Monday, June 26, 2006

AA Keep Going and going – Golf Survival on the PGA

It has been fun to watch both Paul Azinger and Billy Andrade this year fighting for their PGA cards. Truly two of the “good guys” on tour, both have history and both add an interesting storyline to this year’s season.

Azinger has fought off cancer and fought the loss of one of his best friends in Payne Stewart and now he is in a fight to retain his tour card. A very popular person not only among fans but among his fellow players, Azinger is a past PGA Championship titles holder and turned to the announcing booth a few years ago thinking he could do both. But with the rise of such good players in recent years, the Tour demands more of each golfer and Paul found himself having to make a choice. He has chosen golf and like he has shown before he is a fighter and I for one am routing for him each and every week. Going into the Booz Allen, Paul was number 95 on the money list and expects to improve that somewhat with his current 54th position in this weeks event.

Andrade was in the running on the final day a few weeks ago in Boston and although he played steady in the final round, he lost his lead but still placed in the top 10 and this week he currently stands tied for 2nd in the Booz Allen. That will clearly move him well up the list from his current 100th position.

Golf is full of “good guys” but these two are special. Keep your eyes on “AA”. They just keep going and going and going…

Monday, June 19, 2006

Phil Michelson – 5 inches from Greatness

What happened on hole number 18 yesterday was no surprise. Disappointing? Yes. But not surprising. What happened on 18 could have happened on virtually any hole that final tournament day after only hitting 2 fairways in a U.S. Open. Michelson just could not put the driver in the bag.

Strategy is far more than just planning to put the ball into a certain position for the next shot. It is also making the adjustments along the way to make it happen. Amateurs keep hitting the “big dog” because it is the “big dog” that gives them the thrill of being out there. They could shoot 110 but if they hit that one drive 300 yards then that is all that matters - That is all they would talk about. But here we are talking about “Greatness” – the U.S. Open; three majors in a row; the possibly of joining Woods as the only other player to win the grand slam (forget this “all in one year”, that is silly); winning 4 out of his last 10 majors and yet Michelson couldn’t put the “big dog” away.

There was so much emphasis put on all the trips to Wing Foot by Michelson and his caddie and yet some of that money would have been far better spent on overall strategy play. Standing on 18, Michelson knew what had happened to Montgomery and so at that point all he needed was par to win and bogey to tie if Oglvie could get it down in two from some 200 yards out. Either way the objective should have been to make sure at any cost to put that drive in the middle of the fairway.

I know it is very easy to second guess a golfer after the fact but even the commentators such as Johnny Miller were absolutely baffled at Michelson’s decision with what was on the line. His driver had been so erratic all day and all he needed was to assure bogey at worst.

Several years ago it seemed like Michelson had finally decided to abandon his reckless approach to golf and started playing with much more precision. His shot making seemed to go to a whole new level. And there is no doubt that when he is hitting on all cylinders that shot making makes him almost unbeatable. The missing element as I see it is playing smart golf. His talent keeps him in there but his head keeps him from running away from the field. They say you can take the child out of the street but you can’t take the street out of the child. In this case I wonder if you can take the amateur out of Phil.

I have always been a great fan of Phil Michelson but it is frustrating to see someone like that whom could possibly be the greatest golfer this game has ever seen neglect the one element that is missing from reaching that greatness – as Bobby Jones would say “the 5 inches between the ears”.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Formula for Winning at Golf

Visualize the shot…develop a consistent pre-shot routine…write out your strategy.

All of the golfing greats have visualized their shots and putts before actually making the stroke. Visualizing helps the golfer to commit to a target and flight path to that target. This in turn, sends information to the muscles to condition or prime the body for what it is about to do.

Image the ball landing at your target and what the ball is going to do. Then back up following the line of flight and imagine yourself making the swing. How did it feel, including the tempo, the impact, and the follow-through? It is amazing how the mind and body works. Once you have the shot in your mind you are ready to believe you will make it happen.

The pre-shot routine which often includes visualizing the shot is the habit that you develop to get yourself mentally prepared to execute the shot. It helps you to relax and get focused on the shot at hand.

The difference between professionals and amateurs is in the quality and consistency of their routines. A pre-shot routine is very similar to hypnosis in that you are attempting within a very short period of time, just before the shot, to basically clear your mind to focus on the task. Professionals practice their routines before every shot allowing them to put their minds to rest and assure them of eliminating negative thoughts. Too often amateurs think about the possibilities which open the door to fear.

Pre-shot routines can include adjusting the golf glove to make sure it is secure; holding the golf club at an angle to place your hands on the grip and make sure the club face is open; stepping behind the ball to pick out your target and locate a spot 3 to 4 feet in front of the ball to focus on while setting your feet accordingly for the target and the ball; making sure you are balanced then taking a smooth practice swing before hitting the ball. (This is just one example. The key is developing something that is easily repeatable and something that helps you to get focused on the task at hand.)

Finally, we come to having a written strategy that we can refer to on every tee as to what we intend to do on each hole. Remember something; 60-70% of all strokes are taken within 100 yards of the hole. If you are to make measurable improvement in your game, you must get a handle on the short game regardless of what you do off the tee. And yet amateur golfers continue to lose strokes around the green.

In visualizing the shots, I mentioned imaging what the ball is going to do around the target. The only way you can do that is to understand what the ball is going to do at impact and then how that ball action is going to affect what happens when it lands. This takes not only knowledge of your swing but knowledge of how the lie conditions will affect the ball with that swing. And although we can see the fairway from the tee and have a pretty good idea of where we want to place the shot, we don’t usually understand all of the subtleties from 100 yards in.

Ben Hogan was well known for walking the course the evening before a tournament to observe the subtleties of the course - Like he would say “to observe the tricks and traps”. He wanted to understand what the ball would do where and what he needed to avoid - I think that 37 wins between 1945 and 1949 says he must have known something.

Visualizing the shot, developing a consistent pre-shot routine and writing out a solid strategy works and it can work for you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Golf and Life Till “It’s Time to Come Home” – A golf teaching tool

Peter Jacobsen was quoted as saying, “one of the most fascinating things about golf is how it reflects the cycle of life. No matter what you shoot, the next day you have to go back to the first tee and begin all over again and make yourself into something.”

My father was an avid golfer and absolutely respected the game. Etiquette was a priority; the rules of the game were to be adhered to; and integrity was paramount. To dad it was the integrity of the game that took precedent.

Dad lived life the way he played golf. Whether it was in his job, serving the community, or raising a family, dad lived by those same principles. He worked hard; he treated everyone with respect and in everything he did it was with the utmost integrity. And he lived each day the same way. He knew that each day he had to “go back to the first tee and begin all over again…” – A golf teaching tool.

Obviously he was a great model to follow. I would spend time with him on the golf course where he played at a very high level having won many amateur events over the years. I was always struck by his level of quiet confidence. He was always in the game and never “out of the hole”. But this came with years of practice and tournament seasoning since like he said “nothing comes easy in golf just like in life. You have to be realistic in your expectations and there are no short cuts to success.” – A golf teaching tool.

Dad seemed to always have a purpose on the golf course. He knew what he wanted to do and what stood in his way and played accordingly knowing full well that there is going to have to be adjustments along the way. He knew that frustrations and disappointments were a part of the game and he managed those since just like in life you can’t let those things control you – a golf teaching tool.

Dad built his golf game on a solid foundation. He practiced all of the shots so that he knew what to do once on the course. While everyone else was hitting drives and long iron on the practice tee he was hitting 8 and 9 irons. Then he spent time chipping the ball around the practice green. He knew that the game was won or lost from 150 yards in – a golf teaching tool.

Dad knew the golf swing and he knew his strengths and weaknesses and built his strategy around that. He also knew that just as important as the golf swing and feel was his mental attitude. He would spend time before each round in some quiet time thinking and envisioning what he was going to do and review the strategy he had planned out the night before to get his mind into the game – a golf teaching tool.

He had a pad of paper where he had laid out his game-plan for each hole. Nothing elaborate, just a short sketch of each hole and a general layout of what he intended to do with a few notes on the hole-subtleties which he needed to be aware of in case he wasn’t hitting the ball quite as crisply as he would like. And let’s face it; golf like life always has surprises. So by having a few notes and having a plan, although there may be some adjustments, he would take a moment or two on each tee to get refocused and back on the game-plan – a golf teaching tool.

He used to tell me about Ben Hogan who often would walk a course the evening before a tournament to notice and learn all of it’s subtleties and as he stated “tricks and traps”. This was Hogan’s way of getting mentally prepared and focused on the golf round. So preparation was a big deal with dad whether it was in golf or adding a patio to the back yard.

Dad loved this wonderful game and played respectably till he died in his sleep at the age of 76. In fact, that morning he had done what he had done virtually every day in his later years; have coffee with the “guys” and play a quick nine. In fact, I like to believe that he was planning tomorrow’s round when the good Lord said, “it’s time to come home.”

Monday, June 12, 2006

Movin' Up The Latter

Barlays Classic 2006 – on a day that saw Fred Couples shoot a 12 over 83, two additional players fired +9-80s and 7 others at +7 and +8, Tom Pernice, Jr. and Jason Bohn were hungry enough to move up 17 and 18 spots respectively on the field shooting 67s each. Click here for a list of all the 2006 movers.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Is Vijay Hitting Stride?

Yesterday, Singh shot a 7 under 64 to move into a tie at the Barclays Classic, the tune-up for Wing Foot next week. If the week before the U.S. Open turns out to be anything like the week before the Masters are we about to see a new trend?

Singh has been lurking all year with 6 top 10 finishes which is only second to Michelson and yet Singh is 15th on the current money list while Michelson is number 1. That could all change very quickly.

I am also keeping my eyes out for Adam Scott. He too has been playing much better than his current 19th in the money standings. Although he has not been able to put anything away to date, he has been near the top in several tournaments over the past couple of months. It only takes one round and he has the game.

I did some analysis on the top 20 money list and came to some interesting conclusions. Although you have to separate Woods out because of his lack of tournament appearances as of late, the guys that have been lurking the most this year are Mickelson, Campbell and Furyk if you give 10 points for a win, 9 for a second and so on. Based on that the top 5 would be Michelson (1), Campbell (6), Furyk (2), Zack Johnson (14) and Adam Scott (19).

Campbell has shown that he is a pretty cool customer and we all know the reputation of Michelson and Furyk. Johnson and Scott are the unknowns. Are they ready to make a move? Although they are both considered stars of the future they have not yet shown that final drive. But if you keep lingering around up there things are going to start to happening. But will it be at the U.S. Open? Mmmm???

My odds on favorites are still Woods and Michelson because they have both been there so many times before and in both cases there is a lot at stake. But will Woods be ready is the first question and how will Phil handle the pressure of three Majors in a row?

It could just be that Vijay is the one that is hitting his stride?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Down Memory Lane

Last night I was roaming the net to find some U.S. History to help me to write the following article. Although I was reminded of great moments that truly stuck out in my mind like the great final round posted by Johnny Miller in 1973 when he shot a 63 and came from behind to beat Weiskopf and Nicklaus. I was sitting in the club house of De La Viega in Santa Cruz just after an early morning round; or that 45 foot putt that Greg Norman sunk in 1984 on the final hole to tie Fuzzy Zoeller only to lose in a play off the next day; Scott Simpson making those three consecutive birdies on the final nine to beat Tom Watson head-to-head; Palmer making 6 birdies on the first 7 holes in 1960 to come from behind for his first U.S. Open victory; that great 4-iron on the final hole in 1995 to secure victory for Corey Pavin; and that wonderful victory par sunk by Payne Stewart in 1999; I noticed a couple of interesting facts .

In both 2000 and 2002 both won by Tiger Woods, Miguel Angel Jimenez tied for second place; the U.S. Open didn’t adopt a 4-day, 18 hole format till 1965;Orville Moody captured the 1969 Open after having to go through sectional qualifying; the U.S. Open was first televised in 1954; then on a personal note, in 1982, Bill Rogers a winner of the British Open in 1981 and Player of the Year placed tied for 3’d and unbeknownst to me, I was to hire the caddy that carried Bill’s bag when he won the 1981 British Open the following year to work for a printing company in Southern California. Rogers played on the tour from 1975 to 1988 and won six tournaments, including 4 in 1981. After a final victory in 1983, Bill Rogers faded away and all I remember was that for a while he was a spokesman/endorser for a new line of soft-spike shoes. Chris (the caddie) continued for a few years to take his vacation and travel with Bill to the British Isles to the scene of their victory but soon Rogers took a Director of Golf position at the San Antonio Country Club where he worked for 11 years before joining the Champions tour in 2001.