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.