PGA Tour: Tee-to-green key to Donald’s rise

Article

Interesting article with an in-depth look at Luke Donald’s stats.  With Luke Donald ranking low on the driving distance category you would have expected him to rank higher in accuracy, given that his low ranking in distance would put him at a disadvantage on approaches from the rough.

I’ve always considered myself a decent iron player, but I’ve made a concerted effort as well to improve my accuracy off the tee.  I’ve noticed an improvement in my scores from that.  Here’s what Luke had to say about his improvement in this area.

“At the beginning of the year the focus was to get my percentages up, getting it more in the fairway, hitting more greens,” Donald said. “I think the last few years — I’ve said this before — I think I got it to a point where I was trying to hit the ball too hard.

“My swing got to a place I didn’t really like, and it was affecting me quite heavily off the tee. … For as far as I hit a ball, I needed to hit more fairways than I did.”

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?

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?

Never give up

Never Give Up
Never Give Up

GMac’s victory at the Chevron this weekend over Tiger Woods is a wonderful example of not giving up.

He continued fighting even as things seemed to be breaking down around him.  His miraculous bogey on 17 kept him in it.  Tiger then hit it tight on 18 giving McDowell a must make putt with a lot of pressure. He made a gritty 15 footer for birdie putting the pressure on Tiger’s short putt.

On the first playoff hole, as they played 18 again, Tiger left himself with an almost identical distance for his approach shot.  Graham had a shot from about 175 over the trees.  He hit a good shot and left himself a nearly identical putt to the one he made to force the playoff.

Tiger Woods hit a solid approach shot inside McDowell’s ball giving him an advantage.  As we all know, McDowell sank that putt again putting the pressure back on Tiger and Tiger’s putt slid past the cup, giving GMac an impressive victory.

I can’t really think of many people who would handle the pressure the way he did.  Think about how you would have handled the pressure.  I was absolutely amazed at the gritty resilience that GMac showed.  I know I couldn’t have handled that kind of pressure and it is inspiring for me.

I want to give you another example of not giving up.  In one of my last rounds this year I started out 7 over par for my first 9 holes.  Throughout those first nine, I just could not find my game.  My short game was off, my putting was off and my ball striking was off.  It was very frustrating.

I could have easily given up and gotten mad.  I could have complained about the weather, or the pace of play.  But stuck it out.  I determined that I was going to enjoy the rest of the round no matter what.

The back nine turned into the best nine holes I’ve had all season, scoring wise.  It was a real grinding round though.  On my tenth I hole missed the fairway way right.  I hit a short iron over the trees, onto the green and two putted for par.

On the next hole, a downhill par 5 with trouble right, I hit my tee shot into the right rough, laid up, missed the green short right with my approach from 115 but I managed to chip it to 8 feet and sink the putt for par.

The next hole brought the first birdie of the round along with the only fairway hit. Hit the green and sank a 10 footer for birdie.  The next hole is the number one handicap hole on the course.  I hit my drive through the fairway just missing a fairway bunker.  With 145 yards left, I hit an 8 iron to 10 feet and sank my 2nd birdie putt of the day.

The following hole brought me back to reality a bit.  A long par 3 with trouble left and long.  I hit my tee shot way right, hit a fat chip, chipped again into the bunker, splashed out on to the green and 2 putted for a double bogey 5.  I’m not going to lie to you, that one hurt.

On the next hole I hit a long straight drive that ended up in the rough through the fairway.  I had a decent lie and 225 yards left to a severely uphill par 5 green.  I took out my fairway wood and hit a solid shot out of the rough that came up 15 yards short of the green in the rough.  Chipped up and 2 putted for par.

The next hole, a dog leg right par 4 with severely tree trouble at the dog leg was next.  I hit a decent tee shot that got slightly past the dog leg but left me in the rough with a large overhanging tree.  I needed to hit a low shot that would get to the back of the green.  I hit a 3/4 6 iron from 155 that just got through the back of the green.  I had a decent lie so I opted for the hybrid chip and the ball stopped 2 inches from the cup.  Tap in par and on to the next hole.

The eighth hole on this back 9 is an uphill par 3 that reads 195 on the card but plays more like 205 – 215.  Although I was trying for a draw to the left side of the green, I left the club face open and the ball ended up down the right side.  I was left with a shot off hard pan, to a green 20 yards above my head and overhanging trees.  After much deliberation I selected a lofted club.  I hit a good shot and got a nice break off a branch that left the ball 4 feet from the cup.  I made the putt.

I call the last hole my nemesis.  It’s a hole that for some reason always gives me trouble.  It’s a long uphill par 4 with one of the toughest greens on the course.  I usually feel pretty good if I walk away with a bogey.  I hit my drive long, but right onto the next fairway.  I was left with a 200 yard shot over trees to a pin tucked on the right, 2 bunkers right in front of it.  The wind was swirling and in the end I picked a 4 iron.  I hit a good shot, but the wind killed it a bit and I ended up in the bunker, short sided to the pin.  My bunker play had recently been a strength so I felt the shot I wanted to hit.  I got cute with it and dumped it into the rough short of the hole.  Feeling par slip away, I took my PW and hoped to get it close.  Miraculously the shot went in and I saved my par.

On that back nine I hit 1 fairway in regulation, had a 1 chip in, and a grand total of 11 putts.  I don’t think that would have happened if I had given up after the first nine.  In the end I walked away feeling great.

Never give up.  You never know what can happen.

Lessons from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone

This week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational provided a unique learning experience.

Did their expectations do them in?

We saw the world’s number one player, struggle to his worst finish as a professional, while the number two player in the world was coping with a new kind of pressure, the chance to take the number spot away from Tiger Woods.

So why weren’t Tiger and Phil able to muster anything better than +7 and +8 respectively?  Was the course unfair?  Hunter Mahan shot a 64 on Sunday to win by two shots.  Goosen, Furyk, Harrington and Oosthuizen had good rounds in the mid 60s.  So I would say that the course was not unfairly setup.

I think two things happened.  It appeared that Mickelson became very technical. His swing wasn’t as fluid and powerful as he usually is.  And his putting was shaky at best.

I think Tiger phoned it in.  He had given up hope, he had lost his fight, and he just wanted to get out of there.

What’s interesting about the Tiger story for me is that he had felt that his game was where it needed to be.  He thought that he had found some keys to playing well again.  He also had a lot of confidence from the venue itself.  He had won 7 out of the last 10 times he played without finishing worse than 4th.  Given all those factors he came into the event expecting to contend, if not outright dominate.

Could Tiger’s expectations been his downfall?  Where they realistic based on the amount and the way he’s played this year?  Did he put pressure on himself in a way that he’s never really done?

Lesson learned

As a golfer who is working his game down to scratch (though I still have a way to go), I got a lot out of watching this event.  Surprisingly the lesson I came away with was to be kinder and more patient with myself.  If the world’s #1 and #2 players, can have days like those, why am I expecting so much of myself?  Why don’t I just play the game, shot by shot, and see where that takes me?

Recently I had worked really hard to prepare for my local city championship.  It was my first time qualifying for the event at the Championship division, meaning there was no handicap.  I prepared for several weeks, and felt my game was ready for the event.  I ended up playing some of my worst golf in recent memory in those two days and missed the cut by a wide margin, and although I can’t draw a direct comparison to what happened with Tiger and Phil, I believe I can learn from what I saw this week at the WGC.

It is frustrating to show up at the course without the game you know you are capable of.  It is even more frustrating when it is a tournament situation and you realize you just don’t have it that day.  How can you turn it around?  How can you post a good score, when you don’t have it, and how do you change what you are thinking so that you can change the experience?

Days like that happen to everyone.  If you come in with high expectations you automatically put more pressure on yourself.  But you can’t come into it with low expectations either.  I think one of the hardest things to do is to set aside your expectations and just play the game.

There’s a lesson in every shot

As I kept thinking about what the way Tiger and Phil played, for some reason I thought about that Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want”.  I think that every round of golf, every shot has a lesson, “But if you try sometimes/you just might just find/you get what you need”.  I’m using that tournament experience as something I can learn from.  And just remember, it happens to everyone.  Be kind to yourself, stay patient, and good things are bound to happen when you get out of your own way.

US Open: Strategy, Ball Striking and Putting will determine winner

Watching the marquee group on usopen.com, you begin to get a sense for what these players are facing.  This is a stern test of golf on a scale that is hard to me imagine for me not having played any conditions like that in my life.

The rough is truly punishing, the fairways are fast and the greens, well, it’s amazing these guys can keep it on there, and even more amazing when you see shots land softly.

In a sense it both magnifies their almost superhuman abilities, and yet it also shows them in ways that resemble the way we often feel as golfers.  I don’t often see tour players be so uncertain, careful, and vulnerable as they can be during this tournament.  And yet it also elevates them simultaneously.  Great shots are even more spectacular and magnificent because of the difficult conditions.

It does feel like golf as it should be.  I’m not saying that they should play open conditions every week, or that average golfers should be faced with open conditions.  But watching the PGA tour week in and week out, they can make the game seem too easy.  Then again TV coverage is normally skewed, showing the best players on the planet, on their best days.  One of the reasons I love watching them in person is that you can follow players who aren’t playing their best and you’ll see that even if they are spraying the ball (which tour players are capable of) they manage to score well.

Strategy

With the tough conditions at Pebble Beach, strategy becomes even more crucial.  It’s amazing to listen to players and their strategies because they are all different.  Phil Mickelson, in his news conference basically said that he wants to play defensively off the tee, so that he can be aggressive on his approaches to the greens.  Yet other players have talked about being more defensive, with the emphasis on making pars as the #1 priority.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how different strategies succeed.  This a tournament where missing it in the right place is crucial.

Ball Striking

Strategy is crucial but just as important is ball striking.  Fairways and greens are even more important.  Ball striking allows you to execute the strategy.  The firm greens at Pebble Beach will require absolutely precise ball striking in order to keep the ball on the green and have any shot at making par.

Watching the analysts on Golf Channel yesterday, I was amazed when I kept hearing that some greens are unhittable.  The 17th hole is like that when the flag is on the left.  Any shot from the tee that actually hits and stays on the green will have been hit absolutely perfectly.

Putting

I don’t think much needs to be said about putting as it is absolutely crucial to putt well in a US open.  Poa greens are tricky, especially for the players who did not grow up playing them.  The ball will bounce so putts need to be stroked solidly, but speed control on these fast greens will be absolutely crucial.  Good putting will save pars and bogeys.  But I’m sure we’ll see some examples of putting that will shock average golfers in all kinds of ways.

Sometimes in golf we need to unlearn before we can learn

The Golf Brain

The last couple of weeks have been up and down in terms of my scores, but I have learned some very valuable lessons along the way.

In my last five rounds I have two of my best scores for the season, two of my worst, and an average round.  What does that tell you?  It tells me that golf is a game of patience.  You can’t control the outcome.  You can only control your process.

Golf is interesting because you can’t force a good shot, you can only let it happen, but you can definitely do a lot of things to create bad shots.  The opposite of that is what I think sports psychologists call “getting out of your own way”.

Over the last few weeks I’ve kept plugging away and practicing what I learned from my coach Eben Dennis.  What’s interesting is that little by little the pieces are coming together, but only because I’m still working on them.  Most golfers, when they take a lesson, or try to make a swing change, take a short term approach.  I don’t think they do it on purpose, but I think they get frustrated when they are not getting results.  So they start to think that what they were learning doesn’t work.  It might be because they tried to take it to the golf course and when it failed there, they assumed the idea or concept is broken.  They dump it and start working on another idea, trying a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.  But what if it wasn’t the idea or concept that was broken?  What if they just didn’t take the time they needed to really get it?

You can’t become a better player if you’re constantly trying and throwing out ideas.  Some things take a while to learn.  And sometimes, we need to unlearn before we can learn.  Drop bad habits so that you can make room for good habits.

One of these bad habits I had, which I didn’t even realize was that I was re gripping my club during the swing. I’m not sure if it was on the back swing or on the downswing, but at impact, the club was in a very different position from where it started in my hands.  Here’s the thing though, I didn’t figure this out until a few weeks after seeing Eben.  And once I figured it out, I needed to unlearn this habit, before I could pick up the habit of maintaining my grip in the same position throughout the swing.

Now that I’ve worked on it, there is one less compensation to make and this has made a world of difference.  It has taught me to use the club as it was designed to be used.  Sounds like a simple and common sense statement doesn’t it?  Use the club as it was intended to be used.  But the truth is that few very few golfers actually do that.  They use it as they think it’s supposed to be used, not as it was actually intended to be used and there’s a big difference.  If you go to the driving range you will see golfer after golfer, chopping away at the ball.  You’ll see them get into all kinds of contortions as they make compensations to get the club on the ball.

But the truth is that the club was not designed to require all these compensations and extra effort at the ball.  It was designed for ease of use to let the ball get in the way, and to use the loft and the club head to do the work as the ball simply bounces of the club face.  Think about that for a few minutes.  Marinade your mind in that thought.  The ball bounces off the face of the club, no extra effort needed and no need to chop at it.

This morning’s round is a sign that I’m working on the right things.  I shot a 76, that could easily have been a 70 if only a few more putts had gone in.  This round simply ramps up my determination to continue to work with the concepts I’ve been learning.  Control, Vision and Dynamic balance.  Get Power Feel Golf to understand what these mean in the golf swing.

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.

Asking the right questions

The Golf BrainI was reading Fearless Golf by Dr. Gio Valiante, and in chapter 4 he talks about the questions that guide us.  I’m reminded of that scene in “The Matrix” where Trinity and Neo are at the nightclub early in the movie and she says to him, “It’s the question that drives us.”  In his case the question was “What is the Matrix?”, but in golf the question is “What is my target?”.

Often though we get caught up in things like our score, our competitors, pressure, what I did on the last hole, or 3 holes ago and we get away from asking “What is my target?”.  But Dr. Valiante is right.  The questions do drive us.  Asking the right questions can help us play better, make better decisions and keep us in the moment, while asking the wrong questions, can quickly take us out of the moment and down that road we’ve been before, and we know where that road ends.

The wrong questions introduce fear and distractions, they make us focus on the past or on the future, and they take us out of the zone if we were in it, or more likely, just take us further away from being in the zone.

So how do we get to the point where we are asking the right questions?  One of the key ways I think is to think well about the strategy, the way we want to play the hole.  Thinking about strategy puts us back squarely in the present.  Asking ourselves the question “How do I want to play this hole?” is much more constructive than something like, “I usually hit way right on this hole, what if I do that again? Or worse, what if I hit it in the water?  What if I look like a fool?”.  One question gets your mind moving in a direction that allows you to marshal your resources, the other takes you out of the present, introduces fear and doubt, and makes it hard to focus on this shot right now.

This is where something like Game Sense is very helpful.  Listening to the program will teach you those strategies.  Then when you ask yourself “How do I want to play this hole?” you can pull up strategies that work.  Instead of focusing on useless, doubt creating questions, you can strategize and step up to the ball confidently because you know that with the right strategy, even if you don’t hit the perfect shot, you can get away with it and miss it good.  That alone can result in more confident and fearless golf.

So remember, it’s the question that drives us.  Choose the right question and you move in the right direction.  Choose the wrong question and it’s like trying to play with one hand  tied behind your back.

Be your own caddy

Man putting at golf course.As I kid I learned how to play golf on a golf course with caddies.  We never took the golf cart, but we usually had a couple of caddies.

The caddies were great.  Not only were they super nice and friendly, they knew the course so well that you couldn’t help but play better.  They kept you in the game, recommended the right strategies and clubs.

I don’t get to play with a caddy anymore.  So I’ve had to learn to become my own caddy.  I’ve had to learn the right strategies.  I’ve had to learn to deal with the disappointment of making a bad swing.  The caddies were great with that.  They could always make you laugh.

I think that if everybody could play with a good caddy, that the scores of the average golfer would really drop.  Playing with a caddy really takes pressure off.  Your mind can be much more quiet, thinking about the shot, rather than trying to calculate everything.  But since most people don’t get to play with caddies then they need some help.

I think it’s great that GPS devices have come along.  They can certainly help with strategy, that is if you know the strategies then you can get the most out of your gps.  If you don’t know the strategies and you only know distances, then you won’t be able to play your best golf.

Caddies will give you the right club if there’s trouble in back.  They’ll give you the right club if there’s trouble to carry.  But range finders won’t do that.  They’ll only give you distances.  It’s up to you to use the right strategies.  I’ve been writing a lot about strategy lately because I really believe that golfers can cut their scores by simply playing better strategic golf.  The problem is that most golfes never take short game lessons, they never take playing lessons where they can learn the strategies, and so it’s almost like their playing with one hand tied behind their back.

The golf course architects use all kinds of tricks to get players to make bad decisions.  And these bad decisions, lead to double bogey or worse.  Simply knowing these tricks can help players beat the course architects.  If everyone could play with a caddy, these problems could be avoided.  However, most players are on their own, solo golfers battling the golf course, the conditions, the architects, their opponents if in a match, and themselves.  That’s why we created Game Sense: Tee to Green.  It gives you the knowledge to be your own caddy, and play your best golf.