“Golf 2.0″ won’t make the cut.

02/24/2012

The golf industry’s not doing real well these days.

Ten years ago there were 30 million golfers in America.  Now there are 26 million. And even the most devoted are playing less often… The number of rounds has fallen five straight years. Golf course development has dried up. Country Clubs are going bankrupt. Golf spending is down across the board. And well-meaning industry initiatives have done nothing to grow the game.

The latest effort — “Golf 2.0” — was launched by the PGA of America in January. It’s an elaborate program of target marketing, player development and customer service training that has little chance of achieving its stated goal.

Because it misses the root of the problem: It’s not about “reaching” 61 million lapsed golfers. It’s about addressing the reasons why they lapsed.

According to the “Golf 2020” report, there are three reasons why 1.7 million people quit the game every year:

• Golf takes too long

• It costs too much

• It’s too hard.

Golf 2.0 does nothing to address any of these problems, which is really too bad.

Golf Instruction Used To Be Simple

In the battle of simplicity vs. complexity, simplicity wins, every time. We gravitate toward products and services that eliminate complexity from our lives, and we rail against the things that complicate matters and make us feel stupid.

Back in the days of the three-martini lunch, golf instruction was simple and appealing. As a country club member you had a pro at your disposal. He’d work with you on the driving range, play with you, coach you to get better, and monitor your progress.

It was a personalized, one-on-one experience.

No two lessons were the same. He worked with the swing you had, and helped you build the skills you needed to score well on the golf course. Accountability was built in… You’d practice because you knew the pro was keeping an eye on your progress.

But those days are gone.

Today, less than 5% of all golfers have a relationship with a golf pro. According to the NGF, less than half of all golfers have ever taken a lesson, and when they do they are often disappointed. There are 27 million golfers, but less than 4 million lessons in any given year. Maybe the PGA should think about why that is…

This is the image the PGA likes to promote. But it has little to do with the realities of the pro-student relationship.

Because lessons are totally intimidating, especially for women. Because instructors make them way too complex!  And most of all, because they seldom work.

Even the most humble and friendly golf instructor can make us feel stupid. Inept. And klutzy. It is a rare instructor who sends the student off with fewer than five or six “things to work on.”  According to Phil Mickelson, even the tour gurus are often guilty of over-instruction. “Can’t you just give me one thing to work on?”

Often it’s a checklist of a dozen mechanical issues that the average guy can’t possibly grasp, much less incorporate into his game. The more technical the lesson is, the worse it gets.

Group lessons and golf schools are especially ineffective. Common complaints include: “I came back worse than when I started.” “It was just way too technical.” “He didn’t give me anything positive, it was all about what I was doing wrong.”

Video analysis only helps the most analytical, visual learners; Maybe one half of one percent of the golfing population. And yet, instructors routinely use stop motion video to analyze every position and point out every flaw.

Just because they can.

More often than not, it’s just confusing and demoralizing for the student.

The fact is, if video alone was an effective tool, all the tour pros would be firing their high-priced swing coaches. But they’re not. Even Tiger Woods — the ultimate swing wonk — needs help translating what he sees on video to what he feels on the golf course.

In the January issue of Golf Digest, Jim Flick, one of the top five teachers of all time, wrote an article that sums up the problem with modern golf instruction:

“A lot of today’s teachers are enamored with what works for the tour pros, and they give the same information to their higher-handicap students… In general, trying to swing like most of today’s tour pros will make the average golfer – say a 5 handicap or higher, – only worse.”

Rather than working with the student’s natural swing, today’s teachers tell everyone to emulate Tiger Woods or Adam Scott or Dustin Johnson. And there’s no way we can pull it off. It would be like taking a piano player, who’s only played for a year, and  asking him to perform Stravinsky.  Forget About It!

Bottom line: Only two in ten golfers go back for a second lesson of any kind, and even fewer believe that the lesson “did them any good.” It’s an abysmal record that produces very little repeat business. Worse yet, it drives people away from the game and is beginning to make the teaching pro irrelevant.

Why isn’t the PGA of America addressing that? If the golf industry truly wants to turn things around, the methods of instruction HAVE to change.

Do-It-Yourselfers are the key.

Golf Magazine reports that 70 percent of all golfers are dissatisfied with their scores. So if they are not happy with their scores, and they’re not taking lessons, what are they doing?

Surfing the net, watching the You Tube videos, reading magazines and buying training aids. Google reports more than 1.2 million searches a month on keywords directly related to golf improvement and golf instruction.

Unfortunately, this do-it-yourself approach simply doesn’t work.

Few of us understand the golf swing well enough to accurately assess our own faults. We don’t know what to work on — and more importantly, what NOT to work on. So we try everything! It’s like a merry-go-round of experimentation… Try this, try that. Motivated players accumulate tons of knowledge but never improve because the tips we try are out of context and blatantly contradictory.

Confusion reigns.

And here’s another problem… We’re not accountable or motivated to practice. There’s no pro asking, “how’s that putting drill working for you.” We just hit balls at the driving range with no goal, no plan, and no supervision.

And ingrain all our bad habits.

Unfortunately, the golf industry perpetuates this problem by making everything more complicated than it needs to be. Just look what they’ve done with the simplest club in the bag!

Frustration drives people away from the game of golf. By the millions.

The business thrives on complexity. I guess they figure if they can keep the average golfer completely mystified it guarantees them job security. And sells more clubs. But it does not keep us coming back. (Just ask the 61 million “lapsed” golfers out there.)

In my business we tell clients they need to always be mindful of relevance, credibility and differentiation.

Well, golf pros have very little credibility when it comes to instruction. And they are quickly becoming irrelevant to the vast majority of golfers. That’s a huge problem for the PGA of America.

Technology alone is not the answer. If the PGA really wants to serve its constituents they need to figure out how to marry technology with tradition and reinvent the way golf is taught.


The Forget-About-It Guide to playing with a pro. Or vice-versa.

08/01/2011

I recently had the privilege of playing golf with Ian Baker-Finch. He was in town raising money for a local charity, and part of the deal was to play with a few of us who support Devin’s Destiny.

We all had a blast! Ian was gracious, helpful, funny and genuinely fun to be around.

However, there are a few things that might have made it a little less nerve-wracking for those of us who are not endowed with a natural ability to pour in ten-foot putts with our eyes closed.

So I’d like to turn the tables here, and dispense a few tips to all the PGA pros — past and present — who do charity events and corporate outings.  Back at ya, Finchy!

Ian Baker-Finch pro golfer television commentator

Finchy and Furgurson at Pronghorn.

1. First and foremost, remember that for your amateur partners, this isn’t a casual day off. Psychologically speaking, it’s the British Open, the US Open and the Masters combined into their own, personal SUPER major.

People are going to choke!

So no matter how ugly it gets, you need to dig deep and muster some empathy. Think back to the most pressure-packed situation you’ve ever faced in golf, and then add one more critical element: An utter lack of natural talent with a golf club.

Forget about it! Even Tiger Woods suffers from first tee jitters, and there’s no shortage of natural talent there.  If “Finchy” can hit one O.B. left on the first tee at St. Andrews I can damn well miss a couple fairways. Either direction.

2. If two out of four people in the group are afflicted with the yips, don’t discuss “apprehension” while standing on the second green.

Forget-about it!  That’s the one case where you have to resist the temptation to help altogether.

Give the poor bastard the benefit of the doubt and just assume that he’s already tried EVERYTHING! So wait until the 19th hole to suggest left hand low, or vice versa. He’s been-there, done-that.

Don’t question the Yipper’s choice of putters or his unconventional method. Don’t talk about Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer or Phil Mickelson. Don’t tell him to try putting with his eyes closed, either. He’s already blind as a bat when it comes to putting.

In our case, humor was the best medicine. We poked fun at ourselves, addressed the elephant on the green, and laughed about the whiffed three-footers.

Luckily, Finchy was more than happy to jump on that bus with good natured comments like “I’m trying not to watch.”

However, some guys won’t be quite as good-natured about it.

Even the most innocent little tips like, “slow it down and stick to your routine,” get jumbled up completely in the yipper’s mind. What he hears is “Oh my god, I’m not sure if my routine is quite right and the grip pressure in my left forefinger seems to getting a bit tight so I better change my method completely, lower my right shoulder, tuck my elbow in more and open my stance a little in order to move my forearms a little more like Jack Nicklaus.”

And whatever you do, don’t tell him to “relax.”  For a Yipper that translates directly to “Seize up completely and make a spastic stab at the ball.”

4. When there’s an Irishman in the group, never bring up Paddy, Rory, Darren Clark, Graham McDowell, Guiness, or anything that has to do with pubs. Forget About It!  You’ll never get another word in edgewise.

5. Assuming it’s not the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, throw one hole early in the round just to make yourself seem more human.  Do a Seve impersonation… hit an ugly drive and scramble a bit to make par. The guys in your group will love to see how you handle adversity.

And finally, in order to make the yippers more comfortable, purposely miss an easy 5-footer then talk to yourself  incessantly about how you “overthought it.” It’s the most endearing thing you could do.


For the love of the game — How NOT to teach your kids.

06/15/2011

I always cringe when know-it-all parents  “instruct” their kids on the mechanics of the golf swing.  Terms like “swing more inside-out” or “maintain that angle of attack” will never resonate with with children, no matter how nice you are.

So imagine my dismay when I ran into this jerk at the driving range the other day…

He shows up with a bluetooth appliance stuck in his ear and two young kids in tow; a boy around nine or 10 and a cute little girl no older than six.

Before they kids can even tee one up, he starts in on them:  With his finger pointing, he says “you have to take your time and practice. You can’t just whack ‘em.  Once these balls are gone, I’m not buying you any more. You need to do exactly what I say.”

And it went downhill from there.

Most parents who try teaching their kids are misguided, but well-meaning. They truly want their kids to succeed.  But there was nothing well-meaning about this guy.  He took bad advice  — and bad parenting — to an entirely new  level.

“What’s that position? Did I tell you to do that? NO! You do exactly what I say, and nothing else.”

“You gotta get your arms up here. NO, not like that. Like this. Now do it! Turn your hips!”

“This isn’t baseball. That’s not right! You can’t hit the ball like that! What’s wrong with you? You’re not listening.

On and on it went.

Yikes. Just let the poor kids hit the ball! I’ve never been so tempted to stick my nose in someone else’s business. I actually had to pick up and move to the other end of the range.

My friend Andy Heinly, who has coached kids for 20 years, says he deosn’t even worry about the grip with kids that age, much less mechanics of the swing.

“With kids, it should never be about mechanics. You just want them to feel the motion of the golf swing and the joy of impact.  They love to make contact with the ball, who cares how they do it!”

It needs to be a playful, stress-free experience for kids. Unfortunately, most of them don’t have the best role models for that. They see the tour pros on TV, in serious, U.S. Open grinding mode. They watch their dads getting frustrated and foul-mouthed on the course. And that’s what they learn.

When my kids were little their favorite activity was simply riding in the cart  and hitting balls into the water hazards. (There’s something magically enticing about that splash.) We also hit those yellow, dense foam balls around the neighborhood and even in the house. We also played putt-putt whenever possible.

teach kids to play golf

Teaching kids takes a gentle, restrained touch.

That’s what kids need to develop a love for the game, not penance on the driving range.

The odds of those kids becoming life-long golfers are pretty much nil. Even if that guy knew what he was talking about mechanically, his approach was still inappropriate, to say the least.

My 15-year-old  son loves the game, and I’m thrilled about that. But he still won’t listen to any advice about his golf swing. Imagine how that guy’s kids are going feel after years of lecturing and browbeating.

Here’s another example that I’ve encountered this year. We’ll call him Duck, because he stands with his feet splayed outward, like a bowlegged duck. Combine that with a grip that’s light years beyond “strong” and a swing flatter than a swedish pancake, and what do you get?

A natural born teacher!

Every time he hits a bad shot he seems completely baffled, as if  his horrific mechanics have never failed him in the past. And the sad part is, that little man taught his wife to play with the same, fundamentally flawed grip and the same, super-flat swing.  Ironically, she executes it better than he does.

The point is, if you’re thinking of teaching your kids or your wife to play golf, be very careful what you say. Even if you’ve memorized Hogan’s Five Lessons, chances are, you’ll do more harm than good if you start analyzing swing mechanics. Even PGA teaching pros have a dismal record of success.

So back to that dad on the driving range…  Forget-About-It!

The best thing he could do for his kids is just shut up. Stop with the helicopter parenting and let them have a little fun. He’s obviously taken the play out of golf for himself, let’s just hope it’s not too late for his kids.


Seve.

05/12/2011

by John Furgurson

Golf is not the most exciting sport in the world to watch. But every 20  years or so, a new character appears who brings excitement, charisma and youthful exhuberance  to the normally tedious story-line of  professional golf.

There was Arnold Palmer  in the 50s.  Jack Nicklaus in the 60′s. Seve Ballesteros in the early 80′s. Tiger Woods in 2000.

But nobody did it quite like Seve.

Seve with the Claret Jug.

Every time you’d tune in you’d find Seve somewhere other than the fairway… In the trees. On adjoining fairways. In knee-deep rough. Even in parking lots. He’d play 18 holes, hit only  one or two fairways, and still post a 67. Drove his competitors nuts, but it made for great TV.

As it said in his New York Times obituary; “He was feisty. He was proud. He was charming. He made people watch, and he usually gave them something to remember.”

Stark contrast to today’s run-of-the-mill PGA pro.

Seve didn’t gain attention on tour by wearing crazy clothes or bombing it a mile past everyone else. He built his reputation by executing super-human shots that no other player would even contemplate trying. And by winning.

Take, for instance, the 1979 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Leading by two shots in the final round, he drove his ball into a parking lot next to the 16th fairway. (Some say he did that on purpose in order to play his next shot into the wind.) Seve calmly had a car moved,  then fired his second shot off the pavement to 15 feet and made birdie to win his first major.

Let’s face it, he had bigger cojones than anyone else on tour.  He was the Matador of the Masters.

Seve was the first, real golfing prodigy. But he wasn’t raised with a hall pass to the biggest guru’s golf academy. He learned to play on a  hard-sand beach. With nothing but a 3-iron. He invented shots, and used his imagination as his number-one weapon.

Seve never analyzed his swing or subjected himself to self-inflicted swing changes. He wasn’t interested in the mechanics of it. He just wanted to get the ball in the hole.  And that, he did.

Ballesteros won a record 50 times on the European tour. At the age of 16 he finished second at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He obliterated the field in the 1980 Masters and became the  youngest Masters champion until Woods won at age 21. He was a three-time winner of the British Open and had a total of five majors to his credit.

However, I have to say  Seve wasn’t so successful when it comes to teaching. From a learning standpoint, his book, “Troubleshooting” was entertaining, but not much help. Because no one can pull off the type of shots that Seve demonstrates in there. Seriously…

The left-handed toe shot against the trunk of a tree.

The 5-iron from a greenside bunker.

The left-handed shot with the back of a long-iron.

The one-handed backhand shot from U.S. Open rough.

The sand wedge off the pavement.

Forget About It!  Makes Tiger’s two-iron stinger seems simple.

Pretty soon another young golf prodigy will come along and steal the show.  Maybe Rory McIlroy, the young Irishman. Or  Ryo Ishikawa… Doubtful.

Seve had something extra, something beyond his playing ability and his Latin good looks that made him fun to watch. Fun to root for. And absolutely unforgettable.

I doubt we’ll ever see another character  quite like Seve Ballesteros.


16 Reasons To Root For Kenvin Na.

05/04/2011

by John Furgurson

PGA Tour Pro Kevin Na deserves an award.  His slashing, silly 16 on the  par-4 9th at the Texas Open — and his subsequent smile — wins him the title of the Forget-About-It Golfer-Of-The-Month.

It was the worst score ever recorded on a par-4 on the PGA tour, and second only to John Daly’s 18.

Na may have lost that tournament on one hole, but he sure won a lot of fans that day.  After taking 12 strokes to get out of the jungly trees he was actually chuckling as he asked his caddy, “how are we going to count all those strokes?”

Kevin Na

His caddy was not amused, but Na shrugged it off and shot 33 on the back nine. Even though he missed the cut in Texas, the following week Na tied for 9th at Hilton Head, a very respectable showing that moved him up to 32nd in FedEx Cup points.

What Kevin Na did on number 9 in San Antonio wasn’t pro-like at all. It was precisely what average, ordinary guys do on a regular basis. We’re naturally talented when it comes to hacking it around in the trees and turning one bad swing into a long series of bad shots. And big numbers.

But what most golfers don’t do so well is bounce back from such a debacle like Na did. We just can’t forget about it.

We get pissed off and compound the problem by  dwelling on the negative. We carry the experience around with us, at least until the cart girl makes her next appearance with a big ol’ glass of easy swing.

Na was four under par for his round, with the exception of that one, disastrous hole.

Now that’s my kinda  scorekeeping… Optimistic!

How many times have you said something like this after a round… “I was even par after 6 holes!”   Or “I played the back nine in just 3-over par.”  All the while, leaving out the gory details of the rest of the round.

Never mind the snowman on that little par-4. Never mind the four three putts, the double mulligans and the uncounted water balls.

We’re great at forgetting big numbers of our own, but we love to relive the car wrecks of the PGA tour. It makes the players more human. More real. Let’s face it, when everyone’s hitting fairway, green, fairway, green all day, tournaments like that can get pretty boring to watch.

Maybe the reason that Na’s episode is such a  YouTube sensation (almost 800,000 views)  is that we’ve all been there… stars in our own epic failures.

I once tried hitting a big slice around a tree, fanned the clubface open, ricocheted it off the trunk and hit myself in the head. Hard. Took me off my feet. Thankfully, I wasn’t within sight of the clubhouse, much less miked-up on national television.

The bottom line is, Na handled himself well. He had a winning, “that’s golf” attitude that will serve him well on and off the course. As one writer put it, he’s now “a man of the  people.”  And a winner in our book.

Forget About It!

If you haven’t seen the footage, and are dying to find out how he made a 16 without losing a ball or hitting it out of bounds, here’s the YouTube link:


Son-of-a-Grip! – Why my boy can’t get it up in the air.

04/07/2011

by John Furgurson

My 15-year old son is the 12th man on his 11-man high school golf team. Every week he has to qualify to play in his upcoming JV tournament. It’s like his own personal Q-school, and he hasn’t made it yet.

Mostly  because of his grip.

See, like most teenage golfers he blatantly ignored the sage advice of dear-old-dad and adopted a grip that’s too strong for his own good. On a good day he hits a low hook. On a bad day, he can’t get it airborne. His swinging motion is not bad, but the way he holds the club is severely limiting his ability to make good contact. Or hit it stiff.

So last week I decided we had to have “The Talk.”

The first challenge was choosing the appropriate time and place for “The Talk.”  So on the way to practice, when I had a captive, un-plugged audience, I gently jumped in.

“Can I make one suggestion? I asked innocently.

“Dad, don’t even talk to me about my grip,” he blurted.  “There’s no way I can do that! No way! I’ll learn a new grip when you learn to speak three other languages.”

What’s spanish for “give me a break?” The prospect of learning a new grip was so overwhelming to him, I had no chance. The conversation was going nowhere.

improper golf grip - too strong

If this is what your grip looks like, you'll have a hard time too.

Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of golfers are:  Stubborn as a mule when it comes to changing the grip.

The grip is the most sacred element of the golf swing. Most guys will change everything BUT that… they’ll change the swing plane,  the position at the top, the position of the right knee at impact, the first move back and the first move down and  on and on.

They’ll do whatever they have to do to avoid changing the grip. Because somewhere deep inside, even if they’ve never tried it, they know the proper grip doesn’t feel right. It feels whimpy and weird and just plain wrong. It’s contrary to everything my son has ever known or learned.

After practice that day I gingerly tiptoed around the subject, just in case he’d had an ah-ha moment on the driving range.

“So Evan, tell me what your ball flight looked like today?” You still hitting ‘em low and left?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“So what do you think the club’s doing that would cause that?” (How’s that for subtle parenting skills?)

“It’s like this,” he said. He then showed me exactly what was happening by using a flattened hand to demonstrate a shut clubface.

“Exactly! The club’s shut way down, pointing left, so it’s really hard to get the ball up in the air, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“How do you think people compensate for that? I asked… “They lean back on the right foot and try to help it up in the air.  That throws the balance is off, and it feels like you’re going to fall backwards.

He thinks about it for a minute, and says “Yeah.”

So there it was.  My teenage son’s golfing angst in a nutshell. Intellectually, he understands the cause and effect of his bad shots. The only question left… what’s he going to do do about it?

Harvey Penick, once said, “if you have a bad grip, you don’t want a good swing. With a bad grip you have to make unattractive adjustments to hit the ball squarely.”

Evan can keep playing with a fundamentally flawed grip and a dozen different compensational moves, or he can just move his right hand a little to the left. He can do it the easy way, or the hard way.

Most kids choose the hard way. Andy Heinly, who coaches a very successful high school team, says at least half his players could use a slight shifting of the hands on the club.

“Kids play by feel, which is a good thing,” Heinly said. “But “feel” players have the hardest time when it comes to changing the grip. It takes longer to establish a comfortable new feel. “

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a weak grip for every kid. In fact, Evan is one of those kids who can benefit from a slightly strong grip. But not radically strong. Not what he has going now.

Recentlly, he’s managed to make a couple other adjustments that have helped him get the ball up. Not surprisingly, these small adjustments involve his set-up and ball position, both crucial  fundamentals.

But for teenagers — who live off instant gratification – adjusting the ball position is easier and more immediately rewarding than changing the grip. A  grip change takes patience and Hogan-like practice.  A lot of kids just don’t want to go there.

“As a coach, if you keep telling them and telling them and telling them, a lot of kids will come to it themselves,” Heinly said. “But that strategy doesn’t work for parents. Forget-About-It!”

I’m not going to give up on the idea of changing Evan’s grip, but I’m not going to force the issue either. I’ll let him watch some of our videos and I’ll leave articles around for him. Hopefully, by the time he has kids of his own playing golf, he’ll realize that maybe, just maybe, his dad actually did know a thing or two. And his grip will be pleasingly neutral.


The “Yeah, but” approach to golf lessons and instruction.

03/09/2011

by John Furgurson
A couple summers ago I was assigned a job that I really wasn’t thrilled about: Promoting the services of a visiting Golf Digest Top 50 Instructor.

I was perfectly happy with Andy Heinly’s coaching, and I was skeptical about taking a lesson from anyone else. But if I’m going help promote someone, I need to know what he’s all about.

So I scheduled a lesson and chalked it up to market research.  Here’s how it went:

I hit thee balls — count ‘em three — and  he went immediately to the video monitor for a side-by-side comparison with Adam Scott.

Adam Scott golf swing comparison

How do you look compared to this guy?

The instructor did an admirable job of dissecting the footage, piece by piece, and pointing out all the positions in my swing that didn’t match precisely with Adam Scott’s.

I listened patiently, because I was getting paid to. But the whole time I kept thinking, “Yeah, but where’s the ball going?”  “Yeah, but what’s that mean to me?”  “Yeah, but that one went really straight.”  “Yeah but Adam Scott works with Butch Harmon every day.”

The guy was so busy analyzing swing positions and diagramming the angles he didn’t even bother to watch the  flight of the ball.

I came away from the experience thinking, “Wow, my swing looks a lot better than I thought it did.” “Oh Yeah!”

A friend of mine had a similar, but opposite, experience:  When his instructor was done analyzing the side-by-side footage, he said, “geeze, how’d you ever get to be a 5? You must be a really good putter.”

Nice.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a trend  among teaching pros… The “show him how many ways he sucks” school of golf instruction. You can even do it online these days. Just send in a video of your swing and any number of teaching pros will be happy to tear it apart for you and send the pieces back in a Tweet.

Forget-About-It!

This fault and fix mentality sells a lot of magazines, and it might make your swing look prettier, but it does nothing for your scores. You  could spend years trying to fix all those positions and never improve one bit. Or worse yet, you get so wrapped up in driving range mechanics your handicap actually goes up.

We have a better approach: Find an instructor who has real coaching experience, then forget about everything else.

A good coach will begin by assessing your overall ability, watching ball flight and listening. Then he’ll say “first things first.” Coaches always start with the fundamentals.

Every year in spring training, major league baseball stars go through the same routine. In football it’s basic blocking and tackling.  In golf, it’s grip, aim and stance.  Always has been, always will be. Because as Jim Flick once said, ” preparation for the shot — what you do before you ever swing the club —  accounts for 80% of the shots effectiveness.”

My friend Andy also coaches girls basketball.  He doesn’t start them out shooting three pointers, he starts with layups and free throws. He helps the girls with the fundamentals of shooting, dribbling,  passing and defense that helps them win games.And he certainly doesn’t use video to compare his girls side-by-side with Lebron James.

In the “Yeah but” school of basketball instruction, everyone skips right to the three pointer.

I guarantee you, those professional baseball players aren’t saying “yeah but we already did this stuff last spring.”   And the golf pros on tour don’t say, “yeah but I already know how to aim, I don’t need to practice that.”  They  practice those fundamentals all the time. They check and re-check their alignment. They make sure their grip hasn’t changed. They practice chipping! And they hit thousands of three-foot putts.

In the meantime, we’re out there pounding balls at the driving range trying really hard  to look a little more like Adam Scott.


Definitive Proof: Swinging harder won’t get your farther.

02/02/2011

“Effortless force, not forceful effort.”

That’s one of my favorite golf quotes, and I’ve repeated it a thousand times. But for most people,  it’s tough mantra to stick with. Especially  if your golfing buddies are outdriving you on every hole.

It doesn’t matter who’s telling you to “swing easier” or “slow it down.” It’s hard to believe that less effort will actually produce more distance. But this past weekend I saw definitive proof.

launch monitor data golf swing analysis clubfittingThanks to launch monitor technology, we now know exactly what’s happening with each swing of the club. The feedback goes way beyond the old-school method of just watching the ball flight. Now we can see it fly and know exactly what the ball’s doing… side spin, back spin, launch angle, distance in the air, roll, and my personal favorite, “smash factor.”

When you’re shopping for a new driver, there’s nothing like a good “smash factor” number!

According to the guys who manufacture TrackMan Launch Monitors, “smash factor” is a more important stat than clubhead speed.

“Smash Factor  is simply the ratio between ball speed and clubhead speed.  It says a lot about the centeredness of impact and the solidity of the shot. By trying to achieve fast clubhead speed, most amateurs lose control and don’t obtain solid, center impact, resulting in a relatively low smash factor. The highest realistic smash factor even a tour pro can achieve is 1.49″

So I was at Fiddler’s Green Golf Shop looking for a bargain. Initially I hit six different drivers on the driving range. I ruled out three immediately, but the other three finalists were performing well, as far as I could tell. I couldn’t really see much difference, and I surely couldn’t feel any difference in “smash factor.”

So I moved to the  stall with the launch monitor to get a closer look. After several swings with each driver, I found myself exerting quite an effort, swinging harder and harder with each subsequent shot. Interestingly, the launch monitor numbers were not getting better. In fact, the harder I tried, the more the  smash factor declined.

So I took a short breather, and chatted up the salesman. After a few minutes, I announced  that I was going to “let up a little and see what happens.”

The numbers were quite conclusive:  When I consciously let up on it, and quit swinging for the back fence, the “smash factor” went up dramatically. I got more distance with less effort!

It felt like I wasn’t even trying.  When I looked at the face of the club, the impact tape revealed an impressive pattern of dead center hits. Thus, the high smash factor.

Now I know what effortless force really feels like. For the first time in my life, I had unequivicable biofeedback that told me when I was trying too hard and when I was swinging efficiently.

Once I had that feeling dialed in, I was able to compare apples to apples.  The winning selection was actually a club the salesman suggested after seeing my numbers. It wasn’t even in my first round of choices, but it outperformed them all. And I’m confident it was a good purchase.

We all admire the easy swings of Ernie Else and Fred Couples. But the natural tendency is to swing outta your shoes, like Tiger Woods on RedBull.  Forget-About-It!  It doesn’t work. In fact, all that effort works against you.

Effortless force, not forceful effort.

Swing “within yourself” and you’ll hit the sweet spot more consistently. And when you hit the sweet spot, you get more carry, more overall distance and more consistent ball flight.

So Forget About clubhead speed.! You could be swinging 150 mph, but if you’re hitting it all over the clubface, it won’t do you a bit of good. What you need is an efficient combination of speed and dead-center impact. That’s how you get a good smash factor. That’s how you beat your buddies with effortless force.

So even if you’re not in the market for a new driver, spend some time on the launch monitor and  find that sweet spot between trying too hard, and not hard enough. Memorize that feeling you have when your smash factor is at its peak, and then take that to the golf course.


Get a grip on bad golf advice.

01/04/2011

Every round of Golf is littered with distractions… The slow group ahead of you. The guy who picks up your ball without looking. The kid who can’t really play but beats you anyway.

On the driving range, there’s nothing more distracting than a knuckleheaded know-it-all dispensing bad advice. I try to block it out with sheer mental fortitude, but it’s kind of like watching a car wreck.

Usually it’s his lovely bride who gets the brunt of his hair-brained theories…

“You need to spin your hips faster.”

“Turn your  back farther around.”

“Keep your head down.”

“Swing slower.”

“No, don’t do that.”

“Quit topping it.”

Amateur advice like that is what drives people away from the game. Because one lousy golf lesson often leads down a path of permanent confusion.

There are so many sources of bad advice these days, it’s impossible to escape it. Unless you have a really good, built-in  B.S. detector, you’re bound to get sucked-in as some point.

I was perusing YouTube the other day for videos on “correct golf grip.”  There are hundreds to choose from, and most offer fairly accurate descriptions of how to hold the club.

But there are also plenty of  grip videos that lead you down the wrong path. Like the one that dissects the grip into 11 — count ‘em 11 — “simple” steps. Or the one  that claims you can correct your slice simply by changing to a “strong” grip.

Talk about a rash generalization!

That’s  like putting a band aid on a sucking chest wound. Changing your grip like that might minimize your slice for a little while, but it could just as easily infect you with a push-slice, a duck hook, or any number of other deadly complications.

Instead of missing consistently to the right, you could  be missing it every which way.

Besides, the vast majority of golfers who slice the ball already have a strong grip! That doesn’t stop ‘em from hitting all the houses on the right side of the golf course.

Here’s the thing: If you hang on, and never release the clubhead —or if you “come way over the top”— you can hit a big old slice with any sort of grip.

I don’t have time to discuss the technical mechanics of a slice. Forget About It. But one thing’s for sure, changing to a fundamentally flawed grip is not the answer to your slice. That possible short-term fix is probably going to cause more long-term problems than you already have.

Which leads me back to the issue of bad advice. If someone specifically asks for advice, offer it only with a huge caveat… that it’s only your opinion and you don’t really know what you’re talking about. Or better  yet, if you’re asked for advice and you’re not a certified instructor, just SHUT UP!

If you’re surfing the web for advice or soliciting tips from people, remember this: If the source of the information — the advisor — doesn’t know a few, fundamental things about your swing, you can’t be sure that the tip applies to you. Why waste  your time finding out?

So take everything with a grain of salt. And be prepared to sift through a lot of irrelevant information before you find something that works for your particular swing.


The Smorgasbord School Of Learning Golf

11/18/2010

Golfers, in general, have a unsatiable appetite for anything instructional. They snack on tips and YouTube videos, dine on magazine articles, and feast on anything the tour pros say.

They get so much information from so many different sources,  it leaves them feeling stuffed but dumbstruck. Like a Thanksgiving Day hangover.

Perhaps the hardest thing about improving your golf game is learning how to sift out the information that doesn’t apply to you. Because you simply can’t listen to all of it — or even half of it — without getting completely confused.

Just the other day I saw a hot young tour pro saying “slide your hips.” I’ve been fighting that bad habit for years.  Most people say the shaft should be pointing at the target  at the top of your swing. Now they’re saying left of the target. Open the clubface in the bunker. Don’t open the clubface. The more you read, the more conflicted it gets.

But it takes discipline to ignore entire sections of a magazine. Like going through the buffet line and passing up the fried foods… You know you want it, even though it may not be good for you.

The best way to avoid the smorgasbord effect is to have  a clearly defined goal, and stick only to the information that’ll help you in one single area at a time. For instance, you  may want to improve your short game. Be more specific… you want to get up and down more often when you miss a green. That means you have to improve both your chipping and your putting.

So forget about all those articles about gaining distance off the tee or hitting a hybred out of a fairway bunker. Don’t go for the full buffet!  In fact, stop reading all together and just go out and practice.

One solid hour of chipping is worth more than 40 hours of reading about chipping.

As Andy Heinly says, “practice makes permanent.” So  here are a few things to remember when you get out there:

•  Keep it simple. You don’t need to master the Phil Michelson flop shot to be good around the greens. The short game is a matter of feel and mental fortitude, so don’t complicate matters. There’s nothing wrong with a meat and potato diet. Just make sure you have a good, solid set-up position for the type of shot you want to hit, and then swing with authority.  You’ll figure out how to get the ball close to the hole pretty quickly.

• Zero in on the target. With all your focus on the hole, you’ll be amazed how close you come. But the minute you start thinking about anything else, you’ll find yourself struggling.

• Put the pressure on! Don’t just dump a bucket of balls out next to the green and start hitting the same shot over and over again. Chip one, and then go putt it in. Have a contest with a buddy to see who can get up and down more often. Put a little bet on it. The more competitive you can make your practice, the better you’ll be when it really counts.

• Make it real.  Try to replicate the situations you normal run into on your golf course… high ones out of thick rough, low runners from a tight lie, or whatever the case may be. Think about the places where you commonly miss, and practice that specific shot.

The next time you sit down with a golf magazine, approach it like you would a late night buffet. On a cruise ship.  On a really stormy night.

If you gorge yourself you’ll definitely regret it later.


Funky Furyk Finishes First – Takes home $10 million.

10/27/2010

I was tickled to see Jim Furyk win the Tour Championship, and the $10 million Fed Ex Cup bonus. He deserved it. Besides, it’s always fun rooting for the  seemingly average, ordinary guy with an “unconventional” swing.

Furyk's unconventional swing won him $15 million on tour this year.

Armchair quarterbacks love to ridicule Furyk’s golf swing. It’s loopy and sort of  old-school with lots of leg action. David Feherty once said “it looks like an octopus falling out of a tree.”

Yeah, a ten-million-dollar octopus.

His swing takes the exact opposite path of most weekend hackers…  He starts the club back to the outside, does a little loop at the top, and then drops it inside on the way down.

That’s the key… a good, inside position through the ball.  It’s what Hank Haney was trying to get  Charles Barkley to do for a year.

Most guys take it back inside, and then come outside and across the ball on the way through. Slice-o-rama.

“It doesn’t matter what the club’s doing on the way back, it’s the path of the club on the way down that dictates where the ball goes.” Furyk said. ” I think it works because its natural. I can repeat it. And its not something I’ve had to work on for ten years.  I can repeat that swing and that’s why I think it has held up  under pressure.”

Hmmmmm.  That sounds like a pretty good criteria for a golf swing:

It’s natural for him.

It’s repeatable.

He doesn’t have to work on it.

It delivers the clubhead through the ball consistently every time.

It has produced 16 PGA Tour victories and one Major Championship.

Forget About It!  There are millions of guys with pretty golf swings who would kill for that kind of success.

Furyk started swinging the club that way when he was 12  years old. Rather than fighting it, his dad helped him fine tune his natural swing into what it is today. They both took a lot of  criticism for it, but they stayed with it all these years.

The moral of that story…  quit worrying so much about what your swing looks like, and start focusing on getting the ball in the hole. Don’t listen to your friends who criticize that little glitch in your swing. Just play your game and beat the hell out of ‘em!

Join Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Jim Furyk on the list of overachievers with under-appreciated golf swings.

Furyk’s win was a come-from-behind victory.  Going into the four-tournament Fed-Ed Cup playoffs, Furyk wasn’t in the top 10. Then he got  disqualified from the first tournament because he missed his tee time in the Pro-Am. (Note to self… be sure the cell phone’s plugged in if you’re using it as your only wake-up call.)

Talk about a good Forget-About-It mentality! That mistake would have rattled most players right out of the standings. But Furyk put it behind him and played some of his  best golf of the year when it mattered most: He won two out of the next three to take home the really big check.

There are two other things I like about Furyk’s game: He’s not one of the long hitters on tour and yet he managed four victories this year. More than most of those young guys playing the bomb-and-gouge strategy. Plus, he putts cross-handed.

It’s all a little weird, but it works.

 

 

 


Cure the yips. Putt like Arnie.

11/03/2009

I’ve had a breakthrough on the putting green.  Finally!

I can attribute it to Arnie’s 80th birthday celebration. Those old clips of Arnie in his heyday were an inspiration.

They say he was one of the best putters of all time, and yet his stroke was nothing anyone would ever teach. (kinda like his full swing.)

Relative to how most guys putt,  Arnie stabbed at the ball. It wasn’t a silky smooth stroke, it was a hit. A thwack. A surly little poke that put nice overspin on the ball and kept it online, despite rough greens. So I decided to forget about my stroke, for once, and just hit the damn thing at the hole.Like Arnie did.

No more worrying about the tick-tock of tempo. No more “straight back and straight through.” No more Dave Pelz. No thinking at all.

Just make contact. Everything after that is out of my control.

It’s amazing how much better that works for me. The long ones are tracking straight at the cup, with uncanny distance control. The short ones are going in, with authority. (Well, not every short one, but a lot more than before.) 

I’ve shifted my focus entirely… Away from the mechanics of the stroke. Away from the outcome of the shot. And away from all the tips I’ve read for the last 10 years. It’s a short, quick solution to a long-standing problem called the Yips.


Diary of a reformed hooker.

06/07/2009

I started hooking when I was in junior high school. Seemed perfectly natural at the time… my mom was a hooker and all the good players hit a hook. My dad, on the other hand, hit a slice. (I didn’t want anything to do with his golf game.) Besides, right to left ball flight went further, and for a scrawny 8th grader, distance is everything.

For 30 years that’s all I knew… the hook and all its ugly relatives: The hideous snap hook. The pull hook. The high, flippy hook off the back foot. And, his ugly second cousin, the push.

I played with all these characters, and I developed a decent game. But now, all these years later, my coach is introducing me to a fade. Because as Lee Trevino put it, you can talk to a fade, but a hook won’t listen.

Now I know what Trevino was talking about. It’s amazing see the ball land so softly and behave so well. Long par threes are much less intimidating. Pin positions I’ve struggled with for years, seem ripe for the picking. And entire golf courses look more promising. Especially those with firm, unreceptive greens.

Of course, I’m not completely reformed. Not yet. You can’t undo 30 years of habit with a few buckets of balls and a couple rounds of golf. Forget-About-It! this is like training a rat terrier to behave like St. Bernard. It’s going to take time and a 60-lb bag of positive reinforcement.

Luckily, I have a coach/friend/teaching pro who’s willing to keep an eye on my progress. Andy provides encouragement. Repeats himself frequently. And prevents me from falling back into my old style of hook and hope golf. I can’t imagine making this change without his help. It’s just too easy to get discouraged… the old swing still creeps in, and when combined with my new set-up, produces a disastrous double-cross that makes my old hook seem downright friendly.

I figure it’ll be winter before the power fade is a fully ingrained, go-to shot for me. Then I’ll hang up my clubs for four months and hope I find it again, come spring.

Until then, I have to be careful… I don’t want the fade  to deteriorate into a weak slice. And there’s the issue of hitting the old hook when I really need to. Will it be there for me? 

So far, the signs are good. My short-iron play has already improved,  but the process is going to test my patience like never before. Whenever I get really frustrated, I’m just going to think of Charles Barkley. Then my effort doesn’t seem like such a big deal.


The Whack-a-Mole approach to learning golf.

05/29/2009

It’s Saturday afternoon at the driving range of your local muni. People are lined up, buckets at their feet, hacking away at their latest swing flaws.

Like a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole. Every time they solve one little problem, another pops up.
Whack. Whack. Whack.

Nineteen out of 20 people on that range have no idea what they’re doing wrong. (Or right.) They’re not addressing the real problem, they’re just reacting to the ball flight and compensating with each hit. So when one goes left, the next goes right. They hit one thin, then hit one fat. They’re just replacing one problem with another.

Forget-About-It! You’ll never see tangible improvement if you keep playing driving range Whack-a-Mole. That game is based on guesswork. Good golf instruction is based on fact.

Most people don’t know the facts of their golf swing. They just guess… They see a tip in a magazine or on the golf channel and they think, “Hey, maybe that’s my problem. I’ll try that.” So they go to the driving range and start experimenting.

Whack. Whack. Whack.

The only way to get the facts is with a trained eye on your swing. An experienced teaching pro or coach will provide the perspective you need to get at the root of your problem. Not the symptoms, but the true, fundamental flaw that you’ve probably never addressed.

Video can be helpful, but without a trained eye, you won’t know what you’re looking at. You gotta have someone else take a look. That’s what the tour pros do. Even Tiger… he knows how hard it is to assess his own swing. That’s what he pays Hank Haney to do.

So hire a golf pro to help you out. It’s better than guessing. Better than whacking moles.


Improving your golf swing… the do’s and don’ts of drills.

05/08/2009

By John Furgurson

I was doing a drill the other day that my instructor, Andy Heinly, recommended. It’s a simple little, three-o’clock/9 o’clock drill. Just turn back and turn through. No problem.

Under Andy’s watchful eye I was executing it perfectly… Just a pretty little half swing, effortless and pure. But on my own, I just couldn’t recapture the magic. Something was completely out of sync, and I didn’t know what. It was very frustrating.

Sound familiar?

The first rule of drills: If it’s causing you frustration, Forget-About-It! Don’t keep grinding, just move on to something else. Put the drill on the back shelf until you have help from someone who can tell if you’re doing the drill properly. Because if you’re not, it can do more harm than good.

Drills are useful for ingraining new habits and instilling certain feelings that you’re missing in your golf swing. For instance, that three-o’clock/9 o’clock is designed to improve your position on the take-away, and the follow-through. It’s also good for your timing, if that’s an issue.

But there’s the rub. How are you supposed to know what the real, underlying issue really is? It’s almost impossible to self-diagnose your swing. Why do you think tour pros have coaches to keep an eye on things… because it’s hard to see and/or believe what you’re really doing wrong. Even with the help of video.

“The pros go back to drills all the time”, Andy Heinly says. “But they know which ones are important for them. Some drills simply don’t apply. If you start practicing a drill that has no relevance to your real swing problem you could just introduce a bigger variety of bad results.”

Golf Digest published a golf book with nothing but drills in it. There’s the anti-wayward-cut clock drill. The anti-sweep hook swing left drill. The anti-heel shot whiff drill. And 117 others. One reviewer on Amazon.com said it quite well:

“The chief problem is that a person who buys this book at random looking to shave a stroke or two off his score is liable to end up with his weekends stopped up with him doing drill after drill for problems he has absolutely no need of fixing. Worse yet, as with drills even your pro teaches if you do one or two things wrong you can even ingrain new faults into your swing. -T. Enst

Here’s something else to consider: A lot of drills are designed to dis-assemble the golf swing, break it down, and isolate certain pieces. But keep in mind, the golf swing is a swing. All the pieces have to come together on the golf course, so doing a deconstruction drill before a round is probably not the best strategy. Save the drills for practice sessions, not pre-round warm-ups.

Bottom line: Doing a good drill is way better than randomly pounding balls . But don’t get carried away. And don’t start using one just because you “think” it might help you. Get some professional help instead. And make sure it’s the right drill for the problem.


Golf is a game of subtraction.

04/20/2009

By John Furgurson

I started fiddling around with my golf swing the other day. It’s a rite of spring actually… almost as predictable as the azalias blooming at Augusta. I get all fired up to play, but my game isn’t what it was last October.

The drives aren’t predictable. The irons, not sharp. The putting, pitiful. So in an attempt to find that elusive something that’s missing, I start fiddling around on the driving range…

Hit a ball. Watch the ball flight. Hit the next one with a minor correction. Watch what happens to that. Repeat until the bucket’s empty.

Sound familiar?

It’s nothing but experimentation and compensation. It’s not fun, and it never produces noticeable improvement. It does, however, introduce new problem shots that I’ve never seen before.

“Wow, where’d that come from?”

It’s frustrating to feel like you’re starting over every spring. But there’s a flip side to that: There’s nothing better than the feeling of overwhelming relief I get from spending 10 minutes with my coach. That’s usually all it takes to get me back on track.

“Oh yeah, I remember now. I really do have a natural golf swing that works when I’m not messing around with it, second guessing myself.”

Andy’s very good at reminding me of that. He’s a master of subtraction… For him, effective teaching isn’t about adding things to do. It’s about subtracting bad habits. Reducing complexity. Limiting swing thoughts. And just plain simplifying everything.

Unfortunately, it’s human nature to add complexity, not subtract it. We scoff at solutions that are too easy and we resist the path that doesn’t involve a lot of hard work and self flagellation.

Maybe that’s why so many of you choose the do-it-yourself approach to begin with. You have a good, old American work ethic, and you like the pain. Besides, most of you don’t have a go-to guy, like Andy. All you have is the The Golf Channel, the internet, and the monthly magazines chalk full of tips that may or may not apply to you.

But one thing’s for sure: Knowledge doesn’t always translate to performance. It’s like me, trying to figure things out on my own. I can apply all sorts of drills and theories, but I don’t really know which ones will help, and which ones will hurt. It just feeds the cycle of experimentation and frustration.

So forget about it. If you’re falling into that same old pattern of over-analysis, stop it. Do something different. Anything but beating balls!

Play an entire round with just your 8 iron. Get a lesson. Go to a chip & putt course. Forget all the nuances of the swing, and just start the season by having fun out there.

Next thing you know, you’ll be right back to where you left off last year. You might even start subtracting strokes from your handicap.


Step away from that ball! — Golf Etiquette 101

03/23/2009

It still feels like winter here. The skiing’s been great these past few weeks, but there have also been some sunny, 60-degree days. So it’s time to dust off the sticks and get back at it. 

My first round of the year produced predictably erratic behavior, especially from my driver. Four holes in and I was already visiting some neighboring fairways, attempting to pull out some miraculous, Seve-style pars.  

But it’s hard to scramble well when your ball dissapears into someone’s front pocket. 

I don’t understand these guys who think they can pick up any golf ball that appears in their fairway. As if they own the rights to anything that lands within 1000 yards. As if no one ever deviates from the recommended landing areas. As if there’s no one else on the golf course. Wake up!

It’s funny to watch, in an irritating sort of way. 

Case in point… The 4th hole on Saturday played from an elevated tee box, so we could see the whole thing unfold. Sadly, my cousin and I had two balls sitting pretty in the 7th fairway. Definitely off line, but not out of play by any stretch. We could both reach the green from there. Game on!

Here comes a guy, bee-lining it up the 7th fairway. He walks up to my ball, checks the brand, takes a quick look around, and pockets it like a clepto in a convenience store. By the time we get down there he’s scurrying off toward the green.  So we whistle, and yell, and give chase.

“Was that your ball you just picked up?” I asked.

“Uhhhhh. No, uhhh I don’t think so. Well, maybe,” the guy stammers.

“Srixon 4?” I asked.

He digs around, and pulls out a brand new Srixon 4. “Oh, uhhhh…”

“Yeah, that’s mine.” He reluctantly tossed it to me. 

“Thanks. You know, as a general rule of thumb, don’t pick up any ball that’s not  yours,” I offered.  

He mumbled something about staying in our own fairway and holding up play, etc etc. Give me a break. Probably the same guy who fishes ten balls out of the pond every time he hits one in the water.

I rushed my next shot, put it in the greenside bunker, and then missed a curly 5-footer for par. Lost the hole too. Was that my bad, or can I blame it on the cheapskate hacker who tried to pocket my ball? 

Most courses have at least two fairways arranged side by side. Forget-About It. Some crossfire is inevitable, but there are a lot of newer players who simply don’t know the rules of engagement, or older guys who forgot them. Like, it’s not an easter egg hunt!

Maybe we should post signs in the clubhouse, on the first tee and in the golf carts:  If it’s not YOUR ball, don’t pick it up!  It’s probably the simplest rule in the entire USGA rule book, and compliance would  speed up play, save you penalty strokes,  and help avoid conflict and embarrassment.  

If money’s the issue there are plenty of good sources for inexpensivve golf balls. But if you’re buying  a bunch of random brands out of the dollar bin,  spend a few minutes before the round to mark your balls. Use a sharpie, and  put  your initials or something on it so you can easily identify it.  Then don’t play, pick up, or interfere with any other ball on the course. No matter what fairway it’s in.


10 reasons to stop listening to Tiger Woods.

12/13/2008

The newest issue of Golf Digest includes an article on the current state of Tiger Woods. It’s a recap of his superhuman accomplishment in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. A testament to his strength and fortitude. And confirmation of something I’ve been thinking about ever since I read his book, “How I play golf.”

My conclusion is this:  I should stop listening to his advice. He’s fun to watch, and inspiring in many ways, but his approach to the game, and his natural skills, are so far beyond my comprehension, well,  forget about it! And let’s face it, there aren’t many other guys who would benefit from his chapter on “How to hit the 2-iron stinger.”

Here’s a list of what Tiger has that you and I don’t have.

1. Genetically-ingrained discipline. His dad & mentor was in the Special Forces! He was raised by military guys who believed you get the job done, no matter what. Even if you’re shot you can “still operate.”  Hoo-Ha. My dad was a pastor, my mom a grade school teacher. I don’t have a killer bone in my body. And if you’ve ever seen my dad swing a club, you’d say it was a God-given miracle that I can get the ball around the course at all.

2. Physical superiority. Earl Woods once said Tiger could have been a world-class sprinter or an Olympic decathlete. His legs are long, his torso perfectly proportioned and his biceps cut like a belt-wearing welter-weight.  The guy works out with the Navy Seals! Even with concerted pushing from my personal trainer I’ll never touch that. My legs are too short. And I’m too much of a wimp to play 91 holes with a broken leg and blown-out ACL.

3. An Analytical Approach.  Tiger’s always been one to analyze things. As Lee Trevino said, “He’s the most intelligent player I’ve ever seen about the golf swing.” He always has to know the reason why something worked, or didn’t work, and he believes that gives him an advantage over other players, especially feel players like me. My strength is creativity. The minute I start analyzing things is the minute it all starts to unravel.

4. Mental Toughness.  If you’re going analyze the cause and effect of every little detail, you better be tough! Tiger’s intensity and his ability to out-think the competition is what makes him so great. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way. I can relate more closely to Phil Mickelson’s la-dee-da mental approach.

5.  Competitiveness. On a scale of one to 10, with one being “totally laid back and 10 being “Ultra competitive,” Tiger’s a 10.  He’s the guy who brought killer stares and fist pumping to a leisurely, gentleman’s game. I’m more like a three.  Okay, five. Six at the most.


Bridging the gap between knowledge, learning and performance.

11/13/2008

by John Furgurson

You know how many lousy players there are who have a wealth of knowledge about the golf swing? They’re out there, believe me. They read a lot, and they’re quick to give advice, but they can’t score worth a hoot.

On the other hand, there are many perennial contenders who know very little about the golf swing. You’ve probably been beaten by one of these guys… unorthodox swing, but he keeps the ball in the fairway, seldom makes a big number and always makes the big putts.

Andy Heinly says the difference is disciplined practice. The learning process is entirely dependant on practice. Without good practice, your knowledge won’t amount to a hill of beans. Conversely, without some knowledge, your practice won’t be constructive.

“The people who win on a regular basis, at any level, know how to practice without over-analyzing things, Henly said. “They have a reasonable amount of knowledge about the fundamentals but they don’t concern themselves with too many details. They’re able to just forget about the technicalities and focus on the skills they need to get the ball in the hole.”

That’s what it’s all about. Skill, not knowledge.

Knowing how to hit a flop shot is a far cry from having the skill to do it consistently. Somehow you have to translate your knowledge into a physical sensation. You have to develop the “feel” of hitting the shot by doing it over and over again with positive results. Learning to trust your training is probably the hardest part of the entire process.

So if you want to bridge the gap between knowledge, learning and performance, you’re going to have to commit to practice. And not just any kind of practice, lots and lots of focused skill-building with a good coach looking on. Otherwise, it’s all just hit and miss.


The hunt for longer drives… is it in the hips???

10/31/2008

I worry about people who are constantly searching for more distance. They pick up the latest magazine or go to google.com and start hunting for “keys to more distance.”  And there’s no shortage of answers…

One tip says “pause at the top and hit the hell out of it.” But wait a minute…  Stewart Appleby advises us not to pause; just pull the club down, stay coordinated, hit it flush and you’ll be “sneaky long.”

Sure, no problem.

One article says it’s in the hips. Another says it’s in the hands. Keep you heel on the ground. Let your heel come up. Stack and tilt. Bomb and gouge! Forget About It.

The results of all the reading and experimentation are predictable… not only does the player not get much more distance, he also loses his sense of direction. A normally straight hitter starts missing fairways and stops having a lot of birdie opportunities. Pretty soon, he gets tired of that and goes back to his short but straight method that worked pretty well.

This is particularly common for older players who are fighting the effects of aging. Even the guys who are in great shape at the age of 65 start losing a little distance, and it it hurts.

My coach & colleague, Andy Heinly, says the most important thing is to identify the biggest power leaks.

“There are dozens of  subtle little things that can rob you of power,” Heinly said. “Maybe you’re not quite as limber as you once were, so you’re not turning as far. Or maybe you’re casting the club, and not holding the angle as long. Maybe you’re not hitting it in the middle of the clubface consistently. Most people can’t fix the problem because they don’t know what’s really causing it. It’s almost impossible to self-diagnose that.”

One of the most common problems is also the easiest to fix: A lot of men are still playing with a driver shaft that’s way too stiff.

“A lot of times you can pick up ten or 15 yards just by putting the ego aside and going with a softer shaft.You won’t have to change your swing at all,” Heinly said.

As far as the hips are concerned, look at it this way: The hips aren’t connected to the club, your hands are. If your hands and arms are lagging behind you can spin your hips a million miles an hour and still have very little clubhead speed.

Besides, if the secret to more distance is in the hips, our wives would be hitting it 20 yards past us every time.


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