Try The Nine-Shot Drill For Confidence

From zimbio.com
Hank Haney and Tiger Woods
From zimbio.com

It was 55 degrees and sunny today; perfect time to resume working on my golf game.  I went to the range and tried out the Nine-Shot drill which I had just learned about in The Big Miss.  This is the drill used by Tiger Woods while under the tutelage of swing coach Hank Haney.  Nine-Shot works you through a swing matrix for high, low, and medium trajectories with fades, draws, and straight shots.  There are nine different combinations and the thought is to rotate through every club in the bag.  Hitting all 13 clubs would take a significant amount of time and concentration so I modified the drill to accommodate a 50-ball range session.

Not having hit a ball since November 10, I found the drill difficult because I was rusty, but beneficial because my ability to concentrate was better than during a boring old range session.  There was an unintended side-benefit as well.  There are several ways you can approach this drill but I elected to order my shots by first hitting medium-straight and then going to high and finally low, and then worked the same order for the draws and fades.  I did not try to mix the draws and fades and to keep this as simple as possible I only varied my alignment and ball position and did nothing with grip or swing speed.  Using a PW, 8-iron, 6-iron, 4-iron, and driver, I rotated through 45 balls and hit a five ball warm up with my PW.

From rotarygolf.com
The Nine-Shots
From rotarygolf.com

The unintended side benefit was that by changing ball position and alignment, I was able to correct a swing flaw.  While trying to hit the draws with the 8-iron, I smother hooked a couple and when I switched to a fade, my shots flew straight.  This information indicated, I was taking the club back too far to the inside.  I made the adjustment and contact improved immediately.

I also decided that next time I’m switching out the Driver for a 3WD.  Hitting low cuts and draws with the Driver is just too difficult, and it’s easier to curve a ball with the 3WD because of the increased loft.

This drill requires discipline when you hit a bad shot.  The natural tendency is to rake another ball and try the same shot, but I steeled myself to just move to the next shot.  I found this alleviated frustration as there was no urgent need to fix; just move on.  The potential is excellent to use this for pre-game warm-up as well.  Trying the nine different ball flights should allow you to settle on a comfortable one for your round.

The Nine-Shot passed the smoke test today.  It’s going to be 65 tomorrow and 70 on Sunday; perfect to fully develop the concept.  Good luck if you give it a try!

Book Review: The Big Miss by Hank Haney

The Big MissJust finished The Big Miss by Hank Haney (Crown Archetype Publishing – 2012) and readers who are looking for an inside look at the world of Tiger Woods need to get this book.  Haney has been criticized for writing a kiss and tell book but I found the insights into the inner workings of Tiger Woods profoundly interesting.  After the well reported sex scandal broke in 2009, Tiger has been so reclusive and withdrawn it’s almost maddening to watch an interview with him and try to learn anything of substance.  His guard is always up and the book digs into some very good detail behind the scenes.  Strangely enough, even Haney admitted that while Tiger often referred to him as his close friend, he often felt shut out as Tiger rarely opened up to him.  But for the casual golf fan, the insights go way beyond what we are fed by the mainstream media.

I had always thought the title of the book referred to the concept of what went wrong (Big Miss) with Tiger’s career after the scandal broke, but the term “Big Miss” is used by both Haney and Tiger to describe a golfer’s worst shot.  That Haney used the term for the book is interesting because it may be prophetic in the higher sense when Tiger’s career is eventually summed up.  Haney doesn’t actually focus much on the scandal and thankfully keeps golf as the subject.

Some of the content I found most interesting:  The work Haney and Tiger did to avoid the ‘Big Miss’ off the tee and how Tiger actually feared using his driver in clutch situations.  It was great to get inside the brain of one of the world’s best golf coaches.  I also found Tiger’s fascination with Navy Seal training interesting and how detrimental it may have been to his career and health at the time.  The section on how his team prepped him for play while on a broken leg at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 was fascinating.  A lot went on behind the scenes to make that victory possible that the general public is completely unaware of.  I also found it interesting that Tiger, and many other tour players work on their swing mechanics right up to tournament time, and then between tournament rounds as well.  This is diametrically opposed to the theories of Dr. Bob Rotella, where he espouses removal of as many mechanical thoughts the closer one gets to competition.  I’ve never found it beneficial to work on my swing, or think mechanics that close to playing on the course, but heck, I’m not a touring pro.  Still, you would think that as human beings, we’d be more effective without mechanical approaches at game time.

The only part I didn’t enjoy was the book’s ending where Haney compares his record to that of Butch Harmon as Tiger’s swing coach.  It seems he’s trying to justify the approach he took and the decision to quit when he did.  His analysis of Tiger’s “Big Miss” with his driving is way off too.  At the time the book was written, Tiger had just started working with Sean Foley in 2011 and Haney points to Tiger’s ranking of 186th in Total Driving in 2011 as proof that Foley’s swing changes will not work.  Now I’m no Sean Foley fan because I think his approach is too mechanical, but Tiger’s Total Driving stats were 5th in 2012 and 17th in 2013 which speaks for themselves.

Most of all, we learn in the Big Miss that Tiger has made many significant sacrifices in his life to achieve his level of greatness.  What will be interesting to see when his career is over is if those sacrifices are judged to be worth the ultimate record of accomplishment.  Get the book; it’s a good one.

2014 Winter Golf Tune-Up Plan

Winter Golf From pga.com
Winter Golf
From pga.com

One of my favorite pastimes is reading golf books over the winter and trying to find a nugget to put into play the following season, and this year is no exception.  Two years ago, I made the mistake of reading both the Stan Utley short game book and putting book and putting mechanical changes in place without sufficient runway to practice before implementing in the spring.  Come March, my short game was in ruins.

This year, I am determined not to make mechanical changes but have landed on a practice tip I just love and think will be very beneficial.  Has anyone heard of the 9-shot?  I’m currently reading The Big Miss by Hank Haney, and 9-shot is the drill that he introduced to Tiger Woods to improve his confidence in ball striking.  The drill is to take nine shots with each club in the bag and vary the curve and height pattern on every ball.  Basically, you hit three fades, three draws, and three straight shots and try to hit them with a low, medium, and high trajectory.  My driving range sells buckets of about 50 balls and the thought is to try the drill by warming up with five balls, then hit the remaining 45 in five groups of nine using a PW, 8-iron, 6-iron, 4-iron, and Driver.  I’ve noticed that on days when I warm up well, I’ll try to work the ball on the last few shots and it infuses me with tremendous confidence to be able to curve it on demand.  This drill seems like it will help with concentration and focus on every club in the bag.  Anyone tried the 9-shot?

It’s going to be in the high 50s on Friday and I’ll give it a go and report back.  Gotta love the opportunity to bang some balls outside in the winter.  By the way, a full book review is coming on The Big Miss so don’t miss it!

Why The Game Of Golf Is Unique and Special

Last week I participated in a market research forum where Golf Digest executives hidden behind a two-way mirror observed my dialog with five other hard core golfers.  We were conversing about magazine content, photo shoots, and covers for upcoming issues.  Golf DigestIn the course of our discussion, it became apparent that our game is very unique because there is so much more material published on a weekly and monthly basis compared to other sports.  How many periodicals cover the technique of turning a double play or properly executing the read option from the quarterback position or the intricacies of running a match-up zone in basketball?  None.

One overwhelming observation was that there was almost too much instruction in golf magazines and that consumers of everything often find tips and recommendations with fully opposite techniques for the same shots, and these are often contained in the same issue.  With all this opposing information, it’s no wonder so many golfers are mental basket cases at the amateur level.  We all know how difficult the game is when our swing goes bad and we start thinking of mechanical fixes during play.

But, imagine playing the game as a professional and struggling with the same mental foibles.  Professional golf on the PGA Tour is special because there are no appearance fees.  Either you play well or miss the cut.  There are no guaranteed contracts.  No payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars where you can ride out a slump or a bad year.  Just play well or don’t get paid.  Sure, a select few at the top make enough money on sponsor’s endorsements to sustain, but the vast majority need to get by on skill alone.  I was saddened to read David Duval’s comments on Twitter this week indicating he may retire if he can’t perform in 2014.  Has another guy fallen as fast and as far as Duval?  Ian Baker-Finch comes to mind but he didn’t stick around as long as Duval.  It’s amazing how bad it can get for some of these professionals when the physical skills remain but the mental circuits are shorted out.

Professional golf is a tremendous sport and a great meritocracy.  Despite the struggles of many to remain exempt, it’s refreshing to know we are always watching the cream of the crop every week.  Who else do you recall has fallen as far as Duval and couldn’t turn it around?

Off-season Biodegradable Golf Practice

Hey gang, just wanted to post an idea for those of you who are getting antsy in the off-season, and need a convenient environmentally safe way to practice.  Ever worked on your swing hitting magnolia fruit?

Nature's golf balls
Nature’s golf balls

These are truly nature’s golf balls and the idea came to me a couple years ago after I had bought a hitting mat and Callaway driving net and became frustrated with the deployment.  I discovered the net was a pain to keep setting up and taking down, and it didn’t behave well on windy days.  Plus, when the ground froze, you couldn’t get the tie down metal stakes in.  Just a poor labor intensive solution.

I took a look around and realized I have fruit bearing trees in my yard, including several black walnuts and a 50-foot magnolia.

My magnolia tree
My magnolia tree

My magnolia doesn’t accent the property like the many on Magnolia Lane at Augusta, but it is a beauty and she drops fruit pods from October to December which I have harvested over the past few years.

If you’re like me, you often wonder what different objects would behave like when struck with a golf club, and maybe you have tested your ideas from time to time.  So I tried out these fruit pods and they work perfectly.  They come complete with a stem (tee) that dislodges on contact, and can be placed directly on the ground or fit neatly into a rubber tee on a driving range mat.  They weigh about the same as a tennis ball and are constructed solidly enough that they will not break when hit with a driver.  A well struck magnolia pod will fly about 75 yards and of course, will biodegrade over time so there is no clean-up.  Just find an open space and hammer away!  Here’s a demo:

Finally, a word of caution; black walnuts (green shell when they drop in the fall) explode upon contact despite their solid feel.  Avoid at all costs.  I hit one last year and after the disintegration, was covered with green juice that stained my clothes badly.  Maybe the nut from inside the shell would be a better play; I’ll try that next.

Black walnut fruit
Black walnut fruit

Try this out and I’ll bet the next time you’re in the produce aisle of your grocery store you’ll start viewing the spherical shaped fruit and nut offerings in a different light.  Good luck!

2013 Golf Season Wrap-Up – 2014 Goals

Looking at the advanced weather forecast for the D.C. area in December, I see nothing but cold and wet.  There is no more golf to be played in 2013, so it’s time to call it a season and review the yearly KPIs.  The data:

Year

Number of Rounds

Scoring Average

GIR

Putts per round

2013

40

80.25

8.15

32.35

2012

34

78.85

8.74

31.88

2011

35

79.60

8.74

32.86

2010

28

79.54

8.32

32.14

2009

27

78.22

8.70

31.81

On thing that immediately jumps out is the consistency of results from year to year, especially with ball striking (8 GIRs) and putting (32 ppr).  While average score nosed up a bit in 2013, the most positive takeaway is the steady increase in number of rounds.  I am playing more golf!  Despite the slight bump in scoring average, my handicap  remained at 5 and what’s painfully evident is that at mid-single digits, the effort to shave a couple strokes off requires a level of play and practice that is difficult to devote to.  This is probably true of most weekend players, or at least those with a handicap below 20.  Have you experienced this?

2013 was also a transition year.  Early in the spring, I was in a prolonged slump, primarily due to the lack of play during the preceding fall and the change to new irons and wedges.  I did not get comfortable with the equipment until early July and then I sustained a hip injury that set me back another three weeks.  But upon returning, the quality of my ball striking improved which was largely due to the fitness work I had done while recovering and the concentrated drilling to correct my spine angle problem.  Thankfully, the improvements continued through the end of the year and I continue to work the hip and back exercises as well as the spine angle drill.  I’ve also fallen in love with the Mizuno JPX 825 irons and Cleveland G16 wedges, but it took some time.

2014 is going to play out differently.  I am transitioning into a new job which will require my undivided attention in the early part of the season.  I doubt that the new gig will afford the opportunity to take two week-long golf trips that I managed in ’13, but I will attempt to make it to the 12-round slug-fest over six days in early June in Myrtle Beach.  I learned this year that play was more important than practice for me, and will continue to leverage that as much as possible, but may not be able to squeeze in the late day emergency nines with the new job.

So for 2014 I’ve set some modest but achievable goals.

  1. Get stroke average back under 79
  2. Get GIR average to 9
  3. Get PPR in the 31.5 – 32.0 range
  4. Keep working out three times per week

What are your goals for 2014?