Monday, September 08, 2008

NEW and Improved GolfDash Blog!!!

Please see the NEW and Improved GolfDash Blog at:

We are still ironing out some kinks but we hope you will enjoy the
same great GolfDash content and the NEW updated look.

Doug Farrick
John Diekmann

Monday, August 25, 2008

Learning Golf's Lessons Over and Over

I don't think I'm alone on this. I marvel, every time I play, that I continue to have to learn golf's same basic lessons time and time again. Here's just one example.

I started this season working on everything in my game; from full swing to putting and all the stuff in between. One by one they all progressed and I began shooting some pretty good scores. Of course there were ups and downs, but the general direction was good. I was even able to start working the ball. But nothing ever stays constant in golf. I started to get hungrier for better scores. If I can shoot 76, why not 72.

You see where I'm going with this if you have spent even one season trying to learn this game. If you play a round and make a birdie, you want two birdies the next time out. And why not. The more you play the better you should get - except if the game is golf.

The more I wanted to score better the more my scores went the other way. Every part of my game began to suffer. I started to lose confidence standing over shots, which only caused worse shots. I got to the point where I really wasn't excited about playing.

I laid off for a week and then I got an invitation from a from a friend to play a nine hole course. Why not? I'll play and I won't give a damn I said to myself. The night before I went out into the yard and just casually swung my club. It was only then that I realized I was choking the living bejessus out of it. Maybe I just needed to lighten up. Isn't this the problem that 95% of all amateurs have?

I went out the next day, kept my left arm straight (I'm a righty), pulled with the left arm on the down swing and kept the grip very very light. It's probably no surprise to anyone that I hit the ball well that day. What always surprises me, is why did I forget such a basic concept? Over the years I must have told myself to keep the grip light a hundred times. It seems that I forget something basic every other week and then it takes me weeks to figure it out again for the umpteenth time. Is golf destined to be Groundhog Day forever?

I can't help but think that most everyone else is in the same boat. I'd love to hear from others out there if your own experience is similar. I've decided to write down on a card what I think the basics for me are, keep it in my golf bag and read it before I begin a round. I'm not talking the encyclopedia, just 7 or 8 keys. I don't know if it will work, but I'm going to give it a try. Let me know what works for you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sergio Garcia Comes Of Age

Is it just me, or has Sergio Garcia matured as a player through the course of the last 12 months? He lost last year at the British Open in a typical Sergio emotional 'it's not fair' attitude. Then a new Sergio, a 'get it done no matter what happens' emerges at the Players Championship. Sergio was certainly emotional there, but not to the point that it kept him moving past bad luck and bad shots. Even though he barely missed winning the British Open and did well at the US Open, something was noticeably different. For one, he was right there through ups and downs. He never quit and he didn't blame his losses on outside forces.

I thought it was telling when he four putted at the PGA he said afterwards that he didn't feel that bad because he hit good putts. Now that may sound crazy, but that's the way a great putter thinks. Sergio was gracious in his losses and you could sense that instead of acting like his best opportunities for a major were slipping by, he was thinking that he was just getting closer to reeling in his first one. His ball striking is second to none and he looks like he's finding his putter. If he does, there isn't any tournament he can't win.

I think we'll know that Sergio is going to a new level of play if he goes out now and wins a couple of regular tour events between now and the Masters, either in Europe or the US. And watch him in the Ryder Cup. He's shown brightly there in the past, but this year he may actually be dominating.

US Ryder Cup Chances

Anything can happen, but what's most likely to happen? Let's look at the facts the best we can. The Europeans certainly are the favorites having won five out of the last six competitions. Maybe they haven't always had the best players on paper, but they have the winning formula in mindset and team play. They will be the most confident because of their dominant play over more than 20 years even when they've been out gunned. They'll have less pressure on them because they come from many different countries and don't have an overbearing 'you're playing for your country' attitude. They have a laid back coach in Faldo. He knows what it takes to win, which is to leave your pro players alone and make sure they enjoy themselves. He knows how to play to win, but has never lost sight of the fact that 'it's just a game'. And they have three solid anchors on the team in Harrington, Westwood and Garcia.

Can the US Team win? Certainly, anything can happen in golf as in most sports. The US has many great players on the team in the first 8 that have been announced. There's enough new blood that they won't be affected by the last 24 years - unless Azinger makes the mistake of shoving it down their young throats. Without Tiger, they are missing the solid closer. Phil always plays with too many ups and downs over the course of three days. You never know which Phil is going to show up on the next tee, he doesn't have the killer/closer instinct of Tiger and who do you pair him with.

What does the US Team have going for itself? For one, a really interesting blend of old standbys and exciting new talent. Then you might include a laid back 'best thing to happen to golf' guy in Rocco Mediate. Add in to that mix Kenny Perry, a good ole boy who has made it this years goal to play in front of his home state fans in Kentucky and who then proceeded to tear up the US tour. Azinger's job is to take the 'must win' monkey off these guys back and tell them he wants them to have the time of their lives. Imagine Rocco cracking his jokes, Boo Weekly blasting 350 yard drives and Phil playing with just one driver and four wedges. Let these guys work the crowd, sign some autographs and give a few high fives. Tell them the most important thing they have to do is smile. And then throw in a Woody Austin in full scuba gear. Do that and we'll have a competition worthy of watching, regardless of who wins.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Triggs Memorial Golf Course Is A Gem In Rhode Island

What's a public course, designed by Donald Ross in 1930, once hosted the US Open and costs less than $40 dollars to play 18 holes mid-week? That would be Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence, RI. I hesitated to write this blog for one reason - I plan to play there a lot and I don't want more people showing up at this public gem.

I hadn't played this course for more than 30 years and had completely forgotten what it's like, until yesterday when I played with some friends. My jaw dropped right on the 1st tee. This thing looked like an old course - slightly meandering fairway with beautiful fairway bunkers flanked on the sides and back with natural grasses up to 15 inches high. I thought I was in Scotland. And the trees! In case you haven't noticed, most all the great courses from the Mississippi east have beautiful old trees. Triggs is filled with them. They are big enough to play under, but they shape every hole, dictating landing areas and approaches. The greens are classically undulating and sloped. Get on the wrong side of the pin and you've just given yourself another stroke 4 out of 5 times. And the greens have marvelous shapes and contours and are set at interesting angles to the fairway approach. They also have the rough high enough around the greens to penalize, but not so high that a decent golfer can't the ball close.

There are no tricked-up holes - with the exception of 16. By tricked-up, I mean those ridiculous short par 4's that have 90 degree turns in them. And I may be unfairly dinging 16 here. It does have a tight turn to it, but the real problem is two massive oaks on the corner. But you can still sneak it by them on the left or even go under them. I'm probably sour grapes because I took my first double of the day there.

After we finished playing I made the comment that if Triggs was private - meaning fewer rounds played and more money for course maintenance - it would be the best course in the state. The other golfers agreed immediately. But of course, I couldn't play it then. Triggs Memorial is a real gem. It just fits the eye perfectly. Everything is in the right proportion and it's in great shape for a public course. Bottom line; if you're from out of state play it when you're here. You won't be disappointed. If you're in state, forget I ever wrote this and go play somewhere else, please.

Get A Hybrid For A Better Game - Fast!

Don't just get one hybrid, go buy yourself a bunch. The sooner you do this the better your scoring will be. I've written about this before. I've got one in my bag and it's been great. But now I've seen the light that I only suspected was there before - these things make you better and it's not just for your 2 iron. Go ahead and replace the 3 and 4. Once you do that you'll probably go even higher.

So what's the holdup on loading up our bags with these new clubs? A little bit of pride and the old adage that habits die hard. If you're a student of golf history you probably know that Gene Sarazen designed and created the modern day sand wedge in the early 1930's. People didn't immediately take notice, until he started winning all over the place.

This is where we're at with hybrids. There are still some people who think they are whimpy - real golfers still hit 3 irons. Maybe not 2 irons, but definitely 3 irons. I confess that I was still in that camp until Tuesday. What happened to open my eyes? I played with a friend who I can beat 9 out of 10 times and we tied, that's what. This is a guy who couldn't hit anything between his 5 wood and his 7 iron. He's also a big slicer. Now he's got a bag full of hybrids and he's a new golfer. Not only can he reach greens from 150 yards and out, his confidence has gone up. This, in turn, has made him a better chipper. I guess you start getting confident over more clubs in your bag and it is catching.

He still hits a wicked slice off the tee which kills his distance. But now he's actually dangerous from the fairway. Out comes the hybrid and, voila, he's pin high. He used to think bogey was a good score, not anymore!

I've had the 3 iron out of the bag for awhile and haven't replaced it with anything - big hole. And if I'm honest with myself the 4 iron just doesn't go like it used to. Sometimes I catch it, but I can't depend on it. I have a hybrid to replace my 2 iron. Now it's time to pony up for two more to replace the 3 and 4. Who knows, the 5 may go the way of the dinosaur before this is over. Go ahead and laugh you diehards. That is until you see who's buying at the 19th hole.

Eyeline Golf's Metronome Pro Review

I hope the kind people at Eyeline Golf forgive me for being late with my review of their new Metronome Pro tempo trainer. We are in the midst of redesigning the GolfDash website and I've been up to my neck in it.

I did get the product out of the box and it does exactly what it says. You set the overall tempo by adjusting the 'beats per minute' setting. This way you get a faster or slower pace. Then select how many beats you want to count out, such as 2 in 4 or 6 in 8. You can select any tempo from 0/4 to 8/8. Hopefully this doesn't sound complicated because it's not. Once you've set it up just clip it to your hat visor or shirt and it chirps the beat in your ear. You can also plug in headphones so nobody else has to listen to you. In total it took me about 3 minutes of reading the directions, scratching my head and hitting buttons to understand how easy it really is. The Eyeline Golf site has a simple VIDEO to explain the whole thing.

So much for the easy part. The real question for me is 'can tempo training make a big difference in your game'? That's just what I'm going to attempt to answer in my next piece on this product. It comes at a good time for me as I'm understanding that controlling tempo may be the most important part of my game. I can feel myself make a jerky and/or quick swing when I'm under pressure - usually with poor results. Next, I'm going to take the Metronome Pro out on the range, where I go at least 3 times a week, and see if I can use it to manage my swing tempo. I hope to have something for you in about a week.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Norman Crashes British Open Party!

I've got a golf joke for you. Have you heard the one about the Australian, Korean and Irishman? You see there was this 53-year-old Australian playing golf with a Korean who hasn't been at form all year and an Irishman who hurt his wrist last week............

Am I dreaming? Is Greg Norman leading the British Open after 3 rounds? Is this the 53-year-old Greg Norman who plays more tennis these days than golf. Is this the same Greg Norman who has spent the last decade running his business empire, having given up competitive golf except for the occasional charity appearance. Is there anyone out there who can honestly say that they knew Greg Norman was even playing in this British Open before he teed it up on Thursday.

I can't imagine a more improbable Majors story than Norman winning at Royal Birkdale in 2008. I don't care if you tell me a one legged blind man won it in 1888 using only 2 clubs. Norman winning at 53 would top that in my book. Maybe it's even a better story than Francis Ouimet winning the US Open in 1913. I still can't believe I'm not dreaming.

If there is justice in the world, if the best most decent people all make millions and live until they are 90, then Greg will win. No one has been treated more rudely by the golfing gods than he. No one has had more victories snatched away in the cruelest fashion. If he is able to pull off the most miraculous of victories today, then he's been paid back in my book. All the songs and ballads about his Master's losses will be forgotten and choirs of golfing angels will forever sing about his stunning victory at Royal Birkdale.

If you are Greg Norman, how do you approach today? I think there's only one way to play it. The story is so improbable, as has been much of Greg's life, that you just say to yourself 'it's out of my hands'. Greg is only a vehicle for something the god's have already written. I think he just goes out and plays his part, being as much of a spectator to the outcome as we are.

A footnote: Unless Sergio can make his own miraculous comeback from +9, I think he's finished as a real contender in majors. He started the tournament as the favorite. His major competitors in the likes of Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson played themselves out of it after the first day. Harrington has a bad wrist and nobody else who is playing is riding a hot streak except for maybe Anthony Kim. Sergio might surprise us in his 30's by getting lucky once, but with so many good young talents coming into the game, I think his best chances and his confidence will be behind him. Of course, if he should somehow win, then the whole story changes.

And speaking of Anthony Kim, don't count him out just yet. He's proven he has a great game and he can close. If the weather favors the earlier tee times, he just might get into this one. The whole tournament has been so full of surprises that I think it fair to say that just about anything might happen today. Who's better than those of us who can sit back with a cool drink today and watch the drama unfold?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who Can Adjust Their Game To The Wind At Birkdale

As it has happened numerous times in the past, wind is a dominant factor in this year's British Open. When Arnold won at Birkdale in '61, they almost called the tournament after two rounds because of the weather. They won't call the tournament this year, but the wind is blowing harder today than yesterday and may blow even more tomorrow.

For every 15 mph of wind the course plays differently. The golfers today are essentially playing a different course than they played yesterday. It's also forecasted to get stronger as the day wears on, so the leaders will face the toughest conditions.

Who can keep their calm, who can adjust their strategy? It's going to be a wild ride this afternoon. Someone like Sergio, who teed off earlier, could find himself at the top if he plays well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rotate Your Forearm For Better Impact And Straighter Shots

Many things can go out of tune or alignment in your golf swing, that's why everybody is working on something. And it's not just amateurs, it's the pros as well. Actually the pros manage, cajole, tweak, and recover their swings almost constantly as they have careers and employment riding on their performance.

If you're like the vast majority of golfers, you search your memory banks after a couple of bad shots, trying to recover which key swing thought you've forgotten. How's my posture, did I keep my left forearm connected to my body, did I stay behind the ball, did I turn my back to the target... and on and on. I'd like to reiterate one that you've probably focused on from time to time, namely to actively rotate your leading forearm - your left arm if you are right handed. It's very easy to let the right arm takeover and become too dominant. This happens because we want to use our strength and 'hit' the ball or even guide it. Lots of bad things can happen from this. Often you'll get shots going both left and right, making your life miserable because you can't plan for either type of miss.

If you're right handed, grip the club with your left hand as you would when hitting a ball. Hold your left arm directly in front of you. The club should be pointing toward the sky. Now rotate (pronate) your forearm so that the club points directly away from the target with your palm facing the ground. Then rotate (supinate) your left arm so the club points directly at the target and your palm is facing the sky. In order to get the club consistently square at impact, your left forearm has to rotate in this way during the swing, particularly the supination that takes place on the downswing. Try doing the drill described above with a club for a few minutes each day. This will strengthen the muscles and make it easier to pronate/supinate during your normal swing. You'll be surprised and happy for what this will do to improve contact with the golf ball.

Open Si, Masters No!

Is it just me, or does the British Open at Royal Birkdale make the Masters look like a drab, unexciting forced march. I'm sure the wild weather and Tigers absence have added to the drama, but even so, there's something special about the course - and about UK links courses in general. Each hole can play so differently from player to player and threesome to threesome, while at Augusta everyone is forced to play it basically the same. At the links courses, every player has numerous options on almost every tee and with the weather, those options change round to round. Then look at the greens and surrounding area. There are so many swales, bumps, undulations and vegetation types that you get as many variations on one green at Birkdale as you get on 10 greens at a typical pro venue in the US. Let's not forget the pot bunkers that can change the tournament plot in a heartbeat.

I hope Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne is watching closely this week and figures out how to get back the Masters to where it once was -an exciting, anything can happen event.

Royal Birkdale Taking Center Stage

Fasten your seat belts, this could really turn out to be a show worth watching. Of course no one knows how this one is going to turn out, but so far it's been one very interesting show. First, the weather has leveled the playing field for some and promises to continue to stir the mix with even more rain and wind predicted for Saturday and Sunday. Some players hate the conditions, some endure and some, I believe, actually relish it. Watch out for the last group.

Then there's an odd cast of characters vying for the lead. Who could have imagined that 53-year-old Greg Norman, apparently rejuvenated by his marriage to Chrissy Everett, would have the clubhouse lead halfway through today's round. And there's 'Rocco Mediate just being Rocco' right behind Norman, smiling, laughing and apparently happy as a duck in a rainstorm. Add in Camillo Villegas, the young, highly marketable, energetic Colombian going on a birdie binge over his last five holes on today's round. And maybe, just maybe, we might include David Duval the former world number one who all but disappeared from this planet over the last 4 years currently two strokes off the lead after his first three holes today. Stranger things have happened, but not that I can recall.

And let's not forget the other notables still hanging around who could easily walk away with the Claret Jug. That list includes Sergio, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk and a length back Justin Rose who dazzled here as an amateur. Dare I mention that Jean Van de Velde is only 4 shots off the lead. Can you imagine Sundays final pairings as Norman & Mediate, Villegas & Rose and Duval & Van de Velde?

Royal Birkdale has not disappointed thus far. She's really exceeded expectations. This one could turn out to be one of the all time great Opens. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Winds Gonna Blow For The Open

We could be in for something different for this years British Open at Royal Birkdale which begins tomorrow. The weather forecast calls for light rain and winds from 10-20 mph for the next couple of days. In recent years, Open weather has been uncharacteristically sunny and mild. If you've been to a UK links course, then you know how much wind and rain can change them. Royal Birkdale under sunny and calm conditions and Royal Birkdale under rain and stiff wind are two entirely different venues. For players that aren't used to it, it can play as much with your head as with your golf ball. Players in the field who grew up playing in these conditions will have a distinct advantage. Typically this isn't the case for US born and bred pros, except for a few locations such as west Texas and maybe Hawaii. High soft floaters aren't going to work. You have to know how to hit it low off your back foot and too a lot of bump and run. It should suit the Scottish players perfectly though as the old Scottish saying is "No rain, no wind, no golf!".

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Perry, American As They Come

I feel compelled once again to step-up and defend Kenny Perry as he continues to get bashed by some of the media. He's not only a great guy and terrific golfer, he embodies an important part of the American Ideal - do your own thing regardless of what others say about you. As of late, it seems every writer is a critic of anyone who doesn't follow lock-step with the herd. I like to think of Americans as independent, following their own, very personal dreams. To often it seems we have more in common with lemmings these days, too fearful to not follow the trend, even if it takes us over a cliff.

Think about it. Kenny Perry is an aging pro who can see the Champions Tour turnoff clearly up ahead. He's played golf as a professional his entire career and has had the opportunity to play in Majors here and abroad for decades. This year he'd like to have the honor of playing for his country on the US Ryder Cup Team which just happens to be in his home state. So he makes this his goal and builds a game plan to make it happen. He's executed it perfectly and is a lock to make the team.

Paul Azinger ought to be jumping up and down praising Kenny for what he's done. As the captain, he should be the first to support his players. Too bad their aren't a few more pros saying loudly that it's a major goal to play at Valhalla. US Ryder Cup losses in the last two decades have become such a big issue that it's easy to see why some golfers might not want to play this year. The US approach has put way too much emphasis on the importance of winning, versus the honor of playing. It's gotten to the point where a young player knows that if he blows a putt at an inopportune time, it might haunt him the rest of his career.

Kenny, it's great to have you on board. I hope your teammates will be as motivated as you. Win or lose, it should be a great competition. Paul, it's up to you to start managing the mindset your team and the country will have about the matches. This is really your role and where you can make the biggest difference. The players are competent professionals who can play golf, you need to create an environment that will bring out the best in them. Standing up now to support Kenny Perry would be a good first step. I can tell you that letting the media do their typical runaway hype job is not the way to go.

Tiger's Absence Brings Fresh Breeze To British Open

This year's British Open has a feel to it that it hasn't had for a long time. It's the attitude of the pros themselves. They're more upbeat and more confident in their chances of winning because of the absence of Tiger Woods. If you are a top golfer and want to make a name for yourself, they know that the next 9 months might be the best opportunity of their careers. Tiger has been so dominant that I think too many pros have become complacent, accepting 'good' over 'great' as their objective. With at least 3 majors, and maybe more, contended before Tiger returns that has all changed. Who has the desire, the tools and the little bit of luck needed to capitalize on the moment. Regardless, it should make for some interesting golf. Without having to look over their shoulder for Tiger, all can keep their sights clearly on the holes ahead.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Training Tempo With Eyeline Golf's Metronome Pro

Regardless of what you know about golf technique, most golfers can see the difference between good and bad swings. Even non-golfers can see that a good swing is smooth and a bad swing isn't. Whether a pro has a fast rhythm like Nick Price or a slow one like Ernie Els, their swings are usually smooth. It appears that all their muscles are working together instead of fighting each other. The transition from address to back swing and from top of the back swing to downswing appear seamless. Bad swings appear herky jerky, strained and out of sync.

In the final analysis smooth equates to good tempo. Every golfer has had the experience, probably more times than they would like to remember, of hitting practice balls great but not being able to duplicate it on the course. What happens? We get nervous, tense up, over swing, try to hit the ball too far and worry about hazards. Any and all of these things can change tempo. Without it, your swing is hopeless.

Most amateur golfers don't work specifically on tempo, while pros spend a lot of time on it. They know that the key to bringing the range game to the course is managing tempo. In defference to amateurs, there aren't really convenient tools out there to help with tempo. That might be about to change thanks to a new product just introduced to the market.

Eyeline Golf, famous for their numerous putting aids has introduced the Golf Metronome Pro, a portable metronome no bigger than a half pack of chewing gum. It clips onto a shirt or hat. The golfer can adjust the 'beats per minute' to correspond to their personal rhythm and then selects a tempo that counts anywhere from 1 to 8 beats. The company has been kind enough to send me a product so I can test it. I'm a big believer in tempo, but admit that I haven't done anything more scientific than tell myself to slow down when I'm out on the course. Will finding my right tempo and then training myself to it help my game. Will the product help me maintain tempo when I'm under pressure? This is what I'll attempt to find out over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned as I report back. My hopes are high, but I realize that most training aids just don't live up to the hype.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

On Becoming A Better Putter

Being a better putter, that's every player's goal who really understands the game. After all, the flat stick is the one we use the most during every round played. The problem with putting is that there are more styles, stances and systems than for any other part of golf. Just look at the range of putters available. It seems like every week another company comes out with the latest space age contraption. And of course you can get them in every length from your knees up to your chin. There's also been a proliferation of putting coaches and training aids to help you hone the perfect stroke. Many of today's top Tour players have coaches just for putting as this is what usually separates first place from everyone else.

So what's the secret of being a better putter? For one thing, you have to find the setup and stroke that's right for you. It's my belief that there is no one 'right' way to putt. Just look at the game's best putters and you'll find as many different putting styles as players. For instance, Jack Nicklaus was a great putter who had a very hunched over style. Tiger Woods, who many feel is the best putter in the game today, stands very tall. It's sort of like finding your soul mate, there's someone out there for everyone, you just have to find them.

How do you find the right setup? I've never come across any system that helps you determine this. I don't think there are any shortcuts, you just have to take the time and try different styles until you find one that feels comfortable, comfortable being the key word. Every golfer who has played much knows that you can be set over a putt and you almost know in advance it's going in, while other times it feels like you're holding a broomstick in your hands. For every golfer body type and mental outlook, there is a 'best' putting setup and stroke.

Remember, first and foremost you have got to be comfortable over the ball. Do what I did last winter. Find a place indoors to try different putting styles, being attentive to what feels right. Trust your body, it probably knows more about what's best for you than your brain does. Put at least 10 or 15 minutes every day. Slowly you'll start to find the setup characteristics that feel the best to you.

Here are some putting basics to think about that are almost universally accepted as true today. I say almost as there are exceptions to everything in putting. 1) Keep your head still. This is critical. I don't care what kind of putter or stroke you have, if you lift your head at impact or just after you aren't going to be a good putter. Here's a good benchmark: on anything shorter than 4 feet, you should hear the ball fall in the cup before you look up. 2) Use the big muscles to putt. This means rocking the shoulders to move the putter. The big muscles are more consistent and less prone to twitches. Keep the wrists stable through the entire stroke. 3) Make as smooth a stroke as possible and accelerate the putter head through the ball. 4) Keep your grip light, I mean really light, particularly on short putts. By doing this you let the mass of the putter head move like a pendulum which is the best way to make sure the putter strikes the ball squarely and online. If you grip tightly you are going to get the yips, no two ways about it. 5) Learn to read greens. You can have the best stroke in the world, but if you can't pick the right line you aren't going to putt well. 6) Lastly, practice. You have got to spend time on the putting green if you want to get better. Putting is all about feel and the only way to produce feel is to practice. And practice with a purpose. There are a lot of golf books and web sites that can give you a lot of excellent putting drills.

Here's one last tip that I got from Jack Nicklaus that has helped me tremendously. Once you have your line, pick out a spot a few inches ahead of the ball and make sure you putt over that. Think about it, if you've read the green correctly and have the right speed then the ball will go in the hole if you hit that spot. This also helps keep your mind from 'adjusting' your aim during the through stroke. David Pelz has documented this all to common occurrence among pros and amateurs. If your mind is focused on something a few inches in front, it will be more of a help than a hindrance.

If you're putting well, you'll be surprised at how many of your playing partners end up buying the same putter!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Is Anthony Kim For Real?

With two wins this season, Anthony Kim could sure make you begin to believe he's the real thing. After disappearing for a few weeks after his first victory he's back in the winner's circle this weekend at Tiger's tournament in the nation's capital. And he didn't fall into this one. He played a very convincing final round at 5 under for a come from behind win. But is this a temporary hot streak, or the beginning of a memorable career?

What we've seen so far is that he can hit the ball with the best ball strikers out there, he's plenty long, shows finesse around the greens and can putt when the pressure is on. I don't think that anyone doubts that he's got the game to be one of the best. But does he have the desire? So far it's too soon to tell. I'm sure more than one golfer of the modern age has started out with lofty goals only to let them slide after a few strong performances. Why does that happen? Maybe the goals look too daunting when you know you have to beat Tiger to win the big ones. Or maybe it's too much work to go from pretty good to great. Once you're making 2 or 3 million a year, how many people will push themselves harder just to get into the record books when you can live a very nice life without having to sacrifice too much.

It's too early to know which way Anthony Kim will go. We haven't heard him talk enough to understand what really motivates him. He's also young, and as I recall from my own life, it's pretty easy to live in a fantasy world when you're in your twenties. That's not to say that AK doesn't have the same kind of fire in his belly as Mr. Woods. It would be great for golf viewers if he does, but I can't really blame him if he takes the easy road. It looks like he'll be on the US Ryder Cup team, and we just might find out a bit more about what makes this young man tick come September.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Media Onslaught for Ryder Cup Captains

It's July 2 and already it has started in the sports section of the local newspaper. What's that you ask? It's reporters trying to make something out of nothing as regards the Ryder Cup because they feel there isn't a whole lot to say about golf given that Tiger is out. Nick Faldo played in Rhode Island last week at a charity tournament. A local sportswriter asked him what he thought about the Ryder Cup competition now that Tiger is out. Nick Faldo replied that he really hadn't thought about it. From this response the writer tries to convince us that 1) Nick was not being genuine and 2) Tiger's absence had all sorts of ramifications for the competition.

Please! The event isn't until September, but it looks like we will have to endure endless speculation and innuendo about Tiger not being there. The poor Ryder Cup captains will be asked over and over how Tiger's absence will effect the competition and if they have the honesty to say 'not much', they will be lampooned as dishonest, dastardly and possibly loony.

The Ryder Cup is an exciting competition, it doesn't need misguided sportswriters to tell us that it isn't unless we can somehow link it to Tiger. We'll see some of the best golfers in the world divided into two teams and playing an interesting format over three days. There will be lots of incredible shots, some interesting pairings and match-ups and maybe, just maybe, a close competition that is decided by the last couple of singles matches on Sunday. Even now there's plenty to speculate about; who will make the team and how are they playing as of late, who will be the captain's picks and how will the teams prepare. Instead of writing a 'Tiger' story because it's easy, sportswriters should do a little more work and write about something interesting that their research has uncovered.

To sportswriters covering golf - Not every event in the world has to be presented as a 'Survivor' episode. Enough with the hyped up, made up drama. Just write about real events and real people and you may be surprised what an interesting story you have.

To the Ryder Cup captains - I feel for you. We've already been told that whatever you say we shouldn't believe, that how your team performs will determine where you go in the afterlife and that you are deviant losers should you make the preposterous claim that it's a fun event where you intend to get out of the way and let the best in the world play against one another.

Have we really become so hooked on hype that we can't focus on anything that isn't smothered in it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

There Are None To Replace Tiger

The comment I've heard most often from golf fans in the last week is 'I can't get excited about watching pro golf without Tiger'. I admit I'm feeling the same way. There's no interest without Tiger Woods. Why is that?

I believe the biggest thing separating Tiger from the rest of the field is not his play. It's his desire to win. He has had an objective for most of his life to be the best golfer that ever lived, not to just make his fortune playing golf. Between those two approaches lies a tremendous gulf. These days you can make a nice life for yourself playing pro golf. You don't even have to win to be a millionaire. Just be in the top 10 or so in a number of tournaments and get a few endorsement contracts and you can be as well off as you would be working on wall street. And, you get to spend most of your time outside instead of cooped up in an office. Plus you'll have a multi-million dollar home on an exclusive golf course and you'll be practicing your putting instead of producing PowerPoint slides. Nice work if you can get it, and nothing wrong with it.

But without players who want more than the lifestyle, without guys who want to be in the record books not much is going to change. Every week it's going to be someone else who gets the win, while last month's winners fade out. That doesn't breed excitement for viewers. Even my mother-in-law who doesn't play golf, is an avid golf fan because of Tiger. She asks me every week the channels and times of tournament coverage. Since Tiger left she doesn't ask anymore. Without Tiger there is no story and story is what keeps viewers involved. Is there another golfer out there somewhere you will stand up and say 'I'm going to win every time I play' or maybe 'I want to have 10x majors before I retire'? If there ever was an opportunity for someone to make a run, now is the time while Tiger is recuperating.

I'm looking forward to the British Open because it is The Open. After that I probably won't be interested until the Ryder Cup - unless someone steps up. The PGA? I just can't get excited. FedEx Cup? who really truly cares. It's regular golf with a bigger purse. I guess it's supposed to be like a horse race, but without Tiger the format has not provided a storyline so far.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tiger Wood's ACL Repair

Tiger Woods had his ACL repaired this past Tuesday in Park City, Utah. It is now known that he originally tore it in 2007 while jogging after the British Open. So what's in store for him and how long will it take?

I had my own ACL repaired in 1994 and have some experience with skiers ACL surgeries when I was involved in ski area risk management. ACL repair is common for skiers and that's why some of the best doctors in the world for this surgery are in Vail, Colorado and Park City, Utah. From what I know, here's what Tiger will go through. Immediately after surgery, Tiger's left leg will be hooked up to a machine that continually flexes the knee joint. In a matter of only a few days he will start physical therapy. Most likely he's already been fitted for a knee brace that he will begin to wear in a couple of weeks. In the beginning he will only be able to do exercises that are closed chain, meaning his knee can only move in one plane such as when you ride a bike. At this stage it is important that the knee is not allowed to move laterally, such as happens when you walk on uneven ground.

I can't say where they got the new ligament for Tiger's repair as different surgeons have different philosophies on this. Sometimes it comes from your own body, mine was a piece of my patella tendon, and other times it's from a cadaver. Perhaps in 2008 they have other options. The repair itself is done arthroscopicly. The operation is fairly straight forward and takes less than an hour if there are no complications.

The biggest issue with recovery is the fact that tendons have limited blood supply which translates into a long time before they get to full strength. As I recall this takes well over a year. I had to wear a brace while skiing - as a preventative measure - for two years and then was able to go without. The danger for most recoveries is that the knee will feel great even though the tendon is not at full strength, enticing athletes to over stress the tendon and tear it again. This happened to a good friend of mine who was a ski racer and soccer player.

You can actually ski normally without your ACL. I tore mine playing softball and decided to wait until after ski season to have it repaired. I skied with a brace and felt just fine. Normal skiing is basically a closed link activity and done with bent knees so the ACL doesn't come into play that much. Most skier injuries occur when they fall. I'm no expert on the motion of the knee during the golf swing, but I haven't heard that it's a normal injury for golfers to tear ACL's. More normally they mess up their cartilage.

Ernie Els has never regained his form after having his ACL repaired when it was torn during a water skiing accident. I'm not sure anyone knows if his problems have anything to do with his injury. His swing certainly looks good and he doesn't appear to be in any pain. In my limited experience the ACL either works or it doesn't. There's not really a middle ground. The bottom line for Tiger is that the longer he waits to return next year, the better his chances will be to not tear his ACL again. So which major will he wait for?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What George Carlin Would Say About Golf

Most of you know that the famous comedian George Carlin just passed away. My wife and I were watching one of his old specials last night and I got to thinking what Mr. Carlin - The Great Observer of Life - would say about golf. Here goes..

Why are so many people fascinated with the game of golf? It's a miserable game and most golfers will tell you as much after they've played their first hole. I think golf is really a stand-in for the great questions of our time, like 'what does it all mean?' or 'where do we go after we die?'. You see, these are questions that can't be answered. They go beyond the knowledge that any human has, even an Albert Einstein or a Socrates. The problem is that these questions are downright scary to think about. It's much better to think about something less threatening but equally as unknowable, like why can I hit a great shot one moment and a god awful pull hook the next.

Let's think about that. What other thing, sport or otherwise, do you learn one moment and then have absolutely zero skill in the next. Once you learn to pearl knit, you don't start losing control of your knitting needles only to jab the dog. I personally like to snow ski. I can't remember ever going backward in what I could do with skis. I've never seen anyone be able to parallel ski their first run only to find out that a snowplow was all they could muster the rest of the day. On the other hand, I dare you to show me the golfer who hasn't played terrific shots on a hole and then proceeded to play the rest of the round as if they were using a broom and a grapefruit.

Something else I've noticed about golf that keeps it forever in the category of 'life's great mysteries'. When playing a sport and things don't go so well, usually the players blame the conditons or equipment. If you go out to ski and can't control your skis very well it's because of bad conditions. No one comes in and admits 'I've lost it, I can't ski anymore'. But every golfer is faced with passing that judgment on themselves at some point in almost every round. Even Tiger Woods has his bad days. But he never blames it on the course. He doesn't tell reporters that he's driving the ball great, the problem is with the fairways.

Bottom line: we continue to play golf and alternate between the ridiculous and the sublime. One hole a par is so easy we believe we've finally found IT - the key to golf in the kingdom. The next hole we're one yanked putt away from chucking the golf bag off the nearest bridge. When is the last time you asked someone 'how's the game?' only to hear them say 'couldn't be better, this is the easiest game in the world'. Show me that person and I'll show you the golf course at the local sanitarium!

If you have a weak heart, I urge you to skip the this part! I'm going to talk about putting. Yes the easiest, hardest most mind boggling thing to do on the planet. Golf is such a kind game. The stroke that golfers make the most of during any round is the simplest - the putting stroke. You've finally covered hundreds of yards, overcome all manor of hazards to reach the promised land - a nicely manicured green carpet with a nice cup and flag on it to mark the golfer's final objective. You'd be proud to have a carpet in your home as finally groomed and cared for. All you have to do is take a nice flat bladed club, move it a few inches and gently knock your ball into said cup. There's no water, trees, sand or rough to get in the way, just a few undulations. It's so easy that this is the part of the game that children usually learn first. It's so easy that a five year old can do it with little effort. Oh don't we wish! In golf, what should be easiest is in fact the hardest. It's what ends most pros' careers. Though they've played and won tournaments their entire lives and still drive a golf ball 300 yards, all of a sudden it's impossible to knock in a three foot putt. Once mighty princes of the sport are reduced to beaten down castoffs. Broadcasters are loath to mention their names, because just the memory of someone with the yips can destroy an audience's good mood for a long time.

Golf is a great game, a crazy game, even a bit perverse and sometimes self-destructive. But it's a whole lot better than having to come face to face with the real mysteries of the universe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Golf Is Hard On Your Body

There probably isn't anyone out there who has played golf for more than a year who doesn't agree that golf is physically tough. It's not bone jarring tough like the NFL, it just slowly takes its toll swing after swing, day after day. Maybe this is just one more reason that the sport can't seem to increase rounds played year over year.

Is there something inherent in the swing itself that makes it physically dangerous? The back is one of the major trouble spots in golf, just look at the long line of pros that have had serious back issues over their careers. If you've had a back issue yourself, which means you're in the majority of people over 40, then you probably know that the worse thing for it is 'bending and twisting'. And that is exactly what a fundamentally sound swing requires. On the back swing you twist and then on the down swing, as you transfer weight and kick your left hip to start, you have to bend as well. As well as Rocco Mediate played in the Open, does his swing look classic? To me it looks more like 'the old man swing' that you see in your own foursome. You can see that Rocco is a player who has had serious back issues. He moves through the ball in a way to minimize the twisting and bending.

And backs are just the start these days. Knee issues seem to be cropping up more and more. I've even read more stories about PGA pros with stress fractures in their lower extremities due to all the walking. For many of us amateurs, we also have the issue of carrying a bag which adds weight as well as more twisting and bending.

Golf has a lot of issues facing it if it is to be a growing sport. The physical component may be one of the most important. Maybe we're all trying too hard, or swinging for the fences too often. Maybe teaching instructors should start with stretching and warm-up exercises before a student ever touches a club. Or just possibly, someone should figure out how to teach a swing like Rocco's to the amateurs over 40.

Here's to the continued growth of golf.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stewart Cink Takes A Step Up

Stewart Cink finally proved he can hold on to a lead and close the deal by winning the Travelers Championship in Hartford this past week. Considering how he's played in the past, he's had a great year even if he stumbled in a few tournaments early on in the season.

He's been around the top in most every event he's played in '08. What really seemed different to me was his attitude at the Travelers. On the early holes on Sunday, he looked like he was going to win. He didn't appear to be a guy who was hoping he'd hang on. I don't know if this marks a turning point in his game, but it would be great to see someone besides Tiger try to be the best golfer in every tournament they play.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The "Other" Toski (and a FREE golf lesson)

Tom Toski is the brother of famed golf instructor Bobby Toski who has worked with countless pros throughout the years.

I mention this because I just had a lesson with the "other" Toski (Tommy)

He is an amazing individual. 80+ years young and looking fit as a fiddle. He gives lessons at a local golf facility here in Western Massachusetts (Hadley)

When I first called he was booked solid for 2 weeks which I thought was quite amazing. Although I previously attended a group seminar with him about a year ago or so. What i saw there was simply amazing. Here he is at 80 something and roping these unbelievable drives - I mean mouth-watering drives - long, straight and true. THEN he turned the driver around and was popping drives with the BACK of the driver - crazy stuff ;-)

I thought then and there I need to tap into this guys knowledge bank.

What he told me on the range the other day is not the "secret" or anything I have not heard or read about somewhere but a solid fundamental that we all need to be reminded of.

He mentioned how important it is to be "level" in your backswing - that is, your shoulder not dipping but maintaining a relatively even turn (think baseball swing) AND also to keep as STILL as possible. Kept telling me to keep "quiet" during the swing. Of course a big part of this is a quiet (and still) head. (we've heard that before, right?)

Additionally, the Toski's are big proponents of small muscles and not large ones. This goes against a lot of the Leadbetter style teaching of using the bigger muscles as a focus.

Said that is one of the biggest misconceptions in golf.

Talked a lot about holding the club like a feather and using arm speed.

I enjoyed the lesson tremendously and loved talking "shop" with a member of one of the legendary golf teaching families in the game.

And, if you're ever up in this neck of the woods - do yourself a favor and book a lesson with Mr. Toski.

You'll get lesson and a whole lot more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nick Faldo Versus Johnny Miller

If you watch professional golf on TV, you've had a lot of opportunities to hear Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller do color commentary. Both were top players in their day and both are extremely knowledgeable about the game, swing mechanics and their fellow pros. Having said that, I much prefer Nick Faldo and would have liked to have seen him work the U.S. Open.

Johnny Miller comes across as angry and exudes an air of superiority. I can just hear him telling someone that back in his day the holes all played uphill, the balls were lopsided and the wind always blew in your face. If a player doesn't hit the best shot possible, Miller intimates that the guy choked, while Faldo has a much more compassionate take. Nick comes across respecting that golf never has never been a game of perfection and never will be. He's Mr. Affable to Johnny's Mr. Caustic. I suspect there's a chip on someone's shoulder in there somewhere.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Happens When Tiger Cuts Back On Play?

Without Tiger Woods, where would golf be? Consider that if you want a sobering thought! Rounds played haven't significantly increased over at least 20 years, and this during the reign of the best player the game has probably ever seen. Many private clubs, if not most, are seeing membership rolls continually erode.

With recession here, how is that situation going to improve. With gas over $4 who, but the very wealthy can afford to drive to the course let alone pay the greens fees? If Tiger's knee is as bad as is feared and his playing is reduced to majors and a few other tournaments, who's going to attract the TV viewers. Right now the future of golf doesn't look its brightest. I'd hate to see some of my favorite local tracks turned into housing developments - or maybe cornfields.

What about the cost of running and maintaining a golf course these days? The gas to run the mowers is just as expensive as ours. Fertilizer is going through the roof. And then there are all the environmental issues like using pesticides - or not. And let's not forget perhaps the biggest problem of all, the fact that modern U.S. course designs require one hell of a lot of water.

If you think your budget is eroding because of gas, wait until you see what water is going to run you. Forget the flush toilets in the clubhouse, it may have to be waterless porta-potties in the future.

Tiger Keeps US Open Alive

Anyone who watched the US Open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday surely had enough excitement. But it took a one-legged Tiger to do it. Poor Phil, the world's number 2 just disappeared as he is want to do a bit too often. That's not a knock on Phil, where are golfers 3 through 10 when you come to think about it?

I still think the US Open is too much about the USGA folks that set the course up and not enough about true risk and reward golf. In the US Open risk/reward is perfectly clear - don't hit the ball in the rough OR the sand traps. Consider this; when you think about great golfers and tournaments of yesteryear, don't spectacular recoveries come to mind. A great golfer is good at hitting accurate shots, but also at recovering from bad ones. The US Open all but eliminates great recovery shots. Every golfer is forced to hack the bad shots back onto the fairway. The difference between playable and nearly unplayable has been reduced to inches and not even the best golfers have that much control. Even Tiger didn't win this tournament tee to green, he won it because he is the best putter and green reader on tour.

Random Comments on the Open

There are always too many commercials, but as long as we have to have them make them interesting. The Harley Davidson commercial was by far and away the best. I actually looked forward to seeing it. To the pharmaceutical companies; find out who made the Harley commercial and beat a path to your door. If I have to hear that same music and story for your erection pills one more time I may be forced to stop watching golf on TV.

Rocco, you're an asset to the game. You played great, but I love your attitude even more. Enough of the professional player scowls and fist pumping. I want to see a human being, aware of the moment and having fun while keeping the whole thing in perspective. Rocco reminds me of what Lee Trevino did for golf audiences, namely bringing a smile to their faces. I hope your back holds up and we see a lot more of you. When you can't play anymore, maybe you can open a personality school for the playing pros. Brandt Snedeker could be your poster child. Do you think there might be some connection between having a good time and playing well? During Monday's round, Rocco's game soured as his attitude went south for a couple of holes. Then he remembered who he was and made 3 birdies on the back nine and nearly took out Tiger!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

US Open, Fair or Unfortunate?

By most of the players and commentators comments so far, this US Open is getting high praise for fairness. The tee and pin locations have been picked each day so that there is a mix of easy, intermediate and hard locations. As usual, straight hitting and excellent putting is rewarded, everything else punished - sometimes severely. Is this the best test of golf for our national tournament?

The USGA makes no bones about their goal of making the US Open the toughest test in professional golf. I don't think anyone disputes the notion that they have indeed achieved that. Is it the fairest test of golf? Does it test all aspects of the game equally or have they played up some while downplaying others? The USGA has put a lot of emphasis on precision. By the same token, they've eliminated the skills associated with recovery shots. Hit it in the rough and the only real option is to hack it out with a wedge, unless you're in the 2% of freak lies that offer recovery potential, like Tiger's shot yesterday from next to the cart path. Is the true test of a great golfer just precision, or should recovering from trouble get its due?

The height of the rough around the greens also puts a tremendous premium on accuracy. The rough is so penal that you're almost guaranteed to lose at least one stroke if you miss the green. Combine this with the rough by the fairways and most golfers don't go for the greens unless they are in the fairway. It's so much safer to play short and pitch up. On a couple of holes, some of the greenside rough has been shaved to peach fuzz causing most balls to roll into the canyon hazard. I saw Padraig Harrington hit a green on a long par three only to see his ball roll off and down the shaved bank and into a bush. That's not fair, that's bad luck.

I'd hate to see the US Open reduced to crowning the most accurate golfer for the week who was also the luckiest. Luck surely plays a part in the game, but should it be so important. I wonder whose prowess is really on display during US Opens, those of the pros or those of the USGA committee responsible for course setup. Unfortunately, it seems that the USGA has become a prisoner of it's own image. It's so enamored with being tough that it's afraid to try some new strategies. Maybe they should set-up an Open sometime that has long rough on some holes and shorter rough on others. Why should the rough have to be uniform hole to hole? Instead of 8 inch - luck of the draw - rough around the greens, perhaps they should let the greenside contours that the designer built in, challenge the players' short game skills more. No less an expert than Dave Pelz said Wednesday night that chipping out of the greenside rough is mostly about luck and not skill because of the type of grass and it's length.

One last question; if Tiger wasn't in this tournament and playing well, would you be as excited? Does a war of attrition make great theater? It seems to me that somewhere in the distant past you saw great charges during the Open, players making birdies on top of one another. But then again, maybe I'm thinking of someone else's tournament.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The U.S. Open Is The Peoples' Championship

Will this week's U.S. Open be about the course or about the players? You could argue that last years Open was too much about the golf course and it's ridiculous setup. Oakmont and it's membership's attitude that harder is always better is a unique venue in many ways. Torrey Pines is more representative of the U.S. Open's desire to play the annual national championship competition on public courses. And, that's as it should be.

Every amateur player should have the chance to play the courses that the Open uses, and that just isn't going to happen at the private courses representative of economic privilege that sometime slip into the rotation. Go ahead and play the Masters at Augusta and the PGA Championship where you will, but keep the Open as the peoples' championship. The U.S. Open, like the British Open, has unrestricted qualifying. You don't have to be from a special society or group or even country to qualify to play, you just have to be a great golfer. Let's hope that tradition never changes.

As for the competition itself, for me it's always about the golfers in the end because they all have to play the same conditions and course. However, as we've sometimes seen in the past, course setup can be too much of an unwanted factor. There seems to be an unwarranted amount of focus on the final score being around par. It's as if the USGA feels they've failed if the winning score is minus something. The focus should be exciting competition on challenging courses with the golfers having to make a lot of risk reward calculations. As many have commented, Augusta these days leaves little if any choices, every golfer plays it strategy-wise identically.

From what I've seen and read so far, it looks like Torrey Pines is a very fair setup. The rough is tiered a little more than in the past, while the fairways are wide by Open standards. There's been a lot written about how fast the greens will be, but they are generally very large greens and tend to be flatter. The putting challenge comes more from the 'pockets' built into the greens for pin placements rather than the spectacle of putting uphill to a cup placement only to have the ball roll past you and back into the fairway. Hard isn't always fair or even interesting to watch.

From a spectators' viewpoint, I think the test for Torrey Pines will be how many different ways an individual hole is played. If every golfer is forced into the same strategy then, in my book, it will be a big failure. A few years back, Tiger won the British Open by keeping his driver in the bag, while most of the field was using theirs. Not only was that Open championship about the golfers, it was also about the strategic beauty of the course design, something that hasn't been improved upon for a hundred years.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Leave Kenny Perry Alone

It seems to be the sport of the day to take Kenny Perry to task over not trying to qualify for the US Open. For my two cents worth I have to say 'Back Off'! By everyone's account he's a very nice human being. He's 48 and he wants to play on the Ryder Cup team, that's his dream. It's in his home state and on a course he knows. He put together a game plan for this year to make it happen and he's sticking to it. So far it's paying off. Watch him talk about his goal and you can see he starts to get choked up.

For all the other wanna be pros out there, go put your own professional career and game together and do with it what you will. If you want to spend a career trying to win U.S. Opens, then I say more power to you. If it keeps you from trying to tell us how to judge an honest man, then it's even better. Pro golfers work for themselves. They each run their personal business in a different way. The variety of personalities and approaches to the game are what make it fun to watch. Ian Poulter has added color, Freddy Couples is ultra cool, Tiger takes focus to the max and VJ is Mr. Work Ethic. It's all good. Kenny Perry is a 48 year old with a decent career who wants to add the Ryder Cup to what he's accomplished. I love that.

Thanks to 'artful golfer' for the comment on the Ryder Cup blog. He mentioned it would be nice to see Perry make the team and I'm right in line with that sentiment, and it got me motivated to write today's comment. Who's played consistently better than Kenny over the last 5 weeks? Kenny has the game and, on top of that, I don't think Paul Azinger could find a more motivated or more team oriented player for his squad.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Take Some National Pride Out Of The Ryder Cup

I'm probably setting myself up for some scathing email, but the U.S. Ryder Cup team has been taking itself a little too seriously over the last 20 years, which may be the biggest reason for it's terrible performance during that time. Unfortunately, it looks like Paul Azinger has decided to tighten the screws even more this year rather than back them off. Don't get me wrong, it's great to represent your team in international competition, but the outcome doesn't determine the value of your country or how much you love it. This is athletic competition. It's friendly. It's great fun. It's a chance to see some of the best golfers in the world play formats we rarely get to see, like alternate shot. If your team doesn't win, don't feel you have to go home in shame or be pilloried in the public square for the next year.

Listening to Nick Faldo's comments in recent weeks in between coverage of tournaments, he seems to have the same mentality as Jack Nicklaus about Ryder Cup - relax, have fun and let the players put on a show, maybe even smoke a cigar or two and sign autographs with abandon during the practice rounds. I believe that Nick Faldo and Paul Azinger really like each other, but Nick has mentioned more than once that Paul is already putting way too much pressure on his players. Paul Azinger has decided to have two assistant captains to help his players compete. Jack Nicklaus chimed in on that idea during the Memorial by gently reminding Paul that these are the best players in the world and they don't need help playing the game. He even went so far as to say there isn't a lot for the captain to do once play begins, just get out of the way and let your players do what they do best.

It's hard to find a country more enamored with itself these days than the U.S. and that may be the biggest factor in our Ryder Cup blues for that last 20 years. As we get closer to tee time, you'll see more national pride stories and quotes about the honor of playing for one's country. It's only a game, right! I like the eastern philosophy of honoring one's opponent, even more so if they win. Without a great opponent there are no great matches. Without great matches there wouldn't even be a sports page.

Paul Azinger, as captain, your biggest contribution to the Ryder Cup competition is to get your team to relax and to do this you're going to have to play down the 'national pride' angle. You can do more for our nation's image by showing that we can keep things in perspective, honoring the game and our opponents. After all, it's only golf and not the beaches of Normandy. If the Europeans win again, it says nothing about the manhood of our players or how much they do or don't love their country. It's all about how you act, win or lose. In the land where exploding Little League managers too often have to be removed from the playing field by police, it's about time grownups show children what competition is all about.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Can A 10 Handicapper Break 100 At The Open?

I think it was Tiger who made the comment last year that a 10 handicapper couldn't break 100 on a U.S. Open course under U.S. Open conditions. Right now I'm playing to a 10 and I confess that, at first blush, I fantasized I could do it. Then I heard Phil Mickelson give a more detailed explanation of why it would be near impossible; too much length, too narrow fairways, too tall rough and too fast greens. How might that really play out for a 10 handicapper?

Let me try the fantasy on for size. On average, I guess an Open course at an extra 1000 yards from what I usually play. Using 180 yards as an average shot, that equates to 6 more swings.

Extremely tight fairways and tall rough mean it's an extra shot every time I miss a fairway. All I'll be able to do is hit out 90 degrees with a wedge. Give me 9 more shots.

In order to not go too deep into the rough, I'll probably have to leave the driver in the bag. I'm giving up a good 40 yards with a 3-wood. If I do that on all but the par 3's, that's 14 times 40 for 560 yards. 560 divided by a 180 average club equals another 3 shots.

Because of hard greens and me having to hit longer irons due to the added course length, I'll miss a lot of greens. Then, because of the tall rough and faster greens I'm going to miss more up-and-downs. Give me 6 shots here.

How about those polished marble 13.5 on the stimpmeter putting greens? If I average 3 putts a green, that gives me 54 putts. Even at 48 putts, that probably adds 12 more putts than normal.

Let's tally:
- 6 shots for overall distance
- 9 shots for fairway rough
- 3 shots for using 3-wood instead of driver
- 6 shots for longer irons into the greens
- 12 shots for more putts on fast greens

That's 36 shots without counting any penalties. 36 added to 72 equals 108. And that assumes I'd be playing without anyone watching and no cameras going off during my back swing. The more I think about it, the more it appears that Tiger and Phil are right.

Look at it another way. 100 minus 72 equals 28 shots lost to par or about 1.6 shots lost per hole. Wouldn't it be very easy to lose a stroke and a half per hole given the added length, taller rough, narrower fairways and faster greens. Would even a 'best round of the summer' be good enough? Don't think I'd want to bet my paycheck to find out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nick Is Right On Golf Broadcasting

I like a good deal of The Golf Channel's coverage of pro tournaments, but there are a few places they could definitely improve. Like the blue imaginary putting line. The first time I saw it, it was interesting. By the third time it was a nuisance. If you have to keep this doodad, then at least lose it before the player actually putts. Listen to Nick Faldo. Behind his politeness he's trying to help you improve your broadcasts.

Gary McCord sounds like a nice guy. I'm sure he'd be great to live next to - funny and lot's of interesting golf stories. But when he's running the show, I feel like I'm tuned into the 'Gary McCord Hour', playing between Oprah and Ellen. Sometimes the commentators should let the play speak for itself.

And then there's the music that has become mandatory when showing the 'on screen' scoreboard. I thought we were done with Muzak about 15 years ago. Now it seems to be on a vicious comeback. It's at the mall, in the airport, at the bookstore and recently on TV anytime there's a 'data' shot. I've got enough lunacy running around my head without having more piped in.

That's not to say that I'm not thankful for The Golf Channel and all the tournament coverage they provide. In most cases I wish they had the rights to more Saturdays and Sundays. Now, with the networks, we're lucky to get 3 hours of coverage. Take away the commercials and talking heads, that doesn't leave much time to watch real play.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slow Play

Is it just me, or is play becoming slower? I thought last year was a deterioration from the year before. Now this year seems to be even worse. Golf is not growin. Could slow play be part of the reason? 4 hours for 18 holes is plenty of time. More than once I've thought about playing at a particular course and then passed when remembering that it usually takes 5 hours there. Only a few years ago there were rangers on the course making sure everyone stuck to the 4 hour time limit. Nowadays I don't see rangers anywhere. Is that because golf courses figure they can't afford it. If that's the case, then I think they're missing the bigger picture. With slow play they are apt to lose more in greens fees than they'd have to pay a ranger.

Slow play isn't about crowded courses from what I see. I played 18 holes in a threesome last week and we played through three groups. The course wasn't crowded by any means. There were vast expanses of open holes in front of each group. They were taking in excess of 20 minutes per hole. In my definition that's not golf. Do they enjoy taking that long? I just don't get it. It's a game and it has to be fun or people will give up the sport. Waiting 3 or 4 minutes before taking every shot isn't fun.

The slow play I've seen is not because of a physical handicap or beginners' playing skills. Many golfers just don't seem to know how to play a hole as a group. In one instance last week, two golfers in a cart came 100 yards backward for a shot after playing the farthest shot first. My wife and I played behind two young men who looked to be in their early 20's. We literally played a circle around them. We finished ahead of them and played 6 extra holes in between. I have no idea why they were taking so long. They were competent players, but they agonized over every stroke as if it was worth their pay check.

Male, female, young, old, beginner and 15 handicapper - it doesn't seem to make a difference. Slow play cannot be attributed to any one group. Are golfers being effected by the slow play they see on the pro tours? Or are we, as a society, less concerned about others? A foursome can finish a round in under 4 hours without rushing a shot. It requires 'ready golf' and, except in tournaments, that should be the norm. With 'ready golf' you take your shot when you're ready to play, not standing on ceremony that the player furthest from the hole goes first.

Part of slow play may be more golfers looking for lost balls. If you hit a lot of errant shots, don't play Pro V1's unless money means nothing. Is it just me, or does it seem that most new courses are made as difficult - read long and tight - as possible. This doesn't help slow play. I predict that course design logic will change in the coming years to save the game. More modern designers should take a page out of the old Scottish designers' books. You can make a course challenging and difficult without requiring a golfer to lose balls. A pot bunker is a wonderful hazard and though you may wish you couldn't find your ball once it's rolled in, it will be lying in plain sight. Well placed trees and shrubs are challenges that don't usually eat balls.

It would help slow play if all golfers were educated on etiquette and rules, and if courses used rangers. It shouldn't take more than a few months of enforcement to 'train' players to 4 hour rounds. Beginners sometimes have to 'pick up' on a hole to keep from slowing play. Learning this is as important as learning how to hit a shot out of the sand. The U.S. could take a few pointers from the Europeans on how to keep rounds speedy. Courses in many countries require a particular handicap for play and sometimes for each tee box as well. New players are required to pass a 'playing' test with a pro before getting their first handicap card. This insures everyone is on the same page on rules and etiquette. And remember, it's no sin to let faster players through. A par 3 is a convenient place for a pass.

One last word to golfers that want to play the classic courses from the same place the pros do. If you don't hit 300+ yard drives, you aren't really playing the same course. Think about it. Even if your drives are 270, you won't be in range of the hazards, like bunkers and narrowing fairways, that the pros face. Play the tees that force you to negotiate the same hazards as the pros and your experience will more closely approximate theirs.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Alpha V5 Driver Review

Back in February I received a brand new Alpha Golf V5 driver and wrote a blog about my intentions to review it. The weather in New England finally eased up in April and I have completed my tests.

Initial Impressions and Unique Head Cover
First, let me recap my initial impressions; it's a gorgeous club, elegant but not showy and comes with the best head cover I have come across. It's important to protect the graphite shaft on a new driver, but trying to put the long necked head cover on can try your patience enough that you decide to leave it in the car. That's great for the short term, but bad for the long term. It only takes a small nick on the fragile shaft to weaken it enough to break in the middle of a round. For my money, Alpha has solved the problem with a slick design that uses magnets to control the opening in the head cover. It's so easy to use that there's no excuse for not protecting your driver. Even if you don't need a new club I encourage you to check out these great head covers.

Now on to the club test. I compared the Alpha V5 to my current driver. I have a range where I can hit my own balls. I used the exact same balls, marked red and black and hit both drivers in alternate sets of 5 over numerous practice sessions. I also took the club out on the course to try it where it actually counts.

It's not easy to test drive a new club and really know whether it's right for you or not for a number of reasons. A new club is usually setup differently - you are looking for something different aren't you? Accordingly it's going to feel different while you learn how to swing it. If you can't test it over an extended period against what you're currently using, how do you know the results aren't colored by your swing on that particular day.

The Alpa V5 came in the same length as my current driver and with a similarly configured stiff shaft. They sent it with a normal size grip. While I use mid size grips on my clubs I wanted to test it first with the normal size as this is what you're going to find on most demo clubs. I found that it definitely affected my ability to hit the ball. So be careful in evaluating a new club if the grip is different from what you normally use. After a few days with the normal grip I replaced it with a mid size Golf Pride Decade Multi-Compound Cord grip. (I not reviewing grips here, but I have to say that these grips are incredible-though expensive.) I noticed a difference immediately. Without the change I don't think I would have given the club a fair evaluation.

Let's look at aesthetics for a moment before getting to the results. I've talked about the great look of the club which is important for building confidence. I also want to mention sound because this is important to many golfers when considering metal woods. When I first hit the V5, the sound was a definite surprise. It wasn't bad, but it was just different from what I am using. Where my current club makes a clank, this club makes a clink. The more I hit the club the more I got accustomed to the sound, to the point where I actually forgot about it. If you find the sweet spot the sound almost disappears, which is quite pleasing - in a biofeedback sort of way.

At The Range
What about the results? On the practice range I found the Alpha V5 to be, on average, between 15 and 20 yards farther on solid center hits. I didn't check off center hit distances as carefully, but my impression is there was little difference there. The results can't be an absolute number because this was not an exact scientific experiment. I'll leave it to the physicists and Iron Byron to come up with absolute performance figures. Golf clubs are hit by humans and this brings in a lot of variations, even with an individual golfer. I noticed that the biggest differences in distance came in the later tests. Maybe I was learning how to swing the club. Or maybe my confidence was increasing due to the results of the earlier tests.

On The Course
Finally, I took the club out on the course. After all, this is where any club has to perform. No two days on the golf course are ever the same, but when you've played a course enough you have a pretty good idea of how far your drives go. I was definitely hitting the ball at least 10 yards past my normal landing spots and this in cooler spring conditions. There's a 292 drivable par 4 - at least for some - on the course I used for my test. My previous best there was about 10 yards in front of the green. I don't remember the conditions, so I can't say if mother nature helped or not. I'm delighted to say that I was able to put one of my drives with the Alpha V5 on the front fringe. It's important to note that the last 15 yards of the fairway rise about 12 feet up to the green. There was no helping wind with the V5 and the ball ran up the slope. Regardless of what happens on the practice range, it's those kind of results that 1) make it easy to covet the club and 2) get you psyched up to try it on your favorite driving holes. Now I'm anxious to see if I can repeat my 'longest drive' on a few other short par 4's that I've never been able to reach. It would also be great to reach the par 5's in two that have been impossible up to now.

After testing it myself, I whole heartedly encourage anyone who's looking for more distance in a new driver to give the V5 a try. Though it's not as universally carried in golf stores the way the most advertised brands are, you can buy it on line with a risk-free 30 day guarantee. Just a couple of last remarks. The club has customizable weight ports which I didn't mess around with. For those of you who want the club to help you change your ball flight, the option is there. I don't think the average amateur is really working his drive intentionally. I don't try to move mine much as the results can get scary. My natural shot is a draw. On the course, I was able to fade the ball a little with the V5. Hopefully it wasn't just luck, but I'm confident this club will not hold any skill level player back.

As soon as it stops raining here, I'm going to go out and play some more with the V5. I'll keep you updated on how the club performs. Right now the old club is confined to the trunk of my car! It's no wonder that Alpha Golf has won 6 ReMax World Long Drive titles.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Have They Designed Away Masters Excitement?

Go to GolfDash and check out the Headline Story for today, April 14. It's by John Huggan at Golf Observer and addresses the fact that course changes to Augusta in the last 10 years seem to have taken the excitement out of the Masters competition. I couldn't agree more after watching this last week and reflecting on 2007 as well.

It seems that we have come to love the Masters because of the dramatic play it inspires - or used to. Some lost big leads while others made dramatic moves ahead. Different players played the course well - differently. If you felt you needed to make up ground you could take risks, which sometimes paid off and sometimes ended in disaster. But today, it's all about survival. The course seems to dictate that everyone play the course in almost exactly the same way. Most holes don't have options anymore, which is what great courses are all about. If you follow the British Open and classic links design then you know what I'm talking about.

Bobby Jones worked with the famous Scottish golf designer Alister MacKenzie to build Augusta. Mr. MacKenzie knew all about the subtleties of a well designed hole. Winning a tournament was as much about strategy as ball striking. Given your skill set, a great hole is about challenging you to figure out the solution of how you should play it. There was one hole at St. Andrews Old Course that Bobby Jones himself said was most often played the best by a woman golfer of the times. Think about that for a moment, he was saying that she played the hole better than he did. I'm sure he could hit the ball farther, but she was able to unravel it's secret code better.

I have looked forward to this Masters all winter, but now that it's complete I have an empty feeling. That's no to slight Trevor Immelmam. He's a great golfer who played better than everyone else, including Mr. Woods. He's a wonderful ball striker and showed he has the nerves that all the great ones have. I think (and hope) to see a lot more of him in the future. We need someone to push Tiger. Without a Retief, or Ernie or Vijay to challenge, pro tournaments are losing some of their luster.

A high level of anticipation for the next Masters is certainly gone. I want to see dramatic shots, an Arnie charge or a Nicklaus come from behind. Just seeing who can endure the rack the longest is not much entertainment. For my money the course has been designed into it's own dead end. I'm not a course designer, but the Augusta people need to find someone with a different vision to save the tradition. They might want to consult a past winner who's also an architect and probably understands the old course design traditions better than anyone. That would be a Mr. Ben Crenshaw.