Rickie Fowler – He gets it

Watching Morning Drive this morning, I was in total agreement with the comments that Brandel Chamblee (@BrandelChamblee) made about Rickie Fowler.

“You understand the best way to play golf, this is my opinion, is to go out there and try to hit shots…You know,it’s the big lie to me, that you can go out there and swing perfectly.  And I understand why guys do it.  I mean literally they’re trying to play this game in the most organized fashion, there’s so much money out there, and if you can stay on tour a long time, you can get ridiculously rich. So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna work out, you’re gonna get a sports psychologist And you’re going to take all these lessons ’cause you want everything to be perfect. And Rickie’s like ‘No, I’m gonna go out and I’m gonna hit golf shots. I’m gonna hit it high, I’m gonna hit it low, I’m gonna draw it, fade it.’  And I know it’s because of the way he was taught the game. His teacher was very much into hitting golf shots. And that’s why he plays fast.  Because he’s not out there thinking about a pre-shot routine, and he’s not out there thinking about swing mechanics. He’s out there thinking about golf shots.”

There’s a ton of wisdom in what Brandel said this morning.  This is why Rickie is the future of golf.  And I think he is going to stun us with what he is going to accomplish in his career.

I want to contrast this style of play with Tiger Woods.  And my intention is not to bash Tiger but to look at differences.

Tiger Woods when he was dominant could hit every shot in the book and then some.  He created that famous stinger and it appears he doesn’t even have that shot any more.  Tiger said he is thinking about his swing and swing mechanics now before every shot and it looks that way.  When he gets off track, he goes into repair mode, and it’s mechanics, mechanics, mechanics.  The artfulness seems to be have left him, at least for now.

On the other hand, Rickie Fowler (and several other players, most notably Bubba Watson), look like golf artists.  They see shots, and they hit shots.  They use the golf course as their canvas and they create masterpieces of golf.  Plus they’re really fun to watch.

So where does this leave us (the amateur golfer)?  Well, for one, I know when I’m playing my best it’s when I’m seeing and hitting shots and when I’m not thinking about mechanics.  There are times when golf seems so much easier.  Conversely, when I’m playing poorly, it’s all about mechanics.  The swing ends up feeling like it’s separate from me. And it feels forced.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you know that I’ve moved away from mechanics to a feel based approach, where I not only see the shots I’m trying to create, but try to feel what it’ll feel like to hit them.  And every shot is unique and feels differently.  This makes golf more fun, and the end result for me has been better scores, more fun, and not having to practice as much.

Other posts about Rickie Fowler:

Pro’s slow motion swings

Rickie Fowler – a result of Consistent Coaching

Stuck in a slump?

That new strange feeling – making swing changes stick

I’ve written before about making swing changes stick.  It’s a shame to spend money on lessons, or time with your coach, and quickly revert back to what you were doing.  It’s not a good use of time or money.  So how do we change that?  How do we make sure that the changes we are making actually stick.

When I’ve had a good session with my coach, I know it because what he is trying to get me to do feels strange.  It’s not something I’m used to.  It’s important to remember that feeling of it being strange.  I think though because it’s strange, it’s unfamiliar and it doesn’t stick.  It feels uncomfortable and on some level we don’t want to do it, but we need to get familiar with the unfamiliar in order to change.

If you look at most amateur golfers, they take lessons, but they don’t really get better.  Part of that is practice time and not having enough of it.  But I think a more significant reason is that as soon as the lesson ends, we start forgetting what was being taught.  We start forgetting how it feels.  And we start intellectualizing it.  And a golf swing, is not something you want to do intellectually.  You want to feel it, and you want to do it.  You want it to be automatic.

Recently I met with a golf pro friend and we talked about the swing changes I’ve been working on over the winter.  He acknowledged that I’ve made solid progress and then had me implement a little adjustment, to bring my hands closer to my body on the down swing.

It felt good, but it definitely felt strange.  Over the past few days, I’ve concentrated on maintaining that feeling.  I’ve made hundreds of practice swings with that thought, and I can feel it becoming a part of me.  It’s not a hundred percent there, but I know I’m making progress.

I think it’s important to ingrain these feelings at first without a ball, as the introduction of the ball, messes up a lot of players.  The tensions that ball can create, limits how much you can feel, it’s distracting and it leads to going back to old habits.  Practice the feeling without the ball, until you can really really feel it, the gradually introduce the ball.  It will make all the difference and help those swing changes stick.

Twelve Days at the Academy (Golf Channel)

Since this blog is focused on getting better, let’s take a look at the Golf Channel’s 12 Days at the Academy.  What I have been doing is recording the shows onto my DVR and then watching them for the most solid information.  Since we all are all working on different parts of the game and we have different strengths and weaknesses you may not agree entirely with me on my assessment.

The episodes I have so far are: Michael Breed, Brandel and Frank, Martin Hall, Greg Normal, Mediate and Ballard, Annika Sorenstam, and Sean Foley.

Strong Episodes

For me, the two most impactful episodes have been Brandel and Frank and Sean Foley.

I was surprised at how good and useful Brandel and Frank’s content was for players of any level. The they did a terrific job showing impact and providing drills.  My favorite drill was dragging the club from a foot and half behind the ball.

The other episode that made an impact was Sean Foley’s.  I am a big fan of the swings of Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair.  They both have awesome rotational swings, and hit the ball a long way and accurately.  What I like that Sean Foley did was emphasize hitting it solid by hitting the ball first and minizing sway away from the ball.  He said you there is lateral movement in the golf swing but you want to it to be toward the target.  This episode works really well with the Brandel and Frank’s episode on Impact Position.

Unfortunately I was less than enthusiastic about the other episodes.  I felt that Annika’s, Rocco’s were for the most part aimed at higher handicap golfers.  There’s nothing wrong with that but I personally got very little out of them.

Weak Episodes

Michael Breed’s episode was middle of the road for me.  Not fantastic but not bad.  He had some very good things to say about spin, and his demonstration of how left to right spin cuts distance was solid. I also like the tip his dad gave him about feeling like he’s swinging in a shampoo bottle to improve tempo.

Martin Hall

Although I liked a lot of what he has to say about the golf swing, he is a bit quirky for me.  Understandably he seemed a little bit nervous as this is a huge moment and opportunity for him.  However I found him to be very gadget focused.  Not many people will go out and build a swing plane, attach lasers to their clubs, or build the bungee cord contraption.  That being said he made a lot of valid points aimed, in my opinion at the mid and high handicapper.

Overall I’ve enjoyed the series so far and I’m looking forward to see what Player, Palmer and Nicklaus have to say, along with Dave Stockton.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the show?  What is the most important thing you have learned from it?

A year of “Journey to Scratch” and ZenChili.com

Fall Golf in CTWell it’s Fall again, the leaves are changing all around new England.

It’s also been about a year since ZenChili.com was started and this blog was born.  It’s been quite an amazing year and I wanted to thank all of you who have come to read the blog, comment and inspire me.

Highlights of the first year of “Journey to Scratch” on ZenChili.com

Great Coach

I got introduced to an amazing coach who has really changed my game and outlook on golf.  No matter what I’m working on, practicing or thinking about when it comes to golf, it has forever been altered by his influence.  Eben Dennis is his name and you should check out Power Feel Golf when you have a moment.  He has taken me from being overly analytical and technical to more fluid, creative, and feel based.  His coaching has made the game simpler and more fun.

If you ever have the opportunity to get a lesson from him, do it, you’ll be glad you did.

Golf Marathon with the New York Jets for the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation

I had an amazing opportunity to help out a great cause, and play some excellent golf.  Rob Pritts of Back 9 Promotions organized the event with Brandon Moore and his buddies from the New York Jets.  I ended up playing over 50 holes of golf with Danny Woodhead and Jim Leonard.  It was an amazing experience.  Great guys who were a blast to play some seriously fun golf with.

Game Sense Golf

I worked with Eben to put together this program.  It beautifully captures the strategies Eben has learned not only from some of the legends of golf (Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke Jr), but those he has learned over a lifetime of playing and teaching the game.  It was a pleasure working with him to put this program together, and I expect some great things in the next year for the Game Sense Golf platform.

Product Reviews

Over the last year I’ve had the chance to review some great products and training aids.  Some of my favorites include the Optishot from Dancin’ Dogg, the Vharness, the Taly Mind Set, the Tour Striker, and Aaron Baddeley: Putting from See It Golf, and The Orange Whip.

The products make bold claims, but live up to the hype.  They are excellent tools to improve your golf game.  Some of these I use every day, others when I need a tune up in some area.  My criteria is simple, do they work and do they help you improve your golf game?

PGA Tour

No, I’m not ready yet for the PGA Tour.  However, I have had some phenomenal opportunities recently to meet and greet players from the Tour.  I had the chance to meet Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Matt Kuchar, Camillo Villegas and several others.

Straight Down the Middle

Josh Karp, the author of this excellent book, got in touch with me to take a look at his book.  I felt like we had gone on a similar journey.  I hope one day to play golf with Josh and swap stories on the 19th hole.  This book captures the ride that in some way we are all on when we pick up a club, get hooked on the game, and try the next thing to get better.

Stay Tuned

So a lot has happened in the past year.  I don’t know what’s in store for year 2 of “Journey to Scratch” but I’m sure I’ll be as surprised as you.  I plan to have some new and exciting reviews, events, and of course I’ll be passing on lessons that improve my game and hopefully yours as well.

Thank you for visiting and I hope that some of what I’ve shared has had a positive impact in your golf life.

Develop great rhythm and tempo in your golf swing by practicing bunker shots

Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo
Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo

Bunker play.  What comes to mind for you?  Does it fill you with fear?  Do you think, “how many shots will it take to get out”?

This is one of the areas that amateur golfers practice the least.  And it’s one area where the average golfer can really save a ton of strokes.  So practicing bunker shots can save you shots and has a number of extra benefits.

  1. Bunker shots become much easier.
  2. Lose the fear of being in a green-side bunker.
  3. Help with rhythm and tempo.
  4. Smooth out your swing.

The first two benefits are pretty obvious.  Practice from the bunker and not only will it get easier, but yes, you will lose the fear of being in a bunker.

The last two benefits are not obvious.  How could practicing bunker shots help with rhythm and tempo, and smooth out your swing?

The other day I decided to practice for one full hour hitting shots from the greenside bunker in the short game practice area at my local course.  It was an area I had neglected recently as I, for some reason, almost never end up in a greenside bunker.  I don’t know why that is, but it’s true.  Regardless, I wanted to become more comfortable with bunker shots.

As I practiced I realized something.  I have a fairly quick transition in my swing, when it gets too quick, I start losing accuracy and my ball striking degrades.  In the bunker,  too quick of transition led to bunker shots that were too fat or too thin where I caught too much ball.  I also felt on my good bunker shots, that the transition was just right, and I felt the forgiveness of the bunker really help smooth things out.

What most amateur golfers don’t realize is that a bunker shot has the most margin for error of basically any shot in golf.  You can hit the sand from 1 to 6 inches behind the ball and still have a reasonable result.  I noticed that when my transition was smooth, I hit beautiful shots out of the bunker that went high, landed soft, and spun to a quick stop.  Over the course of that hour, my bunker shots got better and better where I could land 6 to 8 out of 10 within a couple of feet of my intended target.  But the most powerful effect was the smoothness that I felt in the shots.  My swings out of the bunker felt so right.  The timing was good, the rhythm was great, and they just flowed.

After 1 hour of hitting bunker shots, I proceeded to practice chips, pitches and lob shots.  The tempo from the bunker stayed with me, and I hit some really great short game shots.

I think the main reason that bunker shots encourage such great rhythm is that you’re not actually trying to hit the ball.  You have an area of sand behind the ball that you want your sand wedge to enter, and like I said, you’re not actually trying to hit the ball.  So you are practicing 3/4 to half swings that are real shots but where you’re not hitting the golf ball, you’re hitting the sand, and this changes the focus.

I have found this to be a really great part of the game to practice because in the process of becoming a better bunker player, you’ll improve your rhythm and timing, which will help your overall game.

What were the great players of the past thinking when they played golf?

Ever wonder what Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke Jr and other great players of the past were thinking while playing golf?  What would be it be like to in their heads as they prepared to hit a shot, and how would it differ from the way many players approach the game today?  Eben Dennis had the chance when he was younger to spend some time those legends, and learned from them how they approached the game.

They were using their feel and imagination not thinking about their backswing or swing plane. They were artists with the club being their paint brush. They played golf and not golf swing. They understood the tools they were using like a carpenter understands his. They developed routines that would allow them to repeat how they prepared to play the shot at hand. They prepared for the golf course as if it were a chess match. As Hogan once said a golfer playing golf without feel would be like a deaf man trying to play the piano by ear.  They knew the equipment was built for ease of use and respected its value.

Most from that era also learned to play during the wooden shaft era and if they swung too hard they would break the clubs so they stayed with that feeling when steel shafts came along and allowed players to slash at the ball without penalty of a broken club. They also understood as many of the best players do today that the golf ball just gets in the way of going forward toward the target instead of hitting at it like most players do. The best understood that you can control the club effectively only from your fingers and that everything supports what they do.

In short they were doing little thinking and mostly creating.

How often have you played golf with a state of mind like this?  How often have you thought of yourself as an artist, with the golf club and ball as your paint brush, and the golf course as your canvas.

Eben also shared a story with me about the time he had a chance to play 9 holes with the Champions Golf club founder Jimmy Demaret.  Mr. Demaret hadn’t competed in about 10 years and hadn’t swung a club in months,  yet played nine holes with Eben and shot 31, making it look effortless and easy.  Afer the fifth time of Eben asking him how he could make it look so easy after not swinging a club for so long, Mr. Demaret looked at him and said “I just look where I want to go, then feel the shot and go there.”

Fore! Golf Marathon at Crystal Springs

Crystal Springs Golf Club

On Wednesday, May 19th, I played in the golf marathon for the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation at Crystal Springs resort in New Jersey.

It was one of the best golf experiences I have had in my life.  The resort is beautiful and the Crystal Springs golf course is a very challenging layout.  Although it’s not as long as some other courses, you must keep the ball in play and on the fairway.  And even if you manage to hit the fairway you need to be in the correct side of the fairway.  There are very few flat lies on the fairways and even less of them in the rough.  The rough is full of punishing grass moguls that make it difficult hit good shots to the large, but fast undulating greens.  This course has some of the largest greens I have played on, but you must be in the right part of the green to have a good putt at birdie or even par.

Besides the beauty and difficulty of the golf course, the whole day was so much fun.  Once I checked in with Rob Pritts of Back9Promotions, the man behind the golf marathon, we got some breakfast and an opportunity to meet some of the other golfers and participants including about 10 players from the New York Jets.  I ended up playing with 3 of the Jets, 2 of them for over 50 holes of golf.

I ended up playing a total of 63 holes of golf.  It was the most I have ever played in one day, and although it was tiring, the whole experience was amazing.  The two Jets I played with were wide receiver Danny Woodhead and safety Jim Leonard.  Both of these guys have excellent golf games.  One of the contests during the day was to see who could play the most number of holes with a Bridgestone ball that was handed out at the beginning of the day.  Danny Woodhead ended up playing his Bridgestone for 33 holes and ended up winning the prize (a very nice Bridgestone Staff Bag).  I unfortunately lost mine on the 2nd hole.

The foursome

Crystal Springs Classic Course #2

One of the my favorite holes on the Crystal Springs course was the 2nd hold on the Classic 9.  It was also the hole on which I started my day.  It is a 185 yard hole 75 feet below the tee, across a quarry pool to a bow tie (or dog bone) shaped green.  The first time I played the hole, I over clubbed and hit a 5 iron off the roof of the house that bounced back onto the green from where I made my par.

I was also proud to be wearing a golf shirt donated by L.O.F.T. golf of Hartford, CT.  And I was able to deliver a putter donated by the Roll-Master Golf called “The Ringer“, which makes a sweet sound, like fine crystal, when you hit a putt on the sweet spot, for the $10,000 putting contest.

A tough tee shot

Although the day was about golf, it was also very rewarding to raise money for a great cause.  The Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation creates wow experiences for families with a parent diagnosed with late stage cancer.  It is very sad to think that the kids in those families are going to lose a mom or a dad.  In the end we raised about 35,000 for the foundation.

Today’s Round – swing changes and surprising strategy pay off

Today I headed up to play Richter Park Golf Course, one of the public course gems in Danbury, Connecticut.  I was unsure of what results I was going to get as this morning I decided to implement some swing changes.  I also upon arrival at the course, took my 4 wood out of the bag.  This club has been giving me trouble recently as the shaft has a completely different flex than what I am now used to in my irons.  I decided that I did not even want to be tempted by it.

After hitting a few wayward drives (two that went OB on me) I decided to also leave the driver in the bag the rest of the round.  I just wasn’t feeling comfortable with it and it just wasn’t working well with the swing changes.  Besides Richter Park is not so long that I would miss the driver.  So I spent most of the round teeing off my 18 degree Cobra Baffler pro hybrid and decided that I would play the par 5s as 3 shot holes.

I was hitting the hybrid probably 20 yards behind where I would normally hit my driver and so much straighter.  On one hole I went hybrid – lob wedge and ended up about 8 feet from the pin slightly above the hole.  The only hole where driver would really have made a difference for me was 18.  I thinned the hybrid and ended up with 205 to the back of the green, to a green perched roughly 15 yards above me.  I would have proffered a shorter second shot but that’s golf.

I was pretty amazed at how well the swing changes worked.  My irons were crisp and very straight.  I ended up with an 81 that could have been even better had I left the driver in the car from the beginning.  I had 2 drives that went OB on me, and without those penalties the score could have been much lower.  However, my irons were crisp, as were my wedges.  I had really solid distance control all day and I’m excited for what these swing changes will bring.

During the round I also decided to implement the strategy from this article about asking the right questions.  The other thing that has improved my scoring is Game Sense.  Even when I don’t hit pure shots, I’m leaving myself good opportunities to save my score.  Deciding on the correct strategy based on what I brought to the course that day has now become second nature and it really makes the game so much more fun.  I recognize what the course architects are trying to do to trick golfers and I can very easily select the right strategy.  Sun Tzu said, and I’m paraphrasingm that every battle is won or lost before it has even begun.  Although golf is not a battle it is a competition between you and the golf course.  Use the right strategies and make the best decisions and you give yourself good opportunities to play well.

Golf Event: Help children who have a parent with late stage cancer

event_7789In a few weeks I will be taking part in an amazing event to help the Jack and Jill Foundation.

As you can imagine being diagnosed with a late stage cancer is a tragic event.  Even more so, when a parent has young children.  There are countless memories that they will never get to share.  Graduations, weddings, first jobs, first apartment and untold more.

The Jack and Jill Foundation steps in to help children with a parent that has been diagnosed with late stage cancer to have an opportunity to get a vacation from the cancer, and to help them create some lasting memories.  I am very proud to be a supporter of the Jack and Jill Foundation and I hope that you will join me.  Click here to see a video of what this foundation is doing.

On May 19, I am participating in the FORE! Jack and Jill Golf Marathon.  This is a one day event of golf and fun to help raise funds to so that the foundation can meets its goals of helping as many children as possible who are going through these incredibly difficult circumstances and who are going to experience a tragic loss.

If you would like to help, please follow this link to the pledge page to make donation.  Just a dollar per hole can make a tremendous difference.  Thank you for your support.