Monday, July 31, 2006

The Secret To Better Golf

I think I can help you play better golf, but you'll have to apply the concepts!

I'm going to do something I thought I never would - offer golf advice. I know this is risky territory, after all who am I to be giving anyone golf advice. I'm not a pro and I've never taught. Heck, I'm not even a scratch player. On the other hand, I've been on a search for a competitive and repetitive golf swing for the last 10 years. I think I've tried most everything. I've hit them left, right, up and down. Which is only to say that I've suffered like everyone else.

I've analyzed myself, my friends and even my wife. I've watched hundreds, if not thousands, on the practice tee. I've read every instruction book available, yet I couldn't find a magic bullet anywhere. Heck, I couldn't find a good 'visual' for the complete swing. But I do think I've found something that can help most amateur golfers.

Now this assumes you've been playing golf for awhile and have the basic components of grip, stance and swing-plane under control. (If you don't, then nothing is going to help you.) If you're like most, you're not consistent. Some days you're on and some days you're not. You also tend to push or slice most of the time, but occasionally come across the ball and pull it.

I think the hands are the key. Why? Because they ultimately dictate where the club is going to be. I believe the number one fault is getting the hands further away from the body on the downswing than they were on the takeaway. You've got to actively pull your hands in towards your body. If you want to take it a step further, then also manage where your hands are in relation to the ball at impact. At the extremes they're about even with the ball for the driver and some inches ahead for the wedge. Every other club falls in between. (In reality, the hands stay in basically the same place, it's the ball that moves backward from your front foot as you move from the driver through the wedge.)

If you can get your hands in the right position, I believe you will have done more to produce solid consistent shots than anything else. Of course you have to 'release' your wrists at the right time and keep your body behind the ball, but I'm assuming that most golfers understand this.

One last thought for golfers who want to take this 'hands' thing the extra mile. Imagine yourself making the perfect swing. Your hands would describe the perfect circle around your body. This circle has to be as big as possible. (You can still keep your hands close to your body on the downswing and make the circle as big as possible at the same time). I believe this image might help you. I think most golfers end up pulling their hands off this circle and therein lies most of their problems. Some pull off on the way back, some on the way down, and some on the follow-through.

That's as good as I've got. If it makes sense to you, then give it a try. Please let me know how it works out, but don't expect me to cover your golf bets! WARNING: Side effects may include dizziness, euphoria, exuberance or total mental collapse.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Brown courses are good courses!

I've been watching as much of The Open as I can and it just reminds me how much I love the British style golf courses. There's nary a flat spot on the course, the gorse and heather are everywhere and the course is brown, brown, and brown.

One of the ABC commentators explained how UK greenskeepers only water the grass enough to keep it alive, where US greenskeepers insist on keeping it growing. This would seem to save on maintenance costs and help the environment as well by saving water and probably eliminate a lot of the application of frightening chemicals.

Even if it doesn't do these earth friendly things, the courses look a lot more fun to play. Courses in the US certainly vary from one another, but only to a point. I'd love to be able to get off my steady diet and go out for some scorched earth links once in a while. Don't all those mounds, swales, dips and depressions look interesting versus the flat green monotonous tracks we are all too familiar with here.

And those pot bunkers, sprinkled around a snakey little course to make every hole and every path to the hole an adventure. Talk about risk reward calculations. And it brings a fair amount of luck into the experience, but it's still fair. Every golfer will get their share of bad and good bounces. It's all about how you handle it.

I can't help but think that all golf in the beginning was played this way. 'Shawn, you can aim right on your drive for a better approach to the green, but better make sure you clear the Hangman's rock or you'll play dearly!'

I play a lot of golf on a lovely little 9 hole track on one of the many islands in Narragansett Bay. It really sets up to be a links course. You can see 2 bridges and lots of water. There's tall ocean grass all around and the greens are excellent for a small public course. But somewhere along the way, every bump and dip has been eliminated. The fairways are 100 yards wide in most cases and the few pines that added some challenge have been cut down because of beetles. Now you pretty much sleepwalk until you're on the green. It's still a fun little course, but it could be so much more if they'd kept more of the natural landscape and let it go brown and thrown in some pot bunkers for good measure. The only problem would have been the legions of golfers this layout might have attracted.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Fichem goes for the gold!

Tim Finchem is doing what any respectable commissioner of a professional sport does these days - go for the gold. Gold in the form of greenbacks that is. Finchem's latest accomplishment is a $10 million prize for the winner of next year's season ending, 4 tournament finale. As if Tiger, VJ or any of the other 'usual suspects' won't have earned enough already.

So what's wrong with upping the purses? That's what pro sports is, isn't it. It's about money, and more money. As if somehow money is going to fix everything. As if more money for the pros is going to increase the number of average Joes and Jane's who play golf. Just look at other sports if you want to see the future.

It seems to me that the more pro sports focus on bucks, the more quality and integrity decline. Just pick up any sports page on any day of the week and read about the doping scandals. I'm not suggesting that pro golf has to worry about steroids, but I do believe golf, like all sports, is susceptible to attacks on the integrity of the game because of dollar lust.

We already have the long ball problem. The golf bureaucracy's ignoring of the technology addiction will deteriorate the sport just as steroids has done for baseball. Golf is more than a game, it's a microcosm of life. Anyone who has played a single round knows the ability of the game to expose the psyche. And that, dear reader, is the ultimate allure of the game.

There are plenty of people willing to be pro golfers and compete for the dollars such as they are. It's not like the sport can't put together a competitive field. What the dollars have done is up the stakes enough that pros now have personal trainers, nutritionists, sport psychologists, swing coaches, business managers, agents and who knows what else. Why do we all long for simpler times when men and women were willing to risk it all and bare their souls to the public just for the chance to do what they love. It's a dream we all have, but few of us ever achieve. We're stuck at our 9-5's, and get our vicarious thrills watching our heroes - whether they're musicians, athletes or artists - pursue a life we can only dream about.

Now the Daddy Warbucks commissioners are taking that from us. And in turn they have unleashed the monster of greed to destroy the last of our pleasures, while we watch helplessly from the sidelines.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Women's Pro Golf Has A Problem

I went to the 2006 Women's Open for one day and watched the rest of it on TV. If you've read my other columns you might have caught me saying that Women's golf was going to be THE place to be, men's golf was getting too boring with long drives and wedges on most holes. As you are my witness, I am here to recant!

I wanted the Women's Open to be interesting. I was ready for it to be interesting. But it was very ho-hum, and I can't figure out why. Compared to par the top 2 women finishers were 4 strokes better than Ogilvy at Winged Foot. So they must have played better golf, right? And doesn't that equate to more interesting golf. In my opinion, NO!

First, let me be clear that it wasn't the course. The Newport Country Club is as beautiful an old classic links course as we have in this country. Even with all the rain they've had in the last 2 months, the course was in fantastic shape. The rough was graduated and fair. The views of the ocean were spectacular. The traps were soaked, but that's mother nature and offers the player one more challenge.

Was it the coverage? Did the media not get us psyched-up, was it their fault. I don't think so. I thought the coverage was good. They did focus too much on only a few players. There was good play and good players on the course who didn't get coverage. I thought Johnny Miller was great. I love it when he takes us through the players' swings, both men and women. His ability to see the tiny movements that explain a pulled shot or a chip that doesn't roll straight is as good as anyone's. As an aside, I wish they would use the video analysis tools and let Johnny take us through more swings. It's wonderful insight for us amateurs to see what works and what doesn't. If they'd do that on finesse shots from around the green it would be eye opening I'm sure. In fact someone ought to do a TV series where Johnny takes us through the golf swing and shot making. I'd watch every episode.

But I digress. Back to the boring women. Maybe they're too good, too robotic. When they miss, they don't miss by much. But on the other hand, nobody ever seems to get really hot and make a charge - or is that a TV coverage problem? When they get in trouble, it doesn't seem as bad. Would an analysis show us that the men go to more extremes - double bogies coupled with eagles and birdies adding up to the same basic score against par. One area where they were definitely not as good as the men was putting. No one was making many putts over 10 feet, except maybe Stacy Prammandasudh. I can't tell you how many putts came up consistently short. Was there something wrong with the greens that we couldn't see through the TV, or are the women not as good. This doesn't seen logical to me, but I have no other way to explain it.

Where was the passion with the players? I thought the women would be more emotionally involved than the men, but what I witnessed was the exact opposite. Joy and frustration where only discernible by the slightest changes in the curve of the mouth, except for maybe Morgan Pressel. In the playoff Annika certainly played excellent golf, straight down the fairway, on the green in regulation and putting for birdie on most every hole. Granted she didn't hit any pins, have any kick-ins, or save par by bending it around a tree (was there a tree on the course?), but who could fault her play. It was amazingly consistent, precise and successful.

I was also surprised by the lack of interaction with the crowd. Maybe Arnold and Lee need to don golf skirts and wigs and work the crowd a little for them. About 10 years ago I saw an LPGA tournament in Massachusetts. I was blown away by how accessible and personable the players were. It was such a refreshing change from the PGA tournaments of the time, which was a constant refrain heard in the lines waiting for the bus back to the parking lot.

If the 2006 Women's Open wasn't an aberration, then the LPGA is in trouble or at least they aren't going to expand their fan base by much more. Most of the swings I watched on the practice tee were beautiful. If the devil offers you Shi Hyun Ahn's swing for your soul, consider it carefully. I'd love to have it on tape. I wish I could hit one drive a season the way most of the LPGA pros crank them out over and over on the practice range. However, in the end, I'm not very excited about going to my next LPGA tournament. Sporting events need to get the blood flowing to be entertaining and this tournament certainly didn't.