Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Daily Do It #5

Each week this summer, I will post three Daily Do Its for my team and any golfers who want to work toward improvement of their game.  The Do Its will include challenges in your fitness, putting, short game, ball striking and mental game.  I will use various media sources and hopefully give you some fun ways to work hard and reach your goals.

Daily Do Its:
Fitness:  Back Strength - Your back strength is important for injury prevention as well as producing good golf shots.  Your back is one part of your core and your entire core works in every rotation you make when you swing or as you support yourself in putting or golf posture.  A strong back is made up of strong glutes, lats, obliques and erectors.  You also need strong abs.  Here is a great lower back strengthening workout available on youtube. I'd love to see my team doing this 8 minute workout at least 3X per week.  The stronger their backs, the longer they can practice.  :-)

Putting: Put a club one pace behind the hole.  Putt 3 balls from 20 feet and if you get 2 of 3 either in the hole or within the space between the hole and the club, move back 5 feet.  If you miss the putt on the low side of the hole or short of the hole, it doesn't count!  Keep moving back in 5 feet intervals as far as you want to go.  Use your routine on all putts. 

Short Game:  Today, you need to grab a target from your house.  A perfect one would be a lid from a cool whip or margarine container.  Put a tee in it to hold it down on the green.  From the edge of the green, step off 10 paces and drop 10 balls.  Your goal is to land the balls on the target with each chip.  When you are successful 50% of the time, grab a different club and do it again.  Take note of where your balls are rolling to with both clubs.  Vary your ball position and swing length to change trajectory and carry distance.  Your ability to land the ball on the spot you choose is a key to being a short game expert.

Ball Striking:  Today, we are going to meld the ball striking and mental game challenges.  Play 9 or 18 holes on the driving range.  Choose your favorite course and go to the first tee!  Choose the appropriate club, visualize the hole and your shot, go through your routine and trust it!  See it, feel it, trust it as my friend Dr. David Cook would say!  After you hit your shot, decide on its position and quality to figure out where you would be on the course and hit the next shot with the appropriate club.  This is a great exercise to do with a partner, especially when you both know the course. 

Here is a great video on visualization!  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Daily Do It #4

Each week this summer, I will post three Daily Do Its for my team and any golfers who want to work toward improvement of their game.  The Do Its will include challenges in your fitness, putting, short game, ball striking and mental game.  I will use various media sources and hopefully give you some fun ways to work hard and reach your goals.

Daily Do Its:
Fitness:  Today, we are going to focus on ankle stability.  You don't hear too much about this part of the body when talking about good golf swings, but they are the foundation of your stability in your set up.  Here is a good clip from some Brits.   

Putting:  Play the Around the World Moveback Challenge today.  Put 5 tees in the ground around the hole one putter length from the hole.  Make one putt from each and move the tee back one putter length when you do.  Use your routine on all putts.  You can play this as far back as you want today.  Play for no more than 30 minutes.  How far did you get?

Short Game:  Here is a nice clip from Justin Leonard on chipping from the rough.  Watch it and then go do his practice.  Drop 6 balls around the green in deep rough, then on tight lies, and move closer to and further from the green.  Carry at least 3 wedges and try them all.  Your goal should be 100% on the green, 50% within 5 feet of the hole. 

Ball Striking:  More is Less!  Today, play 9 holes and use 1 extra club on each shot.  If you are at 7 iron distance, use your 6 iron and make it work.  You can grip down on the club, lower your trajectory, make your swing smaller, slow your tempo or hit a high cut shot.  There are a lot of ways to take distance off the club.  Have fun and try them all.  If you want to add to the challenge, use 2 extra clubs instead of 1.

Mental Game:  In your 9 hole round, make it a point to carry your club in your hand after every good shot you hit.  If you aren't happy with your shot, simply put your club gently in your bag and have that act be symbolic of the shot being finished.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Daily Do It #3

For the summer, I will post three Daily Do Its per week!  These will be challenges you can use to get your body, your golf game and your mind in better shape.

SMU Women's Golf Daily Do It #3

Body: Do 1 legged squats.  You can start with body weight only and progress to using weight.  In the video, they use a kettle ball, but you can use a gallon milk jug and fill it with water if you don't have a weight or kettle ball at home.  Here is an example of the exercise.

Putting: Find a big breaking putt that is at least 30 feet long.  Put a tee in the ground as a starting point.  Read the putt and put two tees (gate) in the ground 6" in front of your ball where it will need to start to go in the hole.  Putt the ball.  Did you put the gate in the right place?  If not, adjust them.  How was your speed?  Did the ball stop within 2 feet of the hole?  This is a great way to begin to see how high a ball needs to start on breaking putts when rolled with the correct speed.

Short Game:  Put three towels down in front of you at 25, 50 and 75 yards.  Hit 1 low shot, 1 medium trajectory shot and one high shot at the first towel.  Your goal is to land each ball on the towel.  Vary your trajectory by varying your ball position.  Notice the length of swing needed to create the proper distance.  Now do the same thing to the 2nd towel.  Continue until you are happy with your ability to create your trajectory and control your distance.  

Ball Striking:  We will stay with trajectory today.  Choose three irons and hit each one high, medium and low.  Vary your ball position to vary your trajectory.  Which balls fly the farthest?  Which balls roll the most?  How good are you at controlling your distance using trajectory.  Do it until you can hit the ball at the height you visualize.  This is a key to becoming a great player.

Mental Game:  Today, work on your routine.  Think about each movement you make, why you make it and what it does for your ability to hit good shots.  How long does your routine take?  Most tour players have a routine that takes between 20-35 seconds.  Here are some things to consider when building your routine and examples of pros who you can learn from:  rhythm (Dufner), visualization (Bubba), alignment (Woodland), what happens in your routine (Sorenstam), rehearsal (Stricker), consistency (Tiger), putting (pros), focus (McDowell).  :-)

Many of the Daily Do Its will be repeated throughout the summer so you can see if you have improved your skills.  Feel free to let me know how you did!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keep It Simple

We've all heard the advice to keep it simple and when it comes to swinging the club in competition, it is great advice.  There needs to be a level of expertise that allows a player to keep it simple, which seems to be a bit of a contradiction.  By that I mean that players who manage poor positions, off plane swings, shut club faces or bad habits will have a hard time keeping it simple.  As you learn to play and compete in the sport of golf, your goal should be to simplify your swing.

How can you keep it simple?  First, understand that every motion in golf is a swing.  Here are some of the definitions of a swing by Merriam Webster.
intransitive verb
: to move freely to and fro especially in suspension from an overhead support
a : to move along rhythmically
b : to start up in a smooth vigorous manner <ready to swing into action>
: to hit or aim at something with a sweeping arm movement 
The words freely, rhythmically, smooth, vigorous and sweeping are all good descriptions of a good golf swing and important in your ability to keep it simple.  Let's look at the first descriptor, freely.  Freely is perhaps the least taught and learned aspect of swinging the golf club.  So much instruction is based on restriction of movement which often produces tension.  What if we simply allowed players to be self taught with no self consciousness.  How would they turn out?  Some who come to mind are Bubba Watson and Ben Hogan.  As a teaching professional, I don't believe that learning the game completely by yourself is the best way, but I also see the need for self-discovery, individuality, a freedom to swing and the idea that the best teacher is the ball.  Because I learned much of my teaching in the John Jacobs Golf Schools, the ball as a teacher was ingrained in me.  What does that mean?  It means that you approach your golf swing by figuring out how to make an impact that produces the ball flight you want to produce.  Here is a link to an article about Ben Hogan.  In it he makes the statement,
''Dig it out of the dirt, the way I did.'' 

in response to a question about how to play from a young pro.  Hogan's confidence came from his mastery.  Hogan's mastery was based on his hard work and his ownership over his methods.  There were no shortcuts nor was there reliance upon anyone but himself. He learned to play by learning to control the ball.  Can we step back in time a bit and remember that learning to control the ball is the main goal?  Learning a motion for the motion's sake isn't simple and doesn't lead to a swing that will hold up under the pressures of competition. 

How does Hogan's method point to simplicity?  In that it is his and his alone.  His swing was his signature more than any other player in time.  A signature of most good ball strikers is the ease with which they swing.  It might look easy, but they are actually going as fast as they can with balance.  Watch this video, which asks the pros who they think is the best ball striker.  They mention so many names; Nick Price, Luke Donald, Tiger, Yani Tseng, Boo Weekly, Heath Slocum, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, John Senden, Bubba Watson, Billy Haas, Joe Durant, Tom Watson, Matt Kucher, etc.  No two of these players make similar swings, yet they are all admired by their peers for how they hit it.  

The point I'm making is, don't copy another player and don't worry about making perfect swings.  Instead, find what makes your swing work and focus on that.  Nick Price has one of the quickest swings in golf and Ernie Els one of the slowest.  What matters is that they produce their own tempo each time they swing the club.  Bill Haas and Bubba both have very active feet, while many teachers today are insisting that students swing flat footed.  The reason that all the pros listed above look completely different is that they are all different.  Each has a different body type, more or less flexibility, past injuries and varied strength and balance abilities.   If Bubba tried to swing like Boo or visa versa, it would be laughable.  Here is a great video from the 2013 Masters of 30 minutes of swings.  I've watched them all and each is unique with differing rhythms, shapes, planes, power and lengths.  As you train to hit good golf shots, make sure you find a pro who teaches you as an individual with the traits you bring to the tee.  You can pick and choose things that others do to bring to your motion, but in the end, your swing will be uniquely yours.  Your goal then is to keep it simple, balanced, tension-free and rhythmic.  Those are the types of thoughts that will help you in competition and keep your motion free, rhythmic and predictable.

The word motion is an important one.  The swing is about creating a motion that produces power in a predictable manner.  I have the opportunity to watch many great junior and college golfers.  People often ask me what I'm looking for when I recruit.  There isn't one thing or swing, but all of us on the recruiting trail fall in love with players who have effortless power.  Of course, we all know that power isn't effortless, but players who make the swing appear that way are fun to watch.  They generally play golf without upper body tension.  They usually have a fairly steady head.  Their lower body is engaged and stable, at least until impact.  Their movements appear to flow and the ball makes a great noise when struck.  

Check out this video of Na Yeon Choi and see if you can find any tension in her swing.   Did you watch it?  She addresses the ball with a straight left arm, just as we are all taught, but watch the video again and you will notice that her left arm is very soft as she swings the club.  In fact, it is slightly bent as she makes her transition.  Look closely at the video at :18 or :22 and you can see it.  Here is another shot of Choi's swing in slo mo.   In this you can clearly see the softness I am pointing out.  She keeps her lower body stable, strong and engaged, which allows her to have a steady head, a big, centered turn and a relaxed and fast upper body motion.  As Brandel Chamblee points out in the first video, she has beautiful tempo and it remains constant throughout her swing.  Her move is a great example of keeping it simple.  She moves freely and rhythmically.  She is smooth and vigorous and she sweeps the club through the ball.  All in all, it is a beautiful motion.  

As I watch junior and college players, I'm struck by the unneeded tension I see in so many of their swings.  I believe the tension is a product of over teaching, reliance upon position versus motion and a misunderstanding of how to produce power.  The tension that I'm talking about occurs in joints that should remain supple, namely the shoulders and elbows.  This tension makes players appear to have a higher center of gravity, so you can often see upon set up over the ball that a player will not produce power.  It is much like skiing, which is another activity I love.  Great skiers carry a low center of gravity and appear relaxed in their backs and shoulders.  Powerful golfers tend to sink into their legs and hips and look solid on their feet.  Tension in the shoulders and elbows also leads to softness in the wrists.  It is pretty tough to keep firm wrists if your elbows are locked and your shoulders are tense.  Firm wrists are one constant of all good ball strikers.  Tension in the shoulders also prohibits a full turn and causes the shoulder plane to flatten.  Both of these problems will cause power leaks or make a player manage too many movements in the swing.  

The main message of today's blog is to figure out how to tap into your own strengths and use them to create a rhythmic, powerful swing.  Be aware of where you place tension in your set up and swing.  Find simple thoughts to use on the course that focus on target, balance or tempo.  Take a step back from your mechanics and view yourself in a big picture.  In the end, learn to trust yourself and your swing and keep it simple.

A Blog About a Blog

Today's blog is a link to another blog.
Eye on the Tour:  Exploring Mastery Through Golf

Specifically, an interview with Paige Mackenzie.  It is a fantastic interview with so much insight into how to approach the game of golf and compete.  In the interview, Paige talks about working on visualization and other points in her mental game.  She talks about what she is working on, which isn't change, by the way.  Finally, she talks about the process that is playing competitive golf and what has gotten her off track and back on track.  It is worth a read, especially if you are a young player who wants to compete at the highest level.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Daily Do It #2

For the summer, I will post three Daily Do Its per week!  These will be challenges you can use to get your body, your golf game and your mind in better shape.

SMU Women's Golf Daily Do It #2

Body: Do a plank!  Hold it for as long as you can.  If you are new to this, start with 30 seconds and do two of them.  Here is link to show you how to plank.

Putting:  Make 100 putts from 4 feet.  These don't have to be in a row.  If you use a routine on the course to putt a 4 footer, then do the same thing here.  Put five tees around a hole on a slope to make it tougher.  Focus on rolling each putt in at the correct speed for the putt. 

Short Game:  Hit 5 bunker shots to within a flagstick of the hole.  Now hit 5 balls out of the bunker and onto the green from an uphill, downhill, sidehill and fried egg lie. 

Ball Striking:  On the driving range, pick out a fairway that is about 25 yards wide.  Use your routine, visualize the shot and hit drivers until you get 10 balls to start in and end in the fairway.  How many did it take? 

Mental Game:  When you did the ball striking challenge today, did you see, feel and trust each drive and hit it without mechanical thoughts?  What % of drives did you stay clear in your mind? 

Many of the Daily Do Its will be repeated throughout the summer so you can see if you have improved your skills.  Feel free to let me know how you did!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Daily Do It #1

For the summer, I will post three Daily Do Its per week!  These will be challenges you can use to get your body, your golf game and your mind in better shape.

SMU Women's Golf Daily Do It #1

Body:  Stand on one leg and write the alphabet with your other leg.  You might want to start with something close by, such as a counter or a chair to grab for balance.  The goal is to be able to do the entire alphabet with each leg with no balance aids.  This is great for lower body stability and balance and good for all those little muscles that make up your hip girdle.  All very important for golfers.
Here is a link to an example.

Putting:  Find a colored ball or use a range ball.  Put it in the middle of the green.  Now put 10 balls down around the edge of the entire green, spacing them evenly.  Putt each ball to the colored ball using your routine.  How many times did you hit the ball?  How many balls did you leave within 2 feet of the ball?  You will have a % if you multiply the number by 10.

Short Game:  Get one ball up and down 10 times chipping from 45-60 feet away from a hole.  Putt everything out.  How many tries did it take you?

Ball Striking:  Find a green where you can hit 100 yard shots.  Hit 10.  Write down the % that you got on the green, the % that you got within 10 paces, the % you got within 10 feet, the % you got within 5 feet.

Mental Game:  Describe your favorite hole.  How detailed is your description?  Do you know how the ground slopes?  Do you know how many trees there are on the hole?  Do you know how deep the green is in yards?  Can you close your eyes and picture the hole?  Next time you play the hole, look at it closely enough to improve your description.

Many of the Daily Do Its will be repeated throughout the summer so you can see if you have improved your skills.  Feel free to let me know how you did!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Powers of Observation

A few weeks back, we were paired with OU.  Our Assistant Coach, David Von Ins, walked most of the round in the same group as Chirapat Jao-Javanil.  She won the NCAA Championship last year playing for OU and is currently ranked #7 in the country.  I asked David, "What makes Jao great?"  His answer was, "She is the most observant player I've seen in awhile and she plays smart golf." 

Chirapat Jao-Javanil.  It isn't a surprise that her head is up and her posture is tall and attentive as she walks the course.

That wasn't the answer I expected, but if I may say so, it was a great observation.  David recognized that Jao was very skilled, as many college players are, but also that she was able to effectively use her skills because of her powers of observation. Are you using all of your powers when you play the game or are you only tapping into a few?

If you want to be observant, here are some things you can do to increase your awareness.  Let's start at the hole and move back to the tee.  The hole is generally cut on a slope.  When your ball is traveling its slowest, by the hole, the break of the slope will be most pronounced.  Make sure you start there when reading the putt.  What is around that influences the putt?  Are there mounds from a bunker complex?  Are there high points and low points on the green?  Is there grain?  If you have a hard time reading greens, here is a simple formula for you to help you raise your awareness and be observant:

Walking up to the green:  Look for High Point and Low Point of the green.  Look for colors.  Dark colors might mean moisture or grain.  Light colors might mean hard, dry spots or with the grain.
On the green:  Look for slopes.  Bunker mounding, tiers and high and low points effecting my putt.
Reading the putt:
From the side, check to see if it is uphill or downhill.
From the hole, check for grain and slope around the hole.
From behind the ball, get a big picture look of path the ball will roll.

To condense it even further, you should ask yourself these questions before you focus in on the line of the putt:  High spot, low spot?  Uphill or downhill?  Slope, grain?  What speed do I need?  Where will the ball enter the hole?

Stacy Lewis reads a green.  Lewis' putting has helped her achieve the #1 ranking in the world.

You see more looking uphill than downhill, so if you have a downhill putt, spend a little more time on the hole side of the putt.  Your feet tell you a lot, so being observant doesn't mean using your brain more, but using all of your senses more.  Walk around and feel the green and the slopes with your feet.  Soft eyes see more, so don't try harder to see the line.  Getting squinty with your eyes will cause you to see less, not better.  Here is a great quote about soft eyes.  This is a martial arts concept, but so useful for golf and the problem solving that is green reading.

"Attention is what we use to filter out unwanted sensory input. If your attention is too tight and concentrated (by focusing too hard on one object in front of you), then you'll end up being oblivious to your peripheral vision.
...So, to develop our peripheral vision, relax your eyes, and don't look *hard* at anything. Dilate your pupils, and keep a soft focus in the direction you're looking. ...The idea isn't that you are developing your eyes especially for peripheral vision, but rather that you stop ignoring your peripheral vision. Don't look at things, but look through them."
(Stephen Chan - Soft Eyes and Aiki Ju Jitsu)

Many players who miss a putt or two work harder to get the right line.  They focus more on the line and take in less information.   Green reading is about taking in information, visualizing how it will effect the ball's roll and committing to what you envision.  
Here is what Adam Scott had to say about his putt on the 18th hole to get into a playoff to win the Masters this year:  
ADAM SCOTT: I just told myself to go with instinct. You know, just put it out there and hit it. And show everyone how much you want it. 
I love it that Adam relied on instinct and didn't try too hard to read the putt.  Your instincts come from your awareness not from overthinking.
As you approach the putting green, you can also use your powers of observation.  Where you land your approach shot is every bit as important as how well you hit it.  A hole tucked behind a downslope will cause balls hit at the pin to bounce over the green.  A hole just over a false front will cause balls hit well to suck back and off the front of the green.  Hitting the ball well isn't the only thing you need to get a ball close to the hole.  You also need to understand how the golf course can help and hurt your shot.  A lot of this knowledge will come from being observant in your practice round.  If you are spending your practice round grinding on your swing and thinking about mechanics, you will be missing 1/2 of the equation of scoring.  Where you hit it is as important as how you hit it.  
On short game shots around the green, don't automatically look at the green as the only landing spot.  You might want to land the ball off the green to give yourself some help in getting it to stop.  Friction is sometimes the only answer to stopping a ball on a downhill slope and there is little friction in the air.  Another thing you want to look for around the green is a flat spot to land the ball.  This will help you predict how your shot will act when it hits the green.  Do you look for the color of the green to determine if there are hard spots or wet spots?  Pay attention to all the clues that can help you get your ball close to the hole.
As you plan your shot, what do you see?  Do you focus in on the flagstick or do you see the slopes that lead to the hole?  Could those same slopes lead your ball away from the hole?  What will help you and what will hurt you?  Where can you land your ball so you can easily predict the outcome of your shot? Should you play defense or offense with your shot?
As you are playing your practice round, are you noticing the slopes on the fairway?  Some can help you and some can hurt you.  Do you see the trees?  Are they blocking the wind so you have to think a bit more to judge it?  Trees and vegetation usually grow more on the wet side or low side of the ground, at least in dry Texas.  That will be the direction your ball will run on the fairway.  Where are the wide spots and narrow spots in the fairway?  Are you paying attention to the wind's direction in the practice round?  If it changes, does it change your strategy?  Your awareness of the course and the conditions as you play are important to your game plan!  This is another way that being observant will help you lower your scores.  
This is a shot from one of George Lucas' yardage books.  His arrows tell the story of the slopes. 
The final area you need to be observant of is yourself.  Are you keeping your thoughts clear and your focus on important things?  Are you pumped upIs your energy dragging?  Are you playing too quickly or too slowly?  Are you relaxing between shots?  Are you following your game plan?  Are you letting go of the deadly sins of greed, anger and pride?  Checking in with yourself as you play is important.  If you observe yourself from the outside looking in, instead of always grinding on the inside and looking out, you will help yourself adjust and play the game well.

So many players go within when they hit a bad shot.  They start to search their mind for "fixes" for their problems.  Their heads go down and their thoughts are caught up in mechanics or problems.  They lose track of the conditions, the golf course and their state of being.  All of a sudden a poor shot becomes a bad round and a bad round turns into a slump.  Where you place your attention on the golf course is an important habit to evaluate and self coach.  

One of the first steps to being an observant player is to stay attached to the "outer" world as you play and not get lost in your "inner" world.  Physically, it helps you to keep your head up, keep your eyes moving and soft and make physical gestures that reflect what you see and feel.  Mentally, it helps if you start with simple cues to keep you in the "outer" world, such as colors you see or the winds you feel.  Be an athlete!  Stay physical!  Let your eyes, your feet, your skin, your ears and your hands tell you more than your brain ever could. 
You must work very hard to become a natural golfer.
- Gary Player  

A big step when you go from a good player to a great player is consistency.  Your powers of observation are a key to consistency.  They will help you see the golf course as a partner in your attempt to score.  They will help you make putts by seeing the path to the hole more clearly.  They will help you adjust your mindset or approach to the game as you play.  They will keep you in the present.  They will help you learn!
I never played a round when I didn't learn something new about the game.
- Ben Hogan  



Where do you place your awareness?  This is a gigantic question, because there are so many things, thoughts, people and conditions to be awa...