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I have been looking forward to this U.S. Open at Merion ever since the USGA announced it several years ago. I was anxious to see if a sub-7,000 yard course could still challenge today’s golf professionals, who hit the ball such prodigious distances. But I was so disappointed to see this week’s torrential rains change the course’s playability so much from what the USGA and Merion’s brilliant staff had hoped. Firm fairways and firm, fast greens have given way to receptive dart boards for tee shots and approaches. And these guys can throw darts in conditions like this.
I watched a little of the tournament yesterday and saw players backing up shots 5-20 feet on their short approaches, and it almost made me cry. It’s the U.S. Open and they get that!!!?? Sure, they are fast, and the course rough is treacherous, but I was hoping to see them have to play the ball to release after impact on the greens, drives that could bounce and roll into the rough if hit on the wrong line. Looks like that’s not going to happen.
But it’s still a beautiful course with plenty of trouble. I have to find a way to get there and play it sometime, so add one to my bucket list.
Who knows if they will tear it apart . . . or not?. If the weather cooperates, it will get firmer and faster each day, and maybe Sunday will be the “survival test” that the Open is somewhat known for. I love watching these guys struggle for pars and making only a few birdies. I like seeing them tested by making them hit some long clubs into greens for a change, not just on par five holes. And par fives that are true three-shot holes, which have become almost extinct on the PGA Tour the past couple of decades.
In other words, I want to watch the best players in the world tackle a golf course like I do. Hitting everything from fairway wood to wedge to par fours and threes. Having to hit TWO good shots on a par five to set up the approach. Having greenside saves that require creativity and skill, and a bit of luck.
If they could just make the bunkers a real hazard for these guys, golf would be almost perfect.
Watching golf on TV golf the past couple of weeks, I always find it amazing to watch the pros selection of shots around the greens. Most amateurs I play with don’t use nearly as much imagination in their scoring shots, and their scores suffer because of it.
Too many recreational golfers seem to have their “go to” club for recovery shots when they miss the green. For many, it’s the sand or lob wedge, while others might always go to their pitching wedge or even 8- or 9-irons because they are “afraid’ of their wedges. But I suggest that your scores will benefit if you let your imagination run a little wild and open your mind to all the shot options available to you.
For example, if you are not far off the fringe and have some green to work with, a highly-probably shot is what I call the “putt-chip”. Very simply, you just take a middle iron – a hybrid also works well for this shot — play the ball back a little in your stance, and use your normal putting grip and stroke. Solid contact is all but assured, and your touch will be similar to that with your putter. The ball gets airborne just enough to carry to the green surface, but has minimal spin so it then rolls out to the hole. Tips for executing the “putt-chip” are to grip the club lightly, as it is an overall lighter club than your putter, and to slightly forward press so that you make clean contact. Try this shot and I think you will find it becoming another of your “go to” shots around the greens.
I often find that the gap or pitching wedge is a better option for a straightforward pitch than either the sand or lob wedges. Situations that scream out for that selection and shot is when you have quite a bit of green to cover after the ball flight, or if you are chipping uphill and want the ball to release some after it lands. To get the lower ball flight and reduced spin you are seeking on this shot, simple play the ball slightly to the rear of your stance, and make your takeaway lower, slower and longer than normal, and your forward swing the same way – low, slow and long. That produces less clubhead speed and reduced spin, along with a lower ball flight. Keep your hands quiet and take the club away with a one-piece rotation of your body core, with an extended arm swing. Don’t set the wrists as much as you would for a bunker shot or normal pitch.
And I’ll give you a third shot that can be your only hope sometimes.
You find yourself short-sided, with a closely mown upslope to a near-cut pin position. A lob shot is low percentage, so trying to run it up the slope is your only hope of getting it close enough to have a chance at par, but you don’t want to get “cute” with a wedge and leave yourself this shot again.
The answer here is to “putt-chip” it with a fairway wood or hybrid. Just take your putting stance and grip on the club, which will tilt the longer club up on its toe a bit – that’s OK. Grip it lightly as these clubs are considerably lighter than your putter and that improves feel. Then just “putt” the ball up the hill and onto the green. And on this shot, make sure the ball gets to the hole. When you have a tough recovery shot, your goal should be to give yourself a chance for an up and down, but make sure you don’t leave yourself the tough chip all over again by being timid or cute.
So, I hope these three shots can find their way into your scoring arsenal. They only take a little practice and you’ll be able to call them up when you need them. When you are out for an afternoon “quick nine” drop some balls around the greens and practice these a bit – they’ll pay off quickly.
When you miss a green, exercise a little creativity and see all your options. Quite often the best shot isn’t the one that’s the most obvious.
And the whole golf world is wondering what these guys will do to venerable old Merion, playing less than 7,000 yards. What do you think? Will it be a mugging? Will they tear it up because of the length?
I’m betting against that. I think the USGA will have Merion’s defenses pretty strong against the assault of all these young guns who hit it a mile. The rough is going to be deep, deep, deep, and the fairways cut to 19-23 yards wide in most places, I’m betting. And the greens will be very fast and very firm, with gnarly rough within three feet of the putting surface.
The U.S. Open is generally my favorite tournament to watch, as it demands the most of the players. They have to be dead on with every aspect of their game. The U.S. Open demands that everything be hitting on all cylinders. Some time back, after one of the Opens that gave these guys fits and had many of them whining, the USGA “guy in charge” answered the whining with a great quote: “We are not trying to humiliate the best players in the world; we’re trying to identify him.”
Week in and week out, we see players win regular tour events while hitting less than half the fairways, or missing over a third of the greens. That’s not the precision that will get you a U.S. Open trophy. And to me, it shouldn’t. The U.S. Open trophy should go to the best thinker, the outstanding strategist, and the one player who had the most command of his golf ball for four straight days.
If you remember your history . . . or have read any of the hundreds of articles about the Open’s return to Merion . . . you’ll know that David Graham won here in 1981 and his final round was defined by hitting all 18 greens! That’s command. Hogan played that way. Many people don’t know that when Hogan won his first tour event, he followed with two more right after – three in a row. In his wonderful biography of Mr. Hogan, James Dodson pointed out that in those 216 holes, Hogan missed only six greens!!!! That’s unbelievable when you put it in perspective of today’s players. The PGA Tour leader in GIR percentage is hitting less than three out of four. And the PGA Tour average is under 65%.
Anyway, back to the Open, what I’m anxious to see is what club these guys will be hitting in to the 18th, the scene of the most famous golf photograph in history — Mr. Hogan in perfect pose after striping a one-iron from 190 yards to forty feet and a two putt par to win. I understand that they will have the course set up to try to put the players in that same spot, but that would mean they’ll have a 6- or 7-iron in their hands. My bet is that a bunch of them won’t hit it as close as Hogan did that one-iron. Will be fun to see.
So, it’s U.S. Open week coming up. And I’ll be getting some rare TV time to see how old Merion holds up against these guys. Why don’t you guys all chime in with your pick for the winner and we’ll see who’s right a week from Tuesday.
I ask golfers all the time, “what kind of handicap do you have?”, and I get the same answer way too often – “I’m not very good.” Then they’ll tell me they play to an 18, or a 15, or even a 10! Some will act ashamed by their answer. What!!??
Do you realize how damn hard this game is? We have this little white ball that is less than 2” in diameter, and weighs less than two ounces, and our objective is to get it into a 4-1/4” diameter hole in the ground that is somewhere around a quarter of a mile away – in only four or five strokes! And in between us and that hole are trees, long grass, water, bunkers . . . .seems to me that we are attempting the darned near impossible!
But we think we are “not any good” for several reasons. First, we see the pros on TV do miraculous things with a golf ball. Well, we’re not nuclear scientists, brain surgeons, computer designers, etc., etc. either. Those few hundred guys on tour have dedicated their lives to striking a golf ball – that’s all they do. They started with God-given athletic talent, then supplemented that with thousands of hours of practice, continual professional instruction, mental coaching . . . you get it. How can you compare your recreational endeavor to a trained, committed professional?
They’re good at golf, but not one of them could carry your briefcase or tool box or whatever for a day and even come close to what you do for a living either.
But to me, maybe even more influential on our self-worth as it applies to our golf games is the constant stream of drivel from the major golf companies telling us that we’re not any good. Their subliminal message is this: “You have no chance of hitting the ball anywhere near the center of the clubface, so we’re going to make it as big and forgiving as we possibly can.”
Well, I think you are a much better golfer than you give yourself credit for being. I think most of your misses are not bad swings, or lack of talent, but simply because you were not set up properly, or you had negative thoughts creep in, or you went “brain dead” for a moment. And engineering in the golf club head cannot help that.
If you have ever hit a good shot, then you can do it most of the time. It does not take hundreds of hours of practice, but it does take a mental commitment to get your best out of each shot. In that 4-5 hour round of golf, give yourself a dedicated 20-30 seconds for each shot. Picture it, feel it, and spend just a few seconds making sure that you are set up and aligned properly with the ball in the right place. Then get a good positive swing thought and put a relaxed swing on it.
Your results will be much better than you ever experienced. And you’ll find out that you really are pretty darned good at a very difficult game!
When you have missed a green with your approach shot, you are often faced with a decision, as you almost always have options on how to play the next shot. Generally, you have to choose between putting the ball, or hitting a chip or pitch shot. These are three different methods of playing a shot, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
To me, you should always play the shot that carries the highest percentage of success. Most golfers do not practice their chipping and pitching techniques very much, if at all, so those parts of their games are not as refined as they could be. And that just HAS to cost you strokes in every round. But given that, let’s dive into the choice – chip, pitch or putt?
If you are a good putter, for example, why wouldn’t you want to put the putter in your hands as often as you can? If your ball has missed the green, but the grass between you and the green is reasonably closely cropped and level, why wouldn’t you choose to play it like a lag approach putt? When you choose this option, my suggestion is to carefully read the putt from the edge of the green to get a feel for the speed and break once the ball reaches the putting surface. Then look carefully at the fringe or collar grass the ball has to traverse before it gets to the green. Is it mown closely or a little ragged? Is the grain of the grass growing against you or in your favor? Then choose your line and trust your putting skills.
It is often said that your worst putt is likely to be as good as your average best chip, so think about that.
Chipping is a simple stroke with typically a lower-lofted club. Golfers I’ve known that are good chippers are actually few and far between, probably because few practice this very important shot. Good chippers always have a simple stroke, with very little wrist break, and they stay firm through impact. They “read” their chips like a good putter reads a putt. They choose a landing spot for their shot, and the club that will provide the right balance of carry and roll. And they practice. Usually a lot. That golfer that you see hitting chip after chip around the practice green is probably going to beat you.
Pitching the ball is another shot entirely. Usually played with a more lofted sand or lob wedge, the well-executed pitch shot is a thing of beauty to me. Good pitchers of the ball typically have soft hands and a light grip on the club. They also have what Ken Venturi called “low hands” in his comments on Mr. Hogan in the wonderful coffee table book, “The Hogan Mystique”. What Venturi meant by this is that good pitchers of the ball set up with their hands low, almost down to their knees sometimes. And they keep them low throughout the short swing path. As the club comes through impact, their hands identically “cover” their address position, so that the club makes proper engagement with the turf and the bounce and loft can do what they were designed to do.
So, learn the difference between chipping, pitching and putting and practice each of these very important shots. An hour around the practice green doing that will do more to drop your handicap that 3 hours on the practice tee bashing drivers and hitting 6-irons as far as you can.
[This article was first published in April of 2007. But it still holds relevant today. For the next few months, I'll be re-publishing some of my most popular posts from the early years on Tuesdays, and address new topics on Fridays. Please send me your ideas of what you'd like me to write about.]
I take great issue with the industry’s extreme, and almost complete focus on distance – not just with the driver, but with the irons as well. Without picking on anyone, some new irons have pitching wedges with as little as 43-44 degrees of loft (which was an 8-iron when I was younger). Does that really help your game? Is a 6-iron easier to hit if you put an “8” on the bottom? No.
But where this quest for distance is abused the most is on drivers. We see the average driver in the store at 46-47” in length now, when the old standard was 43”, then 44” up to about 6-8 years ago. And average golfers are buying them like hotcakes. But do you realize that very few tour players are using a driver over 45” in length? Why? Because they know they cannot be reasonably accurate with longer drivers! So, if the tour players know they can’t control a driver that is 46-47” long, what the heck makes amateurs thing they can?
A few years ago, GolfSmith did an extensive live golfer test at their huge facility inAustin,Texas, where they had hundreds of golfers hit drivers of all sizes, shapes and lengths. They found that almost every golfer achieved his best average driving distance with drivers that were 43-1/2” long! Now, that was when 45” was the new “standard”, but the point remains clear to me:
Your driver is probably too long for you to hit efficiently!
The fact is, no matter what the technology, a ball hit squarely and solidly will be longer than one hit around the perimeter of the face. And you’ll hit more solid shots if your driver was shorter. You can prove this to yourself. In your next round of golf, choke up on your driver a full inch every time you hit it. I’ll bet you’ll find that you hit more solid long drives than you have in some time.
In my own case, I did this with three different drivers, and found that with each one, my best performance came when I was gripping the driver to effectively make it 44-1/4” long. I’ve been a scratch or low-handicap player my whole life and historically am a very good driver of the ball. As I began to take advantage of the new technology I found my driving accuracy failing, and I didn’t like it. So, I just began to choke up on these long drivers and my accuracy came right back, without a loss of distance! And I don’t care what golf course you play, it’s easier from the fairway.
Oh, and there’s another significant side benefit to this alteration to your driver. When you shorten it, you can use lead tape to bring the swingweight back up to where it should be. By positioning those few grams of lead tape strategically on the clubhead, you can bias your driver for a draw (weight in the toe) or fade (weight in the heel). You can also place the lead tape in the back of the head for a higher ball flight if you need it, or right on top of the crown behind the face for a lower ball flight.
It’s fun to tinker, and I trust you will find this driver tuning to be interesting and beneficial. And about that title of this article? If you don’t think the driver is your first scoring club, review your last round and count the penalty shots from the tee, and those holes where you took yourself out of play with your tee shot.
So, it’s official now. The “powers that be” have ruled that the anchored stroke must go away by 2016. After months of all kinds of noise, they did what they wanted to do. Golf will survive and all will be OK, but it all seems pretty silly to me.
I didn’t pay detailed attention to the entire dialog, but it really boils down to this: the decision-makers at the USGA and R&A just felt like this didn’t “look like golf” to them.
I’m a golf traditionalist, and I certainly think that we need ruling bodies to set guidelines and rules. The game has been played by essentially the same basic set of rules for centuries. But like any other ruling body (see U.S. Government), rules-making always gets totally out of hand. But since the main objective here was to preserve what the game “looks like”, I’m releasing the old Texas WedgeHog (rootin’ out the truth) to offer my other suggestions that they might consider:
I could go on and on, but there are a lot of things that “don’t look like golf”, to me anyway. And I have mixed emotions about whether that’s good for the game or not. It’s always been a “gentleman’s game”, and that was fine with me. Our society’s relaxing standards of what’s proper or not certainly stretches well beyond the golf course, and as I get older I can see where my Dad was so upset at where we took things in the 1960s and 70s.
You can choose what “looks like golf” to you, and I will for me. And maybe we’ll meet up at a course someday.
I’ll be the guy in saddle oxford golf shoes, clean shaven with my shirt tucked in, wielding Reid Lockhart blades, a 400 cc driver and putting conventionally, though probably not all that well.
And I’ll take my cap off when I go inside.
I’ve shared my putting woes with you here, so now I want to share some new insight into that part of the game that I have just gained.
I’ve always been a “range rat” – I just love hitting balls and learning more and more about my swing. As a result, I’ve always been a pretty solid ball-striker. My driving and iron play have been my strengths my entire golf life. It probably goes back to the advice my father gave me when I was very young. “There’s nothing wrong with your game that another 5,000 practice balls won’t fix,” he would repeatedly tell me. And I took that to heart and pounded balls by the hundreds daily it seems.
But I’ve never applied that same philosophy to my putting. Duh. I’ve been struggling with the yips, and have had plenty of advice on how to beat them, mostly unsolicited. But this past week, two things I have learned in my life seemed to come together to give me a new perspective.
First, last fall I had the opportunity to listen to a full day presentation by Dr. Rick Jensen, renowned sports psychologist. Part of his topic was on the subject of “you’re not good enough to choke.” What he meant was that most are too quick to apply the “choke” label, when what really happened is that the golfer didn’t have his or her skills polished to an adequate level. It was a very interesting angle on the subject. I highly recommend his books.
The other piece of the puzzle came in a small book that I received over the weekend. In “How To Make Every Putt”, Dr. Joseph Parent advocates practicing your putting like you do everything else. Work on your fundamentals, where a hole is not even in the picture. Approach learning how to make solid, sound putting strokes like you do making solid, sound full swings.
So, putting these two together, I took my 100-ball bucket to the practice green Tuesday afternoon and hit about 500 putts. Various distances, no target . . . just making good solid strokes, evaluating and correcting, until I felt my routine and technique were gelling to something I could count on. It was as much fun as going to the range, to be honest. A concentrated practice session that was totally focused on the process, not the outcome.
Yesterday, before our tournament practice round, I took that same drill to the practice green. I put down six balls and putted them different distances, but never to one of the holes on the green. Just practicing my technique and routing, rhythm and tempo. Then I finished my putting warm up by making about 15-20 putts of not more than 2 feet. I wanted fresh feedback of the ball going into the hole.
The result was one of my better putting rounds in recent history. The tournament starts today and I’ll let you know Tuesday how this carries into competition.
It’s that time of year where clubs and courses are starting their tournament calendars. And that puts your game on another level. Bobby Jones said that there was golf and tournament golf, and they’re not much alike. I think he’s right.
Pressure does strange things to people, and it is best illustrated when you put your game on display with something on the line. Some people like to gamble on the golf course. It’s totally different playing a friendly game for a few dollars than it is to have a hundred or more on the line. And some people rise to the pressure better than others.
We saw that on television on Sunday. The best players in the world hit some shots that probably made you scratch your head.
How does Tiger Woods hit a pop-up dead pull on 14? Then follow it with a clutch birdie? How do these guys dunk short 9-iron and wedge shots on 17? Even at their level, the nerves can tighten and put you all out of sorts.
If you like to play tournaments, just understand that your game will be under a different kind of pressure than your regular daily game, even if you play for considerable wagers. There’s just something about it. But playing for something every time you are on the course does help prepare you for the pressure of tournament golf. If you don’t like gambling on golf, find other ways to put pressure on yourself. Challenge your performance with something you like or dislike . . . mowing the grass, doing dishes, household chores, etc.
The key is that you have to subject yourself to pressure in order to get comfortable with it.
Or, Just How Good Are These Guys?
In my writings recently, I’ve inferred that the tour professionals are maybe not quite as good as we are led to believe, at least from the shorter ranges. Granted, you see them hit lots of shots that just cover the flags, but remember that the television broadcast is very selective. They get to scan the video of every shot hit in an event and sort them to show you the best ones. The only mediocre-to-poor shots that you get to see are the ones hit by the leaders in the final holes.
I offer as Exhibit #1 the shot that Rory McIlroy hit on #7 at Augusta a few weeks ago. He was dead center of the fairway, 121 yards from the hole and yanked it 45-50 feet long and left, into a greenside bunker that shouldn’t have even been in play for that hole location. He made bogey and fell further down the leaderboard on a hole that should have yielded a good birdie putt at least.
That happened because Rory apparently doesn’t have that shot. It was a “bad number” for him, as they say too often. In examination, you’ll see that he carries a pitching wedge that goes 135-140 and a 54* wedge that goes 105-110. He genuinely doesn’t have that 121 club. And that just amazes me.
Exhibit #2 is one you can watch the next few days. The 17th at Sawgrass has been notorious for years. Diabolical. Stunningly difficult. Why? It’s 135 yards, for Petes’ sake? A golfer making his living on the PGA Tour should be able to hit a shot into the middle of that green 99% of the time at worst. Shouldn’t he?
But the stats show something entirely different. Tracking all 4,363, shots from 2003 until last year show that a full 11% have been dunked. More than one out of ten. You’ve got to be kidding, right? This is tracking all shots, over all four days. And for four years – 2005-2008 – the percentages were 15%, 13%, 21% and 15%. That blew me away. It’s a pitching wedge or soft 9-iron shot. For the best players in the world at the time. And they dunk as many as one out of five into the pond?
Tiny target you say? Of course it is. It’s supposed to test the best players in the world. But at 3,900 square feet, it’s roughly a 70-foot circle. If you aim at the dead center of the green, you have to hit it more than 35 feet off line, short or long to miss it. My bet is that most of the shots are missed short and right.
So, have fun watching these guys then think about how you might fare on that hole. How many out of ten do you think you could hit somewhere on the green? From 135 it should be a pretty good number.
I’m hoping this one lights you guys up a bit. Let me know what you think about this opinion, and what topics more related to helping you score you’d like to see me address in the coming weeks.