Saturday, 30 September 2017

Is There a Natural Golf Swing?

I was watching the British Masters and one of the commentators talked about Shane Lowry having a very natural-looking golf swing. There was then some commentary about the golf swing not really being a natural thing. Interestingly, that view seems to be common among many golf professionals. Is there a natural way to swing a golf club?

Ben Hogan certainly didn't think so. In fact, he said something to the effect that we should reject every natural instinct and do just the opposite to swing the club properly. But is that really true? Bobby Jones would have certainly disagreed. In fact, he wrote about players with natural-looking swings. He said their appearance of naturalness often came from them having learned the game as youngsters where they went about hitting a golf ball with no more concern than they would have beating a rug, or chopping wood. They may not have had a competent instructor, but they had time, and liked the game, and kept whacking the ball until they learned how to make it behave. Many of these players never even considered their swing, or if there indeed was a swing at all, until they had reached a high level of competence.

How things have changed. Many promising golfers are, very early in the proceedings, taught the mechanics of a sound swing. As a result we see a lot of successful tour players with cookie-cutter swings. They are sound swings. But they often lack the natural appearance of players like Shane Lowry as they take pains to set up and swing the club according to Hoyle, or Hogan.

So, according to Bobby Jones, there is a natural golf swing. It isn't the same for everyone. It's the swing we develop when our focus is on striking the ball, rather than swinging the club. It might not be the prettiest swing. But it might just be the best swing for you.

Friday, 29 September 2017

What Have We Learned?

So, what have we learned during Presidents Cup week so far? Davis Love offered his view on the NFL players taking a knee. And all the American players elected to follow suit by not feeling the need to show solidarity with those professional athletes protesting about social justice, or lack thereof, in the US of A. Not a big deal. The fight isn't theirs. They aren't facing the same challenges that black athletes are protesting about.

Davis would probably never even consider the possibility that his boy would be gunned down during a "routine" traffic stop. Neither would any of the other players on the team. That sort of thing doesn't happen in their neighbourhoods. And no one, as far as I know, really expected them to make a statement about this controversy started by a President who might have been better served had he been focussing on Puerto Rico instead. It isn't their problem. It isn't their fight either, unless they feel the need to speak out. "No worries," as the Aussies would say. Still, I wish DL had been a bit more diplomatic about the whole thing. It really wasn't his place criticize, in my opinion. But then, who am I--just another fat, happy, white guy.

We also learned that Tiger may or may not tee it up again. But we know he is now accepting the possibility that he might, indeed, be done. We also learned that he may have a new girlfriend who isn't, for once, a blonde bomber. If he's happy, I'm happy for him. He's had a tough few years.

We have also learned that the American team, barring any miracles, is going to win yet another Presidents Cup. They are dominating. They are dominant. American golf is in very good shape, post-Tiger. What this does not do is bode well for the future of the Presidents Cup. If the Americans keep winning, many people will just stop watching. What makes golf great is the competition. No excitement in a blowout. 

So far, I haven't even tuned in. I think it was DL that put me off. He's got a right to his opinion, and the freedom to express it, just like those NFL protesters. And I have the right to disagree with him--which I do. Heartily.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Is It Just for the Money?

It all came out in the wash. The player who played the best all season, Justin Thomas, won the FedEx Cup and the big money; and a new star, in Xander Schauffele has emerged with his Tour Championship victory.

This was really the ideal scenario in my mind. I have to admit that I was always a bit disappointed when someone got hot and came from back in the pack to win the FedEx Cup. In my opinion it really should go to the guy who played the best all year. The problem for the tour is to find a way to make that happen and still have the excitement we want. 

To me, the FedEx Cup should have been won by either Spieth, Thomas, DJ, or Matsuyama. Those were the guys who had the most wins. They were the dominant players. And, fortunately, this happened. Perhaps we need to consider not linking the Tour Championship with the FedEx Cup. 

How about the top five on the money list, or the FedEx point list, have a playoff for the big money in an event like the tournament of champions where the year's Major winners play for some extra cash? Now that might be exciting and fair, as a way to determine the year's best player. I think these playoff events give too much of an edge to a guy who gets hot over a several week period at the end of the season. These playoff events, and particularly the Tour Championship, end up out-weighing Majors in their importance in determining who wins the FedEx Cup. I don't think that's a fair way to identify the year's best player; which I thought was the goal of the FedEx Cup in the first place.

No disrespect to Bill Haas, or Billy Horschell, or some of the other surprise winners we've seen; but surely even they would admit that they weren't the best player of the year. Then again, maybe I've got it all wrong, and the FedEx Cup is not really about identifying that person. Maybe it's just meant to be a wild, end of the season money grab. If so, it will always be important only for that--for the money.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Slightly Confused

Well, it appears the usual suspects are not going to factor in the Tour Championship. It's setting up to be a battle between a couple of guys who are certainly due for a win, in Paul Casey and Kevin Kisner. There's seemingly only one of the top guys in with a chance to win in Justin Thomas at five back.

As far as figuring out who, then, will win the FedEx Cup and the small matter of ten mil, it's still a bit of a mystery to me. I know that Casey, should he win the championship, is likely to collect the Cup and the cash as well. I'm not sure about Kisner. Where Thomas or Spieth need to finish in order to win it, I don't know. Certainly, it looks like JT is the most likely to find a way to secure the big bucks even if he fails to win the championship, but I remain slightly confused; kind of the story of my life.

I guess the good thing about the way things are shaping up is that we very much don't know who'll be the next FedEx cup champion, any more than we know who's going to win the Tour Championship. After several early years, where it was almost a foregone conclusion, this is definitely the way it should be, opening the door for some real drama this afternoon.

In the end, I'd be delighted to see either Casey or Kisner win. They've certainly been knocking on the door, and they are as deserving as anyone. I just wonder at the poor play of Spieth. He's looked absolutely terrible in spots; spraying it all over and missing makeable putts. He's definitely not been the Jordan Spieth I've come to know and admire. I suppose a 62 or 63 today might put him back in the picture. But, if someone else prevails, it's been one helluva season for those two boyhood friends, Spieth and Thomas.

One thing for certain, I'll be tuning in to see what happens, even if I'm too confused to think about placing a bet.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

What Are You Working On?

One great player--I think it was Henry Cotton--said that all you had to do was watch any top group of golfers tee off to understand that there is no "correct" golf swing. All the top players have individualized swings. Their swings are as unique to them as their signature. 

I was watching the top contenders in the FedEx playoff this past week and it really struck home. You had Leishman's upright swing. Then there was Rickie Fowler's flatter, but not as flat as it used to be, swing. And then you had Jason Day's swing. All very different; and all very effective. So which of those swings would you teach? The answer is probably none of them; or maybe all of them. 

Now there are some players out there with "cookie-cutter" swings that show that the player was likely well-coached in his or her formative years. And those swings are sound, and generally pleasing to the eye. But since the top players all seem to have easily identifiable swings, unique to them, it begs the question why so much time and energy is spent by teachers trying to teach people how to swing a golf club. 

There is, according to Bobby Jones, virtue in a sound swing from a mechanical standpoint. A player with a mechanically sound swing will play more consistently. But Bobby Jones understood that it was the strike that really mattered. The only thing the golf ball reacts to is the speed, angle and path of the clubface at impact. The golf ball is no respecter of swings. It doesn't care if your swing is short or long. It doesn't favour a slow, smooth swing over a quick one. It doesn't prefer a flat swing over an upright one. It only cares about how it is struck.

So why do we all worry so much about our swing? There are no points given for looking good in golf. All that matters is that we learn to strike the ball in such a way as to make it bend to our wishes. Now, we can start the game as kids and learn by trial and error how to strike the ball correctly; or we can learn how to properly strike a golf ball to produce the various shots by watching better players or teachers. Bobby Jones said that he learned different shots by watching other players strike the ball. He said he didn't watch their swing. He zoomed in on the strike.

Try watching the way the good players strike the ball next time, instead of watching their swing. It's really quite instructive. Bobby Jones said he never once heard his teacher, Stewart Maiden, discuss the golf swing. He said Maiden just helped a student develop a good grip, helped them get in a good position to hit the ball; and then he just told them to go ahead and hit it. 

Stewart Maiden was all business. He believed that golf was not about swinging a club. He believed it was about striking a ball from the tee towards the hole. When Bobby was worrying about his backswing, Maiden told him, "You donnae hit the ball wi' yer backswing, laddie." 

I'm amazed at how often I see people on the range, or even on the golf course, fussing over their takeaway, or their backswing. Bobby Jones aptly pointed out that the whole purpose of the backswing was to get us in a position where we feel most capable of striking the ball in the intended manner. It always boiled down to the strike for Bobby.

So, if you are tired of "working" on your swing and not seeing the improvement you are hoping for, why not try learning to strike the ball more effectively. The single most important lesson Bobby Jones ever gave was on that subject. He believed that the material he provided in that chapter could literally transform your game overnight. I've covered it in my featured article, entitled "The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball."

Monday, 18 September 2017

It Could Be Worse

It's hell getting old. But, then again, it probably beats the alternative. Yesterday, I really felt my age. I played in an inter-club match play event at Trillium Wood. It wasn't a Senior event, so once again I had to test the theory that old age and treachery could sometimes beat youth and skill. 

I was in the final group. It was not a particularly comforting spot to be in given the current state of my back and my game. And it was even less comforting when our team captain greeted me before the matches, saying, "Here comes our sacrificial lamb." I'm not really sure about this guy's approach to captaincy, but it wasn't anything I wasn't already thinking, so maybe he was just trying to lessen the tension. Who knows. 

Two of my opponents were twenty-somethings that were around scratch. The other one was Joe, a well-known player closer to my age from Smugglers Glen, who I had played once before and been soundly beaten. I didn't know the young guys, but I knew Joe could really play. I figured I had about as much chance of winning a match as getting hit with a piece of SkyLab. But, if someone had to be the sacrificial lamb, I figured it might as well be me. I've long ago learned how to lose. And I've learned that it isn't fatal. In fact, it's not so bad if you figure you gave it your best shot.

I hit a few balls on the range and was hitting it pretty solid, so I teed off feeling about as positive as I could feel under the circumstances. I also felt a bit better when I heard that Joe was late and planned to catch up with the rest of us out on the course, forfeiting the holes he missed. That turned out to be only the first hole, but I figured a one up lead on Joe was better than nothing.

The young lads could really bomb it. On holes where they actually needed to use driver, they were easily fifty yards by me. I hung in there as best I could for the first nine holes, actually making the turn up in two of my three matches. I was feeling pretty good, even though I'd had to go to the morphine to deal with the pain. I even thought at that point that I might actually manage to stay alive for enough holes that I wouldn't be totally humiliated upon my return to the clubhouse. In fact, I dared think that, if I could just keep doing what I was doing, I might even win a match or two.

These days my back is so bad that I'm really only good for about twelve holes--and that's if I don't make a bad swing. My last inter-club outing a week ago, I played the first twelve holes in two under par and had two of the three guys I was playing six down. I'd made four birdies and they had struggled. Things were looking pretty good with me being dormie with two of the guys and two up on the other guy. But then I started to fade, making bogeys on four of my next five holes. I won the two matches easily with a par on fourteen, but the guy who was two down came roaring back and beat me.

Sure enough, the same thing happened yesterday. After twelve holes, I started to really fade. I started hitting short, hooky drives and pushing and hooking approaches, struggling to get through the ball and finish my swing. I managed to win my match against Joe, five and three. But this was only because Joe had back issues of his own, and played probably about as poorly as he could possibly play. He was finished after fifteen holes and headed back to the clubhouse for some liquid "painkiller." I lasted just one more hole before the two flat-bellies finished me off as well. Youth was definitely served on the day. Us old guys got pretty soundly beaten by the young guns.

It's becoming increasingly clear that my days of competing successfully are coming to an end. The prognosis for my back is not good, so I'm definitely not going to get better, and I'll likely only get worse. But it really is still fun to compete. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, as I did last week. The company was good. The matches were friendly, and somewhat competitive. And I'm still on the right side of the grass; bloodied, as they say, but not yet bowed.

It could be worse. It can always be worse.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Best Way to Putt

A buddy of mine and I were playing the other day and on one green--I think it was fifteen--he had about a twenty footer. I was in for my four and he needed the putt to win the hole. 

He rapped it about six feet past the hole, smiled, and said, "I wanted to make sure I got it to the hole." He then missed the comebacker.

There is an often-used expression about putting: "Never up, never in." And, on the face of it, it makes a great deal of sense. Yogi Berra observed that about ninety nine percent of putts left short don't go in. And those guys who run the ball past the hole can perhaps take some consolation in telling themselves they at least gave it a chance. But did they?

Bobby Jones wrote about putting, and he was not a big fan of "never up, never in." As far as he was concerned, a putt that misses long is still a miss. And he was convinced that the best way to putt was to die the ball in the hole from the high side. He was convinced that a ball dying at the hole had a better chance of going in because it would fall in no matter what part of the hole it hit. A putt hit with speed, on the other hand, had to be much closer to the center of the hole to go in. The hole, in his mind, was bigger for a ball moving slowly. That approach served him well, as it did Jack Nicklaus.

Thanks to Dave Peltz, who subjected putting to some real scientific study, we know "scientifically" that the optimum holing speed would have a putt that didn't go in finish seventeen inches past the hole. One of the problems for a dying putt approaching the hole, Peltz found, was the so-called "Donut Affect." Peltz found that on most greens, especially later in the day, the immediate area around the cup is raised and tends to reject a slow-moving ball. This Affect--or is it "Effect"--is caused in part by golfers taking care not to step right beside the hole. As a result, the area around the hole, perhaps a foot or so out, becomes depressed by foot prints that are invisible to the eye, but can affect a slow-rolling ball.

Peltz is probably correct about the optimum holing speed. I mean, you're not apparently supposed to argue with science. And, I suppose it would be great to be able to consistently produce that optimum speed. But Bobby Jones argued that, not only was the hole bigger for a dying putt, it was also very comforting if you missed to be able to walk up and tap the next one in. Putting aggressively might be great for guys with good nerves--guys who don't secretly cringe at the thought of a three-footer coming back. But, for "experienced" players like me, three-footers can really wear you out. 

In Bobby Jones' view of the world, a miss was a miss, whether short or long. There is no real consolation in saying that the putt you needed for the win at least finished past the hole. It still missed. So, if the hole really is bigger for a dying putt, I'm going to keep trying to die them in. If the odd one finishes short, I can live with being called "Nancy," or having my intestinal fortitude impuned. If you want them to finish seventeen inches past if they miss, all I can say is, to each their own. The best way to putt is ultimately the way you putt best.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Shot Misers

While pretty much everyone wants to improve, the only game we can play with is the one we bring to the course that day. Golf involves much more than learning to swing the club in a prescribed manner. Golf is, and, until they change the rules, will always be about getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible number of strokes.

While hitting the ball farther, or straighter, can help, the test for every golfer is to find a way to save strokes; to find the best way to get from the tee to the green and into the hole in the fewest number of strokes. Looking pretty, or stylish, is nice but not necessary in this game. An ugly four still beats a stylish five.

Two of golf's greatest champions, Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson, wrote about the importance learning to treat every shot equally, from a ten inch putt to a trouble shot from the trees. They both learned that golf was about saving and not wasting strokes. Prior to his winningest year of 1945 Byron Nelson reviewed his play and realized that he was having let ups where he was losing shots because he was playing some simple-looking shots or putts carelessly. 

Bobby Jones felt that the way to avoid being careless, or letting up, was to play every shot for it's ultimate possibility. Instead of trying to get a chip close, he would try to hole it. That kind of effort on every shot really paid off.

Good players are misers when it comes to strokes. They hate to take one more shot than necessary. And they realize that golf is often more about dealing effectively with trouble than it is hitting perfect shots. It's often more about managing to save your par than making a birdie.

The more we can learn to give every shot, and especially the simple looking shots, our full, undivided attention, the better players we will be. Grinding for the best score we can possibly shoot is a bit like work. It can leave you really tired after eighteen holes. But it's worth the effort. There is nothing like being able to say you scored about as well as you could have possibly scored with the game you had that day. It's a much better feeling than realizing you shot 79 or 89 instead of 75 or 85 because you wasted a few shots by playing carelessly or impetuously. 

The best players play this game one shot at a time, just like the drunks. They are misers when it comes to strokes. They hate to waste them.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Lexi and Lydia

I watched the ladies play in Indianapolis. It shaped up to be an exciting final day with Lydia Ko going head to head with Lexi. Instead, it just fizzled. It was not exactly a nail-biter. 

Lexi is becoming a complete player. Her power game is now complimented by an excellent wedge game and finally some decent putting. She seems to be on track to threaten for the number one spot. That would certainly make our American friends happy. And, why not? Lexi is a terrific player with a great attitude to go along with her impressive game.

Lydia Ko looked like she might be finally making a comeback. But she looked mediocre at best on a day when she needed to make birdies if she was going to keep pace with Lexi. Lydia has been making changes. She's changed caddies. She's changed equipment. She's made swing changes to try to get longer, which can be the kiss of death. Just ask Matteo Manassero, another "can't miss kid" who thought he needed to get longer. 

 Lydia seems to have gone from a teenaged phenom who could seemingly do no wrong, to a slow, mechanical player. It was almost painful to watch. Even the commentators couldn't resist commenting on the snail's pace of her play. 

To a degree, the match up between Lexi and Lydia reminded me of the recent match up of Spieth and DJ, but without the drama. Lexi, like DJ, pretty much just did her thing, using power and precision. Lydia, like Spieth, could have certainly managed to lose much faster. Watching both of them play is becoming painful, with all the consulting with their caddies and the time it takes them to pull the trigger. What ever happened to that precocious kid who went about her business like it was a walk in the park? 

Bobby Jones said that golf is the only game that gets more difficult the longer you play it. It seems that Lydia is experiencing that reality now. She's making changes. I just wonder whether she ever wishes she could just go back to when things weren't quite so complicated. Everyone wants to get better in this game. But what about when you're already the best? The problem with making swing changes trying to get better, or longer, is that there is no guarantee that you won't get worse instead. It happens. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Finding What Works

I keep writing about the golf swing. And there are many fine theories about how best to swing the club.  But, ultimately, the best way for all of us to swing the club is the way we swing it best. It's a search we all have to make. And the interesting thing is that the swing that worked like a charm yesterday sometimes doesn't work worth a hill of beans today.

For those of us who have neither the time, the energy, nor possibly the inclination to hit hundreds, if not thousands, of practice balls, we are going to struggle with grooving any sort of swing. In the end, we need to focus instead on getting a solid, consistent strike. The strike is really all that matters in the end anyway. That golf ball couldn't care less about how our swing looks. It only reacts to how it is struck.

I have been playing along happily for sometime now focussing on hitting the ball with my left hand. Today, it didn't work worth a damn. Perhaps I was exaggerating the left arm swing at the expense of my right side. I spent the last few holes focussing on swinging the clubhead and getting some punch with my right hand. My shots improved significantly. Who knows what will happen next time out.

Golf, as a wise person once said, is about finding what works, losing it, and then finding it again. That's just how this crazy game is. 

The Only Lesson

The only actual formal lesson I ever had was as a kid in England back around 1970. The young pro had me hit balls with just my left hand. That was it. At the time, I thought he was nuts. I only wish I'd understood just what a valuable lesson he was giving me at the time. But for many years I just chalked it up to time wasted.

Looking back on it, this young pro was probably a follower of Henry Cotton for whom training the left hand to strike the ball was a key teaching. I am still amazed at how much easier it is for a right-handed golfer to play with a swing controlled by the left arm. It's a shame so few people teach it nowadays. 

Below is a video of John Daly hitting a variety of shortgame shots with his left hand. He's definitely a top hand golfer.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Tommy Fleetwood

I've been watching the boys on the European tour playing today in Switzerland at the Omega European Masters. Beautiful scenery, nice weather, and an interesting golf course; does it get any better than that? So far, I've had the sound off and am just watching these guys hit shots.

Now, I've spent a few years now writing about the old school belief that the golf swing, for a right-handed player, is controlled by the left hand and arm. It's not, it seems, a popular teaching in many circles today which seem to stress a swing controlled by the large muscles, rather than the hands and arms. 

But watching one really fine swinger in particular, Tommy Fleetwood, you can't help but see the importance and the commanding role taken by the left hand and arm in his golf swing. Watching Fleetwood prior to hitting shots, you can see how he is focussing on that left arm. The more you watch the vast majority of good players of today, the more obvious it becomes that the left hand and arm may not be a big factor in some modern teaching, but they still rule in the best swings, just like they did for Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus...

The ideal golf swing, according to Bobby Jones, is a backhanded strike with the left hand. You might even describe it as a two-handed backhand which is now commonplace in tennis. Some modern teachers prefer to teach a swing controlled by the big muscles, rather than the hands and arms. But the reality is that the best players are still using their left hand and arm to control the swing. The left hand and arm leads, and the big muscles just follow right along. That was Sam Snead's view of the world. And no one ever swung the club any better than the Slammer. If you don't believe me, ask Johnny Miller.

If you get a chance, check out Tommy Fleetwood's swing. Check out Ross Fisher, or Richard Sterne, as well. Actually, just try focussing on the left hand and arms of all the pros. They're mostly top hand golfers. It may be old school, but it's always been the most effective way to swing the golf club. It's not the only way. But it's the most effective way.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Win Ugly

Winning ugly is something the great players are able to do. They are able scratch out a respectable round when not playing their best. They are able to do this often by relying on a good short game. But part of this has to do with attitude as well. 

The high handicap golfer often hits a few bad shots and simply goes to pot, ruining in the process what might have been a reasonable round had his attitude been different. He hasn't yet learned the real secret to the game, which is to figure out a way to turn three shots into two, or seven shots into six.

Golf teaching articles and videos focus primarily on how to swing the club, which is not exactly meat and potatoes in terms of what this game is really all about. The secret to really improving is to learn how to score with the swing you have on any given day. Turning three shots into two often involves the short game; finding ways to get the ball up and down when you've missed a green. But many strokes can be saved from the tee to the green by picking the right tee shot, or laying up, or missing it in the right places; or simply by getting out of trouble when you find yourself in it. Golf is essentially, as a buddy of mine liked to call it, learning how to "minimize the damage."

Good golfers know that golf is about saving strokes. Making a ten-footer for a bogey is just as important as making the same putt for birdie; sometimes more important from a psychological standpoint. When Bobby Jones talked about the right attitude for playing good golf he told us to begin every round expecting to make mistakes and prepared to have to do some scrambling. And he advised against becoming discouraged if the amount of scrambling required in any given round is more than usual. 

Walter Hagen gave himself seven bad shots a round. He expected to hit seven bad shots a round. That expectation kept him from becoming discouraged when he encountered problems. That would seem to beg the question, how many bad shots should the average player give himself in a round of golf if the Haig gave himself seven? 

So, forget about reading or watching all that junk about never slicing again, or hitting it solid every time. That just isn't reality. No one hits it solid every time, or never slices. Listen instead to Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Understand that bad shots are going to happen. Judge your golf game on how well you are able to handle trouble, not on how far you are able to hit it. Congratulate yourself when you manage to make a putt for bogey, when it could have been much worse. Learn how to win ugly; how to score when you're not playing your best.

A great book on this subject was written by Raymond Floyd. It's entitled The Elements of Scoring: How to Score When You're Not Playing Your Best. I highly recommend you give it a read.

Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Fate

Most professional golfers are fatalistic. They learn that golf, as much as it is a game of skill, always involves an element of luck. Golfers learn that it has to be their "day," if they're going to win at the highest level.

Now, Gary Player coined the phrase"the harder I practise, the luckier I get." But I'm willing to bet that even Gary would readily admit that, when he won, he got some lucky breaks. Golf is not a game of perfect. The lies aren't perfect. The bounces can't be perfectly judged. A near perfect shot can hit the flagstick and go in; or it can hit the flagstick and ricochet into the pond. So, golfers tend to be fatalistic. If it's their time, they'll win. If not, no matter how hard they try, the golfing gods will smile on someone else.

We saw it again today with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. It was JT's day. He drove a ball through a bunker and onto a green and then holed a putt for eagle. That drive, for the same money, could have ended up much worse. On seventeen, Jordan hit a putt for birdie that all day had broken right. He hit the ball exactly where he wanted and the little devil didn't break. Had he made that putt, it might have been a different story. And that's golf. 

The important thing for Spieth and Thomas, and DJ for that matter, is that they keep managing to put themselves in position to have a chance to win on Sunday. That is why they are the best players in the game right now. They just keep hanging around leaderboards on Sundays or Mondays with a chance to win, if they get the bounces. But the outcome is often in the lap of the golfing gods.

Jack Nicklaus said that golf was the only game where you could win twenty percent of the time and be the best player in the world. In other words, even the best player in the world loses eighty percent of the time. Okay, Tiger's winning percentage might have been higher; and Bobby Jones, over a seven year period, won over sixty percent of the Majors he entered. They were both, far and away, the best players of their generation. But even they had to learn to accept that they weren't going to win every week. They needed some luck in most cases. 

Recall that famous shot at the Masters where Tiger's ball hung on the lip before deciding to go in. The same thing happened this year at the PGA with Justin Thomas. For the same money, that ball could have decided not to drop. Golf is a game of skill. But you still need some luck.

Spieth has now had back to back losses when he could have just as easily won. It just wasn't his day. But is there anyone in the game right now who gives themselves more opportunities to be lucky? I think not. And that's why he is destined to be one of golf's great players. It's fate.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Slammer's Swing

If you ask any expert to give you a short list of the greatest players and swingers of the golf club of all time, Sam Snead will be on that list. Not only does Sam remain the winningest PGA tour player of all time, but he will always be reknowned for his smooth, powerful, graceful swing. He was the original Slammer.  But his action was smooth as silk.

Sam, if you read his books, felt that his swing was a good model to use. He felt that his swing was simple and without idiosyncrasies. Many have studied Sam's action and offered their opinions on what it was that Sam did that was so special and produced such spectacular shots for so many years. But I prefer to go to the source to try to learn what he was doing, and why.

There were three things that Sam said he did that he felt were essential. He took the club straight back, slowly and smoothly, using his left hand. He had a slight pause at the top, and he started his downswing by pulling down with the last two fingers of his left hand. His swing was controlled by his left side with a comfortably extended left arm. 

This left hand/arm control did two important things for him. First, it prevented him coming over the top, which is a curse for many amateurs and is really the result of the right hand and side getting into the action too early in the swing. Second, the pulling down with the left hand helped increase and maintain the lag in his swing.

Sam's swing, in his own words, was controlled by his left hand and arm. It was, like Bobby Jones before him, essentially a backhanded strike with his left hand. Sam believed in everything flowing together. When once asked whether he started the downswing by shifting his lower body, as Ben Hogan did, Sam replied that he simply pulled down with the last two fingers of his left hand and everything flowed together from there. That pulling down with the left hand and arm is what gave Sam that pronounced squat that we see in one of the pictures below.

The vast majority of amateurs, who struggle with slicing the ball, are under-utilizing their left side. They might take the club back using the left side, but once they get to the top, the natural instinct to try to hit the ball with their stronger right side takes over; they come over the top and hit slices and pulls. 

If you're one of those players who struggles with slicing and pulling the ball, why not try to feel what Sam felt when he swung the club. Grip the club firmly with the last two or three fingers of your left hand, push the club straight back with your left hand, try to get a bit of a pause at the top to ensure that you've completed your backswing, and then pull down with your left hand to start the downswing.

That pulling down move is very important. Gary Player was big on that move, likening it to pulling down on a bell rope. That first pull down brings the right elbow back to your side and puts you in the best position to deliver a solid strike with both hands.

If you want to see an excellent modern example of this, watch Matsuyama with his definite pause at the top of his swing and the way he pulls down and through with his left arm. Evidence of this pulling of the left arm is often seen in Matsuyama's case by the number of times his right hand actually comes off the club on his follow through. Like Sam, and so many of the great players, Matsuyama is a top hand golfer. 

Controlling your swing with your left hand and arm is not the only way to swing effectively, but according to the Slammer it was the simplest and most effective way. So, if you're searching for a swing, try imitating the Slammer. You may not ever develop as powerful and graceful a swing as a great athlete like Sam possessed, but you can learn just how effective a swing can be when you make proper use of your left hand and arm, and just, as Jack Nicklaus said, let your right hand go along for the ride.

Hitting With Your Left Hand

There was a video out recently showing John Daly hitting shots with just his left hand. He was hitting a variety of shots, including bunker shots, this way. This was a good indication that he is a left-sided player; a top hand golfer. Among the great players he has plenty of company.

Among the other great players who were left-sided, or top handed, were Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Moe Norman; and, yes, Ben Hogan. For Bobby Jones, the golf swing was a back-handed strike with the left hand. Moe Norman emphasized the fact that he was pulling the club down the line with is left hand. 

Sam Snead described his swing as him pushing the club back with his left hand and pulling it down and through with his left hand. Byron Nelson discovered that he could stop hooking and hit the ball with great accuracy by focussing on the back of his left hand driving through the ball towards the target. 

For right-handed golfers, learning to use your left hand in the golf swing is very important. Golf is truly a game of opposites. You swing left to hit it right. You swing to the right to hit it left. You hit down on it to make it go up. The right-handed golf swing amounts to a back-handed strike with the left hand. No wonder it seems complicated at first.

A couple of current examples of left-sided players are Matsuyama and Spieth. Matsuyama is often seen warming up hitting balls with his left hand. Spieth really drives the back of his left hand down the line; so much so that he gets his famous chicken wing.

So, if you're not happy with your ball striking, perhaps you might want to consider trying to hit some practice shots with just your left hand. If you can do it, that's good. If you can't--and many players who try it at first have great difficulty doing it--you just might have something useful to work on. 

A good exercise to build up your left side is to hit an old tire, or an impact bag, swinging the club with just your left hand. Henry Cotton was big on that drill. In fact, I'm going to do that right now.