If you're not watching the Ryder Cup this weekend, you must not like golf. It just doesn't get any more exciting than this. Also, you can learn a lot about fourball (better ball) strategy by watching the matches. This is the format that most golfers play in their weekend groups, and viewing the action reminded me of a column that Golf Digest Professional Advisor and noted sport psychologist Bob Rotella wrote way back in 1988. "Two things can happen when you play as a team," wrote Dr. Bob. "You take pressure off yourself because you've got a partner. Or you put pressure on yourself because you don't want to let your partner down." The principles he talked about then still apply today. Here are three key points you can use in your partners game this weekend:
1. Share a common objective. It might be simply to have a good time and enjoy each other's company. It might be to win. Whatever the objective, it needs to be the same for both. Discuss it and agree on it.
2. Set ground rules for communication on the course. Some teams talk a lot. Some don't. Some give advice. Some don't. But good teams know the limits before they start. What they avoid at all costs is the kind of "advice" that really isn't advice at all, but rather a sign that you've lost confidence in your partner. For example, during a recent better-ball match, my partner and I were 2 down with two holes to go. One of the players had a flip wedge to the 17th green, fronted by a small creek, to par or possibly birdie the hole and close us out. As he addressed the ball, his partner said, "Make sure to get it there." Not surprisingly, he dumped it in the creek; we went on to win in sudden death. That's the kind of advice that's better not given. It says to your partner, "I've lost confidence in you." It
Here's Ron: As I've frequently mentioned in this blog, the asymmetrical nature of the golf swing can eventually lead to muscular imbalances, and that can eventually lead to injury. One body part where golfers will likely suffer at least one injury in their lifetimes as a result of muscular imbalances is the knee. It could be nothing more than mild arthritis. Or it could be as serious as a torn medial collateral ligament.
Regardless of the severity, the best way to prevent knee injuries is to train unilaterally--that means one leg at a time. It's unlikely your two legs will have the exact same strength, no matter how hard you train, but the idea is to get them to be as close as possible in terms of strength and endurance capabilities. Ideally, your weaker side should be able to do 90 percent of the work of your stronger side.
A quick way to regain muscle balance is to always perform an exercise with the weaker side first, and do as many repetitions as you can. Then do that exact number with the stronger side. So in the case of protecting your knees, if you were going to do some backward lunges and you can do only 10 on your left side, do no more than 10 on your right side.
In the October issue of Golf Digest, Dr. Vernon Cooley, the surgeon who operated on Tiger Woods' left knee in 2008, identifies five injuries that can occur at this joint. PGA Tour trainer Dave Herman (@superflexbands) also offers four unilateral exercises that will help keep your knees healthy. Click here to read the article:
By Kevin Hinton
Editor's Note: Kevin Hinton is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers. Here, he tells you how you can learn from what you'll see at this week's Ryder Cup.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Tour players spend a lot of time practicing their pre-shot routines for exact situations like the Ryder Cup. Some even time their routines with a stopwatch and practice maintaining that timing. While the time they spend analyzing a putt may vary, when they actually "walk" into the ball, it takes about the same amount of time for them to hit the putt. Average golfers tend to (1) not have a routine at all, or (2) change the timing of it depending on the importance of the situation. People often speed up or slow down (most slow down) considerably as their nerves kick in. Having said this, sometimes you do everything right and just miss. However, at least you'll know you fully committed to your routine, which is at least half the battle.
Photo by Getty Images
The "Anti-Routine" Method
While sticking with your routine is certainly the first course of action, on short putts in crucial situations, some people just get too nervous and can't execute. If you're one of those golfers, try the "Anti-Routine" method. Next time you have a tap-in or short putt that matters, try stepping right up to the putt and casually knocking it in before you have time to think. Think of all the times you've made putts that didn't matter by quickly using one hand, scraping it back to the hole, or taking an odd stance trying to avoid someone's line. It often seems like we never miss this way. Maybe even try something extreme like using a different grip or talking out loud as you tap it in. These are all mental fixes to trick your brain. If you are taking a lackadaisical approach, maybe you'll relax and forget about the putt's importance. The more you struggle with these short putts, the more extreme your solution will likely have to be. For example, Johnny Miller often said he looked at the hole while he putted; others claim to shut their eyes just before taking the putter back; others advocate looking at the grip of the putter as you make your stroke. Experiment to see what works for you.
"Aim Small Miss Small"
In golf we love small misses. Next time you have a short putt, pick out a specific blade of grass or small discoloration in the back of the cup, then really focus on it. The chances of actually hitting it are quite low, but I guarantee you won't miss the hole.
"Even Back, Even Through"
Try to have the image of your stroke swinging as a perfect pendulum. Keep your stroke even on both sides of the ball. No doubt, tour players' strokes are not exactly like this, but the image can certainly help the average golfer. I often see people miss short putts when their backstrokes and through strokes vary in size greatly. Some make excessively long backstrokes, and are then forced to decelerate into impact. Others make hardly any backstroke, then violently accelerate the putter through impact. By trying to have a consistent ratio and rhythm, you'll likely make a lot more than you miss.
"Putt Like A Kid"
The U.S. captain, Davis Love III, says his mental goal in pressure situations is to putt like a ten year-old, not caring about missing or making. He does his best to separate himself from the result. Kids don't attach dramatic implications to every made or missed putt, nor should we. Davis also recommends beginning your stroke immediately as your eyes return to the golf ball after your last look at the hole, no hesitation. This will prevent tension from building. There is no greater killer in putting than tension.
This is a good life lesson in general, but is equally important to your putting. Tour players practice everything, even their breathing. Taking a deep breathe prior to stroking a putt will definitely help calm your nerves. Don't underestimate it.
Have you been told to monitor your salt intake? Even if you haven't (yet), you'd probably be glad to hear that Jim McLean says the more salt, the better . . . on the clubface of your sand wedge, that is.
In the October issue of Golf Digest, McLean, explains that any golfer struggling with his bunker play could really improve his consistency around the green by pouring a clump of table salt on the grooves of his wedge. Too many people, he says, fail to maintain the open face they had at the start of the shot and rely on fortunate timing to get the ball close to the pin. The most common fault weekend golfers make is subconsciously closing the face going back, and flipping the hands over coming through.
Putting salt on the clubface allows you to track your progress and know for sure if you've come into impact with the same open face you set at address. If there's no salt left on your wedge when you're done, it means you've shut the face down at some point during the swing.
The location of the displaced salt, whether it's behind or in front of your starting position, will give you a clue as to which part of your swing spilled the grains.
It's possible to get away with a technique that spills the salt chipping out of the rough, but from greenside bunkers everything gets magnified and a closing clubface is a recipe for disaster. Take McLean's advice about having more salt, and your blood pressure might actually begin to decrease.
You can help make sure it NEVER does by improving the range of motion of the joint and strengthening the muscles around it. There is another benefit to better ankle functionality--it will reduce the chance of knee injuries. Unlike the ankle joint below it and the hip joint above it, the knee has limited range of motion. In order to do it's job, which is to help provide stability to lower-body movement, the knees need the ankles to help alleviate stress. If your ankles aren't particularly mobile, a telltale sign is chronic knee pain as the knees will be required to do things they aren't designed to do very well.
Ben Shear, one of the most well-respected trainers on the PGA Tour, says ankle mobility is crucial not only to the swings of the elite players he works with such as Luke Donald (pictured) and Jason Day, but also the swings of once-a-week recreational golfers. Staying in posture, being able to rotate around the left leg, creating club speed through squat thrust, these are all things better ankle mobility can improve.
To watch him demonstrate a few ways you can increase your ankles' range of motion, click on the video below.
(Photo by J.D. Cuban)
After Labor Day passes, it seems course superintendents across the northern states are given free passes to aerate their greens. Never is it as important for your score (and your sanity) to have a putting stroke that produces a consistent end-over-end roll, and leaves mindless tap-ins at worst. Otherwise you'll leave too many strokes out on the course and storm off much angrier than you arrived. The happiest golfers, after all, are those who putt well.
In our October issue, which features Matteo Manassero on the cover, 50 Best Teacher Sean Foley and LPGA star Stacy Lewis both offer putting tips that have staying power, even past the time it takes for your bumpy greens to smooth out. You'd fare well listening to their advice so you can hear the ball rattle in for birdie this weekend.
Foley's message is that in order to get the ball to scare the hole, your wrists must stay steady. The left wrist, especially, can't break down: It's got to maintain the same angle it held at address. For some people the conventional putting grip they use doesn't make this uniformity very easy to achieve. Foley suggests trying all different types of hand positions, even more so if they keep your wrists out of dominating the stroke. In reality, the excuse of aerated greens is an opportunity to try a different technique without much consequence. The ball isn't going to react like it normally does, so why try to putt like you normally do, expecting the normal outcome?
Lewis, who's over at Hoylake this weekend playing in the Ricoh Women's British Open, is second on the LPGA Tour in putts per greens in regulation this year. She told Assistant Editor Stephen Hennessey that she uses the same putting drill every day to help her fine-tune her already prolific stroke. She hits 10-foot putts with two tees stuck in the green, one even with the ball and the other a sizable distance behind it to act as checkpoints and encourage a longer, free-flowing stroke. Too many people, she says, rush their stroke and jab at the ball. This is a death wish on bumpy greens because the ball hops off the face more than usual with this kind of contact and will get deflected by every uneven surface it hits. A pure roll, on the other hand, will have the ability to withstand irregularities in the surface up until a certain breaking point.
Related: Stacy Lewis -- Steal My Feel
One last tip: Play more break under these conditions. The way aeration holes are cut, they can work in your favor as they keep a pro-side-miss closer to the hole for a sure gimme. But if you were to miss low, the ball will continue to get battered farther and farther away from the hole on the path of aeration holes.
Here's Ron: The short answer is yes and no. Jogging can help improve blood circulation, bone density, weight loss, mental acuity, and raise your metabolic threshold (more on that later). But before you lace up your sneakers and hit the road or the treadmill, you should know that many of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in health and human performance think jogging IS a waste of time. It's especially inefficient if your goal is to look better and perform better in whatever sport you do. Yup, that includes golfers.
I spoke with two nationally known fitness experts this week, Mike Boyle (@bodybyboyle) and Mark Verstegen (@apcoach), and they both recommend high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead of lower-intensity endurance workouts such as jogging, walking on a stair mill, riding a stationary bike or rowing at a steady pace. In fact, Boyle says none of his training sessions involve aerobic training. The reason? In the past two decades, several studies (namely Trembly, Tibata, Gibala) have concluded that HIIT is considerably more effective than lower-intensity endurance training in terms of improving physique and increasing your metabolic threshold. The concept of HIIT is to do any strenuous physical activity as vigorously as you can for a short duration, then rest or decrease intensity for a slightly longer duration, and then go all out again. These training sessions are typically done in 20 minutes or less and sometimes 10 minutes or less. Typical lower-intensity "cardio" sessions start at 30 minutes and can be as long as a couple of hours. Big difference in time commitment. But there is also another reason why HIIT is better than, say, running on a treadmill for an hour.
Long cardio sessions, if done at a steady pace, don't challenge your metabolic threshold nearly as well as HIIT. Joggers, for example, will get into a groove where they are running at a speed just slow enough to avoid fatiguing until the distance they are running is nearly complete. With HIIT, you don't have that luxury. Within seconds of starting, you've already passed your current threshold and are quickly fatiguing.
If you're not familiar with metabolic threshold, in simplest terms, your muscles mostly rely on oxygen to work. But when you're working hard, there comes a point when you don't have enough oxygen for the muscles to function. So your body begins breaking down carbohydrates to provide those muscles with energy. This absence of oxygen, known as an anaerobic state, is tolerable for short periods, but then lactic acid begins to build, you feel a burning sensation, and the muscle eventually gives out.
HIIT training helps raise your metabolic threshold, studies have shown. And the intensity of the session also challenges muscles to work harder so they become stronger. It also can boost your resting metabolic rate, which means the amount of calories you burn while sitting, sleeping, etc. Oh, and did I forget to mention you can get in and out of the gym in less than half the time? What's not to love about that?
I created a workout, known as the 20-in-20 (link here) that takes advantage of HIIT training, but also improves the mobility and stability you need to play golf. However, if you're starting an exercise program, you shouldn't start the 20-in-20 for four to six weeks. Instead, Mike Boyle offers you a HIIT "starter kit" to get your body prepared for more vigorous exercises.
Here's what he recommends:
-- Run on an even surface for 2:30, at 6 mph (10-minute pace).
-- Run for 60 seconds at 7.5 mph (eight-minute pace).
-- Walk for two minutes.
-- Run for 60 seconds at 7.5 mph.
-- Walk for two minutes.
-- Run for 60 seconds at 7.5 mph.
-- Walk for two minutes.
After doing this two to four times a week, for two weeks, you can decrease the walking time and/or add more reps of running time. But don't increase the duration of the run.
Have you noticed an interesting thing about Rory McIlroy's swing as he's been on his tear this summer? Yes, he seems to be playing effortlessly--driving the ball beautifully, sticking his wedges and making a boatload of putts. But I'm talking about something that seems a little different in his swing. As I discuss what I've seen with some of my colleagues in the golf business, it's pretty clear that Rory is doing two things he didn't use to do:
(1) He's starting the downswing with a more pronounced hip bump and then active lower-body turn.
(2) His downswing plane is noticeably inside his backswing plane.
I think they are related. The hip bump in No. 1 leads to No. 2. And No. 2 is a really good thing if you want to swing the club into the ball from inside the target line, thereby creating a shallower and more powerful angle of attack. And No. 2 is also one way to gain feel and sensitivity for the clubhead.
As my good friend and teacher, Jim Flick, once told me, re-routing the club to the inside on the downswing is usually preferable than re-routing the other way (though some great players did that, namely Sam Snead and Bobby Jones). For the average golfer, Jim would much rather see a Jim Furyk move (dropping the club to the inside) than a Bruce Lietzke move (looping it to the outside).
Why is that? When you swing into the ball from the inside, you can create extra clubhead speed with less effort, and it's easier to draw the ball, which not only rolls more but has a more penetrating flight. This is especially good if you are a weaker player and need distance rather than control.
But why re-route the club to get it to the inside? Why not simply take the club back to the inside initially? Because if you swing the club straighter back (the modern term is wider), you can create a bigger swing arc before you re-route the club to the inside. Generally, the bigger the arc, the more clubhead speed you can generate (see Davis Love III, John Daly, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson).
Here's what Jim says to do: Swing the club straight back with your hands and arms (not your shoulders--that would cause the club to go back on an inside path). Then, as your first move down, shift your weight to the outside of your left foot while keeping your shoulders turned. While still keeping your shoulders turned, feel as if you simply drop your arms and the club down to the ball. You need to feel this move with your arms, not your hands, which only would flatten the clubshaft. Jim says to think of Jack Nicklaus' key of keeping his shirt buttons facing to the right of the ball as you swing through impact.
All of this combined will allow you to swing the club into the ball more from the inside, resulting in more delay of the wrists, and longer, more powerful shots that curve from right to left (for a right-hander). Prominent tour players (present and past) who make this inside move on the downswing include:
There are many more, but I think you get the idea. Check out Rory's downswing move in the video here, with Johnny Miller's analysis, as well as on TV this weekend. It's a great one to emulate:
Here's Ron: Some of your body's joints are designed to be super mobile. And some aren't. One of the most-common areas where golfers feel pain and succumb to injury is at the elbow joint. Why? There are many reasons, including the repetitive stress placed on your elbows from striking the ground over and over. But another big reason is that you lack mobility in the joints that surround--and protect--your less-mobile elbow joint. And when those joints don't do their job, the elbow has to take an added amount of punishment. Your cartilage wears out. Tendons get inflamed. You feel pain. Sound familiar?
If you're looking for help to prevent this pain from recurring, you need to improve your shoulder mobility, particularly before you play. Increasing the shoulder's range of motion and also getting the blood flowing through the joint will allow you to swing the golf club without adding stress to your already banged-up elbows. And, as an added bonus, you'll also be protecting the rotator-cuff muscles of your shoulder from tearing. That's a less-common injury for golfers, but it can happen.
Your shoulders are extremely mobile, as evidenced by the amount of flexibility a pitcher, swimmer, or gymnast has in performing their sports. So before you tee it up, get those muscles nice and warm. Click on the video below to see Dave Herman, fitness trainer to PGA Tour pros Gary Woodland and Trevor Immelman, demonstrate a few ways you can get your shoulder muscles primed.
One of the worst things you can do in the golf swing is to let go of the club with the fingers of the left hand at the top of the swing. However, you see golfers doing this all the time. Letting go at the top causes you to regrip the club starting down and increase your grip pressure. The result is a premature uncocking of the club, which then bottoms out before the ball. Usually a fat shot results, but sometimes you hit the ball thin. A tell-tale sign is your glove gets worn out in the heel.
Jack Nicklaus told me last week that he sometimes has this flaw today, but it's because he can't physically make as big a turn as he used to, and it's the only way to get the club to parallel on the backswing. He doesn't like the move. He said that during his prime, he never let go of the club with his left hand at the top of the swing. He noted that sometimes his right hand was a little loose at the top, which is confirmed by photos, but never his left.
One of my favorite teachers, DeLayne Pascal, at Holly Ridge Golf Club, in Sandwich, Mass., recently told me what she often does for her students who have this problem. Rather than try to get them to hold on tighter with the left hand at the top (often difficult for players whose hands are not so strong and it restricts clubhead speed), she tells them to make a bigger shoulder turn. When you make a bigger turn, you don't subconsciously feel you need to let go, she told me. DeLayne, a former NASA scientist, always looks at cause and effect. Really smart teachers, like DeLayne, treat the cause, not the effect.
So if you're hitting the ball fat or thin, or if you feel loose at the top of your swing, try making a fuller shoulder turn. It might make your grip more solid at the top--and your shots more crisp through impact.