better. And then, your likely to lose it anyway if you take just a week off. Or maybe you'll lose it anyway, even if you don't take time off. Two weeks ago I played a good round of golf for me. Then I took a week off and went to the range this Monday. I felt like I'd never swung a club before. I swear some joker changed all my clubs for brooms.

Look at Tiger Supremo at the Deutsche Bank tournament last weekend. After Friday, he was deigned to be all the way back, his game at a higher level than everyone else. Then he woke up Saturday and it was gone. Tiger probably knows his game better than any other golfer in the world knows theirs and he probably hits more balls, except for maybe VJ. So how can he wake up Saturday and have lost 'it'. And how come he couldn't make a simple change and be back on track for Sunday and Monday. And if he can't do this, then what the heck am I beating my head against the wall for. How can I, average Joe or Joyce, expect to ever improve?

Tomorrow it's back to teachers, tools, practice and a new vision.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Right Teacher Is Key To Instruction

I took a little break from the blog. It was hard to think of golf while the tragedy of Katrina was unfolding. If you haven't already, think about foregoing a round and contributing the money to Katrina victims instead. And something is bothering you today, just think how much worse off you'd be on a cot in the Astrodome.

Thought we'd take on the golf instructors of the world. If you remember a couple of blogs back, I quoted a statistic (sorry I can't remember where I read it) that the average 18 hole golf score has only improved by half a stroke over the last 30 years. And that's with all the advantages that new technology has brought us. Granted, most of us don't take professional instruction on a regular basis, but there are thousands of instructors out there making a living so enough of us are going to keep them employed. Why, then, hasn't that score dropped more than half a stroke?

If some guy in your league improved his handicap by 8 strokes in one year and credited it to a teacher, tell me half the guys or gals in the league wouldn't beat a path to the instructor's door. So are there good teachers out there and, if so, where?

As in any profession there are those that know and those that don't. How comfortable would you feel just picking a dentist's name out of the phone book and having her go to work on your teeth. I didn't think so! There are plenty of dentists out there, but only a few I want to trust my choppers to. So we can assume that this is the same for golf instructors - a few bad, a few good and most various shades of so so.

Tomorrow we look at good instructors and ourselves as the students. If there are some good instructors out there, and I'm sure there are, how come students aren't lined up in the parking lot and down the road. Who wouldn't part with some serious scratch to get really better at this game? Before you say no, go look at that high priced titanium monster driver in your bag.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What's Wrong With Small Balls?

Yesterday we looked at why it might be good to limit the pros ability to hit the ball so far. The easiest way to do this appears to be to give them a ball that won't travel as far. We just change that one thing and, voila, it's all good again. But hold on, it might not be as easy as it sounds.

How would you restructure the rules to produce a ball that doesn't go as far. Right now there are limits on ball weight, size, spherical symmetry, initial velocity and overall distance. Now a limit on overall distance sounds like we have a spec for that already, but it's not as simple as that. The actual distance is 296.8 yards - someone tell John Daly he's not conforming! Actually he does conform. The distance is measured under laboratory conditions with a machine that hits the ball consistently but only so hard. Obviously most pro male golfers (and some females) can make a ball go further. And both the USGA and the R&A are looking at increasing the test distance to 320 yards - the balls might soon be going even further. The bottom line for us is that manufacturers are free to compete to make the best ball within these guidelines. And that's why there is a very competitive ball manufacturing market out there. And all of us 'free market' freaks know that competition is always good.

But, put a restriction on distance only and you get some problems. Even if you reduce only the size (assuming a smaller size will mean a shorter distance) how long would it take the manufacturers to make these small balls go just as far. And then you're back to limiting distance. Once the restriction becomes a particular distance, every ball starts acting the same. They'll all end up with the same spin options very quickly. No differentiation, no market! Maybe we're already there and just don't know it. Do I score any better with a Bridgestone than a Srixon? Me thinks not.

What drives us to use certain balls? Certainly our pocketbook, but after that we want to use the ball the best golfer uses. If Phil wins with Titleist, then that's what I want. Or if I'm a Tiger fan, I'll take the Nike. But in our brave new world we won't be playing with the same ball the pros use. There will be no correlation to the Titleist I use and the one VJ uses. And no incentive for the ball manufacturers, which means the death of the market which ultimately means less sponsorship money and smaller purses and a shrinking pro sport.

Maybe I've painted too glum a picture, but I don't think the free market forces will ever let us have a separate ball for the pros. The manufacturers are too strong and have too much power and it's not in their best interests. If we want to see the pros not hit the ball so far, which in effect lessens the impact of new club technology, then we are all going to have to use balls that don't go so far. And how bad is that? Is my problem an extra 10 or 15 yards? No, my problem is hitting the ball straight (my swing), getting out of sandtraps, hitting my wedges with half and 3/4 swings and, of course, my putting. And a change in the ball isn't going to affect these areas at all. So maybe we need a good scientist to figure out a ball construction guideline that will shorten the distance of all balls, but still allow the manufacturers to compete for our sentiments. So all we have to do is find the guy who can write the specs. Someone call the commissioner!