The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today’s post is going to discuss ball position. It is a much less complicated part of the golf swing discussion, but none the less, an interesting subject. There are two schools of thought concerning ball position. You should keep the ball in the same place, preferably off the left heel for every club in the bag. None other than Jack Nicklaus is the major advocate of this view. The other viewpoint is the ball should be played off the left heel for the driver, but then the ball should be moved back gradually toward the center of your stance, as the clubs get shorter, with the wedges being played right in the middle of your stance.  There is a third view on ball position, by another all time great, which I will get to at the end of this post.

Here is the interesting part.  Both advocate their position for the same reason. They say that their method of ball position allows you to swing the same for every club in the bag. Instruction  to play all shots off the left heel, says that since the ball is in the same position for every club, your swing does not have to change in order to hit the ball cleanly. Instruction  to move the ball back in your stance as the clubs get shorter, says that this is where your arc of the swing will make contact with ball naturally on a descending blow. This way your swing stays the same, and you catch the ball at the proper point, with out making any adjustments of your swing.  So who is right.  I will let you decide on that one, because that is not the purpose of these posts.

Now for the third view on ball position by the great Bobby Jones. He felt that ball position could be one of the things that you could change on a day to day basis depending on how you were playing. He felt this was one method to try to get back on track if you started out with some poor ball striking.  He felt you should play the ball forward in the stance, opposite the left heel as a general rule, but he would move it forward or back if he opened with a few bad shots and magically his game would return.  He would not move the ball position on any particular pattern of bad shots. It would be an instinctive move forward or backward until he just started hitting the ball better. Another method he used to get the feel back in his game was to choke up and down on the club. He salvaged many a round by playing all shots with his hands just an inch or so about the steel line of the shaft. He would wait until the end of the round to go to the practice range to try find the swing issue. He never tinkered with the swing during the round.

Well, there you have it ball position. Another bevy of information on something that should be so simple but lots of view points.  What’s a golfer to do. Next week will be weight distribution of your feet at address. Now that’s a real good one. When I first listed that one I wrote thank God are feet are not bigger or there might be more than the three opinions on this.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

It’s a mid week blog, since I played golf on Sunday and yesterday, during this rough Western Pennsylvania winter.  Today is left heel day. Such a small part of the body, but the golf teaching world wants to talk about it a lot,and has lot’s of ideas. There are three schools of thought concerning that little left heel: 1. It should remain on the ground throughout the backswing. Certainly this is the current PGA tour swing mode.  2.  Its ok to lift the left heel at the top of the backswing but you should feel that your turn is dragging the heel off the ground.  In other words this not something you should consciously do. 3. You should lift the heel off the ground during the backswing. The theory being that this makes the backswing turn easier to do and is a more natural way to play.  So is this true. Should only the very flexible and PGA pros play with their left heel on the ground. Let’s break it down and see what’s really going on with each method. At the end of the post I will go through some very simple drills that will show what is happening.

Keeping your left heel on the ground  is going to do two things when you make a golf swing.  It will restrict your hip turn and it is going to make your head drop just slightly down.  Then depending on how long you keep your right heel down on the downswing your head is going drop even  more.  This head drop is evident in almost every tour players swing when it is analyzed on TV.  What I get a big kick out of, on every good shot the head drop is fine, every bad shot the head drop is too much. Head drop is simply a function of knee flex and heel function.

Raising your left heel at the end of the backswing or feeling like your turn is pulling your left heel up will do three things.   It will stop the slight drop of your head.  It will level your hips by raising your left hip.  It will slightly increase your hip turn but do nothing for your shoulder turn. You will not feel as much of a stretch up the left side at the top of the backswing.   Hip turn doing nothing for your shoulder turn will be discussed in more depth when the hips are discussed.

Raising your left heel as part of your backswing, in other words, start raising the heel as you start your swing will modify the above swing two ways. Your hips will start to turn quicker and your head will drop not at all as you go to the top of the swing.

Now for the drills that shows what is going on.  Both drills are very simple and no golf clubs are required.  First just stand in front of a mirror in natural standing position facing the mirror. Stand fairly erect but not at attention with the arms down at your side. While remaining standing, just flex your knees like you would in a golf set up and what happens. Your head lowers.  Go back to the standing position. Now stand up on your toes with your heels off the ground. Your head rises. Go back to the standing position.  Now as you begin to slowly flex your knees, start to raise your heels and your head will remain in the same position. The second drill is to assume your normal golf address position, no club necessary. With the left heel staying on the ground simply bend your left knee toward the ball as you would on the backswing,  without moving anything else. You will see that your hips turn a little and there is even less turn of your shoulders but they will move a little. Now, just go to the top of your swing with your full shoulder turn while keeping your left heel on the ground, and hold that position for just a second or two. Now raise the left heel.  Your hips will level up and you will fee a slight increase in your hip turn, but your shoulder turn will stay the same.

Some final comments. The group of instructors that advocate lifting the left heel as part of a normal backswing say this is a more natural way for the body to move. If you turn your body to talk to someone, or point in that direction, your heel comes off the ground. They also say if you tried to walk with your heels staying on the ground you would not walk very well or fast. I am not too sure what this really has to do with the golf swing.  This still might  be a good way to swing the golf club I don’t think this is the reason you should to do it.   This heel thing really boils down to the hips and head and what do you think they should be doing in the golf swing.  That’s another subject for another day. The next blog ball position.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today we are going to discuss number 3 on the list:  You should keep your left arm straight though out the golf swing, or you don’t have to keep your left arm straight through out the golf swing. I am still going through things on raising the left heel, but I am just about done, and that will be the subject of next week’s post.  As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thank God the feet aren’t bigger and we only have two of them because there are more opinions on what to do with them than any other part of the golf swing, with the possible exception of the head.   The left arm is not as near complicated, but is interesting none the less.

There was one instructor that did an experiment to see if allowing the left arm to bend at the top of the swing would affect the distance of the driver.  There were some interesting things about this so called experiment.  First he hit 3 balls each way. Yes 3 balls. Don’t put yourself out. Although he may start a trend. SAT tests can have just 3 questions, or new drugs can be tried on just 3 people and then be approved. How about hitting 50 balls or even a hundred and coming to some kind of conclusion. Better yet have about 50 to 100 golfers of various skill levels swing the two ways, about 50 shots each and see what happens.    Even more interesting was that on his second straight left arm swing, his left arm is slightly bent at the top. Finally he was a little distressed that he lost about 10 yards in distance when he swung with the left arm bent. Since the experiment was pretty worthless I don’t understand his concern. His conclusion despite “his results” was that the left arm did not have to be straight  to hit the ball consistently.

So what about this left arm thing.  If you keep your left arm straight through out the swing, it is going to do only one thing for your golf swing. At the top of the swing it is going to stretch out the left side of your body and back muscles. Here is the little experiment to do. Take your address position and make sure your left arm has a distinct bend of at least 20 to 30 degrees. Now make your backswing and maintain that bend to the top. Now straighten that left arm and you are going to feel a distinct stretch down the left side of your body and back. Now if that is the feeling you want to have at the top of the swing then you better keep your left arm straight.  Any instructor that says it’s ok to bend the left arm at the top, and Bob Toski is one of them, knows that with the acceleration of the downswing the left arm is going to straighten automatically. The advocates of the straight left arm say that it will keep you from over swinging, maintain your swing arc and make you a more consistent ball striker, all false. All its going to do is give your left side a distinctive stretch.  If you think that is important in the golf swing and many people do, then you better keep it straight. If you don’t and many people feet that way too, then bend away just like sipping the beer in golf cart.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today will start a series of posts that will deal with the 16 aspects of the golf swing and game that are very confusing or have opposing viewpoints. I had intended to start with the left heel issue but I am still gathering information on that one, so we will start with number two on list the putting stroke. The two opposing viewpoints: The putting stroke should be straight back and straight through, or the putting stroke should be an arc much like the golf swing.  There is a long forgotten third putting stroke which we will get to, and after watching the young guys putt yesterday at the San Diego Open maybe they should consider  it.  Let’s look at each of the first two  putting strokes and then I will show you “Where’s the beef?”

The main advantage of the straight back and straight through putting stroke is the ball position is not very important.  The stroke is on the intended line for the entire time.  As long as you don’t go too bizarre on the ball position, playing it between your left toe and nose is fine, then your putt will go where you aimed it.

The advantage of the arc stroke, where the putter travels slightly inside the line, then on line, and again slightly inside the line after contact, is that this seems more like a natural way to putt and mimics the golf swing. Since the putter only spends a certain amount of time on the intended line then ball position becomes more critical.  Playing the ball too far back in your stance may cause putts to be missed to the right and too far forward may cause putts to be missed to the left   So “Where’s the beef?”

The beef is that proponents of the arc stroke say the straight back and through stroke is unnatural since golf is played to the side of the ball. They say for anyone to have a straight back and through stroke, there has to be some unnatural manipulation of the clubhead or arm swing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The  main advocate of the straight back and straight through  stroke is Dave Pelz.  In his book the Putting Bible he explains how to putt with this stroke.  You must have enough tilt from your hips toward the ball so your hands are directly under your shoulders. If you create this address position, then this is the only one way your putting stroke can go, and that is  straight back and through.  Any one can try this in their living room and you will see. Now if you want to say that having your hands directly under your shoulders is awkward or uncomfortable, that is ok. But don’t make statements about a putting stroke just so you can further your own method. Once you are in the proper address position, the straight back and through putting stroke is about as natural as you can get .

Now for that third method, which you could say takes the best or worse from the first two methods, depending on your perspective.  In 1961 there was a book written by Horton Smith, titled The Secret of Holing Putts. Horton Smith was one of the great putters of his time, and was a two time Masters Champion.   It is a great book on all aspects of putting and I highly recommend it.   The first secret is what he called hooding and I will quote directly from the book.  ” Hooding is the term given to the necessary counterclockwise turn of the left wrist during the backswing of the putting stoke. This slight rotation is applied in order to keep the blade of the putter constantly perpendicular or square to the line of the putt.”    Well how about those apples. Mr Smith advocated an arc stroke that was very low, but with hooding that kept the blade square to the line.   You will have to get the book to read about the second secret.

There are the three basic putting strokes.  Try them all and see what one may work the best for you. Don’t be afraid to try method two and three because believe me they can work very well.  As I wrote in the beginning of the blog I think some of these young guys that already look like they have the yips may want to delve into number three.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Well here we are it’s 2017, and since my last blog, believe it or not I have played 5 rounds of golf, including one this past Wednesday, to get the first round of the year in. Now one of those rounds was in sunny San Diego but the other 4 were right here in the Burgh. Not bad since November 30th.  My scores went on a roller coaster ride as I shot 75, 80, 76 in San Diego with borrowed clubs(I keep telling you this game is goofy), 83 and 84 this past Wednesday.  Obviously not any closer to an answer, but nobody else is either, and that’s what this post is all about.

During my frustrating year, one of the things I did was to go online to see if I could find something, that might help my game.  Of course, there is a bevy of information out there, some good, some not so good. But the real eye opener is the amount of conflicting information on how to go about hitting a golf ball. What’s a beginning golfer to do?   Everything I am about to list here, comes from  some of the most respected names in golf, ranging from Bob Toski, Ken Venturi, Butch Harman, Jack Nicklaus, and many more. I am going to list them in the order of what I think contains the most misinformation and that are the most confusing. Don’t hold your breath while you are reading this because you will die

  1. You should keep your left heel on the ground during the backswing, or it’s ok to lift the left heel on the backswing or you should lift your heel on the backswing.
  2. The putting stroke should be straight back and straight through, or the putting stroke should be an arc and straight back and straight through is not natural.
  3. The left arm should be straight though out the swing or the left arm does not have to be straight though out the swing.
  4. Play the ball in the same position for all shots, or gradually move the ball back toward the center of your stance as clubs get shorter
  5. At address, the weight should be distributed on the balls of the feet, or over the arch just in front of the ankles, or on the heels of the feet.  Thank God are feet aren’t any bigger.
  6. Restrict your hip turn or do not restrict your hip turn
  7. Your shoulders should turn at least 90 degrees on the backswing, or they do not have to turn 90 degrees
  8. Your swing should be compact and don’t overswing, or make sure your swing is nice and long so you will have plenty of time to make the proper downswing moves.
  9. You should pause at the top of your backswing, or you should not make a conscious pause at the top of your backswing.
  10. Take the club back low and slow, or this is the worse thing you can do is low and slow
  11. Chip like you putt, or do not chip like you putt
  12. You should change your grip to help square up your club face, or you should not change your grip to square up your club face
  13. Hand position at address in relationship to the ball, too many too mention
  14. The first move to start the downswing, too many to mention
  15. Head movement, does it, should it, and how much and what direction
  16. Last but not least, good old Natural Golf with the greatest ball striker of all time the late Moe Norman, as their poster child.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 So what are we to make of all this?  Who is right and who is wrong. Maybe they are all right, or maybe they are all wrong. One thing is for sure, each person or school that advocates any of the things that I have mentioned, think they are right and they have found the holy grail. But we all know that is not true.  Over the next few months I am going delve into each one of these conflicting points. One of the most amazing things I found is the misinformation as to why you should do a certain thing starting with raising the left heel. There may be some delay because next week it looks like that I might even be able to play a couple of times. See  global warming is not all  bad.
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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Well, the season is winding down, and I am still just wandering around in the lost golf world of a game that has gone south. My game continues to flounder in the high 70’s and low 80’s range with little hope of this changing until the calendar changes and a new season begins.  So as I look back on this disgusting season and try to break it down, I really can not put my finger on one particular part of my game that is the real culprit. Let’s look at it any way and see where some of the problems did lay.

One of the things that was not an issue was driving the ball and distance.  At 66 years of age you might think that  would become an issue but my distance  off the tee was as good as ever and my irons were still the same, distance wise. An equipment change  late last golf season caused some iron issues but even going back to my old irons may have helped me hit my irons better but really did nothing to help improve my score.

Putting is always an issue when you are not scoring well, but lately even with my putting being the best it’s been over the last 4 weeks, it has not had a major impact on my scores.

Trying to find the answer has always had some negative impact on my game.  Usually I come up with something that has some merit.This year the things I have tried seem to have had even  a greater negative impact on my game. Even trying to go back to the shoulder control swing which worked so well  for me over the course of a 2 year period was a basic disaster.

The chip yips in the short game were still an issue this year but I  have been battling them for the last 4 years and was still able to shoot some very good golf. Even on days where the chip yips were missing in action did not help my score all that much. Just a couple of rounds ago, not only did I have the yips, but the shanks reared their ugly head on shots around the greens.

The bad hole and the very bad shot became a factor this year.  I proved the rule about it’s not where your good shots go but where your bad shots go.  Some of my bad shots, simply put, were unbelievable.  From being any where from 50 to 75 yards off line to barely hitting the ball 50 to 75 yards. I had 5 rounds this year that were in the 80’s that got adjusted down to the 70’s during the handicap season. The most was when I really shot an 84, but because I had some really bad holes was adjusted down to 77. I had one 9 and one 10 this year without any penalty strokes.

The basic stats went something like this, 5 rounds in the 90’s  more rounds in the 80’s than in the 70′ by 2 to 1. My best score to par was 2 over which I did once.  I had about a handful of 75’s and 76’s  with the rest 77 and above.  I played my usual amount, as I just played my 107th round of the year yesterday. So what does this all mean? As they say in the movies I’ll be damn if I know. I have always been of the philosophy that there is a reason for everything.  Maybe in some strange way this is leading me to the answer.  At times I have felt that the answer is to take up bowling again, as I was pretty damn good at that. There can’t be too many rounds left in the golfing season this year but you never know in Western Pa. Maybe it will come like a lightening bolt and I will have a year where no score is over 75. When is the next Star Wars movie coming out?

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Well it’s been about 6 weeks since the last blog and the game has come back some, but more on that later. The two big stories since the last blog have been the Ryder Cup and the passing of Arnold Palmer. The blog is coming from San Diego today, as I am wrapping up a week’s visit with the grand kids and will be returning to Burg tomorrow.

First the Ryder Cup. I will admit the Ryder Cup does not fire me up as much as some people,  but there was certainly some great golf played. I don’t know if you can call the Rory-Reed match the greatest of all time but the front nine was the greatest of all time without a doubt. That match should be saved forever on your DVR. I think the captains did a good job of managing their teams. I think the worst move of any captain was making Lee Westwood a captain’s pick. Clark would have been better off picking Catrina Matthews. It was a very inexperienced European team and I think that was the difference.  The poor play of Westwood and Kaymer was also a big factor. It was nice to see the U. S. win one, but the future looks bright for the European team. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming Ryder cups.

The golfing world lost the king, what more can you say. I grew up watching Arnold Palmer take hold of the PGA tour. That’s the best way to describe it.   Not only was Arnie a great player but he had the charisma. That and his style of play is what made him great and the tour flourish. Here is the proof in the pudding as they say. Palmer really burst onto the scene in two Masters. First the 1958 Master where he was able to charge home and with the benefit of a controversial ruling on an embedded  ball win his first major. Then he again came from behind in 1960 with birdies on 2 of the last 3 holes to win his 2ond Masters and the famous Arnie charge was born. Anybody know who won the 1959 Masters and how he did it. I doubt if anyone does. It was  Art Wall Jr. who birdied 5 of the last 6 holes to take the green jacket. Quite a charge wouldn’t you say, but it got lost in the Arnie avalanche.  Palmer was the man and rightfully so. As great as he was, I think it was his agonizing defeats that sealed the deal for Arnie’s legacy in golf. From his double bogey on 18 at the 61 Masters that allowed Gary Player to get his first green jacket, to blowing a 7 shot lead with 9 holes to play at the 1966 U. S. Open, which led to a play-off loss to Billy Casper. It was those and other losses that made the army loyal to their king. That go for broke mentality that won him so many tournaments, also was his biggest flaw, but the masses loved him for it. The shot that is etched in my memory was at the 72ond hole of the 1968 PGA championship. This was as close as Arnie would ever come to the only major he would never win. He was battling Julius Boros down the stretch who was playing two groups behind. Palmer’s ball was in the rough on this long par 4 and the lie was bad, you could not see the ball. He took a wooden 3 wood and smashed a 230 yard bullet that did not get more than 6 feet off the ground and the rolled up about 8 foot from the hole. I still consider this the greatest shot on the last hole of any major championship. Unfortunately he missed the putt and Julius Boros parred the last hole by wedging his third shot within 6 feet and draining the par putt to win by one stroke. I know there is so much more to Arnold Palmer than golf,  but it is Arnold Palmer the golfer that I will always remember and love.

As far as my own game is concerned what’s not to love. I have had more rounds in the seventies than in the eighties and of course I am working on something that is new and unusual but I probably won’t know if it’s worth anything until this time next year. I have got about 6 to 8 weeks of play left so we will see how it goes in the short term. I will keep you posted. Until then hit em straight, and hey, for one day at least, go for broke in memory of Arnie.



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