Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matching Speed with Break

Today, we spent some time on the putting green talking through the process of reading putts.  I have seen players approach this skill as though it is a mystery, something quite complicated or a process that also involves some luck.  It is none of those.  It is a skill just as all things in golf are skills.  It is best approached as a systematic series of steps to avoid having it feel mysterious.  It is best to keep the steps simple and limited to keep it from getting too complicated.  It is something that doesn't involve luck or guessing, but instead requires awareness, feel and good vision.  Here is a series of steps you can use to get started or to evaluate your approach.

1.  Take a look at the green from 50 yards away and figure out the high and low points of the green. From this far away, you can also see features such as ridges.  Give a quick thought to where the water flows from the green.

This view of the practice green at Dallas Athletic Club gives a clear look at water and where the water on the green will flow. The overall topography of the green will have a low side that favors water and its your job to be aware of the general direction of flow.  You can check for hills, slopes, thick vegetation or actual streams and lakes.

2.  When you get to the green, take note of the green itself.  Are there ridges, slopes, bunkers, mounds, wet spots, dry spots or grain?  You are still in the big picture mode, but now you are paying attention to what the green looks like in areas that will have a direct effect on the roll of your putt.  You can also think of them on your approach shot to get some help from the terrain.  When will a backstop help you?  Which ridge or slope will carry your ball to the hole?  Is the green dry and firm?  Should you choose an aiming point 10-15 yards short of the hole?  I'm digressing a bit from green reading to using the terrain to hit shots, but the point is, be aware of the terrain and the conditions and use them in your favor instead of not paying attention or fighting against them.

This is the hole location sheet for #16 at Ballyneal.  Ballyneal is a gem of a Tom Doak course nestled in the northeast corner of Colorado along with nothing but wind and horizon.  This is taken from a great blog: by C. Mulligan.  What a great golf name. 

"This is a picture of the 16th green viewed from the right side of the fairway. The flag is in the "B" pin position. Use the ridge to the left of the green to bring a shot into this pin."  Mr. Mulligan's words describing Ballyneal #16.  Notice, he is asking the player to aim off the green to get close to this pin.  When I played Ballyneal, I relied on my caddy to give me aim points.  It was often far from the hole due to the hills, high winds and ridges on the greens.  Sometimes its better to be 15 feet from the hole than to risk a shot that is 5 feet or 50 feet if you catch the wrong ridge.  Take another look at the green.  The high spot is clearly to the right and behind, but that isn't consistent on the green.  The designer creates different high spots to funnel water and offset nature.  The mound in front of the front bunker is important to keep water from running straight into the bunker.  This is a consistent feature of all greens and will influence your putts if they roll near bunker complexes. 

3.  Read your putt.  You should take a quick peek from the side to see if you have an uphill or downhill putt.  From behind, first pick out the center of the cup for your putt.  This is very important because it will help you establish the break point and it will also increase the odds of your putt falling.  If you have a putt that breaks from right to left a lot, your center might be 4 O'Clock.  If you choose that as your center, you can drop a putt into the hole at 3 O'Clock or 5 O'Clock if the speed is good.  If you choose a center that is too low for the break, you have chosen your low side as the center and that gives you very little hole to work with to make your putt.  Now, see the path of the ball as though you were rewinding a tape; from the hole back to your putter face.  Pause at the spot you want to roll it over.  Now, at the ball, figure out if you need to play break to get the ball to roll over that spot.  Visualize the putt from the ball to the hole.  Work on your visualization until you can do this in real time.  This is very helpful for putting with mounds or tiers in between you and the hole.  It helps you break the putt into portions and find the speed needed at each juncture.  

Now, you are ready to aim.  Your aim is responsible for the first 6" of the putt, but no more!  You want to roll the ball on the path you just visualized at the speed you need to roll it in the hole.  If you are still thinking of the line of the entire putt, you are not going to have good speed control.  Let go of the line as soon as you aim and roll the ball freely.

That is your process for reading greens.  First, see the green from 50 yards away.  Next, see the greens terrain.  Finally, read the line of the putt.  

We had a few good drills today that might help you, too.  
One drill we did that aids in visualization is putting balls from 4 feet back to 30 feet along the same line.  We did it with breakers and double breakers and learned what to look for along the way.  This is Casey Grice working on matching her read with the correct speed.  
 Another drill we did that was good was to put a ball down at the middle of the hole as chosen for a breaking putt.  The goal was to hit a putt and knock the ball in.  It is good because it gives you a good sense of the proper speed and if you hit the ball low or high side, it deflects to the sides of the cup.  It really helped cement the fact that the center of the hole isn't always the closest point to you as you putt.

Finally, we talked through putts and put balls down at important points to reflect points the ball would go over in its path to the hole.  
This was a tricky little double breaker.  The ball in front of the first ball is the aim point.  The mound causes the putt to fall right in the first third.  It then straightened out and went a bit left off of another mound.  At the end, as the putt slows down, it goes to the right, because that is the low spot on the green.  The tee behind the hole signifies 1 foot behind the hole or the speed that we would like the putt to be traveling when it reaches the hole.  
Finally, we spent some time today talking about the speed you want to carry to the hole.  On uphill putts, on bumpy greens and on wet greens, you can hit the ball a foot past the hole.  You can stretch that to 18 inches if any of the above are severe.  Just remember to read less break at the end of the putt.  On downhill putts, slick greens or big breakers, roll the ball to end 6 inches to a foot past the hole.  As you become good at controlling your speed, you will begin to naturally see when to give the putt a run and when to die it in the cup.  I agree with many of the experts that there is one speed for a putt to have the maximum chance to roll in, but I also know that sometimes a little more speed is helpful in overcoming bumpiness or to hold the line on uphill putts.  I also believe that slick greens call for balls to die, especially when there is a lot of break around the hole.  If you misread a putt with a lot of break on slick greens, chances are it will begin to work away from the hole very early after you hit it and give you a testy putt to finish up. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goals, Golf Shots & Busy Minds

Imagine a caddy and a pro talking through a shot:

Caddy:  You have 152 to the pin.  This green releases, so you want to land it at 145.  You want to be a bit left of this pin.

Player:  Okay, I'm going to grip down on my 9 iron and hit a little, low draw.  I'll start it at the tallest tree branch a few feet right of the pin and let it release a few feet left of it.

That was a very clear conversation.  The caddy gave the player facts, observation and strategy.  The player gave the caddy a plan, a visual of the shot and an aim point. 

With this plan, visualization and aim point in mind, the player commits to and executes the shot.

Phil Mickleson talks over a shot with his caddy, Jim "Bones" Mackay.

It all seems pretty simple on t.v., doesn't it?  Here is what I often hear when coaching.

Coach:  What's the plan here?  What's your yardage?  Where are you going to land it?  What shot do you see?

Player:  I don't want to be short on this shot.  (You can substitute the words left, right, long or over for the word short).

Coach:  Okay, what's your target?

Player:  I have 152 to the pin.  I guess I'll hit my 150 club. (You can substitute the words "I should probably", "maybe it's a 7 iron" or "I think it's a" in place of I guess I'll hit....)

When Tom Brady throws a pass, what is his goal?  To avoid interceptions or to complete the pass?  When you play golf, what is your goal?  To avoid trouble or to hit your target?  In both cases, it you focus on the second, the first is also accomplished. 

So far, as the observer of the situation, the coach, has learned what the player doesn't want and what the player is guessing.  Imagine what the player's brain is doing.  It is hard at work thinking on what to avoid, what could happen, what should happen and which doubtful decision presents the best option.

Instead, the conversation you have in your head needs to be as follows:
  1. Anchored in facts.  Yardage, lie, wind.
  2. Observant.  Hard green, room behind the hole, tough putt from the right.
  3. Produce a plan.  ie.:  I want to hit a shot that lands at 145 and releases to the hole and ends up a little left of the hole.
  4. Creates a vivid visual.  ie.:  I see a low shot that draws, lands and rolls out 5 yards and moves left.  It is going to start right at that tree and land on that dark spot on the green.
  5. Leaves the player with a clear target and the ability to commit and execute. 
This conversation needs to happen on every single shot you hit all day long.  It is okay to respect trouble on the course.  It is part of the second step; being observant.  If there is an overhanging branch on the right side of the fairway that could catch your drive or block your second shot, you see that and plan a shot that avoids it.  However, your goal for your shot isn't, "I want to avoid that tree branch."  Instead, your goal is, "I'm going to drive the ball on the left side of the fairway at that pine tree with a bit of a cut."  If you choose your goals by what you avoid, you can be successful and unsuccessful at the same time.  If you said you wanted to avoid that tree on the right, you could be in the left rough or even out of bounds left and both drives would have achieved your goal.  

It's important to have a clear goal and not a wish for what you don't want.

It would be nice if we all had caddies when we played who provided us with the facts of the shot, took care of our observations, provided a clear plan, painted a picture of the shot and stepped away after a commitment to the shot and the target, but we don't.  We have ourselves and our cluttered mind that is busy with avoidance, fear, doubt, guessing, shoulds, and mechanics.  If you unclutter your mind and talk to yourself as a caddy would talk with you, it will help you to have a goal for your shot.

We also worked this week with busy minds.  One of our players gets bogged down with mechanics during the round.  Another has a mind that is busy telling her what not to do.  With both, we played a little game of saying your name as you swing.  Once they saw the shot and committed to it, they started saying their full name.  It is a technique I learned many years ago from Fred Shoemaker, who introduced it to my players as they putted.  It simply keeps your mind busy which means it can't get busy on things you don't want.  I learned to use a mantra as a young player.  We had mental game help from our wrestling coach, Chuck Patten, who was also a +3 handicap and a black belt in karate.  He taught us the power of playing without allowing unwanted thoughts in your head.  Mine was simple and I kept it for ever.  It was, "take it back slow and hit it hard".  It allowed me to go to the shot without thinking about the water on the right or the last shot I chunked.  It was a powerful tool.

If your mind is busy with all the wrong stuff, spend some time playing and practicing while making it busy on nonsensical stuff.  Then, replace the nonsensical stuff with a mantra that is specific to you.  It might be focused on your tempo or a swing thought.  There is no right or wrong thing to say to yourself, because the goal is to busy your mind in a way that you can control and better yet, repeat.

Have fun with this process.  Create conversations with yourself about the shots you face that cover the five points outlined above.  Busy your mind in ways that you choose and have a goal for each and every shot!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Slopes, Rough and Flyers

There have been a lot of blogs about the mental game lately so it's time to shift gears and get back to hitting shots.  We recently played in Austin and faced a lot of uneven lies and Bermuda rough.  We also saw a lot of flyer lies.  We came home and worked on what we had seen after the event.  While it would have been better to reverse the order of those two events, travel and competition are both crucial to learning what you need as a player.  Addressing problems after an event will help you improve and grow as a player.

Here are some things to try when you face an uneven lie:
  • Ball Below Your Feet - 

    • Your inclination will be to hang on to the end of your club to make it easier to reach the ball which is further away from you than normal.  However, one goal for this shot is to be steep so the heel of the club doesn't hit the ground first.  Gripping down a bit on your club will help you get the posture needed to have a steep approach and hit down on the ball.  
    • Keep your head still and make a turn around your center.  Picture a Ferris Wheel and create that with your swing.  

    •  Because your club is approaching from a steeper angle, it is easier to have an open club face at impact.  That means the ball will tend to go right.  However, if your ball is in the rough, the heel may catch and shut the face.  I witnessed this a few times from my players, so we worked on this shot by controlling the face better through impact.  If you allow the heel to pass the toe with the ball below your feet in the rough, you will likely face the same shot again. 
    • A ball below your feet will usually travel a shorter distance due to the loft created by steepening the shaft at impact.  It will also come out without a lot of spin.
  • Ball Above Your Feet
    • Once again, your inclination is to grip down on the club, because the ball is closer to you.  But, once again, fight your inclination and stay on the end of your club so your posture matches the shot.  Your shot will more closely match that of a baseball player's stance than a golf stance and a longer club will allow your posture to match that.  
    • Stay centered and turn around yourself.  You can pretend you are a Merry Go Round as your club swings around center.  

    •  With the ball above your feet, the club face will close easily and earlier, causing the ball to go left.  It's best not to fight it, but if you have to protect from the left side, lay the club open to start with and keep your right hand under the shaft as you swing it.  Spend time practicing this shot to learn how much the ball will go left with no manipulation and how to keep it from going left if needed. This is also important to learn if you face the ball above your feet in the rough.  First of all, loft is your friend in this situation.  Secondly, if you allow the toe to pass the heel, you won't get much distance from the shot.  A ball above your feet in tough rough will go low, left and short. 
    • Hitting the ball above your feet usually causes a lower ball flight and a bit of extra distance.
  • Ball On a Downhill Slope
    • As with both uphill and downhill, it is important to keep your head still on this shot.  This will help you keep you centered and balanced throughout your swing.
    • Set up with your hips and shoulders matching the hill.   This will put more weight on your front foot.  Don't fight it.
    • Set your wrists quickly and sharply in your backswing and don't make a big turn away from the ball.  Keep that weight solidly over your front foot and use an armsy swing back.  Quiet legs are key.
    • You can make a big turn through the ball.  A tip for remembering which way you turn on slopes is, allow your turn to follow the slope.  If water runs downhill, your turn can run downhill, too.  Exaggerate your finish by keeping your chest low and if needed, take a step toward the target.
    • Your club will have less loft at impact, so your shot will go lower.  Your shot will also come from a steep angle, which will take spin off the shot.  You can probably take less club due to those two factors.
  • Ball On an Upslople
    • Once again, stay centered on this shot.  
    • Set up with your hips and shoulders matching the hill.  This will put more weight on your back foot.  Don't fight it.
    • Make a good turn away from the ball, but feel as though you finish your swing with only your arms.  Again, keep your legs quiet and your head still.
    • Your club will have more loft on it at impact causing the ball to fly higher.  You might need more club due to this.  
    • You will finish on your back foot, but it's ok in this situation.
Graeme McDowell from Today'

  • Ball in the rough
    • You can take what you learned from sloped lies to use in this situation.  If your ball is down in deep rough, grip down and create a posture that allows for a steeper swing.  If your ball is sitting up in the rough as though on a tee, hang on to the end of the club and stand an inch further from the ball to assure a shallow, round swing.  Set your hands and wrists early to also create steepness.
    • Learn to control the shaft and face of the club.  Don't allow the shaft to tip back in the rough, but make sure that it drives forward through the shot.  That might mean that you don't worry about making a full finish and you will need a firm grip.  You can control the face by setting up with the face a bit more open and holding it open through impact.  This requires grip and forearm strength.  I often witness players trying to "muscle" shots out of the rough with a strong shoulder move.  This will often cause the hands to lose tension and the face will shut when the rough grabs it.  Keep the tension in your hands, not your shoulders.
    • Loft is your friend.  Out is the first goal and you might need to take less club to make that happen.  Pay attention to angles and landing areas and practice from the rough so you can more easily predict the shots out. 

  • Flyer Lies
    • We played our last event in wetness from beginning to end.  The players had a tough time predicting the distance of their shots.  The culprit was the water and grass getting in between the club face and the ball at impact, even from the middle of the fairway.  Flyers generally happen in the rough, but these were happening everywhere, but not consistently.  The water caused the club to lose grip with the ball, which in turn causes the ball to flight higher with less spin.  Think of the smoothness of the driver face and you will understand that your iron is now mirroring that face and its goal of maximum distance.  There isn't much you can do about this situation, but you can be aware if you face this lie with trouble over the green.  Sometimes it might be better to putt from the front edge than tempt fate to that back hole location from a flyer lie.
    • I also heard a lot of questioning about clubbing in cool and/or humid weather.  Air density will have a bit of an effect on your distance.  However, you probably don't understand what makes the air more dense, because it is a bit counter-intuitive.  Here are conditions that lessen air density and increase distance:  high altitude, high temperatures, high humidity.  Players often think that high humidity slows the ball, but in fact, dry air is more dense. 
I hope these ideas help you handle the shots you face on the golf course.   Golf is a very individual game, so you need to see if these approaches work for you.  The only way to know is through experimentation and practice.  Put your ball in tough places and figure out how you can hit shots you can predict from those lies.  Figure out what works for you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mental Toughness Training

Training in anything that requires performance under pressure usually involves challenges.  Pilots go into the simulator and have hours of practice dealing with mechanical failures and horrible weather.  The military has boot camp to toughen recruits both mentally and physically.  In sports, coaches set up practices with challenges and scenarios that predict situations their players will face in competition.  Focus is a learned skill and developed through situational learning.  It can be practiced in any situation and you have to remember that you can train your focus at any time.  It is all about practicing the control you need over all aspects of your self.

U.S. Airways Flt. 1549 landed in the Hudson River when both engines failed.  Chelsey Sullenberger was the pilot. Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said: "One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."  Perhaps your training is preparing you to win the U.S. Open in twenty years time.

Focus seems to be about mental toughness, but leaders know it requires more.  It requires a strong spirit, too.  Your mind is held aloft by your spirit.  Think of your spirit as your best friend, your biggest supporter and as having your back.  On the golf course, your spirit is what keeps your feet moving and your head up.  It is what reminds you that you love golf, love the challenge, and you can do it.  Your spirit is as important to your mental toughness as anything your mind does to help you.

Your body is also important to your mental toughness.  Your toughness will show in your posture and in your step.  Your spirit and mental game are reflected by your body language, which means that training your body is an important part of the process.  As a high school basketball player, we were not allowed to put our hands on our knees and bend over.  No matter how many suicides we ran, we had to stand up straight afterwards.  Our coach was training mental toughness through our body language.  Think of yourself on the range after a poor shot.  Do you take a moment to reflect on the adjustment you need or do you pull another ball over quickly to erase the image?  Do you maintain a focused attitude or do you slump your shoulders and bang your club?  The relationship between your thoughts, emotions and body language is unquestionable.  In order to train your mental toughness, you need to model the body language you want at all times.  You can relax after golf!

The third facet of mental toughness is your control of your mind.  No one can control the thoughts that flit through their mind.  However, you can control what you choose to pay attention to and how you react to your thoughts.  If you are nervous on the first tee, you can decide to focus on your swing thought or a mantra, such as "slow and steady".  You can visualize the shot vividly and make sure you stick to your practiced routine.  All of us have nerves, bad thoughts, doubts, and fear, but how we choose to deal with them and where we put our focus is what separates the mentally tough from the mentally feeble.  Mental toughness means that you have a plan for your focus.  It means that you learn from mistakes you've made under pressure.  It means that you understand how important your spirit and body language are to the big picture.  It means that you look forward to challenges to test it.

If you choose to believe in yourself, you will find examples of your success throughout your day.  If you don't believe in yourself, you will also find ample examples to show you are correct.  Your belief in yourself shapes your focus and expectations.

Now it's time to train and test your mental toughness.  There are a number of ways you can add adversity to your golf practice.  You can play from longer distances than normal.  You can play a round of worst ball.  (Play two balls from the tee, choose the worst outcome and play two balls from there.  Keep going until you hole out both balls.)  You can play the rough as out of bounds.  You can play with three clubs instead of a whole set.  You can play a game where your competitors are allowed to move your ball a club length.  Golf is tough enough normally, but by heightening the challenges and pressure, you will learn quickly what bothers you on the course and eventually learn a response to it that allows you to stay strong in mind, body and spirit.

In our last tournament in Austin, TX, we had a bad weather day.  Our attitudes were excellent and we held our focus throughout the day.  The team's approach was just as it was in good weather and that allowed them to maintain not only their good play, but their spirits were high throughout the day and their body language was strong and uplifted.  I was also very impressed with Iowa State, who used the bad weather to excel and pick themselves up from a tie for 9th place to 4th place with the low round of the day.  They showed composure, toughness and had an opportunistic approach to the day.  They knocked eight shots off the previous day's score when the average team added five shots.  Playing in bad weather is another opportunity to test your toughness.

Tomorrow, we are playing from the back tees on the Blue Course at DAC.  Here are the things I hope to see from the team.
  • Composure.  Composure is the feeling of being calm and in control.  It is important for golfers, especially when facing challenges.  It allows you to keep your head in the game and not get emotional over mistakes or problems. 
  • Game Plans.  Game plans will be necessary both in how to play the course and in how to deal with situations.  We will have a south wind tomorrow, which will make the 4th hole a long one over water.  It is 210 and the wind will be in our faces.  Will anyone consider playing it in two shots and gaining a putt for par instead of hitting 3 wood or driver?  Will the team think about putting themselves in the right position on long par 4's to have their go-to wedge distance on their 3rd shot or to give themselves an angle to the hole?  Will each player have a goal for the day that will help her get focused and stay in each shot until the 18th hole?
  • Athleticism.  Athleticism means relying upon your strengths as a player and maintaining them throughout your round.  If you have a smooth tempo, will you destroy it by swinging hard or will you maintain it and get what you can from each shot?  Can you maintain your swing in tough conditions and not give in to tension and pressure?  Can you be yourself or will you try to be perfect?  Will you play the game?
  • Attitude.  Will your spirit be there for you?  Will it keep your head up and a spring in your step? Will you see the fun in facing a challenge?  Will you let go of mistakes and problems? Can you keep pressure from making you press and instead decide you will do what you can with each shot?
  • Momentum.  Can you create momentum for yourself when you need it?  Can you capitalize when you are given chances and minimize your problems when you get in trouble?  Can you bounce back? 
  • Scoring.  Will the team do whatever they can to score?  Will they play position golf?  Will they have sharp short games?  Will they make putts when needed?   
  • Accountability.  Finally and most importantly, will the team have full accountability for their games?  There is always an opportunity to make excuses when the challenge gets the better of you, but as a player, your responsibility is to your score and your team's score.
Mental toughness means you are strong in mind, body and spirit.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Practice Schedule Prior to a Tournament

Thursday, October 3rd

SMU Women’s Golf

Get this done today!

1.  Make 50 4 footers.  Use your routine!!!  No time limit.  Put at least 10 tees around the hole so you don’t wear the green out.

2.  Putt to the string from 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 feet.  Get one ball within a putter head from each distance and then repeat from the beginning.  Use your routine!!!  No time limit.

3.  Play 18 holes of match play with a teammate.  Closest to the hole chipping and pitching contest.  Winner chooses the shot.  Drop the ball, use your routine.  No time limit.

4.  Put 3 towels on the green and hit 3 bunker shots – 1 to each towel.  Don’t repeat the same shot twice.  Land a ball on each towel.  Use your routine!!!  Now do the same from a fried egg lie, a downhill lie, an uphill lie, ball above your feet and ball below your feet.  Get help if you need it.  5 minute limit for each type of shot.  End with good lies, routines and great shots!

5.  Put 5 piles of 10 balls at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards.  Hit each of the 10 using your routine, visualizing the shot’s trajectory, landing point and spin and roll.   No time limit.

If you finish early, work on knock downs on the range.   Challenge a teammate to closest to the pin contests on the range controlling trajectory and spin.

“Stay focused, go after your dreams and keep moving toward your goals.”  LL Cool J

Prior to travel, I like to write a schedule that focuses on repetition for confidence and focus.  There is always a bit of competition in there plus a lot of pre shot routine.  I want the players to get into their pre shot routine in order to choose targets, visualize and commit.  Having a repetitive practice needs to include the things that are important to hitting good shots.  We have had plenty of range time this week, along with play, so the team will spend today focused on short game and preparing to play in the wind.  We leave tonight for Norman, OK and the Schooner Invitational at Belmar CC. It is a great field and we are excited to compete!


Enthusiasm or Dread

We had a great camp with 10 junior girls this past weekend.  We focused our time on how to practice, how to prepare for competition, how to ...