Where for art thou, confidence?
WHERE FOR ART THOU, CONFIDENCE?
You can’t fake confidence. No way, Jose. Impossible. The reason is that most intrinsic of threads that runs through our conscience and sub conscience, let’s call it the BS meter, won’t allow it. If you could trick yourself into thinking you are better than you are, then you would have to have the intellectual capacity of a sheep. If you were that dimwitted, you wouldn’t try to convince yourself in the first place. So let’s try and figure out what confidence is, and how to grab hold of it.
First, confidence doesn’t grow in an environment of internal distraction. Confidence is born of uncluttered focus and an ability to see things with an acute sense of tunnel vision. Let’s look at the career of Tiger Woods. If you have ever been to a tournament in which Tiger is competing, you would no doubt witness a veritable circus outside the ropes. People standing twenty deep, moving, coughing, the odd shout. In other words, a world of mayhem and external distraction. Yet Tiger played arguably the greatest golf in history dealing with those conditions for the first ten years or so of his career. His confidence levels rose in those years to levels achieved by only the very best athletes, the Michael Jordans and Derek Jeters.
A fire hydrant, one small blond with a three iron in her hand, and a full year as the punchline to late night TV comics later, and he was reduced to a mere shadow of what he was. Or was he? He still had the game. He just didn’t have the results. Why? He could still whomp it. His abilities were still inside him. So what happened? What changed?
Let’s break it down. Was it that night in November, 2009 that became the ultimate internal distraction? Or was it something else? I opt for door number two. Sure, the whole cheatin’ dog, national disgrace etc. didn’t do him any good. He busted up his family, looked like a fool with his hat in his hand for his big mea culpa on TV. But did it destroy his game? No. All that stuff was external. He proved he could handle the external distractions for over ten years prior to that night. The thing that got Tiger was switching coaches. He developed something he had never experienced: internal distraction.
But it all started much earlier than the switch to Sean Foley. It started when he left Butch Harmon for Hank Haney. When Tiger was with Butch he truly was unbeatable. He left Butch for personal reasons: his (Tiger’s) oversized ego. But we won’t go there. With Hank, the seeds of doubt began to creep into his psyche. His laid off position at the top of his new one plane swing were foreign and inappropriate. He developed a two-way miss (the professional golfer’s ultimate nightmare is not knowing which side of the course his errant drives might go). It was just a coincidence that he realized this at the time of the hydrant and subsequently dumped Hank.
Foley’s swing theories were at the other extreme. Tiger began swinging the club down and across his body. Remember the practice swings? Yikes! He started to try to cut every shot. Many times he would hit the old ‘double cross’ and pull his approaches miles left of greens. Foley told him to start swinging more like another student of his, Hunter Mahan. Hunter Mahan!!!!! Hunter Mahan has won a handful of events. Tiger is Tiger for the love of God. Why would or should Tiger swing more like HUNTER MAHAN? Imagine Yankee manager Joe McCarthy telling Babe Ruth he needed to start swinging like Wally Pipp. Who’s Wally Pipp? Exactly. Geesh. At that point Tiger should have run back to Vegas like the Prodigal Son, and begged Butch to take him back.
Suddenly the putts that went in before, now hit the lip and spun out. He began to doubt his ability to perform under the ultimate pressure: The Majors. He no longer was the golf world’s uber alpha dog. He began to spiral down.
So can he get it back? Is confidence that elusive? Time will tell. If I were Tiger’s coach I would introduce him to a 55 gallon barrel full of Nike golf balls and tell him to keep hitting until he worked it out. Love him or hate him, the guy is that good. He is unique. He rides in the strata of the greats: the Nicklauses, and Ruths and Alis. He needs to stop listening to others and find his internal peace. If he can do that, watch out.Read More
Swinging poorly is complicated. Swinging correctly is simple. Yeah, right you say. But I would bet if we could magically beam a farmer from behind his plough on some potato field on the Russian steppe, some Alexandr Solzhenitsyn look-alike, who has never seen or heard of anything to do with golf, to the first tee at the Pro-Am before the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, and ask him which swings looked easier to mimic, the ams’ or the pros’, he would say the pros’. He would say that the amateurs’ motions were full of twists and lunges and seemed full of over-exertion. Of course he would say that after he got some answers as to how the heck he ended up in this multi-colored, sun splashed nest of freaks waving metal sticks at the hardest eggs he’d ever seen.
Think about it. What are we trying to do? Break if down. We are trying to achieve good athletic posture, a good grip, a balanced weight shift and turn, and a balanced finish. If we work on those things we should be okay. But we don’t. We add all kinds of bad stuff to a relatively simple maneuver. Why? Our perception. What we think we are doing and what we actually are doing are almost always two different things. Compensation moves build into the motion from that point and pretty soon we look like we are out there killing snakes.
So what’s the answer, you ask? For starters, stop trying to coach yourself. You don’t know what you’re doing, and to add insult to injury, what you are doing, isn’t what you think you are doing. You become a flailing, off balance snow ball headed downhill fast. See what an ugly mess we make of things? Find a PGA professional. Quick. Find one that uses video. You need to see what you are doing in order to correctly alter your perception. Stop being one of those golfers who live in denial; the guy who goes to the range certain that ‘today is the day.’ It has not worked up to this point, what makes you think it will ‘today.’ There are no magic pills. No light switch. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. I am constantly amazed that there are so many avid golfers who struggle and yet do not seek help. Or if they do seek help they ask their 10 handicap friends. Oy!
So get off the bucks, take a few lessons, and get on a plan for improvement. Tell yourself that you are worth it. You probably spend several times on equipment what you should be spending on fixing your game. Learn how to actually play the game and stop playing at it.
Of course if getting better isn’t important to you, just keep doing what you are doing. Just remember that the first sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Just sayin’.Read More
The Cup and the Flip
THE CUP AND THE FLIP
Do your hands ache after golf? Do you sometimes get stabbing pain on the top of your wrist near the base of your thumb following a swing? If so, you are more than likely cupping your left hand and wrist at the top of your swing, then flipping your hands at the bottom in a weak recovery move. The two go together, the cup and the flip, like deep divots and over the top swing paths. The cup occurs when the back of the left hand hinges toward the target line at the very top of your swing arc instead of remaining flat. Unless you do some serious Jim Furyk re-routing the shot implications at this point are grim at best. When your left wrist cups at the top the club shaft is sent across the target line to the right instead of parallel to it. You have shattered Ben Hogan’s pane of glass (destroyed your swing plane), and are en route to a steep, outside-in delivery into the ball. Ugly.
The cup and flip are particularly insidious in that besides having to endure an horrendous shot, you are inflicted with some serious pain. Golf is painful enough emotionally at times without being double dipped with physical discomfort. So let’s fix it. First, understand that golf is a game of cause and effect. If you flip at impact, you are flipping during your take-away. This ‘fanning’ the club open is the main cause of people swinging from outside to in. To stop this ‘fanning’ make the club face look at the ball longer. Don’t let the face open for the first two feet of your backswing. Next, at the top of your swing as you start down, feel the butt end of the club point at the ball. Start down in this pointing position and you will stay on plane. When your hands come even with the ball, your club shaft should be parallel to your target line. Check that periodically with some slo-motion swings. Once you get it, your wrists will not cup, your hands will not flip at the bottom, and your last outside-in trench-like divot will be but a memory.
Be prepared for some squirrelly shots at first. You’ll hit a few dead righters, maybe a few tops. Stay with it. When you introduce something as foreign to your game as a new swing path, your timing will be affected. Don’t panic. Hit through it. After a while your timing will catch up. And for Pete’s sake don’t do this on your own. Find a PGA professional to help you through. If you attempt this solo you will only beat your head against the wall and have an ugly disposition. Probably snarl a lot, lose your significant other and friends, and spend nights alone with your achy hands.Read More
One Good Turn
ONE GOOD TURN
Hunter Mahan almost lost the Barclay’s yesterday. After a stellar charge that included five birdies on the back nine, Mahan stood on the eighteenth tee thinking he needed a bogey for the win. That’s when things got interesting. He got protective on the drive and held on to the release a little too long and blocked it right. He was forced to chip out to the fairway from some giant trees,. He had a perfect distance for a wedge shot from 136 yards, but somehow managed to pull hook it into the gnarly stuff just above a gaping green side bunker. Huh? The wedge shot from the fairway was one that Hunter hits within ten feet eighty percent of the time. So instead of a ten footer to seal the deal, he had to make an up and down from a tangled mess of five inch rough to get the job done. Not exactly what he had planned. So what happened? Simple: his body stopped turning on the downswing allowing his hands to flip the club left.
When we swing the golf club we initiate a certain amount of momentum. On the backswing our momentum takes us to our right side. From that point, our body’s weight and movement builds and turns back to the left as we hit the ball. In order for the club to stay on its plane, our body weight must keep turning all the way around and into a balanced finish position. Imagine a pitcher throwing a ball. His weight goes back to his right foot in his wind up, then down to his left as he releases the ball. If he were to stop his body’s momentum on the way down, he would release the ball into the ground because his arm’s momentum would not be affected. Same with the golf swing. If we stop our body’s mo our arms will continue around and shut the club face prematurely causing a severe pull hook. That’s what happened to Hunter.
The good news for Hunter was he only needed a double-bogey for the win, but he made the eight footer for bogey anyway. The moral of the story is this: no matter what level player you are, in tight situations the big muscles want to slow to a crawl, and the small muscles i.e. hands and wrists, want to speed up. Realize this and keep turning.
On a picky note, I couldn’t help being underwhelmed by Hunter’s less than ecstatic reaction to seeing his wife and daughter there to greet him at the finish. Candi and Zoe had been scheduled to arrive Tuesday for the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts, but decided to surprise Hunter at Ridgewood on a hunch that he would win. But there was no kiss for his wife upon seeing her, a rather perfunctory fatherly grab and lift of his daughter Zoe, and that was it. “When did you get here?’’ was all he said. Hmmmm. Seems a little Tigerdroidish to me. I mean, this is the guy that left the Canadian Open with the lead after two rounds to be with his wife as she gave birth. Doesn’t make sense. Well, neither do pull hooked wedges with the game on the line.Read More
Bladed Bunker Shots
The Bladed Bunker Shot
Good news! You’ve mastered Tiger’s stinger, that frozen rope that never gets higher than three feet above the ground and travels at somewhere near the speed of sound. The bad news is you are hitting it from greenside bunkers. You are blading the ball above its equator and sending it on its heat seeking way. Your playing partners dive for safety and you are now faced with an eighty yard wedge shot back to the green. The residual mental effect is you soon become sand phobic. This fear of sand filters back into your approach shots. You start to ‘steer’ the ball from the fairway to avoid the bunkers. You become tense and unable to swing the club freely. What’s going on?
Blading or thinning the ball out of bunkers occurs when the sand wedge fails to hit the sand first. It is as simple as that. Bunker shots are the only shots where the golfer should hit the sand, not the ball. The club head needs to enter the sand two to three inches behind the ball traveling on a steep, downward angle of approach. The ball will then be propelled out of the bunker on a nice pillow of sand. The first order of business is to open your stance and club face, and set up with your weight on your left side (for the right hander). Maintain this left side lean and keep some flex in the knees throughout the swing. Go online and check out Seve Ballesteros hitting bunker shots to understand just how much you need to maintain these positions. Try hinging your wrists upward on the takeaway and maintaining that angle as you splash the club head into the sand. Make sure you follow through and keep the club face open.
MAKING IT STICK
Because this shot requires a new target for our downswing (a spot in the sand, not the ball) we need a drill that will help us hit the correct spot every time. Take the butt end of your club and draw a straight line about four feet in length perpendicular to the target line. Practice hitting that line. When you consistently hit the line, put a ball down and with your finger, make a short line two to three inches behind the ball. Practice hitting that line without worrying about the ball. Your shots will improve and your friends will feel a whole lot safer.
THE MISS – The Chunked Wedge
THE MISS – The Chunked Wedge
You have just attempted an eighty yard wedge shot. The three inch deep divot takes off like an F-16. Unfortunately, the ball floats like a sick duck and falls mockingly short of target. If only you could play the divot. Unfortunately, you can’t and the frustration bubbles up from your toes to just behind your eyes. You feel as if you have done everything right. You went through your checklist. You set up with a nice straight back. You maintained your spine angle, you kept your head still, you kept your grip pressure steady, and yet… SPLAT. So what’s going on?
Your body stopped turning just before impact. Why? Your weight stayed back on your trailing foot (your right foot for right-handed players), causing your upper body to dominate the swing into the ball. When that happens, your swing path goes from rotational to vertical, extension is lost, and your hands ‘flip,’ turning the toe of the club steeply downward upon contact with the ground, usually behind the ball. The outside of the divot is deep enough to lie down in, and points sharply left of target (again for righthanded players). With the wedge, set up with sixty to seventy percent of your weight on your lead foot (the left for right-handed players) and leave it there. Make your normal backswing, but as you begin to transition from backswing to forward swing feel the lower part of your body turning left. This sensation of your lower body turning and leading will give your swing the proper sequencing and keep you from coming over the top. You will maintain your extension through the ball and into your follow through. Your upper body will follow your lower and everything will be right with the universe.
MAKING IT STICK
Changing a motor skill is difficult. There is no magic pill. In order to ‘un-learn’ a destructive pattern and replace it with positive movement requires repetition. The best drill for completing a correctly sequenced rotation and weight shift is a simple one: Set up with an empty range ball bucket just outside the ankle of your lead foot. When you complete your swing to a balanced and fully rotated finish you should be able to tilt your head down and look directly into the bottom of the bucket. Hit ten balls with the bucket, then ten without. Repeat the process and call me in the morning.Read More