Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A New Tip

Check the "Tips" link for a new and very simple swing thought.

Always Another Sunday

I'm sure you didn't miss last Sunday's tournament results: Stephen Ames won the PGA Player's Championship (the so-called 'fifth' major), and Jean Van de Velde won on the European tour — his first since his 1999 melt-down in the British Open.

You'll also remember that about a month ago Ames got his head handed to him by Tiger Woods in the first round of the World Match-Play Tournament. Ames had been asked if he had any chance, playing as the 64th seed against the #1-ranked player in the world. As he had to say, Ames said he certainly had a chance, but then went on to add, "especially where Tiger's hitting it right now." Tiger heard the comment, took offense, and proceeded to set a record for humiliation by beating him 9-8 (winning the first nine holes straight and tying the 10th)

Van de Velde, in 1999, came to the last hole of the British Open at Carnoustie with the tournament locked up, took a horrendous big number on the last hole, and ended up losing in a playoff to Paul Lawrie. This week he came to the last hole four up, made a double, but survived to win for the first time since his British Open debacle.

A clear and simple Zen lesson resides in both stories. The current Sunday is the only thing that matters. Former Sundays don't exist any more, and future ones haven't happened yet. The current moment is all you have... all you can ever have, so you might as well live it fully.

Moreover, regardless of the outcome, there is always another Sunday.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thinking Without Thinking

Lessons — golf and life lessons — come disguised in many different packages.

For example, I've been enjoying the great games in the current NCAA basketball championships.

One of the best was yesterday's win by LSU over Texas, and the game-breaking shot was an improbable 3-pointer by Glen "Big Baby" Davis, LSU's huge center. In today's paper, he described the shot as "thinking without thinking." He went on to say that he plays his best when he's aware and into the flow of the game, but when he's not thinking about the details. If he thinks about the mechanics of making such a shot, he said, he's unlikely to make it. On the other hand, when he's aware at a high level and into the flow, then the game comes to him.

And so it is in golf. We do our thinking and planning before the shot, and then turn off our chattering surface mind and move into the flow of our routine. Think and plan from behind the ball, then execute without control.


Also... The newest podcast, on the subject of Yin and Yang, is available today. If you listen to it, you'll understand why I made a BIG mistake on my 2005 Christmas Cards when I boasted that I'd gone through 2005 without a single medical issue. And in the same way, if you listen, you'll understand why current events in my life may be better news than it may seem. I'll tell you all the details after there has been time to listen to the podcast. (Yes, that's a shameless teaser, intended to draw you into the podcast.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Perfect Practice??

We've been blessed with a generally mild winter here in the North-East: many days with temps over 50 degrees, with the occasional excursion into the 60's.

That's posed a small problem, because our practice range won't open until mid-April. In the usual winter, I don't start playing until the range opens, but this year I've been anxious to play while blocked from my usual practice routines.

That, however, has re-introduced me to the only option I had when I played and lived in semi-rural Ohio: a shag-bag and an open field. And I'm reminded that there is a strong correlation with the fact that Ohio was the last place where my handicap (however briefly) got down to 7.

Now that I've been exposed to it again, I would maintain that a shag-bag affords the very best form of practice. First, it's much more solitary; I tend to take more time and thought, and I don't have to deal with the various rhythms and frustrations coming from those around me.

But much more important is that, once you've hit out your 60-70 balls, you then have to pick them up. Even if I've hit them well, I've hit everything from my wedge to my 5-iron, so balls are scattered all over. The usual way to pick them up is to walk out with my wedge and hit every ball back toward the bag, which means that I hit every imaginable type of full and partial shot, from every imaginable type of lie. Even better, without a scorecard in my pocket (and the fear and pressure that brings) it becomes a simple game of "See the target... Hit the target."

I even take a hint from John Daly and hit some shots one-handed: both right and left handed. I think Daly's right; at the least I'm building golfing muscle, and training each arm in it's individual task just has to be beneficial. The fact that I can now hit a one-handed wedge 50 yards and on-line (when at one time I couldn't make contact) just has to be good... doesn't it?

As I do all that, whether each shot is successful or not, my brain has at least a hundred chances to observe cause-and-effect and to work out the feel of producing every imaginable type of ball flight. And, of course, I've talked often in this blog and on the podcast about the importance of shots inside 100 yards (it's ~80% of the game, including putts).

So, that leads me to a new resolution for this year. In the interests of time, my pre-round warm-up will continue to be at our formal practice area. But... my serious practice... that's happening in the solitude of the field.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Today (3/19)

The 3/19 Podcast is now available, and you'll find a very easy and very effective ball-striking drill on the "Tips" page.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Paying Attention

I've made the point (several times!) that a big part of Zen, life — even golf — is paying attention. I received a personal reminder of that —twice! — in this past week.

I've been having trouble with my chipping and short pitch game since early last year. Because I had minor hand/finger surgery last week, the only thing I could do (when the weather permitted) was hit little shots of 20 yards and in, and so I took my shag bag to an open field with the intent of finding/fixing my problem. But I couldn't shake it. My prime issue was consistent trajectory, with most of my chips coming off the club low and hard; I couldn't seem to get any consistent loft.

After too long a period, I finally realized the basic flaw; even though I was playing the ball well back, my swing was bottoming out behind the ball, causing me to catch it, blade it, on the upswing. Worse, once I realized that, I had a devil of a time correcting it; I continued on, "chunking" almost all of my chips. The more I concentrated on hitting down on the ball, the more I must have been lowering my center of gravity and therefore my swing arc. As often in golf, the more I "tried hard" the more I failed.

Finally, I concentrated on the sound of contact and trying to reproduce the sound of the occasional good contact. That proved to be the solution and things improved quickly fromt there.

Then, at the end of the week I was cleared to play and about the only thing that did go well was my improved short game. Everything else was a struggle.

So, I and my shag bag returned to the practice area the next day. I was more than half-way through the bag, hitting shots that felt awful and went mostly off-line and short, when I finally realized that the grass/dirt build-up on my wedge was outside the sweet-spot, well toward the toe. Again, once I realized that, it took a maddeningly long time for me to stop making toe contact. I had to strive for a shank in order to get the contact back toward the face center but, once I did, the contact stopped feeling harsh and my normal lenghth came back.

My main point: against the very things I've been saying and writing here, I had failed to pay attention to what was happening and, as a result, my practice was utterly pointless until I recognized what was going on.

It's a point Jack Nicklaus makes over and over; when things go wrong, you'll always find the cause somewhere in the fundamentals.

Pay Attention!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

New Today - Tips, Podcasts, Etc.

Re: Podcasts. See the Podcast link. I'll be posting five programs over the next day or two, given that I'm going to have limited recording time over the next month. The "Podcast" page will explain how you'll get your usual dosage.

Re: Irony. The good news is that last week set a record for 'hits' on the site. The bad news is that last week was my least-active period for new postings. Am I to assume that there is a correlation? That I'll get more visitors if I post less?

Re: Tips. Check the "Tips" menu link for two new ideas.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

New Today - Podcast 19

Today's podcast is the last in my three-part series covering the Eightfold Path... the route to escape from suffering. As suffering golfers, doesn't that sound good?

Also included is the promised bonus: brief sound clips from Tour Tempo, the instructional book reviewed earlier this week.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Seven Truths??

Today, after posting my double review (see most recent "Review" entry), I picked up my current issue of Philadelphia Golf Styles, and found a cover blurb advertising "The Seven Truths." As that sounded Zen-like — perhaps similar to what I've been covering here — I eagerly flipped to the article.

In the interest of fairness and complete disclosure, here is the essence of it. The author is Wayne DeFranesco, a PGA teaching pro with a 38-year history with the game. The full title is Searching for the Truth, and the sub-title or lead quote (Jim Carroll) is, "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."

Here are Wayne's seven truths:

  • If you're not that good, the only way you can buy improvement is to pay someone who really knows what he's doing to teach it to you.
  • If you don't invest the time, you simply cannot get better.
  • It's just as likely that any swing device or infomercial product will make you less competent.
  • You need to become a better putter. Someday, if you ever learn how to hit the ball well, your putting will reveal itself as weaker than you think.
  • Ignore the television announcers. Whatever they say about a golf swing has no relevance to you.
  • Get stronger. Strength is under-appreciated, while flexibility is vastly overemphasized.
  • Never stop learning. Nobody's figured out this game yet, including you and me.

I can't disagree with any of the seven, but the first and third are worth comment.

I think the key word in the first is "buy," and the key question is whether it is ever possible to buy a better game. I think the lead-in quote says it all; in the end, you'll have to discover it for yourself.

As to the third "truth" and my reviews:

I agree with DeFrancesco's truth itself, and that is the reason I'm afraid of Tour Tempo.

Your opinions??

New Today: A Comparison Review

Check my 'Review' link for a comparison of John Novosel's instructional book,
Tour Tempo
, and David Leadbetter's Swing Setter, a training gizmo.

I've posted my choice. Those of you that have used one or both, please weigh in with you opinions.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Today - Podcast 18

Please check the Podcast link for the second in my three-part series on The Eightfold Path, a discussion of our inward mental control practices.