Rhythm and tempo
On Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in the history of the game, for an upcoming instruction series for Golf Digest. In his office in North Palm Beach, Fla., we talked about a number of subjects, but one that might be important this weekend with the impending rain in the Southeast, is how to play in bad weather.
We talked about a lesson Jack first produced with Ken Bowden in the classic series "Jack Nicklaus' Lesson Tee," which ran in the magazine in the '70s and became a book. Here is the lesson, with Jack's current comment:
"Rhythm and tempo take on extra importance when you're being bullied by the elements. With rain running down your neck, you subconsciously risk hurrying both your setup and your swing. In those circumstances I try to make a conscious effort to get properly settled over the ball, then to swing as smoothly and fully as possible. Two of my key thoughts at such times are: 'Make a deliberate takeaway' and 'Complete the backswing.' "
"That's a great tip," Jack told me on Friday. "I never considered myself a mudder, like Tom Watson, who relished wind and rain, but there are three categories of golfers in bad weather:
"One simply stays home until the rain stops. If you're playing in a tournament, you can't do that. Another group goes out and plays but with a negative attitude and usually a lot of griping and poor scores. The third group accepts the elements as just another variation of the game. They assume the scores will be higher and don't get upset when they make a poor shot or a bad score. When I was playing tournament golf, I made sure I was in that third group."
So if you want to play your best golf in inclement conditions, adopt Jack's attitude and think of your rhythm and tempo.
Editor's Note: Ever play in a group in which one of the golfers is a really strong player? Maybe it's the club championship and you drew the defending champion. Or you're playing against someone who has a reputation of intimidation. Every week Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at
Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best
Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week,
Kevin discusses something a little different, inspired by a key pairing at the Barclays Championship at Bethpage on Long Island. For at least the first two days of this week's PGA Tour event, PGA champion Rory McIlroy and FedEx points leader Tiger Woods will be playing together. This gives Kevin an opportunity to discuss how tour players handle playing with a tough competitor, and how you can perform optimally when you're competing against someone who seems to pure it off every tee.
How do you play to your potential when you're battling feelings of inferiority or insecurity? That's often what you face when playing with, say, the top golfer at your course or the best player in your town. Here are some tips when playing with your personal rival:
1. Be more prepared
Tom Kite once told me that one of the reasons he would practice so hard was that it gave him a sense of "deserving" to win. He would tell himself that no one in the field had prepared more, thus he deserved to win.
2. Figure out how hard to try
This is one of golf's big challenges. Trying extremely hard and grinding on every shot is not likely the recipe for success, nor is casually hitting shots without any focus. It is important to find the right balance, and that will take some experimentation. When playing a rival, most people err by trying too hard. It is mentally exhausting if every shot is hit as if it's life or death.
One putting exercise I do with my students is to hit putts with different effort levels, and track at what level they make the most putts. I'll have them hit groups of putts at different levels of intensity. A "10" would be reading the putt from multiple locations and summoning as much mental fortitude as possible, essentially trying to "will" the ball into the hole. A "1" on the scale is barely reading the putt and taking no practice strokes. It's just about as casually as a putt can be hit. Most people find that they have the best results somewhere in the middle, but it varies for each player. You can also apply this to full shots.
3. Play your own game
Much easier to say than do, but there is actually no reason why a rivalry should affect how you play. Golf is an individual sport in which you play against the golf course and yourself. Overly focusing on your opponent's game isn't healthy, even in match play. Stick with your routine, and just keep playing as you know how. I think that's why many tournaments are won by players who are not in the final group, flying under the radar a bit. Both Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors this year by doing so.
Here are five of my favorites:
By Ian Poulter:
Get out fast: "In match play you have to attack every pin, and when you get a lead, keep your foot on the accelerator," says Poulter, who is undefeated in Ryder Cup singles play. At the 2010 Ryder Cup, he defeated Stewart Cink in 14 holes. "After every shot, the clock is ticking, and it's a lot easier to win holes early than late. Don't give anything away from the start. That's how you become a player who's tough to beat."
By Jack Nicklaus;
Forget your partner: "Tom Weiskopf used to tell stories when we were partners that I would say, 'Go rack your cue, Tom.' Meaning pick up your ball because I'm going to make my putt,' " Nicklaus says. "Of course, I didn't say that, but the mind-set is a healthy one for match play. If I had an eight-footer and my partner had a 12-footer on a different line, I might want to just hit mine in. Point is, don't rely on your partner, rely on yourself. You're playing your own ball, so think about what you can do."
By Michael Breed:
Have a safety drive: On a crucial hole, driving the ball in the fairway can be the difference between free drinks and picking up the check. "What I tell my students is, make a practice swing and feel what's happening to your body. Feel what it's like to stay in balance," Breed says. "If you can maintain your balance, the club will tend to meet the ball in the center of the face." Staying in balance also will improve your rhythm, he says, which always helps prevent wild tee shots.
By Padraig Harrington:
One hole at a time: "If you're down, your goal is to win that hole. Get one hole, then the next."
By Tim Mahoney:
Up big? Don't coast: "It's natural to be more cautious with the lead and force your opponent to take risks," Mahoney says. "But being conservative should apply only to the target and club selection. Once it's time to hit, make an aggressive swing. When players get a lead, they tend to guide shots or focus on just avoiding disasters. They start thinking about the next thing, like the next match. You have to keep playing."
Good luck with your game this weekend. I hope you win your matches, unless you're playing against me!
Photo by Phillip Toledano/Golf Digest
But what if you're one of those golfers coming out for the first time this year, and you feel like, as Dan Jenkins once said, the golf club feels like a parking meter in your hands? That's where this column will help you. Here are three tips, from some of the game's top feel players and teachers, to get your touch back fast. The last thing you want to do is three-putt all day, or take extra shots from just off the green, or snap-hook your tee shots.
1. Feeling your hands. When you haven't played in a while, your hands feel weak. So it's only natural to grip the club tighter to compensate. Resist that and do the opposite. As Davis Love Jr. and Bob Toski wrote in How to Feel A Real Golf Swing, with Bob Carney, "Your hands generate clubhead speed. They control the face. They shape the path of your swing. But nothing can sabotage a good grip or good swing quicker than excessive or inconsistent grip pressure. Tension is the enemy of the swing, and it emanates from the grip. Pick up a pencil and write your name. How tightly did you hold the pencil? Just tightly enough to accomplish the task at hand. Which is how you hold your steering wheel, how you hold a book, how you hold your sweetheart's hand. For most golfers, holding a golf club only as tightly as enables the club to swing will seem much lighter than normal." So remember to hold the club lightly, and you'll regain your feel in no time.
2. Feeling the putter. Gain control by giving up control. Sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella once told Paul Azinger that he could see tension and artificiality in his stroke. In his book, Putting Out of Your Mind, Rotella recounts how he told Azinger to putt like he hit bunker shots. "I just look at where I want it to go," Azinger said, "splash the sand, and it goes there." Rotella told Paul he had to become relaxed, even nonchalant, at the moment of truth in putting as well. Try it and your stroke will free up and become more natural. You'll regain your stroke very quickly.
3. Feeling your feet. When you've had a long layoff, usually your feet and legs are a little slow; you've lost some agility. Get that footwork back by trying this piece of advice, from Tommy Armour's book How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time. "In simplifying footwork, I'll give you one little tip that probably will greatly improve the hitting portion of your swing. Have the right knee come in fast at the right time. The knee action in a good golf swing is practically identical with knee action in throwing a baseball."
So give these thoughts a try and good luck with your game this weekend. I'll be pulling for you (unless I'm playing against you).
Nilsson and Marriott have written three books on golf with Golf World's Ron Sirak. The latest, Play Your Best Golf Now, crystallizes the concept of the Think Box and the Play Box. Their first book, Every Shot Must Have a Purpose, however, introduces the concept. I think their approach will help you shoot lower scores almost immediately. Hey, if it works for Annika and Yani, why not give it a try.
Basically, Pia and Lynn contend that every shot has a decision line. That's an imaginary line that divides the area where you do all your thinking and strategizing (the Think Box) from the area where you simply hit the shot (the Play Box). Annika was superb at this, says Sirak. Once she entered the Play Box, she never hesitated or became distracted. She simply went through her routine, trusted her technique and pulled the trigger. She left all of her thinking behind--in the Think Box.
Here is a short excerpt of the first book. Try their approach this weekend, and I bet you'll play better golf.
As you stand in the THINK BOX you should consider all the variables for the shot: wind direction and strength, the lie of the ball (is it below your feet and will it thus fade away from your body?), the hazards you need to factor in, and, if you are in competition, the point at which you stand in the match. VERBALIZE your intentions for the shot. "I am going to hit a
Kevin Hinton: Johnson Wagner's stellar play on the par 5s at Waialae Country Club was a significant key to his victory. Waialae is a par 70 and has eight par 5s. That's eight total par 5's for the week. Johnson played those eight holes in nine under, eagling the 18th hole in the second and third rounds.
To gain some insight into Wagner's par-5 strategy, I spoke with his coach Bobby Heins, who is the head professional at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. Bobby gives much of the credit to Johnson's working relationship with his caddie Matt Hauser, as well as improved wedge play. Bobby says that, "Johnson is still an aggressive player and goes for many par 5s in two. However, he has become more willing to lay up and make birdie with his wedge when the situation calls for it. Much of that comes from knowing that his wedge game has improved, as well as good communication and decision-making with his caddie."
(Wagner, above, has learned to weigh the risks when deciding to go for it on par 5s. Photo by Getty Images.)
In my view, a good coach, a good caddie, and a good wedge game sure seems to be a winning recipe for Johnson's par-5 success.
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Editor's note: Every Monday, PGA professional Kevin Hinton examines the game of a recent tour winner and tells you what you can learn. A Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Kevin is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Golf Club, Locust Valley, N.Y., and is a Lead Master Instructor for the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort & Spa. He also teaches at Drive 495 in New York. He has seen thousands of swings and has helped golfers of all abilities, from rank beginners to tour players. This week, Kevin takes a look at Kevin Na's wild "whiff" on his way to winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday. Hinton also tells you how to commit to your next swing with a preshot routine.
Kevin Hinton: The "Brady Tuck Rule" set the tone for the New England Patriots run of NFL Championships, the "Steve Bartman Rule" for fan interference kept Chicago Cubs fans awaiting their long coveted World Series title, and after Kevin Na's unique preshot routine during the final round of the Justin Timberlake event, there may soon be a "Na Whiff Rule" that could change the landscape of golf as we know it.
Check out this video, then read below...
No longer will the uncommitted golfer be allowed to do the "Tiger" balk in mid-downswing, golf umpires will be strategically positioned throughout the course, and fellow competitors will be allowed to throw their red challenge flag twice per round. If all goes well, we could probably get the average pace of a round up to six hours if we try hard enough.
In all seriousness, Na's "whiff" was one of the more interesting things I have seen on the PGA Tour in quite some time. While I'm certain someone in the USGA is reviewing the definition of an "attempted stroke," it got me thinking of what the characteristics of a good preshot routine are. Here are the basics to a good routine...and none of them include intentionally whiffing!
Part I: Five steps to collecting information
--Uphill or downhill
--Analyze the lie
--Analyze where the trouble is...this influences the final target you pick
These five steps shouldn't take very long, just a few seconds. An experienced golfer does this very quickly and almost instinctively. The goal of Part 1 is to assess all of the variables that determine how long the shot will actually play and to decide on a target. Then pick the appropriate club and begin Part II.
See related article here.
Average golfers face the same hand-wringing, knee-buckling anxiety--on a slightly lower level of course--when they hit their first tee shots in the tournaments they play. What's the best way to handle the pressure? Let's see what Golf Digest Professional Advisor and sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella has to say:
"Anyone suffering from first-tee jitters should develop a pre-shot routine and stick with it," notes Dr. Bob. "Look at Tom Watson today and 25 years ago. Same routine. Two waggles and go, whether it's a major or a pro-am. A good preshot routine is like being in a quiet room, where pressure can't get you. Make it simple: Pick your target, see the shot and swing. Do your routine on the range before hitting your last 10 practice balls. Then take that same routine to the tee. Then the first tee won't own you -- you'll own the tee."
Sounds like good advice to me. Good luck with your game, and remember you can follow me on Twitter @RogerSchiffman.
Seriously, it's fine to have one swing key, but don't overdo it, And try to use non-mechanical thoughts on the course. Things like slow tempo, or smooth transition, or accelerate through. Not things like cock your wrists, or plant your left heel, or keep your elbow in. I remember watching the great Bert Yancey (pictured here at the 1967 U.S. Open) give a clinic in my hometown of Tallahassee, Fla., when I was a kid. He said he always thought of two things when he swung. Watching the ball and one other swing key. Never more than that. Bert was ahead of his time when it came to sport psychology. He knew that the brain can't think of too many things and also allow the body to make a naturally good swing.
About 10 years ago, I helped the noted teacher from Birmingham, Ala., Hank Johnson, write a
You're looking at the wrong tours.
Yani Tseng has won four of the last five events she's played, on three different continents, and she finished third in the other one. And she quietly won two majors last year. She is suddenly filling the LPGA void left by the exodus of Annika Sorenstam and then Lorena Ochoa. Week-in and week-out, she has become the LPGA player to beat. So what has made the 5-foot-6 Taiwanese national who now lives in Sorenstam's old house in Orlando so good?
Golf World's Ron Sirak, who has been following her career for several years, says Tseng is perhaps the strongest player physically on the LPGA Tour. He remembers watching her playing with Michelle Wie two years ago and outdriving her all day. At the Women's British Open at Sunningdale in 2008, Tseng played with Sorenstam and afterward Annika told Sirak that Yani would be the best player in women's golf in four years. Well, let's make that 21/2.
Her first coach, Tony Kau, got her started on the right track in Taiwan, and Ernie Huang has been her U.S. host and mentor in the U.S. since 2001. Says Huang: