Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Are Small Balls Good Balls?

Are the pros hitting the ball too far for existing courses? How many of the classic courses have been lengthened in the last 10 years. What tournament courses haven't had fairways narrowed and greens hardened to try and keep winning scores higher. And the question that really matters to most of us, should we care? Most of us don't play on these courses, so what's the difference. Maybe we should let the pro game be what it is and just watch it on TV. Hey, but don't we actually pay the money the pros make. That makes us their employer, so why shouldn't we have the primary say?

Jack Nicklaus says the pros are hitting the ball too long and something should be done about it. If any pro has the credentials to speak his mind on this it's Jack, the best player of our time. (Tiger you're great, but you've got to keep playing at the top level for at least another 15 years.) I won't put words into Jack's mouth, but I believe his thinking is that too many clubs are being taken out of the pros hands. They don't have to hit the whole bag like they used to - no 3 irons into a postage stamp par 3. Today they just hit their 300+ yard drives and at most hit 7 irons to the green. (A 320 yard drive plus a 195 yard 7 iron = 515. That's a par 5 hole for most of us amateurs.)

And many can even let the shaft out more when they need to and knock it 340+ on the 'long' par 5's. There are lots of why's - better conditioning, better coaching, greater flexibility, digital video analysis, high tech club faces, high tech shafts and 'juiced' balls. More tournament courses are lengthened every year, with more yardages surpassing the 7200 mark. How often do the 'shorter' hitters now contend in the majors? The Corey Pavin's of the world seem relegated to top 20 finishes at best.

I've heard speculation by some golf writers that the situation will only get worse as the best golfers get 'bigger'. Maybe our new champions will be the guys that used to play B-ball, all 6'6" + and over 240 lbs. Goodbye to the Justin Leonard's of the world. I've read that this is the coming trend because in the past tall players were limited by the ability to build clubs their size that actually worked. Now with new materials, the experts say this has changed. A 6'6'' guy can get a club his size with the correct swing weight. We certainly have seen more 'big' guys winning lots of tournaments in recent years. Just look at the likes of Faldo, Mickelson, Singh and Els. I think it would be a shame to turn golf into another sport that favors size over so many other attributes.

Back to our original idea, why should we care what the pros do. Who cares if just big guys win, or just big hitters or the pro that gets sponsored by the best equipment makers. I think we should care because that isn't the game we love. There are many things that make golf unique among sports (or among games for you purists). For amateurs, we all seem created equal. Can you say there is any common physical characteristic among the best people in your league. In many cases the smallest player with the strangest swing is the one who scores best week to week. And of course, there's always the 'handicap' - the great equalizer among honest amateurs.

And I like the idea that I get to watch the best in the world attempt the same shots I have to make. First I get to see how they do it. And I might even learn something. And I also appreciate their tremendous skill more when I see them have to hit a 3 iron out of a fairway bunker to try and get on a green in regulation.

So, is the fix that easy? We just mandate that the pros have to use a ball that doesn't go so far and all will be right with the world. Tomorrow we'll take a look at some of the pitfalls behind this approach.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Unabashed Advice On Learning The Game

First, let me apologize for being about 4 days late in publishing. I've got excuses like a new kitchen countertop, busted toilet and a clogged kitchen sink. Anyone out there any good at cutting cast iron pipe? BUT, there's a payoff. I'm actually going to tell you how to improve at golf. Worth the wait, right? Time will tell.

Maybe there's no silver bullet for becoming a better golfer, but I think there are some basics that can help most anyone. The bigger question is - will you do it? I mean losing weight is easy for most people - just eat fewer calories than you burn up. But, but, but........there's always a but.

In no particular order, here's my guidance. Work on tempo. However you swing, fast or slow, make sure your tempo is the same on the backswing and downswing. Count to yourself, use a metronome, sing a tune in your head. Just manage the tempo. That goes for every club in the bag including the putter. While you are out on the course make consistent tempo your goal.

Mind set - means give your mind very specific tasks while on the course, the practice range is a different matter. The old bean is good for strategy and it's good for observing. How do I feel, am I comfortable, am I remembering that it's just a game, look at the beautiful sunset, how does the grip feel in my hands. You get the idea. Just don't let it start giving you swing instructions. If you want to know more about how to use and not use the mind in sports, try reading something by Tim Gallwey.

Find out what's really going on in the golf swing. There are millions of books with millions of suggestions and I think most will confuse you on the basic swing. Try checking out Carl Rabito, his website is I don't know the guy and I don't get any money from him. I've only recently discovered him, but I think his modern scientific approach to golf gets as close to the 'truth' about the swing as anyone. And it looks pretty simple. Know how the knees, hips and torso move in relation to each other (the torso must move faster than the hips on the downswing because they have further to go). The arms are almost passive. Know what the correct wrist cock is.

Want to use some science to understand the short game, take a look at Dave Pelz's stuff. He is 'the man' on the short game. He used to work for NASA many years ago and has used a scientific approach to understand what really works and what doesn't. He's helped many of the top pros, just ask Phil. Again, I have no connection with him. Hell, I don't have a connection with anyone in golf for that matter so I'll stop adding that in.

Swing a club every day. Four or five minutes is enough, but do it every day. It's kind of relaxing. Almost as good as a martini for unwinding. Swing a weighted club every other day, it will help build your golf muscles and might even help stretch them out.

Know about the adrenalin effect we talked about last Thursday. When you step up to that first tee, you're going to have some of it flowing through your veins and it will effect your swing. The more you swing with your torso - the big muscles - the less it's effect will be.

Video yourself if possible and then compare it with a good golfer's swing. There are lots of tools for doing this. You can do it online at I haven't them, but it looks like a professional operation.

Once you start playing a real round of golf, 'dance with who brought you'. In other words, use whatever swing shows up, don't go trying to correct everything during your round. And have fun, unless you play golf for a living. That's what we go into the coal mines everyday for. It would be a shame to waste those precious days off just making ourselves miserable! Work does that for most of us, so don't let it on the course.

Tomorrow let's look at the controversy regarding the pros hitting the ball too far and whether it makes sense for them to play a different ball. We indirectly pay them so why shouldn't we have a say!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We Can Figure How To Play Better

If we start thoughtfully, think clearly and use the facts, can't we get to the heart of golf and figure out how to play well? Let's look at what we know.

Is it true that if you play everyday you'll get better? Or maybe it's better said, 'the more you play the better you'll get'. Well, to a point. Diminishing returns seem to set in pretty quickly. And if I have a flawed swing, aren't I just training the flaw during the extra 18 holes a week I start playing.

Rhythm is the most important part of the swing. Given you know some basics like how to stand in relation to the golf ball and the hole, I'd have to say that rhythm is the number one skill in golf. Ever hit a bad shot and feel your swing was smooth and flowing? Not me. If you've played just a little golf and are paying attention, I think we all know we've hit a bad shot by the time we've made contact. Sometimes you know you're going to hit a bad shot before you get to the top of your backswing.

How about mind set - or where your mind's at while you're playing. If we're beating ourselves up on the course and golf feels like a root canal will we ever get better? I don't think so. You might improve for a shot or a hole, but that's probably just coincidence. How can you get better at something that's killing you inside. And if golf is all about rhythm, stress or frustration isn't going to help.

What is the mind good for in golf? Certainly not thinking about the last shot. And not for trying to tell the body how to hit the next one. The best golf I play is when I am not 'trying', or better said, when I'm not thinking about it. Take my conscious mind away from shot making and I'm probably better by 7 or 8 strokes a round.

So what's the mind good for? - golf strategy for one. Figuring out how to intelligently play a hole. Meaning, don't leave your approach above the hole if the green falls steeply front to back. If your favorite yardage in is 100, then don't hit a club that will take you to 80. Leave the driver in the bag on the short dogleg par 4. If you get in trouble, take your medicine and use a stroke to get out instead of taking a double or triple because you tried the heroic save. The mind is helpful if it's kept in check and focused on what it's good at. You're in trouble if you're thinking at setup 'right elbow in, slow takeaway, weight on the inside of the right leg, resist at the hips' and on and on. Ever chase and catch a fly ball in the outfield. Has your conscious mind ever helped you during that act? I didn't think so.

Let's not forget flexibility. Golf requires a lot of unnatural twisting and turning. When we're young we get ourselves in trouble by twisting and turning too much and when we get old we can't do it enough. But this ultimately relates to rhythm. Somehow you have to twist and turn rhythmically within the limitations of your own body. And that can change from day to day, at least as you get older. So golf is about adapting to your daily physical condition/limitations.

I've got to include anxiety or it's counterpart,adrenalin, as a core factor. David Pelz says this is what happens between the range and the course to change your game. You practice swinging without adrenalin on the range (or for your practice swing on the course)and then with it while you play. And adrenalin changes the way your muscles work, even the way the nerve impulses get sent and delivered. Which means anxiety changes rhythm. Maybe that's why my best golf occurs when I'm not thinking, because it's the conscious mind that triggers the anxiety or fear that releases adrenalin.

So far we've got rhythm as the key skill and the need to keep the conscious mind out of the actual swinging process. Tomorrow I'll add in a couple of more core basics and try to pull it all together.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

David Duval As Teacher

For me, David Duval's struggle to get back to being a top level tour player is fascinating. It looks very much like what we average golfers are constantly going through. You make a good shot, or birdie a hole, or even keep it together for most of a round, only to loose it again. If I can play 5 holes in a row well, why can't I just keep it up. How can I know how to hit a shot, only to forget it?

I know no network is going to cover David's struggles and if I was him I'd probably want it that way. But I'm dying to know what he's struggling with. Is it his driver, or his putter or perhaps he can't psyche himself up to stay in a competitive mindset. Maybe knowing what he's struggling with wouldn't help me so much, but if he does get it together, wouldn't you love to know how he did it? And speaking of that, what exactly did Tiger do recently to tame his driver. It wasn't long ago that it seemed every drive of his was way gone. He'd waste a shot a hole just trying to extracate himself. Recently he's belting the snot out of the ball and they're mostly in the short grass. I know he's been remaking his swing, but what exactly did he do with the driver besides getting a new one (and how important was that). What did the change feel like, when did he know he had it, and how does he hold on to it now?

What is a good golf swing composed of? Too many damn things for one. Read any instructional book and you'll come away with at least 100 key points to remember. Somebody needs to prioritize these things. There must be 10 things that are absolutely core, but which 10 are they. You can read chapters on the grip alone. Isn't there a definitive answer by now on what the 'right' grip really is?

Maybe there's too many human physical variations for there to be one 'right' grip for everyone. But if that's the case, why aren't there more ways to throw a football or hit a tennis ball? (Come to think of it, maybe there are if you were to look at it in very small detail).

And think about this one, maybe we will always continue to make golf as hard as it is. Could that be the soul of the game. Holes will get longer, greens faster, traps bigger or deeper as need be to keep the average golf score at 99.5. As soon as a course gets easier to play, doesn't the membership or ownership always start thinking about making changes. Isn't that what we want? Personally we want to get better, but do we get better if everyone else does at the same time.

Tomorrow we'll get a little more specific by looking at the physical and mental components of the game. I promise. Yes, I was buying myself some time today as I get ready to go right to the heart of things tomorrow.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Where's David Duval?

Ever wonder what happened to David Duval? Don't forget that he was the number one golfer in the world just before Tiger's record breaking reign began. If you've been paying attention, and most probably aren't, he's been trying to get it together as a Tour professional for about a year and a half now after a series of injuries and personal setbacks. I'm not writing about David to look at his personal life or delve into his psyche. From the average golfer's point of view, what I think is interesting is how fleeting golf skills can be even for someone who was number one once and how this might help us understand our own game better.

David played at the British Open this year. He didn't make the cut. He didn't score nearly as well as Jack Nicklaus who is now 65 (or thereabouts). David is somewhere around 30, just about Tiger's age. If he's not still injured and was once the world's best, how could he be that far out of form?

How many top golfers have 'it' for only a fleeting second or two. Look at Mike Weir. Great to see a Canadian win a major! He seems like a really nice guy and I liked that little half back swing rehearsal he does. He strikes the ball well, but when is the last time he was seriously in contention? And when he won, he didn't just get lucky, he played great golf for 4 rounds, earning every bit of his Green Jacket.

Why is a golf swing so elusive? How many times have you thought you found 'the secret' only to discover the next day that you still can't hit the ball the way you want. Or how about hitting those beautiful shots on the practice range only to have the driver feel more like a broom on the first tee. Even Tiger talks about that. At the British Open he spoke about being 'Ranger Rick' on the practice tee and then having it disappear by the time he teed off. He said he won on Sunday because 'Ranger Rick' actually showed up on the first tee.

If having and then losing 'it' happens so frequently and to every golfer, then there must be an explanation for it. Tomorrow I'll give you my best shot at why this happens to all of us. Someone tell Tiger and David to tune in.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Scottish Course Design

Today we'll look at the design 'theory' behind many of the world's best courses. I'm talking about the old classic courses. That includes all the old greats in Scotland and Ireland as well as notable US courses like Cyprus Point and Augusta National. The man behind many of these classics is Dr. Alister MacKenzie.

I highly recommend reading his 1920 book 'Golf Architecture'. In my opinion no one should be allowed to design a course until they've read and understood this book. It's as much about the game of golf and its role in society as it is about golf course design. If you read the book, you'll see that these two concepts go hand in hand for MacKenzie.

Here's what I remember from the book: A golf course should be designed so it's challenging and fun for both the amateur and pro. Imagine that, a course that Tiger and I could both play and both enjoy in our own way. Not many US courses fit that description. If you closely watched the British Open at St. Andrews this year, I think you'll see what the honorable doctor meant. Any of us could play that course and have a blast. Score becomes less important and enjoyment zooms off the charts.

Dr. MacKenzie thought most holes should have a number of ways they can be played - all various combinations of risk and reward. Many of the Scottish holes have more than one 'fairway' to the green. You might tee off on a hole and not see your playing partner until you get to the green. In MacKenzie's book he mentions that Bobby Jones said it was a woman who best played number 15 at the Old Course. I apologize that I don't remember her name and it might have been the 14th, but you get the idea. Imagine Tiger Woods saying that Jane Doe plays the 15th hole at Baltusrol better than anyone. I credit the woman and the golf course designer in the case of St. Andrews.

There have been a number of world class US pros who 'didn't get' the Scottish courses the first few times they played. Then the light bulb went off and they fell in love with them. Tom Watson is a perfect example. The old course at St. Andrews being the classic case. Each hole has so many options on its own, then throw in all the variations of weather and you see how you could play that course every day and never get tired of it.

Dr. MacKenzie did his designing before the invention of all the big earth moving equipment. He had to fit the course into the natural lay of the land. He had to figure out where Mother Nature had already laid out the holes. And they didn't try to flatten the fairways. They were left with every little ripple, roll and undulation. This in itself adds a whole new dimension to the game. You have to really learn how to hit the ball under any condition, not just off a manicured flat lawn.

And the early Scots didn't believe in taking your golf ball away from you. They thought you should be able to play the round with the same ball. Sure they designed plenty of places on the course where you didn't want to hit your ball, but the penalty is not a lost ball. Your penalty is having to climb down into 'The Coffins' and play out backwards.

Just looking at the names of the holes and their prominent features, you can see how much the Scots love this name. Who wouldn't have fun playing Cartgate, Ginger Beer and Tom Morris. And who else names traps with gems like Admiral's, The Beardies, and The Principal's Nose. 'Hey Joe, how'd you do today?'. 'I had a right good round going until I put my drive into The Beardies'.

So the Scots have these easy walking courses, with hundreds of variables per hole, played under wildly changing weather conditions, where you can use a putter from 20 yards off the green, with bunkers you can get lost in, and holes that are fun for you as well as Tiger. Throw in the hospitality and the scotch and you have the perfect equation for fun on the golf course. I just don't get why modern architects don't have the smarts and/or guts to try this combination. Maybe it takes a whole different level of understanding to see where Mother Nature has already laid out the holes. Build it and we will come!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"Mo Better' Golf in Scotland

And a few more reasons why Scottish golf courses are more fun. Maybe this explains why it's their national sport and pastime - it's much more fun to play there, plus having access to good scotch doesn't hurt.(remember the old saying about why a golf course has 18 holes? because that's how long it takes to drink a bottle of Scotch for a foursome) Anyway, back to the facts.

There are no golf carts in Scotland, at least none that I've ever seen. You have three choices when playing; carry, get a caddy, or take a trolley - meaning a pull cart. I played at an upitty US course this summer where they told me I had to take a cart. After some arguing we got them to agree to let us walk, but we still had to pay for the cart. It's easier to walk seaside links courses, they are relatively flat. I was no more tired walking 36 holes at Western Gales than I was walking 18 holes at my local course in Connecticut. And we all know inside that a golf course is meant to be walked. Somehow walking suits the overall tempo of the game. Most golfers I know think they play better when they walk, it gives you more time to 'think' about the next shot. Have you noticed how a lot of the new courses often have more than 100 yards between the last green and the next tee box. What's with that? Plus in Scotland, walking the course is akin to walking the dunes at the beach. And what's more fun than that?

At many courses in Scotland they don't really have 'club houses'. They often have a starter's shack because the courses are public and that's all they need. In place of club houses the have private member clubs. These are ordinarily houses along the 18th hole. And although they are private, each day one is designated to take in visitors. Now they don't do this begrudgingly like you are invading their privacy. You get treated like you're a member of the family. I've had a barman tell me that I had to have a pint after my round and even if the door was looked to knock on the window and someone would let me in. When's the last time that happened to you?

When there is a real clubhouse in Scotland, I've found that the head pros couldn't be nicer. I played Prestwick, the club where something like the first 20 British Opens were played. In other words, it's where competitive golf began. It's like playing at Augusta or Pebble Beach. After our round we must have spoken with the pro for 20 minutes and it was initiated by him. Where we playing next, how did we like the course, and on and on. My friend was renting clubs and when we told him we were playing Western Gales the next day he let us take the clubs because he was 'pretty sure they didn't have rentals there'. 'Just drop them off on your way to Turnberry on Saturday'. My experience here is that your lucky to get a cursory hello from any head pro other than your own.

Were we talking about rental clubs? You can only rent top of the line clubs in Scotland - the likes of Callaway, Taylor Made, and Mizuno. And I mean their top-of-the-line clubs. At one course where my friend rented, the pro went around the shop and asked him what he wanted and then proceeded to take clubs off the shelf. They 'love' the game in Scotland, not just 'like' it. They want anyone who's willing to travel thousands of miles to play in their country to have a great time.

I did digress a little, so back to the courses. How about those sandtraps, those pits, those bunkers that you could take shelter in should another war break out. There aren't a lot of them, but those they have are not to be trifled with. How could you take a bunker casually where you have to use a ladder to get in and out of the thing. But I have to tell you honestly that they are fun. Really! Get in to one of those and a match can turn in an instant. And it makes great photos when you get a picture of your playing partner in a trap where all you can see is the top of her head. Want to hone the mental part of your game. Play in Scotland and you can't afford to just aim straight ahead and blast it. You had better know where all the bunkers are first!

And lastly the weather. I'm convinced that golf is meant to be played outdoors in the elements. I mean all the elements, not just when it's sunny and windless. It always blows in Scotland. A steady wind of 10-15 mph with gusts to 20-25 mph is just a nice typical day. Once you lose your fear, playing in the wind is fun. You can actually use it to your advantage when you start actually thinking. And you're forced to learn new shots, like the knockdown. If you are like me and you are not the world's greatest golfer, you feel like wind actually helps level the playing field for you.

Then there's rain. On the last trip I planned to Scotland my friend from the States asked a logical question when I was confirming our plans, 'What if a round gets rained out?'. I hadn't considered that and it seemed a fair enough question, so I called and asked the guy who set up our trip. His reply? 'I've never had a tee time rained out in 20 years.' In other words, it's part of the game. The courses being primarily on sand along the coast, you can see that drainage probably isn't an issue. So what's a little rain? Put on a slicker and take and extra nip of Scotch and get on with it.

Tomorrow we'll look at Alister MacKenzie, one of the classic Scottish golf architects and his philosophy behind course design. Along with many of the great Scottish courses, this is the guy who did Cyprus Point in the US and co-designed Augusta National with Bobby Jones. I think most of the US architects today have forgotten the wisdom of this great man.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Scottish Courses Are More Fun

Say it ain't so you say. Oh, but it is. Read here to find out why and start putting pressure on golf course developers so we can all go out and have more fun.

I lived in Europe a few years back which made it possible for me to go to Scotland on a couple of occasions to play golf. What a treat! First the Scots must be the nicest most friendly people in the world. And, when they find out you're a golfer they take it up a notch. If you can afford it, and it does cost to fly across the pond these days, you won't be disappointed. Because the people are great and the courses are great fun.

In the US we play target golf, maybe not TPC target golf, but target golf nonetheless compared to Scottish golf. Most holes have a clearly defined tee, fairway, rough and green. The fairways are pretty flat by Scottish standards and the greens are fairly small. They are protected by traps at better courses and have a nice little fringe around them. All pretty straight forward stuff. After awhile the average courses most of us play begin to look a lot alike, the only difference being the quality of the turf,length of the rough and how many stones are in the traps. Well, not Scottish courses.

The first thing you notice looking at a Scottish links course is - where is it. Often it's hard to discern tees and greens. What you do see are sand dunes and scrub next to the ocean. With very little imagination you feel it probably looked exactly the same 1000 years ago. The fairways are not clearly distinguished. Standing on a tee it's a bit difficult to see the greens even though they're basically in front of you. There are often two or three viable paths to the green, separated by gorse, heather and what look to be Viking burial grounds. And each path has it's own risk and reward. That means the fairways alone give you many different holes disguised as one.

And then comes the real fun part - the greens. Sometimes big undulating things with a million different scenarios depending on pin placement. Often, shooting for the pin is not an option. You must decide whether you want an uphill put with a 15 foot break, or a downhill put with a ridge between you and the pin.

And that's only half of it. Wait until the wind starts blowing. Actually it most always blows, you have to wait for it not to blow and in that case you had better be prepared to stay a month or two. If you don't have a knockdown shot, don't bother to go. Loft a full wedge up in the air and it may not even come down in the same county. But then again, with many holes having open fronts you can often use a putter from 20 yards off the green.

It all takes me back to miniature golf. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing tricked up about these courses. But you find yourself smiling even if you make a few snowmen. It's fun, it's whacky, it makes you feel like you've invented the game - 'Hey Joe, see that rock way over by that gorse hummock, let's see who can take the fewest shots to get there.' It sure doesn't hurt knowing that there's always a couple of good pints waiting for you when you finish.

Tomorrow I'll explore more of the charm and fun of Scottish golf. We'll look at sand traps, starters' shacks, member houses and rain. And if you know any golf course architects, please tell them to have a look at this blog.

Monday, August 15, 2005

New Learning Tools for Amateurs

First let me say I'm sorry that tomorrow turned out to be about 6 days later. I could say I got caught up in the PGA or that it was too damn hot for the brain to work. Well, they'd both be accurate, but I mostly I was trying to figure out what to say. I did kind of leave myself a big task - how the average golfer can get better. So here goes!

I know what you're thinking, if there was really 'A Way' to get better in golf, some guy or gal out there would be richer than Tiger. You couldn't build a practice facility big enough to hold all the people who'd be throwing money your way. In spite of that reasoning, I d0 believe that major improvements for golfers are just around the corner. We, or at least the golfing scientists among us, are really starting to understand what goes on in the golf swing thanks to high tech analysis tools.

But it's going to take time for it all this knowledge to trickle down. New younger pros are going to have to come along who have grown up with this knowledge. The average golfer is going to have to see the high man in his weekly foresome take 15 strokes off his handicap in a season while still using the 'same old driver'. And look at the video swing analysis they use during pro tournament broadcasts. That technology isn't out of reach of your local pro. Once he sees his club golfers flocking to take leasons from the guy down the street who has the new gizmos, he won't be able to buy it fast enough.

And speaking of gizmos, why hasn't someone invented a biofeedback device for golfers? OK, there are a few things that vaguely look like biofeedback. But I'm talking the real thing here, something that would make a psychologist proud. Take the club back too far to the inside and you get zapped. Use enough juice and you good stop Godzilla from coming over the top.

Anybody who's interested in where this new technology might be heading ought to check out the Carl Rabito training videos on the Golf Channel Web Site. Now here's a guy who knows golf, human anatomy and has access to state of the art scientific tools. You might just understand for the first time in your life why your slice is sticking to you better than one of those things you get from your nose. And you might just be able to get rid of it - finally and for good.

For the rest of this week, let's try comparing Scottish links courses with American target golf setups. If you haven't played a true links course you might discover you're missing the most fun rounds of golf you will ever have!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Why Amateurs Don't Get Better

Since everybody else seems willing to pontificate about what's wrong with the amateur golf swing, I might as well give it a go. Here's the inside scoop; It's all about knowledge of what really happens in the golf swing. Up until the last few years, golf teaching has been based on what a star player felt or what a star teacher thought he saw a star player do. Unfortunately golf is too fast to really see what's going on with the naked eye. And what a star player thinks he's doing is often quite different than what a video shows.

It's only been in the last few years that technology has provided the tools for scientifically analyzing good golf swings. Tools like high speed cameras, muscle electrodes and video x-rays have all given tremendous insight into what is really happening. We are just now finding out that much of what we thought we knew about hitting a golf ball is just plain wrong.

Did you know that 76% of your power comes from cocking and releasing the wrists. Another 11% comes from the elbow hinge. Now there's 87% accounted for and we haven't mentioned the torso at all. Shocked? I was when I heard that statistic. Now I know why Bob Toski was able to hit a driver 240 yards from his knees. I know it's true, because I saw it. Because of these recent discoveries, we now see many of the pros changing their swings. Have you noticed that they're getting simpler all the time? We can now eliminate many swing doodads that we used to think were critical.

The most common fault for the amateur golfer is coming over the top, right? Did you know that this isn't caused by the shoulders. It's anatomically impossible for your shoulder rotation by itself to get the club out in front. It's the hips where the problem is. Rotating the hips early on the downswing moves the shoulder arc out over the ball causing the outside in swing. (By the way, I charge for my instruction so be sure to put the check in the mail.)

So we're finally learning what really goes on in the golf swing, tomorrow we'll talk about why the average golfer isn't yet benefiting from this.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Amateur Golfers Don't Improve

OK, maybe stink is a little harsh. But, fact of the matter is that the average amateur golfer has only improved his game by one half a stroke in the last 30 years. Let me say that another way, the average amateur score as gone from 100 to 99.5 in the last 30 years. Why is this a thought provoking statistic. you ask? Because every aspect of golfing tools has improved over that time period - balls, clubs, club heads, shafts, grips, training tools and teachers to name a few. Even tees are claimed to have been improved giving you more yards on your drive.

So why aren't amateurs scores plunging like an elevator in freefall? Ah, that's the question we should explore. But be prepared to look in the mirror to find the answers. I'll use my own sorry golfing ability, as my unselfish gesture to help the average golfer understand why they're getting nowhere as well.

I know balls go further, and that graphite shaft in my driver has added yards. My putter is perfectly balanced and my perimeter weighted clubs make hits on the toe and heel a lot less bad than they used to be. So why aren't my scores better? Because golf is harder than it looks and we all suffer from bad swings. And no technology that's been invented yet can really correct our bad swings.

Let me go out on a limb and say why I think our swings suck. We can't make our clubs go on an inside out path through the hitting zone. How many golfing buddies do you have that don't have a slice or a week fade? Counted them all up on one hand didn't you? The only ones that escaped that list are those with such bizarre swings that no self respecting golfer even wants to be seen in the same foursome. Maybe the body isn't supposed to operate that way, but it is one of the hardest things I've ever tried to do.

And yet, we see a wide range of professional golfers of all body types and athletic ability knock the snot out of the ball and look effortless. And they don't even all swing in the same way. How can this be? Stay tuned, we'll try to answer this and other sacred questions of the universe during the rest of this week.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Let's Play Nice

So how should pro golfers, the golf media and golf audiences all get along? It's quite easy, treat each other like you'd like to be treated. Back to the little Rule of Gold again. Well, why not. It works doesn't it? Yeah I know, it's so simple. But what's wrong with simple.

If you're the golf media, make sure you know what's going on. Don't ask the pro the same question he or she's been asked each of the last 10 weeks. Do some work. Figure out an interesting question that the pro can really sink his teeth into. Remember Tiger and 'the slump'. The press wasn't asking me, but even I was getting tired of hearing it. Where were questions such as 'what part of the swing are you trying to fix?' 'Are you experiencing some wear and tear on the body that you're trying to address with a swing change?'

And what about Us, the golfing public? I don't know about you, but I hear at every British Open how knowledgeable the British fans are. I don't doubt it, I mean the Scots invented the game and it's their national sport. You'd expect them to be on top of it. And those link courses, now those are fun to play, much more so than most US target courses. But I digress (I'll get back to this topic in a future blog). You even hear the pros say in 'those after round interviews' how knowledgeable the local fans are. Even if they're rooting for Monty they'll give you applause for a deftly executed shot. And they don't yell 'Get in the hole'. Even as a TV spectator I've about had it with that phrase. What motivates that mindless screaming? the desire to have your voice heard by millions?

And then you pros. Yeah you, I'm talking to you. Take a course in how to speak with the media. It ought to be part of your training regimen. With the right approach you can make the media your friend. Honest! They're just trying to make a living. They've got a cigar smoking boss somewhere who is screaming at them daily to get a good story. So give them one. When they ask you an embarrassing question just deflect it and start talking about something interesting. (By the way, this technique works well with kids.) Like how Andrade went from 100+ in putting last year to number 1 this year because he got new sunglasses (that's true by the way). You might even talk about the subtler parts of the game and in the process help educate the US golfing public. In time we might even start to understand it the way the Scots do. And one more thing - please get it together for the next Ryder Cup. You're embarrassing us. Not your play, your attitude. Get loose, wear funkier clothing, be nice to the crowd, joke around AND have a good time. Don't look like you're getting an enema, it doesn't do your image any good. I know you're 'playing for your country'. Well you can do that and have a good time too. Leave those pained expressions for the brain surgeons.

Next week let's look at why amateur golfers haven't gotten better over the last 30 years even though the technology gets better every month. Don't know about you, but I'm taking the weekend off, maybe even get out on the course. If I could just find the 'slot'............

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Common Sense & The American Way

Or maybe we should just consult the Golden Rule - the 'do unto others' thing. Would I want someone to approach me for an autograph - or 10 - every time I went out to dinner or the grocery store? Asking for an autograph at a tournament is a different matter. Most have setups so that the gallery can get close to golfers as they walk from the practice tee to the putting green. Those who want to sign a few programs can.

Everyone has a right to privacy. Hey, isn't that what the Founding Fathers were about in at least some of the provisions within the Bill of Rights? Golfers are public figures and it's the public that makes for the big purses they can win. Therefore, I would reason, the public has some right to know about the professional lives of golfers. The operative word here is 'professional'. And any 'true' pro knows the value of the public. None of them know it better than Arnie, a one man marketing tsunami for golf. The winningest golfer of all time, Sam Sneed, earned less than a million dollars total in purses. Now a professional golfer can earn more than that with one win in a major tournament. And inflation only counts for a small part of that difference.

I don't know about you, but I get a lot of enjoyment following pro golf. Some of the best sporting events I've ever seen are golf tournaments. Anyone remember Jack's last win at Augusta? Tough to top that one. I still get a tingle thinking about it. So we get to see how the game can be played and the best golfers in the world get a very nice lifestyle. Fair trade?

Tomorrow we'll look at the components for a win win contract among golf pros, the media and avid golf fans.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Where To Draw The Line

Everyone has a right to some privacy, but where to draw the line. Much of the media doesn't seem to care. Money talks, right? If I can get a story about what Tiger sent his mother on her birthday, why not publish it if I can get paid. But of course, don't tell the world what I sent my mom, unless of course I can afford diamond earrings.

What about approaching our golf idols in public? If I see Tiger at my favorite restaurant, can't I go over and tell him what an inspiration he's been to me. He makes tens of millions a year, doesn't that allow me special access to him. Doesn't it come with the turf. Just because you're homeless, does that mean that CNN should be able to stick a TV camera in your cardboard box. Just because your Tiger, should the world be entitled to the details of your hemorrhoid surgery. How about if it affected your play on the last day of the Open, causing you to lose by one stroke.

If it affects my golf, the way in which I earn my living in a public way, then perhaps it's fair game. If it has nothing to do with golf, then it's off limits unless I choose to make it public - like deciding to let the Interior Design channel do a tour of my new mansion in Orlando.

Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at where to draw the line.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Professional Privacy

This week we'll look into the issue of privacy for professional athletes, specifically golfers. Are they entitled to have parts of their lives off limits? Or does having everything you do discussed in public come with the turf, a trade off for making sums that go beyond Everyman's dreams.

Tiger is the number one golfer in the world right now, and the number one draw among professional golfers. He's worth - well we don't know exactly - but it must be in the 100's of millions. Does that entitle the media to discuss what he and his new wife do at the breakfast table? Or should only the professional side to a golfer's life be fair game for public speculation.

Most of us want to know why Tiger changed his swing. Has it taken him to a new level? Why did he sever ties with Butch? Does he get along in private with Vijah? But what about viewing pictures of his wedding, or trying to figure out if he and his wife will start a family. Or what does he think about our President?

Check in this week as we attempt to find answers to these questions.