Friday, May 28, 2010

Golf Advice for the Ladies.

At the beginning of the year the United States Golf Academy introduced the United States Golf Academy for Women. Our goal was to draw attention to the fact that while it may not be politically correct to admit it, there is a difference in how we should evaluate and teach the game to men and women. The differences are more numerous than one column can handle, but I would like to point out some of the most obvious.

Let’s start with golf clubs. Just because it says on the box they are ladies clubs doesn’t mean they work for every lady. You don’t see generic men’s sets. Even at their most basic, men’s golf clubs at least have shaft flex options. Ladies sets always have generic “ladies” shafts. If the truth were told, when fit to the correct flex and more important the correct weight shaft for their swings, players with slower to medium swing speeds gain as much or more benefit than players with faster speeds. Moral of the story, never choose a shaft by gender.

Ladies, the quickest way to start playing better golf is to get equipment that fits and you have the right combination of golf clubs in your bag to satisfy your distance needs. The traditional set of golf clubs 3 woods, 8 irons, 2 wedges and a putter was established by golf equipment companies. They were trying to take advantage of the consistency of steel shafts and mass market golf equipment. In the hickory shaft era, because of the variables in hickory shafts, sets of clubs were accumulated one club at a time, based on the players distance needs. That was and is still the best way, especially for players of slower swing speeds. If I look in a man’s golf bag I will typically see a mixed set, but when you look into a woman’s they are always matched sets in the traditional set up. The clubs need to match the player, not themselves!

Our first advice to the ladies who attend the Women’s Academy is to pick out your favorite clubs and put the rest in the trunk of the car. Using your favorites only play a few rounds and evaluate your needs. There is no disgrace in having favorites. These are the clubs that fit your swing. Now evaluate for distance. For example, you might hit a 7 wood 140 yards and your next best club is a 7 iron that goes 100. So for starters you need a club for 120 yards. If there is a club in the car that works, use it. If not let your local PGA pro help you find one that does.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hold on to the Club.

Sometimes the easiest solutions to our golf problems are the fundamental things we overlook. One of those is grip pressure. Imagine this for a moment. We have a robot that makes a perfect swing every time. If the ball is in the correct location, the robot makes the swing and the ball flies high and true. Now for the next shot we loosen the set screws that connect the club to the robot and hit another shot. You can imagine the results.

Ball striking is much simpler if you have a secure grip on the club all the way through the swing. Sam Snead advised to hold the club as if you were holding a bird, light enough to not hurt the bird but with enough pressure to not let the bird escape. I think that advice is sound but I prefer the advice of Jackie Burke Jr. who says to pretend the bird is a hawk. The vast majority of players we observe at the United States Golf Academy quite simply do not hold with enough pressure to maintain control through the swing. You can tell when a player has grip pressure issues by simply watching their swing. Instead of a smooth motion building speed until impact, the club goes moves in an irregular pattern of slow and fast. You will also see unusually long backswings, as the player relaxes their hands at the top of the swing and the club head drops or dips.

Check your glove. Are there wear marks in the palm of the glove? Do you have large calluses on your non- glove hand? Do your hands sting? Is there a tendency to hit the ball fat or top one occasionally? All of these are often the result from not having a solid connection to the club. The solution is simple to say, “hold on to the club,” but hard to implement. Next time out, try this: Start with very small swings and focus on your hands. Hold the club securely but not so firm that your wrists lose flexibility. Relax your shoulders and your arms. Now extend your swing. As you swing back farther, are you able to maintain control of the club? Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed and try to maintain your grip. If you focus on control rather than speed you will find the quality of the shots improve. If this little drill is difficult, it is probably worth a trip to your local professional to talk about a change in grip size or grip profile. There are a number of new grips on the market that are larger under the right hand. It might just be the solution to the problem.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Choosing a Golf Ball.

Let’s start this week with a riddle. What is the one piece of golf equipment used for every shot you play? Give up? It is the golf ball. One more question. How do you decide what ball you will use during a round of golf? The most popular answers are: “Any ball I can find”, “Whatever someone will give me”, or “the ones I got for Christmas.” From the United States Golf Academy point of view these are not the answers we are looking for from people trying to shoot lower scores or play more consistent golf.

Now at this point in the discussion we usually hear the ball doesn’t matter. That is just not true. The advances in golf ball technology are leaps and bounds past the advances in other equipment. In addition, there is a much greater range of performance in golf balls. Some fly high, some fly lower. Some spin, some don’t. Some work better at slower speeds; some are built for only the fastest. All these selections require some thought as to which one would best suit your game. As you evaluate your choices, try to do it without thought to distance. Everyone wants a golf ball that goes farther and you can easily choose a ball that will help you find some more distance. But, achieving that goal with a golf ball choice skips some important aspects of your game. For example, ask yourself this question. Could you use some help stopping the ball on the green? A different golf ball might just be the solution.

Why does this matter? Simply put, each time you change golf ball models you have to change how you play. It may seem like a small thing, but when the ball ends up in a bunker or off the back of the green, or 20 yards shorter than you expect, those results might been influenced by the golf ball you chose for the day. I have yet to see a golfer yet who would not benefit from some consistency and it is tough to be consistent when you change equipment for every round. How can you predict what club to hit if you’re uncertain how the ball might fly? By finding a ball you like and sticking with it, you might find some confidence that you have chosen the correct club. If you are looking for some help keep us in mind. On Sunday June 13th, Rock Ishi, Golf Ball Designer for Nike will be at the Academy from 11p.m.-3p.m. for a seminar on how to find the right ball for you. This is free, open to the public and a rare opportunity to learn from the source on how to find the best golf ball for you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Using a Line on the Ball for Putting

One of the problems to using the line on the ball is that player's react to it with their strokes. Let's use Tiger Wood's stroke as an example. Tiger opens the putter more than average on his back swing. A perfect arc is about 4 degrees open to 4 degrees closed (Iron Archie robot. Tiger uses about twice that much. So right at impact you see this hit or rapid closing of the putter at impact. For Tiger that brings the putter to a closed position realtive to his path. So his best strokes are a little inside out.

Some players using a line have straighter paths with less rotation. But the same release!! Closing the putter more and hitting pulls. We thought that release was a reaction to the line. After about 6 months of tests I can say with some confidence that it was. For every player I worked with who used a line I asked them to hit some putts without one. The release changed and slowed dramatically. For some the problem was amplified because once they hit a couple of pulls they began to steer or search with every stroke and lost their consistency.

This is not a knock on using the line!! Only an example of how some can't use it. There are many players who use the line successfully. Anything is possible with some knowledge.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Old Thoughts on New Technology

Last week, during one of our Academy sessions, we discussed how to best utilize the new technologies available in golf equipment. I was asked if I thought the great players of past generations would be better had they been able to use modern equipment in their prime. As a former employee of Arnold Palmer and the fortunate observer of a number of great players during my career, I feel I have a few educated opinions on the subject and some of them might surprise you.

1. They would enjoy the distance control provided by the new golf ball technologies. The golf balls of my childhood and development years were really poor compared to today.

2. They would appreciate the consistency of equipment. Manufacturer’s specifications for golf clubs are much more specific than even 15 years ago. Finding a good driver is easy today compared with the search Mr. Palmer had to endure. Finding and compiling a set of playable golf clubs was hard work in his era. It is much easier today and a shame if you have not taken advantage of the improved fitting potential of the new technologies.

3. But for these instances and some other lesser points, the truth is they would not really notice much of a difference. Why? They hit the ball in the center of the clubface, every time. The new technology has not done much to improve the quality of a perfectly struck shot. What about distance? The distance increase is the same for everyone and not just a select few. So there would be no real competitive advantage. The long hitters are still longer.

So my answer to the question is no. They would still great, but not better as they had already achieved what the rest of us are looking for. Their scores might be lower, but so would the guys they were beating. What separates the great from the runners up is the ability to predict what the ball will do on any given shot. That ability only comes from hitting the ball on the same spot on the golf club every time.

Even though the modern equipment is much more forgiving and makes playing the game more fun, you still need to hit the ball on the sweet spot. The real benefit of a good club-fit is to help you find the center of the club on a more consistent basis. Mark the back of a ball, so impact marks the face of the club. How are you doing? If the strikes are all over the face you might want to get with a professional to find some help.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Little Patience Goes a Long Way

Most of us play golf with the hope that there is always a tomorrow and the expectation of better things, or in this case a better score, on the golf course. For some of us this does not happen nearly enough, but there are always those one or two days a year when the planets align and we shoot that score that keeps us coming back. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Some of us think it is a matter of luck. We use the same color tee or the same lucky coin or maybe it is a lucky shirt or blouse. But what happens when the luck runs out? Or does it really run out?
It wasn’t luck. Your best score is has the potential of being your everyday score! What often happens is that we get impatient. Our rhythm and tempo was smooth and everything seemed easy on the good day. But, as soon as a shot goes astray we start to change our alignment, grip, swing path and /or tempo because we automatically assume we did something wrong. That begins the process of fixing the last shot with the next swing. Assuming a miss is a great technique to use in shooting higher scores not lower.
What we really need when things go bad is patience, not change. Golf is a game, not of perfect, but of controlled misses. Some terrible misses won’t hurt your score too bad. Like that time you hit a drive two fairways over and had a perfect lie with a clear view to the green. Some near misses cost you dearly, like the ball that just missed the green and hit a stone that kicked it back into a pond. The secret is not to react. It was just one shot. You have had poor results before and this won’t be the last time it happens.
Stay patient. With patience comes consistency and with consistency comes better play and lower scores. Remember every time you make change, you start over. Develop a routine, find your best rhythm and tempo and use them every time regardless of results. If a shot pattern emerges like a slice or you hit it fat or top it, then come see someone like me. I promise it won’t cost much because with patience and consistency also comes consistent misses. A predictable shot shape is much easier to analyze and utilize than the unpredictable one.