Tag Archives: Phil Mickelson

Wholesale Putting Change!

Putting can make or break your golf game.  Roughly 40 % of your strokes are with your putter, so what drives putting performance?  Four things:

1: Technique.

2: Nerves.

3: The quality of your short game.

4: Proximity – i.e., how close you are to the hole for your first putt.

After some deep thinking on these areas, I’m going to make a significant change, but before discussing, let’s take a sanity check on my putting data.  I’ve captured putts per round statistics from 2007 through 2020.

The statistics tell a story of recent improvement, but when I ask myself, “Do I believe I’m truly a good putter?”  Unfortunately, the answer is “no”.  I get that everyone’s performance is relative and my improvement from 2018 to 2019 was nice.  It was the result of a March 2018 short game lesson, and a July 2018 putting lesson, and a lot of hard work to cement those changes in.  But it’s not enough.

Right now, I’d consider myself a good lag putter but when I get to the 5-10 foot range, where you should make your share of birdies and par saves, I’m terrible because I can’t start the putt on my intended line.   Missing a little off-line on a 30-40 footer won’t usually cost you a two-putt but nothing is more deflating than stuffing an iron shot and yanking the birdie putt way left.  I’ve solved an alignment problem by putting over a spot, and have tried numerous top of the line putters but to no avail.

There has got to be a better way and perhaps I’m getting greedy, but I’m thinking even if I don’t improve my ball striking one bit, if I can reduce my putts to less than 30 per round, I’d get a free handicap drop from 4 to 2.  Tempting, and I’m going for it!

The change is a switch to the claw grip with my right hand.  I’ve been using a traditional reverse overlap grip for years and have tested this change inside on the rug, and outside on the putting green.  The difference on the shorties is exceptional, but it’s not without concern.

Phil using the claw. Photo courtesy of golfmagic.com

Pros like Sergio, Phil, and Adam Scott have all gone to a variation of the low hand claw with great success, but they are putting extremely fast greens.  Indeed, this change works best on fast surfaces and one may be susceptible to inconsistencies with longer putts on slower greens.  My home course has fast greens, but I only play about 25-30% of my rounds there.  So, I may rack up a few extra three putts but hopefully make up for it in the scoring range.  Maybe I’ll alternate grips for long putts???  I’m willing to give it a try.  Has anyone had any success trying this method over a protracted time period?  Please share if you have a story.

Thanks, and play well!

Oh No! Heatstroke!

photo from insider.com

Have you ever succumbed to the heat on a golf course?  I have suffered heat exhaustion twice and it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences I can remember.  Both times I had to quit my game.  It also hit me more recently a few years back on a beach in Florida.  Here are the warning signs:  First you get a low-grade headache.  Then when you lean over to pick up a ball or tee one up, the pain gets worse and you feel the pounding and throbbing as blood flows to your head.  Next, you start to feel lethargic as energy is drained from your body, and finally, you become nauseated.  If you’re lucky enough, you’re back in an air conditioned clubhouse before these conditions worsen into heatstroke.  Through some trial and error, I’ve learned to play in the hot weather and if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you’ll need to work through some significant heat or relinquish a good portion of your golf season.  Here’s a must do list for heat.

Anytime the forecast is above 90, pay attention.  Generally, I’ll only walk a course if it’s going to max out at 90.  Anything hotter requires a riding cart.  You’re better off playing earlier before the mid-day heat hits, but my club membership requires me to play after 1:00 p.m. on weekends, and this past Sunday it was 97 degrees and I had a 1:00 p.m. tee time.  Your sunscreen, hat, and light-colored clothing are the obvious accoutrements but what’s most important is to thoroughly hydrate BEFORE you go outside.  I learned this from a study done by the Israeli army and their performance in the Saini desert during the 1967 Six-Day War.  Essentially, if you satiate yourself before physical activity in the heat, you’ll be much more comfortable during the engagement.  Check out this quick video:

I will typically drink three 16oz bottles of water over an hour duration before arriving at the course.  During COVID, one of the dangerous side effects is that all drinking water has been removed from golf courses.  As the summer months advance, this has become an issue; you must have water!  To adjust, I’ll load up a cooler with ice, a 32 oz Gatoraid, and five bottles of water before leaving home.  I’ll bring the Gatoraid and one water with me for the front nine and replenish at the turn.  The cold reload is very welcome for the inward half.  Hopefully, you can get to your car and back to the 10th tee without holding up play.  This has been critical on days when the drink cart is nowhere to be found.  Don’t leave your hydration and your health to chance!  Finally, I’ll take 600 mg of Advil before leaving the house and another 600 at the turn.  I find it works great to fight off any vestiges of a headache and keeps me on a nice even keel all day.

How a guy like Phil Mickelson wears black shirts and black slacks in the dead of summer is beyond me.  I suppose he makes a lot of money to dress that way.  Have you ever been sidelined by the heat?  Got any strategies to compensate?  Please share.

Play well!

Brian

Juicy Sub-Plots from The Open!

Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.

photo from skysports.com

 

Justin Rose complaining?

Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling.  Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format.  While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets.  1)  There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit.  2)  Autumn in North America is for football.  3)  They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016.  So, they squeezed everything up front.  The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do.  The other two are related.  Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy.  The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been.  Olympic golf doesn’t matter.  Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio.  Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup?  Probably not.  If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.

A new lunch entree?

Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18.  Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?

Grande Latte?

What is up with Phil Mickelson?  He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee.  Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag.  At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game.  After shooting +5 in round one he was right.

Caddy-gate?

And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott.  Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts.  And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors?  It certainly hasn’t been out on tour.  Will Tiger miss another cut?  Was The Masters a fluke?

Stay tuned!

Phil Skip The PLAYERS???

Phil on the 17th at TPC. Photo by Richard Heathcote

Recently a Golf Digest article came out where Phil Mickelson indicated he might not play in this year’s PLAYERS Championship.  Being one of the leaders on the world stage, should he skip a tournament of this stature?  It would be disappointing not having him participate but Phil doesn’t feel he’s a “horse on this course” as he sprays the ball a little too much, and even though he’s won here, it doesn’t set up well for him.  I say, “skip it.”

Professional golf is unique because players get to choose where and when they compete.  You are measured in two categories; total wins and victories in the majors.  Phil is 9th all-time with 44 wins and five major titles.  The better you are, the more selective you can be.  More importantly, he’s in the 20-win club and has earned a lifetime exemption to play whenever he wants.

Other players before him have set the bar on selective participation.  Rory McIlroy skipped the Olympics in Rio.  Sergio Garcia skipped a recent FedEx playoff event because he was too tired.  Several American pros have been known to skip the British Open because of the travel burden.  Back in 1987, Greg Norman expressed a vehement displeasure with the 9th green at TPC of Avenel and didn’t play the Kemper Open for several years afterwards.

I will miss Phil’s participation if he elects not to play because I get a perverse pleasure of watching pros struggle with courses they are not suited for.  Isn’t it fun watching Rory battle his internal demons at Augusta?  Or watching Phil’s never-ending quest for the US Open with his cache of painful second-place finishes?  Occasionally, someone breaks through like Sergio at The Masters.  He had always underwhelmed at Augusta and had a horrible final round choking reputation.  Bam!  All gone in a flash.  Very cool.

So, if Phil skips The PLAYERS, I’ll be fine.  What about you?

 

Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play?  Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare?  The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk.  If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie.  Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records.  Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?

For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek.  The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season).  In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup.  The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you.  The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals.  I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far.  If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence.  It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario.  For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management.  But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited.  Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey.  I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.

Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling.  Handling the smallest details are also important.  In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about.  Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand.  I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books.  Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing?  So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since.  It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt.  Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing.  Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it.  Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.

After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice.  This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course.  There are two aspects to focus on.  First is creating real pressure.  If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following:  Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure.  Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt.  Play for small wagers.  Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing.  Keep score in your head.  If you are playing poorly, don’t quit!  Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing.   Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds.  Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees.  I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down.  Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.

How do you measure your success?  Your scores are the best indicator.  Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round.  If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s.  For lower handicap players the same holds true.  My current index is 4.4.  With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.

To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons.  Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course.  You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play.  Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time.  Give it a try.

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

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?

2018 Masters Picks

photo from golfweek.com

As of this writing, Tiger Woods is leading the odds at 9:1 to win The Masters.  Can the four-time champion and greatest player of our generation take the green jacket?  You bet he can. All the big names are competing, everyone is healthy, most are in good form, it should be awesome.  Let’s look at Tiger and the rest of the principals to pick a winner.

Tiger.  I have loved watching his resurgence and two recent top-5 finishes.  His presence at Augusta and good form make for the juiciest pre-tournament hype.  He is great for golf and for The Masters. The gleam is back in his eye.  You saw it at Honda, Valspar, and Bay Hill.  You know the one where he squints, slightly fatigued from his powers of universal concentration.  It comes out when he gets in the hunt and he’s so close, but his driving is a bit too suspect and he’s been getting by with those stingers that keep the ball in play.  They worked at the earlier venues and are great for the US Open and PLAYERS but you gotta have the big stick at Augusta.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Phil Mickelson.  Awesome February run of top-10 finishes culminating with a win at WGC Mexico.  Is this really happening at 47 years old?  He’s playing this week in Houston but disregard any results because he’s just staying sharp.  Phil always plays Houston before The Masters as a ritual.  I’ll play the odds here and say Phil is on the wrong side of 46 to win another major, but he contends.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Last year’s champion, Sergio Garcia.  As soon as I see a guy going to the claw grip, I think “putting problems – no chance at The Masters.”  Sergio put that to rest in 2017 and brings all the other claw guys like Phil and Justin Rose into play.  I’ve never liked Garcia in this tournament because of his issues on the greens and my gut is telling me there’s a market correction coming.  Prediction:  No repeat but a top-20 finish.

Dustin Johnson.  We were denied a look at the world’s #1 last year because of a butt-busting slide down the stairs in his rental home.  He’s here, he’s healthy, but he’s in mediocre form.  I was surprised how poorly he played in the Dell Match Play and don’t know why.  I’m assuming he can right the ship and get motivated, although you can never read his desire level.  Prediction:  3rd place.

Rory McIlroy.  Awesome display of power and finesse at Bay Hill.  Has he really found it or is it another Rory streak.  When he’s on, his birdie binges are incredible to watch.  This week, he cools off a bit and plays on the fringes of contention.  Prediction:  Top 20.

Jordan Spieth.  Been in particularly bad form lately but has caught fire through two rounds at Houston.  Spieth can grab a minor tweak and leverage that better and faster than anyone.  Greatest mind in the game among the young players.  When his putter is on, always a threat to win.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Justin Thomas.  Cocky, powerful, streaky, pouty at times.  The Masters requires an even keel more than any other tournament.  When Phil learned to play with steadiness, he started winning green jackets.  Thomas still needs some seasoning.  Prediction:  Makes the cut but not much else.

Paul Casey.  What’s he doing in this list?  He’s got a couple recent top-10s in The Masters, plays a nice right-to-left ball flight, is plenty long, has his putting woes straightened out, and has his mind settled.  Love the combo and this horse for this course.  Prediction:  2nd place.

Justin Rose.  Last year’s runner up.  He’s hungry, is in top form, contends every week, is ready and will not be denied.  He is your 2018 Masters champion.

Who do you like?

photo from skysports.com

2017 British Open Picks

https://www.theopen.com/

Picking a winner for the 146th Open / Open Championship / British Open at Royal Birkdale is even more confounding than deciphering the official name of this tournament.  Let’s just call it the world’s oldest major.

Field analysis is made difficult because of the recent trend of the world’s top players taking time off and trying to peak their performance around the majors.  That’s a by-product of the protracted year round scheduling problem on the PGA Tour (more on that coming in a future post).  With the exception of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth, the top contenders don’t play frequently enough.  Yes, everyone is different but you can’t just show up once per month under the heat of competition and expect to generate consistent results.  Dustin Johnson played Memorial in May and the US Open in June and missed both cuts.  He’s coming off a back injury and nobody thinks he should play as much as Vijay Singh, but can DJ seriously be in winning form?  No way.  To draw a mediocre parallel, I’m in software development.  If I practiced my trade under the most stringent of conditions once per month, I’d suck at my job.  These guys should go hard from January to August (playing every two out of four weeks) and then shut down.

So let’s get down to business:  Rory McIlroy needs a session on the putting green with Dave Stockton Sr.  It’s so bad right now, he’s not even close to contending.  Jason Day‘s ball striking is in the crapper (what happened?)  Defending champion Henrik Stenson has missed five of his last six cuts and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle – nope.  Phil missed the US Open, then broke protocol by not playing in the Scottish Open, and finally parted ways with Bones.  That may be all the change he can handle at 47 years old and I don’t think it happens for him this week.  Hideki Matsuyama threw a scare into the field at the US Open with a strong Sunday finish and is going to get one soon, but it will be on U.S. soil.

Who’s ready?  Rickie Fowler.

Photo from Golfweek

He keeps finishing top-10 in the majors and plays often enough to stay sharp.  I think his conservative strategy in the majors of sometimes taking iron off the tee will play well at Birkdale, because you must drive it straight and then battle the wind from the fairway.  Forget playing out of the rough here.  Look for a tough battle with Justin Rose, who’s a horse for this course, Spieth, who’s tough in every major, and John Rahm, but Rickie will prevail.

Who is your pick for the Claret Jug?

 

 

“YESSSS SIR!!!”

Jack Nicklaus. Photo from Golfweek

We are PUMPED for the 2017 edition of The Masters!  It feels like being first in line at Best Buy on Black Friday morning.  Soon, the greatest venue in golf will fling open the gates, and we will charge in to witness the world’s best going head-to-head in the most anticipated and revered contest on the planet.  So grab a pimento cheese sandwich and let’s go find you a winner.

Selecting major champions is tough business, but The Masters is the easiest of the four because of the reduced field size and the past champions who cannot contend.  Most players love this course but there are a few that don’t, and we can quickly rule them out.  There is no way you can not embrace Augusta National and win.  For some, the course doesn’t suit their game and others can’t overcome the baggage from previous failures.  Both factors will play a part in our selection.

Let’s start the addition by subtraction with the world’s best player; Dustin Johnson.

Photo from Golf Channel

DJ has worked incredibly hard on his short game and putting.  He’s now to the point where he’s the most complete competitor from tee to green, and can destroy tournaments.  Old DJ couldn’t chip and putt well enough to win a green jacket.  New DJ can.  But anyone who’s ever fixed something in golf has that bad swing thought or faulty process buried deep in their subconscious.  The synapses can fire at the worst of times and this course can trigger.  One year he’ll win one, but not quite yet.  Looking for a top five, though.

The world’s best ball striker is Rory McIlroy.  When his swing is on he can thump it like nobody.  Rory is not the world’s best putter, and is far from it.  I’m not sure if it’s attitude, mechanics, or innate ability that hold him back.  He’s won the other three majors and would dearly love to close out the career grand slam, but you need a deft touch on these greens, and a cool head when you miss.  Plus, he still has that final round 80 in 2011 lying dormant.

Photo from businessinsider.com

Phil Mickelson‘s performance in the majors began to slip over the last couple of years.  But then, BAM!  What a show for the ages he put on at 46 in last year’s Open Championship.  Unfortunately, Henrik Stenson bested him with one of the greatest final rounds ever played in a major.  Lefty’s game is suited for Augusta.  But come on, he’ll be 47 in two months and nobody since Jack in 1986 has won a major at that age.  Sorry, Phil, you aren’t Jack.  Should be a good week though, and a top-10 finish.

Briefly:  Justin Thomas peaked a little too early this year and needs more seasoning.   It’s either vertigo, mental breakdown, illness, or injury.  I’m done picking Jason Day in this tournament – watch him win it now.  Sergio Garcia doesn’t like the venue and nobody ever won The Masters putting with the modified claw grip (read this Phil!)  Adam Scott; no broomstick allowed, no chance.  Hideki Matsuyama; too mechanical and the stage is too big (but it’s shrinking).    Rickie Fowler is this year’s trendy pick.  He certainly has the outfits to look the part, but trendy never wins The Masters, especially for those who can’t hold a lead or hold up well under 4th round pressure.  Rickie is more suited to a PGA type venue where he can battle in the first three rounds and come from behind to win.  When will PLAYERS Champion Rickie re-appear?  2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett remains on the world’s greatest one and done tour.  Can Canadian Adam Hadwin contend?  Should be on his honeymoon but is turning his new wife into a golf widow at Augusta.  Okay, he gets a pass.  Adam probably needs a couple years on the course but this guy has stones.  Love his pressure game.

The last man standing is Jordan Spieth, your 2017 Masters champion.  Best putter in the field.  Best vision in the field, best clutch chipper in the field.  Sometimes hits it crooked off the tee but you can get away with that at Augusta.  And finally, if anyone can immerse in the process of shot to shot it’s Jordan, and that will help erase the mental foible of the 12th hole from last year.  I love his chances.  Who’s your choice?

Photo from Forbes

Final picks:

Winner :  Jordan Spieth

Runner Up:  Dustin Johnson

Third:  Rory McIlroy

 

How To Measure Success in Golf

What are Phil’s standards for success?

In Putting Out of Your Mind, Dr. Bob Rotella says that to judge yourself a success on the putting green, you should measure by how often you were mentally prepared when you struck your putts, and not whether the ball went in the hole.  He adds that once you’ve struck a putt, everything else is out of your control.  Makes sense, and I love this process oriented approach, but let’s face it, most amateurs and probably most professionals are more results oriented than we’d like to admit.

While reading the aforementioned book, I tried out the methods during a round at a local muni.  It was if someone else had possession of my body while I was putting.  It worked great, but the total process oriented approach was very hard to maintain.  For a short period, I even managed to not think about my score during a few rounds, but couldn’t keep it up.

Getting immersed in the process works.  It’s a good idea and is worth the effort.  So, how do you measure success or failure?  Can a 30-handicap player stand on a tee box with a 200 yard carry over water, and hit three straight into the drink, but feel if they put a good swing on each, and think nothing is wrong?  That’s a “Tin Cup” moment and should feel wrong because the player failed to know their limitations and move up a set of tees.  I try to follow Rotella’s mantra and think one shot at a time, but ultimately golf is a game where we keep score.  We win or lose against opponents, or post some number in a stroke play event or round.  As a 5-handicap for the last umpteenth years, when I’m not thinking in process mode, I’m measuring myself by score.  Typically:

Good day – 74 strokes or below

Average day – 75-77

Substandard – 78 and above

The 30-handicap may look at their round differently:

Good day – broke 100

Average day – broke 110

Substandard – lost all their golf balls

We do measure ourselves largely by score and that’s okay.  Recently I overcame this tendency – albeit briefly.  I played a round in the dead of February while working on a swing change.  I told myself I didn’t care what I shot and I was just going to focus on the swing change.  I shot 83 and took like 39 putts, but I left the course very satisfied because I hit 10 greens in regulation and saw good progress with the swing change.  I don’t think this model can sustain over time, but it was nice as I was able to treat the round like a NFL team approaches a pre-season game – totally about the process.  Ultimately, it will come back to score.

So what would success look like for Phil Mickelson?

Good day – Won The Masters

Average day – Finished 2nd

Substandard – Out of the top 10

I know Phil has been working on a swing change and is keen to battle test this at Augusta, (more on that coming in our Masters preview), but at the end of the day does that really matter to him?  Nope; it’s about winning.

How do you measure success?  Process or results, and BE HONEST!

Play well.

 

Confident vs. Cocky

tiger-confident-and-cockyWhich camp do you fall in?  When you play your best on the golf course how do you feel, confident or cocky?  Try to align yourself with one of today’s top professionals.  Jason Day is confident.  Henrik Stenson is confident.  Dustin Johnson is surprisingly confident and a little bit humble.  Just look at Rory McIlroy’s gait when he is winning.  Tremendously cocky.  Jordan Speith has transitioned from a cocky youth to confident consummate professional.  When he was at his peak, Tiger Woods was the most cocky AND confident player on the planet.  Now he exhibits neither, which is why I’m skeptical of his comeback attempt.  Phil Mickelson, the ultimate showman, is both.  Bottom line:  To play effectively, you need one or the other.

WARNING ALARM!  I hope this isn’t you.  The last time I played my best, I was neither confident nor cocky but rather surprised.  This is not a good state to be in.  It was probably due to my lower level of preparation and infrequent play.  However, five years ago, I was in an excellent hot streak and exhibited a high level of confidence.  When I play and practice a lot, my confidence rises.  Normally, I’m a 95% confident type, but when the 5% cocky appears, I’ll try some boneheaded shot that I haven’t practiced, which leads to a triple bogey.  Have any of you confident types experienced this?

Our personality leads us to either a confident or cocky on-course persona and it’s best to play to your personality.  Unless your on-course behavior is horrible, when we deviate from our personality is when we screw up.  If you are a gregarious show-off, normally you’ll fall in the cocky camp and need to play as such to be comfortable, but if you’re a more quiet unassuming strategist, you’ll play as a confident type.  This is why it took Phil Mickelson so long to adjust his on course behavior away from taking unnecessary risks that cost him several major championships.  He’s still cocky at heart but has learned to become more of a tactician that always plays with a game plan.   I think fans still love when “Phil The Thrill” comes out, but watch him in the majors and especially at The Masters.  He’ll come out with a confident game plan and rarely deviates.

To be successful, you need one or the other.  To find yours, think back when you were in competition and playing your best (and your worst).  What did you have and what were you missing?  As mentioned earlier, at my best I was supremely confident.  At my worst I had nothing and was completely intimidated.

Confident vs. cocky; what works for you?  Shoot me a comment with your type and a story if you’ve got one.  Play well!

2016 PGA Picks

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com
Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

The 2016 PGA Championship has been thrown on its head by the Rio Olympics.  For the first time in recent memory, the start of the fourth major of the season gets under way only 11 days after the third concluded.  The Olympics are turning into a joke and the golf tournament is in the PGA’s traditional August slot.  Who will be able to deal with the change in routine and the shortened rest and recovery window?  The majority of the worlds top players are either skipping the Olympics or have not qualified, and if they manage to recharge quickly enough, could use the disruption to their advantage.  Imagine them charging into the PGA full bore, skipping the Olympics, and using the extra time off to rest up for the Ryder Cup and FedEx playoffs, which also required significant energy.

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk
The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

Make no mistake, the PGA is the most important event left on the calendar and the American and European stars know it and will be highly focused.  Let’s look at the particulars to get you a winner.

Phil Mickelson, fresh off one of his greatest performances in a major, always plays the week before a major but skipped the RBC Canadian Open because of the timing.  Lefty has some local knowledge at Baltustrol, but he played so well at Troon and has got to be deflated from the energy spent on another 2nd place finish.  I suspect he’ll have a go on Thursday and Friday but will run out of gas.  Henrik Stenson can’t possibly duplicate his effort after his performance in The Open.

This major will play out in an epic slug-fest between the world’s top four.  Jason, Jordan, Rory, and DJ are all skipping Rio and have their priorities in order.  They have been bobbing and weaving in the 2016 majors with Dustin Johnson holding an edge in performance and consistency.  Sergio Garcia has been performing well and is always buzzing around the top 5, and the last two majors have been won by players previously on the BPTNWAM list.  Sergio is the trendy pick but he is going to Rio and will be too distracted.  Who will win it?  I am feeling a Rory, DJ and Scott Piercy Sunday horse race  This will be a power ball striking tournament and DJ is striping it better than anyone now.  He is your 2016 PGA champion.  Yes, two majors in one year for a guy I thought would never win one.  Like that pick?  Who’s your pick at Baltustrol?Dustin Johnson

2016 US Open Picks

2016 US OpenFinally, the 2016 US Open returns to a classic course that will produce a classic test.  Oakmont Country Club will feature tight fairways, deep rough, and the fastest greens on earth, and I love it.  If you are a traditionalist, and you believe even-par is a great score in this tournament, and that this should be the hardest tournament on earth to win, you’re in for a treat.  You can’t have been happy with last year’s carnival played at Chambers Bay, or even the 2014 contest at the redesigned Pinehurst #2.

Let’s look at the principals:

Justin Rose won the last US Open contested on a traditional layout (Marion – 2013) and sort of backed into it when Phil Mickelson found another way to finish 2nd.  Rose has got to be considered a contender.  He’s having a great ball striking year but his putter is shaky and these greens are going to be the most difficult the pros play all year.  Regarding Phil, I believe the window is just about closed because of age.  Phil plays more interrupt driven golf than ever before.  Interrupt driven = pars and birdies interrupted by “others”.

Rory McIlroy leads the BABSBP category (Bad Ass Ball Striking Balky Putter) with Justin Rose closely following.  Although Rory is arguably the best ball striker on earth when he’s on, the recent change of putting grip from left hand low to reverse overlap is disconcerting when done so close to a major.  He pulled this before The Masters going from reverse overlap to left hand low and was ineffective.  He struggled on the slickmeisters at The Players too, and when his putting is off, he clearly gets frustrated.  The US Open requires steadiness with the flat stick and more patience than any other tournament, and for that reason, Rory’s out.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth is clearly the best putter in the world.  Jordan Spieth 2015He just recently won at Colonial too.  Current world #1, Jason Day is arguably the best all around player and is deserving of his top ranking.  With apologies to Masters champion Danny Willett, the tournament will come down to these two.  Going head-to-head ten times, Day would win six.  It’s that close.  Will the heat be a factor?  Day has struggled with health issues on and off and during some high visibility moments.  Can Spieth keep the ball in the fairway?  The occasional chicken wing move could be costly on the clutch tee shots on Sunday.  Spieth won at Chambers Bay because he can putt and because there was no rough.  Spieth became more and more jittery over his shots at The Masters and I’m not sure he’s overcome that nervousness.  Day is cool, Day is calm, Day is collected.  Jason Day is your 2016 US Open Champion.  Jason Day SwingDid I miss someone?  Who do you think wins it?

The Augusta Bracket Buster

MizeThis year’s Masters Friday feels like a Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  The early upsets are out of the way, some egos have been crushed, most of our bracket’s are busted, and a refreshing reset has set in.

Bernhard Langer and Larry Mize are headlining the weekend action!  It’s amazing how some of the old timers continually deliver and the favorites disappoint.  Is Phil finally hitting the wall?  Maybe.  As soon as Jack Nicklaus (had Phil) picks you for something, it’s like the kiss of death. 🙂

The first hole travesty that Ernie Els suffered through shouldn’t happen to anyone.  Now this has zero comparison value, but I remember playing in a tournament 25 years ago and five-putting on a par-3 hole.  I just wanted to climb into a shell and disappear.  I cannot imagine how the Big Easy felt on the first hole of the greatest tournament on earth.  It was difficult to watch and to his credit, Ernie answered all the questions with honesty and integrity.

My David and Goliath final match-up is history with both Zach Johnson (cut) and Bubba (made it on the number) shooting themselves out of contention.  Zach was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard on Friday and missed it by those two shots, but was already on the back-nine bogey train and headed for the weekend off.

So how’s this play out?  The good news is that we are in for a surreal weekend treat.  Forget about the traditional Sunday birdie barrage.  Look for a U.S. Open style battle of attrition where even par is a great score and the toughest course conditions in years force the players to grind grind grind.  I think this favors all the ex-U.S. Open champions in the field.  Obviously Spieth has to be favored.  He has the toughest demeanor in the game and the guts around the green.  If the wind continues to blow, the good ball strikers like Rory and Dustin Johnson should be right there although neither of them putt as well as Spieth.  If Justin Rose can banish any putting demons, he has a shot.  Jason Day has a good patient approach and figures to be right there on Sunday, but flights it a little high which could be a problem if the wind is a factor.  And finally, despite making a 9 in Thursday’s round on #15, look for Angel Cabrera to hang tough.  All he does is win when you don’t think he should.  He is definitely a horse for this course and has an Open trophy and a green jacket.

Enjoy the weekend slugfest!  How’s your bracket doing?

Competitive Integrity Problem On Tour?

Phil BunkerDid anyone catch Phil Mickelson’s comments on NBC after Sunday’s final round in the Shell Houston Open?  I believe it was Jimmy Roberts who interviewed Phil and asked him how he felt since he was close but couldn’t close the deal in Houston.  He added were there any takeaways that Phil could share about his game heading into next week’s Masters?  Phil indicated that he basically mismanaged his game on purpose so he could hit some tee shots under game conditions that he would need next week at Augusta.  He added that if he were trying to win at Houston, he would have played more 3-woods instead of drivers off the tee because the fairways narrow considerably around 300 yards.  He said the reason for this was that he was preparing for the cut tee shots with the driver he’d need on several holes at The Masters, most notably on #13.  Phil was actually using this tournament as four practice rounds for Augusta.

When I first heard this I thought, “Phil is a smart guy; he knows how to prep for a major and that’s why he’s already won three Masters.”  Then while I was enjoying the aftermath of Jim Herman’s hard fought one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson, I began to think;  Herman and Stenson battled hard for this title, and so did Dustin Johnson.  Since golf is basically self-policed, with each player calling violations on themselves and attempting to protect the field and thus the integrity of the competition, shouldn’t players in the field be obligated to try their hardest to win at all times?  Not trying your hardest might skew the result in an odd way and have negative downstream effects.  For example, what if on the strength of his victory, Herman made the Ryder Cup team.  If Phil had played to win and defeated Herman, someone else may have made the team.

In organized team sports, at the end of the season, teams sometimes rest their star players; I get that.  However, I’ve never heard the players on the field in any sport admitting to not giving anything less than 100% effort to try and win.  And this was certainly not a case of easing off the gas at the end of a blow out game so as to not run up the score on an opponent.  Does this strike you as odd?  Even though it may be done by others, are you okay with a competitor admitting to not trying to win?  I wonder how Jim Herman might feel. . . I’m a huge Phil fan but am interested to know your thoughts on this.

 

2016 The Masters – Picking a Winner

The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents.  In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life.  It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.Magnolia Lane

The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today.  Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance.  But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”.  Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.

A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury.  We wish him a speedy recovery.

Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.

  • Group 1 (Superstars):  Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title.  Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
  • Group 2 (Cagey Veterans):  Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk.  All major winners and usually in contention.
  • Group 3 (BPTNWM:  Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors.  Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.

There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.

Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion.  Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent.  Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011.  Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up.  I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low.  It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters.  Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason.  Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.

Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is.  He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year.  Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.

Someone with imagination will win The Masters  Someone who’s a great putter will win.  Someone who can grind will win.  Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind?  He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well.  To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday.  Not likely.

Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements.  Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through.  Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta.  He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.

If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy.  Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance.  Sorry Sergio, no chance.  I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson.  Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time.  I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.

So who’s left?  It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson.  David vs Goliath.  Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic.  But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.

So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third.  For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap!  Look for him to contend.

Call your bookies and good luck!Zach Johnson

What Has Experience Taught You?

Rickie Fowler LosesMichael Breed, of The Golf Channel, expressed an interesting definition of experience. He said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Last Sunday, Rickie Fowler got a good dose of experience. Fowler is a seasoned 27-year old professional with six wins world-wide (three on the PGA Tour) and top-5 finishes in all the majors. I’m a Rickie fan and expected him to manage his game better down the stretch, yet what happened on the 17th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale saddened me and will get added to the bone yard of golf “experiences”.Michael Breed

The lesson that has to be learned over and over is that aggressive play under pressure rarely pays off. Rickie last week, Phil Mickelson’s epic collapse at the 2006 US Open, Jean van de Velde at The Open in 1999 at Carnoustie, are just a few examples. It’s fascinating why players don’t learn from those who have gone before them. Maybe the adrenaline release under pressure affects their thinking, but almost always these experiences can be directed to poor course management. In fact, rarely in golf will you get in trouble playing overly-conservative in clutch situations. When Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters, he laid up on every par five and played them 11-under without making a bogey. You may think that’s a whacky strategy for a professional at Augusta, but Zach clearly understood his strengths and limitations, and played to them. Rickie had hit seven drives into the water on #17 at Phoenix in previous rounds! With a two-shot lead why not hit 5-iron-sand wedge and make an easy par or birdie?

Think back to an experience you’ve had. Did you have to experience it to learn or did you learn from someone else’s misfortune? Unfortunately, I’m a hands-on learner and got a lesson on course management under pressure. I was in a club championship match about 20 years ago and standing on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead. This hole has water that stretches fully across the fairway about 320 yards off the tee. I had played the hole hundreds of times but had never hit the water. The day was hot, the wind was blowing hard from behind, and the ground was dry.  My drive trickled into the front bank of the hazard and I had to struggle to make bogey. Fortunately, my nearest competitor made par and I finished one stroke ahead but I will never forget the feeling I had looking at my ball sitting on the mud bank and thinking, “What were you thinking?”

Are you a risk taker under pressure or can you manage your game to your abilities? Please share a similar experience if you have one.

Thanks and play well!

Serious Improvement for 2016

Phil BunkerToday I should have been out cutting down a Christmas tree but the weather was too good to waste so I called my wife’s friend and scheduled the third installment of her beginner’s golf instruction.  Last time out, we covered putting and etiquette and today we hit the range at Little Bennett to work some full swing and short game.  The practice area was predictably packed but we got in a full two hours.

As is sometimes the case, when you teach or demonstrate a skill to someone else, you sometimes gain clarity on how you can better employ the same skill for yourself.  Have you found that to be the case?  I had the epiphany about my own improvement for 2016 while showing my pupil how to chip.   I NEED TO TAKE SHORT GAME LESSONS.  Actually the thought was percolating in my subconscious after my round last weekend.  I had been tinkering with the thought of implementing an early wrist hinge in hopes of improving my ball striking but abandoned that WOOD band-aid and just went out and played.  My ball striking was good but my short game was terrible.  I usually find during slow periods when I’ve had a layoff or am not actively working on my game, my full swing sustains but the short game touch is fleeting.  Sound familiar?

Anyway, I realized that my issue around the greens is always that I’m playing too defensively.  I think it’s because I don’t have confidence in my technique and as a result am indecisive on which shot to play.  Admittedly, my first thought before hitting a short shot is to “not miss it too badly” instead of “sink it,” like Phil would.  I believe I have the shots but need a pro to reinforce the proper mechanics, especially with my wedges.  Perhaps that will turn my short game into the aggressive weapon that I need.

On the full swing, I’ve come to realize that my move has been grooved over a 40-year period, and it has been extremely hard to change anything other than grip and ball position.  You truly do revert to your learned habits over such an extended duration and I’ve tried to change my swing so many times with adverse effects that it just doesn’t make sense.

So here’s hoping the good weather holds in the DMV and with luck we’ll be playing through New Years.  I’m off to find a short game guru . . . and buy a Christmas tree.

Play well!

2015 British Open Picks

Boy what I would give for a ticket to this year’s British Open Championship at St. Andrews.  The story lines are compelling, especially Jordan Spieth’s attempt to win the third leg of the Grand Slam.  Early odds have him as an overwhelming favorite now that his main competition, Rory McIlroy is injured.  The board (sans McIlroy) looks eerily similar to the pre-tournament  betting at the U.S. Open.  Spieth is the heavy favorite, and way ahead of Dustin Johnson, who’s at 12:1.  Again, these are not the actual win probabilities, but how the public has elected to wager their money.  Let’s sift through the data and get a smart pick for those who failed to cash in on Spieth at Chambers Bay.

St Andrews from telegraph.co.uk
St Andrews
from telegraph.co.uk

The principals:

Think Jordan Spieth needs more seasoning to win The Open?  This guy handles pressure better than anyone on the planet.  He putts better than anyone on the planet, and has more guts than anyone on the planet.  I’m pulling very hard for him this week but don’t think he closes the deal.  Why?  The Open, more than any other major, is susceptible to the come out of nowhere winners like Darren Clarke, Tod Hamilton, and Ben Curtis.  Also, some ageless contender like Tom Watson or Greg Norman (in their 50s) seems to make a serious run.  It’s clear, the slower greens are the equalizer and don’t require as much nerve to putt, which negates Spieth’s advantage.  I also don’t like that he’s playing John Deere in-lieu of the Scottish Open.  He should have made the trip early to get acclimated.  Make no mistake, he deserves the short odds and is playing the best in the world right now.  I’m hopeful he gets it done but just don’t see it.

Rory McIlroy;  very unfortunate timing on the ankle injury and will not play.  Last time out at St. Andrews, Rory finished 3rd in The Open, eight shots behind in the route perpetuated by Louis Oosthuizen.    Oosthuizen has a beautiful swing but only seems to be in contention in every third or fourth tournament.  Not this week.

Excellent value play is Adam Scott.  Scott has gone back to the long putter, had a solid U.S. Open, shooting 64 in the final round, and seems to have shaken off his early season doldrums by resigning Stevie Williams on the bag.  Williams was with Tiger Woods for both his Open Championship victories at St. Andrews which is a significant intangible.  The stars are aligned, and at 20:1 odds the smart money is backing the Aussie.

What to do with Dustin Johnson.  If anyone can forget the debacle at Chambers Bay it’s D.J.  Nothing seems to phase him, but that three-putt was a bad choke; worse than the grounded club debacle at Whistling Straits in the PGA.  Can he overcome?  He’ll either contend or totally collapse.  I think he contends and puts up a good fight.  If D.J. is going to win a major, it will be The Open on the slower greens.  I’m not feeling the closing power this week, though.

Sneaky long shot is Retief Goosen.  You can get him at 250:1 to win and I don’t see a victory in his future but would not rule out a top 10.  Goose is the perfect horse for this course despite his inconsistent play of late.

Interesting side note:  I’m watching Phil and Tiger head-to-head this week.  They’re both in the 25-30:1 range but trending in opposite directions, Phil is at the age where majors rarely are won.  He still has game but doesn’t seem to put four consecutive rounds together any more.  Tiger had a decent showing at Greenbriar in some very soft conditions.  Links golf with it’s precision ball placement off the tee doesn’t suit Tiger’s rebuild project.  If the wind gets up, it could get ugly.  I’m thinking Lefty takes him down.

So here we go, call your bookmaker.

Claret Jug winner:  Adam Scott

Runner Up:  Jordan Spieth

Third:  Dustin Johnson

Who are your picks at St. Andrews?

Adam Scott from bbc.co.uk
Adam Scott
from bbc.co.uk

 

 

Becoming A Better Putter

I believe there is a putting spectrum that every player resides in and it looks something like this:  [Fear >> Indifference>>Confidence>>Warrior].  Somewhere you will find yourself and the state of your putting.  You may never get off your current state, you may improve, or you may regress.  My views on putting have evolved after reading many books, trying just about every technique possible, and studying the habits and advice of excellent putters.  Despite all that work, I was mirrored in a spot between Fear and Indifference for a very long time.  There is a lot of truth to the old axiom that putting is 10% stroke and 90% nerve, and the solution I’m about to share is largely a solve for the 90%.

Fear is when you view your putting as a weakness and treat it as a chore within the game.  “Oh great, I’m on the green, now I have to putt.”  Or you’d rather chip than putt from one foot off the green.  Basically, you know you suck with the blade and the trepidation overwhelms any ball striking success, and your scores suffer.  I never feared putting to that extent, but I’ve always feared rolling the ball past the hole.  I never understood why (still don’t), but as a result, I left many long putts short of tap in range, and did not strike short putts solid enough to hold their line.  I still have the same fear of going long with chips and pitches and am working on a solution for that.  So the fear fully infested my game inside about 50 yards of the hole.

My first clue out was a couple of years ago after a particularly bad spell of lag putting.  I couldn’t get the ball halfway to the hole, and one day changed my pre-shot routine to just take practice strokes with my trailing (right) hand.  I noticed I was making what felt like these huge practice strokes, and I’d just put my left hand back on and pulled the trigger on the putt.  For some reason my feel for distance improved but it felt like I was killing the ball and the feeling didn’t last long because I didn’t trust it.

Last fall, I became interested in Phil Mickelson’s putting problems and how he was working his way out by going back to fundamentals.  I liked the circle drill he used on the shorties because it was a rehearsal followed by a quick stroke, which I figured shouldn’t allow him time to think; just follow his routine.  I decided to try the circle drill on all my putts, not just the shorties.  And that is the crux of my solution.

The solve:

Now I will read putts standing halfway between the ball and hole and only sometimes confirm my read from behind the ball.  Oddly enough, I’ll get a better feel for break with my feet along the line of the putt than with my eyes from behind the ball.  This is a radical change from my previous routine and took some getting used to.  Standing halfway between ball and hole gives me a great perspective on the uphill or downhill nature of the putt which is critical to judging distance.  While I’m halfway, I make sure I’m far enough back to site both the ball and hole in my peripheral vision, and then make my practice strokes, just feeling the distance.  I then step up to the ball and line it up with no additional practice strokes and try to hold the putter as lightly as possible before hitting the putt and trying to feel the motion of my practice stroke.  I do this for every putt of every length.  For the first month, this didn’t work too well until I learned to trust my practice swing and the very soft grip pressure.  You know you are trusting it when it feels a little like you are rushing over the ball and hitting it very quickly.  In essence, you are not letting doubts about read or speed creep in and you simply make a reactionary move.  Now when I practice my putting the three things I focus on are  soft hands, judging the practice stroke, and trusting it over the ball.  TRUST is the key.

Notice, the only mechanical thought I mentioned was “soft hands”.  If you are continually pulling or pushing the ball, or not hitting it solid, you may have a mechanical error that needs to first be addressed.  But if you’re comfortable with your fundamentals and are trying to improve your feel, guts, and nerve, give this method a try.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my putting stats are vastly improved for the first part of the season.  They are just numbers, but you know in your heart when something positive has taken hold and this has.  I’m definitely at the ‘Confidence’ point on the spectrum and am seeking Warrior status.  It may be awhile and will probably coincide with the solving of my chipping and pitching trepidations but I look forward to the day when my game is a total weapon inside of 50 yards.