Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Search for Flat Stick Nirvana (Part II - 9.1.15)

Finding my very own Billy Baroo doesn’t make much sense without improving my putting stroke. One can have the greatest tool in the world, but if they don’t know how to use it then they are just spinning their wheels.

Part of the genesis for The Search for Flatstick Nirvana is that I’ve made tremendous strides in my swing working with Kelvin Miyahira. I have also learned movement pattern training methods from instructor Lucas Wald and some other things from people like Mike Hebron, Trilliium Sellers Rose, Dr. Keith McDaniel and others that I feel that I can practice more efficiently. In other words, I can spend less time practicing the full swing and get better at sustaining my mechanics and implementing new mechanics. It’s no longer the ‘chiropractor approach’ to practice where I must spend time on the range in fear of my swing getting out of whack.

For instance, I was striking the ball extremely well for about 3 months straight once I figured out a movement pattern training regimen that worked for me. But, in the last 2 weeks I started to get into a funk with my golf swing. With that being said, my scores on average were still very good, I just wasn’t hitting the ball quite like I was in the 3 months prior. I finally got some movement pattern training in front of a full length mirror and found out a couple of things that were giving me issues (one of which I’ve never really practiced) and voila…back to hitting the ball like I was in the previous 3 months. That has made me confident that I don’t need to practice as much with the ballstriking because my swing mechanics changes have become permanent and I have the practice regimen in place to troubleshoot problems and implement new mechanics if needed in a short period of time.

With the success I’ve had with movement pattern training with the full swing, I plan on giving it an attempt with the putter as well. The difficult part is that the putting stroke is much shorter than the golf swing. Furthermore, we want to let “gravity do the work” on the thru stroke instead of accelerating the putter thru the ball.


With slow motion training, it may be very difficult to alter speeds of the putting stroke to progress. Furthermore, with slow motion training it may be counterintuitive to “letting gravity do the work” in the thru stroke.

That’s why I tend to think putting is a bit more ‘drill based’ in terms of practice whereas drills are more counterproductive in the full swing practice:

For me, the largest issue I’ve had with my putting is with the aim. I have a tendency to aim severely to the right of the target. My way was to work on aiming the putter correctly and then that would take care of the rest. But as John Graham (www.johngrahamgolf.com) recently tweeted, from his experience if you want to improve your aim you need to improve your stroke, first. Then the golfer starts to figure out the aim. By trying to fix your aim first, the golfer is likely to make compensations in their stroke to counter their faulty aim and more or less fall into the same old habits.

Putting instructor and neurology expert, Geoff Mangum (www.puttingzone.com) , discusses that as well.

What I have been working on before I saw Geoff’s video is my putting launch direction, using the Dave Pelz Putting Tutor:

What I found before I saw the Mangum video is that I would consistently hit the left marble, even though I was taking my putting stroke on an inside arc and NOT looping it either. I found that I had a tendency to ever so slightly yank the putter head in too soon and that would cause the ball to launch left. Perhaps explaining why I aimed right….to naturally counter that leftward launch. I found that it almost felt like I was trying to hit a ‘push-draw’ with the putter in order to get the ball thru the marbles.

I also found that when I was getting the putter head going down the line just after impact, the follow thru was shorter and it felt like I was just naturally allowing gravity to do the work in the thru stroke. One of the things I had heard Frank Nobilo (and I believe Brandel Chamblee as well) discuss is how when they see guys on Tour putting well they don’t ‘recoil’ putter head in the follow thru. And I think that is a case of a golfer letting gravity do the work and not yanking the putter head inside right into impact. Or letting the ‘boom’ do the work as Geoff Mangum illustrates.

What I did find is that my launch improved, but I had a difficult time with speed because the ball was traveling further despite putting what I felt was the same amount of effort.

With that, I purchased the Mi Putting Template.

I think this is well designed to allow for proper movement pattern training. There’s no resistance required in the stroke and one can use slow motion to follow not only the path, but the putter face as well and make sure they are ‘doing it right.’

If it didn’t require any practice, then everybody would reach flatstick nirvana. But now armed with better knowledge on how to practice and to obtain new movement patterns and make them permanent, the journey seems perfectly attainable.


Monday, August 31, 2015

The Search for Flatstick Nirvana - Part I (8.31.15)

I’ve had some good times with the flatstick and I have had some horrific times with the flatstick in my golfing ‘career.’

 One of my favorite times was sinking a 35-footer for par in a playoff that I had no business winning against a rival of mine on his home course where about 200 people were rooting for him to 3 people of them rooting for me. There was the summer when I was 16 years old and had purchased a Wilson 8802 with the old leather Neumann putter grip and I have witnesses that will tell you that I simply did not miss a putt inside 5-feet with that putter

There was the time that I carried 2 putters in the qualifier of a tournament. The Ram Zebra and the Wilson 8802. Outside 15-feet I had an uncanny way of making a lot of putts with the Zebra and I was deadly from inside 8-feet with the Wilson 8802. So, I carried them both and my friends thought I was nuts and I finished 2nd in the qualifier for the event. Eventually, some bastard with no soul stole my precious Wilson 8802 right out of my bag while I was eating lunch. I really loved that putter. One of the best short games I have ever seen belonged to a friend of mine and I remember him and another friend saying it was almost ‘unfair’ that I had that Wilson 8802 because it ‘basically rolls the ball right at the hole on its own.’ Even more unfortunate, I could never find another 8802 that felt the same much less performed the same.

I also remember putting pretty well with a Ping B61 while everybody favored the Ping B60 model. Here’s a shot of the Ping B61 model, as you can see, the hosel is more off the heel.

There was one summer, when I was 14 years old and my dad, a workaholic, had accrued something like 2 full years of vacation time and finally decided to use it for almost a full month during that summer. This consisted of me having to get up every day at 6 am to eat breakfast and play golf with him and then go home after lunch and do chores. I used to refer to that as ‘The Summer From Hell.’ One morning we got up and I was watching the 6am telecast of the British Open and saw some player using a forward press with their putting stroke. I decided to use it on the Ping B61 putter and went from putting pretty well with the B61 putter to putting lights out with the B61 for the rest of the summer. And the B61 was only replaced by my beloved Wilson 8802.

Of course, the bad times were there as well. Like the 4-putt in the lowest round of my life of 64 when the course record was 63. Diligently sticking with a Ping Anser 2 putter because I liked the finish on it and couldn’t make a thing to save my life. I eventually chucked it into a creek at Wild Wing Golf Club in Myrtle Beach. Or the time that I couldn’t make anything with the Ram Zebra and decided to putt out the back nine with my Sand Wedge (now called ‘pulling a Robert Streb’) and actually putting better with the S-Wedge than with the Ram Zebra.

Since I got back into the game in 2009, my putting has been inconsistent at best. The game has changed and especially putters. More mallet style designs. Heavier head weights and shorter shaft lengths making for lighter putter shafts. The grips tend to be oversize and heavy (i.e. SuperStroke) with flatter lie angles and more loft (The original Wilson 8802 only had about 2 degrees of loft).

I have become more interested in the feel of the putter as well. Not only in terms of the contact feel, but the putter’s heft. The modern putters feel lighter or if they are heavier, it’s usually due to counterbalancing which places the weight up on the grip end.

And with that, I’m searching for my own Billy Baroo.

I’m looking for that customized, special putter that is meant for me and fits me like a glove. Much like that old Wilson 8802 (I’ll get back to that in future posts) that just felt…well…perfect. Except I would use this putter all of the time, not just on special occasions like Judge Smails. A putter unique unto itself that when it is unsheathed from the bag like a sword from a knight’s armor, everybody knows that it’s time to see the touch of a surgeon with the precision of sniper with the magic of Ricky Jay.

A craftsman should have his own tools, shouldn’t he?


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Spin the Ball Around the Greens with James Ridyard

Here's a video from James Ridyard on altering the spin rate on short game shots around the green.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Make a Plan in Golf Like Jordan Spieth with Shawn Clement

Here's a video from Shawn Clement discussing how to plan in golf like Jordan Spieth does:


Friday, August 21, 2015

A Study in the Yips with Mackey Sasser

Here's a video with the story of an athlete with the yips.  But, not in golf.  In baseball, with former MLB catcher Mackey Sasser:

Sasser situation reminds me of a lot of golfers and athletes in that I believe a lot of the time the yips starts with an injury and compensating your mechanics to deal with that injury.  Then when the injury recovers, the brain goes haywire deciding between your old mechanics and those new mechanics being used to compensate for the past injury.  What's particularly interesting here is how traumatic events in Sasser's life also played a part in his throwing yips.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chase Improvement at Your Own Peril

Here's a good, short article on Colin Montgomerie and David Duval advising Jordan Spieth "chase improvement at your own peril"http://www.golfdigest.com/blogs/the-loop/2015/08/montgomerie-duval-warning-to-j.html

As a former highly competitive golfer that saw his ballstriking fall off the planet when he got into college and had to work diligently thru the years to get into being a serviceable ballstriker, I can relate to much of this.  And I agree with Duval and Monty on the key point, you have to be careful about changing anything in the swing in hopes of making improvement because it may be due to your detriment.  For any full-time Tour player, the fact is that you're more likely to regress than you are to improve if you change the mechanics of your swing.  

For every Jason Dufner who greatly improved his ballstriking once he changed his swing, there are probably 5 players that changed their swing and essentially got worse.  Either by seeing no difference in their ballstriking, but spending more time on the swing so their putting and short game suffers or the golfers that just get worse with their ballstriking.  Believe me, I see the statistics all of the time and you would be surprised of the number of players that make swing changes and see no difference in their ballstriking or get worse.


My feeling is that what most golfers that are good enough to play on Tour should focus on is sustaining their their swing over time.  I think their inability to sustain their swing over time is where most players tend to get into trouble.  And I think that was what caused the downward spiral in my own swing when I playing college golf.

For whatever reason, I started to incorporate new mechanics in my golf swing over time.  I didn't try to do anything, but my swing started to change and I didn't even know it until a friend pointed it out to me.  And even then, I still didn't believe my friend until he showed a video of my swing which looked completely different from past videos of my swing that I would film about once a year.

I was essentially self-taught up until that point.  By being self taught I had almost zero swing knowledge.  My swing knowledge was so poor that I used to think you wanted to take a divot directly underneath the ball instead of out in front of where the ball was located.  And that lack of swing knowledge put me in a precarious position because if my swing were to fall apart (which it did), I:

a)  Didn't have any idea on how to fix it.
b)  Had no idea of what instructor to see that was adept enough to fix my issues.

I think what happens with players that do not sustain their swings is that their performance finally drops off to a point where they can't accept it and then they try to figure it out, but they have no idea what they were doing in the first place.  And then they may go to an instructor and the instructor has no idea what their swing looked like to begin with and cannot reasonably get themselves swinging like they used to.  Perhaps they are able to get back into some of their old swing mechanics, but they are missing a piece or two of their old mechanics and it just doesn't work.

That's where I find quality instruction very important.  Have an instructor that knows your swing and has video of your swing (or even motion capture and Trackman numbers which are not mandatory, but can be helpful).  Then if your swing starts to naturally change and create lesser performance, try and figure out what the old swing was doing and what has been altered.


I think most people will pinpoint this change in philosophy of changing your swing despite being very successful with it on Tiger when he changed instructors and swing mechanics from Butch Harmon to Hank Haney.

However, I think the player that started it was actually Nick Faldo.  Here's a video from instructor, Lucas Wald, on the swing changes Faldo made and his success on Tour before those swing changes were made:

Faldo's swing changes along with his training philosophy changed the world of golf instruction.  Before, there were not many full-time golf instructors.  Most golf instructors actually worked managing a golf course or driving range and then they would schedule lessons to provide a little extra income.  When I think of full-time instructors during that era, the only names that come to my mind are Bob Toski, Phil Ritson, Jack Lumpkin and Jim Flick who used to have these Golf Digest golf academies.

Faldo's work with Leadbetter created a paradigm shift into full-time instructors all over the place and what we see today...instructors that almost exclusively just teach players on Tour and travel to every single event to work with their clients.

While Faldo may have started the entire philosophical shift, Tiger really popularized it.  And once he kept winning with Haney, then the belief that you could just simply change instructors and insert new mechanics without issue started to take hold.

However, if you look at the metrics that I wrote about in GolfWRX, it was not cut-n-dry as far as Tiger's changes to Haney went with his ballstriking:


Under Haney, Tiger's driving regressed considerably.  However, his iron play became so impeccable that it may have become the greatest stretch of iron play of all time.  Furthermore, Tiger's putting really took off.  When Tiger was with Butch, his putting wasn't nearly as good.  He appeared to have a couple of incredible putting years under Butch, but he also had some struggles as well.  The thing is...when you hit it as well as Tiger did and as long as Tiger did under Butch...you can still dominate and not putt all that well.

As I pointed out earlier, a lot of times players change swings and their ballstriking is no better or no worse.  My judgment from the numbers is that Tiger's ballstriking probably was a hair worse under Haney, even when he was winning left and right, than it was under Butch.  So I think for all of those 'Tiger changed from Butch to Haney and had success' advocates, they really need to look at the big picture and ask 'did he really improve his ballstriking with the swing change?'  And by the end of Tiger's time with Haney, his swing looked nothing like it did when he first started working with Haney.

So yeah...chase improvement at your own peril.  But, you're better off focusing on sustaining what made you great in the first place.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Putting Metrics at Whistling Straits

A while ago on GolfWRX I was challenged when I made the statement that in general, faster greens on Tour will have higher make percentages from inside 15-feet.  As much as that may seem to counter common logic, faster greens are typically smoother and they also usually have less undulation.  If greens are undulated and fast, they may not hold the green or even worse, if the wind picks up the ball may move when the golfer addresses the putt, thus incurring a penalty.

This is nothing new as there have been numerous studies on the make percentages based on green speeds and their findings agree with that sentiment.  Where courses get most difficult to putt on is usually when they have undulations and are bumpy.  Pebble Beach and Riviera are the 2 of the lowest make %'s on Tour and they have very undulated greens.  The grass has been reportedly smoother at Riviera in recent years, but the make % is still low due to the big breaks in the putts.

Anyway, here's a look at the make %'s for the PGA Championship:

3-5 feet:  89.97% (Tour Average 87.64%)
5-10 feet: 59.93% (Tour Average 56.78%)
10-15 feet: 34.66% (Tour Average 30.08%)

Where golfers tend to confuse faster = lower make % is that they tend to 3-putt more on faster greens.  So while the make % gets higher, the 3% raises as well because one can hit a 40-foot putt on a fast green to 7-feet where the make % for the 7-footer is higher than on a slow green (let's say 55% on fast green and 51% on a slow green).  But, on slow greens with a 40-footer that golfer may hit that putt to 3-feet where the make % may be less than on a slow green.  Let's say from 3-feet, the make % on a slow green is 90% (avg on Tour is 92%).

Again, the make %'s are higher on the fast green, but the distance of the 2nd putt is going to be longer on fast greens.

Now, the 3-Putt percentage at Whistling Straits was actually lower than the Tour average (2.70% vs. 2.92%).  But, 3-Putt percentage's can be skewed due to green size and GIR %.  The field average GIR % was only 61%.  Thus, if you're chipping more often the first putt is likely to be from a shorter distance on average and you're less likely to 3-putt.

You can see the metrics on this Google Sheet at: Whistling Straits Player Data