Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Regression Day

What's the last thing you want to happen after your best round of golf for months? Well, apart from such horrific things as being brutally murdered, you must surely have an involuntary three weeks away from the game somewhere in your list, right?

Well, that's what happened to me on Sunday, and unfortunately the predictable happened: I suck totally: again. Especially with the irons: again. However, there was a silver lining in that my chipping was the best I can remember it ever being. I think the rule of hitting down on the ball finally sunk in, and I was chipping with a range of different clubs depending on the amount of green I was working with, to good effect.

So, for a change the short game saved the round and I again scored consistently with what I've scored in the recent past. I can't say for sure because the light got the better of us once again, so we had to stop. As yet another twist of fate would have it, we had to stop just as I noticed something I was doing wrong. You see, my body has been lying to me.

Some time ago I read pretty much everywhere about the arms beginning the downswing, and dropping down before anything else turns. I programmed this into myself and had thought that it had become one of those automatic things you don't need to think about (keeping my left arm straight has been automatic for me for some time now: confirmed by video footage). However, I realised two holes from the end of the shortened round that I in fact wasn't doing this at all and my body was turning to drop the arms, rather than them dropping by themselves. This puts the club head on a clear and unstoppable path to an outside-in line, and an inevitable slice or pull. Well, that certainly explains a lot...

So anyway, I now find myself in a position where I can go to the driving range in the evenings after work, so I can actually go there to just practise instead of to warm up before a round. That being the case, I've decided that I'm going to forget about my earlier resolution to not change anything and go right ahead and change, well, everything.

You see, I just found this rather excellent site with an extremely well-written guide on how to swing the club properly. It concentrates on building a correct swing from the ground up instead of fixing your existing swing. This is good because as far as I can see my current swing is simply beyond repair.

The tutorial starts here:


The bit that really struck me was lesson 9. It describes someone doing the backswing totally wrong. Someone who creates a concave body shape on the target side of the body, with big hip shift and wobbly leg action. That person is me: I saw myself in those pictures, and it made me realise that I really do need to change quite a bit if I want to improve.

So, if it's nice after work I might go to the driving range again tomorrow. Hopefully I can really figure something out and get on track to actually breaking 100 one day...

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Circumstances conspired against me yet again last weekend, meaning I've now missed two weeks in a row. Most frustrating to have that follow my best round for months. Hopefully I don't forget what I learned that weekend, or I'll be very annoyed!

In the meantime however, I thought I'd write about balls. Like you do.

I've got into the habit of buying a new box of balls every week or so. Yes, I lose that many. My nasty slice and inaccuracy combined with the large amount of water on the course I play is a combination made for high ball consumption. I do of course plan to reduce this ball turnover, but it's a fact I have to deal with at the moment.

It therefore goes without saying that I don't buy expensive balls, but I think that is advice that any high handicapper should take onboard anyway. I was given some nice Titleist balls for Christmas which I've been carefully using only on those holes with the lowest risk of ball loss (and I've still managed to lose half of them). I honestly can't tell any different between them and the cheap and cheerful Top Flite balls I normally buy. My ball striking is simply too inconsistent to be able to notice any change in 'feel' or control.

My advice is to not go as cheap as you possibly can, or you'll have problems with overly bad balancing, a case that can't take more than a couple of hits or a core that doesn't provide enough go to reach the fairway. But also don't go too expensive, as it's just not worth it.

That said, it's always nice to get a good ball for a good price. As I say I normally buy TopFlite balls that cost me about $13 for 15. The other day I saw a box of Noodles that was marked 'Practice Balls' for about $12 for 24. I had a look and these look just like normal Noodles, that normally go for something like $20 for 12. I decided that it was worth a flutter, and so I bought them.

I've compared them with the noodle I have left from a previous purchase and they appear to be identical. The box says they're "X-Outs, Overruns and Logo Overruns". Having researched this a little it seems that these are balls that either were printed with some company's logo but never sold, or had a printing error or some other minor cosmetic error. Doesn't sound like something that will really affect my game, so I'll have me some of those.

I'll give them a go this weekend and see how it goes. In the meantime, if not not a low handicapper and you see any (I got mine at WalMART) I suggest you pick them up.

Monday, January 16, 2006

What to change next

A combination of circumstances conspired against me this weekend just passed, resulting in me not playing golf for only the third weekend since I moved here.

So, instead of playing golf, I thought about it a bit. I got a tripod for Christmas so I can now film my swing whenever I like without help, which I did last week. This weekend I thought about what I saw.

The verdict is that my swing looks a lot better. The changes I made last weekend have made a big difference. But, there is still plenty of room for improvement. I still take the club back too early, I swing too far back, and my hips are far too active in the backswing. My wrist isn't straight enough in the backswing either. Finally, my arms come left too soon in the followthrough.

So, plenty to work on: and I'm delighted about it. I'm very pleased that I myself can still see plenty of places in which I can improve. It's probably wrong, but I'm determined to take myself as far as I can before I give up and turn to professional teaching. I don't know why exactly, I suppose I just want to see how effectively I'm able to identify and resolve the problems that I have on my own.

Another positive from the videos is that my clubspeed appears to be better, given the amount of blurring that there is on each frame, and the distance the club travels reach frame. As well as self-criticising, it's good to look for ways to compliment yourself too.

So all that being said, what am I going to change next week?


Absolutely nothing. I've made that mistake far too many times now. For months now I've approached each and every golf weekend with changes in mind, and I've only got worse. This time I'm going to leave things be, and let my body and mind become accustomed to the way in which I was swinging last weekend. Once I feel it becoming automatic, I'll look at my swing again.

By that time I may find that some of the problems I mentioned before have gone away simply due to practice. The new posture aside, my new swing is all about two things that I think about when swinging. It's perfectly understandable that my body doesn't do these things perfectly the first time it is asked to do so. I'm unsurprised that my takeaway isn't sorted yet: when I do it slowly and watch my hands it's fine, but in an actual swing situation I can be forgiven for not getting it right just yet. And I'm not surprised that the followthrough doesn't do what it's supposed to all the time either. I just need to keep thinking about these things and eventually they will become automatic, just like keeping my left arm straight did.

So, the only change I'm going to make next week is that I'm not going to make any changes at all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What's in the bag II

I forgot! A couple of weeks ago I replaced my old cheapy sand wedge with one that matches my iron set: a Callaway X-12 with a stiff graphite shaft. I even put a Lamkin grip on it to match most of the rest of my clubs.

I've added the current list to the main blog template too for easy reference. What would you do without it?

The current list is now:
  • Mizuno MP-001 Driver
  • Mizuno Blue Rage 3-wood
  • 'V Recovery' "Look like Nike CPR" Hybrids (18, 21, 24 degree)
  • Callaway Big Bertha X-12 Irons (5-SW)
  • STX Sync Tour putter
All clubs bar the putter have stiff graphite shafts.

Club count: 13 (still one slot available).

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Revelation Day

This is going to be rather a long post but it's important to me that I get it all down.

Some weeks ago I filmed myself swinging for the first time and immediately saw a massive over-backswing and a terrible takeaway.

Since then I managed to shorten the backswing somewhat but it didn't make that much of a difference to my game.

Recently I've been thinking and reading a lot about problems with the whole of my game and constructed a plan which involved a number of alterations that have resulted in sweeping changes across my entire game.

Here's a summary of the things I've changed:

  • Made my posture more upright
  • Hold my head up higher at setup
  • Slightly adjusted my full-swing grip
  • Changed my mindset on the takeaway
  • Changed my mindset on the follow through
  • Completely changed my putting grip
  • Use the new putting grip for chipping
Vague descriptions I know (I'll go into details later), but as I say, these are sweeping changes that affect each and every shot I play in a round. Yesterday, I got the chance to try them out.

It was revelation day. Seriously, I've come to golf each week with changes in mind and they've never had much of a difference. This time they most definitely did, without a shadow of a doubt. For a start, I was actually hitting shots on the driving range, while before I'd feel lucky if I hit a handful: especially with the short irons. As for the round, I don't think my score really changed this time, but that's largely because I'm going to have to adjust my distances now to account for the new swing.

Basically, everything in my round reversed. At practice I only fluffed a handful of shots. Previously, I'd only hit a handful in the air. I started to approach all shots thinking "I can hit this" instead of "I hope I can hit this". The swing worked with all clubs: sand wedge to driver. I actually stopped worrying about my slice (it was still there, but far less so). I stopped worrying about the short clubs (recently my worst enemies). I didn't hit a single bad chip all day. Normally I'd be surprised if I hit one good chip all day. I even tried a flop-shot and pulled it off.

I can't stress enough how much of an improvement I felt. I was more confident, and I actually had fun. Sure, I had nightmare holes. Specifically, one where I tool about six shots to get out of a bunker, but that was with a pitching wedge because I didn't want to have to go and get the SW because there were people waiting. But there you go... I also had one nightmare hole involving more trees than any human being should have to endure...

Anyway, the technical bit. What exactly did I change?

Well, for a start I removed a lot of the guesswork out of the grip by picking up on one tip I read, which is that the channel in the palm of the right hand should cover the left thumb completely. This made it easier for me to grip the same way every time.

The second (and I think most crucial) change was to alter my posture. I noticed in my recordings that my swing plane was very flat, which probably explains why I could hit longer clubs better than the shorter ones. I've been reading Wood's book "How I play Golf" and in the section on posture I saw myself clearly in the 'leaning over too far' category. So I changed that. Woods says "I have the feeling that I am light on my feet" when he's in the correct posture. I have modified this slightly for my own purposes: I know that I'm in the right position if I can jump straight up in the air and land back in the same posture again without struggling to keep balance. In my old posture that would have been impossible.

The other (related) change is to hold my head up more at setup. I've found this to be a lot more important than you might think. It makes it easier to get the posture right, for some reason, and of course gives the shoulders space to rotate. I've always positioned my head so that my eyes can look straight at the ball. Having studied photos of Pros I've noticed that their eyes are all looking down. So now I know that I need to be looking at the ball through the bottom rim of my glasses to have it right.

I changed my takeaway mindset by looking at a frame-by-frame of Garcia. The commentary on the takeaway notes how extended his arms are when the club is horizontal to his right, providing a nice wide swing radius. It just kinda hit home to me, and now all I have to concentrate on is getting a nice extension on the takeaway and the rest of the backswing takes care of itself.

My follow-through change was to "Shake hands with the target". I've read this in a number of places in the past but for some reason haven't taken notice. This basically helps me to deliver the club on line, and works a charm (though this is the one thing I've struggled most to stick to). I believe this has gone a long way towards curing my slice, as I had much less of a problem with that yesterday than I have ever had.

The putting grip has changed from the one I invented a few years ago to the reverse-overlap that Woods (and a number of other Pros) use. I found that it completely removed my hands from the equation, and left the putt solely under the control of my shoulders. The problem that my distances were all wrong, leading to far too many 3+ putts (a major reason why my score didn't really improve) but this will take just a bit of practice to sort out. The line of my putts definitely improved though, and I noticed far less 'wobbling' of the clubface through the swing, which made me feel far more confident.

The chipping grip is now the same as the putting grip, and I make a conscious effort to hit down on the ball. As mentioned previously, the result was that I didn't mis-hit a single chip, though I did overhit a few. Again, something that I just need to practice.

With the Irons, more than once I'd hit what felt like a nice shot, look up and not see the ball. Worried that I'd sliced it massively, I'd up further and there it would be. I've not been able to do that for some time.

I had some back luck too, like my hybrid shot onto the green of the second hole. I actually hit the left side of the green, but it hit a sprinkler and darted hard left. Bad severe kicks like his happened to me more than once.

Actually, it really wasn't my day for luck at all, come to think of it. But that didn't matter because I was actually hitting the ball well with all clubs. I even used my 3-iron once and had no problem getting it off the deck.

Now, I normally try to score at least one par a round (yes, that is how bad I am, but I had a number of par putts and one birdie putt that missed by about three inches, but as mentioned previously the putting needs distance practice now). Yesterday I reached the last hole with no par, and to add to the pressure it was getting dark. I hit my tee shot reasonably, though not stunningly. I say reasonably because it was on the fairway and didn't slice off into the water on the right, which for me counts as 'reasonably'. It landed on the right side of the fairway. I know for a fact that I hit it 215 yards because it was in line with the 217 marker on a 432 yard hole. I've done better, but at least it was on the fairway.

To make par I was going to have to get on or close to the green, and do it over a large chunk of water that was closer to the green than it was to me (which always intimidates me), so I reached for my 3-wood and stepped up. I felt strangely confident, and concentrated on getting my new swing right. Boy, did I. I heard that lovely ping my 3-wood gives on a good contact and looked up to see the ball flying straight at the flag without a hint of slice. It landed just short and rolled up and stayed there. I drove to the green to see the ball sat about 15 yards past the flag. I'd hit it about 230 yards off the deck: longer than the driver shot. This time my putting didn't fail me, and I two-putted for par. What a fantastic way to finish the most enjoyable day of golf I've had for months. I can't wait until next week...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Three Key Variables of Setup

In my mind my biggest problem at the moment are what I think are the three most important variables in the setup:
  • How wide the stance should be
  • Where to put the ball in the stance
  • How far away from the ball to stand
Being a programmer with a maths background I can see that these three variables together can be visualised by a single triangle, with the ball being one point and some part of the feet being the other two. For the short irons the triangle will be an isosceles triangle, since the ball will lie in the middle of the stance. But how far? Is there some formula that I can use to ascertain the changes in the trangles geometry as the club is changed?

My problem is that when I step up to the ball I simply don't have a clue where to put my feet. At present I make a guess at the stance width, take a practice swing and try to notice where the clubhead travels (to figure out the distance from the ball I need), and then step up hoping that it travels the same line again on the real swing. Far too much guesswork for me: I want to know how to do this right every time.

Of course, the problem could be that I'm not paying enough attention to other things, such as posture. I suppose I could have a look at that, but it introduces even more variables! Aaarrrgh!!!

I know, I know. I need some lessons. I'll probably give up eventually and have some, but It would be great to be able to figure it out for myself...

Explaining the title

The title of this blog may confuse some, so here's an explanation.

In my day job I'm a software engineer. It's my job to ask questions that other people don't think to ask because to them they're common sense. The trouble is, everyone's 'common sense' is a little different, so when designing software these things need to be taken into account appropriately.

Unfortunately, this causes me a few problems outside of work. I tend to over-analyze things and confuse myself with questions that other people don't even think about and just do it right. I think about these things logically and sometimes come to the wrong answer.

This affects my golf too. I'm extremely analytical about everything about golf, and probably think far too much about things that if I just forgot about them I'd do them right anyway. The worst thing is I tend to do it between shots, so no two of my swings are never the same. This is probably why I'll top a ball hopelessly on shot and then only a few seconds later and with the same club hit a totally straight shot.

I need consistency, but am unlikely to get it until I answer these questions: remove the variables and make them into constants.

That one quality shot

One of the great things about golf is that even if you're a thoroughly average player (like me) you can from time to time pull off a shot that a pro would be proud of.

This happened to me on Saturday on the 17th hole on the Creek course at Indian Creek in Carrolton, Texas. I'd hit a reasonable drive about half way leaving me quite a way to go to get to the green. I'm not an expert on yardage but I'd say over 200 yards. From this distance I always reach for my 3-wood, which is my favourite club at the moment. I knew that if I was to hit it properly I could reach the green. I stepped up and as soon as I heard the ping I knew it was a nice shot. I looked up to see the ball flying as straight as an arrow right at the green. It landed short but rolled up and stayed there.

When I reached the green the ball was about three yards short of the hole. I two-putted for my only par of the day. Shame I didn't get the birdie, but this is a long par-4 (452 yards), so I was pretty pleased with myself.

The rest of the round pretty much sucked in the most part, but these are the memories you try to concentrate on because they're what the game is all about.

I did actually have one other memorable shot that round. I think it was the par-4 9th, and I hit the drive of my life. Beyond the cart signs, and mid-way between the 150-yard pole and the centre of the green. On a 367-yard hole I make that a tad under 300 yards. Unfortunately, despite a reasonble bump-and-run onto the green, I screwed up my putting and didn't even make par. But you need to concentrate on the positives, and that drive was certainly one of those...