Monday, May 23, 2011

Confidence Putts Technique Drill

Here is a little drill to smooth out and level your putting stroke.  Grab your sand wedge and 5 balls.  Putt the balls by striking with the leading edge of the wedge from 5 feet until you make all five.  If that was easy for you, make 10 in a row.  This is a great drill if you are a player who releases your hands too early in the stroke.  This will keep your hands leading the handle and the club face through the stroke. 

Here is Jiminez putting with a lob wedge in competiton.  This drill will help you smooth out and level your stroke, but it could also come in handy if your temper gets the better of you, as Jiminez' did on this day.

Do you believe that putting is situational?  For example, many have said that Tiger's true talent when he was dominant was his clutch putting.  What made him so clutch?  Was it his stroke, his focus or his competitiveness?  Did his ability to make a putt under great pressure mean that he didn't putt as well when he wasn't in contention?  Great putters are great all of the time.  They understand whats important and they do those things on each and every putt.  The fact that Tiger seemed to be a great clutch putter is probably somewhat misleading.  Tiger was a great putter all the time. 

The reason that great putters are great all the time is, they control the speed of their roll extremely well.  Check out this video by Geoff Mangum on the speed needed for a ball to fall in the hole.  I have referred to this video in prior blogs, but this guy knows his stuff.  I have long known that putts which are moving slowly when they hit the hole have a good chance of being "sucked in" by the cup.  In other words, the cup seems to be bigger if you die your putts than if you hit them firmly.  Mangum's use of the physics of a ball falling into the cup clarifies that there is an optimum speed if you want the hole to be as big as possible.  It also debunks the idea that there is an optimal distance past the hole for missed putts. 

Whenever a player tells me he is a poor green reader, the first thing I look at in his game is his speed control.  It seems as though players who can control the roll of gus ball are good at reading greens, even though the two skills seem unrelated.  Perhaps it is the ability to visualize that links the two skills or just a good old fashioned work ethic and a wealth of experience on the practice green. 

The majority of the players on the PGA Tour are great at controlling their speed, but of course, some are better than others.  Tiger is one of those who is better.  Stricker is another who has great command of the speed of the roll.  It isn't that they putt better under pressure or in certain situations.  They putt well all of the time.  Every putt you roll is worth one shot, whether it is for birdie, par or bogey.  There is no such thing as being a clutch putter or a situational putter.  Instead, you should work to be a great putter all of the time!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Use Your Hands!

Today, I spent the day at Roanoke Country Club watching the Scott Robertson Memorial Golf Tournament.  It was a beautiful day on an A.W. Tillinghast designed golf course.  The course is short, tight and tricky.  There were a few low scores in the field of girls, but the majority of the players were over par.  One of the factors that cost players a lot of shots was the deep rough around the green.  At times the ball nestled down to the point that players were almost stepping on it without seeing it.  When a ball falls to the bottom of deep rough, your goal is to create as much angle as possible so you can pop the ball out of the rough without gathering a bunch of grass between the club and the ball prior to impact.  The way to create a steep angle so you have a sharply decending blow is to use your hands.  Today, many of the players I watched used more of an arm swing and a sweeping motion instead of setting their hands early and swinging with soft arms.

Here are two shots of Mickleson hitting wedges.  The top shot shows him hitting a shot with a soft right arm (left handed).  His right arm stays close to the body and folds quickly after impact.  The bottom shot is a fuller swing with more of a sweeping motion.  His right arm is much straighter in this follow through and a more shallow angle of attack was used. 

Many players are taught the importance of a straight left arm early in their career.  That straight arm creates an important lever in the swing and is a factor in power and accuracy.  However, an important thing to remember is, your left arm should be straight, yet flexible.  If your arm is too tight or your elbow is locked, your elasticity will be lost and in turn, speed will be lost.  Another problem with an arm that is too straight or locked joints is, you lose the ability to truly control your angle of attack.  Whenever your ball lies in deep rough, you need a very steep angle of attack.  This can be accomplished with an early set of the hands and soft arms.  Once the angle is set, let your arms fall back through the shot and turn through.  When you learn to lift and drop your arms instead of sweeping them away from the ball in the back swing, you can then learn to use momentum and a great angle of attack for those little shots in deep rough around the green. 

Watson Holes Out in the 1982 Open  Here is one of the best examples of a player using his hands to set the club, create an angle and hold it through the shot.   

Here is a picture of the same shot dipicted in the video.  Look how high the ball pops out! 

If you would like to learn or practice this shot, start off by swinging your arms back about belt high while also cocking your wrists so your thumbs point at the sky.  Pause for just a moment as an exercise and then simply let your arms fall and your wrists release the club head into the ball.  By doing this with no follow through, you will get a feel for the momentum you can create and also how you can get the club head on the ball with little interference from the grass behind it.  When you can do this successfully a few times, swing the club through so your arms finish about belt high on your follow through and once again, your thumbs will point at the sky.  Your right arm (right handed player) will act much the same as it would if you bounced a rubber ball high off the ground.  When you are playing the shot on the golf course, make sure your back swing and through swing match so the club swings through the shot. 

When you learn to use angle and momentum to hit the shot, you learn to create a high trajectory for your shot.  When you try to use arm speed to hit this shot and have a sweeping or shallow approach, you will be guessing at your trajectory due to the grass your club will have to go through prior to hitting the ball.  The grass will also effect club head speed.

Remember, we are talking about short shots hit around the greens, not long shot requiring a lot of club head speed. 

Here is a film of Frank Nobilo explaining the shot.

When I watch great players play the game, they all have great hands.  By that, I mean that their hands seem to be in control of the club while still seeming soft.  Great players also have a great feel for tempo and momentum.  None of these traits will be present if your forearms and elbows are too tight or if you force speed by pulling the club through impact.  Next time you go to the practice green, throw down a few balls and hit some shots feeling the momentum of the club head as it swings back and through the shot. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Practice Putting to Win!

Putting is the key to winning!  When you watch tournament golf, the momentum swings happen on the greens, the cameras focus on the action on the greens and victories are clinched, stolen or lost with the putter in the hand.  Last week, The Players was a great example of the importance of putting for David Toms.  He garnered a spot in the playoff by making a clutch 15 footer on the 18th hole and then lost the playoff with a 3 putt.  His hopes literally lived and died with his putter. 

In order to teach putting as effectively as possible, I categorized different distances that need to be mastered to be a great tournament putter.  The first is 1-5 feet and these are the confidence putts.  These are the putts that serve as clean ups after a lag or a chip or they are the certain birdie when you stuff an iron shot.  The top 100 players on the PGA Tour are at or better than 96%, which means that if they faced ten of these putts each round, they might go two or three rounds before they would miss one. 

The next distance, 5-10 feet are the round makers.  If we look at the PGA Tour stats from this distance, the 100th ranked player is KJ Choi and he makes 55%.  I am sure many of you out there expect to make every one of these you line up to, but the third leading money winner this year, Choi, has made only a bit more than half.  The reality of this is important if you allow your misses to effect your confidence or your focus. 

If you are putting from 10-20 feet, you are probably putting for birdie - or - your short game needs some work!  This category is the par breaker category.  Great putters from this distance control their speed well and pay attention to break.  Poor putters from this distance often get too caught up in the line of the putt and fail to control the speed of the roll. 

Putts over 20 feet are momentum changers.  You don't expect to make them, but when you do, it is a boost.  Many players accept failure from long distances.  When they three putt, they blame a poor approach shot instead of their lack of skill on long putts.  The best on the PGA Tour at making putts over 20 feet is Ryan Moore and he makes 2.4 per round.  The 100th (huge tie) player makes only 1.1.  That means that Ryan picks up 5 shots over that player in a four day event.  At Riveria this year, those five strokes added up to a difference of over $200,000 in pay checks.  That makes this category the money makers!  To be great at long putts, you have to be great at reading greens, both for break and speed and you have to be great at visualizing the putt from beginning to end.  After visualizing the putt, you have to be able to reenact it by starting it out on line and controlling your speed. 

Our practice drills and challenges will be focused on one of these categories.  Today's practice challenge will be to make some money makers.  Here it is:

Find three holes that form a loose triangle of putts at least 20 feet apart.  Take two balls and putt once to each of the other two holes.  Make sure to go through your routine, visualize and focus.  Your goal is to make both putts.  If you don't, your secondary goal is to have both balls within about 1 foot of the hole.  Move around the triangle and continue to putt until you make at least one putt from each hole.  Give yourself a unique look and visualization with each putt.

This is a lot of writing for one little challenge, but from now on, your putting practice will focus on these categories:
Confidence Putts
Round Makers
Birdie Range
Money Makers


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Change is the only constant. – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

After a hiatus from blogging because of my move to Dallas, here we go again!  I am in Dallas listening to big, booming thunder.  It has been awhile since I have watched a big storm like this roll past and I again remember how the rain here just pours down for hours. 

As the title says, change is the only constant.  I am ready for this change and ready to start competing again.  In the past couple of days, I have heard things like "you have a mess here", but it is now my mess and we are in it together, so I don't want to hear that stuff anymore.  Two days of it was enough and now we turn a new page.  From today on, my focus will be to do all I can to help my team succeed, both on the course and off of it.  My blog will take on a different tone, but it should be helpful to all of you who play, practice and have a passion for the game.  As always, feel free to make suggestions about topics you would like to see covered in the blog. 

Today, we are going to talk about types of practice.  When you go to the course, you need to have an idea of what it is you want to accomplish.  First, what do you want to address?  Touch or feel, repetition, mechanics, shot making, routine, creativity, visualization, green reading, distance control, trajectory control, execution, competition, confidence or handling pressure?  Any of these things can be your focus and it might be possible to work on more than one thing, but be careful not to get too general.  For example, if you want to work on your routine and touch on the greens, you have to first understand how to do it, how to evaluate it and then how to take it with you on to the golf course.  Here is an example of a plan to practice those two things.

Today's Practice Focus:  Routine and Feel on the Greens
I want to feel like my routine helps me narrow my focus on what is important when I putt, which is where I start the ball rolling and my speed control.  This should also lead me into working on my speed control on the putts I roll and improve my feel.  Today, I will give myself 30 minutes of focused practice to accomplish this.
1.  Use only one ball and start close to the hole with each putt from a new spot.  Look at the putt from behind and read the speed needed and the amount of break to play.  Visualize the entire roll of the putt.  Commit to it and take a practice stroke from behind the ball.  Step into the putt and execute it.    If at any time, my mind wanders to mechanics or slips into doubt, recognize it and step off.  Remember to use the routine to prepare for success and go from beginning to end with total commitment. 
2.  As I move away from the hole, continue to visualize the speed of the putt from beginning to end.  Be an athlete and allow my eyes and visualization to speak directly to my hands. 
3.  Use my routine to get total focus, not to be mechanical or thoughtful, but to be an athlete and let myself perform. 
4.  Evaluate each routine on a scale of 1-5 for ease, visualization, focus on whats important, commitment and a successful bridge to execution. Work until all routines are at a 4-5 level. 
5.  Evaluate each putt's speed.  If the ball isn't falling into the hole with 1/2 of it below the back lip when it falls or if it doesn't go in and isn't within 2 feet, spend more time at that particular distance.  This is really important for me on putts from 5-15 feet.  Time putting = Success!
6.  The next time I play a practice round, I will evaluate each routine on a scale of 1-5.  If I am not at a 4 or 5 level, I will figure out what is getting in my way or failing in the routine and make sure to work on it next time I practice. 

Your practice needs to have that type of plan to be truly effective.  So many golfers commonly start off working on touch or any subject that seems important and immediately slip into mechanics or forget to think of anything at all.  If you know what you need to improve, give yourself a fighting chance to improve it by giving it 100% of your focus for as many practices as it takes to accomplish the improvement needed. 

This is a good shot of a golfer working on mechanics and focus. 


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