Whiffle: verb – to blow lightly in puffs or gusts; noun – something light or insignificant.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Brandel Chamblee: Rickie "Gets It"

I love this, what Brandel Chamblee said about Rickie Fowler on the Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" show today:
It’s so rare when somebody like him comes along, and it’s very, very early in his career, he has yet to win – and yet he wields star power like someone who’s won 12, 15 times and a couple of majors. It’s the way he goes about what he does, as much as what he does. He’s just a very appealing golfer. He plays fast. His golf swing is unique. He plays shots … I heard yesterday when it came time to warm up, the contrast to Ben Crane, he (ben crane) was out there, and he had all these devices, and he was going through a very regimented practice session before he played, which is fine. That’s what Ben Crane does and it works for him. And Ricky came out and hit 10 or 15 shots and was ready to go. And that’s what’s neat about the kid, is that he’s a sharp contrast to the sort of homogenized look that exists in golf today.
[Question: “What does that mean when people say he gets it?”] Well, he understands the best way to play golf – and you know, this is my opinion – is to go out and to try to hit shots. There’s this … it’s the “big lie” to me, that you can go out there and swing perfectly. And I understand why guys do it. Literally, they’re trying to play this game in the most organized fashion. There’s so much money out there at stake, and if you can stay on Tour for a long time, you can get ridiculously rich. So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna work out, and you’re gonna get a sports psychologist, and you’re gonna get the video camera, and you’re going to take all these lessons … you want everything to just be perfect. And Rickie’s like no, I’m going to go out and I’m going to hit golf shots. I’m going to go out and I’m going to hit it high and I’m gonna hit it low, I’m going to draw it, I’m going to fade it. And I think … I don’t think, I know it’s because of the way he was taught the game. His teacher was very much into hitting golf shots. And that’s why he plays fast. Because he’s not out there thinking about a pre-shot routine. And he’s not out there thinking about swing mechanics. He’s out there thinking about golf shots. And it’s … you know, look. We’re not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, but … when you watch Michael Jordan play basketball, you’re watching a guy who yes, he spent all these hours practicing. But it looks like art. It just looks like an athlete. And Rickie, he just looks like an athlete when he plays golf.
It meshes really well with something I've been thinking a lot about lately as I try to groove my new left-handed swing. And that's this: that the purpose of practice is to groove your swing to the extent where you don't have to think about it when you're out on the course competing. On the course, especially when the pressure's on, you don't want to be thinking about where your elbow is or what plane your swing is on or what your hands are doing. You want to be thinking about where you want the ball to go, what you want it to do.
     Think about throwing a baseball. Sure, a throwing motion is a lot less complex than a golf swing (to me it seems that way, anyway), but the principle is the same. If you're scooping up a grounder and getting ready to make a throw to first, you're not thinking about you're technique, you're looking at that first baseman's mitt and thinking about the ball smacking into the center of it. It should be the same thing with the golf swing. Yes, that's a very hard thing to achieve. And it probably applies more to professionals, who spend hours and hours on the practice tee than to people like me who (historically) have done most of their "practice" out on the course. But if you want to really improve, it makes a lot of sense.
     One of the things my new coach, PGA Professional Carl Unis, has told me is this: "An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can't get it wrong."
     Exactly right. A lofty goal, to be sure, but something to strive for.

From the "SIM" Journal

A few excerpts from the very beginnings of my "Scratch in the Mirror" Journal ...

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
     I went online to Golf Outlets and found some really cheap off-brand lefty putters. They look nicer than the Hippo [a cheap putter I found at a golf shop]. The one I have my eye on is a Odyssey two-ball knockoff – a “Texan” (same brand as Jack’s clubs!) for $12.99. Add $6.99 shiping and you get $19.98 – two cents cheaper than the hippo – and no sales tax!
     I think I may need to go for it.

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010:
So I did it – I ordered the putter. Does that mean there’s no turning back? Probably not, but it is a step in the direction of commitment. I’ve been imagining how I’ll set up my putting drills in the basement. I’m afraid I’ll get bored – that’s the pattern. I’m thinking 100 putts a night? And maybe throw in one of those “I have to make 20 in a row from four feet” kind of deals for good measure. I’m just not sure. But it’s easy to imagine hitting 10 or 15 putts and then getting “distracted” and just start whacking putts and not thinking about it. But maybe that’s OK at this stage, because my first step is just to get used to that left-handed motion. But then, if I get used to that motion with crappy technique that defeats the purpose – and sabotages the project before it even gets going.

Monday, Oct. 4, 2010:
I’ve realized that I probably should start out (putting) with some sort of a plan for instruction. Even just playing around with my existing putting stroke, I realized I don’t really know if I open and close the face or not. That is, whether I should be swinging the putter in a slight arc around my body or try to keep it square the whole way, like a pendulum (as Steve Stricker appears to). I think I probably do open/close it during the stroke, but only a little. The key is, I think, that I don’t think about it. I hope thinking about it doesn’t mess me up! ...

As it happens, the current issue of Golf Digest has a 30-page putting section. So I think I might just start there. I took a look at it at lunch today and wouldn’t you know it, one of the tips (from Dave Stockton, Phil’s and others’ putting guru) is to practice putting with just your left hand [or right hand, for a lefty], because it’s so important! I was already planning to do that! And it’s nice to know that this bit of information sort of backs up my theory.  ...

Putter came today! Jack [my then-8-year-old son] and I went to the putting green at Brown Deer for about 45 minutes – we closed down the joint. ...

For my lefty putting, I thought about going cross-handed. That would be easy, right? Basically my right-handed putting grip, swinging the other way. But that seemed like cheating or something. I’m intrigued by putting grips where the hands are almost on top of each other. That kind of makes sense to me because it makes your arms symmetrical, and it seems like your shoulders would be more level, which makes sense. In fact, I’ve seen grips that take this to the extreme with a very wide putter grip that you grasp with two hands [on opposite sides], with palms facing each other. This makes a lot of sense. I’m not one to consider something so unconventional (no belly putters or “broomsticks” for me, either!). So I’m trying it with a grip where my hands overlap quite a bit, but the left hand is still low. ...

I figured out right away that I’m having a lot of trouble seeing where I’m lined up. On a number of occasions, after lining up a putt, I would hold the putter in place while stepping behind it to see where I was aimed – often not where I thought I was. In general, I think I was more often aimed to the right of where I thought I was lined up. Some of this may be the unfamiliar putter, but I think more of it may be that I’m not used to lining up a putt with “that side” of my face. I think there’s a big dominant eye factor.
     I practiced mostly 5-6 footers, trying to concentrate on just making a smooth, straight stroke. I also practiced some using only my right hand, which a lot of times felt actually easier than using both hands.
     My results were fairly mixed. There were times when it felt fairly natural to putt left-handed, and other times where it felt completely foreign.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "Tiger vs. Jack"

     That would be one word to describe author and fellow blogger Phil Capelle's epic work, Tiger vs. Jack: Golf's Greatest Rivalry. Other words would be "comprehensive," "thorough," and "impressive."

     Capelle sets out to tackle an oft-debated question: "Who is the game's all-time best player, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?" You don't have to look too far to find a variety of opinions on the matter. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anything close to the in-depth look Capelle takes. Not content to simply add up the major championship victories, Capelle considers such factors as strength of competition, performance in different "types" of victories (blow-out wins, close wins, comeback wins, high-scoring, low-scoring, good-weather, bad, etc.), quality and consistency of golf swing, what he calls "contender finishes," the role of teachers and caddies, and even the role that luck has played in their 32 combined major championship victories. Just for starters.
     Along the way, Capelle makes a few surprising (and sure to be controversial) points, including the case for why Bobby Jones's Grand Slam season in 1930 is "the most overrated feat in golf history":
"Here's why: the fields at the amateur events were watered down by the absence of the pros. And, at the U.S. and British Amateurs, the top amateurs of the other side did not compete." [page 24]
But don't take his word for it. Here, as throughout the book, the author offers plenty of numbers to back up his claims.
     And though he limits his best-ever discussion to the modern era (1958-present), he also makes a strong case why the great  Walter Hagen should be credited with 16 professional major victories instead of the 11 the record currently shows. This would, of course, put him squarely between the Golden Bear and Tiger on the all-time list.
     If you're not a statistics junkie, there may be a few sections of Tiger vs. Jack you'll want to skim rather than read thoroughly. Capelle goes deep with his analysis on many topics. But what makes this 480-page tome (including the appendix and comprehensive index) so noteworthy is that all the information, and then some, is there if you care to dig in.
     It's clear that Capelle has a deep and abiding respect for golf history. He thereby avoids falling into the trap of giving greater weight to events that have occurred more recently, as you so often see in listings of "all-time great" teams and athletes in various sports. If anything, Capelle is biased to the opposite, perhaps looking back on occasion with an overly romanticized view of the past. But it's to his credit that he makes his biases known up-front. He grew up watching the Golden Bear dominate golf and makes no secret that he's a fan. His analysis is so quantitative and objective, however, that it's difficult to believe his admitted affections have affected his conclusions.
     What are his conclusions? I'll not spoil the movie here. But here's a hint: He takes a solid stand on the issue while also conceding that the closing argument has yet to be written.

Tiger vs. Jack is available at Amazon.com or through the author's website, www.capelleongolf.com.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Scratch in the Mirror"

Those who have been paying attention (is anyone still paying attention?) may have noticed that lately I've been posting a number of items about lefties – more specifically, natural righties who play golf left-handed, and vice-versa. That's because that's the subject of the book I've been working on – and what's been drawing my attention from blogging. I've decided that it's time to merge the two a bit and start blogging about the project. So here's the working introduction to Scratch in the Mirror: Right-handed Lefties, Left-handed Righties, and the Search for the Perfect Backhanded Golf Swing. By Mike Zimmerman. (You may notice that this earlier post was actually an earlier version of the introduction.)
     Please don't hold back with your opinions. I can use all the feedback I can get!

Scratch in the Mirror – Introduction
Want to win a few bets at the 19th hole? Ask the others in your foursome how many lefties have won major championships in golf. Your knowledgeable friends will say three: Bob Charles, Mike Weir, and Phil Mickelson.
    Imagine their shock and surprise when you tell them – as you hastily collect your winnings – that none of those guys is a real lefty. Each is actually right-handed, but plays golf from the sinister side.
    Now imagine their rage when they realize you’ve tricked them. Fisticuffs ensue. Since you’re outnumbered three-to-one, they easily beat you to a pulp and take back their winnings. They also take your watch and the rest of the cash in your wallet, just for good measure.
    Man, who are these guys!? Why you would want to play golf with three jerks like that is beyond me, but who am I to judge another man’s friends?
    Later, in the ER, you tell your wife what happened and she asks the obvious question: “Well …? If not Charles, Weir, and Mickelson [your wife is very knowledgeable about golf; that’s why you married her], what is the right answer? Have any actual left-handers ever won a major professional golf championship?”
    A smile creeps across your bloodied face, but you wince only slightly at the pain. “Johnny Miller,” you gasp. “Greg Norman. Curtis Strange. Nick Price. David Graham. Byron Nelson.”
    A hush falls as doctors, nurses, assorted orderlies, and the little old lady in the waiting room stop what they’re doing and draw silently closer, hanging on your every word. Everyone is astonished by the revealed wisdom that has already passed your swollen lips, but you’re not done yet. With strength fading, you summon another breath and whisper, like Charles Foster Kane spitting out “Rosebud”: “Hogan.”
    A nurse faints. In the hallway, a bedpan crashes to the floor. Across the pond, a chill wind blows through “Hogan’s Alley” at Carnoustie.
“They’re all naturally left-handed,” you explain. “They only play golf right-handed.”
    A tear runs down your wife’s cheek as she turns to the attending physician and says, “Doctor, my husband is obviously delirious and in great pain. Can you do something?”
    Shaking his head with a sad and concerned look, the doctor lowers a mask to your face. Moments later the room goes dark and all is quiet.
    In retrospect, maybe you should have just stuck to the conventional wisdom. Or at least made the stakes a little lower.
• • •