Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jack Nicklaus Please Help Save The Game

If you have read this blog over time, you know I'm a big fan of Jack Nicklaus, not only as a golfer, but for his views on the state of golf and what needs to be done to keep it great. Jack Nicklaus has done plenty for the game. If it weren't for him and Arnold Palmer, today's pros would only be making a small fraction of what they currently earn. He's also been a steadfast supporter and protector of golf's great tradition, sometime having to take unpopular stands to make his point.

So Jack, it's probably not fair that I ask you to do even more. You've done more than your share and have earned the right to live your 'golden years' in the manor you see fit and not hounded by the likes of me. But the game is in serious straights Jac, so I'm asking you to do one more thing for the game to keep it from following in the footsteps of so many other sports that are now mere shadows of what they once were.

And what is this herculean task I would give you? Figure out how to teach the average Joe and Jane how to play this game competently. Actually, that's too much to ask so I'll downsize the task, just figure out a way to teach us how to make decent full swings. If the average golfer could feel good about making a decent swing, I think he or she would learn to putt, chip and pitch on his own. I see golfer after golfer giving up the game because they can't make consistently decent contact on a full swing, even after years of playing and lessons.

Jack, you've shown that besides your prodigious playing ability, you understand so much about every aspect of the game. So who better to take on this challenge. And you'll give Tiger something to think about. Playing at the highest level is great, but can it compete with teaching at the highest level. You'd be giving the gift of this wonderful game to millions and help this sport move off it's now stagnant dime. You'd also ensure that there would be plenty of players for the golf courses you've designed. Right now, that's not a given since the sport hasn't grown its base in at least 20 years, yet new courses are being turned out faster than pizzas.

Jack, you've got the knowledge, the drive and the resources to take on golf's greatest challenge, one that's more difficult by a factor of 100 than matching Bobby Jone's Grand Slam, namely teach us poor amateur schmucks how to make a simple, effective and repetitive golf swing. Thanks, Jack - you're the greatest!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Best of Times and Worst of Times For The FedEx Cup

Tiger wins the FedEx Cup in grand style. What could be better for Tom Finchem, the PGA and Federal Express than to have the best player in the game win the inaugural competition? That takes care of the best of times. Now what about the worst of times?

First, the scoring system was of the wrong magnitude. As many times as the commentators tried to get you excited about what-if scenarios, it was still ho hum. Who can keep track or get excited about a scoring system that has tens and hundreds of thousands of points? We like small numbers for our sports.

Second, it's too much golf for one trophy. The top pros care about the Majors, everything else is a 'nice to have' not a 'must have'. The season already wears them out. And this time of year golf has to compete with the NFL and Major League Baseball. Like every pro sport in the last 50 years where a league president comes along who thinks he'll earn his legacy by extending the season, Finchem figures that more of a good thing is even better. Only if you have another major, but the problem is you can't just declare something important and have it be so. Others have tried and it didn't work for them either.

Third, Tiger isn't going to play in it next year. No, he didn't tell me that, but think about it for a moment. The tournament didn't live up to the hype. He's already won it. Next year there is the Ryder Cup to take even more out of him. And his daughter will be one year old and with Tiger's dedication to family he'll have all the more reason to skip it. He'll simply tell the PGA he's tired and banged up, needs to spend time at home and why not let someone else have a chance to win it anyway.

And there's another problem for the current FedEx format, namely a four tournament in a row competition plays into the hands of the world's best golfer. Other players get hot but it lasts only a tournament. Who's going to stay with Tiger over 288 holes? At this point, no one. Right now the rest of the pack hopes they can steal the occassional 72 hole tournament from him when he isn't looking, anything beyond that would be a miracle. Look at poor Phil, who you can argue is the next best golfer at the moment. He finally beats Tiger in a tourament on the last day, acts like he's got Tiger in the palm of his hand and can, therefore, skip Chicago and then is so far behind he's written out of the script after Day 1 at Eastlake.

The only hope for the FedEx is to rework the format. Even then it's going to be tough to make this work out. Here's my advice to the committee that will evaluate this. Whatever you come up with, run it by Tiger and see if he likes it. If he does, you can guarantee that the rest will follow. If he doesn't, then go back to the drawing board until you get it right.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Key To Hitting Down On Your Irons

For a full swing shot, I think hitting irons is the most difficult for the average amateur. There's something more natural about sweeping a fairway wood or hitting up with a driver. Good iron play demands that you trap the ball between the clubface and the turf. In other words you've got to hit down on the ball, which may be counter-intuitive, but it's also one of the most written golf instructions. So how does the average player learn this important technique?

Like many amateurs, I've struggled with consistently hitting down on my irons. Sometimes I blame it on too much practice on practice mats stuck on top of concrete, or playing munis that haven't seen rain for two months. But that's an excuse. When I do get a chance to play on a well manicured track, I still have trouble.

I've come to the conclusion that the biggest problem with hitting down on the ball is losing your spinal tilt. Change this critical piece before or at impact and it's impossible to hit down. You'll end up picking the ball at best or, worst, hitting it thin or fact. And you'll never get the trajectory or distance you should.

So how do you insure that you keep your tilt? As we all know, these things you can't just will, otherwise we'd all be scratch players. Sometimes you have to find another piece in the chain, that you can control and that ends up forcing the thing you're really trying to accomplish - in this case keeping your spinal tilt. I've discovered something that works for me and maybe will work for you too.

I've been concentrating on the palm of my right hand as it approaches the ball at impact, but before the wrist cock is released or the wrists rolled. When the hands approach the ball and the club face is about waist high with the toe pointing skyward and the shaft parallel to the target line, if the palm is facing directly at someone standing across from me and not tilted toward the sky at all, then my spine angle is likely to be correct. Try holding this angle for yourself and you'll see what I mean. If you change your spinal tilt it ends up affecting the position of your palm, because of the way the hand and arm are connected to the torso.

Try a swing in slow, slow motion. If your right palm is facing out as described above and not tilted at all upwards, where is your spine? Conversely if you tilt your palm slightly skyward you lose spinal tilt. To keep the palm of the right hand in the position described is not easy, you really have to stay down. You'll also get the feeling of 'covering the ball' at impact, something you've probably read about numerous times but, maybe, haven't understood.

This isn't a cure-all. You still have to swing on the right path, transfer weight, etc. But I believe it's absolutely necessary to staying down. It won't hurt your wood play either. Happy Golfing!