Tiger Returns

Well put a nine-iron through the window, look who’s coming back to play golf.  If you ascribe to the Horses for Courses theory, this is the right move for the seven-time Firestone winner.  Despite his historical dominance, Tiger finished 78th out of 80 in last year’s Bridgestone and hit the ball just terribly.  Can we expect an improved performance next week?  Let’s compare his situation from a year ago.  Last year he had played every 2-3 weeks leading up to Bridgestone with appearances at Memorial, U.S. Open, AT&T, and British Open.  Now, Tiger is newly divorced (albeit 12 months further removed from the scandal), has fired his long-time caddy, has rehabbed a recent injury to leg and Achilles, has a new mechanical-minded genius (Sean Foley) counseling him on his game, and hasn’t played in 11 weeks since withdrawing at The Players Championship.   The fact is Tiger is now a middle of the road pro with a ton of mental and physical baggage.  The champion we once new is gone forever.

Olympic Golf – Really?

What is the point of adding golf to the Olympic Games?  I know this decision was made in 2009 for the 2016 games, but does anyone really think this will add any interest outside of what is already been generated on a global scale?  I’m sure the feel good set views this as bringing the game to those who can’t afford it or live in repressed areas where the opportunities don’t exist.  So as soon as Olympic golf takes the world by storm, we’ll start seeing youngsters in Jamaica and Republic of Chad participating by the thousands in newly constructed learning centers and tearing up their local mini tours and competing against the world’s best for spots on the PGA Tour.

This is really about letting the stars on the PGA and European Tours march around the opening ceremony waving their country’s flag and adding the title of Olympic Athlete to their resume.  The addition of professionals has permanently altered the landscape of the Olympics and not for the better.  I took great pride in the U.S. basketball and hockey teams trying to beat the “career” Olympians that the Russians continually fielded, but with the introduction of the U.S. Dream Team in 1992, the lure of the amateur competition eroded.  The world’s best professional golfers already compete every year on multiple occasions so adding Olympic golf will do nothing but over saturate the existing market.

Obviously this is a done deal, so somebody please tell me how the Olympic golf tournament will work.  How many entrants do you allocate to each country; four, six, unlimited?  Do you have qualifying with pros and amateurs like the U.S. Open and British Open?  If you insist upon participation from all countries you knowingly take spots away from the best players in the world, or do you let the top 80-100 professionals in the world ranking compete?  Would this be the 5th major?  The 2016 Olympics are set for August 5-21, right when the PGA is normally scheduled – do you move the PGA?  And what if Tiger Woods can’t qualify, God forbid.  Do you deny him the mantle of Olympic Athlete?

Getting to scratch

Been reading Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and I’m beginning to understand the importance of setting specific goals and executing on deliberate practice to achieve excellence in my golf.  For the last 20-25 years I’ve maintained a 5-handicap and have been resigned to the fact that I can’t improve based on time limitations.  Essentially, I play once every two weeks and practice once or twice a week, spending the majority of my time on short game.  Is it possible to get to a three or two handicap, or maybe even scratch with this level of commitment?  I think so because what has held me back has been inconsistent ball striking and I believe I finally understand the source of the problem.

In an earlier post I had found a swing fault where I kept taking the club too far inside on my backswing.  I now understand this to be the cause of my inconsistency.  I remember seeing a drill by Michael Breed on The Golf Channel and tried it with instant success back on June 12.  My next round I hit the ball poorly and subsequently filmed my swing which showed I had reverted to my old fault.  Since then I’ve hit balls on five separate occasions and played one round, all with the same excellent ball striking.  The consistency is incredible and before every practice session I feel excited with anticipation, like a kid on Christmas morning.

I am a big advocate of short game practice and have worked hard over the last couple of years and while my scrambling has improved my handicap has not.  For the last four years I’ve been averaging 8 GIR  which is a clear indicator of poor ball striking and I suspect most single digit handicappers hit at least half their greens.  The good news is that this swing fix has been easy to implement and doesn’t require much range work.  Today I validated with about 25 swings with my PW, Driver, and 7-iron and striped it again.  If I can average 12 GIR with this simple adjustment, could I expect to drop two shots per round?  That’s the plan to get me to a 3 handicap by the end of the season.  If I keep working/improving on short game at the current rate, I’m thinking scratch is possible in two years.  Gotta reach for the stars and maybe I’ll get my head in the clouds before too long.

Tiger fires Steve Williams

Did Tiger fire Stevie or did Stevie quit?  Williams has been riding the Adam Scott horse for the last few tournaments under the assumption that he was on loan to Adam but the Kiwi and Aussie seem to get along great and Scott is playing well.  Don’t think Tiger’s problems have anything to do with Williams and maybe he was thinking change for the sake of change.  Maybe the request to work for Scott in the U.S. Open looked like a disloyal move on Williams’ part.  In the Tiger camp, the latest change to swing coach Sean Foley hasn’t worked out, with Tiger now a total mechanical head case.  New caddy going to fix that?  No way.  We’ll see who lines up next to join the circus but first Stevie goes on the money making circuit.  Can’t wait to buy the tell-all book!

Update, August 7, 2011:  Wow!.  Can you believe Stevie’s post-round comments after Adam Scott’s victory in the WGC Bridgestone?  It’s as if Scott didn’t even win the tournament and the whole world revolves around Stevie.  While discussing his affinity for finishing first in everything he does, Williams said, “This is the greatest week of my life.”  Pretty strong statement for a guy who’d been on the bag for 13 major wins with Tiger not to mention a huge finger in the eye of his former boss.  Little bitter there Stevie?

Destination Pinehurst Number Two!

Just booked a trip over Labor Day weekend to play Pinehurst #2 along with rounds on #4 and #8 – can’t wait!  #2 is on my bucket list, and as with any golf vacation I will try to peak my game for the effort.  When I travel annually to Myrtle Beach, I’m pretty familiar with what types of greens I’ll be putting and what type of short shots will be required but I’ve never been to Pinehurst and am looking for advice and or playing tips for any of the courses so please send your comments!

Of course, detailed course reviews and an evaluation of the entire Pinehurst travel operation are coming so stay tuned!

Film your swing!

Two weeks ago I came home from the course incredibly frustrated with my inability to hit the ball.  I had been working hard on a change to keep my backswing on plane and was disappointed with the lack of progress under game conditions.  Hitting big pulls with every club in the bag created a mental grind and was putting too much pressure on my short game.  My daughter took this video snippet of my swing in the backyard and BANG!  On went the light bulb.  What do you see that might cause a big pull?

My take:  My stance is too narrow and my right toe is angled out which creates an unstable base for me to coil against.  I’ve got a little too much weight on my left side at address and my club is still coming too far inside on the backswing.  As I complete my shoulder turn, I continue to raise the club with my hands, which causes me to lose control at the top and finally, I slide my weight forward instead of turning and hitting against a firm left side.  Presto, I’ve got my big pull, not to mention a slew of other potential problems.

The fix:  It’s never a good idea to fix too many things at once but I saw this as an opportunity to do most of the corrective work before I swung the club (in my setup) and only employ a single in-swing thought.  So I widened my stance, squared up my right toe, and shaded my weight to the right at address.  My only swing thought was to take the club back outside the line and after my shoulder turn had finished stop the backswing.  Essentially, I felt like I was taking the club back way outside with a 3/4 swing but felt fully coiled and in a strong controlled position.

Validation:  I tested my theory in an adjacent field with about 15 balls and a pitching wedge and my shots were flying strong and straight.  The following Saturday I practiced short game and before I was finished hit a few 7-irons and drivers with the same positive feedback.  The next day I played 18 after warming up very well and hit 13 greens and shot even par.  Today (Wednesday) I was back in the field at lunch with my pitching wedge and continued to enjoy the excellent contact.  What’s next?  Well we all know that in golf momentum is fleeting but I can’t wait to play again.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait another 10 days.  I’ll try to stay sharp with some practice and will post an update after my next round.  So send me links to any swing videos of you and let’s get to work!

5th major for the women – bad idea

The move by the LPGA Tour in 2013 to add the Evian Masters as a fifth major doesn’t make sense.  You can’t attach major status to a tournament just by adding prize money and calling it a major.  It’s clear they’re trying to generate interest in a product that’s suffering from a dearth of star power.  Last week’s Ladies U.S. Open was pretty much of a snoozer with a very unglamorous leader board.  The PGA Tour’s highest purse is paid for the Player’s Championship ($9,500,000) and it is still not regarded as a major, and try as some might to elevate, it will never gain major status, and it shouldn’t.  Too many majors water down the value of the current set.

The Solheim Cup is arguably the most compelling women’s event with the match play format generating genuine interest and passion.  Rather than add a fifth major with a largely unrecognizable field, the LPGA should consider an additional match play event pitting the United States against players outside of Europe, similar to the President’s Cup for the men.  The television audience would identify with all the best American players and get introduced to the growing number of talented Asian stars.

Fun with J.D. at John Deere

Once again, John Daly provided the entertainment during Round two with his front nine scorecard reading:  par, eagle, par, nonuple bogey.  Yes, John fired a 13 on the par-4, 4th hole and I find his ability to post double digit scores with somewhat frequent regularity quite amusing.  13 is rough but but still doesn’t stack up against his Tin Cup moment at BayHill where 18 was the magic number.

Keep an eye on Steve Marino over the weekend.  I root for Steve as he’s a D.C. area native but get frustrated with his final round meltdowns.  He’s currently in second place, two off the lead and looking good.  Steve is ranked 30th, 26th, and 9th in scoring average for rounds 1-3 respectively and then drops to 143rd in round 4 which is inexplicable.  For some reason the guy cannot finish and he’s never won on either the PGA or Nationwide Tours.  Good luck this weekend Steve, we’ll be watching and rooting!

Avoiding distractions

So out I went on Sunday of the July 4th holiday weekend at 9:30 a.m. to my local muni with thoughts of spending a couple hours working on my game.  To my delight, I arrived at an empty short game area and began my putting drills only to find the beginner chipping clinic coming my way after five minutes.  So I situated myself at the far end of the green hoping to steer as clear as possible, but soon 12-15 students were zinging low screamers all over the place.  So I finished up there and headed down to the range and setup at a station adjacent to the husband and wife team that had just finished taking a lesson.  Of course the wife was hitting it slightly better than the husband who’s increasing frustration was apparent.  Halfway through my session, the young boyfriend/girlfriend combo set up shop in the two stalls behind me with the boyfriend providing the girlfriend “expert” golf instruction.  While they were technically out of my peripheral vision, girlfriend hit a couple toe doinks straight over the protective wall and into my hitting station which effectively ended my practice.

When distracted on the course, you can simply stop / start whatever you are doing but it’s much tougher to manage during practice.  For some, practice time is social time where folks get caught up with friends before a round, or find time for a spontaneous contest to see who can hit the tractor picking balls or see who can hit driver over the net at the end of the range.

If you’re serious about improvement, you need to concentrate without distractions and isolate yourself during practice.  So short of being identified as anti-social, you’re better off practicing early or very late in the day, when you can do your serious work.  Today, I was reminded of that the hard way.