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Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?

By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.

Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules?  You be the judge.  Phil is a very bright articulate guy.  After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.

We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.

These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope.  But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent.  When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of  “the children”.  What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this?  Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.

I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test.  What would Jack do?  I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played.  How would he have behaved in such a situation?  I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies.  Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior.  Would love to hear his take.

I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this.  What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.”  Really?  This time Phil outsmarted himself.  What do you think?

Long Live The King

with-arnold-palmer-at-bay-hillI was very saddened at the passing of Arnold Palmer yesterday.  His humbleness, kindness, and unassuming personality towards regular folks made him truly a man of the people.  He was one of my heroes and will be missed.  I’d like to share a couple of Arnie stories.

At 19 years old, I was attending the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club.  Even at age 51, Arnie was a fierce competitor and it was true that he could burn hot at times.  On this day, I was in his gallery surrounding the par-4 12th green.  Arnie hit his approach on in regulation and proceeded to three-putt for bogey.   After holing out, Arnie sent the blade into orbit with a two-hand jaw-dropping reverse tomahawk straight over his head.  I was half shocked and half amazed that I just saw one of the greatest players on earth wing metal in earnest.  I thought, how cool was that!  And Arnie had the wherewithal to aim this rocket towards the next tee box and away from any curious onlookers.  The image has remained with me to this day and in 1985 it turned into a lesson on club throwing.  I was playing the uphill par-5 17th at Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, MD and badly missed my second shot with a 4-iron.  I sent my own missile helicoptering off into the left rough and spent the next 15 minutes searching for my golf club in knee-high fescue.  I have never thrown a club since.

In 2010, I was on a family vacation during spring break in Orlando.  On the last day of the trip, my son Elliot and I ventured out to Bay Hill to visit the course and collect souvenirs.  Our last stop was the 18th green, the scene of so many memorable Bay Hill Classic finishes.  A work crew was taking down the last of the bleachers from the recently completed tournament, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye way down in the fairway a very familiar golf swing.  Yes, the King was out playing golf and we were there watching with nobody else around!  Must have been my fight or flight mechanism kicking in but I don’t ever remember being as excited on a golf course, and I yelled for Elliot to “get the camera out!”

Arnie had always been a club tinkerer and was always looking for a way to improve his golf, even late in life.  arnold-palmers-setWhat struck me first was how many clubs were in his bag.  There must have been about 40 in the two Arnold Palmer Callaway tour bags.   We watched Arnie and his foursome putt out and he came strolling over to his cart.  We walked up and introduced ourselves.  It was a hot day and Arnie was looking tired but he was so gracious and accommodating when we asked him to pose for a couple pictures.  Not wanting to keep him for long, we got our photos and chatted for a couple minutes.  I asked him how he played and he said he’d shot an 81 (not bad for an 80-year old) and had, “taken a couple bucks off his friends.”  I thought, not bad for a man with seven major championships and millions in the bank.

Truly a man of the people.  RIP King.

 

Inside The Mind Of A Chip Yipper

SeveIt was November 11, 2014.  I had just hit 10 greens and shot a 14-over 86 at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE.  This was the round where I hit rock bottom with the chip yips.  There is nothing worse than having a decent ball striking day only to know that when you miss an approach shot you have no chance because you’re going to blade a chip over the green or come up way short.  You are paralyzed with fear and indecision and cannot execute.  This is what it’s like to experience the chip yips.

It was clear the yips were a mental problem.  I had been plagued for about five years but earlier in my career had no problem executing a variety of shots around the green from a technique standpoint.  I can’t point to a single event where my chipping fell apart, it just did.  The primary symptom was fear of running the ball past the hole and as a result, leaving my shots way short.  A secondary symptom was blading the ball with a sand wedge, usually off of a good lie.  This happened with small straight forward shots and became worse the farther away I moved from the hole.  A 20-30 yard pitch with a sand wedge became darn near impossible, however when I moved back out to 50 yards, I had no problem because that was an automatic half swing with a lob wedge.  Also, bunker shots were never a problem.  That day at Bear Trap Dunes, I was firing blade runners everywhere and totally embarrassing myself.

The solve:  Some of these techniques may seem counter intuitive and simply worked for me.  They may not work for you, so don’t necessarily try them for yourself or think that they constitute an avocation on my part of a certain method.  They simply worked.

The first thing I tried to fix was the bladed shot because that was a total loss of control.  I know my left arm softens at the elbow in my full swing and I suspected that might be happening with chips, which in turn would shorten my swing radius.  I simply focused on keeping my left elbow firm on all short swings and presto, no more bladed shots.

The more difficult issue was the fear of going long.  In the past, I had tried hitting to a spot and letting the ball run out, or feeling the distance to the hole with my practice swing but neither worked.  Everything still came up short.  If I accidentally got one to the hole, the immediate feedback upon hitting the shot was that I hit it way too hard.  The only way I could save par was by sinking a 10 or 15 foot putt.  But then I remembered seeing a video of Seve Ballesteros rehearsing chip shots with his right hand (dominant hand).  Then I recalled reading Greg Norman’s Shark Attack where he advocated throwing balls with your dominant hand at the hole for practice to gain a feel for short game.  I decided I was going to try to use my dominant hand (right) to hit my short shots because I’d always focused on making a turn with my torso and keeping my hands out of the shot.  It was a mechanical move and not feel based.  In short, I needed more art and less science.    So I started with a change in my pre-shot routine.  I stopped approaching the shot from behind, like a full swing, and started to stand astride the shot and rehearsed it until it felt good.  Then I hit the shot without delay.  The mechanical change I made was on the back swing, to feel like I was taking the club back with my left hand (with my elbow still firm), and then on the downswing controlling the force of the swing with my right hand.  When I did this, all of a sudden, I started swinging more aggressively, hitting the shot a little harder, and generating more backspin.  Now, my only thought is to “take it back with the left hand, hit it with the right.”  When I first tried this, I felt like I would chunk everything, but that never happened.  On my recent trip I started to pull my chips slightly which was probably due to the over-active right hand.  I added a little bit of pivot to the downswing and that was corrected because the chip is still a mini swing that requires timing and needs to be initiated with a hip turn.

After 18 rounds, I’m trusting this pretty well.  Now when I miss a chip or pitch, it inevitably goes long, and I’m fine with that because I can see the ball break around the hole and I know it’s had a chance to go in.  On occasion, I’ll still feel a little apprehension about going long so I make sure to take enough practice swings feeling my right hand initiate the downswing and then I hit the shot quickly.  In all my 2016 rounds, I can honestly say I’ve only yipped two or three chips, and actually seen a few more than that go in.

Finally, regarding club selection, I am in the camp of matching the club to the shot rather than being able to execute a ton of different shots with one club because I don’t play or practice enough to do that.  For chips, I like the sand wedge, pitching wedge, and on long chip and runs, the 8-iron.  For green side pitches, I favor the lob wedge or sand wedge.

So that’s the story of recovering from the chip yips.  They are horrible and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.  Hope my luck holds out and that you never see them.

Play well!

CAUTION!! The Domino Effect of Golf Drills

CautionHave you ever worked a golf drill, fixed a fault, and then watched the drill negatively impact a previously solid part of your game?  Like a time bomb, one of these exploded in my face over the last two days of an otherwise excellent golf trip to the Delaware – Maryland beaches.  On my excursion, I experienced the most god awful episode of skulled, thinned, chunked and totally stone-handed chipping and pitching in the last 20 years.  Oddly enough, I drove the ball superbly, putted well, but if I missed a green, couldn’t hit squat.  It was literally 30-handicap caliber chopping and the bemused looks of my playing partners spoke volumes.  (Apologies to any 30-handicap readers; the problem is not you; it’s me.)  Technically I knew I was flipping my hands at the ball and letting the clubface pass my hands, but I couldn’t stop it.  This was not the chip yips because I didn’t feel any pressure even though the previous failures had gotten in my head; I simply could not execute shots I knew were in my arsenal.

On the drive back today, we were still bemusing over the root cause until I remembered back in August, I read Tour Tempo by John Novosel and took it for a test drive.   Little did I know but this drill to help with ball striking rhythm was sowing the seeds of the catastrophe.  If you’ll recall, Novosel’s theory is to introduce a 3:1 backswing to downswing timing ratio.  Most students, myself included, needed to speed up their downswing to comply with the the ratio.  After a few rounds, I noticed I started to hit my full swing gap wedge shots a little fat but disregarded it as an anomaly or something that occasionally creeps into my game which is handled with a correction.  After further analyzing the wreckage, I correctly identified the cause as an early release created in an attempt to speed up my downswing for Tour Tempo.  To be fair, there’s another Tour Tempo book for short game, that I did not read, and which purportedly has a different timing mechanism for short shots.  Oops!

Everyone who’s instructed or been instructed in golf is familiar with the concept of over-correction.  You over emphasize a fix to clearly turn a negative habit to positive, then tweak as the over-correction becomes a fault of its own.  Now I’ve got a bit of an early release with my full swing and a full blown mess with my short game.  I’m kinda glad winter is almost here, but anyone have a good drill to promote hands ahead of the clubhead with the greenside shots?  Please send along.  Thanks!

Is Losing Becoming A Habit?

from golfweek.com
from golfweek.com

The fallout from the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s defeat has settled, but theories of defeat are still abound as new details come out regarding behind the scenes team dynamics.  Let’s give Tom Watson a break, forget all the crap, and simplify:  When a team loses in golf or in any sport, the reason is usually that they have inferior players.  When losing is systemic in an organization, always look to the highest reaches of the organization for the answer.  In this case, the highest levels are the PGA Tour and the process it uses to select players.

All things being equal, the U.S. Team should have an inherent advantage year after year, being able to stock their roster with the largest pool of talented golfers in the world.  Yet they continually go down to defeat.  I propose that it’s time to remove the earning of qualifying points, over a two year period, and jettison captain’s picks.  Put the selection in the hands of the players.  Every U.S. professional with current year’s PGA Tour exempt status be allowed to vote on their Ryder Cup team representation, with the stipulation that they cannot vote for themselves.  The vote would take place one month in advance of the competition and would ensure the best and hottest players at tournament time would complete the team.  Imagine if we elected our political leaders on the polling results they accumulated over their last two years in office.  That’s crazy, and is why we have Election Day.

And someone please explain why being elected and serving as a Ryder Cup team captain is so important and is considered a full time job for two years?  If the player’s elect their own representation, you take the onus off the captain and let him focus on more important things like selecting the best and most colorful rain suits and focusing on how many gluten free options will be on the menu at the team meal.  All these guys should really be doing is working the line-up cards during the competition and keeping their players on an even emotional keel.  Seriously, how much preparation can you do over two years for a three day golf tournament?

The Ryder Cup will be at Hazeltine in 2016.  I’ll be watching and hopefully we’ll get it figured out by then.

Managing Golf Burnout

thechallengesofmentalillness.com
thechallengesofmentalillness.com

Most of us absolutely love golf and can’t seem to get enough.  But have you ever burned out on golf because of too much play or practice?  I was last burned out a long time ago.  1986 to be exact.  I was working as an assistant club professional and my typical work day started at 6:00 a.m. and ran through 3:00 p.m (Tuesday -Sunday).  Every day after work, I’d  play with the members until dark, so I was at the course for 13-14 hours.  On Monday, my one day off, I spent my day practicing.  The over-saturation was suffocating and I was so spent that I hated the game for a period of time.

This week, Phil Mickelson hit the point and withdrew mid-tournament from the BMW Championship siting mental exhaustion.  Sergio Garcia skipped the Deutsche Bank Championship to stay fresh, even though it’s the middle leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Martin Kaymer has articulated how difficult it is to play for six consecutive weeks and how he dislikes living on the road for so long.

If top players can skip events because of burnout, and remain in overall contention, you are jeopardizing the integrity of your competition.  Imagine a star NFL quarterback skipping a playoff round because he was mentally fatigued – it would never happen.  I share The Grateful Golfer’s call for a format change, and to be honest, wouldn’t mind if they eliminated them all together.

The tour has taken it’s lead from the NFL and is attempting to make competitive golf a year-round cash cow.  The FedEx Cup transitions smoothly into the overlap schedule which is the start of the following year’s Tour schedule, complete with official money rankings.  This time used to be called the “Silly Season” and top pros still regard it as such.  Sorry, but my interest level drops after The PGA Championship is contested, and top players pulling out because of burnout should be a warning to the PGA Tour that they’ve exceeded the point of diminishing returns.  Their season is too long, they’re cheapening their product, and they need to scale back.

As mentioned, I haven’t been burned out for many years, but occasionally will lose a level of focus and desire.  It usually coincides with the start of football season (now) and it’s a sign for me to take a few weeks off – usually until I start to miss the game.  That’s exactly where I’m at right now and will taking a break until early October.

Have you ever been truly burned out on golf?  If so, how did you handle it?