Thursday, August 30, 2012

Edwin Shepherd Reflections

One of our Landings Club junior golfers, Edwin Shepherd, recently attended the PGA Championship. Here are his comments about the event (pretty perceptive for an 11-year-old golfer!):

1.  What was your BEST experience of the day?
The whole day was great. My favorite parts were meeting and getting autographs from Darren Clarke, David Feherty, Bill Haas and Rory McIlroy. I asked Bill Haas which hole was the hardest, and he answered, "ALL of them."  Everybody laughed. Also, I followed Rory for fifteen holes and I saw his shot on six in the rough. I was only about three feet away when he made his swing. I saw Bubba Watson smile when my Dad and I yelled, "How 'Bout them Dawgs" from the gallery as he was walking to the ninth tee.  

2.  What did you notice about how the players warmed up at the range versus how they practiced later?
Before the round, the players practiced everything. After the round, they practiced what they didn't do well that day on the course. Tiger Woods practiced putting after everybody else was gone. He had only made twenty-two putts on the first round, but he jumped up to twenty-eight putts on the second round. He wasn't happy with a three-putt on number eighteen, so he stayed and practiced putting for a long time.  

3.  Did the players eat or drink during the round? If so, what kinds of food?
I saw a couple of players eating granola bars and a lot of players drinking water.  

4.  How do you think you would have played that course from tee markers that were perfect for you?
Better on some holes than others. I would've had to lay-up a lot. The course was beautiful and seemed very difficult.

5.  Were there any shots that surprised you, good or not so good?
Rory's shots on six and seven in heavy rough were great shots. It was really cool to be there in person to see him make those amazing shots.  

6.  What types of reactions did the players have to their good and not so good shots?
I watched Rory the most, and he was pretty calm, even when he hit poor shots.  
7.  Any tips on going to watch a professional tournament?
If you want to follow a specific player, you have to stay a little ahead of him or you'll get behind. Before Rory started, I stayed on hole 8 for a while and it was neat to see different players coming through. I heard Francesco Molinari's caddy say about the golfers, "Forty mile-per-hour winds to the right, pin placement on the left. They're magicians!"  

8.  What advice do you have to get other juniors started in golf?
Go play golf. Have fun with it. You've got to keep it fun. Don't get frustrated if you make a bad shot.  Everyone makes bad shots sometimes, even the pros.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Importance of Feedback

Have you ever noticed that most sports have a coach on-site when a person or team learns, practices and scrimmages? Sports like basketball, tennis, gymnastics, baseball, football and karate all have someone there to provide feedback. 

In golf, unless you're playing competitively at the top levels, you are on your own for practice. Students can take a half hour or hour lesson, or attend a golf school for several days but then they're on their own. 

Feedback is SO crucial for improvement. Going it on your own may take longer because the idea may not be correct or may be over-practiced or, even worse, practiced incorrectly. 

The Landings Club golf professional staff highly encourages golfers to come back for follow-up lessons or walk-by's. I'd rather see a student three times a week for 5 minutes to just go over an idea instead of every 2-3 weeks when they've practiced the idea incorrectly. 

Make use of the staff for feedback, both verbally and visually! 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

PGA Championship

What a treat to be able to go see the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Ty and I spent all day Friday at the tournament and the television did NOT do the wind justice. At times it was even hard to stand up! We arrived at the main gate and stopped in with PGA passes. Anyone with a ticket could then see if their ticket was a lucky winner of fabulous prizes but alas, not ours. 

We passed through many huge tents with merchandise, performance, sponsors. Then we decided to meet up with friends to watch the players making the turn from 18 to 1 tee off on 1. Ty and I then moved on and walked backwards from 9 to 5 green. Big winds made it hard for the players to hit close to targets and we saw some very interesting short game shots we thought had a minimal chance to save par but wouldn't you know, everyone chipped within five feet of the hole from almost everywhere.  

Wow, these guys are GOOD! We were five feet from two players whose golf balls came to rest precariously on the edge of the rough overhanging a small cliff by the cart path right of 6. It was really fun to listen up close as they discussed wind, lie, hillside and wind again before making their shots. We were right up there in the action.  

Ty found a great spot for us where we could watch the players hit into 5 green and then we took eight steps and were right up on #6 tee with them, again just inches from their bags and tee shot. Seeing the great players on TV is one thing but being there in their presence that close is another. They're just people like us but for some reason, we just stare and admire and feel like we're watching golf Gods in action. 

Wouldn't you know it - on the farthest point from the clubhouse a storm hit. Luckily, we had huge golf umbrellas to help. I squatted under mine and was in my cozy 'tent' without getting wet while Ty helped shelter a few other golfers next to him. Good foresight to bring those umbrellas! 

We had a good lunch and made our long way back to the other end of the island to catch up with our friends on 13 green. We felt like fish going upstream when we hit Tiger's hole on 1 and everyone was going forward while we were going backward. We watched him leave his approach shot 20 yards short of the pin on 1, requiring a chip and a save for par -- he can certainly draw a crowd

The back nine reared its ugly head and made for some tough golf. Our friends were situated left of 13 green and in almost every group, we had to duck for 1-2 balls that were incoming into our area. Two people were hit within six groups, as the water right and the tight approach allowed for a small bail-out left. We also wondered why on earth we kept sitting in that area. It's very disconcerting to lose sight of the ball in the air and hear frantic "Fore!!' alerts. There was nothing to do but cover our heads, turn our backs to the player and hope it didn't hit!

What a wonderful day as we left windblown with sand in our hair, socks, ears and everywhere - the Ocean Course is one of the toughest courses I've seen but one of the most beautiful as well!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Q&A with Golf Digest Readers

It was certainly an honor to be able to work with Golf Digest writer, Pete McDaniel, on the distance article we shot in April of 2011 (the first story on putting was released in the July 2011 issue). Since then, I've had some very fun emails and notes come in from across the country. I thought I'd share a few with you since they have some good follow-up questions.

Q: I read with great interest your article in Golf Digest, August 2012. Using the 10-finger grip, I'm hitting higher and farther with my driver. This is my question, would you recommend the 10-finger grip for hybrids and fairway woods? My club slips occasionally, and instead of working on gripping tighter (which scares me), I'm wondering if I should start to experiment with the 10-finger grip. I just moved from Atlanta after living there for 15 years. I would have loved to visit you. Look forward to your response. -Woman from Troy, Michigan

A: I think working on golf swings is like a supervised scientific experiment and would recommend seeing how it works. I think that would be the easiest thing to do. I use the word grip in golf as a noun, not a verb, so I agree that "gripping tighter" might not be an advisable move. You must hold the club securely but allow the arms and wrists the mobility to create and deliver speed without being tight. Make sure the grip is secure and I hope the 10 finger works just as well for your hybrids and fairway woods!

Q: Thank you for the tips you gave me. I got some of them to work but need more practice on the others. Your tip on hovering the club when teeing off works great & the ten finger grip also, now all I need to do is work on my alignment & where to position the ball in my stance when I use a 3 wood 5 wood 3&4 hybrid 6 iron etc., etc. Any tips for those? I do know this -- if I lived down there I would surely come to you for a lesson. Thank you for your advice & when I need more help & answers I will email. Have a great day & thank you again. - A Gentleman in the Navy

A: Remember that in golf, since we stand sideways to the target and several feet to the side of the target line, we must aim the club head at the target and then align the body parallel left (for righties) or right (for lefties) of the target. We can't aim both our body and clubhead at the target, only if we stand on the same target line like croquet, basketball free-throw, etc.  I do what many top professionals and amateurs do in that I select my aim from behind the ball by picking out a small, intermediate target several inches in front of the ball... something on an imaginary line I drew from the target to my ball.  When I line up from the side of the ball, I just line up my club head to that little intermediate target and then align myself parallel to that.

For ball position, I teach a basic 3-ball position.  Shorter irons nearer the middle of the stance, mid-irons/hybrids/fairway woods near the middle front (about 1 ball closer to the target than the middle) and the driving club inside the lead foot instep. As with any golfer, these are just starting points from which to launch. Each golfer needs to find what works best for him or her based on how the swings works and bottoms out. Like most elite players, I would suggest putting down an alignment stick or club shaft between your feet perpendicular to the ball so you can just move the ball position around but have feedback so you can make that decision. Golf is not a static game -- it's dynamic! -- but you need to know where to start so you can adjust from there!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unveiling the Driving Distance Mystery

Recently, I became interested in finding actual statistics on the average driving distance for golfers based on gender and age. My goal is to be able to provide baseline figures to students who might be frustrated by perceived lack of distance. Some of the best data I received was from a gentleman who works tirelessly to promote the Tee It Forward movement.

"I don't have that specific data yet but in some sense though the question should be approached a little differently. Since distance with all clubs is a function of and directly proportional to club head speed, we'd really need to know the average club head speed for players of different ages. There is such a wide variation in swing speed for players of similar ages. While I think we all tend to lose swing speed as we age and lose muscle mass and flexibility, the percentage of decrease varies greatly from person to person. As we age, we hold onto thoughts about how far we hit the ball even though we maybe didn't hit it as far as we thought we did. This has been exacerbated by the advancements in technology that have allowed us to hold onto those thoughts longer. I suspect I hit the ball almost as far as I did when I was 17/18 but I guarantee you that it isn't because I have the same muscle mass or swing speed."

Rule of Thumb Swing Speed / Yardage:
55mph        115 yards
65mph        140 yards
76mph        165 yards  
85mph        190 yards

Here is some data that estimates optimal ball striking (O) and inefficient ball striking (I) with just a few starting demographics:

Age        Male Swing Speed   O/I                Female Swing Speed   O/I
50-59      85                              191/183         75                                  174/167
60-69      80                              183/175         65                                  146/142
70-79      70                              161/154         55                                  113/106 
80-89      60                              130-124         45                                   NA

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

(Perfect) Practice Makes Perfect

I had a lesson this morning that inspired a thought. When I ask new students about their goals, the two most common answers are consistency and distance. It dawned on me today that if you want to become more consistent in striking the ball, you must be more consistent in properly setting it up. 

Therefore, practicing hitting, chipping and put-putting from the same spot without moving your position might not help the skills transfer to the course. If I hit 20 shots from the same spot and don't regrip or take a new stance, I'm training my body to hit ball after ball without a fresh start. 

On the course, I have one chance before moving on, so each shot is a fresh start. To better transfer the practiced skills to the course, I suggest practicing each shot with a fresh set-up, as if you were playing. 

(Perfect) Practice makes perfect!