Saturday, October 24, 2015

Defensive Driving

It's one of those long days in a hotel room watching it rain that all golfers have known at one time or another.  And, it's a great day to blog.  We've been playing some great golf in practice and qualifying, but haven't gone as low in our last few competitive rounds.  We have a bunch of kids on this team who can take it deep and they do it a lot.  When no one on the team goes low, there are a few things I look at to understand what's holding us back.  One thing can be our approach to playing the golf course.  Was our plan too aggressive or not aggressive enough?  Another factor is the course set up or conditions.  Were the hole locations in tough spots or were the conditions tough?  Last week at UT, it was a combination of a few factors.  The greens were quick, the hole locations were guarded by slopes and knolls and we began to play defensively.

Learning to play competitive golf on a tough course or in tough conditions is a lot like learning to drive.  When you're taught to be a defensive driver and see all the possibilities, it really slows you down at first.   The guy backing out of his driveway might or might not stop and you swerve to the left a bit as you go past.  The lady waiting to turn left up ahead is inching forward and making you slow down and swerve a bit to the right.  Soon, you realize that you can be aware of others, but if you swerve or stop your progress, you might cause your own accident.  Paying attention to possible hazards is part of driving, but not letting them disrupt you from your destination is equally important.  This is a lot like golf.

As you make your way to your destination on the course, you need to be aware of the hazards and problems you could face, but you can't let them deter you from your goal.  Swinging away from trouble is a lot different than swinging to your target.  The first means that your goal is based on what you don't want to happen and the second is based on what you do want to happen.  Think now of a simple goal you have.  Perhaps it is to save $100 a month or to make an A on a test.  Those are simple and easy to state.  Now, what sort of goal would you have if you based these needs on what you don't want?  I don't want to be broke at the end of the month or I don't want to make another C on this test.  Neither of these goals state the actual outcome you're working toward.  You might reach the first goals with these or you might not.  In fact, it isn't really clear what you want!  That is much the same as playing away from trouble or basing your golf shot on what you don't want.

This green is really fast back to front.  I don't want to be above the pin.
Instead of:
I'm going to keep this shot under the hole, so I can give my putt a good run.

I don't want to hit in that right bunker.
Instead of:
I'm going to hit this drive at that tree that will put me in the left center of the fairway.

I don't want to hit this putt too hard and face a 3 putt.
Instead of:
I'm going to hit this putt so it drops in the front edge of the hole.

I don't want to miss this putt.
Instead of:
I am going to roll this putt right on my line.

This hole doesn't set up well for my game.  I'm hoping to get out of here with a par.
Instead of:
I'm going to hit my 3 wood and control my length so I can get a full shot at this green.

Do you get the picture?  You need to be 100% in charge of your goal with each shot and make your goal a positive act that you can accomplish.  If you get too caught up in being defensive, you can play good golf, but you can't play your best.  Playing with clear goals of what you want allows your body to connect with what you mind sees.  It will respond with freedom.  Playing with thoughts of what you don't want to have happen takes away your freedom and replaces it with anxiety.  The key to freedom on the course is to have full control over your process.  Your control lies in your strategy, your visualization, your commitment and your trust in yourself.  When you base your approach on what you don't want to happen, you might think you're being strategic, but you're missing out on clear visualization, a reason for commitment and the trust needed to play with freedom.

For us to get back to playing the golf we are capable of playing, we will make sure we state our goals for each shot based on what we want to happen and not what we don't want.  Pony Up!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Competitive Thursdays

Today, we had another competitive day at practice.  Each player hit 5 shots from the following yardages:  100,110,120,130,140,150
Within a flagstick - 10 points
Within 10 feet - 6 points
Within 15 feet - 4 points
Within 20 feet - 2 points
On the green - 1 point
Missed green - negative 2 points
Most points wins!

We had four players at our early practice today and here were their scores:
100 Yards
Rossi - 20 points
Tygret - 19 points
Page - 16 points
Dunne - 11 points
110 Yards
Rossi - 16 points
Page - 16 points
Dunne - 13 points
Tygret - 12 points
120 Yards
Page - 13 points
Tygret - 10 points
Rossi - 6 points
Dunne - 3 points
130 yards
Rossi - 24 points
Page - 22 points
Tygret - 14 points
Dunne - 13 points
140 yards
Page - 20 points
Rossi - 19 points
Dunne - 18 points
Tygret - 6 points
150 yards
Dunne - 17 points
Page - 5 points
Rossi - 2 points
Tygret - -4 points

Page - 92 points
Rossi - 87 points
Dunne - 75 points
Tygret - 57 points

Once again, it was a very good test for the players.  It required focus and measurement.  We learned a lot from the competition.  One of our good ball strikers, Dunne, didn't score particularly well inside 140, so we went back to the short yardages and put an extra club in her hand.  She was immediately better with a smaller, smoother swing.  Instead of using the same swing she used with her driver, she was forced to use a smaller swing that relied more on rotation and less on leg drive.  She was also better at controlling the face of the club with the smaller swing and could hold it off or release it.  

Rossi had a really tough time going at the back left hole locations (120 & 150). They weren't pleasing to her eye and it showed.  We will practice to those more in our short game area and also know that for those locations during tournaments, perhaps we use the middle of the green and accept a longer putt to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling she has when she goes at them.  

The 150 yard hole location was tucked and what we learned as coaches is, that is definitely not a "GO" distance for most of our players.  Dunne and Tygret were hitting 7 irons, but the other two had 6 irons in their hands.  It played a bit uphill and today, all shots were 100% carry.  It is important to know when you need to back off of a club and aim away from tucked positions.  This tested their abilities and it wasn't meant as a management exercise.  We wanted them to go at these targets.  

Overall, we were pleased as coaches to see a good practice that provided us with "real" results that we can use to coach better decision making and better technique.  

Here are our actual stats from Golfstat after two tournaments on green hits and green hits within 15'.
Greens in Regulation  CL     GIR   Rank  Out Of
Lindsey McCurdy       JR    .722     41     403
Haley Tygret          FR    .700     59
Jenny Haglund         SR    .667     78
Brigitte Dunne        FR    .656     99
Katie Page            JR    .644    117
Alexandra Rossi       SR    .611    140
Alexandria Celli      SR    .472    277
SMU                              .642     20      64

GIR within 15 ft.     CL   15 Ft   Rank  Out Of
Lindsey McCurdy       JR    .356     20     286
Brigitte Dunne        FR    .256     76
Katie Page            JR    .244     88
Alexandra Rossi       SR    .233     99
Alexandria Celli      SR    .167    157
Jenny Haglund         SR    .167    157
Haley Tygret          FR    .100    231
SMU                              .256     11      48

It's interesting to see the game's results compared with actual play.  Tygret hits a lot of greens, but isn't getting it close.  Today was much the same.  Moving forward, we will work on both accuracy and distance control of her irons.  If she spends more time practicing in our short game area than on the range, she will start to develop those skills more quickly due to better feedback.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Control the Handle to be a Great Wedge Player

The most needed skill in most junior and college female players is good wedge play.  It seems odd that the easiest club to control would be the last one mastered, but if you understand the golf swing, it makes perfect sense.

Young players learn to create speed with lag and release, but generally lack the strength to control the release point.  They rely on timing to hit good shots.  As they mature and gain strength and technique, they become better at controlling the release point, but still fail to control the entire club through all shots.  They learn to hit good shots by controlling the club head, which makes perfect sense, but to become a master of the wedge, you also need to control the handle of the club.  If you understand what your handle is doing and how that controls the shaft and the club head, you can create any shot you need to score.  

Here is a quick video that introduces the idea of swinging the handle of the club from Eddie Merrins, a great instructor of the game.  He uses the visual of controlling a tennis racket to relate the move you need.

The first time I learned to truly control my wedges was after a PGA short game clinic I attended in Houston.  Those were the days when they would host these small, regional clinics and I went to all I could.  This one was taught by Dick Harmon, Butch Harmon and Phil Rodgers.  What a great opportunity to learn from the best!  I walked away with clear understanding of how to use my club as a tool for the first time.  Dick taught me how to use the shaft lean to control trajectory.  Phil taught me to use the bounce of the club.  Butch taught me to use both of these skills in the bunker.  In turn, I pass along these lessons to young players who have the same aha moment I had back then.

Dick started out by telling us that to be great around the green, you need to be able to deliver the club with control of your hands and the handle of the club.  He gave me the challenge of hitting great wedge shots with only my right hand on the club.  If you hit wedges by controlling only the club head and timing its release, you will be one-dimensional and have just one shot.  If you learn to control the handle, you can lean the shaft and hit low shots or tip the shaft back and hit high, soft shots.  By hitting with only your right hand on the club, you get instant feedback if you have an early release.  You will hit behind the ball and will feel the scoop.  When you start to get the feel of swinging with only the right hand, you will begin to feel how momentum controls your wedges.  Your swing will get a bit bigger to create the same speed you had previously by throwing the club at the ball by releasing your right hand.

Here is a video with a little drill to help you with that feel.  It is by Shawn Clement, a Canadian teaching pro.  He gives props to Eddie Merrins as he explains the drill.

Now, move past the drill and into the shoes of a good player through Butch Harmon's instruction.  He wants you to get your hands past the ball.  He doesn't want scoopy and he doesn't want you to drag the club.

One thing Dick taught in conjunction with controlling the handle was to have a shallow approach.  He had me hit wedges as though I was hitting low hooks.  This went against what I had learned in my PGA training, but after studying tour players as much as I could after leaving the clinic, I realized that this is how they all hit their wedges.  Shallow swings create spin and a missed shot will be a bit thin.  Steep swings don't spin and create fat shots when missed.  Fat shots won't earn any money on tour.

Here is a nice video of Steve Stricker talking through a chip shot.  What I want you to notice here is the width of this chip shot.  By width, I mean the distance that his hands or the handle travel back and through the shot.  He is shallow and wide, which means that his handle moves through the shot.

When you get good at hitting the stock pitch shot and you are in control of your handle and therefor the speed of your swing, you can now start to work on variations.  These will happen by opening the face of the club, changing the ball position in your stance and changing clubs.  All of these factors will control what your club does at impact.  If you need to hit a high, soft shot, you can move the ball forward and open the club face.  By moving the ball forward, the shaft will be more up and down instead of leaned forward at impact.  Your hands will still lead the club through.  You don't have to throw the club head to hit it high.  If you want to hit a low shot that spins, move the ball back in your stance and have a wide take away so you stay shallow to create spin.  You can make the same basic swing in both shots and control most of what you want the club to do through your setup.  Here is a fun video of Lee Trevino teaching the same thing.  He obviously watched the same video that we just did of Steve Striker.  

Your first goal to become a great short game and wedge player is to get control of the handle of your club and learn to swing it back and through your shots with width.  Good luck and get to work!  I'll end with some video of a bunch of good players hitting pitches and chips.  You can watch all of them and see that they are in full control of their entire club, not just tossing the club head at the ball.  This will give you some great visualization to get started.  Thanks to RollYourRock for providing so many great short game videos!

Here is Graeme McDowell hitting a nice pitch off a tight lie.

Here is Tiger doing the right hand only pitching drill mentioned above.

Henrik Stenson controls a shot with his set up and speed.

Another of a pro, Martin Kaymer, working on controlling his club with his right hand only.

And another shot of Martin practicing a 50 yard pitch.  Once again, notice the width his hands and the handle move back and through the swing.  His wrists are very quiet.  He allows the loft of the club to work by returning the club to the ball with the same loft as set up as Lee Trevino talks about above.  Beautiful pitching motion.  

Here is a great shot of Dufner hitting the low spinner.  Notice, to hit the low shot, he moves the ball back to his right foot at set up.  However, to get the spin, he keeps the swing wide and shallow.  He has great control of the handle through the shot and you can really see it in the slow motion video.  Learn from the best in the world!

If you have access to a Trackman, this will help you see your numbers and relate them to hitting low, spinning wedges.  Chuck Cook has always been a leader in instruction and I love that he evolved his teaching with technology every step of the way.

If you have time, also go to youtube and check out Secret in the Dirt's lessons with Phil Rodgers.  Those are also some great illustrations of how to teach and learn great wedge play.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Short Game Decathlon

Today, the SMU Women’s Golf Team participated in the Golf Olympics.  Today’s event was the Short Game Decathlon.  Here is the medal count from today’s games:

6’ Putts (Number of made putts)
·        Gold       Alex Rossi 5/5
·        Silver     3-way tie between Haley Tygret, Brigitte Dunne & Lindsey McCurdy with 3/5

15’ Putts (Number of made putts)
·        Gold       Jenny Haglund 2/5
·        Silver     3-way tie between Katie Page, Brigitte Dunne, Alex Rossi & Haley Tygret with 1/5

40’ Putts (Total sum of the distance of the 5 putts from the hole)
·        Gold       Haley Tygret – 54 inches
·        Silver     Lindsey McCurdy –  67 inches
·        Bronze  Katie Page – 90 inches

Short Chip (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole. )
·        Gold       Lindsey McCurdy – 18 inches 
·        Silver     Brigitte Dunne – 43 inches
·        Bronze  Jenny Haglund – 46 inches

Long Chip (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Lindsey McCurdy – 6.7 feet
·        Silver     Alex Rossi – 8.7 feet
·        Bronze  Brigitte Dunne – 11 feet

Short Sided Bunker Shot (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Lindsey McCurdy – 8.1 feet
·        Silver     Brigitte Dunne – 10.8 feet
·        Bronze  Alex Rossi -17.3 feet

Long Bunker Shots (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Haley Tygret -20.2 feet
·        Silver     Katie Page -28.6 feet
·        Bronze  Lindsey McCurdy -46.6 feet

Short side pitch from the rough (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Brigitte Dunne – 16 feet
·        Silver     Jenny Haglund – 20 feet
·        Bronze  Katie Page -25 feet

50 Yard Pitch Shot (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Jenny Haglund -27 feet
·        Silver     Haley Tygret -28 feet
           Bronze  tie between Katie Page and Brigitte Dunne with 38 feet.

50 Yard Bunker Shot (Players hit 5 shots and the closest and farthest shots were tossed out, leaving the middle three to be counted for distance from the hole.)
·        Gold       Katie Page -33 yards
·        Silver     Alex Rossi  -35 yards
·        Bronze Brigitte Dunne – 42 yards

Total Medal Count                                                               Gold                 Silver              Bronze

Jenny Haglund

Alex Rossi

Katie Page

Lindsey McCurdy

Brigitte Dunne


Haley Tygret

David and I learned a lot as we watched our players go through these games today.  Here are some of our thoughts.

The players were allowed to practice from each place until they wanted to start the competition.  This allowed them to dial in what they wanted. Rarely, if ever, did players adjust the shot they chose to hit for a different trajectory or club.  Instead, they tried harder to be more perfect if it was a tough shot.  For example, the 50 yard pitch they were given was from well below the level of the green where the hole was.  It was a bit damp because it was early in the morning.  The ball often skipped instead of spinning when it hit.  Only one of the six players hit high, soft shots into the hole.  The other five hit low, spinning wedges.  This was by far the toughest shot choice given the height of the green and the variability of the surface, yet during practice, they didn't try all shots.

On the pitch from the rough, only two players tried different clubs and different landing areas.  It was a tricky, downhill pitch shot with very little green to work with.  The majority of the practice for this shot was spent on landing the ball in the right spot instead of trying different shots. 

David saw the same with the chipping and bunker shots.  We both talked about the need for players to make adjustments to what they do during practice time.  A good drill for this would be to hit 3 different types of shots or 3 different clubs from every position around the green and deciding which the easiest or highest percentage shot was after trying them all. 

Another thing we learned was, we need to practice tough shots in practice.  So often, we drop our balls and hit shots we are comfortable with instead of shots that challenge us to stretch and learn.  Confidence isn't gained through easy success, but by battling through challenges and coming out a better player. 

The 50 yard bunker shot was really tough and we did pretty poorly as a team.  The point of this is, we will be playing in Austin in a few weeks and there are quite a few places on par 4’s and 5’s where you can be faced with a 50 yard bunker shot.  We need to game plan effectively to avoid that shot, because what we found out today is, 3 out of 5 of those will probably result in bogeys.  This is one of the reasons our par 5’s haven’t been as good this year as we would like.  We have placed ourselves in tough spots after our second shots and are often scrambling for par instead of putting for birdie.  We need to pay close attention to our lay-up shots or go for it when that presents the best option.

Finally, if you combine how we did with our 6 feet putts with our short game skills, you will notice that we have a high probability of getting the ball up and down when we have short chips or short bunker shots, but as we move away from the hole, our probability goes down.  This might seem like an obvious statement, but we need to do a better job of getting the ball within 6 feet whenever we have a chip, bunker shot or pitch.  That will give us a 60-70% chance of getting it up and down based on our putting stats.  In other words, after every pitching session, simply figuring out which balls are within a flagstick of the hole would be a good guide if you were successful.    

Next week’s practice will definite include a bunker clinic, a course-management talk and some work on hitting differing trajectories and different clubs for many shots.

Just in case you want to see our "real-world" short game and putting stats, here is a link to our golfstat page which includes all of our stats.  You will see that the player with the most gold medals, currently holds the lowest scoring average and the highest short game percentage.  The team's short game stats are over .500, which is a great thing, but we can always be better! 

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 ...