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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

HGO Tip of the Week: Manage Your Misses

One key to posting consistent good scores is managing your misses. When planning a shot, think about where the best place is to miss the shot if you don't execute it properly. If you miss, you want to try and leave yourself in a position where you can still get up and down for par. For example, if there is trouble over the green, when deciding what club to hit, err on the side of coming up short, as you will still be in play and safe from the trouble. Managing your misses will help to avoid the round-wrecking high numbers we have all experienced!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Player Profile: Byron Nelson

With the Tour stopping in Irving, Texas this week for the HP Byron Nelson Championship, I wanted to briefly remind you about the amazing career of the man who lent his name to this Championship so many years ago, "Lord" Byron Nelson.

Nelson grew up caddying and playing golf at a small club in Fort Worth, Glen Garden Country Club, with another friend and rival:  Ben Hogan.  Maybe you have heard of him?  Can you imagine bopping around the Glen Garden caddyshack back in the day looking for a loop and killing time by talking with a couple of kids who would turn out to be two of the greatest golfers of all time?  Makes me feel like I got a little cheated when I was caddying growing up with guys collecting unemployment and also caddying so they could get paid in cash and Uncle Same was none the wiser -- but I digress.

Lord Byron (a name given to him by iconic sportswriter O.B. Keeler) was one of the games most beloved players, always carrying himself as a true sportsman and the consummate gentleman.  His playing record is nothing short of stunning, netting 52 professional victories, including 5 majors (2 Masters, 2 U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship).  But here is the kicker:  Nelson retired from golf when he was 34.  Tiger is older than that now, as is Mickelson, Els, and Furyk, all pros who are still very much capable of winning big time tournaments.  Imagine if Nelson kept playing instead of getting a comfortable enough bank account so that he and his wife could retire to the cattle ranch he always dreamed of owning?

But of course, Nelson is best known for what he did in 1945, where he had a year that will never be topped.  That year, he entered 35 PGA Tour tournaments and won 18 of them, including 11 in a row.  He also finished second a remarkable 7 times.  You couldn't rival those numbers playing the full season mode in Tiger Woods' EA Sports game.

So when you are watching the coverage this weekend, or out on the course taking huge chunks out of your local links, stop for a second and tip your cap to Lord Byron, one of the best who ever played.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shaking Off A Tough Round

I played yesterday morning, and it was just brutal.  I was terrible.  I think I had 6 double bogeys, including consecutive ones on 9 and 10 after tee shots that left me within 100 yards of the hole, in the fairway, each time.  It felt like I had never even played before.  What a frustrating day.  We have all been there, I know.  It is part of what makes golf such a maddening game at times!  I felt like even if I played left-handed with my shoes on the wrong feet, I could not possibly have played worse than I did yesterday.  Except we all know that it could always be worse.  But I gotta get through the day, you know?

What was especially tough for me is that it was one of the last practice rounds before playing in the first big event at the club I just joined.  The upcoming event is called the President's Cup, and the format is you play a qualifying round and the low 32 net scores advance to match play.  It has been circled on my calendar, and qualifying for match play was one of my golf goals for the year, and qualifying is next weekend.  Talk about a real kick in the pants to the confidence.

So after the debacle on 10, and a snap hook tee shot on 11 that was a direct result of me being so pissed off about the prior hole, I started trying to just view each hole as a way to try to get some good practice in on certain situations I will face in the qualifying round -- getting better contact out of the brutal rough, hitting consistent bunker shots, and effective lag putting, to name a few things.  That was the way I made it through the rest of the round.  It didn't help the numbers on the scorecard at all, but at least I felt like the rest of the round from hell had a purpose.

Also, I took out my copy of Play Your Best Golf Now, which I wrote about last week, to see where I may have gone off the rails from a VISION54 perspective and to formulate a plan for effectively practicing this week to get back on track.  The book had many helpful thoughts and tips, and I have some good homework to do.

I am curious what others do when they are trying to shake off a bad round.  I know there is a school of thought that says forget about it and pretend like it didn't happen, chalking the nightmare up to just having a bad day.  As a Philly sports nut, I have seen enough inexplicable beatdowns adminstered to my favorite teams where the Coach says you just stick the tape from the game in a drawer and never even look at it (I am looking at you, Andy Reid).  But with golf, I feel like I need to try to find some silver lining to focus on to avoid the desire to throw my clubs in the river.

So let's hear it?  How do you cope when you play golf the way Jean Van de Velde played the last hole on that fateful Sunday at Carnoustie?         

New Tip of the Week: Draw a Line on Your Ball for Putting Alignment Help!

Need help with putting alignment?  Draw a line on your ball to help you line up your putts.  We all know alignment when putting is critical to making putts, so give yourself every advantage you can.  Aim the line drawn on your ball to where you want to roll the putt, and place the ball on the green so you can focus on hitting the ball at the base of the line.  It will help you focus on hitting the same part of the ball with each putt, which will help with your consistency, and get you rolling the ball on the right line from the beginning every time. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dream Golf Foursome

My favorite Philly sports talk radio station, 610 WIP, had a great golf related topic of conversation last night -- what is your dream golf foursome?  They cheated a little bit, and were letting the callers actually put together a fivesome (with apologies to the course rangers for that round, of course).  So the question is:  who are the four people in the world (living or dead) that you would want to play a round with?  Here is my dream "fivesome" along with why they made the cut.  I must say that this was way more difficult to put together than I thought it would be!  Too many great options to choose from!

-Ben Hogan:  Any foursome I put together would have to begin and end with The Hawk.  The guy literally invented practice.  Think about that for a second -- that statement is amazing in and of itself.  I think I would opt to play with the later years Hogan, to fully benefit from all of his experience and the lessons he learned over the years.  Also, perhaps the older version of Hogan may have a little bit (and I really mean a little bit) softer personality than he had during his peak playing years.  I would really love to see if I could get Hogan to tell me his fabled secret, and ask him what walking 36 in one day at Merion en route to a U.S. Open victory, in excruciating pain,really felt like. 

-John F. Kennedy:  I am an Irish Catholic, so was raised to put JFK on a pedestal as high as they come.  My mother still has a picture in her house of JFK and the Pope sewing the "seeds of peace" in a field. The Commander in Chief who was #2 on my list of Top 5 Golfing Presidents definitely gets a spot in my dream foursome.  You want a lesson in being cool under pressure?  How about taking it from the guy who stared down the possibility of worldwide nuclear annihilation in the face and figured out a way to walk us back from the brink?  It really would put that tough four footer for par in context.  Plus, he was a true golf fanatic who loved the game.

-Bing Crosby:  One of the best entertainers of all time, you know Bing would add a colorful flavor to the group.  Bing, a true golf nut, also hosted the legendary Crosby Clambake for decades, which contributed greatly to the development of the pro game in the early years of the Tour and provided years of entertainment for the masses as the legends of golf mingled with the legends of Hollywood.  Can you imagine the stories that Bing would spin while you are out there on the links?  It would be hard to concentrate, that's for sure.  I think it is fair to say that when it comes to Hollywood, Bing knew where lots of bodies were buried.  He could keep you entertained for the round, and then of course, during some nice cocktails afterwards.

-Annika Sorenstam:  Arguably (and certainly in my opinion) the greatest female golfer of all time (and one of the best golfers of all time, period), having Annika in the group would be a blast because she is one of the nicest people in the sport today.  I had the pleasure of meeting her a couple of times when I was younger, when the LPGA Championship was held in Delaware.  Annika always went out of her way to chat with me, and genuinely seemed interested in my love of the game.  The fact that she would take time before or after a round to do that is something I still marvel at, and something I will never forget.  It made such a huge impact on me as a developing golfer.  I also think that Annika has one of the purest swings I have ever seen.  It was a joy to watch her hit a golf ball.  A true ambassador of the game, I know that I could learn an awful lot about winning from one of the best ever!

So naturally, the next question becomes, where to play?  I have gone round and round on this one too, and while there are many great options, including Augusta, the Old Course and Merion, the one course I keep going back to is Pebble Beach.  You could get all the local knowledge you need from Bing (it was practically his home course) and being able to play one of golf's hallowed tracks with this crew would be a day for the ages!

So now you have my dream foursome -- what is yours?  Let's hear it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review of "Play Your Best Golf Now"

I was recently sent a copy of Play Your Best Golf Now by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, which was released earlier this month for sale.

Let me make this very simple - this is the best golf instructional book I have ever read.  You should buy it, read it, pick one or two of the principles to start working on, and then repeat.  It is THAT good.  If you buy one golf instructional book this year, make it this one.

I have long since thought that too many golfers today are so focused on the highly technical aspects of the golf swing that they lose sight of the fact that so much of golf is won or lost between the ears and in how you approach the game.  There are many different ways to swing a golf club to get successful results.  What you need to focus on is finding the swing and the approach that works best for you, not trying to mimic Tiger or Phil's position at the top or their hip rotation through the swing.

Pia and Lynn take a holistic approach to the game, and their views and advice are both effective and refreshing.  The concept that they have developed is called VISION54 -- the "54" is a reference to the ideal round of golf, which they define as 18 birdies on a par 72 golf course.  That would be a nice round, huh?  Pia and Lynn will take you through the critical mental aspects of game as well as focusing your attention on some oft overlooked concepts like balance and tempo.  This book will give you the opportunity to take your current game -- even with its faults -- and get better right now without overhauling your swing, which is a very attractive concept for people who do not have the time to devote to a major swing reconstruction.

The book lays out "The 8 Essential Playing Skills" and "The 2 Essential Practice Skills."  Each chapter then discusses in detail the importance of each skill, gives real life examples of the skills in practice and then ends with exercises you can do to get better at that particular skill.  The beauty of the book, and their approach to the game, is that the authors explain things in clear, easy to understand terms and then give you practical tips, exercises and drills to take the skills from the book to your game.

The Practice Essentials discussed in the book alone are worth the price of admission, as they will truly change the way that your view your practice time.  I have never been a good practice golfer, and this book convinced me to change my approach to get more out of the time I have on the range or the practice green.  It is already paying dividends for me.

There is so much fantastic information in here that it can be a little bit overwhelming for those of you who, like me, are new to the VISION54 approach.  So I think that the best way to tackle the book is to read it and then pick one essential skill to work on at a time.  You should read the entire book to get a sense of the approach that Lynn and Pia are advocating, but I think it is wise to break the book into smaller pieces for you to digest and integrate into your game.

This book will teach you how to get out of your own way and unlock the potential for you to consistently go low.  I cannot tell you how many times when I was reading the book that I thought, "Yeah, that makes total sense" or "I definitely do that and I did not even realize I was doing it."  These mini-realizations are key steps in the process of reaching your VISION54 potential.  It is within all of us, just waiting for us to realize it.  Now go get started!

I can wholeheartedly say that I am now a VISION54 devotee, and think you should be to!  The only thing you have to lose is strokes off of your final score!

Tip of the Week: Hitting the Ball Below Your Feet

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed how to hit the ball when it is above your feet.  Today, we focus on the opposite, when you are confronted with the ball below your feet, which is a troublesome shot for many of us.

The key to this shot is staying low to the ground in order to make sure you get the clubhead low enough to make solid contact.  Don't choke down at all on the club, you want to make sure you are getting the benefit of the club's full length.  Remember that the ball will want to fade to the right from this lie, so take that into account and aim a little farther left than usual.  During the swing, your thought should be keeping your knees flexed so you can get all the way down to hit the ball square.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marquee Pairings at THE PLAYERS This Week

Big week on Tour as everyone travels to TPC Sawgrass to face the legendary 17th hole at THE PLAYERS this week.  The PGA is big on the capitalization thing this year, so I thought I would be a loyal soldier and follow suit  You will recall that the 17th was ranked #4 on my top 5 coolest shots in golf list.

You probably knew that THE PLAYERS was this week based on the flood of media advertising that was done with Coach Hayden Fox dramatically standing in an empty theater telling you about pressure and all of that.  If you have watched golf over the last month, you can't possibly have missed it.  I miss Coach, by the way.  That was a great show - I really loved the Minnesota Screaming Eagles.  When Luther finally got a job as a head coach but then committed an NCAA violation on his first day, that was a real heart breaker.  But I digress.

Anyway, the pairings are out for the first two days, and I wanted to give you a preview of some of the marquee match-ups to keep an eye on over the first couple of days.  Here are the best ones:

7:57 a.m. Thursday, off of the tenth tee:  Henrik Stenson, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard
-8:08 a.m. Thursday, off of the first tee:  Matt Kuchar, Martin Kaymer and Tiger
-8:08 a.m. Thursday, off of the tenth tee:  Bubba Watson, Luke Donald and Mark Wilson (see how length matters in this match-up, as Watson will be about 40 yards farther off each tee than Donald)
-8:18 a.m. Thursday, off of the first tee:  Lucas Glover, Ernie Els and Paul Casey
-1:18 p.m. Thursday, off of the tenth tee:  Jim Furyk, Dustin Jonhson and Graeme McDowell
-2:10 p.m. Thursday, off the first tee:  Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero and Alvaro Quiros

I think that THE PLAYERS could have done a little better job with the pairings as far as building the level of excitement for the first couple of days.  The Tour has done a nice job with that so far this season, but I think came up surprisingly small in putting together the groups for the first two rounds this week, especially given how many great players are in the field.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Seve Ballesteros: Golf Loses A Great Champion

On Saturday, golf lost one of its greatest players and ambassadors, when Seve Ballesteros lost his fierce battle with a brain tumor.  He was only 54, and with his passing, golf -- and a whole generation of golfers -- was deprived forever of getting to know and love one of golf's legends.  Seve was one of the game's most beloved and colorful characters.  His passion for the game was infectious and so many of the top International players today point to Seve as the man who served as their inspiration to take up the game and dare to be great.  For that feat alone, the game owes him an immeasurable debt of gratitude.

Seve's professional resume is nothing short of stunning.  He was a five time major champion (winning the Masters twice and the British Open three times).  He won nearly 90 tournaments worldwide.  He was a perennial -- and dominant -- Ryder Cup participant.  He played on 8 Ryder Cup teams and won 22.5 points in his 37 matches.  He was the winning captain of the European Ryder Cup team in 1997, when the event was held in his native Spain.  He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.

Seve was the ultimate escape artist; a true magician with an ability to pull off remarkable and miraculous recoveries on the course when it looked as if all hope was lost. put together a great list of Youtube videos that give you a flavor of some of Seve's Houdini-like escapes.  There is a video that includes my favorite, when Seve made a birdie 3 in the 1979 British Open from a parking lot, which is where his drive ended up, in route to his first major victory.  Part of what made people love him was that even when he was his most wayward, he still had a smile on his face and had the ability to poke fun at himself, which only further endeared him to the masses.  At times, he hit shots the way we all did during our rounds -- from the wrong fairways, underneath trees and yes, even from parking lots -- and we loved him for it.  When asked one time how he four putted a green, his response was, "I miss, I miss, I miss, I make."  Classic Seve.

But for most golf fans, when you think of Seve, the first thing that comes to mind is the Ryder Cup.  Seve lived and breathed the Ryder Cup.  It was his event.  And make no mistake, Seve put the Ryder Cup on the map and was the most instrumental force in turning the event from an exhibition that took place every other year to the most anticipated event in the game.  His record there was remarkable, as was his longtime partnership with fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabel.  They were the best Ryder Cup pairing of all time, and their record will one that will not be topped, I suspect.  In 15 matches, they won 11 times and halved two more.  So what made the Ryder Cup the event he held closest to his heart?  Part of it was his fierce competitive spirit, which was peaked by the pride of playing for country and continent.  Part of it was also his love of teaching and mentoring younger players, who listened to him with awe and carried out his commands with Swiss-watch precision.  And part of it, no doubt, was sticking it to the Americans.  But perhaps what Seve loved most was the psychological battle of match play, which gave him such a decided advantage.  He loved to needle his opponents, whether by inciting the crowd or performing a well-timed throat clearing, and oftentimes beat them between their ears before he beat them on the course.  He especially loved being able to hit a shot that only he could make, and pull a victory on a hole where it seemed as if he would certainly lose it.  Seve willed his teams to victory; he would not let them lose.  When he was captain in 1997, was there anyone who really thought that Seve would let his team lose in his home country?  I think not.  Here is a great Sports Illustrated article that details Seve's Ryder Cup victory in 1997 and the tight ship he ran as "El Capitan."

Golf would not be the worldwide phenomenon that it is today without Seve's influence.  He enriched the sport and our lives in ways that are too numerous to count.  One can be sure that Seve is somewhere stalking the fairways of the great beyond looking for a game.  He will be truly be missed.  


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Frogger Golf Towel

I wanted to let all of you know about a cool golf product that I bought while making a recent visit (read spending binge) to Golf Galaxy.  Its called the Amphibian Towel from Frogger.  It is an awesome golf towel and I would highly recommend it to you.  Here is what makes the towel different than your standard one -- the towel is built with an inner pocket, or pouch, that allows you to have a full wet towel and a full dry towel all rolled into one.

On a dry day, you pour water into the pouch so that you have that compartment within the towel to clean your clubs after each shot, giving you cleaner grooves to attack the pins.  The inner pouch stayed wet through my whole round.  But the genius of the product is that there is a moisture proof barrier so that the outside portion of the towel will stay dry to dry off your newly cleaned clubs and do anything else you need throughout the round.

On a rainy day, you switch the wet side with the dry side.  You keep the outside part, which is exposed to the rain, wet while the pouch inside will stay dry to wipe down your grips and help you to keep your hands on the club in those rainy conditions.  The dual use is what makes this towel a fantastic purchase.

A clean ball and clean clubs on a dry day and dry grips on a wet day, all courtesy of one towel that clips to your bag.  What more could you ask for?  I have used the towel for three or four rounds now, in both wet and dry conditions, and it really is worth a look.  You can purchase the towel online here for $29.95.   

Monday, May 2, 2011

USGA To Revisit Ball Movement Rule

"I better limit my comments on that rule, because I think it's such a bad rule," lamented Webb Simpson after being victimized yesterday by a one stroke penalty yesterday on 15 when his ball moved after he had addressed the ball even though the ball moved through no fault of his own.  He ended up losing in a playoff, so it is not far-fetched to say the ruling cost him his first PGA Tour victory.  The USGA rule in question penalizes a player if the ball moves after the ball is addressed.  It does not matter if the ball moves through no action the player takes -- i.e. it moves because the wind is blowing. 

If you remember back to last year's British Open at St. Andrew's, play was suspended at one point because high winds on the course were making it difficult to mark balls on the green without the ball moving.  A corollary to that problem is that the players would be at risk for incurring a penalty stroke in such conditions, which also factored into the decision to suspend play.

Another interesting tidbit related to this rule was that back in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, the greens were cut so close and were rolling so fast that eventual winner Ben Hogan decided that he would not ground his putter during the championship -- and thus he avoided addressing the ball under the Rules of Golf -- for fear that the ball would move before he struck it and be assessed a penalty.

In response to Webb's unfortunate penalty, the USGA announced today that once again it is considering a change to the Rules of Golf.  This announcement comes a month after the USGA changed the disqualification rules in certain situations when a player signs an incorrect scorecard.  You can read my previous post on that topic here.  At today's U.S. Open media day at Congressional, USGA Vice President Thomas O'Toole announced that the USGA is going to actively consider modifying this rule starting in 2012.  O'Toole elaborated, "If some other agency - wind or gravity - is known to cause that ball to move, no penalty would be applied."

More kudos to the USGA for realizing (too late for Simpson) that this is a rule that needs to be modified as it makes no sense to penalize a player for the ball moving because of external forces not brought about by the player.  The strong sense coming out of media day is that you can expect that this rule will be changed when it comes time for the PGA Tour to kick off in Hawaii next January.    

HGO Tip of the Week: Increased Putter Control

Looking for more control with the flat stick?  Try placing your index finger down the grip when you are putting (right index finger for righties, left index finger for lefties).  This was a tip I remember hearing from Juli Inkster many years ago.  I tried it back then and have been doing it ever since.  It helps me keep the putter on line through the hitting zone and gives me more control over my stroke.
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