Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Bounce Back Stat

For a kid who didn't care for math in school, it is amazing how much I love to study statistics.  If you have read the book Moneyball, you will quickly understand how our accepted way of thinking is often disputed by statistics.  In the book, Michael Lewis writes of how baseball owners slowly adopted the ideas of young, whiz kids who played fantasy baseball and studied the statistics.  Guys like Kevin Youkilis, who were said to have a "bad body" by scouts and had gone undrafted, were now studied using statistics instead of human opinions.  When looking at the statistics, it was found that Youkilis got on base at an extremely high percentage, due to both his ability to hit and to draw walks.  The long accepted way of scouting for talent became statistics based instead of opinion based. 

In golf, there are a lot of important statistics, such as greens hit, p.g.i.r. (putts on greens hit in regulation), and up and down stats.  These are the meat of the scoring stats.  A stat that signals mental toughness is the bounce back stat.  The bounce back stat keeps track of the score you make on any hole after making anything but par.  For example, if you par the first, bogey the second hole and par the third, you will be 1 for 1 in your bounce back.  It is also important to see if you stay in the game after a birdie.  If you go birdie, birdie on #4 and #5, but bogey the sixth hole, you will be 1 for 2 in bounce back for that stretch.

This statistic is an indicator of how well you stay in the present and how well you stick to your game plan.  If you make a mistake and take a double bogey, do you then press and try to make up for your mistake?  If that is a habit, it will show in this statistic.  When you make a birdie or two, do you abandon your game plan and start shooting at pins?  That will also show.  A consistent approach to the game and a firm game plan will keep you steady on the course and keep you focused on what is important - the next shot.

Here is a link to the PGA's Bounce Back Stat  If you want to track your own bounce back stat, all you need to do is keep track of your score on holes after a birdie or bogey or higher and if it is a par or birdie, you get a tally mark in the positive.  When I was coaching, one of my players, Ashley Knoll, had a semester with a perfect bounce back score.  She ended that year ranked #2 in the nation and was named to the All America team.  The correlation between the bounce back stat and the ability to score is a strong one and keeping track of it should help you learn to stay in the present and stick to the game plan.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One Swing From Disaster

If you were like most golf fans, you were captivated by the Masters this past weekend.  There were abundant story lines, such as a young player finishing strong, a past champ mounting a comeback and a young prodigy experiencing a golf disaster.  Are we all just one swing away from a similar disaster?  Here are some ways you can avoid your own next time you are feeling the pressure.

What causes us to lose our focus, our confidence, our tempo or our ability to execute on the golf course?  We have all been there, which is why it was easy to feel Rory's pain on Sunday.  The feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness and embarrassment seem overwhelming.  After 15 years of watching junior golf, college golf and a lot of pros play the game, I have seen the situation that Rory was in many times.  What happens?  It is very hard to speak for what is going on mentally or emotionally for another golfer, but we are all more similar than different.  One moment, we can be in complete command of the game and the next, it is as though we have never played.  The cause is usually pressure, either applied by your self talk or an unfamiliar situation.

Rory McIlroy showed us the talent he had in the first three rounds and then showed us his humanity in the final round.  This young man will win many majors before it is all said and done.  He will also continue to handle himself with class and graciousness.

It is easy to say you should ask for pressure and want a challenge.  Yes, that is the mentality you would like to take into a major or any round of golf.  However, dealing with that pressure and those challenges is a lot tougher than stating what you read in a sports psychology book.  You need actual methods to deal with the feelings of pressure.  Here are some tools you can use the next time you feel yourself buckling under the weight of pressure.

There are some simple things to learn that will help you if you practice them whenever you play.  First, you need to stay in the moment.  That might seem like a cliche and a very overused piece of advice, but it is a key to performing on the golf course.    If we allow ourselves to fast forward to the end of the round and envision ourselves holding the trophy or celebrating with our friends, we are in trouble.  It is pretty tough to focus fully if you are dreaming of the future or the past.  Day dreams are handy when you are away from the course and visualizing your success, but day dreams get in the way when they happen on the course.  You need a plan when your mind wanders.

Place any word you want in the bubble.  Do you want birdie?  One putt?  A win?

Rosie Jones, in a coaches clinic, told us her mechanism of bringing her mind back to the present is to simply look at the grass.  She notices how green it is, or picks out a blade to admire.  This simple change of focus puts her back into the moment and gets her mind in a neutral place to then move to the focus needed to hit the next shot.  This might sound too simple for you, but the recognition of needing a neutral state is hugely important.  To know yourself and your mental state well enough to move to this place and then to intensify your focus and begin a pre shot routine is a process that will serve you well when you need it.  From there, you can use a physical trigger to snap yourself into the moment.  Some players tug their shirt sleeves, while some tap the driver head on the ground.  Watch a professional tournament and see if you can recognize the triggers being used to get into the moment.

Something that happens when we feel pressure is, we press.  The word press comes from the word pressure!  Pressing is when you try to make things happen or force the action.  Think about when you play your best golf for a moment.  How hard are you trying?  Most great players will give a number around the middle of the scale.  For example, on a scale of 1-10, your best golf might be played when you are trying at about a 5 or 6.  Anything over those numbers could cause some stress and tightening of the muscles.  Anything less than those numbers will cause a lack of focus or arousal.  Most amateurs are all over the scale during a round.  They play shots going through the motions without paying attention to details and then on the next hole, they grip the club tight and screw their eyes into focus on the pin.  If possible, figure out where you are on that scale and get yourself there during your next round of golf.

If this is your lie, is your attitude to take a chance or play it safe?

Here are some adages that you should have in mind so your game doesn't unravel when you make that one, bad swing.
  • You can recover from one bad shot on a hole.  Most double bogeys are caused by bad shots that are followed by stupid shots.  When you hit a bad shot, you might want to employ more risk to make up for it, but that is the opposite reaction you should have.  Instead, play a conservative shot and make your goal simple.  A great goal after a bad shot is, play for a putt for par.  If you do that, you will often make that putt and if you don't, you walk away with a bogey.
  • When you are in trouble, don't worry about how you got there.  You can think through your mistakes after the round is finished, but on the course, you need to think of the shot at hand and nothing else.  
  • Try to find the bright side in the heat of the moment.  I know that sounds a bit crazy, but imagine if Rory stood between the houses on Augusta and thanked the golf gods that there were no out of bounds stakes.  Would his attitude about his position been different?  Your goal on the course is to keep yourself focused and going forward.  As soon as you lament a shot, your position or a bad break, you become a victim.  If you control your attitude, you will never be a victim.
  • Remember to control what you can control and let the rest go. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Basis of Tempo

Yesterday at the Masters, Nick Faldo commented that tempo was the glue that held the golf swing together.  If that is true, how can you assure yourself that you will have good tempo when you need it the most?

Your body's tempo is controlled by your central nervous system telling your heart what to do.  When you are exercising or excited,  it beats faster.  When you are sleeping, it slows down.  Your central nervous system will also be what controls your golf swing in much the same way as it controls your heart, but unlike the involuntary muscles of the heart, you are in control of the muscles that control your tempo.

The best way to control your tempo is to think of your body turn as the hub of your swing.  The hub of your golf swing will control tempo, much as the axle controls the spin of the tire.  One of the first things that can throw off a golfer's tempo is failing to make a good turn away from the ball on the back swing. When the body doesn't turn away, the hands take off and things start moving too quickly from the beginning.  The body turn should always be in charge of the overall tempo.

The next link in the chain of tempo is the arms.  If you have great posture and your arms swing freely around you, you can swing smoothly.  If your posture gets out of whack due to inattention, your tempo will quickly become jerky because the arms will need to offset the posture and your swing plane will be manipulated.  If your hands, arms and shoulders tighten up from tension for any reason, the outside of your wheel will no longer swing freely and keep up with the body's turn and tempo.  This will also throw off your hopes of a smooth swing.

Now you know what will disrupt your tempo.  How can you assure a round of golf with good tempo?  First, your warm up should be in tune with your needs.  Some people can feel their rhythm by hitting little wedges and some feel it by hitting full drivers.  Finding your rhythm is one of your main tasks during warm up.  If you immediately dive into mechanics or positions during the warm up, you will probably not find your tempo.  Tempo is the beat of your swing and like your heart, you would wish it to be involuntary, not a thought process that produces a beat.

On the course, one of the killers of tempo is tension.  For your tempo to stay consistent through tense times, you need a good routine and steady focus.  Has there been a blog where I don't speak of the importance of a good routine?  Your routine is crucial to performance under pressure and one of the things your routine helps you manage is your tempo.  How?  All the little things you do in your routine, like a club twirl, a waggle, a long look at the target or a deep breath will set the tone for your tempo.  Everything in a routine has a reason, but you shouldn't have to explain it or defend it.  It simply is something you do and it probably contributes to your management of tempo.

Understanding your state is important also.  When your tension creeps up, do you speed up?  Or do you slow down?  Both reactions happen to great players and your goal is to recognize it and stop the trend.  If your nerves cause you to walk faster and your mind starts to whirl, it will definitely effect your golf swing.  The same happens when great players slow down under pressure.  They read putts a little more intensely.  They take an extra 20 seconds to pull a club and their pre shot routine might seemingly grind to a halt.  No matter how you react under pressure, your goal should be to find a rhythm for your walk down the fairway that mirrors your best day on the course.  Your decisions need to be made and committed to within a similar time period as they are on your best day and your routine needs to be the trend setter of your tempo, not a follower of your energy of the moment.  This means that you have to take note and pay attention to those great days.  Not during the action, but afterward, you need to spend some time and reflect.  The best teacher of you is you!  When you are at your best, reflect upon it. 

The final thing that is important for your tempo is to remember that you are human.  You will have days when things fall into place and days when everything seems to be a chore.  If you want to play great golf on both of these days, you have to keep it loose and have smooth tempo.  An attitude of perfection will bring about a reaction of pressing and criticism.  Be your own friend on the course by excusing mistakes and moving on.  Your tempo will stay intact if you can grant yourself forgiveness for being human.  If you can't accept the fact that on some days you will be a bit off, your troubles will multiply.  Perfection causes tension, which in turn causes tight muscles.  Good luck making a smooth swing with tightness in your neck, shoulders or arms. 

Your tempo is the beat of your golf game.  Your rhythm adapts your tempo to the situation at hand.  Unlike your heart, which is involuntary, for the most part, your golf muscles are reliant upon your state of mind.  Your state of mind is completely within your control on good days and tough days.  Dig deep, give yourself a break, walk with a purpose and enter your pre shot routine with the looseness of a great athlete.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Using the Ground

A beautiful green complex at Royal Aberdeen, Scotland.  Can you visualize rolling the ball up this slope to a hole where the golfers are standing?  That option seems more appealing than pitching a shot in the air from the tight lie of the closely mown turf. 
Golf can be played using the ground or using the air. If you are 50 yards from the green, with nothing between you and the hole, you have a choice to make. Should you hit the ball in the air or should you roll the ball along the ground? How we make that choice often has a lot to do with our background. Did we grow up playing on windy links courses or on courses with lots of rough and elevated greens? These are some of the conditions that will cause you to choose whether to use the ground or the air.

Perhaps the only hole at North Berwick that doesn't allow a running approach.  #13, The Pit, is guarded with a low wall and forces the Scots to pitch.

Most of us in the U.S. are in a close relationship with our lob wedge. It is the sexiest club in our bag and even though we don't really understand it as well as say, our 7 iron, we want it in our hands. The problem is, most of us in the U.S. aren't very good at controlling our angle of attack and club release, so that sexy lob wedge causes us heartache after heartache. Learning to use your lob wedge successfully is a good goal and as a teaching professional, I would be happy to help you learn. Until you do so, how about taking out that safe, stable 7 iron and rolling the ball to the hole.

Putting is the art of rolling the ball along the ground. We always putt when on the green. We sometimes putt when we are on the green's apron. We rarely putt when we are further off the green. While watching the Masters this week, I have seen many pros putting from far off the green. On fast greens, it is easier for them to control the speed of the shot. They can, in fact, use the ground to slow the ball's momentum. When you watch the British Open, you will usually see players using the putter from far off the green. Most links courses in the UK are built on firm, seaside turf. The greens are rarely elevated and the undulations around the greens are closely mown. Add to that high winds and you have a perfect opportunity to use the ground to predict the path the ball will travel. Using a putter whenever possible might seem like a cowardly response to a perfect opportunity to pull out the sexy lob wedge, but the game of golf rewards predictability and control, not style.

A beautiful hole on a beautiful course, Kingsbarns in County Fife, Scotland.  This approach shot could be hit using the air or rolling along the ground from a long distance away.

If you can't putt because of a slope, a sprinkler head, or some other obstacle, you can still use the ground, but you will need to chip. There won't be a long discussion about chipping technique here, but chipping is a simple stroke of swinging a club up and dropping it on the ball. That downward motion will cause the ball to jump up in reaction and then roll out to the hole. You can use any club in your bag to chip, although a driver and a putter are rarely used by any golfer. The more loft you use, the more the ball will fly in the air. Learn what your clubs will do for you by figuring out landing spots and roll outs and then computing the ratios. For example, my pitching wedge will fly about halfway to the hole and roll the other half on a simple chip shot. That is my starting point. From there, my 9 iron will roll out a bit more than it will fly. When I get to my 7 iron, the ball will fly 1/4 of the way to the hole and roll out 3/4 of the way. When I need a chip that requires more fly than roll, I can use my sand wedge or lob wedge. The technique is the same with every club. The ball is back in the stance, the hands are forward and delofting the club, the club is swung with rhythm and the ball is struck with momentum.

This is a very simplistic discussion of a shot that can be adjusted with ball position, hand position, swing speed and angle of attack. All these variations are what makes chipping one of the most useful shots to master for a golfer. Once you learn the basic shot, you can then become an artist and your chips will reflect the visions you have for the ball's jump and roll. That brings us to the most important factor to rolling the ball. Envisioning what the ground will do to the ball. On links courses in the U.K., the land is very distinguished and as I said above, firm. There is fun to be had to look at the earth and visualize your ball rolling over it. The prediction of the shot is a large part of the eventual success of the shot. When you use the ground, you need to see how the ball will roll over each knoll and through the swale.

Tiger predicts, visualizes and executes a chip shot in the 2005 Masters.

Choosing where the ball lands when chipping is very important. If you can find a dry, firm, flat spot to land the ball, you are in business. Now, calculate the distance to that spot and the roll out that will take place from there and choose your club. If it is 1/4:3/4 (air to roll) it would be a 7 iron for me. When you learn your ratios, your decision making for choosing a club will become easier. There is no distance from the green that doesn't work for this type of shot, as long as you have nothing in your way and the turf is fairly firm. However, this shot is much easier to hit on bent or blue grass and much tougher to hit on bermuda. If you chip into the grain on bermuda grass, the ball will bite into the turf and will not roll out. Once again, where you learned the game will guide your tendencies and very few players from Southern states in the U.S.A. will be comfortable chipping from 100 yards off of the green.

Olazabal hits a chip shot over a bunker successfully.  Watch his technique closely and you will see it is a chip.  The handle of the club is not released until well after the ball is gone.  

Most players I see on the lesson tee have little confidence in their lob wedge, but feel compelled to use it whenever they are within 40 or 50 yards of the green. Whenever the opportunity presents itself to hit a running shot, they should jump at the chance. Their scoring will improve, their confidence will improve and they will start to visualize what they want with ease instead of hoping and guessing with the sexy lob wedge in hand. Players of any level will benefit from learning and practicing putting and chipping from off the green, no matter how far.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Mindset You Need on the Green

The last blog was about the four skills needed to be a great putter.  The recap is green reading, aim, starting the ball on line and controlling your pace.  Perhaps the most important skill needed wasn't included in that inventory and that skill is the right mindset.  You don't have to be a pro to have the right mindset and if you are a pro, that doesn't mean you have the right mindset.  As with the physical skills outlined above, there is an inventory of skills that make up a mindset of a great putter.

First, you have to believe!  When I say believe, I mean that you have to have the faith in your abilities to make every putt you line up no matter what the length or break.  Be careful though, because faith isn't the same as expectations.  Faith is a subtle and calming state of mind that you carry deep within your heart.  Expectation is a nervous state of mind that applies pressure and causes apprehension.  Faith is what comes from hours of practice.  Faith is what comes from enjoying a challenge.  Faith replaces fear.  Faith is what comes when you believe in yourself regardless of circumstances or past performance.

If you believe you can make any putt on the green, that means any putt.  Your speed control should be great whether it is a 50 footer or a 15 footer.  That means you must spend a lot of time rolling all lengths of putts when you practice.  Three putts should be a very rare occurrence, not an accepted fate of long lag putts. On the PGA, there are at least 40 players with a single digit stat in three putts after 30 odd rounds.  That means they average .3 three putts per round.  That signals that they are great putters. 

Having been in a lot of galleries on the LPGA over the years, I am amazed at the putting skills of some of the foreign players.  I am also somewhat amazed at the time they put in on the putting green on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the week of the event.  There is an obvious correlation between putting skill and putting practice.  If you could spend an hour a day on your putting, you will improve, you will build your faith and you will make a few 30-40 footers in each round you play.

Aiming for a circle around the cup has never made sense to me.  If you are a great putter, you are great at controlling your speed.  With that skill, your chore becomes making a good read on long putts.  When you read putts, you read them to finish in the bottom of the cup.  I am not even sure how you would read a putt to be close.  I was lucky enough to listen to Kathy Whitworth talking about picking a target and she credited much of her success to picking the smallest possible target on every shot she hit.  Forget the idea of a 3 foot circle and aim for the center of the bottom of the cup!

Your target should be one of these blades of grass.

What is the mindset over a breaking five footer?  The same, one of faith.  Now you need faith not only in your skills, but in your routine.  When you have a 30 footer, it is a bit easier to see the entire length of the putt and commit to a break point.  On a five footer, the hole is in your consciousness a bit more.  Your routine will allow you to see the putt, commit to the aim point needed and set up to that point.  Great putters are reliant upon a strong routine that allows them the opportunity to visualize, commit and execute without extraneous thoughts, doubts or fears.  This routine should be practiced, natural and rhythmic.  Even though you need to practice your routine, you should never feel as though you are going through the motions.  There should always be a mental alertness that drives you.

This mental alertness needs to be focused on the process of rolling a good putt, not on the outcome. Of course, you want to make the putt!  That is a given and should be your intention.  However, your goal when you putt is to aim well, start the ball out on your line and put the proper pace on it.  If you do those things and read the putt correctly, you will make a lot of putts.  Your routine enables you to commit to your read, aim the putter face and execute.  At no time in your routine are you working on making the putt.  Instead you are working on what it takes to make it. 

Adam Scott watches his putt roll to the hole.

Another trait that is seen in great putters is a good post-shot routine.  Great putters watch the roll of the ball on every putt they make, whether it is a good putt or a poor putt.  They learn from what they see.  Poor putters are quick to react and you often see them snapping their fingers, talking to the ball more and more insistently or walking before the stroke is even finished.  A great post-shot routine is a tool that prevents three putts.  Great putters make mistakes.  However, they don't react to those mistakes, they act on their faith and simply begin the process of making the next putt, no matter how poorly they hit the first putt.

Every putt is worth one shot.  This is the final piece of the pie for your putting mindset.  Geoff Mangum proved that there is an optimal speed for every putt to be rolling to go in the hole.  You can check out his video on youtube.   With that in mind, your "want" should never be the basis of speed.  After years of playing fund raising scrambles and watching my playing partners jam putts 6 feet past the hole, I can attest that putts rarely fall when they go to the hole at that speed.  If every putt is worth one and you are focused on process, your "want" or "try" should be similar on each putt you face.  We all know that some putts seem more important, whether for momentum, winning the hole or for your score.  If the importance of the putt gets in the way of the process, your focus will switch to outcome and you will lose track of what is needed to make the putt.  Approach each and every putt with the same focus level, routine and "want" and you will soon find that consistency leads to greatness.

Do you have this inventory of skills or traits to be a great putter?  You need belief, practice time, focus on a small target, a tested and true routine, commitment to the process, action - not reaction, and control over how much you want the putt.  Pick one of these that you need improvement on and spend time focusing on it the next time you practice.  I bet you will see an immediate difference in your putting!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Putt Like a Pro

If you could be outstanding at any one skill in the game of golf, you should choose putting.  Of the 14 clubs in your bag, your putter is the one used to score.  If you watch golf this weekend, you will notice that more than half of the air time is spent focused on putting.  If you play golf for money, you will soon understand the importance of making putts.

When you practice your putting, what do you want to focus on?  Such a simple little stroke sure has a lot of books written, gurus lecturing and practice gadgets focused on it.  Geoff Mangum has broken putting into four skills in his book, Optimal Putting: Brain Science, Instincts, and the Four Skills of Putting.  1.  Green Reading 2.  Aiming the Putter 3.  Stroke the ball where aimed 4.  Control pace and distance.  Mr. Mangum is as much a physicist as he is a teacher and he studies things like the optimal speed, putter weighting and how great putters set up to putts.   I have learned a lot by reading and watching his material and I am sure you can, too.  You can check out his teaching at Putting Zone.

I agree that these four skills make up the meat of good putting.  When I teach putting though, I have found that teaching the stroke with rhythm and flow is the best first step and I would urge you to begin there while working on your game.  A putting stroke is a swing that is based on momentum and flow.  The sooner you learn this and link it with controlling the pace of your putts, the sooner you will become a great putter.

Your putting stroke needs to have a relaxed rhythm and by that I mean you can swing the putter with soft hands and arms and the transition from back swing to through swing is smooth.  Once a beginner feels this motion, hd or she can begin to understand how to control pace.  Many of you who have played golf for years still don't understand how to control pace and I would urge you to putt with a soft grip, closed eyes and song on your mind.  A simple song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will serve you well.  The putter will work away on the first twinkle and strike the ball somewhere within the second twinkle.  Whatever your rhythm is, it will remain the same no matter how long the putt.  Most tour players have a beautiful rhythm to their stroke.  Here is some video of one of the best, Ben Crenshaw.  Their audio is hard to hear, but it doesn't matter, just watch the rhythm.  A note about having soft hands - they need to be firm enough to control the length of the putter, not so soft that the putter head moves loosely.

Once you can swing the putter in rhythm, you can start to learn to control your pace.  Let's back up a step.  When we were talking about swinging in rhythm, you were picturing 30 footers and a nice big swing.  It is just as important if not more important to have that same nice rhythm on a five footer as it is on a 30 footer.  Learning to control your speed doesn't apply only to long lags, but also short putts.  If you have a five footer on a fast green with a lot of slope, you need to control your speed to enable yourself to match the break and the speed.  The same rhythm you used on the 30 footers will be important on the short putts, too.  I used to teach players to have more than one speed to hit a putt, but after reading Mr. Mangum's studies on pace, I will now teach only the correct speed, which is consistent for all putts.  That speed allows half of the ball to be in the cup when the ball hits the back of the cup.  See his writing for more information.  When you practice, spend time hitting putts of all lengths focused only on controlling the pace.  Don't putt twice to one target, but instead, keep giving yourself new looks of different distances and slopes.  You can put some quarters on the green and putt to stop the ball right on top of the quarter.  Here is a video of Phil making five footers.  Check out his rhythm and the similarity in speed of each putt.  That is a skill you should aspire to acquire.

Now that you have a rhythmic swing and you can control your pace, lets work on aim.  Aim is a two-fold skill.  First, you must be able to get the face of your putter square with your intended line and second, you need to be able to start the ball rolling on that line.  If you aren't a great aimer, spend some time each day putting close to the hole.  You want your eyes to be able to see both the putter blade and the hole to make the connection.  Dave Stockton, in his book Putt to Win, mentioned that on short putts, his eyes weren't focused on the ball when he putts but on a spot a few inches in front of the ball on the line of the intended putt.  To do this is an individual choice and I don't think it is needed to be a great putter, but I like the idea of practicing while focusing your attention on different things to get your eyes moving from the ball, to the line, to the hole.  By this, I don't mean that your eyes should be moving around while you putt, but that you practice while focused on a dimple or the number on the ball.  Then hit some putts with your focus on the intermediate point and finally, putt some balls while resting your eyes on the blade of grass where the ball will fall into the putt.  This is a great practice activity to train your focus and place your attention precisely where you want it when you putt.

Aiming your putter is the first step and there are a bunch of ways to work on it, which we will cover, but you have to understand that the only true way to aim is from behind the ball, not over it.  I had the pleasure to see Chuck Hogan deliver a clinic many years ago and he not only changed how I teach alignment, but also how I putted myself.  In one hour, my putting went from streaky to great, because I listened to what Chuck had to say about alignment.  I will share it with you here.

Chuck talked about the strengths of the brain and how our awareness was incredible.  If we were playing any other sport, we would have an idea of where the target is no matter where we moved in space.  A shortstop knows where first base is when spinning to throw to first after backhand a grounder.  A basketball player can have her back to the basket and turn and shoot without a long look.  The important thing when you set up for a putt is to see the putt from behind, see the line the ball will start on and then not get in your own way before you set the putter down behind the ball.  Keep it simple.  For me, that meant getting rid of my practice strokes when I addressed the ball.  However, as always, what I do isn't important, because your process should be individualized for you.

When your aim is good, your task now becomes to start the ball on that line.  There are so many theories on how to putt, but the bottom line is the face of the putter must be square when you strike the ball and strokes through it.  If we go back to the rhythmic swing we learned at the beginning and remember to have a smooth transition, that transition will usually be based on momentum.  If your stroke is momentum based, the handle of the putter will be moving the same direction as the face of the putter and gives you the best chance to swing the putter back to square.  You can adhere to Pelz's directions and take the putter straight back and straight through or to Utley, who wants the putter swung on an arc.  It doesn't matter as long as the face of the putter is square at impact and a few inches beyond.  Here is a quote from Ralph Maltby's website on what is important:

"Putter face angle and path at impact are the two factors that determine the direction the putt will start in. The more important of the two is putter face angle. The breakdown is that approximately 85% of the balls initial direction is determined by the face angle at impact and only approximately 15% is a result of the putters’ path. The two together determine the direction and also if there is any side spin applied to the ball."

A good drill to do is to put a dime or penny 3-4 inches in front of your ball and see if your putt rolls over it.  Trial and error with your set up, stroke and alignment will get you hitting putts that are on the line you chose.  

There is already a blog on reading greens, called Read Greens Like a Kid.  No matter what your level of play, learning to swing the putter rhythmically to match your stroke with the pace needed is the first fundamental needed to be a great putter.  From there, make sure your aim and where the ball starts match up to send the ball on the line you choose.  These fundamentals need to be mastered by anyone who wants to be a great putter.  There is nothing holding you back from becoming a great putter if you decide that is a skill you want to master.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Deliver the Club Head

Do you deliver the club head to get the maximum speed, the optimum shaft lean and the crispest strike of the ball possible?  If not, what can you do to achieve great delivery of the club head?

Check out this video of Padraig Harrington. If you can stop the video at :35, you will see that at impact, his left shoulder, left arm and hands all line up with his shaft to create a perfect release of a lever.  This release gives him maximum speed.  How can you achieve that same line in your swing?

First, you need to understand how your hands and wrists perform as you swing.  A good grip is crucial to delivering the club to the ball and a poor grip can prevent release.  One key that I was taught as a youngster was to point my left thumb at the ball at address and to return it there at impact.  Your left thumb will point at the ball no matter how strong or weak your grip, but if you have too much forward press or if your hands are set too far behind the ball, it will be tough to return your hands to the correct position for a good release.  Many people that I see on the lesson tee get to impact with their left thumb pointed behind them, leaving the club face open.  The tension in their left arm and in their grip is too high and they lose speed because the club is dragged instead of released through impact.

This is the swing many of us copied by reading Hogan's Five Lessons book.  As much as all of us think the swing has changed over the years, the key positions are close to the same. 


Others flip the club and the left thumb gets ahead of the left wrist instead of forming a line like Padraig.  This doesn't necessarily cause you to lose speed, but you will lose your shaft lean, which will make it tough to control direction and trajectory.  At impact, the shaft lean for a driver should be about 5 degrees, which to the naked eye will appear pretty straight, while a wedge will be between 15 and 20 degrees.  Back in the day, I was taught that you had to hit down on the ball to be a great ball striker.  Once again, today's technology has disproven this theory somewhat.  Instead it seems that a shallower attack with good shaft lean is optimal for hitting good shots.  In hindsight, the old guys probably knew this too, because I can clearly remember watching Tom Weiskopf hit balls and marveling over how shallow and perfect his divots were.

Where your hands are at impact is the most talked about factor for shaft lean, but there are many ways to effect your shaft lean, including shoulder lean at impact and also your turn through the ball.  Check out how some of the women on tour get a consistent shaft lean, even though their hand and wrist strength are not as strong as the men on tour.   Here is Anna Grzebian.  If you stop this video at :34, you will see that her hands are maintaining that straight line that we want to see.  Now look at the blue stripe on her shirt and you will also see that her shoulder tilt will help her maintain this shaft lean.  The more your shoulders tilt at impact, the easier it will be for you to maintain your shaft lean through impact.  Compare her lean with Ernie Els at :12 and you will see that Ernie is big enough and strong enough to maintain shaft angle with a much more level shoulder tilt at impact.

McIlroy's left shoulder is open to the target line by the time he gets to impact.  This is one way to create the proper shaft lean.

Another way that many players control their shaft lean is through their turn through the ball.  Here is Ryo Ishikawa hitting an iron on the range.  His shoulders stay pretty square at impact and he controls his shaft angle with his hands and shoulder tilt.  Now check out Rory McIlroy's swing.  His left shoulder rotates to the left through impact and that allows him to control his shaft lean by creating tension with his left shoulder moving away from center.  You can see this at :21 on the video.  If you grab an iron and go to your impact position, you can feel all of these forces at work by imitating these different impact positions.  You can also make the opposite movements and feel the handle of the club move the opposite direction.
Nicklaus used not only his shoulder tilt, but also hip tilt to tip his axis to maintain shaft lean. 

As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat when you swing the club.  Almost every move in golf can be made in multiple ways.  Make sure you are attacking your goals with your strengths and weaknesses in mind.  I hope today's blog helped you understand what you are trying to achieve at impact and some ways to work on it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Confidence Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

In 1970, the movie Love Story was very popular and the most famous line from the movie was, "Love means never having to say you're sorry."  Confidence in yourself means the same thing.  How can you get to this point in your game?  You have to have the same unconditional love for your golf game that Oliver had for Jen in the movie.

The easiest way to talk about your confidence on the golf course is to outline the differences between conditional and unconditional love of your golf game.  If the word love makes you uncomfortable, we already have a problem.  You better accept and love what you brought with you to the course today, because you can't improve on it, change it or trade it in at this point.  Can you be confident with something that doesn't always work?  Can you accept a game that comes complete with mistakes, mishits, and missed putts?  Can you shelf your mechanics for the day or the week?  Can your golf game be loved?  YES!

Most of us are conditional with our golf games.  We are happy and smiling when we hit a great shot,  pouty and angry when things don't go our way.  There is drama on shot after shot and our emotions go up and down like a yoyo.  We look for signs of greatness and consistency, but often have to face signs of weakness and inconsistency.  We are not in a loving state of mind, but instead we are uncertain and judgemental.  What if we simply accepted our game for the day and quit judging?  What would happen if we decided to focus completely on only what we could control on the course and let go of the uncertain state we are often in on the course?  Finally, how about waiting until you finish the round to evaluate your performance instead of evaluating it after each shot. 

Now that you see how conditional you are when you approach your game, how do you move to being unconditional?   If you want to love your golf game, you need to treat it right.  You need to prepare for your round with focused practice.  You need to remember the importance of the short game and putting and work on them both.  You need to stay as fit and limber as possible.  You need to have a good game plan for the day.  You need a positive and realistic approach to each shot you face.  If you take care of these needs, you will be able to face your game knowing you gave it all you could.  Your relationship with your golf game is reliant upon your daily approach and discipline.  Much like a relationship with your spouse, you have to pay attention, you have to care and you have to trust. 

What happens when you make a stupid mistake or completely fail to execute a straight forward shot?  We all know this stuff happens, right?  How often do the best touring pros play a bogey free round?  Rarely!  Everyone makes mistakes.  If you can accept your behavior, mistakes and failures during a round and continue to focus on what you want to do, you will be unconditional and remain confident.  If, however, you berate yourself, second guess yourself or become angry with yourself, you will lose the focus needed to make good decisions or execute your next shot.  Remember, once you are on the course, it is too late to make a change in your game. Accept it and love it for what it offers you!

Okay, so I know this is a hokey blog, but true love is hokey!  Give yourself some love on the golf course today and smile!
Pearl Jam had the right idea!  Great song and great state of mind for playing golf.


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